sermon date 2018-01-28
sermon manager Pastor Tom Dowling

A Vision for 2018

Proverbs 29:18 states that where there is no vision the people perish…

Vision is the revelation, the announcement, of God’s will to God’s people.  According to Proverbs if there is no vision than people are confused, there is no direction, this of course leads to chaos.

We trust that God will provide us vision.  God gives us vision for our lives so that we might know and do God’s will.  

God also provide vision for God’s church.  By faith we believe that God will provide vision for our church and for our congregation.

Vision comes from God.  God is the source of our shared vision for this church.  God is the one who is providing our vision for mission and for ministry.  We simply need faith to believe in God’s vision.

Over the years I have learned a couple of things about having vision for ministry.  The first is that vision does not need to come from only the pastor.  It is not as if all our vision for ministry comes only from me.  

Vision is something that we discern together.  Vision is something that we work on together.  You might have an idea.  But you also might have an idea and you might have an idea as well.  

God reveals different things to different people and so that is why all of our voices are important.  You might hold the key to furthering God’s work here and now.  And so we all need to listen to each other.  

That is why committees and having meetings is so important.  In our church we have some really strong and faithful committees.  The people on our committees work together.  

They listen to each other and most importantly we listen to God.  That is why we open and close in prayer our meetings in prayer in order for us to remember that vision for ministry comes from God.

Another thing that is so important when it comes to sharing the vision is to listen to each other’s faith stories or testimonies.  We each have a faith story that connects us to God’s larger story of grace, love, and forgiveness.  

We each have a unique story to tell and to share.  

It is important that we become comfortable talking about faith.  

It is important to find the courage to speak about our faith and to not be afraid to talk about God.  When we do so then we begin to pass the vision around.  

Each of us carries a piece of that vision.  Each piece makes the church the church.  When we share in the vision with each person adding their piece than our church becomes stronger, healthier, and we then have a greater sense of direction and purpose for ministry.  

It is just like a thousand piece puzzle.  

Each piece is needed in order to create a beautiful picture.  If you have ever done a puzzle and in the end you discover that a piece is missing than it takes away from the beauty of the picture.  

Something doesn’t feel right if one piece is missing in a puzzle.  It is the same way in a church community.  All of our pieces are needed for vision.

Secondly, we need to trust that God will provide vision if we come to God in prayer and in faith.  

When I first started out as a pastor out in Iowa one of the things that I did over and over was to pray that God would provide vision for my work as a pastor and that God would provide vision for the church that I was serving.

And what happened.  God provided.  God gave vision.  God gave direction.  

Then we need to take action when the vision comes.  In the book of James chapter one we hear:  Do not merely listen to the word but actually go and do what is says.  

And Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew chapter seven:  Everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  

Jesus taught that his teachings need to not only be heard but acted upon.  That is the heart of being a disciple doing what Jesus taught.

This might be the more challenging part of having vision.  What God reveals to us, God also has the faith in us that we will respond and carry out the vision that God has provided.  

And so as we work together, as we pray together, as we listen to God’s voice, may we also be empowered by the Holy Spirit to make God’s vision a reality for our congregation.

I have been serving here as pastor for about a year and a half.  During that time three things have come to me as a vision while being in prayer and in listening to you all.

The first concerns how we might continue ministering to each other.  Last month we sang Happy Birthday and had a cake after worship for one of our members who just turned ninety.  

One person after church came up to me and said in response to what our congregation just did for this person, “You know Pastor, this is the church being the church.”  I just really liked that vision that that person casted right there in that moment.  

This is the church being the church.  How can we continue being the church, serving one another, reaching out to one another, praying for each other?  

As a small church we are uniquely positioned to reach out to each other in ways that larger congregation are not able to do.  How might we build upon our ability to minister to each other?

Secondly, how can we continue being a community church?  Right now it is a trendy thing to name your church.  Something Community Church.  

That is all good I suppose but what does it really mean to be a community church?  What is better is to actually be a community church.  

We do not have the word community in our church name but we still believe in being a community church.  

We already participate in community outreach ministries like CROP Walk and Christmas caroling and high-way pickup.  How might we continue to grow our outreach ministries?

Well, one thing that the education committee has already been considering is resurrecting our Vacation Bible School ministry.  Did you know that last year we had thirteen Sunday school teachers participate in our Sunday morning Sunday school ministry.  

I have never been at a church with so many faithful and dedicated Sunday school teachers.  

Do you know the Bible verse the harvest is plentiful but the labors are few?  Well, not here when it comes to our Sunday school teachers.  

The labor’s are plentiful.  Now how can we do children’s ministry together in our congregation when coming with such strength in that particular area?  

Do you see what I mean?  

God has given this church wonderful teachers now we need to see how we might find some children to teach.  Maybe it starts with our VBS.  

I don’t want to scare the finance committee here but maybe we should spend a thousand dollars and spread the word throughout the whole community about our VBS program through announcements in Newspapers, Facebook ads, and mass mailings.  

Letting everyone know that we have a great VBS ministry at Williams Bay Lutheran.  OK, you get the point!      

Lastly, I have been thinking about how we might grow more deeply in our faith.  

One idea that I have for the coming year is to have us dig more deeply into the Gospel of Mark.  Every year we have a new gospel that we read in Sunday worship.  

This year it is the gospel of Mark.  Next year it will be Luke and in two years it will be Matthew.  

Then we will start over again with Mark.  Every year we hear readings from the Gospel of John.  

Again this year the majority of our readings are from Mark with the exception of hearing readings from John scattered throughout the year.  So what if we were to really dig into that gospel?  

Did you know that the Gospel of Mark is the shortest gospel of the four gospels?  It can be read in at time in an hour or two.  

If you have never read through this gospel please take an hour or so and read through the whole book like you would a novel.  

This gospel is best read straight through.  Then after you do that on Sunday mornings you will be aware of the context of the selected readings from Mark.  

Also, after our discussion on faith sharing on Sunday mornings I would like to start a Bible study on Mark.  

If you are interested I would love for you to join me in hearing God’s words through this gospel during the Sunday morning class. 

In conclusion, I would like to repeat that Bible verse from Proverbs:  the people perish when there is no vision.  

Now if there is vision than God’s people flourish.  God’s people live into the promise of shalom of well-being, of peace, of health when God provides vision, purpose, and direction and that vision is lived out in the community.

May God bless the coming year with vision.  May God richly bless this congregation as we join God in mission and in ministry.  Amen.

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sermon date 2018-02-04
sermon manager Pastor Tom Dowling

A Quiet Place to Pray

The pastor asked the children, “When do you spend time with God?  

One child said, “I spend time with God when I get into trouble.”

The pastor slightly confused asked, “What do you mean?”  

The child replied, “When I get into trouble I have to have a time out.  

During time out I talk to God.”

Jesus is busy.  

He is healing the sick.  He is casting out demons.  He is serving those who are in need.

And then Jesus takes a time out.  He is not in trouble, of course.  But he takes a time out so that he can escape in order to be with God.

In verse thirty-five of chapter one we read:  In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

-Early in the morning.  While it is still dark.  Jesus goes to a quiet place to pray.  

The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth once said, “A person is free only when they can determine and limit their activity.”

I wonder if it was ever tempting for Jesus to want to continue healing, feeding, and ministering people without ever stopping.

But Jesus knew that he had to stop from time to time and find a quiet place to pray.

It is interesting that in the text after Jesus escapes and finds that quiet place Simon immediately tries to find Jesus.  

He doesn’t wait for him to come back.  

In fact, it actually says that Simon hunted for him.  You get this image here of a person going out and hunting for an animal.  

Simon and those who are with him hunt for Jesus.

They track Jesus down in order to get him back so that he can continue ministering to others.

Hopefully, before Simon found Jesus, Jesus, Jesus did have at least some time to pray and to be alone with God.

For Jesus will need strength from God to continue his work.

It is the same with us.  

We need to be escaping, having a time out ourselves during the week to be with God.

In ancient Christian practice there is something known as statio.  Statio is taken from Latin and it refers to place or location.  

There was this idea for Christians that one needed to make intentional pauses throughout the day.  

You would simply pause in the place or location that you found yourself in throughout your day and then you would think about God.  

It was thought of as a way to notice the moments between the moments.  

Overtime this practice became known as statio.  And statio is still considered a helpful spiritual practice even today.

This is something that I actually do throughout my day.  Take this example, I am out with my family for a meal at Panera Bread in Delevan.  

Kalen, Evie, and I are engaged in a good conversation.  Then Evie and Kalen excuse themselves to buy desert.  

Now I am by myself in the restaurant.  They are no demands placed upon me in the moment.  

My phone is in the car.  No one is speaking to me.  Even with the noise around me I notice this quiet moment.  

I intentionally pause.  

I rest in the moment.  I take a deep breath.  

I recognize that there is no other time but this one.  

I notice what is happening in the moment.  

I take note of my location.  

Then I think about God.  I say a silent prayer.

Kalen and Evie come back to join me at the table.  I transition back to being with them.  

I feel centered, mindful, and at peace.

I just practiced for four minutes an ancient Christian, spiritual practice called statio.

Finding that quiet space to be with God can be as simple and easy as that.

I believe that in many ways that silence is the new luxury.  

Silence is more wonderful and powerful than other luxuries.  

There is no cost to this and you do not need to upgrade this on a regular basis as you would a phone or a television set.  

It is completely free.  

And while it is best to find a quiet place to be silent, true silence can actually be found in any place or location that we find ourselves in.

Jesus sought out the silence in order to know God more fully and to find strength and direction for his ministry.  

When we do this then God’s Spirit seeps deeply into our bodies, minds, and souls.

Our faith in Jesus is important but what is even more important is Jesus’ faith in us.  

In that quiet place, in the stillness, we rediscover God’s great love for us in Jesus.  

It is a love that is so deep that it can heal not only us but the entire world.

May you find that quiet place within to pray and may it be for you a place that is as healing and life-giving as it was for Jesus.

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sermon date 2018-02-11
sermon manager Pastor Tom Dowling

The Transfiguration of Jesus

Peter, James, and John walk with Jesus. The four travel together up a mountain.

On the mountain Jesus is transfigured.

That word refers to something that is changing and becoming more beautiful and more spiritual.

In the Bible it says that Jesus’ face was like the sun and that his clothes were dazzling white.

Jesus is shining here in all of his glory.

Then Moses and Elijah appear.

Moses the one who gave us God’s law and Elijah one of the great prophets of God’s word.

These two men are speaking freely with Jesus on the mountain.

In the midst of this great happening, Peter, James, and John get to witness everything that is taking place.

Think about how this mystical and spiritual vision might have changed the faith of these disciples.

How seeing all of this must have changed their understanding of who Jesus is.

If there was any doubt among the three of them of who Jesus is then this mysterious encounter that they witnessed together on the mountain must have greatly renewed their faith in Jesus.

Jesus is transfigured, Moses and Elijah appear, and God speaks and affirms that Jesus is God’s son who God deeply loves.

What a wonderful and beautiful thing to witness!

The three disciples must have felt such an excitement to share what they saw.

But wait…

Jesus tells them to keep it a secret until after he rises from the dead.

Keep it a secret.


We don’t really know except that Jesus told them that his true identity as the Son of God was not to be revealed until his resurrection.

At that point there would be no doubt that he was truly the Son of God.

But today we do not need to keep our faith in Jesus as the Son of God a secret.

Sometimes I feel like we live as if we still need to keep Jesus a secret.

By faith we believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

Since he did rise from the dead we can freely share what the Scriptures reveal about Jesus.

We can speak about the transfiguration and how Jesus was completely transformed on the mountain.

We can speak the Gospel story in such a way as to free people from their burdens.

We can share how God can work in a person’s life for good for that is what God does.

We will never fully know how sharing the message of Jesus might change someone’s life.

But we can trust, that if a person is willing, that the Holy Spirit will indeed cause a person to turn to God.

Peter, James, and John, common ordinary men, were completely changed through their encounter with Jesus, on the mountain, for sure but also in listening to him teach, in watching him heal and love people, in being at the table when he said this is my body, this is my blood -I offer myself to you.

These ordinary, common people that were so touched, so changed by Jesus that they became the ones who formed the very foundation for the early church.

Who could have known how these simple disciples could be so changed by Jesus?

Who can know how much we can be changed by Jesus, in the course of our lives?

Who can know how much someone might change the very direction of their lives when they receive an encounter with the living Christ?

We are given a voice.

We are given words to say.

We are given a story to tell.

As Lent approaches who is God calling you to share your faith with?

Perhaps you may never know how God will change a person’s life.

But you could be the very person that God sends to someone in order to accompany that person on their faith journey.

You might be called to share a word of grace with someone even now.

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sermon date 2018-02-14
sermon manager Pastor Tom Dowling

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Traditionally, Christians see Ash Wednesday as a day for prayer and for fasting.  

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent which last for forty-six days.  

Lent includes the forty days during the week:  Monday through Saturday plus the six Sundays for a total of 46 days.  We enter this time of forty-six days until Easter Sunday.

The forty days reflect the period of time where Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days just as he was beginning his ministry.  Sunday is always a day to remember God and to worship God.  So we also include the six Sundays during this time period as Sundays in Lent.    

The entire season of Lent is seen as a call to increase one’s giving to the poor, to increase one’s attention to prayer and fasting, and to decrease one’s focus on one’s self.  

During Lent we practice these disciplines in order to open us up more fully to God and to our neighbors.    

As I was thinking about prayer and fasting and what I might fast and pray about this Lenten season someone brought to my attention a short article on fasting from Pope Francis.  In the article Pope Francis names eleven things that we might fast from.  I would like to share these insights with you now in my sermon for you to think about this day.

1) Fast from hurting words and say instead kind words.

2) Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.

3) Fast from anger and be filled with patience.

4) Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.

5) Fast from worries and have trust in God.

6) Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.

7) Fast from pressures and be prayerful.

8) Fast from bitterness and be prayerful.

9) Fast from selfishness and be compassionate.

10) Fast from grudges and be reconciled.

11) Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.

If any of these ideas speak to you then maybe try focusing on one or two this Lent.  I know for myself that these suggestions from Francis speak to me as I consider ways to observe Lent.  With a little effort and reflection Lent can be a very spiritually meaningful time for us.

Lent can also be a very important time for us to renew our relationship with God, with others, and it can be a time where we consider what is most important in our lives.

Today is Ash Wednesday but we also know that today is Valentine’s Day.  In our Gospel reading for today we are reminded that where our treasure is there our heart will also be.  Where and how is your heart today?

What is most important for you in your life?

What might be filling your heart that is not life-giving?  Do you need to fast from that thing this Lenten season?

Do you need to consider one of the suggestions from Pope Francis during Lent?

As I too practice the disciples of Lent I will be praying for you all.  

I will be praying that this season in the church year might truly be a time of renewal and a time to deepen your faith.  

Find a discipline.  Stick with it.  Trust the process.  Trust in God.  

May God bless you as you seek to renew your faith this Lenten season.  Amen.

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sermon date 2018-02-21
sermon manager Pastor Tom Dowling

A Man of Great Faith

In the Bible Daniel is seen as a righteous man.  He is a very wise man who is known for his integrity.

In his life he served in high positions in the Babylonian and Persian governments.

Daniel also interpreted dreams and he received visions from God.  He had powerful spiritual gifts that came directly from God.

Even though Daniel lived in exile from his homeland, he continued to do God’s will and with God’s help, he ended up as a statesman.  At one point he was even trusted to interpret the dreams of the kings.

Throughout his life Daniel remained completely loyal to God even though he served within a kingdom that did not honor or worship God.

Because of his great service for others he won the respect of many people even the respect of powerful rulers.

His deep faith compelled him to live a life devoted to God and to the ways of God.  Today we might look to Daniel’s life and the way he lived as an inspiring model of how to live in the world even today.

Commit yourself to standing for truth and righteousness.  Faithfully serve those in authority.

Pray daily.  Be willing to take sacrifices for God.

In looking to Daniel we will find wisdom for living a faith-filled life even now.

In the life of this man we take heart knowing that God is with us and we can comfort one another knowing that God will never leave or abandon us.

When Daniel was falsely accused and thrown into the lion’s den his faith in God did not waver.

His faith and trust in God remained strong. In that place where death was certain.  God delivered Daniel.

At that time being thrown in the lion’s den meant that you were sentenced to death.  There was no escaping the lion’s den.  When you were thrown in with the hungry lions you knew that you would die.

Remember that old spiritual, “Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel.”

The song brings to our attention the truth that if God can deliver Daniel then God can also deliver us from our lions.

Every one of us has challenges to face.  Even though we are not faced with a literal lion’s den every one of us has problems and temptations to face.

We all face challenges.  We all have problems to overcome.  From time to time we all have the temptation to place other things above God.

This is, in part, why we observe Lent each and every year.  In our secular world there are many things that draw us away from God.

These simple Lent services that we have on Wednesday evenings during Lent, along with our private fasting and prayer practices during Lent, help us to refocus our attention on God, on God’s purposes, and on the ways of God.

Daniel faced the decision to choose between serving and worshipping God or in following and worshipping the Babylonian god.

In fact, King Nebuchadnezzer even tried giving Daniel a new name in order to draw him from the God of Israel to the God of Babylon.

This, of course, did not work.  Daniel did not compromise his faith.  He continued worshipping and believing in God.

In chapter six of Daniel we read:  “Three times every day Daniel got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to God.”

Later in the book of Daniel, Daniel pours out his heart to God confessing his sins and the sins of God’s people.

Three times a day he set aside a time to pray and to give thanks to God.  Daniel felt the need to pray.  Daniel came before God with a humble heart confessing his sins and looking to God.

Let’s do the same.  Let’s take time throughout our days to pray, to listen to God, and to give God thanks.

Let’s trust in God.

Let’s put our hope in God even in the face of challenges or difficulties.  Let’s confess our sins as Daniel did and then turn away from sin.

In Daniel chapter nine Daniel turns to God with an adoring heart in prayer and in petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

The sackcloth and ashes are a sign of his repentant heart.

Then he utters these words: Lord, you are great and awesome God you keep your covenant of love with those who love you and who keep your commandments.

May we listen to God, keep God’s commandments, follow in God’s ways, and trust in God.

Daniel was a sincere and humble man who loved God.  Thanks be to God for this man of faith.  Amen.

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sermon date 2018-02-25
sermon manager Pastor Tom Dowling

Billy Graham Sermon

I was sixteen years old.

The television was on and I was watching a man preach the gospel to thousands of people.

His message was convicting.

And even though he was speaking to thousands maybe millions I felt as if he was speaking directly to me.

The man who was preaching was Billy Graham.

Later I would read his encouraging and uplifting book:  Peace with God.

At that time in my life I found, through his words and his sermons, inspiration for my growing faith in Jesus.

At sixteen I shared with my father that I was inspired by Billy Graham to deepen my faith.

My father surprised me when he said that he too was inspired by Billy Graham when we was about my age.

There were others, of course, who greatly influenced my faith during those formative years:

Tony Campolo, an author and college professor, the life and story of St Francis of Assisi, my parents, and Jim Ehrler, who was a member of the church that I attended during my youth.

Jim was a farmer who had a strong faith and passion for Jesus.

These people all strengthen my faith, at that time, but Graham helped me to see that I needed to ask two very important questions.

As a sixteen year old I realized that I needed to ask myself:  “Could this be a turning point in my life?”  And if it is will I follow Jesus.”

Today as I reflect back on that time in my life I can say that it was an indeed a turning point in my life.

And I can say that I am thankful that I said a clear yes to following Jesus.

At sixteen I began to feel the call to pursue the ministry and I felt the tugging of the Holy Spirit in such a way as to push me into deepening my walk with Jesus.

This past week Billy Graham died at the age of 99.  He had his critics of course, he was not a perfect man.

He even confessed once that he was tempted by all the power and influence that he had.

But even still probably few could deny the way in which he inspired so many people by his preaching.

I have to say that I am one who was and am inspired by the way he preached the Gospel.

Today in our reading from Mark a turning point happens.  It comes as a complete surprise.

Suddenly Jesus says to us “Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.”  This reading from Mark chapter eight calls us into the struggle and tension of what we will do with this Jesus.

We cannot ignore this call from Jesus.

We need to ask those important questions that I asked in my youth:  Will I follow Jesus?

Will following Jesus push me onto another path for my life?

Will following Jesus create a new turning point in my life?

Lent is a good time to explore all the ways in which we turn away from Jesus and his call for us.

It is a good time to ask:  “Are we faithfully following Jesus?”

Lent is a good time to find new inspiration for our walk with Jesus.

It can be a time for us to find renewal in our faith life.

Now our desire to follow Jesus, originates from Jesus’ desire to purse us.

Jesus wants us to follow him.  Jesus wants us to be close to him.

In fact in the Gospel of John we hear:  “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”

And so when we hear a sermon, read a book, talk to someone about faith, God is working through all of these different ways in order to draw us to God’s self and to God’s son Jesus.

I am thankful for the many different ways that God has spoken to me through the years so that my walk with Jesus might be strong so that I might follow him even when the cross is heavy.

Jesus used language about a cross in order to teach his followers that sometimes the way is hard.

The way of Jesus is not always easy.

Sometimes there is suffering, sometimes there is sacrifice.

I sometimes wish that it was not that way.

I also wish that I could say to you if you do follow Jesus – life will always be good and you will have a wonderfully happy life.

But we know differently.

We know that in life there is pain, there is suffering.

Today we pray for and think about the families who lost their children in Parkland Florida, we pray for and think about all of the sick people, we think about and pray for those who are suffering, we think about our own lives and the pain that we sometimes feel.

But even with that said, I do have good news this morning.

We never stay there at the cross.  For if we follow Jesus to the cross we discover that behind the cross is the empty tomb.

That behind the cross is resurrection, new life, and new joy.

Jesus did not stay on the cross.  We are in the midst of Lent but Lent always pushes us to the promise of Easter.

The Lenten journey reminds us to that we are to take up our crosses and to follow Jesus.

Please take this season seriously.  The season is a gift for us to remember the call to faithfully follow Jesus.

But also, this morning, take heart and never forget that even in Lent we never lose sight of the empty tomb and power of the resurrection.

For the cross points the way to salvation of new life with Jesus and eternal life in the age to come.

Jesus’ love for us is a fierce kind of love it is a love that overwhelms us and compels us to come and to follow.  Even now Jesus is calling for you and for me.  Amen.

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sermon date 2018-02-28

A Strong Leader

“Joshua fought the battle of Jericho…” So goes the chorus of that old familiar African American Spiritual.

We probably have all heard that song before but do we know who this man was?

Who is Joshua?

What do you know about Joshua?

Joshua’s story actually begins not within the book that bears his name in the Bible but rather his story begins in the book of Exodus.

Joshua’s story begins in Egypt.

The children of Israel have lived in the land of Egypt for almost four hundred years.

Time in Egypt was good for the Israelites until a new pharaoh comes into power who knows nothing of Joseph.

Joseph was the Israelite who saved Egypt from famine and who made sure that the Israelites were cared for.

But under this new and cruel king the Egyptians make the Israelites their slaves.

Life becomes so terrible that the Israelites cry out to God for help and for deliverance from their bondage to slavery under pharaoh.

God hears the cry of God’s people, as God always does, and God sends Moses to lead them out of Egypt and into a new land where they will receive their freedom.

One person who is delivered from the hand of Pharaoh is Joshua.

Joshua will become Moses’ aide, his spy, his military leader, and eventually Joshua becomes Moses’ successor.

Right before Moses dies God has Moses commission Joshua to be the one who will lead the people to the Promises Land.

Up to this point Moses has done the job of leading the people to the Promises Land.

For many years Moses has led the people through the wilderness and has been their leader but now as they enter a new land, a new place, Joshua will be their new leader.

Joshua settles the people into the land of Canaan, which is the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

After Moses dies, God directs his words from Moses to Joshua.  Immediately, God tells Joshua three things:

God promises to never leave him or forsake him.  God promises to make him a strong leader.  And God promises to give him success as he follows in God’s ways.

God tells him to be strong and courageous to not be afraid or to become discouraged as he begins the work that God has called him to do.

Joshua obeys God and he faithfully leads God’s people.

He believes in God and is sustained by the living God until the very end of his life.

When he is 110 years old he gives his final speech to the people.

In this speech he gives what will become some of his most quoted words from scripture.

In verse 15 of the last chapter in the book of Joshua it is recorded that Joshua says this to the people:

“Choose for yourselves this very day whom you will serve.  Now as for me and for my household we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua’s leadership abilities and the way in which he helped God’s people were second only to Moses.

Joshua was committed to fully listening to God and he was committed to making sure that the people followed God all the days of their life.

In the end, not one negative thing is recorded in Scripture about this man of God.

Tonight what life lessons can we learn from Joshua?

I think that there are many.

But for tonight I would like to have us consider four things from the life of Joshua.

First, faithful service is essential.

In his life Joshua demonstrated the importance of serving even in small ways.

In the beginning of his service he was just a simple aide to Moses.

But he did that work well.

A couple of years ago I spoke with a pastor who was serving a growing congregation.

I asked him about his ministry and he said one thing that has stayed with me, he said,

“Tom, you cannot overlook doing small ministry tasks well.

Even small jobs done well over time can have a powerful impact on furthering God’s kingdom here and now.”

Have can we be faithful in our callings from God to be good servants even when the jobs are small?

How can we do our work well both the work that we share together in the church and the work that we do outside of the church?

I have a quote by my desk in my church office that reads simply:

“Small, smart choices plus consistency plus time equals radical difference.”

Joshua lived this way and so can you and me.

Secondly, it is extremely important to learn from other people.

Joshua became a great leader, in part, because he had a great teacher in Moses.

The life story of Joshua teaches us that no matter how great our gifts and abilities might be or in how great our knowledge of something is we can always sharpen and improve our gifts by learning from someone who is more experienced in an area than we are.

Who might you learn from or who have been your greatest teachers over the years?

This past Sunday I shared with you some of my teachers who have inspired me during those formative years of my youth.

Some recent pastors who have inspired me are John Piper and Rob Bell both of whom are also authors and speakers.

And two people that I know personally who have been teachers for me over the years are Steve Kottke and Bishop Mary Froiland both of whom have visited us here recently on a Sunday morning.

Who are your teachers?

Who were your mentors and teachers over the years in your line of work?

Who have been your teachers who have taught you more about God?

Thirdly, learn to trust God even when things don’t make sense.

Joshua carried out God’s instructions to him concerning the city of Jericho even when it made no sense to him.

God said to Joshua in chapter six of the book of Joshua:

“March around the city once with all the armed men.  Do this for six days.  Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark.  On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets.  When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shot; then the wall of the city will fall down.”

  1. Now does that plan make any sense?

It is certainly not a good strategy for war.

Imagine with me, if you will, that one of our military leaders said on the evening news, “We are going to take down this city by having all of our pastors and priests to march around the city while playing loud music on trumpets and horns.”  But this is exactly what God called Joshua to do and he listened.

In our own lives can we trust God even when the way does not look clear?

Can we still believe and trust that God knows what God is doing?  Can we continue to listen to God?

And lastly, we learn from Joshua that we are to lead by example.

Joshua practiced what he preached.

He was a person who was committed to God.

The people could trust in Joshua’s leadership.

The people could look to Joshua and see his strong faith in God.  We are not Joshua.

I certainly am not.

But even still, with what God has given to us, how might we witness our faith in God to other people?

What we have inside that little spark of the Holy Spirit that is in each of us comes from God.

We give out of what God has first given to us.

We put our faith into action as a response to God’s action in our lives namely, being saved and in being given new life through Jesus.

Joshua’s remarkable life was filled with excitement, variety, success, and honor.

He was known for his deep trust in God and as being a man who had the very Spirit of God within him.

Joshua was God’s chosen servant and to that special divine appointment Joshua honored God’s call for him.

In all of this Joshua became a striking Old Testament figure who in a very small way foreshadowed the coming of a future messiah who would lead and teach the people in the ways of God.

This man would be called Jesus and he would be our savior.  Amen.

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sermon date 2018-03-04

The 10 Commandments

The Ten Commandments were the core of the Biblical Covenant between Israel and God.

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

The First Commandment demands total allegiance to God, so that nothing comes between oneself and God.

The Second Commandment condemns the making of idols.

We are not to create images of God.

We are not to place God in a box and try to determine who God is by our own design.

We are not to manipulate God for our own benefit or use God for our own wishes or desires.

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

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

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

We are instead to keep God’s name holy and honor God above everything else.

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

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

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

In encountering God on the Sabbath one can hope to recover one’s relationship with God, a relationship that is often lost during the week.

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

So on Sunday we are reminded once again of our need for God and our need to rest.

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

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

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

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

It is the clearest of the Ten Commandments.

Jesus took this commandment and went much further with it.

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

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

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

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

Martin Luther said of this commandment that we to fear and love God, so that we lead pure and decent lives in word and in deed, and each of us loves and honors his or her spouse.

There is a really powerful movie that I first saw when I was in seminary on how we are to honor our spouse.

Maybe some of you have seen it already it is called Fireproof.

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

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

The Eighth Commandment says that we are not to steal.

This commandment not only protects ones property and belongings but it makes us think about how we love one another.

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

Would anyone want their belongings stolen, of course not?

So we should not take from others.

The Ninth Commandment deals with our testimony.

We are not to give false testimony against our neighbors.

The whole of society is at risk when the truth is not spoken.

How important this commandment is both in our personal lives but also for our country and for the world.

We cannot live together on this planet earth if we are not truth-telling people.

The Tenth Commandment deals with coveting.

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

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

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

God’s expansive and super-abounding love is given to us as we love and honor God and as we keep God’s commandments.

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

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

In the end, it is the faithfulness of Jesus who was faithful to us even to death on the cross.

In the end, we understand that it is God’s faithfulness to us and not our faithfulness to God.

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

We do not have a choice to live by the commandments or to live by grace.

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

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

Let me give you a powerful example here.

A couple of years ago I made a hospital visit to an elderly man who had just suffered a severe farm accident.

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

He was in many ways what you might say as being an example of living a life of faith.

When I got to his room in the hospital he shared with me what happened and then he said something that I will never forget.

He said to me, “Tom, I thought I was going to die so I began to pray and the first thing I did in my prayer to God was to ask God for forgiveness.

To ask God for forgiveness.

The first thing he prayed for.

This great man of faith, in the moment where he felt his life was ending he prayed for forgiveness.

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

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

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



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sermon date 2018-03-07

Amazing Courage

In the Bible Esther, a Jewish woman, becomes queen to the king of Persia.

She is described as a strong, wise, and beautiful person.

She is also someone who possesses a very teachable spirit, she is willing to listen to others, and she lives by her faith placing trust in God.

At one point, in the book of Esther, she finds out from her cousin, Mordecai that the Jewish people are in great danger.

Haman, a high official to the king, wants to kill all of the Jewish people out of anger and revenge.

And so in response to this news Esther decides to use her powerful position as queen to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people.

Her brave action saved the Jewish people.

Esther spoke up for her people in order to save them even though she knew that by doing so that very action put her life in danger.

Yes, Esther is the queen but even still her life is never secure.

Coming before the king to speak up for the Jewish people puts her own life at risk but by doing so she becomes the one that God uses to save the Jewish people from the evil hand of Haman.

Today we remember Esther’s courage and strength.

Esther’s faith in God’s saving power for the Jewish people along with her commitment to help her people are themes that arise from her life story.

I am thankful for this woman of courageous faith who teaches us, even today, about the importance of living with purpose, speaking up for our others, and of not being afraid of sacrifice.

I believe that there are three important life lessons that we can take away from the life of Esther.

The first is that God has a purpose for our present situation.

When the Jewish people are in danger Esther is reminded by her cousin that she must do something with her influence in order to save the Jewish people.

At first it appears that Esther will remain silent but her silence quickly changes over to focus and action.

She even chooses to fast from food before she goes to the king in order to prepare herself to be completely focused on the task at hand.

God does use Esther as a vehicle for God’s purposes.

God also protects and preserves the life of Esther from all danger.

In the same way God can also use us for God’s purposes.

What situations are we in right now that God can use in order to further God’s kingdom right here, right now?

How is God using your situation, your influence, to further God’s work?

Secondly, serving God may require that you move away from what you usually do and to try something new.

In Esther’s case she was given a choice to be safe or to risk her life for God’s people.

Maybe God is calling us to take some risks and maybe even to make some sacrifices?

We tend to go towards those things in life that are safe and we run away from those things that might cause us to step out of our comfort zone.

For example, maybe you have never tried to meditate before because you thought that you just would not like to do it.

So you decide for one week to get up twenty minutes earlier than usual, you find a quiet spot in the house, and you sit in silence for twenty minutes and you just choose to listen to God during that time.

It was once described to me that praying is our way of talking to God while meditating is our way of listening to God.

God gave us two ears and one mouth.

Maybe you could work on listening more to God than always taking your time with God with words and in doing so you find that listening more to God renews your faith.

Or maybe you have never fasted before because you thought that was too challenging of a spiritual exercise.

So you decide for one day to fast from sugar or from a meal or from snacks in order to use that hunger to think more deeply about God and during your fast you also use that hunger to think more deeply about all of those people who will go to bed tonight hungry.

In that way fasting becomes a way to deepen our faith and our compassion for the hungry.

Or maybe it could be something as simple as this… and I say this with a smile here but maybe even trying to sit in a different spot when you come here to church for worship or in sitting by someone new.

When you do take some new action remember to ask God to give you courage if this new action is difficult for you.

Then remember that God is always with us especially when we ask for the assurance of God’s presence as we take on a new challenge.

That is a prayer that God loves to answer.

And lastly, know that God’s protective hand is always with us.

Through it all God’s protective hand remained with Esther.

God protected her and kept her safe.

May we have the eyes of faith to know that God walks with us through every situation that we find ourselves in.

Knowing that God is present though unseen gives us great comfort as we face the issues and the difficulties of life.

It may appear for a time that God is absent in our lives but if we continue down the path of faith we will discover again and again the very presence of God in our lives.

During those times where our faith is weak we look to others for encouragement and help in our walk with God and during those times where our faith is strong but a friend’s is weak we help that friend to see that the invisible God is with us still.

If you would like to know more about this great, courageous woman I would encourage you to read the book of Esther.

It is a short book in the Bible.

You will find the book towards the middle of the Old Testament right between Nehemiah and Job.

May her life story inspire you to live with purpose, sacrifice, and above all to live with courage.  Amen.


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sermon date 2018-03-11

The Cross is a Symbol of Love and Promise

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall will not perish but will have eternal life.

Martin Luther called this verse the Gospel in Miniature.  

Meaning that the heart of the good news of Jesus and his life for us is found in this very verse.

The eternal life that God offers to us means that we will know God and experience life with God.  

This life that God offers is eternal it never ends… even death cannot destroy the life that is given to us by God.

This is a promise from God.  

This is our hope.  

This hope will guide us one day into death and then to rebirth with God and all of God’s people.  

We believe this.  

We know this by faith.

But one thing that we may forget is that we do not have to die in order to receive the new life that God wants to give to us.  

New life and new spiritual life is a gift that God wants to give us in the present.  

Right now.  

It is always available.  

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

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

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

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

It begins for us as the Spirit reaches down to us to ignite our faith.

Let me give you two true examples here from a book on Lutheranism and spiritual renewal.

The first story comes from a man who experienced new life from God while in worship.  

Here is his story in his own words:

In December of 1963 I stepped into an empty and quiet church, sat down, and began my usual prayers.  

I was having a crisis in my faith and I began to prayer by pouring out my heart to God.  

“God, you and I are going to have it out this morning.  

Either you are going to be real to me or I am going to quit.  

I cannot keep doing this faith thing.”  


And then something happened.  

I heard a voice, clear, and distinct.  

“The gift is already yours; just reach out and take it.  

Obediently I stretched out my hands, palms up.  

I opened my mouth and words began to flow.  

Did I speak those words?  

Or was it the Spirit?  

Before I had time to wonder, all sorts of strange things began to happen.  

God came out of the shadows.  “God is real!” I thought.

“God is here!”  

“God loves me!”  

For the first time in my life I really felt loved by God.  

I laughed and I cried.  

The whole church was bathed in a soft, golden light.  

The world was turned inside out.  

Everything looked as fresh and new as the first morning of creation.  Every cell and atom of my body tingled with the vibrant life of God. Every electron in my being clapped its hands and praised the Lord.  “God, where have you been all this time?

Were you just now behind the words that I spoke or was it my desperate prayer?”  

I cried out again, “God you are so far and yet so infinitely far; so complex and yet so terribly simple… how can we ever understand you?  

Give us understanding so that we can share you with the whole world”

Suddenly I wanted to run out on the street and tell everybody:  “Stop the traffic!

Stop and listen.  God is alive! God is real!

Here is another spiritual testimony from the same book.  Here are her words:

I grew up in the Lutheran church and yet I never learned to truly pray.  

Through the years Jesus became distant and he had very little claim on my heart.  

Over time I felt as though I had lost that peace that passes all understanding, and the joy which is found in God.  

At that time the only prayer that I found myself praying was, “Take my hand, dear Lord, and lead me.”  

And “Lord, I believe help my unbelief.”  

One day I was alone, resting in the evening when a wave of energy rolled over me.  

A word came to my mind.  

I spoke the word and then prayed over it.  

Later more words started coming to me as prayer.  

I did not even understand everything that I was praying about but I soon began to believe that the words that I was praying was coming from the Holy Spirit.  

I began to prayer like this over the next few days and month.  

These simple prayers began to revitalize the whole of my life with Christ.  

Although there has been testing and difficulties during this time God has continued to give me the assurance of his presence and God’s peace.  

The most lasting effects of my new found prayer life is that I have a strong desire to read the Bible and to always be with God in prayer.  

I see the work of God all over the world.  

God is constantly speaking to me.  

I am now able to abide in Christ in a way that I was never able to before.  

There are so many distractions and temptations in life but God has found a way to keep me single-minded in my faith.  

God has helped me and now I want to help others.  

I want to help others to see that the Holy Spirit is real and new life from God is available to us right now.

These two people experienced an awakening through the movement of the Spirit of God in their lives.  

The author, Larry Christenson who told their stories along with many others in his book describe these people as having charismatic experiences.  

The word charismatic in this context refers to spiritual gifts.  

These gifts are received as grace.  

We do not earn these gifts we only receive them from the Spirit.  

In his book Christenson also makes the point that all Christians are charismatic.  

Every follower of Jesus who believes and trusts in Jesus is graced by God.  

Of course that word has taken on many different meanings for Christians over time but we as Lutherans can claim that word as well.  

When we look to Jesus and look to his cross, when we believe in the one who gives eternal life to whoever believes, we too receive the gifts of the Spirit to live into the new life that God gives to us.

That is part of the good news of Jesus Christ in that we do not have to wait until we die to receive the gifts of God.  

We are given God’s gifts of new life and gifts of the Spirit in this life as well as the life to come.  

Now we Lutherans get teased a lot for the quietness of our faith.  

There is the old joke.  

How do you know if things are going well in a Lutheran church?  

No one says anything.  

What if we began to let more of the Holy Spirit out?  

What would happen?  

For our church what would it do to our congregation?  

What would it do to your faith and the way you live out your faith during the week?

What would it mean if we believed that the life God wants to give to us is freely available to us in the present?

We believe that The Lord is the true giver of life and the source of all life.  

We believe in God’s love poured out for us on the cross.  

The cross is a symbol of God’s promise to us just as the rainbow is a symbol of God’s promise to us.  

As those who looked upon the bronze serpent were healed, so too will we be given new life when we behold Christ lifted high up on the cross.


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sermon date 2018-03-14

Samuel, Judge, Priest and Prophet

Tonight I would like to talk to you about Samuel from the Old Testament.

In the Bible Samuel is known as Israel’s greatest judge.

Judges are intelligent and God-fearing people.

Judges rule with powerful authority.

Their authority comes from God.

Besides being a judge Samuel also served as a priest and a prophet.

In his life Samuel is given the awesome responsibility by God to oversee the transition of God’s people from a collection of tribes to a unified kingdom under a single king.

Samuel is also the one who will honor Israel’s first king.

Samuel anoints Saul to be the king.

Samuel then serves as Saul’s advisor during the early years of Saul’s reign.

Later when Saul fails to obey God, Samuel is sent by God to anoint David as Saul’s successor.

In the Bible Samuel is mentioned with high regard including being mentioned in the Psalms, Jeremiah, Acts, and Hebrews.

But Samuel’s story begins in 1 Samuel.

In chapter two of 1 Samuel we hear how when Samuel was young he grew in both stature and in favor with God and with the people.

Now to begin with where have we heard a verse similar to this one?

In the beginning of the Gospel of Luke we hear that Jesus grows in both wisdom and in divine and human favor.

So here is this connection that we find in the Bible with both Samuel and Jesus.

Later on in the book of Samuel when Eli, the priest dies, God calls Samuel to become the new spiritual leader of Israel.

The people are motivated and inspired by Samuel to return to God and to the ways of God.

The people have great confidence in Samuel.

Samuel proves to be a just and strong leader.

Samuel guides the people to freedom from the foreign oppressor, the Philistines.

As time passes though the people want to appoint a king.

Samuel thinks this is a bad idea.

Samuel knows that it is not good for one man to have so much power.

He knows that power can corrupt even a good person.

Samuel also feels that appointing a king is a way of rejecting God as the people may rely more on a single person rather than on God.

But the people are relentless in their request and eventually Samuel gives in.

Samuel turns to God and God asks Samuel to anoint Saul as king.

Saul was an impressive person for the job.

But Saul proved to be a disappointing leader and eventually Saul chose to disobey God.

So God sends Samuel to meet with Saul to give him the message that God no longer approves of Saul’s work as Israel’s king.

Samuel then goes on to anoint a new king for Israel… we all know him as David.

Even though Saul was not a good king for Israel Samuel was heartbroken to see Saul fall from his role as king.

And soon after Saul leaves his role as king Samuel dies.

At his death all of Israel gathers to mourn his death.

Today we can think about such people as Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King Jr. or Oscar Romero.

Great spiritual leaders within our time who we continue to remember and to honor even after their death.

At that time in Old Testament history Samuel was this kind of a spiritual leader for the people of Israel.

In the end, Samuel was a man who did not give up praying for God’s people.

His greatest hope was that the people who turned away from God would eventually return back to God.

Throughout his life, Samuel remained fully committed to God.

In all that he did, Samuel demonstrated that he was a man who was steeped in faith and in prayer.

As we think about Samuel tonight I would like for us to keep three things in mind.

First, let’s think about how we can nurture faith in children.

Hannah, the mother of Samuel, dedicated her son to God.

Hannah spent those precious early years with Samuel in teaching him about God.

We too must always remember that our prayers, our love, and our example matters to children.

As adults we have powerful influence, influence that is given to us by God, on the development of faith in children.

I think that we often consider children to be the future of the church and that is true, yes, but children are not only the future of the church they are also the church right now.

They are the church in the present time.

Right now their voice and their presence impacts the church.

How can we mentor, teach, and help young people and children in the faith as they encourage us as well.

Secondly, find ways to grow in your faith.

One of the ways that Samuel grew in his faith was through worship.  Samuel’s enduring faith sustained him in his life and in his work as a servant of the Lord.

Samuel found strength, purpose, and direction as he continued to look to God in worship and in prayer.

Worship is about God.

In worship we are included in the family of God and through worship our faith grows.

And lastly, find ways to point others to Jesus.

Samuel chose to hear God and to use his life to point others to God.

Samuel teaches us that no king or spiritual leader will ever be as trustworthy and faithful as God.

Everyone is to place their trust in God and hope in God.

It is through God that we find our way in life.

Samuel clearly saw this and he directed God’s people to see God.

Samuel gave to us a good sign.

That God alone is worthy and that God alone can save us.

Later God would give God’s people a new sign.

We would no longer have a king but rather a savior in Jesus.

Jesus is our Lord, our judge, our high priest, and our true king.

We have a good sign to share with others.

When we are marked with the sign of the cross, a sign that we first receive upon baptism then we too are counted in God’s family and we belong with God’s people.

Taking the example of Samuel may we too point others to that very good new sign.  A sign that points to the cross where God’s loves is poured out for us.  Amen.



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sermon date 2018-03-21

The Fiery Prophet

Elijah is known as the fiery prophet.
God called Elijah to confront the people that worshipped the Canaanite god, Baal.
Elijah demonstrated the power of God. By the power of God a devastating drought came upon the land and Elijah defeated the prophets of the false god at Mount Carmel.
In 1 Kings Elijah says, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, who I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
Here Elijah, as God’s servant, proclaims God’s power through his words in order to stop the rain.
During the drought Elijah does not go thirsty or hungry.
Instead God provides for Elijah.
It is through God’s provision in the ravens who bring him food and in the kindness of a widow at Zeraphath that Elijah continues to have enough.
He is able to survive the three and a half year drought.
At the end of the drought God sends Elijah to the priests of Baal at Mount Carmel.
There Elijah prays for the power of God.
Fire descends from heaven upon the altar of the false god.
Elijah prays again and the drought is lifted and the rain comes.
Soon after this Elijah travels for forty days and forty nights until he reaches Horeb, the mountain of God.
There at that mountain God speaks to Elijah in a still, small voice.
In this mysterious encounter with God, God provides a new companion and friend.
We know his as Elisha.
Elisha will be Elijah’s friend for the rest of his life.
Elisha will also be the prophet’s successor.
On the mountaintop God also gives Elijah a new job and helps Elijah to have a new perspective on his life.
Elijah was a strong and brave prophet but he also struggled with fear and discouragement.
God ministered to Elijah when he needed encouragement and God helped him to continue his work.
Elijah had those days when he ran from his calling out of fear for his life but at the same time he remained devoted to God.
In the end Elijah was only the second person in the Bible who was taken up to heaven without actually dying.
At the very end of his life God took Elijah up to heaven in a chariot of fire with horses of fire.
This happened while he was still alive.
The only other person in the Bible who was taken alive to heaven was Enoch.
Enoch’s story, if you are interested in learning more about this man, can be found in the book of Genesis.
There is also a small book that bears his name.
The book is called 1 Enoch.
This book actually did not make it into the canon of Scripture.
So if you want to read this book you will have to buy it separated.
1 Enoch was written in the intertestamental period which is the time period between the Old and the New Testaments.
Interestingly enough there is actually a letter in the New Testament, the letter of Jude, which can be found right before the book of Revelation, which quotes 1 Enoch.
So even though 1 Enoch is not found in the Bible the book is actually quoted in the Bible.
In fact, there were some early Christians who felt the book should be included in the Bible.
St Augustine believed that parts of the book were inspired by God.
If you do ever get a chance to read 1 Enoch I would encourage you to read it like a novel and as you read it look for signs of God’s presence in the book.
Now back to Elijah.
Tonight what can we take away from the prophet?
First, and I believe this point is so important, remember that you are not alone.
It may feel that way sometimes and it might even at times appear to be so but we are never alone.
In the book of Hebrews we hear that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
Elijah felt at times that he was the only defender of God’s ways.
But God assured him time and time again that there were many others that had not turned away to serve other gods.
God also brought Elisha into his life so that he might have a true friend and companion in the Lord.
When I was serving as an intern pastor in Dodgeville.
One thing that my supervisor, Steve Kottke, said to me is that in my future ministry don’t ever become a lone ranger pastor.
He told me that I will always need the encouragement and support of other pastors and the encouragement and support of other trusted friends.
So when I came here right away I joined the Walworth County Ecumenical Pastor’s group and I joined a community group in the Lake Geneva Barbershop group.
And I will tell you it was two of the best decisions I made upon coming here.
Both groups have been wonderful blessings to me.
I hope that our community, this church, is such a blessing for you.
I hope that when you come here you find peace and friendship and most importantly I pray that you see God.
Again in the book of Hebrews we hear let us consider how we might spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together… but encouraging one another.
Secondly, remain strong in your faith.
Elijah challenged 450 priests of Baal at Mount Carmel and because God was on his side Elijah ended up on top.
God will see us through when we remain strong in faith.
Christ will lead us to victory from that which would harm us and take us away from God.
Like Elijah God will give us the grace to do the work that God has called us to do and God will help us to do it well.
God will give us a voice to speak words of peace, justice, love, and grace.
And lastly, know that God is with us through the dark and difficult days of life.
Even though Elijah is remembered as this great and fiery prophet he struggled in his own life.
He faced the demons of fear, depression, and discouragement like many of the other prophets and priest in Scripture.
During one particular time of great discouragement for Elijah he chooses to run in fear to Horeb in order to escape his work and calling.
There what does God do?
God intervenes and God give Elijah strength to continue.
Have there been times in your life when you have felt overcome with fear or discouragement?
As God ministered to Elijah so too can God come to our aid when we need help.
God knows us and he knows our needs… he also knows our weaknesses.
God can help us.
In the Bible Elijah is known as a truly great prophet.
Even Jesus speaks about Elijah in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus speaks about the prophetic work of God through Elijah.
The Apostle Paul speaks about Elijah in Romans as he uses Elijah’s story to make a point about God’s grace.
Elijah even appears with Moses at the transfiguration of our Lord on the mountaintop.
And in James we hear that Elijah was simply a man but that he prayed earnestly that will would not rains and it did not rain and then he prayed for rain and the heavens opened up with rain.
Here in James by using Elijah as an example James make an important point about prayer and how we should pray for and encourage one another in the faith.
James then gives that often quoted verse from Scripture: The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Remembering the prophet Elijah may we take to heart this verse from James.
Never underestimate the power of prayer and the power of God.
Now I simply want to stop preaching and take a moment to thank you for journeying with me through these forty days of Lent.
As I have taken a closer look at these five people form the Bible I have been inspired by their total commitment to God even in the face of difficulties and challenges.
I hope that you been inspired by their stores and that you have grown in your faith these forty days of Lent.
I invite you to continue learning the lessons from men and women from the Bible.
Read from the Bible on the five that I preached on and then take a look at others such as Ruth, or Job, or Joseph, or Isaiah.
Read their stories, see how God worked in their lives, see how these people made a positive difference for God.
May God bless you as open the Bible and as you let the Holy Spirit move in your life.
May God bless you as we approach the holiest week of the church year.
May your faith be enlarged and may you see Christ in news ways.

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sermon date 2018-03-18

We Would Like to See Jesus

This past week as I thought about the Gospel reading for today one verse from the reading that kept coming back to me again and again was verse twenty-one.

In that verse some people, who are very curious about this Jesus, approach Philip with this request:

 “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”

“We wish to see him.”

Don’t we all have the same desire?

We too want to see Jesus!

We too want to see our Lord.

In our longing to see Jesus what do we do in our lives so that we can see him?

When Jesus was told that these people want to see him Jesus used the metaphor of grain that falls into the earth to speak about the importance of his coming death.

In his death he will bring life to all people.

Jesus also spoke about hating and losing one’s life.

By doing so a person lets go of their life and that person begins to live sacrificially.

That person makes sacrifices for the Gospel.

And through those sacrifices one is able to live a more life-giving life.

A life-giving life that begins now and continues on even beyond the grave.

We know that this is the kind of life that Jesus lived.

Jesus’ love for us was a sacrificial love.

A love that endured the cross in order to draw all people back to God and back to God’s family.

In the end of his life Jesus was lifted up.

He was not lifted up in such a way as to be placed on a throne in order to be a king but rather he was lifted up on a cross.

Jesus our true king was lifted up on a cross.

This past Wednesday for my sermon on Samuel I spoke about the people’s desire and want for a king.

Samuel was against this idea he believed that one man with too much power can become a corrupt person.

He also had a fear that people would place their trust in a king and not in God.

In his life Jesus deconstructs the traditional view of kingship.

In Jesus, our true king, we find one who rules with love, humbleness, and with sacrifice.

Jesus embodies that sacrificial love through his entire ministry as washes the feet of those he loves, as he blesses the children and does not send them away, as he reaches out to the tax collectors and the sinners, as gives his life away at the last supper when he eats with his disciples.

During the season of Lent we think a little more deeply about all of this.

During the season of Lent we also think about how we might see Jesus more clearly in our lives.  We understand that to encounter Jesus means that we may have to live differently and even live and act in sacrificial ways.

Last week a friend of mine gave to me a list of ways we might grow in our love for Jesus.

I thought that these ideas could apply to Lent.

I would like to share these ideas with you now to get you thinking about your relationship with Jesus.

Maybe hold unto one or two of these ideas.

Spend some time with these ideas the remaining days of Lent.

These ideas are faith habits that I think especially work well with the disciplines of Lent.

Here they are:

1)  Try to find ways to regularly read and study the Bible in order to grow closer to God.

2)  Share God’s story with a child.

3)  Look for God’s story within your story and in the stories of others.

4)  Eat meals with the cell phone and television turned off.

5)  Find ways to joyfully serve others.

6)  Pray at mealtime, bedtime, sick time, car time, school time, work time, anytime and anywhere.

7)  Easily and joyfully share your possessions and wealth with others.

8)  Take action to care for your neighbor, your community, and the earth.

9)  Talk and act in ways that reflect our creator God who sent us Jesus to follow.

10)  Create opportunities for friendships and caring relationships with people of all ages.

11)  Make worship a part of your life.  In worship we remember that we are loved by God.

12)  Practice forgiveness and grace.  Affirm and celebrates one another’s gifts.  Live joyfully and share freely.

13)  Sing, play or listen to music that praises God and that brings joy, peace, and healing in our lives.

14)  Live with a sense of gratefulness each and every day for God’s gracious generosity.

If we were able to take only one or two of these ideas we would be begin to see more of Jesus in our lives.

Some of these ideas may be difficult at least at first to put into practice but once we do so we will begin to experience more of the life that God wants to give to us and most importantly we will be able to see more of Jesus.

It is the longing of our hearts to be known by our creator and by our savior.

When we start to take those steps of faith and work to open ourselves up to living in the ways of Jesus we do begin to see more and more of Jesus.

It can be small steps even baby steps but we need to take those steps toward Jesus.

We take those steps trusting that as we walk towards Jesus, Jesus in his faithfulness towards us will also walk towards us.

We will then walk together to the cross and then to the empty tomb.


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sermon date 2018-03-25

On Palm Sunday we hear two Gospel readings one that celebrates Jesus as the triumphant messiah and the second one that speaks of Jesus’ death on the cross.

On Good Friday we will gather once again to witness through word, song, and prayer the passion of our Lord.

We will gather once again to hear how an innocent and holy man dies on a cross.

Jesus’ suffering reflects back to us all the unjust suffering in the world and all the senseless violence in the world.

Jesus, an innocent man, suffering, dying by the hand of the crowd and by those in power.

But from the cross Jesus surprises us.

On the cross Jesus asks that God would forgive those who crucified him.

The crowd that shouted for him to be crucified.


The disciples who abandoned Jesus.


Pilate and those in power who ordered the crucifixion.


Even us who regularly sin and who regularly abandon Jesus and chase after other things.


Jesus forgives.  God forgives.  The Spirit forgives.

This is truly the Gospel in its purest form.

The radical message of God’s enduring grace.

God loves.

God forgives.

On the cross God reconciles the world back to God’s-self.

But then God does something else.

The cross and our forgiveness is not the end of the story it is only the beginning.

After the cross God pushes us forward.

After the cross God invites us to join him in taking part in the healing of the world.

As we are forgiven, healed, and set free from that which would hold us captive God sends us out to be missionaries and healers.

We are to be workers in God’s new kingdom.

On this day we greatly anticipate Easter Sunday.

We wait knowing that there is more to come.

There is more to come.

On this day we hold by faith that the cross will be the bridge by which all people are forgiven by which all people are invited to come to God.

This coming Thursday is Maundy Thursday.

It is the day right before Good Friday.

On Maundy Thursday we remember how Jesus washed the disciple’s feet and how he had one last supper with those he deeply loved.

It is also the night where we remember how he was betrayed and arrested by the Romans.

This coming week is a holy week that we are entering.

On Easter Sunday we break our Lenten fast or we might choose to continue fasting from that which takes us away from God.

Lent is coming to an end.

Easter is just around the corner.

The season of Easter lasts for Seven Sundays.

Even after the season of Easter we continue remembering that Sunday is the day that Jesus rose from the dead.

For the early Christians every Sunday was seen as a little Easter.

Yes, the kingdom of God is not yet fully here.

We are not let living fully into the kingdom.

People still get sick and die.

We live in a world of sin, violence, and evil.

Jesus an innocent man dies on a cross.

But Easter is coming and one day the great Easter promise will be fully realized and the promise will be fully revealed to us.

We will be made whole.

We will become a holy people.

We will be completely forgiven and embraced by a loving God.

But until that day comes either by death or by our Lord returning once again to carry us up into heaven like what God did for Elijah and Enoch… for now we wait, we are awake, we walk with each other, we pray for one another, we encourage one another, we break bread and soup with one another, we gather around the cross were Jesus forgives us.

And most importantly, by faith, we stand together at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.


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sermon date 2018-04-01

Christ is Risen!

Christ is risen!  All the sadness of our Lenten fast is over through the open gates of gladness he returns to life once more. 

Those words are from John Monsell who wrote the words for the great Easter hymn:  Christ is Risen!  Alleluia!

For a long time now I have found such great meaning in the movement from Lent to Easter.

It is a powerful movement.

Long ago the church made a decision to focus on a season of intense preparation, that being Lent, right before Easter.

During that time we focus on our mortality, our sin, and our walk with Christ.

The time of Lent eventually leads us to the cross on Good Friday and then, three days later, to a season of new life which we find this morning on Easter Sunday.

This really is a metaphor, a pattern, that reflects the Christian journey.

Striving, struggling, suffering, and then… new life.

This is the human experience.

This is also what it looks like to follow Jesus.

The event from Lent to Easter is not some strange thing that the church participates in each and every year.

It is not something that is not connected to the real world and to our real lives.

But it is indeed how we actually experience life.

We struggle.  We fall.  We doubt.  We suffer.

But God is always there bringing new life, bringing resurrection into our lives.

This is our hope.

We trust and believe that God is always doing something new.

Christ breaks into our despair, our depressions, our addictions, our suffering with new life, with new life-giving life.

The only thing in life that is guaranteed is the fact that we will all suffer in some way and then one day we will die.

No one can escape suffering and no one can escape death.

But for us who believe there is also another thing that is guaranteed.

Through Christ in death we will one day rise with Christ.

Not only that but we will also receive new life again and again and again during our time here on earth.

Jesus gives his life for us so that we may have life.

Rarely will a person give their life for a good person but Jesus gives his life for sinners.

Sometimes we may not even notice all the ways that Jesus breathes new life into our tired bones but he does.

Today we name that and celebrate that truth.  Resurrection is real.

Once we really take to heart this new way of seeing our lives and in understanding that this is how God operates in the world it will certainly change our live.

We might give to someone something with the expectation that we should receive something in return.

But God gives without expecting anything in return.

God is always giving.

God gives to us even though we do not deserve such love and grace.

God gives even if we do not even say those simple words:  thank you.

There is a beautiful poem that I have been thinking about this past week that I would like to share with you now as part of my Easter message.

There is a simple but profound message in this poem.

I encourage you to take the message with you on this Easter Sunday.

The poem is by Valerie Cox.  The poem is called “The Cookie Thief.”

A woman was waiting at an airport one night
With several long hours before her flight
She hunted for a book in the airport shop
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop
She was engrossed in her book but happened to see
That the man beside her as bold as could be
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag between
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene
She munched cookies and watched the clock
As this gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by
Thinking “If I wasn’t so nice I’d blacken his eye”
With each cookie she took he took one too
And when only one was left she wondered what he’d do
With a smile on his face and a nervous laugh
He took the last cookie and broke it in half
He offered her half as he ate the other
She snatched it from him and thought “Oh brother
This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude
Why he didn’t even show any gratitude”
She had never known when she had been so galled
And sighed with relief when her flight was called
She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate
Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate
She boarded the plane and sank in her seat
Then sought her book which was almost complete
As she reached in her baggage she gasped with surprise
There was her bag of cookies in front of her eyes
“If mine are here” she moaned with despair
“Then the others were his and he tried to share”
“Too late to apologize she realized with grief”

That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.

Isn’t that a neat poem?

It is easy to think that we have the anwers.

That this is the way that life is.

But God surprises us on this very morning.

God does something new God creates life out of death.

God offers healing for all of our pain.

God chooses to give and not to take.

God gives to us God’s only Son in Jesus.

Jesus gives his life to us through the cross.

The Spirit continually surprises us with love.

On this holy morning may our eyes be opened to all the things that God is doing.

May we be surprised by the ways that God is always giving to us.

May we see in new ways the fact that we sometimes are not always grateful for all the new things that God is doing in our lives and in the world.

May we be inspired to find new ways to spread this great message of hope.

And may we understand that this day is not about us but rather it is about Jesus.

It is about how Jesus is faithful to us even to death on the cross.

It is about how he remains faithful to us.

Mary said, “I have seen the Lord.”

May you also clearly see the risen Lord in your life.

Christ is risen!  We are Christ’s in him forever.  We have triumphed over all.  All the doubting and dejection of our trembling hearts have ceased; hail the day of resurrection!  

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sermon date 2018-04-08

Walking by Faith

We are beginning the beautiful season of Easter where we will hear Bible stories of resurrection and new life.
We are making a movement here, a great transition, from Lent to Easter from death to resurrection from death to life.
This Sunday from the Gospel of John we hear of a man who was dead and is now alive.
This man who we call Jesus, the one who died on the cross, is now alive and is appearing to his disciples.
The disciples are afraid.
They are in their house with the doors locked.
They are closed up within themselves.
Suddenly Jesus appears before them.
Jesus gives to them his peace, he gives them a mission which is to continue doing his work, he tells them to forgive sins, and Jesus breathes on them and says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
This very act of Jesus breathing the life-giving Spirit of God upon his disciples reminds us of what God did to us when we were created.
A reading from Genesis chapter two: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life and the man became a living being.”
So God creates a person and then God does something interesting here… God breathes into that person the breath of life.
All of us have the breath of God within us.
Take a deep breath right now.
One, two, three… you just took in the very presence of God.
With each breath we remember that it is God who gives us life.
God is the source of all life.
In the Gospel of John the risen Jesus breathes into his disciples the very Spirit of God.
By faith, we believe that the risen Jesus is still breathing into his people the Holy Spirit.
We have been given both the breath of life that keeps us alive and able to live life and we have been given the Holy Spirit that keeps us connected to God and to one another.
The Spirit of Life is moving among us and we trust that God sends us God’s Spirit so that we too can be sent out to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.
We are the new creation, which is different from the first creation when God created man and woman.
The new creation has the authority to forgive sin, to pray for one another, to help people find life, to work to restore broken relationships, and to give witness to the risen Christ.
The spirit of God within us changes us and makes us live differently. Now that can be scary.
I know even for myself when the Spirit is convicting me and moving in me it can be a frightening thing because when we receive the Spirit -God changes us.
But even though we may be afraid and fearful like the disciples or we may have doubts like the disciple Thomas the Spirit will give us courage, just as the Spirit gave the disciples courage to eventually unlock the doors of their house so that they could go out and give witness to the presence of the risen Christ among them.
God’s spirit will empower us to walk be faith.
During this new season of Easter, which is for fifty days, how might the Holy Spirit change us?
How might the Spirit be moving in your life?
Or how might the Spirit be working in this congregation?
Where can we see signs of new life within our church?
I think it is good to be asking these very questions.
It is important to pay attention to the work of the Holy Spirit.
On this Sunday through our Easter reading we receive a small foretaste of Pentecost.
On this day as we will on Pentecost Sunday we celebrate all of the positive and Spirit-filled things that are taking place among us.
We believe together that when Jesus said to his disciples,
“Receive the Holy Spirit,” he meant receive the Holy Spirit.
Today we believe that the Spirit was given to Jesus’ disciples and that the Spirit is also given to us who gather together in his name.
May God fill us with the promised Holy Spirit during this Easter season.
May we have not doubting hearts but trusting hearts that God is here, that God is at work within us, that God is doing a new thing here, and that the risen Jesus is breathing the Spirit into our hearts.
Choose to walk by faith that in believing in the risen Christ we may have true and lasting life.

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sermon date 2018-04-15

Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

This prayer is one of the most well know Christian prayers.

In your bulletin you will find that Rebecca made a nice book mark for you to take home with you today.  You might put it on your fridge or by your desk at work as a reminder to pray this prayer.

This prayer is often attributed to St Francis of Assisi but no one actually knows who wrote this prayer.

This prayer has been prayed by many people over the years.

From Mother Teresa to Desmond Tutu from Nancy Pelosi to John Boehner this prayer has spoken to people from all backgrounds and walks of life.

This prayer is even included in the program for AA members and for those who battle with addiction.

The prayer calls upon God for God to create a transformation in one’s life towards peace and towards living in life-giving ways.

But I need to warn you.  It is not an easy prayer to pray.

If we were to truly pray this prayer we would begin to be changed in radical ways.  We would begin to walk more faithfully in the footsteps of Jesus.

Now I have been praying this prayer for some time now and when it comes to this prayer and in praying this prayer in my own life I have gotten to the maturity level of a little baby probably I should not give myself that much credit I am probably closer to a newborn.

I have not gotten very far.

But nevertheless, I love this short prayer.  There is great power contained in these simple words.

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.”  “Where there is harm, forgiveness.”  “Where there is doubt, faith.”

In our Easter reading for today we hear of another time where Jesus appears to his disciples.

In this resurrection appearance, what is the first thing that Jesus says to his disciples?  It is once again:  “Peace be with you.”

Last week from the Gospel of John we heard Jesus say the same thing to his disciples.

In the Gospel of John Jesus appeared to his disciples, when they were in their house, and even though the doors were shut and locked he suddenly appears among them.

His first words that he says to them is “Peace be with you.”

His disciples who are afraid, who have doubts, who have abandoned Jesus right before Jesus was crucified this scared and terrified group are given the peace that only God can give.

Isn’t it interesting?  You would think that Jesus would be more upset at his disciples.

But instead he gives them his peace.

Jesus’ work is to bring about peace.  His death has accomplished peace between God and humanity and peace between Jew and Gentile, those people who are not Jewish.

God wants us to have peace and God also wants us to follow hard after God’s will.

Jesus said to his disciples, “You are to be witnesses.”

We are to give witness to the peace of God and to the ways of our Lord.  We are to teach others about God’s plan for the world, which is to redeem, restore, and heal all of God’s creation.

This redemption of God’s world starts now and finds its completion when Christ comes again to renew the heavens and the earth.

Then God’s peace will fully reign in God’s new kingdom.

Would you try something, with me?

For the next forty days try praying this prayer of peace every morning.  As you do so…

You will soon find yourself acting upon the words of this prayer.

You will soon find yourself moved by Jesus to seek peace instead of seeking to be right.

You will soon find yourself offering forgiveness where there was harm.

You will soon find yourself sowing love where you might find hate.

You will soon find yourself praying for those you disagree with instead of judging those you disagree with.

Instead of going on Facebook and getting upset with those who have different political views than you have you will instead be moved to pray and to try to understand where your neighbor is coming from instead of trying to prove them wrong.

You will find than when you have the chance to be right or to be kind you will choose kindness.

Yes, this will require enormous strength and courage to overcome the eye for an eye mentality that all of us often hold on to.

But always remember that we have the risen Jesus on our side.  We also have the whole company of God’s people cheering us on.

I have recently connected with a pastor who serves in Lake Geneva.

The last time I saw him I asked if he could pray for me.

He prayed passionately for our church and for me.

When he was finished praying he said to me, “I don’t care if you’re a Lutheran from Williams Bay I will pray for God to be working in and through you and your congregation.”

His prayer along with his words meant so much to me.

I felt so encouraged by his prayer.

It was a reminder to me that we always have all of these witnesses around us that are seeking after the same thing that we are seeking after which is the kingdom of God.

In the book of Hebrews in the Bible we hear the wonderful promise that we in fact, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

In 1 John we hear:  “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.”

We are God’s people, we are God’s children, we are part of that great cloud of witnesses, called to follow the ways of peace, called to follow Jesus with one another.

May God bless you this coming week as you begin to pray this prayer and as you seek a deeper closeness with our risen Lord.

As you pray please also pray for me and I will pray for you.

You are witnesses of these very things.

Never forget that.

Lord Jesus, may we be instruments of your peace.  You passed on your peace to your disciples.  You pass on your peace to us.  Thank you, Lord for your peace which passes all understanding.  Amen.

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sermon date 2018-04-22

The Good Shepherd

The picture of Jesus that is in your bulletin is one of the oldest pictures of Jesus that we have.

This picture was found in an early third-century house-church in today’s Syria.

It is an image of Jesus as a shepherd carrying a sheep across his shoulders.

Jesus as a shepherd is an image that was very common in the early church.

It is also an image that connected people back to the Old Testament especially as we hear today’s Psalm.

Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved Psalms in the Bible.

I think back to all the times that I have read that Psalm at a funeral service or at a graveside service and how much comfort that simple Psalm has given to those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

The Lord is our shepherd the one who provides for us, the one who comforts us in our trials, and the one who leads us into eternal life.

The image of Jesus as a shepherd is a very important image for us.

In fact, images of Jesus on a cross actually did not appear until much later in Christian history.

So the first Christians did not have images of Jesus on a cross in their worship but rather of Jesus as a shepherd.

This might surprise us at first, until we take a closer look at today’s Gospel reading from John.

According to Jesus, the good shepherd knows the sheep and is known by them.

The good shepherd also lays down his life for his sheep.

Jesus is our good shepherd.

He knows us and he has laid down his life for us.

Therefore, the image of Jesus as our good shepherd carries much of the same meaning as the image of Jesus on a cross.

One very important thing about the image of Jesus as our shepherd that comes across to us as so in a very clear way, just as it did so to the very first followers of Jesus, is:  that when we begin to see ourselves as sheep of Jesus’ flock we can begin to see that our salvation, in part, lies in having a relationship with the shepherd.

Let me dive into that thought for a moment here….

Salvation lies in believing that Jesus was faithful to us even to death on a cross, that on the cross Jesus broke the deadly cycle of violence, that eye for an eye mentality, with his love and with his forgiveness.

Now salvation lies in following where Jesus leads us and in doing what Jesus does.

To know salvation is to be changed by the savior.

To know salvation means that we are changed by our savior.

In I John we hear that we know love by this, that Jesus Christ laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or a sister in need and yet refuses to help?

(That was from our second reading for today.)

And so again, the image of Jesus as our good shepherd signifies that we are to follow Jesus.

We are to follow our good shepherd!

We are to follow our good shepherd who leads us into life.

The summer after I graduated from high school, as I lingered in that strange world, that between time between high school and college, I happened to come across and to read the book In His Steps by Charles Sheldon.

In the book there is this special invitation given by Rev. Henry Maxwell to the people of his congregation to pledge for one year to not do anything without first asking the question, “What would Jesus do?”

The people in the book find that this challenge to follow Jesus in this way brings about conflict, suffering, challenges, and deep and abiding joy.

The characters in the novel realize that by trying to follow Jesus in this way brings about an entire dedication of money, talent, career, and influence to Christ.

Through the novel the characters are radically changed by following Jesus in this way by continuing to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?”

Let me give to you now an example here.

Say you have fifty thousand dollars and you need a new car.  You ask that question here, “What would Jesus do?”  Would Jesus spend fifty thousand dollars on a new car for himself or might he give some of that money away and buy something a little less expensive?

Or say you are in an argument with someone and you are trying to prove your point at the expense of the other person and suddenly you stop and you ask yourself that question.

“What would Jesus do?”

Or take this example, today is Earth day a day to confront the truth of our own share of the responsibility for the acceleration of the destruction of God’s good earth.

“What would Jesus do?”

As followers of Jesus we try to follow in our Lord’s footsteps.

We try to walk with Jesus each and every day.

We are not Jesus.

We certainly do not claim to be him but we do try to follow him and to follow in his ways.

The Bishop and martyr Irenaeus who died in the year 200 once said, “Jesus became what we are so that we might become what he is.”

What will this look like?

It begins as we humbly follow after our good shepherd and as we walk in his steps.

It begins as we realize that the life that God has given to us is meant to be lived out in relationship with our good shepherd.

It begins as we realize that our salvation is already given to us in Christ through his death on the cross.

From here, from the cross, our work is only to follow after the good shepherd, the one, who gives us true and lasting life.

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sermon date 2018-04-29

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

This past year I was humbled by a rather serious illness.

I have been sick before, of course, with various colds and flus but I have never had in my life such an illness that completely knocked me out and then lasted for so long.

Simple things that I used to do suddenly became so difficult to do and every day I felt miserable.

Today I am grateful to say that I am almost completely back to health.

I still struggle with some of my symptoms but overall I feel much better.

These past seven months have certainly been a journey for me as I have worked to regain my health through physical therapy, diet, and exercise.

During this time I have also been reflecting a lot on my faith and on my relationships with the people in my life.

I think a serious illness or a transition or a dramatic change in a person’s life, or a death in the family can make a person reflect more deeply upon their life and upon the things that matter the most in a person’s life.

A few years ago a very dear person to me, a person who was dying from cancer, gave to me a book entitled:  The Four Things that Matter Most by Ira Byock.

In the book Dr. Byock makes the point that all of us can experience healing and wholeness in our lives even in the wake of family conflict, personal tragedy, divorce, illness, or death.

In his book he offers practical wisdom and spiritual insights.

He gives voice to that which is most important and to what really matters in our day to day lives.

In his book he lists four things that we are to say to one another in order to live a meaningful life.

These four things matter the most for our healing and for our own personal transformation.

The four things that we are to say are: I forgive you, thank you, I love you, and good-bye.

I forgive you.  Thank you.  I love you.  Good-bye.

He writes that if we learn to communicate these four things well that that will do so much to bring peace and joy and meaning into our lives.

How do we practice forgiveness in our own lives in regards to ourselves and towards others?

I forgive you.

How do we tell others thank you?  Thank you I appreciate that.  Thank you God for this beautiful day.

Thank you.

How do we tell others that we love them?

I make sure at least twice a day right before she goes off to school in the morning and then again at night, and often in between, that I tell my daughter, Evie that I love her.  I would never want her ever to doubt my love for her.

I love you.

And lastly, how do we say good-bye to people.

In my life I have moved around a lot.

So I have said a lot of good-byes.

Some good-byes I think I have done well with and some not so well.  Are there people in your life, right now, about whom, were they to die suddenly, you would worry that you had left important things unsaid?

If so, maybe today would be a good day to say to that person the four things.

I forgive you.  Thank you.  I love you.  And Good-bye.

This way of living and of loving will always be difficult.

We even might be afraid to live in this way.

But once again today’s text from 1 John challenges us to live in these life-giving ways.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

The love that abides in God, when expressed through one another, is a pure and faithful expression of that kind of love that has casted out fear.

There is no need to fear God or to live in fear, if we are loving God and abiding in that love that comes from God.

To abide means that we stay in place, we endure, we hold out, we remain faithful to God and God remains faithful to us.

Those who see and hear Jesus are moved to respond to the gift of his love and presence in their lives through their own acts of love.

In this way then Jesus abides in them and we abide in him.

In today’s Gospel reading from John Jesus takes a common everyday image of a vine and then transforms it into a symbol of community and love.  It also become a sign for the purpose of God’s people to be about the work of mission of doing God’s work in the world in Jesus’ name.

This image of a vine sets for us this new vision for how we are to act and to be as disciples of Christ.

The realization that Jesus is living in and through us is exactly how we enter into a much larger mind and heart beyond our own.

Afterward, when we see in this way we know in a different way, this different way is the way of Jesus.

Jesus’ way was the way of the cross.

On the cross he choose to love us even to the very end, the end which came for him on a cross.

On the cross Jesus taught us three essential things that we must practice in our lives.

First, that all of us will during the course of our lives face a feeling of “forsakenness.”

All of us go through dark valleys and all of us experience shadows that haunt us.

We all go through illnesses and tragedies that greatly shake us.

We all go through times where we feel empty in our spiritual lives.

This is normal and is even a part of the spiritual journey.

Remember that during these times of spiritual darkness remember that Jesus is with us still.

How much comfort we can take in knowing that our Lord stays with us even during those dark nights of the soul.

Secondly, we too learn to say with Jesus, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

As Jesus forgives we too must forgive.

And lastly, we all must eventually end our lives by saying, “Into your hands, O Lord, I entrust my spirit.”

In a very real way that came happen while we are still alive as we trust and give our lives to Jesus each and every day.

We do not need to wait until we die in order to give our lives to Christ.  Right now we can give our lives to God.

We learn these three things from Jesus while he suffered and died on the cross.

Now these three things precede resurrection in our own lives.

On the cross Jesus showed us how to get to resurrection, how to live into the new life that he wants to give to us even now.

A branch that does not abide in the vine is useless and it withers away.  A branch connected to the vine bears much fruit.

The fruit that lasts and endures is the fruit of love.

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sermon date 2018-05-13

Our Unity in Christ

John 17:11:

Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.

This verse can also be translated as:  Father, keep them faithful to your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

In his hour of prayer Jesus could pray to God for any number of things for his disciples but the thing that he prays for here is that God’s people might be one.

The very special unity that Jesus has with his Father is the same unity that Jesus wants for us.

That we might be one.

One – together with each other and one with God.

The word unity often refers to the joining of many complex and different parts into one whole part.

God’s people are many.

God’s people are complex.

We are different.

We are not all the same and yet even still God draws us all together so that we can be the very body of Christ in the world.

One of the things that I immediately liked about this congregation when I first came here to serve as pastor is in hearing about our long history of sharing in ministry with our brothers and sisters from the UCC congregation just down the road here in Williams Bay.

As Christians it is our desire to walk with each other as disciples of Christ that greatly pleases God.

When I was a child I can remember that it gave my mother such great joy to see me playing with my brothers and working with my brothers in some project.

Usually my mom only saw us fighting together.

With four boys under one roof usually there was a lot more fighting then peaceful playing but there were those rare occasions when we actually got along and did something together.

I can remember too how happy my mom would be when we were actually getting along – when we were unified in our play.

Even today it brings my mom such joy when I am getting along with my brothers and when we are doing things together, when we are speaking with each other, when we are playing basketball together, when we are eating together.

I think in a very real way this is how God, our heavenly parent, feels about us when we come together as followers of Jesus.

Even right now in this worship space.

We are united.

We are together in Jesus’ name.

Worshipping together our one God.

Yes, we are all Lutherans but if I was to come down right now from this pulpit and start asking theological questions to … and to… and to… I guarantee you that I would be getting different answers to my questions about God.

But even still, knowing that that is true, we still come together each and every Sunday morning.

We come with different life experiences, we come with different understandings of who God is and who God is to us, we come with different expectations for how we should live as disciples of Christ.

But even with all of those differences spoken and named right now that is OK because what connects us is not our differences but what connects us is what we have in common and that is our shared faith in Jesus.

That is what connects us.

We are Christ’s followers.

We are also connected with other followers of Jesus throughout the world and even throughout time in the larger communion of saints.  Our unity is found in Christ.

On this day we come together to sing those great hymns of our faith.  These hymns the music, with the words are so powerful.

The hymns do something to the soul.

These hymns point to God, to Jesus, and to our shared faith in God.

Singing has a way of bringing people together.

It is such an awesome thing to be joined with others in song to praise God and to bring glory to our one God.

God is one and is unified as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.

The special oneness that Jesus shares with God and with the Holy Spirit, that oneness also spills over to us.

That mysterious oneness and unity is ours to claim as the people of God as God’s community here on earth.

I would like to leave you with one Bible verse from the Psalms.

It is from Psalm 133 verse one.

We hear:  How Good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!

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sermon date 2018-05-20

Pentecost Sunday

Today is Pentecost Sunday.

Attending worship on Pentecost Sunday may not seem as important as attending worship on Christmas or Easter.

This festival day which marks the birth of the Christian church, and which celebrates the work of the Holy Spirit among us, does not have the special holiday traditions to accompany it as Christmas and Easter does.

We do not buy special presents for each other on Pentecost Sunday, there are no holiday movies to go along with this day, and there are no community gatherings held on Pentecost.

If you were to go around Williams Bay this afternoon I am sure you would not see any kind of a party going on simply because they were celebrating Pentecost.

Maybe you will find people celebrating a high school graduation or a birthday or you might run into a family reunion at our town park but you will not see anyone holding a party simply because it is Pentecost.

Later today you will not run into a group of people who have gathered simply to share the story of Pentecost how long ago people had gathered from all around for this particular religious festive.

According to the Old Testament law one was not allowed to work on the Day of Pentecost.

This day was also known as the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of the Harvest.

The day was observed fifty days after Passover.

That is how we get the word Pentecost.

The word Pentecost refers to the fifty day.

This holy day needed to be observed at the temple and a sacrifice of animals and bread was required.

On the day of Pentecost one was to offer to God the first fruits of their labor.  They were to offer a portion of their labor to God.

They were not to leave to God what was leftover but rather they were to give God their first fruits.

Their first fruits, meaning what they first received from the land, were offered to God as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God their creator and provider.

On this day they were also to remember their religious history and their religious traditions.

It happened… how it happened, on that very significant day, the day of Pentecost, about two thousand years ago, that the Holy Spirit came upon the people.

And now for us as Christians we understand this religious day as the day that God’s people first received the gift of the Holy Spirit and also the day in which the church came into being.

This day is often seen in the church calendar as one of the holiest days of the entire year.  But with all of that being said the world does not recognize this day as being any different from any other day.

Does it?

But maybe this is for the best, because the focus of Pentecost should always be directed completely at us, the small community of Jesus disciples in Christ’s church.

On this day we remember once again how essential the church is to God’s people.

On this day we remember that the church is deeply connected to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

On this day we remember once again how our love for God is connected with our love for the church.

On this day we remember and we renew our own love for God’s church.

Do you love God’s church?  Do you love this church?  Do you love Williams Bay Lutheran?

I’ll say it again… Do you love Williams Bay Lutheran?

Jesus Christ offers salvation and life to all, and the church exists to proclaim it.

That is why we exist.

If we do not exist to proclaim the good news of Jesus made alive through the Holy Spirit then we might as well as go home right now.

You can get home a little earlier for your Sunday brunch.

But God’s church does have a purpose.

This church has a purpose and it is to proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ.

The Sunday of Pentecost is a great time to reaffirm our participation as disciples of Jesus in God’s church, to remember our calling from God to keep our baptismal promises, and to celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit among us.

It is a day to remember our own faith story and how we might tell that story to others.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit we receive the authority from God to speak the Gospel message of the risen Christ who is at work among us.

Even Peter, the disciple who publicly denied Jesus, began a bold preacher after the Holy Spirit fell upon him and the other disciples on the day of Pentecost.

On the day of Pentecost the heavens opened and the spirit descended upon Jesus’ followers.

Today the Holy Spirit works to call individuals into community as the Body of Christ.

The day of Pentecost did not come and go, but Pentecost came and stayed.

Even now the Spirit is moving among us calling us into community, calling us from our loneliness into community, calling us to offer testimony and witness to the work and life of Jesus, calling us to love God’s church more deeply.

Is there someone that you could talk to this coming week, someone who needs to hear about Jesus?

Could you visit that person this week?

Is there someone that you could pray for this coming week who needs your prayers?

Do you know someone who is feeling discouraged or is feeling down and you might offer them a word of hope and encouragement?

Could you approach that person and ask, can I pray for you?

Can I invite you to church?

Sometimes I wonder as Christians if we really still believe that God’s Spirit is still at work in the church?

Sometimes, I feel like we forget.

We get focused on all kinds of things in the church.

Are we focused on God?

Are we thinking about God and what God can do in God’s church?

And I certainly include myself here as one of the forgetful and so again that is why this day is so important and why this day is so meaningful for us.

Today we remember and we renew our faith in the presence of God’s Spirit which is with us each and every day.

The Spirit which gathers people together for prayer and for worship.

The Spirit which brings down walls and which builds bridges for God’s people to come together as one body in Christ.

The Spirit which is present whenever we pray to God or go to God for any kind of need.

Let us look to God.

Let us follow the movement of the Holy Spirit in this place.

Let us look to God and trust that God will provide renewal and revival right here and right now.

Remember Pentecost did not come and go two thousand years ago but Pentecost came and stayed.

It stayed with us.  The Spirit stayed with us.  Amen.

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sermon date 2018-06-03

The Sabbath

Last week I spoke about the importance of prayer.  I spoke about the transformative power of prayer.  And I shared about my own experience with praying the peace prayer for forty days.

Maybe some of you joined me in praying this prayer for forty days or maybe you prayed a prayer similar to it for forty days.

Today I would like to invite you to try something else.  Today I would like to encourage you to dig into a book of the Bible for the next forty days.  Find one book in the Bible and really get into it for the next forty days.

I am going to join you on this endeavor.  I thought about a book in the Bible that I would like to read through slowly and really get into and the book of Isaiah came to my mind.

I felt as if God was calling me to study that book for the next forty days.  So that is what I am going to do.

Maybe you too would like to read and study and pray over that book too for the next forty days or maybe you feel moved to read another book in the Bible.  Maybe you would like to choose Genesis or Matthew or maybe even Revelation?

Whatever book you decide on stick with that book and stay committed to that book for the next forty days.

Try to find time to read a verse or a chapter of that book every day and if you finish that book during the forty days than go back to the beginning and start over with that same book or find another book to in the Bible to read.

You might even what to find a commentary on that book so you can dig even deeper into that book or maybe you might want to read that book with your spouse or a friend so that you can talk to someone about the insights that you are receiving from reading that book.

However you do it remember this… stick with it.  Even if you miss a day that is OK just get right back to it the next day.  Don’t give up.  Keep reading it and praying about the lessons you are learning from God’s Word.

The great theologian A. W. Tozer who wrote the Christian classic The Pursuit of God once said that to think God’s thoughts requires much prayer.  If you do not pray much, you are not thinking God’s thoughts.  If you do not read your Bible much, often, and prayerfully than you are not thinking God’s thoughts.

We need to learn to live into our prayer lives and into our Bibles.

Don’t just read a passage here and a passage there that you like.  Don’t just pray before a meal.  When we pray deeply and regularly read our Bibles we make our minds and our souls a temple where God can dwell.

Because part of the Christian life is simply taking time to be with God.  Just like we take time to be with the people that we love.

That is what our reading from Deuteronomy is all about.  It is about pausing from time to time in our busy lives to remember God and to rest.  The Sabbath is about stopping in order to be with God.

A colleague and close friend of mine sent me a Facebook post this past week that said, “There is no glory in hurrying, no awakening in a full schedule, and no divinity in spreading ourselves so thin.”

Maybe in no other time than the time that we are living in now is this Sabbath commandment so valuable.  It is more valuable than gold or silver.

In Deuteronomy we hear that we are to observe the Sabbath and to keep it holy.  For both the Jewish people and for Christians we recognize that at least one day a week we are to stop working and we are to be with God.

We are to stop and to be fully present with God.

The Sabbath is also a day to be away from our work in order to be with our families and to remember what is most important in our lives time with God and time with our loves ones.

For Christians Sunday is seen as our Sabbath while for the Jewish people Saturday is seen as their Sabbath.

Now for some people Sunday may not be a day of rest.  That day might be a day of work.

They might have a job that does not allow for Sabbath rest or for worship on Sunday and so it is important for these people to still find time during the week for Sabbath.

For time with God, for time with our loves ones.  Sabbath is also to be practiced during the week as we look for ways to take time for God in prayer and in Bible study.

The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat which means to cease or to suspend.  In the book of Genesis God stops from the work of creation on the seventh day.

And then God doesn’t just stop from working on the seventh day, God also blesses the seventh day and God makes that day holy.

Jesus claimed lordship over the Sabbath and even though he interpreted the Sabbath law differently than the religious leaders of his day he still recognized the Sabbath.

For Jesus the Sabbath was all about doing good and about honoring the life-giving meaning behind the Sabbath.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus enters a synagogue on the Sabbath and while he is there he heals a man with a withered hand.

In the reading before he heals the man he first asks a question, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?”  The people around him are silent.

Not a word.  How sad it is that they could not even answer this simple question.  Of course, the question is not a trick question.  The answer is clear.  We are to save life on the Sabbath.

And in the silence Jesus says, “Stretch out your hand.”  The man stretches out his hand and Jesus heals his hand.

Now if we look closely at the text it says that the Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians to destroy, to kill Jesus.

Now look at the word immediately that is used in the Bible reading.  The Bible says that they immediately conspired to destroy Jesus.

Again what day is it… the Sabbath?  On the Sabbath the religious leaders are planning on how to kill Jesus.

On the Sabbath.

So according to these religious leaders you cannot work on the Sabbath but you can plan on how to destroy someone.

Didn’t Jesus just ask the people, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill life?”

We get the wrong answer here from the religious leaders.  They are so blind here that they completely miss the true meaning of the Sabbath.

They forget the true Spirit behind this special day of the week.

Here in this reading we learn from Jesus the true meaning of what Jesus meant when he said that he is lord of the Sabbath.

Jesus’ authority is greater that any human voice, no matter how pious, no matter how deeply entrenched in religious tradition.

Jesus is lord of the Sabbath.

We most always remember that traditions and the laws come second to the greatest commandment.

When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment Jesus answered that we are to love God and to love neighbor.

Jesus said that we are not far from the kingdom of God, the life-giving life that God intends for all of God’s children, if we live by this commandment.

In honoring and obeying the greatest commandment of love for God and neighbor we see that Sabbath keeping is a way to love God and to love neighbor because to keep the Sabbath you take time for God and you take time for other people.

Time is a gift from God may we always set aside a portion of our time for God and for others each and every week.

Our days are numbered and the days that we have to live life are given to us as a gift from God.

May we remember that and may we use our time and our days well by honoring the Sabbath.

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sermon date 2018-06-10

Jesus’ Teachings

Recently, Kalen and I were looking at a history book about Christ Lutheran Church in Sharon.  Apparently many, many years ago when the church was still very young there was a disagreement between the pastor and the congregation.

The conflict rose to such a level that on one particular Sunday morning the people of the congregation locked the doors of the church so that the pastor could not enter the building.

Soon after that incident the church began to decline.  Ministry was not happening.

And soon it was decided that a major change needed to be made.

As I was thinking about that bit of history I thought to myself that, even though I do not feel that I am very good at handling conflict, I should tell you that if that was to ever happen here, I want you to know that I always carry a church key on me…

In today’s Gospel reading from Mark Jesus teaches us that if a kingdom is divided against itself than that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself than that house will not be able to stand.

If there is conflict in a kingdom that rises to a level that division breaks out than that division will eventually destroy that kingdom.

In order for a church to be a blessing to its members and to the community that church must not be divided.  That church must be unified in purpose and in mission.

It is the same way with our country.  In order for our country to be strong we must be unified.  In fact, in 1858 Abraham Lincoln famously quoted this line from Scripture in one of his speeches.

You know the quote, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  He was quoting scripture in that famous speech.

I think all of us here can agree upon this, no matter what political party you belong to, that if our nation is divided than our nation will not be as strong then if our nation is unified.

That is why I think that when we come together for some kind of a community event, such as a Memorial Day ceremony, that that event is so important for a community because the event becomes a reminder to us that we all belong to this country together.

We are all Americans no matter what party we support.  We all have lost loved ones to war.  My uncle John, my dad’s brother, died fifty years ago this coming June 19th as a marine in Vietnam.  On Memorial Day we remember together these people.

For the past two years I have attended the Lake Geneva Memorial Day ceremony because the barbershop chorus that I sing in is always invited to sing patriotic songs during the service.

Now I know that I have different political views than many of my barbershop friends.

But that is OK.

Because when we are up on the stage singing those songs we are unified.

We are singing as if we were one voice in remembering those who have died while serving and defending our country.

Knowing how important this all is… let’s look at our Bible reading for today.  How do we get to that place where we are not divided?  I think that at the end of the text we have a clue.

Jesus said whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister, and mother.

How are we in line with the will of God?

We are in the will of God when we are able to know the difference between the power of the Holy Spirit and the demonic.  To not know difference, according to Jesus, is to be guilty of an unforgivable sin.

When we can discern the movement of the Spirit and know that Jesus’ authority and power comes from God then we are in line with the will of God.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit consists of calling the work of God’s Holy Spirit evil.  Let me say that in and really let it sink in… blasphemy against the Holy Spirit consists of calling the work of God’s Holy Spirit evil.

So blasphemy against Jesus is calling his work the work of the devil.

The work of the Holy Spirit is evidence that the kingdom of God is at hand; so to speak against the Spirit is to blaspheme God.

At that time there were people that were actually accusing Jesus of sorcery or of practicing some kind of demonic spells.  Jesus confronts his accusers by naming the truth that he is in fact, doing God’s work.

Jesus knows that God is the source of all life and that he heals people only in the power of God’s Spirit.  To accuse Jesus of healing and speaking in a different name than in God’s name is to be guilty of an unforgivable sin.

The truth is that there is no middle way to understand who Jesus is.  We believe that Jesus isn’t just a mildly interesting person.  He is either the one who broke into the world God’s true kingdom or he is a dangerous madman possessed with a demonic spirit.

For us who are gathered here today Jesus is the one we are searching for.  He is God’s son who saves us from our sins, who heals us from our sicknesses, and who blesses us with life.

He is the one that we pray to as we believe together that he hears our prayers.  He hears our prayers as we gather together for worship this morning.

Jesus calls us to stick with him and to be faithful to him no matter what the cost.  Can we do that?  Can we remain faithful to him as he remains faithful to us?

Can we reorder our lives in such a way as to place Jesus and the call of the Holy Spirit first and center in all of our decisions and actions?

Can we instruct and teach others in the ways of Jesus just as Jesus teaches us his ways?  Can we invite others to join in and to share in this message of grace?  Can we be unified in this purpose so that our church has a single-minded focus?  Always focusing on the movement of the Holy Spirit which binds us together as the people of God?

(Now if I was preaching in a Baptist church I would ask for an Amen right about now?

It’s kind of funny a couple of weeks ago I asked a question in my sermon and I wasn’t expecting a response and I got one from several people here.  So that was kind of cool!

Anyway, you see my point here.)

Here Jesus’ teaching points to the strength of his message. When we believe that Jesus came from God and that the Holy Spirit is at work in him then we are children of God.

The Gospel message of Jesus will always bring to our attention both promise and demand.  The promise that we are forgiven and the demand that we live into the promise no matter how difficult it may become for us to follow Jesus.

Even when the call becomes difficult and other things compete for our attention and time we remain faithful to Jesus.

In doing so we become a house that is not divided but is together.

In doing so we become the family of God.  Brother, sister, mother to one another and to Jesus.  Amen.

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sermon date 2018-07-01
sermon manager Pastor Tom Dowling

Growing in Discipleship

Recently, I was listening to a book on tape.

In the book a man has a vision.  In his vision the Lord comes to speak with him.  Jesus asks the man two questions.

In your life how did you grow in wisdom?

And in your life how did you grow in love?

Then the Lord took the man moment by moment through his entire life.  At each stage of his life the Lord walked the man through the times when he grew in both wisdom and in love.

The man got to relive those times with Jesus when he grew in wisdom.  At one point in the man’s life he experienced great loss and grief at the loss of his wife.

The man got to experience once again what it felt like to feel those deep feelings of grief.

As he felt those feelings Jesus talked to him about how he grew in wisdom during that time when he lost his wife.

Jesus explained to him that that experience helped him to grow in compassion and in understanding.  The man then got to see with Jesus those times in his life when he grew in love.

To the man’s deep sadness he also saw those times when he withheld love from others or missed opportunities to show love.

At one point he got to see once again a time when he showed love to a child that was in need.

Throughout the vision the Lord continued to talk to the man about the purpose of life which is to grow in wisdom and to grow in love.  When his life was finished and he had replayed every moment of his life with Jesus, the man assumed that his life was over.

But Jesus told him that his life was not yet over.  He still had life to live and that he still needed to grow in many ways as he worked to follow hard after Jesus.

This story came to my mind as I thought about what it means to grow in discipleship.  Christian discipleship is the call to learn the teachings of Jesus and then to live the teachings of Jesus.

Discipleship is always about two things:  being a student of Jesus and his teachings and putting his teachings into practice.  To grow in discipleship is to be a life-long student and follower of Jesus.

This seems like a tall order until we realize that God will help us on this life-long endeavor that we call discipleship.  God sends to us the Holy Spirit which moves us to examine our life.

This in turn moves us to change our words, our thoughts, and even our actions.  The Holy Spirit prompts us to compare our life and the way in which we live to the teachings of Jesus as we study and learn his ways from Scripture.

So this requires of us to be in God’s Word daily, to study it, to pray over it, and then to obey it.  As followers of Jesus we also look for opportunities to give testimony and witness to Christ.

In this way we live in God-honoring ways as we grow in discipleship.

As we grow in discipleship our lives will definitely change.  Our hearts will grow and our thoughts, words, and actions will reflect that change.

The Spirit of God works within us and makes something new.  What was old has now become new.

This is the process of discipleship.  At times the way might seem difficult and we might even be tempted from the evil one to give up.

During these times of struggle and temptation continue trusting in Jesus and Jesus’ grip of grace.

He will not let us go.  He will continue to guide us in the way of discipleship.

In the end, the ways that we change through the work of discipleship does not come from our own power but from the power of God.  It is not something that we do but it is what God does through us.

God is always moving within us to make us more Christ-like.  Even the action of following Jesus starts with Jesus’ call to us.

At that time in the Jewish religion a student looked for a teacher to learn about God.  Jesus did something different.  Jesus called his disciples.  He was the one who reached out to his disciples.

It was not the other way around.  In the same way Jesus is still reaching out and calling us by name to come and to follow him.

Think about this for a moment.  Each year millions of people look to the internet to find answers for their deepest longings and deepest hurts.

In the United States Google alone sees more than eight million questions each year in search of hope.

More than twenty-one million Americans ages 12 and older are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Twenty million Americans struggle with depression and over 42,000 people commit suicide each year.

Forty million people in the United States feel trapped or crippled by fear and anxiety.

To these people and to others that are suffering, searching, or looking for something, Jesus is calling.  Calling to give these people hope and a purpose.

A calling to come, to follow, and to be a disciple.  We who are disciples of Jesus have a responsibility, a calling, to help others and to tell others about Jesus.

Jesus has gone the extra mile to teach us that what he wants is followers.  He wants people who will not just hear what he has to say but people who will actually put his teachings into practice.  We are to practice our faith on a daily basis.

That is how we grow in discipleship.

This past week someone told me that the highlight of their week is their one hour in church.  Our time with God matters.  Our time with our savior matters.  Our time spent with Jesus matters.  God is more to be desired than even life itself.

Jesus said anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Jesus makes a shocking point here that our life with him and with God is much more valuable than anything this world has to offer.

This does not mean that we are to hate our lives but rather that we are to pursue a life with Jesus above everything else.

Discipleship is our priority.

This is our goal.  This is our purpose.  In the end it is not pursuing any worldly success or material possession.

Our beginning, our end is Jesus.

As we grow in discipleship we learn how to live for God’s honor.  And that means living by faith in the one we follow.

Martin Luther said, “Faith honors God whom it trusts with the most reverent and highest regard, since it considers God truthful and trustworthy.”

Isn’t that beautiful.

Unlike leaders that we often see in the world God is truthful and God is trustworthy.  In our pursuit of wisdom and in love we remember that as followers of Jesus we trust by faith in the work of the Holy Spirit among us to guide us into deeper discipleship.

Always we strive for the goal of humble faith in God’s present and future grace.  This undeserved grace springs upon us in Jesus who calls us to come and to follow.

The invitation is there for us to grow as disciples and to go out and to make disciples who follow Jesus.

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sermon date 2018-07-08
sermon manager Pastor Tom Dowling

The Gift of Compromise

It is impossible to know God to well.

This insight came to me when I was a child.  I thought that maybe there was a point where you knew God so well that you had made it.  You knew God enough.

But I was wrong.  As I thought about it then and as I turned the question over and over again, “Can you know God enough?”

I began to see that it is in fact, impossible to know God to well.

The Bible says in the book of Job, “Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable.”

Our search to know God more never ends.

Just like a human relationship that continues to grow over time so too does our relationship with God.

Now Jesus sends out his disciples two by two.  Have you ever thought about that?  They are not sent our alone.  Each disciple walks with another disciple.  Their mission is to proclaim the message that all people should repent.

That all people should turn from their ways to God’s ways.

People should turn from their sin and from their lives apart from God to a life of faith in God.  The disciples are called to proclaim the message that the people are to seek after God and to run after God’s ways not their own.

It is interesting that Jesus does not send his disciples out alone.  He calls them to go out in pairs.  He knows that his disciples will need encouragement and support from each other.

So he sends them out two by two.  It is a beautiful image of the kind of companionship that God freely gives to us.

God does not leave us alone.  God gives us each other.  God gives us community.  God gives us Jesus to know and to cherish.

I think over the years of the people that God has sent into my life to help me to continue to run this race of faith.  I think about the people who have walked with me through both the difficult days of my life along with the joyful days of my life.

I think of the ways in which I have felt the hand of Jesus upon my life to help me to continue this journey of faith which leads me ever deeper in my relationship with God.

Think about the people that God has sent to you.  Think about the friendships.  Think about all your teachers.  Think about the people that have encouraged you to keep faith in God.  Think about the gift of companionship in your life and how you have experienced over time the gift of companionship.

I am grateful.  I am grateful for the many people that God has sent into my life to keep me going down the road of faith.  What about you?  Who has God sent into your life?

The word companionship comes from the word companion meaning friend.  The word companionship refers to a feeling of friendship or togetherness.

It has been and will always be one of our deepest needs, to have companionship with one another and will God.

When I was in seminary I was introduced to the book:  Bowling Alone:  The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam.  In the book Putnam makes the point that community and the way that people connect with each other is changing.

He uses the example of bowling to make a larger point of the decline of social groups citing that there are far fewer bowling leagues today than there once was.

Have you noticed that as well?

And it is not just bowling leagues that are on a decline.

Almost every single community group that you can think of is in some kind of decline from religious groups like the Knights of Columbus to volunteers with the Red Cross to the Lions Club social groups, charity groups, religious groups are all declining in membership.

Even the barbershop group that I am a part of has experienced decline over the years.  Many of the guys in that group remember the day when the group was two even three times its current size.

Many also remember when the group was filled with young people.  At thirty-eight I am the youngest member of the group.  The next youngest person in that group is 49.  The majority of the group is made up of retired men.

You see, the way people join groups and participate in groups is changing.  Even the church is a part of this trend.

I recently read about a survey that was taken of 557 random churches over a time period of six years.  Of these five hundred and fifty seven churches nine out of ten of these churches were declining or growing at a pace that is slower than the growth of their community.

In church council this past month we had a conversation on the growing trend that churches across the board especially main line churches are seeing less and less people.

So why is this the case?

It is hard to know.  Experts can cite many different factors.  Probably some of their reasons are very good and fair reasons.

But today we are not here to solve this problem in why people are becoming less and less involved in community groups and in attending a church.  Rather, it is to remember the gift of companionship.

That God is a community God who creates community.  We know this because of the way in which God is always bringing people together.  God gives us each other and God gives us Jesus.

From the beginning God created a companion for Adam.  From the beginning God created us to know God.  God sent us God’s son Jesus so that we might have a relationship with our creator.

It is sad how little effort we often put into our relationships with other people and in our relationship with God.  I am continually convicted myself in this matter.  We all fall short.  But God forgives us still and continues to draw us back into God’s family.

Love for one another and love for God is evidence that we are walking in God’s ways and are being pulled back into God’s family.

In fact, sometimes the Bible makes our holiness and even evidence of our love for others and for God the condition of our final salvation.

Think about Matthew 25 here where Jesus says that if we do not love our neighbors by helping them in their needs we will not enter the kingdom of God.

This does not mean that our work of love is how we get right by God.  Rather, it means that faith in God’s promises and God’s gift of salvation, must be so real that the love it produces proves the existence of our faith.

In 1 John chapter three we hear:  we know that we have passed from death into life because we have love for one another.

God’s law reveals our sins and shows us our inability to live up to God’s righteous standards.

But through faith in Jesus we are gifted with a new and restored relationship with God and with one another.

Our friendship, our companionship with God and with others is active in love.  This is a love that is always growing.

It is impossible to know God too well.  We can always grow in our relationship with God.

Being infinite, God is always the source of our joy and deep gladness.

God is always interesting.

God is never boring.

We never tire of seeking after God and in growing in our friendship, our eternal relationship with God.

May we ever seek to know God as fully as we can and to search endlessly to know God even more.

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sermon date 2018-07-15

Forty Days with Isaiah

For the last forty days I have been reading, studying, and praying over the book of Isaiah.

A thought that has come to me as I have dived into this book is the complete awesomeness and holiness of God.  In some ways the book of Isaiah took me back to those days at Bible camp when we would sit around the camp fire and sing that song:  Awesome God.

Do you remember that song of Rich Mullins?

Maybe you sang that song in Bible camp as well.  “Our God is an awesome God he reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power, and love our God is an awesome God.”

Why do I say that?

To start with the prophet Isaiah uses the phrase, “The Holy One of Israel” twenty-five times in his book.  Twenty-five time we hear that phrase… “The Holy One of Israel.”  In fact, if you would search the entire Bible you would only find that phrase seven times.

Just seven times.

Now that includes reading the entire Bible.  Again that phrase is used twenty-five times in Isaiah alone.  God is indeed the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah knows that God alone is holy.  In his vision when Isaiah sees the Lord, Isaiah is completely taken by the holiness of God.  God is high and exalted.  God is seated on a throne.  The train of God’s robe fills the temple.

The angels cry out:  Holy, holy, holy is Lord Almighty; the whole earth is filled with his glory.

In the Hebrew Bible, which is our Old Testament, when something is mentioned three times we need to pay attention to that fact.  It is as if the writer has a big neon sign here that reads:  “pay attention.”

In this case with the word holy being used three times it tells us that God is the holiest of all.

The word holy means to be set apart from the ordinary.  To apply the word holy to God means that God is different.  God is separate from the rest of God’s creation.

God is beyond us.  God is infinite.  God is transcendent.  God is incomparable.  God is awesome.

In book of Isaiah God comes to God’s people to make God’s people holy.  In Isaiah God’s people are complacent.  They have turned away from God.

In the very beginning of Isaiah we hear:

“Listen, O heavens!  Pay attention, earth!  This is what the Lord says:  The children I raised and cared for have rebelled against me.  Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master’s care- but Israel doesn’t know its master.  My people don’t recognize my care for them.

Oh, what a sinful nation they are-loaded down with a burden of guilt.  They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the Lord.  They have despised the Holy One of Israel and have turned their backs on him.”

Because of this the prophet Isaiah prophesized that God’s judgment would come upon the people.  But that God would not entirely destroy God’s people.

God would remain faithful to God’s own people and God would bring his people back to repentance.

Towards the end of Isaiah we hear of God restoring God’s people.  In Isaiah chapter sixty we hear:  “Arise, Jerusalem!  Let your light shine for all to see.  For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.”  God shines on God’s people.

The book of Isaiah is a powerful book of Scripture.  It is the longest of the prophetic books in the Bible and Isaiah is often quoted in the New Testament.  In fact, the vision that Isaiah cast in his book was central to the New Testament writers.

For Christians the savior that was prophesied about in Isaiah is Jesus.

When we hear these words from Isaiah chapter ten we believe that these words refer to Jesus:

“For a child was born to us a son is given to us.  The government will rest on his shoulders.  And he will be called:  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

For those first followers of Jesus they believed that those words were meant for Jesus.  Even today we still lift up these words from Isaiah and believe that these verses point to Jesus.

Especially during Advent, the time before Christmas, we remember these verses from Scripture as we prepare our hearts during Advent for the birth of our Lord and Savior.

In the Bible even Jesus often quoted from Isaiah.

Jesus used examples from the book of Isaiah to teach people that we often are far from God and from God’s holiness.  Jesus also used verses of Isaiah to teach people about the comfort that God can and will bring to God’s people through him.

Possibly the most well-known text where Jesus quotes from Isaiah comes from the Gospel of Luke.  Here in this reading from Luke Jesus is in his hometown of Nazareth.  On the Sabbath he enters the Synagogue.

He stands up and reads from the Hebrew Scriptures and chooses to read these verses from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

In this reading Jesus claims to be the promised messiah, the holy one of Israel, God’s very son.  Jesus is holy and divine.  He came to bring good news to sinners and yet he is set apart from sinners.

He is perfect in his ways.

He is majestic and awesome.  He taught us to that we need to repent just like the prophet Isaiah gave that same message.

Throughout Isaiah we learn that God’s people must change, must turn to God, focus on God’s mission, and ask for forgiveness.

In Isaiah chapter sixty-four we hear:

“For since the world began, no ear has heard, no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!  You welcome those who gladly do good, who follow after you and who remember your ways.”

There is a great seriousness that falls upon us as we consider the very holiness of God.  God is holy.  God is awesome.  Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.

Holiness is what makes God different.  Holiness is what separates God from everything else in God’s creation.

As God’s people we too are called by God to be holy, living in God honoring ways in order to reflect back to others the awesomeness of God.

We are not perfect and the ways of God’s will for us is often not clear.  But God remains faithful to us and continues to purify us and to direct us in the ways of God’s holy will.

To be holy is to love a holy God and to trust in the cross of Christ.

At Calvary, the hill near Jerusalem on which Jesus died on the cross, our sins were laid on the sinless one and Jesus gave to us his pure, holy, sinless, perfect self.

In this holy exchange we were made holy so that we too can be with a holy God.    Our God is indeed an awesome and holy God.

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sermon date 2018-07-22


When I was an intern pastor I met another pastor that people just didn’t like.  No matter how hard this pastor seemed to try people just didn’t like him.  I am sad to say that I joined in with the crowd.

In a group when his name came up I joined in on the conversation about him.  Our talk about him, sadly, was not kind.  Later on, after I finished my internship, I had an opportunity to get to know this particular pastor a little better.

As I got to know him I began to understand him better.  I started to see why he was the way that he was.

And then something started to happen.  I cannot explain why or how it happened but it happened.  Over time I got this great love for him.

And it was like I was able to see more clearly and I no longer felt this need to join in with the others in their hurtful talk towards this person.  I could be kind towards this person.  Today I attribute my change towards this person to the Holy Spirit.

I believe that God changed my attitude and God helped me to look for what was best in this person.  And by doing so a made a wonderful and faithful friend who I still keep in touch with today even though he now lives in Iowa.

Are you familiar with the concept: micro-kindness?  Micro-kindness is the idea of doing small acts of kindness.  Smiling.  Holding a door open.  Saying thank you.   Putting down your phone when someone is talking to you.

Micro-kindness is what keeps the world going.

A definition of micro-kindness is simply offering brief verbal, behavioral, or environmental acts of respect, consciously intending to provide a potential space for positive interaction.

This idea considers that small acts of kindness is all that is needed because small acts kindness lead to larger acts of kindness.

Mr. Rogers, the man behind the show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood once said that there are three ways to ultimate success:

The first way is to be kind.

The second way is to be kind.

The third way is to be kind.

Now think about Jesus here.  Jesus’ kindness, compassion, and love for others was always evident in his life.

Consider todays Gospel reading from Mark.  Jesus sees a great crowd and he has compassion for them.  To have compassion is to feel deep sympathy for another person.  You feel that feeling deep within you.

The feeling is so intense that it motivates you to show some kind of action.  This leads to feelings of concern, warmth, love, or even just simple kindness.

And so in love for the people Jesus begins to teach the people.  In the Bible reading it doesn’t say what he says.  It just says that he teaches the people many things.

We can imagine though in his great love and kindness for the people that he is teaching them about God’s grace or about God’s mercy or about God’s faithfulness towards God’s people.

After Jesus teaches the people about God he goes to a different place.  More people come to him and Jesus’ love and kindness continues to be shown to the people.  There he heals people who are sick.

Even people who just touch the fringe of his cloak or some translations of the Bible say tassel of his robe were healed.  The tassel was seen as a holy part of the robe.

So the people did not even need to touch Jesus all they needed to do was just to touch his robe, while believing in him, and once they touched his robe they were healed.

Jesus shows the same kind of love and kindness towards others that God has shown and continues to show to God’s people.

In the Bible God is continually showing kindness to the people God created.  In the Bible God is gentle, thoughtful, compassionate, and caring.  God is always showing unfailing love.

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus said that we must be compassionate, just as God is compassionate.

Since God is compassionate and kind God calls us to be that way as well.  Have you ever noticed how strong our feelings are when it comes to our desire to be a part of a group or to feel connected to others or to have success in a job.

We were created by God to feel these strong and intense feelings as we interact with one another.

That is why, for example, when children feel left out or bullied in school those children feel deep feelings of loneliness or sadness.  They might not be able to express their feelings but those feelings are certainly there.

One day after school Evie told me that they were talking about kindness at school.  She even has a t-shirt from school that says simply:  Choose Kind.  What a wonderful idea.

In the end Jesus’ kindness towards us lead him to give everything for us even to dying on a cross for us.

But we do not need to die on a cross Jesus has already done that for you and for me.

What we are called to do is to simply show love and if that feels too much than just showing small acts of kindness towards one another might be enough.

Micro-kindness a simple concept.  But the impact this simple idea has on the world is unmeasurable.  And small acts of kindness often leads to larger acts of kindness.

This is certainly kingdom of God living.

The Christian message is about not just salvation, going to heaven when we die, it is about living in the kingdom of God right now.

I would like to end with two quotes from Mr. Rogers:  The connections that we make in the course of a life- maybe that is what heaven is.

And when we look for what’s best in a person we are doing what God does all the time- loving and appreciating our neighbor.

That is a holy and sacred thing.

God loves all of God’s people and God calls us to love one another.

Through faith and obedience to the call of Jesus we live as his disciples even now in big and in small ways.

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sermon date 2018-08-26
sermon manager Pastor Tom Dowling

A Little Child At Worship

This past week Kalen showed me a Facebook video of a little child at worship.  

In the video there is a hymn being sung as people are walking up for Holy Communion.  

As the song is being sung and as the people are walking up for communion we see a little girl in the video.  

My guess is the child is about two years old.

She is standing up at the edge of her pew.  As the people walk by her she reaches out to them, to each one of them, with open arms to give a hug.  

She makes that sure she does not miss one person.  Each person who passes by receives a hug. Each person is equally loved by this small child.  

Above the video is the sentence.  

When Jesus goes to church, disguised, at communion time.

Usually Facebook videos don’t speak to me. I usually don’t pay attention to them but this one caught my attention and really got to me.  This is what the kingdom of God is like.

As tears came to my eyes as I watched this video I realized that this really is how Jesus sees us.  In his eyes every person is equally loved, valued, and prized.

God loves us.  God looks at us with delight and takes joy in knowing us.  Have you ever thought about that before?

God takes delight and joy in us.  God looks at us, God’s beloved children with love.  

In our lives where else would we go except to the open loving arms of our savior?  Where else can we find eternal life?

Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you wish to go away?”  

Simon Peter answers, “Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy one of God.”

When my friend Ben died in the Haiti earthquake his wife, Renee was asked, “Do you now have doubts in your faith in God?”

Renee responded to the question, “Of course, I do.  (She continued) And for a while I thought about giving up my faith in God but then I thought where would I go?  

Where else could I go?  I realized during my time of doubt that I still wanted to believe in some way, even though I had terrible doubts, in the promise of eternal life.”

Sometimes when it comes to faith we simply respond as we are able.  

Don’t we?  

That is how we come to the table of bread and wine.  We come not out of our own faith but rather we come in response to God’s faith in us.  

We come in response to God’s faithfulness and God’s love for us.  We come in response to God’s grace for us.

We come because Jesus was faithful to us even to death on a cross for us.  And so we come as we are able to come with the faith that God has given to us at this time.

The faith that God has given to us is always enough.  Even if we feel that our faith is weak or if we come with doubts Jesus stands before us with open arms ready to embrace us right where we are.  

This is the main reason for why we gather for worship – to respond to this incredible love and grace from God.  It does not matter how we worship whether outside or inside a building.

What matters is where our hearts are.  We come with a humble, open heart ready to receive Jesus.  We come with expecting hearts, trusting that he is with us even now.  We come to praise God.

We praise God not to celebrate our own achievements or our own accomplishments or even our own faith we praise God and worship God in order to give thanks for the faith and the love that God has for us.  We thank God that God has not given up on us and that God continues to remain faithful to God’s people. That is a theme that runs throughout the entire Bible. God remains faithful to God’s people.

That is true grace.  

Grace is receiving God’s love even though we did not earn it and we certainly don’t deserve it. God just gives us grace because God is a giving God.

This coming week find one person that you can share a bit of love and grace with.  Share from the inner place that has found grace from God. Give as God gives to you.  

If no one comes to your mind than pray that God would reveal someone to you who needs a word of love and grace.  We all need this from time to time.

It could be your spouse, it could be a neighbor, it could be a co-worker, it could be your child, it could be a friend, or a relative, it could even be a stranger.  

Find that person and show that person one act, just of one act of, unexpected, surprising love and grace.  Show the kind of surprising love that the child in the video showed.

You may never know how much that simple act of kindness will mean to the person but the recipient will know.  

The person who receives that love will know.

In the end maybe only God and well-loved children can look through us and see the very divine image that God created.  

But in following Jesus we know that we are loved and that Jesus will lead us to love others.  

May God bless you as you live and work in life-giving ways this coming week.  Amen.

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sermon date 2018-09-02
sermon manager Pastor Tom Dowling

The Heart of the Matter

The Jewish religion included many laws around ritual purity and holiness.

Here in the Gospel of Mark the religious leaders are concerned that Jesus’ disciples are not obeying the Jewish religious laws.

But Jesus instead of agreeing with the Pharisees and the scribes, these religious leaders, and remember Jesus is a Jewish teacher, he is also seen in the community as a religious leader, Jesus seems to get upset with the Pharisees and the scribes.

Jesus calls these religious leaders hypocrites and then he uses Scripture to speak words of judgment upon them.

He quotes from the prophet Isaiah.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”

This quote is from the book of Isaiah chapter twenty-nine.

Now how do you think these religious leaders feel about Jesus?  They are already upset with Jesus because Jesus is not honoring the law in the way that they feel the law should be obey.

And now Jesus insults them.

It is interesting how Jesus always seems to get to the heart of the matter at hand.  No matter what issue or question or problem comes up in the Gospels Jesus always speaks right to the heart of an issue.

Here Jesus even uses the word “heart” in the Isaiah quote and again later in verse twenty-one right before he names those things that defiles a person’s heart.

Now the word heart is a word that we must pay attention to in the Bible.

In fact, the word heart is one of the most important words used in the Bible.  The heart refers to the center of a person’s emotions, feelings, moods, and passions.

The heart represents the total person.  In the Bible the heart is seen as the place where a person meets God and neighbor.

And so after quoting from Isaiah and in using that word heart in the Isiah quote it is certainly not surprising that Jesus doesn’t mention the washing of hands, utensils, or dishware as a way of becoming more holy or pure before God.

No, Jesus says that the evil things that come from within are what truly make a person unclean not whether a person eats with washed or unwashed hands.

In this encounter with the religious leaders Jesus teaches us once again that true religion is concerned with our growth in our love for others.  God is concerned with our heart and where our heart is.

Real growth in our hearts is always directly related to an ever growing awareness of the hidden intentions of our hearts.

If we have evil intentions in our hearts then we are blinded to God’s ways and according to Jesus this is actually how we are made unclean.  Now we probably don’t think in terms of clean and unclean or even in terms of holy or defiled.

These are words we just don’t typically use in thinking about our relationship with God and with others.  We usually don’t think about what makes us clean or unclean before God and neighbor.

But we do think about whether we are growing in our faith or not.

And there are certain religious practices that we can engage in that encourage faithful living and inspired God-seeking living.  We don’t think about washing our hands or our cups, pots, or kettles as way of growing closer to God.

When I wash my hands before I eat or load the dishwasher in the evening I don’t necessarily think that that is what is making me holy before God.

But as followers of Jesus we do think about whether we are growing or not growing in our faith.  We do think about whether we are feeling close or not so close to Jesus.   We do think about our heart and if our heart is right before God.

To help us with these matters of the heart the church has always taught that there are certain practices or disciplines that we can live out in our lives in order for us to develop a more meaningful relationship with God and with others.

These practices open ourselves up more fully to the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives.

Think about the practices of charitable giving, or Sabbath keeping, or worship, or service work, or hospitality, or forgiveness, or prayer and meditation.  These practices can and do make us more sensitive to the presence of God in our lives.  These practices make us more sensitive to other people.

I like to think of faith practices like windows into the divine.

For me, that is a helpful way of looking at this.  We do not do these disciplines into order to earn favor or reward from God but rather as a way to deepen our awareness into the work of the Spirit of God in us and in God’s Spirit at work in the world around us.

Yes, there is always the danger of becoming self-righteous in our religious practices.

I can remember when I was in high school I became very zealous in my religious practice to the point where I was making judgments upon others that were not so zealous in their religious practice.

Than one day my dad had a talk with me about that and that I was coming off a little self-righteous.  It was really hard to hear especially as a teenager.

But I knew he was right and I realized that I had to shift my understanding of what it meant to practice my faith.

Now don’t feel too sorry for me because part of the problem here is that I was really giving my poor younger brother a hard time that he was not living out his faith as much as his older brother thought he should.

And for starters, who wants to listen to their older brother tell them how they should be doing anything let alone in how they should be living out their faith.

Well, this was one of the serious problems with the faith of the Pharisees and the scribes.  They looked to their religious practice as a way to God instead of a way of responding to God out of love and gratitude for all that God has done and will do for them.

And if people did not follow the law to the extent that they believed it should be lived out then they made judgements upon those people.  That is what was happening in today’s Bible reading.

Even today that temptation to judge others for not obeying God’s commands or for not doing certain religious practices is always there for us as well.

But if we come to these faith practices, the practices of our tradition with some humility and thoughtfulness than we might find ourselves surprised in the transforming power of practicing the spiritual disciplines of our faith.

We will find that we don’t need to cast judgment on our neighbors but instead we will find ourselves looking for ways to show love to our neighbors.

A spiritual practice that has had a tremendous effect on me over the years is the simple practice of prayer and meditation.  I don’t meditate everyday but as often as I am able to do so I try to take time for meditation.

In my faith practice of meditation I simply set my phone clock for twenty or twenty-five minutes depending on how much time I have.

I than I just sit in silence or turn on some peaceful music.  Each time a thought a worry or concern comes to my mind I simply and gently come back to God and to God’s peace in my life.

I love the simple practice of meditation and this simple practice has done more for me in my faith life than anything I could ever buy or anything that I could ever do to somehow try to earn God’s love and favor by my work or actions.

Just simply being still before God has been such a wonderful and beautiful faith practice for me over the years.  The practice has brought peace into my life and it has greatly deepened my faith life.

This coming week I would like to encourage you to think about one faith practice that you might spend some extra time with this coming week.  It could be anything that speaks to you.

Maybe in taking some extra time to read Scripture or a daily devotion, you can now find some great devotions on-line.

I have subscribed to an e-mail devotion.  Each day I get a daily devotion in my in-box through my e-mail.  I have found these devotions to be so helpful and meaningful to me.

Or maybe you want to volunteer your time with some special project this coming week within our community.

No matter what you decide just let the Holy Spirit speak to you.

God will give you a job to do, if you let God speak to you.  Maybe you would like to try the practice that has meant so much to me over the years in taking time for meditation.

So then this coming week you set your phone to five or ten minutes and then you just sit in silence.  Every time a thought comes to your mind you simply, gently come back to God and to a prayer word or phrase such as God’s peace is with me or Lord, heal me or God loves me.

It is from within the human heart where evil intentions come from but it is also from within the human heart where love, grace, and joy come from.

This coming week nurture your faith.

Faith is God’s gift to you.

Nurture that gift this coming week.  Amen.

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sermon date 2018-09-09
sermon manager Pastor Tom Dowling

Healing and Salvation

For the past two Sundays I have encouraged you to put your faith into action.  In James chapter two we hear that faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.  God gives us the gift of faith.

And then God calls us to put our faith into action.  Part of the Christian journey is to find ways of putting our faith into good works that give glory to God and that brings help to our neighbors.

Two Sundays ago I encouraged you to show one act of surprising, unexpected love and grace to someone.  I shared how I was inspired to do this from a simple video on Facebook.  In this video we see the surprising love of a two year old.  This child offers hugs to those people who were coming up for communion.

Maybe later that week you also showed an act of love to your spouse or your neighbor or to a brother or a sister.  When you showed that act of love to that person was it a surprise?

How did they respond?  Maybe they didn’t even know that you did it but you could tell that something positive happened when you showed that unexpected act of grace.

Last week I spoke about the importance of spiritual practices.  I spoke about how spiritual practices such as reading scripture, fasting, service work, or worship can help us to deepen our relationship with God.  Faith practices also make us more sensitive to the movement of the Holy Spirit both in our lives and in Spirit’s work in the world.

I talked about how important my simple practice of prayer and meditation is for my faith life.  I deeply love that time when I can just be still and just be in the presence of God.

Meditation doesn’t take me out of the world rather in the practice of meditation God gives me strength and spiritual food to continue on the journey of life and faith.

It is similar to how I feel when I receive communion.  The bread and the wine gives me strength and spiritual blessings to continue down the road of faith.

And so last week I encouraged you to practice one spiritual disciple during the week.

I can recall that when I was a child there was a homebound member of the church that I attended who once shared how she would take time during the week to be with God in worship.

One of the ways that she worshipped God during the week was by singing those old hymns of our faith:  Amazing Grace, What a Friend we have in Jesus, How Great Thou Art, Beautiful Savior.

She would sing out those songs as loud as she could.  Even though she was alone in the quietness of her own home she knew and believed that God was there.  She knew that God was present with her in her intimate time of worship.

This time was especially meaningful to her since, being homebound, she wasn’t always able to make it to church.

As a child I was touched by her faith and how she would practice her faith in this way.  At the time I thought that you only sang songs about God in church.  It did not occur to me that you could sing and worship God during the week even if there was no one else around.

God is still there.  God is still present.  God is still waiting for us, always, to open the door to the presence of Christ who is knocking at the door.  If we open that door during the week he will come in and he will be with us.

Today I would like for us to think about healing and what healing means for us.  In the Bible healing is closely related to salvation.  What does salvation mean to you?  What does it mean to be saved?  In the Bible to be saved, to receive the gift of salvation is to experience the wholeness of life that God intends for God’s beloved people.

In his life Jesus was always saving and delivering people from physical, spiritual, and demonic oppression.  Jesus was always healing people in such a way so that they could be restored back to health and back to a redeemed relationship with God, with the community, and with ones-self.

To know salvation was to be at peace with God and neighbor.  To know salvation was to be at peace with one’s-self and to have complete self-acceptance for one’s-self.

Illness, injury, and psychological stress that strips us from the good life that God intends for us, is lifted away from us and we are healed.  Our sins which has the power to crush us is forgiven through the decisive act of God through Jesus’ death on the cross.

In the Gospel of Mark chapter seven Jesus is once again doing what Jesus does.  He is healing people he is giving people a foretaste of God’s coming salvation.  He first heals a child with a demon and then he brings healing to a man who is deaf.

This text from the Gospel of Mark along with many others healing stories from the Gospels gives us hope in God’s present and future promise of healing and salvation.

All of us here today need some kind of healing.  All us of here today need some kind of saving.  We certainly need healing and saving from our sins.  But we need healing in other ways as well.  We need saving in other ways as well.

God’s promise of salvation exceeds our human ability to fully comprehend it.  We cannot and will not on this side of heaven ever fully understand the ways in which we need healing and saving.

We also will never fully understand the many ways that God can and will bring life and salvation into our lives.  We cannot know, in our limited human understanding, the fullness of life and healing that God intends for us.

But even still from time to time we are given, even now, a foretaste of this gift of salvation.  In times when we receive healing.  In times when we receive grace.  In times when we receive forgiveness.  In times when we receive love.

The gift of healing and salvation is not something that we can control, demand, or order but we can experience its life-giving, transformative power as it comes and goes throughout our entire lives.

Isn’t that something how the Spirit works within us?

The Spirit stirs our souls again and again as we are given glimpses of that great feast which is yet to come.

My youngest brother, Bobby has autism.  Bobby is a deeply religious man.  Even though he has suffered in ways that I will never suffer he continues to have hope and faith that one day he will be completely healed of his autism.

He has the wisdom to know that it will not be here on earth.  He knows that in this life he will have to battle on a daily basis the demons of autism.  But he has hope and faith that one day in the life to come, in God’s future kingdom, he will be completely healed and saved from his autism.

His faith and the way he is able to show love to others even with his constant struggles is a reminder to me in God’s present and future grace.  He holds on as tightly as he is able to do so in what is promised and hoped for which is God’s gift of healing and salvation for all of God’s people.

This coming week your work is to consider how you need healing.  Remember the ways in which God has already brought healing and grace into your life.  Hold on to the faith that believes that God’s gift of salvation in all its fullness is still yet to come.

Open the door to Christ and to his healing presence and then look to be a healer in the lives of other people.

Offer gifts of healing and prayer for those people who need of healing.

Study after study has proven that those people who are sick and who are prayed over heal faster than people who were not prayed over.

In the book of James chapter five we hear that the prayer of faith will save the sick.

When we pray for healing something always happens.  Yes, healing is a mystery just as salvation is and will always be a mystery.  But the healing ministry of the Spirit is definitely at work in God’s people.

The Spirit’s work of healing is at work saving us from physical, spiritual, and emotional illnesses.

The Spirit’s work is still embodied in the work of God’s people who reach out to one another in acts of healing.

May God bless us this coming week as we continually look to become more Christ-like in our works of faith.

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sermon date 2018-09-16
sermon manager Pastor Tom Dowling

The Mission of God

What is your understanding of mission?  Specifically how do you understand the mission of God?

I love the word mission and what that word represents.

While there are numerous ways to interpret what mission means I have always liked this definition of mission:

Mission is the participation of God’s people in the work that God is doing in the world. 

God is always about the work of mission.  God is a mission God.  God is always doing something.  God is creating.  God is sustaining.  God is healing.  God is blessing.

God is sending workers out to do the work of God.

When it comes to the mission of God we do not do some work or some job which is separate from what God is doing.  Rather we join God in the work that God is already doing.

For the church our question is never is there some mission work for us to do?  Is there anything for us to do?  Maybe there is actually nothing for us to do… we just should all go home and be bored…

No, God is always doing something so the question for the church is what is God doing now and how can we take part in what God is already doing in the world, in this country, in this state, in Williams Bay.

Now this is a completely different way of looking at God’s mission.  This way takes listening and discernment.  It requires of us to pay attention to what God is doing around us.

It requires of us to listen so that we might take notice in what God is already doing in our church and then when we hear God’s voice we are then to roll up our sleeves and get to work.


This is what it means to be a missional church.  We are listening to the Spirit in such a way so as to join in on what God is doing.  It is God’s work.  It has always been God’s work but in God’s deep love for us God invites us to join God in what God is doing.

What a gift!  We are not left out.  We are included by God in this kingdom work.

One of the nicest things in life is to be included in something, to be included in a group, to be invited to join something, to be a part of something.

Go back now to the days when you were a child.  Did you ever have that experience of being outside and in playing some kind of sport with your friends and there were two team captains that picked teams.

They probably don’t do this anymore because it can be hurtful if you are picked last or worse, not at all.

But I can remember lining up with my friends at recess at school patiently waiting to play kick ball.  The two captains, which tended to be the best kids in the sport, would go back and forth picking the players.

Now I was not very athletic as a child so I was often picked last but that was OK as long as I was picked.  When I was picked it always felt so good to be included, to be a part of the group to get a chance to play.

The good news here is that God doesn’t pick sides.  God doesn’t even pick teams.  Although if he did… but God doesn’t pick teams.

God doesn’t leave people out.  In God’s kingdom we are picked first.  God calls everyone as if they were God’s first choice and then God says you are chosen to join me in the work that I am doing.  You are chosen to work with me in my kingdom.

This is the way that we believe God operates in the world.

Our church like every other church in Williams Bay is called by God to participate in the mission of God.  We are a sent people.  Chosen, called, and blessed to do the work of God.

What is that work?  It is to unlock and open these doors each and every Sunday morning for worship and praise to God.  It is to invite all people to the table of grace and mercy found in the bread and wine.

It is to provide food for those people who are hungry.  It is to join with other churches in ecumenical, community partnerships.  It is to tell others about Jesus, starting with our families.

Martin Luther once said, “We are all mere beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.  Have you heard that quote from Luther before?

This is so true.

This is often how I feel in my work as a pastor.  There is nothing special about me.  I am just hungry and I found a place where there is free bread.  This bread never runs out, this bread is free, because it comes from God.

All of us come before the cross.  Sinful, naked, hungry before God and hungry for God’s great mercy.  At the cross we receive what God has to offer.

God clothes us with new clothes.  God forgives us all of our sins.  God fills our empty stomachs.  And then surprisingly God does one more thing.  One more thing God does.  And this is the heart of what it means to be in mission.  From the cross God sends us.

God tells us to go and show love to others.  God calls us to live honest and faithful lives.  God calls us to reach out to others who are hungry and to give them bread.  God calls us to tell others about Jesus.

God calls us to pick up our cross in such a way that we extend that same kind of grace and mercy to others that Jesus extends to us.

We are indeed entrusted with a great mission.  Yes, as disciples of our Lord we will still be hungry from time to time.  At times the cross may get very heavy.  But we, at least, know where the bread is!  We know the way to true life.  We have one another to lean on and to find support and encouragement to continue the work of mission.

May God bless you as join God in the work of mission.  Listen and look and see where God is at work.  Join God.  Join in on the mission.

As you join God in mission may you continuously eat from the bread of life while also sharing that bread with others.  Amen.

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sermon date 2018-09-30

Seek The Lord

Have you ever paused, looked around you, and wondered… what does it mean to seek the Lord?

Maybe it is a question that you were asked as a child in Sunday school or in
confirmation class. Maybe it is a question that a person once asked you because that person was curious about God. Maybe it is a question that you find yourself turning to again and again as you try to go deeper in your faith life.

It is a good question.

What does it mean to seek the Lord?

A good question. Maybe one of the best questions for a follower of Jesus to ask. What does it mean to seek the Lord?

In the Scriptures to seek the Lord meant that you were seeking the presence of God. To seek the presence of God meant that you were actually seeking the very face of God.

The face of God!

Let’s think about that for a moment. This is a very profound idea that the writers of the Bible had and we need to really explore this idea now.

In the Old Testament it was believed that God did not have a visible face or form. Even God’s name was too sacred, too holy, to be pronounced. God was beyond God’s creation.

And yet, even still the Jewish people worked to seek after this holy, invisible God.

And even more than that they were compelled to seek after God in such a way as to be before God’s face.

The Jewish people knew that to seek God’s face there must be constant striving in order to get a glimpse of this mysterious God. In the Torah alone, which are the first five books of the Bible, there are over six hundred laws.

These laws were meant for the Jewish people to practice so that they could be
right with God and their neighbor. When they were right before God and
neighbor they believed they were in a place where they could then be close to

For us too seeking after the Lord requires of us a conscious effort on our part. We cannot mentally coast our way into God’s presence. We cannot make a wish and suddenly expect God to be here. Sometimes I think that I do wish it were that simple but that is not the case.

In the Bible to seek after the Lord meant that you were doing something. You
were removing the obstacles that were keeping you from God and you were
consciously directing your heart towards the face of God.

You were calling out to God. You were running towards God. You were crying
out to God. And let me tell you that there is a paradox here. A great paradox!
Listen closely here. Stay with me.

The effort of seeking after God is a gift from God. It is a gift of grace from God. What do I mean by that?

The work of seeking after God is part of the joy of experiencing God.

It is like that old saying: It is not only about the destination but it is also about the journey to the destination. The journey and the work that it takes to get to theplace that you want to go to, is part of the joy of the whole trip.

We all know this to be true. My family and I just made a trip up to Sault Ste.
Marie, Michigan for a baptism. The trip was for the purpose of attending a
baptism where Kalen, Evie, and I were all asked to serve as baptismal sponsors for an infant baptism.

That was the reason for the trip to be at the baptism. But part of the experience of that trip was the journey to our destination.

Making the car trip up to Sault Ste, Marie stopping at our favorite restaurants and parks along the way, playing games in the car, listening to music and Junie B. Junes and Pippy Longstocking books on CD. Taken together that all added to our now beautiful memory of the baptism trip.

Our path that all of us here are on, is the path of walking with and following Jesus. Our destination is the kingdom of heaven. We are seeking the face of Jesus. We are putting in the effort to see Jesus.

One of Jesus’ clear teachings was that to see his face we were to first see the face of our neighbors. For example, in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 25 we hear that we see the very face of Jesus in our neighbors who are hungry and thirsty, those who need to be welcomed, the naked, the sick, and those in prison.

Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun and missionary, once said,

“I seek the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and his
hand in every happening. Seeing and adoring Jesus, especially in the
lowly appearance of bread, which is a reference to Holy Communion,
and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

In James we hear that we are to pray for one another especially those who are
sick or those who are suffering. And in Mark we hear that if we just bring a cup of cold water to a believer who is in need that one simple act will be blessed by God.

And we do not need to do this work alone. In fact, it is important that we don’t. We do it together. It has always been that way.

We do it together.

God shows God’s face to us within the workings of grace that we see in other

God shows God’s face to us within the workings of grace that we see in other

This coming Thursday, October 4 th , the church commemorates Francis of Assisi, the man who renounced his wealth and devoted himself to serving the poor. Francis is one of my heroes.

Again and again I return to his story to find inspiration and even guidance as I too seek after the presence of God.

I find in his story evidences of grace that shine so brightly. I see the face of God in his work and witness to Jesus.

Francis had a way about himself that people who were just in his presence were moved to change their lives and follow after Christ more deeply.

Of course, he got quite a following himself but he was always quick to teach
people that they should not worship him but that they should worship Jesus.

In Francis life we see evidences of grace lived out in the life of another human

Today this does not mean that we all need to be Francis or a saint like him. None of us here should walk away from this service thinking that. Rather, it means that within the community of God’s people we take note of people who constantly seek out the face of God in their lives.

These people teach us and inspire us to keep up the effort of seeking the
presence of God. These people teach us that it is worth the effort to keep the
faith and to keep seeking the face of God.

Through their witness and testimony these people point us to the presence of

All of us have heroes, people who we greatly admire.

Many of us have a sports star or a famous actor or a maybe a successful business person as a personal hero. What if we were to begin to take note of a saint, a martyr, a servant as a hero figure?

And through their story we find inspiration for our own walk with Jesus.

In these people of the faith we find a solution to the question, “What does it
mean to seek the Lord?”

It means that we are to work constantly in seeking after the face of God, working and putting in the effort knowing that God gives us the grace to find the strength to put in the work that is needed.

For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness how can it be season once again. We need to keep the fire going. On the road to Christ don’t run out of gas!

Keep seeking! Find inspiration. Look to the great company of God’s people both in heaven and on earth.

There are certainly people that I look to for guidance and for spiritual wisdom so that I can keep seeking, keep looking, keeping searching for the face of Jesus. We know and believe that we will one day we will reach our destination which is the kingdom of God. For now we continue to seek God’s presence.

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sermon date 2018-10-07

Jesus Blesses the Children

Today’s Gospel reading from Mark combines a teaching that makes us uncomfortable with a story that we find very comforting.  

Jesus’ teaching on divorce challenges us to rethink our understanding of marriage and divorce.  

In marriage and in divorce, as in all things, we rely on honest confession, sincere repentance, and in Christ’s promise of mercy and forgiveness.  

Two people can stay in marriage but the covenant of mutual support, respect, love, and heartfelt listening is broken.  Staying in a marriage where these covenant promises are broken does not mean that the couple has avoided sin.

What is needed, and this is true for all relationships, is not the righteousness that comes from following the law but rather what is needed is that the two people who share in the covenant of marriage actively seek out the well-being and health of their partner.  

As in all of Jesus’ teachings it comes down to how we treat one another and how we honor the commandment to love one another.  The Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, who was the first women to write a book in English on Chrisitan spirituality, wrote in her book Revelations of Divine Love:  “If any man or woman ceases to love any of his fellow Christians, then he loves none, for he does not love at all; and so at that moment he is not saved, for he is not at peace.”  

This is possible to love in this way not because we are such good loving people but because of the love of Christ which abides in our hearts.  It is only because of Jesus that we are able to follow the law at all. It is in Christ’s saving work in us that we find peace. To him be all the glory.

Then our Gospel reading quickly shifts into this beautiful reading where we see Jesus welcoming the children.  The disciples want to send the children away but Jesus wants to welcome the children and to bless the children.

In the Old Testament children were seen as a gracious blessing from God.  The Jewish people saw the gift of children as a divine blessing, having a large family with many kids was truly a blessing from God.  

But in the context of this New Testament reading in that culture children were seen as having very little importance.  In the culture that Jesus lived in children were not highly valued as they were for the Jewish people and for us today.  People did not give attention to children like we do today.

So for the people around Jesus in this Gospel reading including Jesus’ disciples, who take the understanding of the culture around them, this action by Jesus would have been seen as quite a shock.  

Jesus taking time to be with children.  

Jesus welcoming them.  

Jesus even going so far as to say that whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.  


Jesus doesn’t say if you don’t enter the kingdom of God like a child you may or you may not enter God’s kingdom.  In the end, I am not really sure.

No, he says very clearly here:  you will never enter the kingdom of God.  Jesus paints a new picture of what the kingdom of God looks like.  It is like a child. Once again Jesus surprises us with his new teachings on the kingdom of God.  

I have a friend who once said that children are a reminder to us of life, of good created life from God.  And life points us to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life, we say that in the Nicene Creed, that is what we believe.

Last week in my sermon I spoke about having heroes, people we look up to for inspiration and guidance through the hills and valleys of life.  I spoke about Francis of Assisi who the church commemorated this past Thursday. Another one of my heroes is my father.

As many of you know I have spoken about how my father just this past summer finally decided to retire after almost forty years in the ministry.  The funny thing about my Dad’s retirement is that he was serving two churches and he decided to just retire from the one church and not the other one.  

So I recently talked to my Dad about his retirement and he told me about all of the projects and new ministry ideas he wants to explore this coming year at his second church… so I not sure if he really retired!  

But one of the things that I always admired about his ministry is that he always took time to minister to children, to talk to them, and to bless them.  One of the ways that my Dad worked to reach children is through puppet ministry.

My Dad even makes his own puppets, each puppet has its own unique voice and sense of humor.  My Dad realized early on in his ministry that using puppets was one way that, as an adult, he could reach children right where they were at.  

In fact, it is because of my father that I have used my puppet Marty.  I believe that God has used that simple puppet to bless a lot of children over the years.

Have you ever thought about what it means to ask for a blessing from God to someone?

To bless someone means that you ask that God would send all the good life-giving things that come from God to that person’s way.  Health, wholeness, life, happiness, joy, peace. These very good things are for children as well as for adults.

I am thankful that we have a strong children’s ministry in our church.  In fact, I recently spoke with the pastor at Chapel on the Hill. His children attended our Vacation Bible School week this past summer since his church no longer holds a VBS week.  

He told me that he was inspired by all the adults that worked together to put on such a good VBS week for children in our community.  

One of the things that I love about our church is that we value children.  Sometimes I too am amazed by the commitment and the love that our education committee and our Sunday school teachers have for our children.  

In last week’s Gospel reading we heard that if someone causes one of these little ones who trusts in Jesus to fall away into sin it would be better if that person had a large millstone hung around their neck and then for that person to be thrown into the sea.  

As we look to bless children just as Jesus did we must also make sure that our children are safe, protected, and told again and again that Jesus loves them.  

“Let the little children come to me, says Jesus, do not stop them, for it is to children that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”   

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sermon date 2018-10-14

Gods Work or the Gospel

Think about this now. Do you put your trust, at least a little bit, in your own good works? Do you think about what you do with your life as a way to find salvation?

If I was to come over to you right now and ask you, “Do you believe that you are saved by your good works, what would you say?”

I need to say that if I were honest with you, I have to confess that, at least form time to time, I do put my trust in my good works. I think… I am a good pastor, I practice my faith, I helped out with garbage pick-up.

So if I believe that then what happens to my salvation if I am not a good pastor, that I do not practice my faith in the way that God requires, that I did not help with garbage pick-up. What happens is that I instead of running towards Jesus with joy I walk away sadly from Jesus. OK. We cannot put our trust in our good works for salvation. But even knowing that I think we often do this.

We all do this. Don’t we? You might say, “Well, yes… I think about these things but I certainly don’t believe my good works will save me.”

If that is true I would like to challenge you on that belief this morning and maybe help you to be a little more honest with yourself. I think we often put our trust in our good works when it comes to salvation.

I think that is why this story of the rich man speaks to us so well. We all look at our lives, again at least from time to time and say…

“Well, I am doing this good deed and I am helping you, and I am a kind person, and I have never stolen anything… and on and on.”

The man in the Gospel reading for today puts his trust in his good work and in his actions. He begins by saying to Jesus, “Jesus, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Notice how he asks the question. What must I do?

This past week during confirmation class we were discussing what Holy Communion means for us. At one point I asked my four students. “What must we do to receive Holy Communion?” One by one they started naming what one must do to receive Holy Communion. One said you must first take a class. Yes, I said you might need to take a class first but that is not the answer I am looking for.

Another said you have to kneel in order to take Holy Communion. Yes, I said you can kneel but that is not the answer I am looking for.

Again another one said you must have faith. Yes, we come to Holy Communion with faith. But even faith is not the answer I am looking for because faith isn’t so much something that we do as it is something that we know inside of us.

Faith is a trust that comes out of our hearts.

After many more guesses my four students gave up. Wondering what kind of an answer this strange teacher with glasses could be asking for…

Then I said to them. Actually there is nothing that we must do in order to receive this gift. God gives us the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion as pure gift.

There is nothing that we must do to receive this gift. Even our faith in this gift comes as a gift from God. The faith that we have is a gift from God. That is why we actually don’t ever grow in our faith.

Maybe a more accurate way of saying it is that over time we learn how to more fully appreciate and cherish the gift of faith that is already within us. A gift that is given to us by God. The man in Mark tells Jesus, “Teacher, I have kept all of these commandment since my youth.” All of these commandments I have kept.

At this point Jesus wants to challenge the man in his false believe that he needs to do something in order to inherit eternal life.

Even think here about the word that is used, inherit. What must you do to inherit something? The word inherit usually refers receiving something simply because you belonged to someone. For example, you inherited a house because your parent died and left you the house in their

Did you do anything to inherit the house? No. You didn’t do anything to inherit the house. You belong to your parent and your parent gave you the gift of the house.

And so Jesus wanting to challenge the man’s beliefs tells him to go and to do something he cannot do which is to sell everything that he owns and then to give it to the poor. OK. The man put his trust in what he might do in order to receive eternal life instead of putting his trust in God.

When he realizes that he cannot do what Jesus is asking him to do he goes away sadly. He walks away sadly.

The truth of the Gospel is the fact that we are saved and gifted with eternal life because of what God has done for us in Christ. Jesus has done the good work for us. We are made right and are given the gift of eternal life because of Jesus’ righteousness not our own righteousness. It is his righteous that we put our faith and our trust in not in the righteousness that comes from our own actions.

Think about the first commandment. Do you remember what the first commandment is?

Maybe you remember from confirmation class? The first commandment is: You shall have no other gods. Alright.

What does this mean? Martin Luther’s explanation of this commandment from the Small

Catechism is: We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.

We are to fear, love, and to trust God above all things.

Above all things. We are to put our trust in God. Not in what we do. Not in our actions. Not in our good works. We are to put our trust in God.

We can put our trust in God because God is trustworthy. God is faithful.Jesus was faithful to us even to death on a cross.

In life we might be let down by a friend, by a parent, by our spouse, by our neighbor but God does not let us down.

God continues to remain faithful to us and it is through the faithfulness of God that we learn how to be faithful to others, to a friend, to a parent, to our spouse, to our neighbor.

It is through the faithfulness and righteousness of Jesus that we turn away from ourselves which is our natural inclination to always turn inward at what we do to turning towards Christ and in Christ’s saving love for us.

Cherish this pure love for us in Jesus. Cherish this love that comes to us as a gift. There is nothing that we need to do or can do to earn eternal life.

Yes, this gift changes everything for us. We no longer live in the world in the same way once this gift is received. Yes, our good works and our good deeds matter but our good works always comes from the place of freedom.

That is the key word here: freedom. We serve and live out our faith because Jesus has set us free from sin and he has given us eternal life.

We seek the face of Jesus because we have faith in him. We put in the effort of living out our faith because his righteousness and even his body and his blood through the gift of Holy Communion is within us.We participate and live out our walk with Jesus through the beautiful place of trust and faith. One definition of sin is this. Sin is putting our trust in anything other than God.

One of the reasons that we come together each and every Sunday is to sing out and to proclaim this truth that Jesus has given himself for us.

Yes, it may get old from time to time to gather each and every week for worship. We may feel that way from time to time.

But it never gets old to hear how God loves us. That Jesus died for us. That God is faithful. That God is setting us free from that which would take life away from us. That the Holy Spirit is always doing a new and beautiful thing within each one of us.

That in Jesus sin no longer defines any one of us. This is good news. This never become old to hear.

This is Gospel!

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sermon date 2018-10-28


This morning I would like to speak about two core teachings from Martin Luther that came out during the Reformation.  

The first and most important is Martin Luther’s teachings on faith.  

The second is his teachings on the Christian understanding of freedom.

At the time that Luther lived the teachings of grace were so abundant that you could actually buy grace.  

What do I mean by that?  

Well, you could go to the church and buy a piece of paper called an indulgence.  An indulgence stated that you were granted some of God’s grace for a past sin.

For Luther this contradicted the Gospel message.  

Luther believed that you received God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  

A key verse for Luther came in the book of Ephesians where we read:  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the results of works; so that no one may boast.

For the Apostle Paul a consistent theme that runs through his letters in the Bible is this understanding that our good works do not save us.  According to Paul there is no salvation in works.

Paul also said in Romans in the Bible:  There is no distinction since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood made effective through faith.

Or take this verse again from Romans:  The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”  

The one who is righteous will live by faith.  

We are saved by the work of God in our lives.  We are not made right before God through our own good works.  God takes the initiative in forgiving us, loving us, and in creating new hearts within us.  

God comes to us.  God chases after us.  The Holy Spirit works in us.  We believe this by faith.

Luther held tightly to these teachings even at the risk of putting his own life in danger by defying the teachings of the Church.  There was nothing that you had to do to earn God’s grace and you could certainly not buy it.

God’s grace came as a gift to those with trusting hearts who had faith in Jesus.  

We are saved by grace alone through faith.    

Faith was central to Luther’s teachings and to the very beginning of the Great Reformation.  For Luther he believed it was a sin to do some good work in order to receive favor from God or to receive some kind of an award.  

Luther believed it was a sin that the church wanted poor peasants to buy grace through indulgences.  

This was a great injustice.  The church needed to be corrected and the church needed to change.

A second important teaching that came out of the reformation was Luther’s teachings on freedom.  We are saved by grace through faith.

In God’s saving grace a Christian can then live out his or her life in true freedom because you are already saved.

You are free to live your lives as you choose to do so.  You are free to go and to live the life that makes you happy and that brings you joy.  

You are free to go and to serve others, to give, and to follow Jesus not out of duty or obligation but out of Christian freedom.  

You are freed from sin and are freed to love your neighbor and to love God.  We are freed to love and to live out of that love that comes from God.

If you study the lives of the saints you will discover that they may have initially come to God out of a sense of duty or even guilt.   

But that in time the Spirit of God spoke to these people in such a way that their eyes were opened.  

Their eyes were opened so that they ended up living out their faith in freedom for the joy of following Christ, not necessarily out of duty but out of joy.

This transformation took part in Luther’s life as well.  

In his early years he followed Jesus more out of a sense of guilt and duty then out of a deep and abiding joy for his savior.  

In some ways Luther even hated God.  

He deeply struggled in trying to please God with his good works and religious devotions to God.  

It was only much later in his life when he realized that he was saved by grace through faith and called to live his Christian life out of true freedom was he able to know the real treasure of following Jesus.  

This revelation completely changed Luther.

Faith in God’s grace must be so real to us that the love that it produces in our hearts proves the existence of faith in our lives and leads us to lives of freedom.  

In freedom we follow Jesus and delight in being in God’s presence.

We hear in the Gospel of John:  If the Son make you free, you will be free indeed.  

By faith live deeply into that freedom.  

Speak a word of peace, be generous in showing love to others, forgive as God forgives us, surprise someone with an act of kindness, be humble in your walk with Jesus, and above all else cherish your faith in Jesus, cherish your freedom that comes from Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for us.  

The gift of faith and the gift of freedom is something that no one can take away for you.  

It is yours, it comes from God.


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sermon date 2018-11-11


Sometimes a helpful way to read Scripture is to read a passage, to stop, and then to let one or two words to come to your mind.  

When I did this with this reading from Mark the word humility immediately came to my mind.  


The definition of the word humility is a modest view of one’s importance or the state of being humble.  

Humility is not what the scribes or the religious leaders were demonstrating to others.  

In fact, Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes.”  The scribes placed more of an emphasis on looking good before other people than on matters of the heart.  

In the Bible what Jesus is always concerned about is our hearts.  

Jesus is always concerned about whether our lives are reflecting the wild and gracious love of God.  

This kind of radical love is concerned about the widows and the poor and those who are left out and those who don’t necessarily fit in.  

Jesus’ heart was and is always for these people.  

So Jesus had no tolerance for those who, for the sake of appearance, put their pride above the well-being of their neighbors.

In this Scripture reading Jesus also brings to his disciples’ attention the offering gift of a poor widow.  

The poor widow gives everything that she has, all that she has to live on is gone.  I wonder now what the Scribes will do?

Will the scribes do something about this great injustice?  Will the scribes reach out to the widow who now has nothing?  Or will they continue to devour widows’ homes and houses with their greed and pride?  

What will they do for this poor widow who has nothing?  

Can they humble themselves in such a way so that they might reach out to this woman and care for this woman -this poor widow who gave everything that she had in trust and in love for God?

All people are important in God’s eyes.  Will the scribes ever understand this truth?

Will their hearts turn in such a way so that they can see the dignity and beauty of this poor widow who is a witness to the kingdom of God?

Part of humility is in recognizing the infinite worth of another human being.  Humility requires of us to avoid the temptation to overvalue ourselves over others.  

This was the sin of the scribes.  

And that is a journey.  

That is a daily work for us.  That is a way of living that God calls us to.  We are to see the very image of God in one another.  

But in our pride sometimes we need to be awakened to see this truth.  Jesus one time said,

“Do you still not see or understand?…  Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?”

I recently heard about a strange smartphone app.  If you download this app you will receive this same message five times a day.  

The message is simply:  “Don’t forget you are going to die.”

And so at random times during the day your phone will blink and the same message will appear:  “Don’t forget you are going to die.”

I thought about downloading this app and trying it out for one week but then changed my mind.

There are two things that every human being must come to face in the course of their lives.  

One is mystery.  Life is mysterious.  God is mysterious. Life is a mystery.  In the face of mystery how do we make sense of life?  

The second is that no matter how hard we might try to avoid it we all must face death.   

A favorite theologian of mine, Marcus Borg wrote in his book, The Heart of Christianity, “…that none of us gets out of here alive.  This is the fate of me and us and everybody that we love.  Death will get us all.”

This truth is humbling.  It is humbling to come face to face with mystery.  

It is humbling to come face to face with death.  

But the humility that comes from facing this this truth, and I might add from facing this great unknown of which we are all afraid of, frees us to place all of our trust in God.  

Facing this fear that we all have can actually help us make the leap to placing our total trust in God.  

Just like the widow who gave everything in trust and in love for God

-in acknowledging our limited understandings on life and in acknowledging our mortality we are freed from our pride to put all of our trust and all of our love into Christ.  

Jesus the one who is gracious and life-giving even in the presence of the great unknowns of life, the great mysteries of life.  

Jesus the one who is gracious and life-giving even at the hour of our deaths.

For in Christ there is resurrection and new life both here and now and eternal life in the age to come.

This new kind of humility leads to a transformed life marked by freedom, joy, peace, and love.  

There is a very real death that happens within us still in this life as we put to death our pride and our selfish ways in order to follow Jesus.  

And as we do so we trust that the one we walk with now is also the one into whom we will one day die, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

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sermon date 2018-11-18

Acedia and the Spiritual Life

The word, acedia and what that word means has taken on many different meanings for me throughout my life.  

The word can refer to apathy or depression or in having a lack of concern or care towards others or towards life.  

But on another level acedia can take on a deeper more spiritual darkness and pain in one’s life.

There is a dark and heavy feel to today’s Gospel reading from Mark.  

The beautiful temple, which was the central place of worship for the Jewish people, Jesus prophesied that it would be destroyed.  Every stone of the temple -thrown down.

Nothing of the temple will be left.  

In this Scripture reading Jesus also warned the people about war, and division between nations and kingdoms, and earthquakes and famines.  

And then it ends not with a bit of hope but with Jesus saying that this is just the beginning of the birth pangs.

For those early Christians there was much struggle, pain, and suffering.  There was war, division, earthquakes, and famine.

In the year 70 AD, about forty years after Jesus prophesied that the temple would be torn down, the Romans destroyed this great temple in Jerusalem.  What Jesus said came to pass.

The spiritual darkness came upon the people.

And so as I was reflecting on my sermon this past week this word acedia kept coming back to my attention.  

It is easy to feel some discouragement as we think about today’s Gospel reading or as we think about the negative and the destructive things going on in the world right now.  

War in the Middle East, wild fires in California, extreme poverty in Haiti, in our country conflict between political parties… the list goes on and on.  

Then there are the personal struggles that we all face.  The daily demons we encounter as we try to live our lives.  Anxiety, worry, doubt, fear, grief, pain… these very things are not easy to shake off.  

But in life it is often when we come to that darkest and deepest moment of despair when we encounter the faithfulness of God.  When Martin Luther was at one of his darkest moment of despair he wrote one of the greatest hymns that we have in the hymnal: “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”  

God himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit.  Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.  The kingdom’s ours forever.    

In our Hebrews reading for today we hear:  “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is what… is faithful.”

What is one enduring promise that God makes to us again and again in Scripture.  That God is faithful, that God’s son Jesus is faithful to us.

To struggle against the powerful weight of acedia is no easy thing for any of us.  To struggle in our lives and in our spiritual lives is but the beginning of the birth pangs.  

But the one who is faithful to us remains faithful to us.  

In Psalm 16 we hear:  My heart therefore, is glad and my spirit rejoices, my body rests in hope for you will not abandon me to the grave.

And again from the book of Hebrews we hear that we are to encourage one another.  How are we to encourage one another? We encourage one another with this good news?  

God is faithful.

When I am tempted to fall by the demon of acedia I am reminded time and time again that God is faithful.  When I hear of famines, war, or earthquakes I am reminded through Scripture and through the proclamation of the Gospel, wherever it is preached, that God is faithful.  

When I am tempted to believe that there is little hope and that life continues on in an endless state of meaningless existence I am reminded -that God is faithful.  

In the end we believe in God’s ability to bring light out of darkness, hope out of despair, faith out of doubt, healing out of suffering, and resurrection out of death.  Yes, God is faithful.

There is the story of a man, who I will call Bob, who made a visit to see an elderly man who lived in an old apartment complex.  

When Bob entered the elderly man’s room he was surprised to see the poor condition of the room with paint peeling off the walls and holes in the floor boards.  

The elderly man was laying in his bed too sick to get out of bed.  When Bob approached the man he noticed that he immediately grabbed his Bible which was next to his bed.  

The man opened his Bible and started to read to Bob.  

Bob expected him to read a Psalm of comfort but instead the man read a Psalm of praise.  

When he finished reading the Psalm he shut his Bible, closed his eyes and lifted his hands us saying, “Alleluia!  Glory to God! Alleluia!”

Just when we think we are at our deepest despair God comes to us speaks to us and says, “I am faithful.”  

This is the promise proclaimed in Scripture.  

That demon of acedia has no power in the presence of God’s persistent, never-ending love.  

The spiritual life will always be marked with ups and downs the one constant sure thing is God’s relentless desire to be with us.  

A mighty fortress is our God, a sword and shield victorious; he breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod and wins salvation glorious.

“Alleluia!  Glory to God!  Alleluia!”   

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sermon date 2018-11-25

Christ the King

Today marks the last Sunday in the church year.  

How has this past church year gone for you?  

Do you feel closer to God?  

Did God teach you some new insights?  

Did the Holy Spirit move your heart to love others in deeper ways?  

Did you learn some new lessons from the Bible?  

Do you feel that God is working in your life in some new ways?  

Is God speaking to you even now in some profound ways?

How has this past church year gone for you?

The poet Annie Dillard once said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.  What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”

Through the church year we spend our time together by remembering the life of Christ.  

During the church year we remember yes, but we also walk with our Lord as we remember, for we believe that he is with us even now, as we recall his birth, his teachings, his miracles, his love, his forgiveness, his death, and his resurrection.  

During the church year we worship our Lord as we follow him through the changing seasons of the church year.

Today the church year comes to an end.  Next Sunday will mark a new season in the church year.  Beginning next Sunday we begin once again a new journey with our Lord.  

The next church year begins with the season of Advent.  During Advent we await the coming of our Lord as he comes to us as a baby on Christmas.

But for now, for this Sunday we remember how Jesus was forced to testify before Pilate.  On this day we anticipate his eventual death on the cross.

It seems a difficult way to end the church year.  Jesus before Pilate, Jesus anticipating his death on the cross, Jesus suffering on the cross.

Why would we not end the church year with the resurrection or at the very least a healing story or maybe a miracle story.  

No, instead each and every year on Christ the King Sunday we hear the Scripture lesson of Jesus preparing to die on the cross.


For me this Sunday is a great reminder and it is a reminder for each one of us here today of Jesus’ faithfulness to us.  At the end of his life Jesus was faithful to us even to the point of death on the cross.

Last Sunday we heard the Bible reading of Jesus talking about the end times and how life will be hard and that there will be struggles.  The Scripture reading for last week from the Gospel of Mark ended with little hope for us.

But today’s reading from John one week later points to a central teaching of Christianity.  A teaching and a truth that is so amazing that it continues to stir our hearts even today some two thousand years later.  

Jesus was and is willing to give his life for you and for me.  

His love for us was that strong -even to the point of death.  Jesus’ love for us is unconditional. Now I think that that is a hard theological truth for us to understand.  

Our love for others is often very conditional.  I love you but… I love you if you are a certain way.  I love you unless you upset me.

I love you but if you do what I say.  I love you if… and you can fill in the blank.  Our love for others is often very conditional.

Rarely do we show unconditional love to other people.  Our love is conditional. But not Jesus’ love for us. Jesus’ love is not dependent on our actions.  

Jesus’ love is not dependent on what we do.  

His love is unconditional.  He loves us no matter what. His love is always there even if at times we do not feel it or even want it… Jesus’ love continues for us.  He remains faithful to us.

He certainly is a true king and more than that he is our savior.

In Jesus giving his life for us he asks us now to voluntarily give our lives for others.  

Jesus now calls us to volunteer our lives for the work of discipleship -to follow him, to walk with him each and every day, each and every week, each and every month, each and every year.

One of the radical things about Christian discipleship is that it is a volunteer position.  Jesus asks and then we respond to him. Jesus knocks on our door and we decide if we are going to open the door or not.  

It is what theologians call -free will.  We have the freedom to choose Christ or not.  It is a different theological idea to explain.  

God does what?  God gives us free will?  What does that mean?

I wish I could tell you but the truth is that we must find out for ourselves what that means.  

You must find out for yourself through self-discovery what it means for you to follow Jesus through the year.  

I cannot tell you what that journey will mean for you.  

I wish I could but I cannot the most I can do is to continue to speak to you about the Scriptures and to remind you that God is faithful.   

I can recall when I was starting out in seminary in Dubuque, Iowa feeling the tremendous gravity and the weight of the call to professional ministry.  In response to my uneasiness I spoke with a professor at the seminary about this.

I don’t think I will ever forget what he told me.  To my concerns he said to me, “Tom, if God is truly calling you to become a pastor then it is important to honor that call.”

Through my own searching I discovered that when God speaks we are to honor what God is saying.  God speaks to each one of us in different ways.

How is God speaking to you?  What might God be wanting to say to you in the new church year?

How can you honor the voice of God in your own life?  How will you respond to this great gift of freedom in your own life?  

As the days continue to get colder and shorter this is a perfect time of the year to do some reflection.  To think about what God is doing in your life and how you might deepen your walk with Jesus.

In the end no one can give you a sufficient understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.  We must find out for ourselves as the Spirit speaks to you.

As you walk with Jesus remember that Jesus is with us even to the end of the age.  

He is our constant companion.  Remember that as you walk with Jesus you need not walk with him alone, God has given us community to share life with Jesus together.

I was reminded of this truth this past week as we joined with our brothers and sister in Christ for the community Thanksgiving service.  

It was a powerful gift of the Holy Spirit to move across three churches in such a way as to bring us all together.  

Our collective voices singing and praising God within a full church was a visible reminder that we walk together.  

During worship there were several moments were the presence of God in that place was palpable and very real.  

And as we closed our time together with the hymn:  Great is Thy Faithfulness I was reminded once again that God is faithful that God’s love for us is indeed unconditional.   

May the coming new church year be a blessing for us as we rejoice together in the faithfulness of God and as we find joy in the love of Jesus.

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sermon date 2018-12-02

The Coming of Christ

It was not that long ago when a moment of quiet was a blessing -waiting for an appointment, or a few minutes alone in the car, or a walk out in the woods.  

Now these quiet moments of reflection often become filled with noise.  It is hard to resist the addictive pull of technology.

Our sacred, quiet moments in our day have become filled up with  – Facebook, video games, music – or whatever information is new for day.  Moments of quiet reflection, I am afraid, are fast becoming a thing of the past.  

Lately, I have been surprised by how fast my daily quiet moments are disappearing.

Not too long ago my wife, Kalen was attending a spiritual retreat near Chicago.  During the retreat the participants were asked to take two hours of quiet time. I asked Kalen what she did during her two hours of quiet to which she responded I used my quiet time to make phone calls.

The world in which we live in is the world in which we live in.  There is no changing that. I enjoy the progress of modern technology just as much as anyone else.  But I am thankful for one thing here. I am thankful for this season of Advent.

The season of Advent could not come at a better time.  Just as the rush of the Christmas season begins we are immersed in this new, quiet season in the church year.  

This new season gently encourages us to step away from the frantic business.  In the season of Advent we try to take some time to be with God, to be still, to be quiet.

We stop what we are doing to remember that God’s boundless love still exists in the world.  

We remember that a moment of quiet silence is like a healing balm for the soul.  We remember that God is moving closer to us during this season of Advent.

We wait now.  We wait in quiet for the birth of God’s Son, Jesus.  We anticipate the new beginnings that are possible when we have faith in Jesus.  

We look forward to and even long for the joy that comes from knowing him.

This past week a Bible verse came to me that really spoke to me.  The verse is from Psalm 107: 9 and reads: “For he satisfies the longing soul, and he fills the hungry soul with what is good.”

The word Advent refers to the coming of Christ.  Jesus will satisfy the longing soul and Jesus will fill the hungry soul with what is good.  As followers of Jesus we understand this season of Advent as Jesus coming to us in three ways.

First, Jesus comes to us a baby born in a manger.  Jesus lived on earth performed miracles, healed people, fed people, talked to people about God’s love, he died on the cross for us, and he rose again never to die again.  

Secondly, we see Jesus coming to us and abiding in our hearts.  Remember that Jesus is always concerned about matters of the heart.  

How is his love transforming and changing us?  Every day we die to sin and rise with Jesus. Each day we respond to Jesus’ love in our hearts.

And lastly, we believe that Jesus will come again in his glory at the end of the age.  We believe Jesus will come to us as we take our last breath. The one we put our faith and our trust in is also the one into whom we die.  

Even in death Jesus comes to us and meets us at that last hour.  Even there he is with us.

And so this beautiful new season of Advent offers, as a gift to us, the opportunity to share together in our longing for Christ.  This is the time to share together in great anticipation of Jesus’ coming glory. Let us not get too distracted by the business of this season.  Let us not miss signs of our Lord even now.

Jesus gives to us a warning in today’s Scripture reading from the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus’ warns us to not let the things of this world distract us from what is truly most important.  

What is of utmost importance is in having a relationship with Jesus!  I fear that sometimes we miss that with all the noise around us.

In today’s reading Jesus teaches us that we ought to continue to place our faith and our trust in him even in the face of suffering and disaster.  By faith continue to step into our future while believing in God.

We continue to place our lives into the hands of God even in the midst of unstable and uncertain times knowing that the coming Messiah has already conquered death, sin, and all kinds of destruction.  

At this time may the Spirit help us to catch ourselves when we find ourselves drifting away from God and from God’ ways.

When we drift away from God the Spirit then turns us so that we might be about God’s will once again.  For we are at our best when we are joyful, faithful, forgiving, generous, and courageous.

We are at our best when we are sharing good news with others.  We are at our best when we are embodying God’s love within our hearts.  

We are at our best when we have hope, for hope is a precious thing, it is what is needed for a life of faith.  

Hope, always having hope, for the coming reign of God in Jesus.

Today we begin a fresh new cycle in the Church year.  Today we welcome new people to our church community. Today we celebrate the new beginnings in our church.  

Today we wait for the coming of Jesus.  He comes to us as a baby. He comes to us in our hearts.  He comes again in glory.

May we take time this Advent for quiet so that we might be able to think about what this means.  

May we find time to ponder the meaning of Advent.  

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.  Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

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sermon date 2018-12-16

Jesus is the Main Event of Worship

Recently, at a Christmas party I attended in Lake Geneva, I joined in with some people on a conversation around worship.  

The conversation was about… what is the main event of worship?  

One person said, “I think that the worship leaders are the main event of the worship service.”  

Another person said, “I think that it is the liturgy.  The liturgy is the main event of the worship service.”

Another still said, “No, I think that it is the music.  The music is the main event of the worship service.”

And then suddenly, someone said, “Wait we have it all wrong.’  ‘Jesus is the main event of the worship service.”

Jesus is the cornerstone of the worship service.  Jesus is the centerpiece of the worship service. Jesus is the focus of the worship service.  

Jesus is the high point, the best part, the heart of our worship service.

It is Jesus that we seek after in worship.  It is Jesus’ presence that we hope to receive in worship.  

When we come to worship we come with the expectation that Jesus will meet us in worship.  We trust and believe that in the body and the blood of Holy Communion that Jesus is with us.

It always was about Jesus.  It is about Jesus. It always will be about Jesus.

Jesus is the main actor in worship.  Everything in worship centers on him.  Everything else in worship simply supports this truth.  

Everything that we do together on a Sunday morning points to Jesus for he is our Lord and our Savior.

For us as Christians it is all about Jesus.  Even the word Christian refers to followers of Christ.  We are followers of Jesus.

As Christians we are constantly striving to know Jesus more.

Jesus was John the Baptist’s message.  John was continually pointing people to Jesus.  He was always teaching the people to see that Jesus is the one that we should follow.

There were some that thought that John was the Messiah.  In his life John was deeply concerned that some people thought that he was the one.  

And so John actually went out of his way to help people to see that he was not the Messiah.  

The messiah was Jesus.

Have you ever noticed in the Bible how hard John works to convince the people that he is not the Messiah?  Have you noticed this from your study of Scripture?

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke John says that he is not even worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals.

John baptized only with water but Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit.

This is the way it is with us as well.  We do the work of ministry. But it is Jesus who gathers people, who saves people, and who blesses people.  Jesus is the one who speaks to us in worship.

Jesus is indeed the main event not only of the worship service but of the whole of our lives.

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked John the Baptist.

We are called by God to be like John the Baptist always pointing people to Jesus.  John was a humble man who taught that we should prepare the way for Jesus.

He taught that the kingdom of God is at hand.  He taught that we should not glorify ourselves but that we should glorify Jesus, God’s son.

Together we continue the work of John the Baptist even now.  We remind each other that worship is all about Jesus. We tell others about Jesus and Jesus’ story.  

We speak to others about our faith and how our faith in Jesus brings meaning and hope into our lives.

In my own life I have witnessed time and time again people who have carried on the work of John the Baptist.  People who have prepared the way of the Lord. People who have pointed others to Jesus.

Have you witnessed this yourself?  

I have seen so many people over the years pointing people to Jesus.  This has not only been inspiring and encouraging for me but I have seen others come to faith in Jesus through the good work of people pointing people to Jesus.

We do not create faith within another person.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit. But God does call us to care for our brothers and sisters, to encourage each other in the faith, and most importantly to point each other to Jesus.

Do you know of someone who needs to hear the message of hope this Advent?  Do you know of someone who needs to be encouraged?

Do you know of someone whose faith is shaky and they need to be told once again that God is still there, that God is with them?  That is the meaning of the word, Emmanuel.

Emmanuel means God with us.

A person with a discouraged heart with will feel defeated.  But God still loves the person who is downhearted and depressed.  God want to fill that searching, discouraged person with hope and with joy.  

You just may be the right person that God is calling to speak a word of good news to that depressed person.  

As Christmas draws nearer and as the season of Advent comes to an end I would like to ask all of us here to be like John the Baptist.  Now John was a bit of a rough man who was very harsh in his preaching.

In today’s reading he addresses his listeners by saying you brood of vipers.

Brood of vipers.  What does that mean?  Let’s just say he is not giving his audience a compliment here.  

I am not saying that we should be like that.  But I am saying that I think that we should be speaking the message that John preached.  

-Telling others that Jesus is coming.  We should be pointing others to Jesus. We should be glorifying and lifting up Jesus.  

He is the one who is the most important person in our lives!

It says in Luke that with many words John taught the people and proclaimed the good news to the people.  

May the Holy Spirit inspire and move within us so that we too might prepare the way for our coming Messiah.  


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sermon date 2018-12-16

Jesus is the Main Event of Worship

Recently, at a Christmas party I attended in Lake Geneva, I joined in with some people on a conversation around worship.  

The conversation was about… what is the main event of worship?  

One person said, “I think that the worship leaders are the main event of the worship service.”  

Another person said, “I think that it is the liturgy.  The liturgy is the main event of the worship service.”

Another still said, “No, I think that it is the music.  The music is the main event of the worship service.”

And then suddenly, someone said, “Wait we have it all wrong.’  ‘Jesus is the main event of the worship service.”

Jesus is the cornerstone of the worship service.  Jesus is the centerpiece of the worship service. Jesus is the focus of the worship service.  

Jesus is the high point, the best part, the heart of our worship service.

It is Jesus that we seek after in worship.  It is Jesus’ presence that we hope to receive in worship.  

When we come to worship we come with the expectation that Jesus will meet us in worship.  We trust and believe that in the body and the blood of Holy Communion that Jesus is with us.

It always was about Jesus.  It is about Jesus. It always will be about Jesus.

Jesus is the main actor in worship.  Everything in worship centers on him.  Everything else in worship simply supports this truth.  

Everything that we do together on a Sunday morning points to Jesus for he is our Lord and our Savior.

For us as Christians it is all about Jesus.  Even the word Christian refers to followers of Christ.  We are followers of Jesus.

As Christians we are constantly striving to know Jesus more.

Jesus was John the Baptist’s message.  John was continually pointing people to Jesus.  He was always teaching the people to see that Jesus is the one that we should follow.

There were some that thought that John was the Messiah.  In his life John was deeply concerned that some people thought that he was the one.  

And so John actually went out of his way to help people to see that he was not the Messiah.  

The messiah was Jesus.

Have you ever noticed in the Bible how hard John works to convince the people that he is not the Messiah?  Have you noticed this from your study of Scripture?

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke John says that he is not even worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals.

John baptized only with water but Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit.

This is the way it is with us as well.  We do the work of ministry. But it is Jesus who gathers people, who saves people, and who blesses people.  Jesus is the one who speaks to us in worship.

Jesus is indeed the main event not only of the worship service but of the whole of our lives.

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked John the Baptist.

We are called by God to be like John the Baptist always pointing people to Jesus.  John was a humble man who taught that we should prepare the way for Jesus.

He taught that the kingdom of God is at hand.  He taught that we should not glorify ourselves but that we should glorify Jesus, God’s son.

Together we continue the work of John the Baptist even now.  We remind each other that worship is all about Jesus. We tell others about Jesus and Jesus’ story.  

We speak to others about our faith and how our faith in Jesus brings meaning and hope into our lives.

In my own life I have witnessed time and time again people who have carried on the work of John the Baptist.  People who have prepared the way of the Lord. People who have pointed others to Jesus.

Have you witnessed this yourself?  

I have seen so many people over the years pointing people to Jesus.  This has not only been inspiring and encouraging for me but I have seen others come to faith in Jesus through the good work of people pointing people to Jesus.

We do not create faith within another person.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit. But God does call us to care for our brothers and sisters, to encourage each other in the faith, and most importantly to point each other to Jesus.

Do you know of someone who needs to hear the message of hope this Advent?  Do you know of someone who needs to be encouraged?

Do you know of someone whose faith is shaky and they need to be told once again that God is still there, that God is with them?  That is the meaning of the word, Emmanuel.

Emmanuel means God with us.

A person with a discouraged heart with will feel defeated.  But God still loves the person who is downhearted and depressed.  God want to fill that searching, discouraged person with hope and with joy.  

You just may be the right person that God is calling to speak a word of good news to that depressed person.  

As Christmas draws nearer and as the season of Advent comes to an end I would like to ask all of us here to be like John the Baptist.  Now John was a bit of a rough man who was very harsh in his preaching.

In today’s reading he addresses his listeners by saying you brood of vipers.

Brood of vipers.  What does that mean?  Let’s just say he is not giving his audience a compliment here.  

I am not saying that we should be like that.  But I am saying that I think that we should be speaking the message that John preached.  

-Telling others that Jesus is coming.  We should be pointing others to Jesus. We should be glorifying and lifting up Jesus.  

He is the one who is the most important person in our lives!

It says in Luke that with many words John taught the people and proclaimed the good news to the people.  

May the Holy Spirit inspire and move within us so that we too might prepare the way for our coming Messiah.  


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sermon date 2019-01-06

Knowing Jesus


We have many choices in life.  Our choices impact our lives.

The decisions that we make determines our future.

Take this example, if we choose to marry we are choosing many things all at once.  

We are choosing our parenting partner, our eating companion for about 20,000 meals, our travel partner for about 100 vacations, our primary leisure time and retirement friend, our career therapist… and someone whose days you’ll hear about 18,000 times.

Maybe you have a similar experience with a close friend that you have chosen to know over the years.  

When we choose to be in a relationship with someone and really spend time with them, whether it is a spouse or close friend, we truly get to know them over the years.  

Often the more we know someone the more we like them.  That is how love is. Love grows over time.

When we choose to have a relationship with Jesus our lives are never the same.  That decision to know Jesus changes our lives and our hearts.

Today is Epiphany Sunday.  On this day we celebrate the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.  This means that on this day we remember that Christ came for all people, for all nations.  

The wise men from the East, foreigners come to worship the new born king, Jesus who is the Savior for all people.  

On this day we remember that Jesus wants to be our Lord as well.  

So on this day we renew our relationship with Jesus, the one whom we desire to know and to love.

As we close another year and look forward to a New Year think about how your life has been shaped by Jesus over the years.

Think about how your life is different because you know Jesus.  

Think about all the church services that you have attended over the years, the hours that you have spent reading Scripture over the years, all the prayers you have prayed to God, the offering gifts that you have given, and the people that you have shared your faith with.

Knowing Jesus changes us.  And through knowing Jesus we know God.  Jesus reveals to us the true character of God.  

Who is God?  

God is gracious, loving, kind, merciful, and God is faithful.  

As we come to know Jesus we ourselves have an epiphany.  These characteristics of God are the same characteristics that we are to imitate in our own lives.

As God is merciful we are to show mercy to others.  As God is gracious we are to be gracious towards others.  As God is giving we are to be giving towards others. As God is kind we are to be kind towards others.  

As God is faithful we are to be faithful to one another.

Recall those great words from Scripture from the book of Micah.  What does the Lord require of us? The Lord requires us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.

As we come to know Jesus we begin to live as Jesus lived.  God’s nature is to abundantly share with us God’s grace and compassion.  God’s true nature is to reveal to us God’s love and God’s undying faithfulness for us.  

In Christ we too model these qualities not as a path to salvation but as a sign of our life with Christ.

The Christian faith is not something that we keep at arm’s length.  Rather, it is something that we live by. We attend worship and live out our faith more out of conviction then out of routine.  

Living out our faith is not like brushing our teeth.  We brush our teeth out of routine and habit not necessarily out of conviction.  

In Christ we attend worship and live out our faith out of conviction and passion.  

One way that Jesus continues to manifest himself to me is through the faith of other people.  Time and time again I am inspired by the ways that Jesus’ followers live out their faith.

I am moved by the passion of God’s people.  

I remember Henry who attended the church of my childhood in rural Wellsburg, Iowa.  Henry would arrive at church one hour early. Church was at 10:00 and every Sunday Henry would get to church at 9:00.  

I once asked my Dad why Henry would come to church a whole hour early.  I have never forgotten what my father told me.

He said, “Tom, Henry comes a whole hour early just so that he can be with God.”  

Now you have to realize that was at a time in my life, I was probably seven or eight, when I could not stand being in church for one hour on a Sunday morning let alone for two hours.  

As a child it made me pause and think.  Something is happening here. Pay attention to it!    

Henry, his deep spirituality and his witness impacted me as a child.  Henry was a man who wanted to know Jesus.

I think of Betty who was a homebound member of the church that I served as an intern pastor.  

When I came by the nursing home to bring her communion she was often playing Bingo and she would immediately stop playing bingo, grab her walker and, for a ninety-three year old, very quickly exit her bingo game because she was so excited about receiving communion.

I once told her, “Now Betty you don’t have to leave your Bingo game I can come back another time.”  

She replied to me, Oh, Pastor Communion is so much more important than Bingo!”

Betty was a woman who wanted to know Jesus.

I think of Bill who used to be a neighbor when I lived in Illinois.  

Bill would stop by the house to drop off tomatoes and Billy Graham magazines and newspaper clippings.  

Bill was an extremely shy man but he believed so strongly in evangelism so he would occasionally write articles for the local newspaper about his faith.  

He would write about Jesus and about living a life of faith.  

He would share his own testimony and how God was working in his life.  

He would than cut those articles out of the paper and drop them off for me to read.  

Bill was a man who wanted to know Jesus.

Because of the ways in which God’s people continue to live out their faith I know that the Holy Spirit continues to be active and alive in the world.  

Every day people are coming to know Jesus in a deeper way and new Christians continue to hear the Word of God and respond to Jesus.

We have many choices in life.  What about our choice to know Jesus.  

The Apostle Paul once said, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”  

Last Sunday I spoke about how our faith in Jesus is a gift from God.  

What does this gift mean to you?  How does this gift change your life?  How might you share this gift with others?  

Together how might we know Christ more this coming year?

Every New Year has its unforeseen challenges, problems, and trials but this fact should not hold us back from anticipating the blessings of a New Year.

This coming year may our decision to know Jesus together as a faith community be reflected in our life together as passionate disciples of Christ.



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sermon date 2019-01-13

Baptism of Our Lord Sunday 2019

I was in seminary and I was working on a sermon.  

I translated the passage I was working on from Greek to English, I studied the text, I prayed over the text, I was putting a good sermon together.

Then came the day for me to deliver my sermon and to turn in my manuscript.  Afterwards, I felt pretty good I had just given an outstanding sermon.

A couple of days later I got my manuscript of my sermon back from my professor.  Excited to see how I did I quickly looked it over.

My sermon was completely marked up with red pen.  

I turned to the last page of the sermon and there it was.  D – and then in large letters: See me after class.

Of course, at first I thought well, what an unfair grader!  Then Kalen shared with me what she got, at that time she was in the same preaching class.  

A + followed by the sentence:  It is a joy having you in class.

(Maybe I should have told the call committee about that when I interviewed here to be your pastor!)

In the end though, isn’t it wonderful to know that our salvation is not based on how well we can articulate our faith but rather our salvation is based on what God does for us in baptism.  

In my own faith it was a powerful shift in my theology when I truly realized that we are saved because of God’s work of God’s action, of what God does for us, not what we do, not our own work or what we do.

In confirmation class this past week I had my students discuss Ephesians 2:8-9.  The verse reads: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God not the result of works, so that no one can boast.  

We are saved because of what God chooses to do.  God chooses to save us so there is no reason for us to boast.

In baptism God does all the work.  Baptism is about what God does for us.  We receive forgiveness for all of our sins, we are redeemed from death and from all evil, and we are given eternal life.  

In baptism God delivers us from that which is not life-giving.  

In return God freely gives us life here and now and eternal life in the age to come.

Jesus said in the Gospel of Mark, “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved!”

By God’s gift and call, all of us who have been baptized into Christ are daily put to death from our old life so that we might be raised to new life each and every new day.

We are at the same time sinners and saved people.  We are captive to sin. We cannot free ourselves from sin.  

But at the same time through Christ we receive rebirth, renewal, and new life each and every time we confess our sins and receive Jesus’ forgiveness.  

Because we are baptized we receive these blessings.

In his life Jesus was both fully God and fully man.  As a man Jesus chose to be baptized. In his baptism he hears the wonderful words:  “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The Holy Spirit also descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove.  For Christians doves represent the Holy Spirit. In all four of the Gospels:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John record that the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove at his baptism.

The Spirit rests upon Jesus and God affirms Jesus’ identity as the very Son of God who is deeply loved by God.

We too are spoken by God in this way at our baptism.  We are called out by God as sons and daughters whom God loves deeply.  

In baptism God’s Spirit rests upon us and we are joined with the whole company of God’s people.

It is not water alone that does this but water with the Word of God, with God’s promises.  Through water and the Word we are given all of these benefits in baptism.

After baptism how do we continue in this covenant made by God?  

We remain in the covenant by participating in the life of the church, by hearing God’s Word, by receiving Christ’s Supper, by telling others about Jesus, by working for justice and peace in the world, by reading the Scriptures, by encouraging one another, by daily prayer, and by remembering our baptism each and every day.

To remember our baptismal covenant this is something that everyone here could start doing each day.  

Every morning I run some water from the sink and with the water I make the sign of the cross on my forehead and then I remember my baptism.  

It is a simple thing that I do each morning but it makes an impact on the rest of my day.  

It is comforting to know, that no matter what happens the rest of the day, I am a beloved child of God.  And that God’s Spirit is upon me and God is with me.

Would you consider trying that this coming week?  

In the morning, shortly after you get up, make the sign of the cross with some water on your forehead, in order to remember your baptism.

This simple practice can powerfully impact your faith and it can be a visible reminder of God’s grace and love in your life.  

It is a reminder to me that I am saved by grace though faith not because of anything that I have done but rather because of what God has done for me.


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sermon date 2019-01-27

Spiritual Gifts, Part II

Last Sunday I spoke about spiritual gifts.
I talked about how all believers are called upon by God to use their spiritual gifts for others.
I spoke specifically about that spiritual gift that we all have which is the gift of encouragement. We are to continually be encouraging one another in the faith.
Today I would like for you to really think about which spiritual gifts you have that can be shared with our congregation.
In today’s New Testament reading the Apostle Paul says that we are the body of Christ. We are the people of God and that God has appointed apostles, prophets, and teachers.
God has gifted some for deeds of power, some with gifts of healing, some with forms of assistance, some with leadership, and still others with the gift of tongues.
The important message to take away here is that there are a variety of gifts that God has given us to be shared with others.
What might be your gift?
It might be one that Paul listed or it might be another kind of gift.
For some time now I believe that God has given me the gift of spirituality in order to share that gift with others.
I consider myself a very spiritual person. This means that I experience God in very real ways as I live my life. I believe that God regularly speaks to me and that God calls me to share what I have been given with others.
For the longest time before becoming a pastor I resisted even the thought of becoming a pastor. But as time went on I realized that it does no good to argue with God because God always wins.
God wanted me to use what gifts I have for others. I realized that I have a deep spirituality that I can share with others. It is out of this particular gift that I preach, teach, and offer pastoral care.
Having this gift from God is the reason why I continue to serve as pastor. I believe God has gifted me with words, a message, and spiritual gifts so that I might serve God’s people.
Specifically, God has called me now to this church in order to share my gifts with this congregation.
As we think about our spiritual gifts it can be hard to know what those gifts might be. You might be thinking… I know that God gives us gifts but I do not know what mine are.
You might be asking God even now, “Lord, what are my spiritual gifts?”
If you are thinking that question right now than I want to say to you: “Good job!” That is the right question.
Go ahead and ask God these questions in prayer say, God… “What are my spiritual gifts?” What gifts have you given me that I can share with others? “How can I know which gifts are truly mine?”
Sometimes it is only through time and much prayer that the Spirit reveals our true gifts.
In the early church they believed in charismatic gifts. Paul speaks regularly about these gifts. These are the very special spiritual gifts given to people by the Spirit as an act of pure grace.
These would include such things as speaking in tongues, performing miracles, and in healing people. The first Christians believed that God gave these special gifts to believers.
For example, in the book of Acts chapter three Peter heals a man who cannot walk. I love what Peter says to the man.
He says to the poor man who cannot walk, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give to you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” After Peter speaks these words the person stands up, begins to walk, and the man praises God.
Another example of charismatic gifts comes again from the book of Acts chapter two.
Here the people gather on the Day of Pentecost, this Jewish festival celebrating the fifty days after Passover, and suddenly all the people become filled with the Holy Spirit and they begin speaking in tongues as the Spirit gave them the ability.
Have you ever known someone who speaks in tongues? As Lutherans we don’t lift up the speaking of tongues or for that matter any of the charismatic gifts as much as our evangelical brothers and sisters do.
But even still we may have something to learn from those Christians who still believe in the charismatic gifts.
When I was working as a hospital chaplain I worked with a very wonderful man, whose name was also Tom. Tom consider himself a charismatic pastor.
Tom believed that he had the gift of speaking in tongues. When I first started working with him my initial reaction was to dismiss him and his spiritual gifts. I wanted to dismiss him as a weird Christian.
But as time went on I and I saw him do the work of God in the hospital I could not deny that he had strong gifts for helping people and for ministering to people.
At that time I felt that God was speaking to me and telling me to be more open to my colleague and also to be more careful about making judgements on another Christians spiritual gifts.
Today I still don’t understand what the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues is all about but I have learned though my friendship with Tom, while at the hospital, that God equips all of us with different spiritual gifts for the common good.
I believe that my spiritual gift is my spirituality. Prayer, meditation, fasting, Scripture reading, being in the silence are all practices that come very natural for me.
God comes to me in very real ways and then God calls me to share what I have received from God with others.
That is the way it is with spiritual gifts. Gifts are meant to be used for others. No gift is better than any other gift.
My gifts are not better than your gifts and your gifts are not better than mine. We each are gifted differently by the Spirit. This is a key point that the Apostle Paul consistently makes in the Bible. No gift is superior from another gift.
This is so important to remember.
Sometimes I get jealous of other pastor’s and of their particular spiritual gifts. For example, I do not consider myself a very dynamic pastor and so I am envious of those pastors that are very dynamic.
But then I need to remind myself that God has gifted me in other ways. God has given me a heart for God’s people and God has gifted me with a deep spirituality that I can share with others.
Remember it is not the kind of gift that matters as much as how we use it to build up the body of Christ. Maybe you are thinking now that you just do not have any charismatic gifts.
That is OK.
For many of us our gifts lie more in the area of practical ministry. These are the gifts of caring for the needy, serving, contributing, performing acts of mercy, administration, and in listening to others.
And as it says in the Bible that all believers are to manifest within their lives the fruits of the Spirit. These are the gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
And I would add that all believers are called upon to use the gift of encouraging. We are always to be encouraging one another in the faith.
We are always to be about the work of building up the body of Christ.
The reign of God is near when God’s people live more deeply into their spiritual gifts. The kingdom of God is near when people use their gifts for others.
May God bless you as you discern and recognize your gifts.
May the Spirit richly bless our church with a large variety of spiritual gifts.
May God lead us by the Spirit into deeper faith in this exciting new church year.

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sermon date 2019-02-10

Encountering God

In the Bible reading from the book of Isaiah we hear about Isaiah’s vision and his new spiritual conversion.  

In Isaiah’s vision we see that true spiritual transformation begins with an encounter with God.  It is through God’s action of God coming to Isaiah that Isaiah is changed.

In the Bible God cleanses him through a seraph.  

A seraph is a heavenly being or we might think of a seraph as an angel.  

The seraph is a divine being of pure light who enjoys an intimate connection with God.  

Here the seraph touches Isaiah’s mouth with a live coal and then Isaiah is made holy.

In Isaiah encountering the living God he is changed, purified, and then called by God for a mission.  He is to be sent in order to bring God’s message to the people.

What is the message that he is to bring?  

For Isaiah he is to bring the difficult message of God’s divine judgement to the people.  He is to bring this message to the people so that the people might turn from their ways, repent, and come back to God.  

In coming back to God the people will be healed and their relationship with God will be restored.  

The message that Isaiah is to deliver of God’s divine judgment is meant to provoke a response.  This is not an easy message for Isaiah to give. For God knows that some will not listen to or hear God’s message.  

Isaiah knows this and he know that judgment is inevitable.  

But he accepts the job hoping that people will come to understand and will turn towards the living God.  

Today it is through our encounters with the living God that we are able to hear and to recognize the voice of God.  

Then we too might turn towards God so that we would redirect our thinking, our values, our energy, and our hearts back to God.   

In life it is through our experiences with God that we are empowered to follow Jesus and obey his commands.

Think about the times when you have encountered the living God?  

Think about those times when you have felt close to God.

Sometimes God comes to us in spontaneous ways but often we need to prepare ourselves and our hearts in order to hear God’s voice and to see God’s vision for our lives.  Living into God’s commandments puts us in a place where we can see God more clearly.

We can prepare ourselves to encounter God each and every day by making our relationship with God central in our lives and by regularly practicing our faith.

Putting our faith into practice so that we might encounter God is not necessarily something that takes a lot of work or effort.  

Rather, it can happen quite easily as we respond to God’s love and grace shown to us through Jesus Christ.

By responding to God’s love and grace in our lives we put our hearts in the right place for God encounters.  We put our hearts in the right place for God to speak to us.

Encounters with God are always gracious and healing.  In the Isaiah reading Isaiah is forgiven and his guilt is gone.  Sin can crush a person. Guilt can destroy a person.

This was Isaiah’s experience.  

In seeing God he was overwhelmed with his own sin and also he was overwhelmed by the sin of his people.  But with his encounter with God he is healed. He is made whole. It says that his guilt is gone and his sins are blotted out.

This same healing is available to us as well.  

Encounters with God lead to repentance (to a changed mind and attitude towards God), they lead to worshiping God with joy, towards experiencing a new love for others, to restoring broken relationships, to more fully using our gifts for others, to forgiving others, to witnessing to others so that those who do not believe might come to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.  

Encounters with God lead to healing and to holiness.

Only God can make us holy.  God is holy and God makes us holy.  To be holy is to have the goodness and the righteousness of God within us.  It is not a self-righteous kind of holiness but rather a humble and gentle holiness.  

In this way we are then able to hear the voice of Jesus, to leave what we are still clinging to that does not bring life, and then to fully follow Jesus just as Simon Peter, James, and John left what they had in order to follow Jesus.

After being forgiven Isaiah enthusiastically chooses to respond to God’s call.  He responds to God by saying, “Here I am; send me.”

Do you see how he enthusiastically volunteers for the work that God is calling him to.  

Often in life we are hesitant to hear the voice of God.  Sometimes we may even resist. I know that is the case with me.  Sometimes I want to resist and to even ignore the voice of God in my own life.  

But Isaiah’s energetic obedience to God’s call is truly an inspiration.  I love his call story in the Bible. He inspires all of us to jump at the opportunity to do God’s will.  

To be inspired means that we are aroused by the spirit to do something.  That is what the word inspired means. If we are inspired we are in the spirit.  That’s what Isaiah’s call story does for us.

It inspires us!  

It means we are awaken and stirred up by the Holy Spirit to do something in the name of Jesus.

Isaiah’s story gives testimony to the fact that when we are forgiven we are then freed from sin.  Sin is that which weighs us down and separates us from God. We are freed from sin in order to serve others and to live more deeply into our faith.  

With joy may we too respond to God and to the Lord’s call in our lives.  Choose to hear Jesus when the Lord calls.

As it says in another Scripture passage, “You will seek me.  And when you seek me with all of your heart you will find me.”  That is from the book of Jeremiah.

This coming week look for God moments.  God will come. Often God comes to us in surprising ways.  Sometimes God comes with a loud voice. Sometimes God comes with a soft voice.  

Look for those encounters with God.  

Trust that God will come to you and speak to you.  

You can know that it is the voice of God when your encounter with God is one of graciousness.  The God encounter always reveals more of God’s love and kindness.

The encounter always leads you deeper into the ways of holiness and the encounter compels you to follow Jesus more and more.  

The Lord calls.  

Hear it and faithfully respond.     




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sermon date 2019-02-17

Who is Blessed

Grace and peace be with you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I often like to start my sermons with a greeting.  

It is a way for me to ask for God’s blessings of grace and peace to be with you before I begin my sermon.  

All of us hoped to be blessed by God.  

We come to worship on Sunday mornings hoping both to encounter God and to receive God’s blessings.  

The blessings of grace, peace, and abundance are blessings from God.

But wait what do we have here in Scripture?

In today’s Gospel reading from Luke we hear that the way things usually are in the world is turned upside-down.  

We are surprised to hear that it is the poor, the hungry, and the depressed who are blessed.  Everything here is reversed, changed, mixed up, and turned around.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

What does this mean?

As I was thinking about this particular blessing a person came to my mind.  

My brother Bobby came to my mind.  He is my youngest brother. My brother Bobby has autism.  

In the world’s eyes he has very little.  He doesn’t own much. He has very few possessions.  Much less than what I have.

He has suffered much in his life and he deals with struggles that I will never have to face.  In many ways he is very poor in the eyes of the world.

Not only does he have very little but he has this poverty of soul.  

He has a deeply humble and child-like faith.  But in many ways I feel that my brother Bobby is a Christian mystic.  

He is able to perceive God in very profound ways and he continuously inspires me in the ways of faith.  

Jesus said blessed are the poor.  And in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In Christ he is blessed just as much as I am blessed or you are blessed.  He is made in the image of God just as you or me are made in the image of God.  

He has the divine spirit of God in him, being a baptized child of God, just as much as anyone else.  

Do you see what Jesus is trying to teach us here?  

We often place people in categories or we label people.  We think this person is blessed and this person must not be blessed.  

Jesus turns that thinking upside-down.  Suddenly the people that we think should not be blessed are in fact deeply blessed.  Those who are poor in body, mind, or soul are blessed by God.

These people are not abandoned by God.  The poor receive a true, special blessing from God.  They receive the best blessing of all.

They are included in the kingdom of God.  

One question that Bobby asks over and over is:  “Will I go to heaven when I die?”

To that I question I repeat this Scripture passage.  Bobby, to you belongs the kingdom of God.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.”

What does this mean?

It is not a pleasant feeling to be hungry.  Whether it is hunger for food or maybe hunger for companionship it is a difficult thing to be hungry.  

Jesus said blessed are you who are hungry.  

In the Bible God is always reminding us and calling us to return back to him.  

Again and again God teaches us that we are to empty ourselves, turn away from the things of this world, and then –and only then to receive God’s blessings.  

When we are truly hungry, when we know that we have nothing if we don’t have God, only then will we be in the perfect place to receive God’s blessings.  

You might ask, “Why is this so?”  To that I say that too often it is us that resist God.  

Too often it is us who resist God’s love. We fill our lives with things other than God and then we forget God.  We forget that God is the one who gives us all good gifts.

God’s ability to bless us and to love us is only limited by our ability to receive that love and blessing here and now.  

If we empty ourselves and come to God truly hungry we will be in that most complete and perfect place to receive God’s blessings.

I had a seminary professor, at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa were I did my training to become a pastor, who once said that the greatest sin that we can commit again God is the sin of idolatry.  

This means that we give the best of our love, our devotion, our energy to something other than God.  In essence something other than God becomes our god.

Think about the first commandment in the Old Testament.  

The first commandment is:  “You shall have no other gods.”

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

We come to God hungry knowing that only God can satisfy our desires, our longings, and our hunger.  

When we begin to think like God thinks… when we know that God is the source of all life and that God is the ground of all being then we will begin to be filled.  

Jesus said, “Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh.”

God’s heart is for the suffering, the sick, and the ill.  God’s heart is for those who weep.

I think one of the greatest gifts we can give to another person who is suffering is the encouragement that God is still with that person.  

Kalen and I just recently watched a delightful film on the life of Fred Rogers called:  Won’t you be My Neighbor.  

In the documentary you see again and again the way in which Mr. Rogers used his gifts to encourage people especially children and especially children who were suffering in some way.  

At one point in the film Mr. Rogers encourages a child who is in a wheelchair.  It’s a moving scene in the film as the boy who is only ten years old discusses his condition as a quadriplegic to Mr. Rogers.  

The scene ends with a touching song that the two sing together.   

Where there is human suffering God is there ready to turn the situation around to one of joy and gladness.  

If there are things that weigh heavy on your heart this morning remember this scripture verse from the Gospel of Luke.  

Take comfort in knowing that Jesus is with you and that he is ready to bring healing and wholeness back into your life.  

You can laugh again.  

You can know happiness once again.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.”

Sometimes we may need to face persecution for our faith.  Sometimes we may need to risk looking foolish in order to be faithful to our beliefs.

This is not easy… at all.  I know for myself, like most people, I like to be liked.  I like it when people speak well of me.

And because of that sometimes, for example, I hold back in my preaching.  

I don’t want to say anything to offend anyone even if I believe that is what I need to say.  Sometimes the Bible is a difficult thing to speak about because there are a lot of commands and teachings in the Bible that are hard for us to hear.  

Jesus continually speaks about sacrifice and about the cross.  Jesus sometimes says very challenging and even upsetting things in the Bible.  

This Bible verse from Luke reminds me to continue preaching the Bible even when it may be hard for us to hear.  

It would be a lot easier for me to preach just about self-help points or to preach a prosperity Gospel message.  But that kind of a sermon would not be faithful to the Bible.

The theologian William Willimon once wrote, “A sermon is a sermon only when it is about God.  We learn applications for human behavior only after we learn who God is and what God is up to.”  

In today’s reading God is up to blessing those who are weak, hungry, and powerless.  

To take the beatitudes seriously means to go against the grain of the world and to ride against the tide.  

You may be called upon in the future to speak the faith or to live the faith in a way that is challenging and that may cause you even to be excluded by others.  

If this happens, remember that you are blessed.  

The heart of what it means to be blessed is to be in a restored relationship with God.  To be blessed means one can stand before God and be whole in body, mind, and soul.

To be blessed means that one can be at peace with both God and neighbor.  

This is a journey for sure.  

But this is a journey that God invites all of us on as we look to be blessed by God and as we look to bless others as God blesses us.  

The ways that God blesses people will always surprise us.  

God turns the world upside-down again and again.  

It is hard to understand, very hard to comprehend.  

The beatitudes certainly present a bold new way of looking at life and at faith.  

I end my sermon for today with these rich words from the book of Jeremiah…

“Those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord, these people no matter who they are, they will be blessed.”

These people will be like trees planted by streams of water that do not cease in bringing forth good fruit.

People of God, may God bless you.  


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sermon date 2019-02-24

Forgive Into Love

Several years ago I read the book:  What’s so Amazing about Grace by Phillip Yancey.  

In the book the author, Phillip Yancey tells his own struggle with the church.  

At one point in the book Yancey writes how he left the church because he could find so little grace in the church but later returned because he could find grace nowhere else.

Above everything else a church should be about grace.  Even if the grace, at times, feels small compared to God’s super-abounding grace, nevertheless a church should be about the work of grace.

What is this work of grace that the church should be about?

Today’s Bible reading from Luke defines the kind of grace the church should always be working towards.

Loving our enemies.  

Doing good to those who hate us.  

Blessing those who curse us.  

Praying for those who hurt us.  

Giving to those who ask of us.  

Being merciful.  

Not judging and forgiving those who have wronged us.  

This is grace.  

I would say now that this is almost impossible unless you are some sort of a saint.

Because Jesus asks us to do the opposite thing from our natural inclinations.  What are our natural inclinations?

Well, it is to hate our enemies.  It is to curse those who curse us.  It is to judge those people we do not like.  It is to hold a grudge. It is to take revenge when we have been wronged in some way.

Again, just like in the beatitudes Jesus turns things upside down.  

Jesus is trying to teach us something very important here.  We are to think and to act as God thinks and acts. Even though we do it imperfectly this is the path, this is the road that God calls us on.  

This is the road that Jesus invites us to travel on in life.  It is not an easy road to travel on. In fact, Jesus said that the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life.

But do not be discouraged here because we have someone who has already walked this road.  It is our savior. Jesus has already walked that difficult road in order to show us the way.  

In his life Jesus loved his enemies.  On the cross he asked God to forgive those who crucified him.  In his life Jesus did good to those hated him.

In his life Jesus blessed those who cursed him.  In his life Jesus loved all people the tax collectors, the thieves, and all kinds of sinners.

In this same way we are to be loving, kind, and merciful as Jesus is loving, kind, and merciful.

Before I end my sermon for today I would like to give to you some practices that I do to help me to follow this teaching from our Lord.  

Clearly, in my own life I fall way short of these teachings from Jesus so there are certain practices that I do in my life in order to help me to follow these teachings.  

I continually fall short am I am at the mercy of Christ’s mercy for me.  

But as I catch myself in making a judgement there, holding a grudge here, making a hurtful comment there I come back to these teachings from Jesus again and again.

Let’s take the first teaching here.  In verse 27 we hear: I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who hurt you.  

Now for the next seven days would you try this?  

Think about the people in your life who you may be holding a grudge against.  

Maybe it is your uncle you cannot stand.  Maybe it is a co-worker who finds the perfect way each and every day to annoy you.  Maybe it is a parent or a sibling that you just cannot seem to forgive for something that they did to you maybe years ago.  

I am not saying here that you need to dismiss the pain they caused you.  Especially, if it was severe. What I am inviting you to do is to find peace by forgiving.  

When you forgive someone and when you let go of a grudge you find a peace that passes all understanding.  

Do you want to know true peace?  Would you like to experience the peace of God… than do as God does…do as God does… forgive.

For the next week would you try this and see how much peace you can feel and receive from this exercise.

First, start with one person that you may be holding a grudge against.  

Think about that person and then write that person’s name down in a journal or a notebook.  This person could be someone who recently hurt you or maybe someone from your past.

You might also want to write down why you are upset with this person in your journal.  

Also, don’t tell the person you are upset with about this.  Just keep it to yourself. They don’t need to know that you are doing this.  Remember right now this is not about them it is about you finding the grace to forgive.  

Next, find a quiet place, close your eyes, and let the person come to your mind.  Feel the anger and the pain. Think about why you need to forgive this person.

Then seek to forgive and to love.  Now see that person in front of you and instead of feeling anger and pain try feeling feelings of compassion and grace towards this person.  

Ask God for the grace and the courage to forgive this person then ask yourself:  What did I learn from this person? How was this person a teacher in my own life?  

Think about what lessons you might derive from the situation, as painful as it might have been and still is.  How can you grow from this?

What new perspective do you now have on life?      

Then go back to thinking about the actually person who you have this grudge against.  Think about what pain or suffering they may have experienced in their life.

Do this for about ten minutes.  

Then when you are done do what they teach in the recovery movements, “Let go and let God.”  For now let it go and then come back to it the next day and repeat the process.

Write the person’s name down in your journal.  Write down again what you are upset about. Close your eyes, picture the person in your mind, feel the anger, and feel the pain.  

Then Forgive into love.  

Choose to forgive the person.  Think about how you might grow from this situation.  Have compassion for the other person. Say I forgive you and then let go and let God.  

Again repeat this the next day.  

Try this for seven days.  Holding onto grudges and anger is one of the biggest factors in preventing us from feeling peace and joy.  

New studies out on forgiveness have even shown that those people who forgive have higher alpha brain waves.  

These are the brain waves associated with creativity and happiness.

Jesus said, “Forgive and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you.”

Can we give this gift to ourselves?  Can we forgive as God forgives us? Can we be merciful as God is merciful to us?  Can we show grace as God shows grace to us?

When the church is living into these questions then the church is truly being the church.  

The Spirit of God cannot work in a place where there is no love, grace, and forgiveness because God is love, grace, and forgiveness.  

Jesus gave to us the ultimate example by the way he lived his life.  

As we journey through life may we learn to forgive, to show grace, and to give for the measure we give will be the measure we get back.

And as you do this remember this… forgive yourself.  

I can be really hard on myself.  

I forget to forgive myself and to receive the gift of forgiveness from God.  So remember to also forgive yourself.

All who for love of God forgive.   



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sermon date 2019-03-03

Transfiguration Sunday

Jesus takes with him Peter, John, and James to go up on a mountain to pray.  

As Jesus is praying the appearance of his face changes and his clothes become dazzling white and Moses and Elijah appear before them.  

At that time the Jewish people believed that Moses and Elijah never actually died.  

And suddenly on the mountain these two great heroes of the Old Testament appear before them!  

Moses the great leader who led the Israelites out of slavery to the Promised Land and the one who handed the people the law.

And Elijah the great prophet who taught the people that they must repent and turn towards God.

These two heroes of the faith appear and speak to Jesus about Jesus departure in Jerusalem.  

Jesus will give his life away on the cross.  

Jesus will be crucified outside of Jerusalem at a place called Golgotha.  There Jesus gives his life for us.

As I was studying this text this past week one part of the text that really stood out for me is verse 32:

Verse thirty-two reads:  

Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory (meaning Jesus’ glory) and the two men who stood with him.

Did you notice why they were able to see everything that is taking place on this mountain?  

It says even though they were weighed down with sleep they stayed awake.  

They stayed awake and they saw Jesus in all of his glory!

Today are we awake?

Sometimes the heaviness of life and the struggles of life can make us sleepy.  

Sometimes the busyness of life can overwhelm us to such a degree that we become sleepy to the ways of God.

Because this is indeed our human nature to become sleepy and to fall asleep and thus miss encounters with God then Lent can be a very helpful time for us to renew our faith lives.

Each and every year I find Lent to be a time in the church year where I find renewal in my faith.  

Through the years Lent has helped me to stay awake in my faith and Lent has helped me to stay strong in my faith and in my walk with the Lord.

Lent can be a gift for us to awaken our faith in new and exciting ways.  

If Peter, James, and John were asleep on the mountain they would have missed this amazing encounter with God.  

For us too we miss encounters with God if we are asleep.  

May we be awake this coming Lenten season in order to see Jesus and to hear his voice.  

May we become more sensitive to the activity of the Spirit.  

When our Lord speaks we will listen this Lenten season.

As we journey together this Lenten season you might find it beneficial to take on one or two spiritual practices.  

These spiritual practices might help you to wake up more fully to the presence of God in your life.  

God is always here.  God is always with us.  

Let’s be awake so that we might encounter God in deeper ways this coming Lenten season.

Last Sunday I spoke about the practice of forgiveness.  

Maybe the Holy Spirit is really moving in you in such a way that you want to continue working with the practice of forgiveness during Lent.  

Or maybe you would like to explore fasting.  In my own life I have discovered the power of fasting when it is accompanied with prayer and humility.  

Or maybe you would like to try journaling during Lent.  Each day during Lent you write and reflect on your life with God.  

Or maybe you want to look for opportunities during Lent to show grace and kindness to people.  

Maybe God is calling you during Lent to share a word of grace to someone who needs to hear and to receive grace.  

As I told you last week of the story of my encounter with a stranger at the grocery story.  

Her seemingly small act of grace towards me was what I needed in the moment and it meant so much to me.  

Could you look for opportunities to show grace and to send silent prayers of love towards others maybe even strangers?

Or maybe you could take this suggestion.  

Several years ago someone spoke to me right before Lent that her Lenten disciple for that year was to attend all of the Wednesday evening Lenten services.  

This was a big commitment for this person.  

Because of her busy schedule she had a hard time making it to the Wednesday services so it was a great sacrifice to make all of them.  

It was a step of faith for her as all spiritual practices are.  

When we step out in faith with trust in God we awaken our souls so that we might be awake when the Lord calls.  

Please do not be asleep when the Lord calls!

Whatever you decide to do, offer your practice up to God with humility and with the faith that the practice that you do will indeed help you to grow closer to God.  

This past week I prayed that you might be renewed, refreshed, and energized in your walk with Jesus this coming Lent.  

I will be praying for us this Lenten season that God might help us to stay awake so that we might see Jesus.  

May God bless our Lenten season.  

May we encounter our Lord again and again and in the end of our Lenten journey may we, with new eyes, behold our risen, shining, and glorious Lord.  

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sermon date 2019-03-10

First Sunday of Lent – 2019

Today marks the first Sunday of Lent.

On this day we remember the call that we first heard on Ash Wednesday to return to God, to ask God for forgiveness where we need forgiveness, to forgive where we need to forgive, and to find ways to renew our spiritual life.

In our Gospel reading for today we hear the well-known story of the temptation of Christ.

This reading from Luke speaks about Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness while being tempted by the devil.  Being full of the Holy Spirit Jesus is able to resist all of the temptations.

Jesus is able to provide a way for us too to avoid the temptations that we face in life – go to God in prayer, go to the Word of God in the Bible, and go to Jesus.

Lent is a time to return to the Bible, it is a time to revisit our prayer life, and most importantly Lent is a time to come back to God knowing that no matter where we are in our relationship with God, it is always possible to go deeper both in the relationship and in our understanding of God’s ways.

During this time our midweek Lenten services provide an opportunity for us to dig deeper into the meaning and purpose of Lent as we anticipate the great three days before Easter Sunday.

Now is the time to lengthen our days which is the meaning of Lent and to expand our sense of time and to enter the full experience of these forty days.

Now is the time to slow down and to pay attention to how we live and how we interact with one another.

Now is the time to practice mindfulness and to simply observe what is going on in our lives and to take note of what God is doing in the world.

Now is the time to listen, to be aware, and to search for the living God.

The connection of our Lord’s forty day fast and time of prayer in the wilderness was an idea that was attached to the season of Lent.

But it was only added… and this is a really important point here after this special time was already established by the church as a preparation period for candidates for baptism.

So this period of time was originally a time of catechesis, of learning the faith, as preparation for baptism which would then take place at the Easter Vigil service.

It was only much later in Christian history where this time period would become a time for all Christians for repentance, for prayer, and for fasting.

So originally this time was meant to be a time of preparation for the celebration of Easter and of celebrating a person’s new life in Christ through baptism.

It was a time to remember that in Jesus the kingdom of God has come near that we are to return to God, and we are to believe in the good news.

During that time a candidate for baptism sought instruction in the faith while looking forward to God’s future where God will redeem and restore all of God’s creation.

Overtime the church has seen it beneficial to still see this time of Lent as a time of learning the faith and in celebrating baptisms, which we joyfully did this morning, but the church has added this extra piece of taking on spiritual disciplines.

Following Jesus sometimes requires sacrifice and discipline.

Following Jesus requires of us to take up our cross with Jesus.

Faith is about having direction, purpose, and in making a commitment.

It is also about fulfilling our promises to God.  Just as God makes promises to us, we make promises to God, that we will be faithful to God as God is faithful to us.  This is not works righteousness but rather a joyful response to God.

With joy we take on the disciplines of Lent in response to our love for God.

As time went on in church history Lent took on some different meanings.

Today Lent is a time period where all people are invited to participate in seasons of Lent and all people are invited to examine their faith lives.

Today the church teaches that just as God makes promises to us we too make promises to God and we enter into a mutual, holy covenant with God.

Now while the Lenten season has changed some-what over the years the season still preserves its central focus which is to hold up the great importance of looking to God

– in confident trust that God will work in and through our lives and that God has in fact, called us to live our faith in acts of service and love.

This past Wednesday we gathered for our traditional Ash Wednesday service.

Ash Wednesday is that very holy day within the church year where we attend our own funeral.

The liturgy on that day reminds us of our mortality.

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

The service becomes one of those rare occasions where we speak of death before it comes.

On that day we also remember that we are held captive to sin.

But on that day and on this day we remember together that Easter Sunday is coming.

Even during this solemn season of Lent the good news of Easter is at hand.

Even in the midst of our own personal struggles and suffering God is present.

We boldly name together that not even death or our sin can separate us from God and from those we love.

Now we wait with patience and we practice the disciplines of Lent as we look forward to the promise that is ours in Jesus.

Once again during this season of Lent we look to discover what it means to live in relationship with God and how we might faithfully serve one another.

We look to receive God’s grace and mercy that is free for us at the table of bread and wine.

During this Lenten season come to the table of Holy Communion as often as you can.

Remember that each and every time you receive the elements of bread and wine you are entering into the great covenant that God has made with you in Christ.


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sermon date 2019-03-31

“Happy Are Those Whose Sins Are Forgiven”

On Wednesday evening I offered encouragement from the book of Revelation.

I spoke of how the Apostle John, the writer of that book, wrote the book of Revelation in order to encourage the believers to stay strong in their faith.

In worship Natalie gave testimony to the importance of keeping the faith.

This morning I would like to encourage you with one of the most beloved parables in the Bible.

In fact, some refer to this story as the best short story in world.

It is, of course, the parable of the prodigal son.

The word prodigal here refers to living life recklessly.

It can even refer to throwing one’s life away.

That is why we call this parable the story of the prodigal son.

A son goes to his father and says, “Father give me my share of my inheritance.”

At that time, as it would be today, is was a severe cultural offence for a son to ask his father for his share of the inheritance.

It was like saying I wish you were dead so I could have your money.

Surprisingly, the father does not put up any kind of an argument here.

He does get defensive or angry at his son.

Instead he actually grants his son his request.

Now what does the son do?

The son leaves and he wastes his inheritance.

The son is left with nothing and to make matters worse a severe famine hits the country.

Now what does this son do?

He looks for work and the only work he can find is to feed pigs.

For us this might not seem so bad.

But for the Jewish people pigs were seen as being unclean.  Pigs were not to be eaten.

Here in the parable even the unclean pigs had more to eat then the son did.

This is when the son has an epiphany.

He realizes that his father’s workers fare much better than his situation.

So he decides to humble himself and go to his father.

He will apologize and ask God and his father for forgiveness.

Before the son even gets close to his father, when he is still far off in the distance his father sees him and he is filled with compassion.


Have you ever thought about what it means to show true compassion to someone?

Growing up I can recall my father talking about compassion quite a bit in his sermons and in his teachings about God.

One thing that he would always say is that compassion is a strong feeling that you feel deeply in your body.

The feeling is so intense that it compels you to take some kind of action on behalf of someone who is suffering.

In his compassion the father runs to his son and embraces his son.

At this point you would think that this would be the ending of the parable but it goes on.

The father is so happy to have his son back that the father throws this extravagant party.

Here the prized calf is killed and there is this grand party.

This story may seem unusual to us today.

If you are looking at this story for instruction and guidance on parenting you will not find it here.

This is not a parable on how we should parent our children or even in how we should deal with other people.

This is a parable about God.

Even though we can glean much wisdom from this parable and even though we can learn a lot from the three main characters in this story: the father, the son, and the elder son – I think that this parable is really a parable about God.

It is the story of how God freely gives to us even when we do not deserve it and how God’s grace is richer and deeper than what we can ever image or comprehend.

We are at the half way point now in Lent.

Lent is a journey.

It is a journey of finding our way back to God.

This point of Lent may get difficult for you.

It might be tempting to give up the spiritual disciplines of Lent, fasting, prayer, and acts of charity.

I know for myself this is the point in Lent when it gets difficult for me.

One of my Lent disciplines as a pastor is to write two sermons each week instead of one.

I sometimes find it challenging to come up with one sermon during the week and during Lent I write two sermons each week.

Maybe you feel the same way with the disciplines of Lent.

Maybe you are taking on an extra spiritual practice or finding time in your week to attend the soup dinner and Lenten service or doing an extra volunteer job, or giving more money away.

Whatever it is that you are doing during Lent –

This is the point of Lent when we need to look to God for strength, endurance, and courage to continue journeying through Lent.

As we journey together remember that God takes the journey of Lent with us and remember that we walk this journey of Lent together.

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday are such significant points in the church year that we need these forty days prior to Holy Week in order to take in the great significance of what happened to Jesus.

God’s super abounding, extravagant love was poured out for us in Jesus.

In Jesus’ death and resurrection he broke the bonds of death and hell so that we might have life.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”

This new life begins here and now and continues even beyond the grave.

In Psalm thirty-two we hear:

“Happy are they whose sins are forgiven and whose sin is put away!”

Yes, this is what it is all about.  God will love us back into God’s kingdom when we, like the prodigal son, stop running, turn around, and come back to the Lord.  Amen.



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“Prayer, the Forgotten Power of Believers?”

Mary takes a pound of costly perfume, anoints Jesus’ feet, and then wipes Jesus feet with her hair.

This is an act of love.

In Mary’s great love for Jesus she prepares Jesus for that which is to come.

Jesus will give us his life in the most costly and most loving way.

Because of what Mary did for Jesus she becomes for us a witness in how we should respond to Jesus – with love, with devotion, and with a faithful and true heart.

Mary’s heart was true.

Judas’ heart was not.

Jesus saw what was in both of their hearts.

In the end, Mary is the one who is praised by Jesus while Judas is the one who is sharply rebuked by Jesus.

Judas completely misses what is happening.  He cannot see the beautiful thing that Mary is doing for Jesus.

Mary knows her need for her Lord.

While Judas does not.

Today we continue to read this text of Scripture as a reminder to us of our need for Jesus and for our need to come to him with love, with devotion, and with faithful and true hearts.

How do we come to Jesus?

We come to Jesus through prayer.  That is our way of coming to Jesus.

We come to Jesus through prayer.

In many ways prayer is a forgotten power for believers.

We do not treat prayer as the power and gift that it truly is.

Prayer is so powerful because it enables us to connect to Jesus.

On Wednesday evening Dr. Anderson gave testimony to the importance of leaning about Jesus for our every need and he gave witness to our need to be in prayer to Jesus.

Prayer is a gift from God.

Prayer is that gift from God that God gives to us so that we might come to know and to love Jesus.

In my own life I cannot say that I have always treated prayer as the true power that it really is.

I often neglect my morning prayer time and instead of powering up my morning with prayer I instead turn to coffee to power my morning.

Like Judas we are often distracted by other things or we place our emphasis on the wrong thing.

Judas focused on what Mary was doing wrong.

He believed the money should be used for the poor.  That is a good thing.

We need to remember the poor.

But Judas did not say what he said about the poor because he cared about the poor but rather because he wanted to be right.

He wanted Mary to be wrong and he wanted to look like the good disciple before Jesus.

Certainly Mary should not be the one who Jesus pays attention to.  Judas felt that Jesus should be paying attention to him.

But as we see from the Scripture reading this is not so.

Mary is the one who is truly seeking Jesus.  Judas is seeking the things of this world.

He is not seeking Jesus.

All of us have some of Judas in us.

I certainly have some of Judas in myself.

Today we need to be more like Mary and like Mary we need to be falling on our knees before Jesus.

There on our knees we need to come to Jesus in prayer.

In prayer we open ourselves up to Jesus and in prayer we communicate with the one who loves us more than we could ever image or comprehend.

In prayer Jesus knows our reluctance to change and he knows about our mixed feelings concerning intimacy with God.

We want to be closer to God but at the same time we want to control our own lives and do our own thing.

We want to give more to charity but we want to make sure to keep plenty for ourselves.

We want to get up early to pray but we are just too sleepy.

We want to read our Bibles at the end of the day but that television program is just too interesting to pass up and by the way it is March Madness right now.

I just need to catch those exciting basketball games.

As you can see sadly, we can probably identity more with Judas than with Mary into today’s Gospel reading.

Are we willing to throw ourselves down at Jesus feet, anoint Jesus’ feet, and then wipe Jesus’ feet with our own hair?

This would mean that we are willing to treat prayer as the true power that it is a power that connects us to our living and risen Lord.

This would mean that we are willing to make sacrifices in order to follow Jesus more faithfully.

This would mean that we are willing to humble ourselves in such a way so that we can be honest with our great need for a savior.

Mary had such a love for Jesus that she was willing to risk her reputation knowing that people would not understand what she was doing in order to show devotion to her Lord.

What a witness Mary is for believers!

And so I end my sermon for today with a challenge.

How are you doing in your prayer life?

Is it a forgotten power in your own life?

Is there some obstacle in your prayer life?

When a disciple asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray?”

Jesus responded with a teaching.

When it comes to prayer it is always the Lord who teaches us to pray.

And how does Jesus do that?

He does it through Scripture, through the lives of other people, and through worship.

But mostly he does it when we like Mary, humbly fall to our knees before our Lord.

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“Forgiveness Through the Cross”

On Palm Sunday we hear two Gospel readings.

These two readings are dramatically different.

The first reading celebrates Jesus as the triumphant messiah who comes to live among us.

The second reading reflects on Jesus’ passion and death on the cross.

This coming Friday on the day we call Good Friday we will gather together.

On that day we will do what Christians have done for two thousand years.

We will come together in song and prayer, in Scripture readings and in silence in order to remember and to meditate upon the passion of our Lord.

Good Friday is the one day within the year where we will gather once again to hear how an innocent and holy man dies on a cross.

Jesus’ suffering reflects back to us all the unjust suffering in the world and all the senseless violence in the world.

Jesus, an innocent man, suffering, dying by the hand of the crowd and by those in power.

But from the cross Jesus does something that none of us expects.

On the cross Jesus asks that God would forgive those who crucified him.

The crowd that shouted for him to be crucified.


The disciples who abandoned Jesus.


Pilate and those in power who ordered the crucifixion.


Even us who regularly sin and who regularly abandon Jesus and chase after other things.


Jesus forgives.  God forgives.  The Spirit forgives.

This is truly the Gospel in its purest form.

The radical message of God’s enduring grace.

God loves.

God forgives.

On the cross God reconciles the world back to God’s-self.

But then God does one more thing.

The cross and our forgiveness is not the end of the story.  There is still more.

This is only the beginning.

After the cross God pushes us forward.

After the cross God invites us to join him in taking part in the healing of the world.

As we are forgiven, healed, and set free from that which would hold us captive God sends us out to be missionaries, healers, and workers in God’s new kingdom.

God’s new kingdom is marked with love and grace and this is true because of Good Friday.

On Good Friday we believe by faith that the cross will be the bridge by which all people are forgiven by which all people are invited to come to God.  God chooses the way of the cross so that we might be forgiven.

This coming week is a holy week that we are entering.  It is the holiest week of the church year.

This coming Thursday is Maundy Thursday.

It is the day right before Good Friday.

On Maundy Thursday we remember how Jesus washed the disciple’s feet and how he had one last supper with those he deeply loved.

It is also the night where we remember how he was betrayed and arrested by the Romans.

On Easter Sunday we break our Lenten fast or we might choose to continue fasting from that which takes us away from God.

Lent is coming to an end.

Easter is just around the corner.

The season of Easter lasts for Seven Sundays.

Even after the season of Easter we continue remembering that Sunday is the day that Jesus rose from the dead.

For the early Christians every Sunday was seen as a little Easter.

Yes, the kingdom of God is not yet fully here.

We are not let living fully into the kingdom.

People still get sick and die.

We live in a world of sin, violence, and evil.

Jesus an innocent man dies on a cross.

But Easter is coming and one day the great Easter promise will be fully realized and the promise will be fully revealed to us.

We will be made whole.

We will become a holy people.

We will be completely forgiven and embraced by a loving God.

But until that day comes either by death or by our Lord returning once again to carry us up into heaven like what God did for Elijah and Enoch… for now we wait, we are awake, we walk with each other, we pray for one another, we encourage one another, we break bread and soup with one another, we gather around the cross were Jesus forgives us.

And most importantly, by faith, we stand together at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.


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Join Us for Sunday Worship

  • 8:00 a.m. Morning Prayer
  • 9:30 a.m. Traditional Worship
  • 9:45 a.m. Sunday School
  • 10:45 a.m. Refreshments
  • 11:00 a.m. Adult Bible Study