April 10, 2022 – Forgiveness Through the Cross

On Palm Sunday we hear two Gospel readings.

It is the only Sunday in the church year that we hear two Gospel readings.

These two readings though are dramatically different.

The first reading from the Gospel of Luke celebrates Jesus as the triumphant messiah who comes to live among us.

The crowd spreads their cloaks on the road.

In the Gospel of John, it says that they also took branches from palm trees and they spread them on the road as a way of honoring Jesus.

The second Gospel reading is entirely different.

That reading tells of Jesus’ passion and death on the cross.

Jesus’ suffering on the cross reflects back to us all the unjust suffering in the world and all the senseless violence in the world – that we see even today.

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

But from the cross God does something that no one anticipates – especially those that opposed Jesus.

On the cross God does something new.

God does something that only God can do.

God transforms the violence and the evil of the cross.

God takes the suffering, the passion, and the death of his son and redeems it.

God transmutes the cross into a miracle for you and for me.

Now whenever we look upon the cross, we do not receive condemnation but we receive life-giving grace.

Real grace.

True grace.

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

And God forgives.

The crowd that shouted for him to be crucified.

Forgiven.

God forgave them.

The disciples who abandoned Jesus.

Forgiven.

God forgave them.

Pilate and those in power who ordered the crucifixion.

Forgiven.

God forgave them.

Today we who regularly sin and who regularly abandon Jesus.

Forgiven.

God forgives us.

Jesus forgives.

God forgives.

The Holy Spirit forgives.

This is truly the Gospel in its purest form.

The radical message of God’s enduring, persistent grace.

The meaning of grace is to receive something that we do not deserve.

We often live our lives with a great sense of entitlement.

We believe that we have a right for the things that we want in our life and we often take without thinking about how our taking affects other people.

When it comes to our faith in God, we can even approach God with a feeling of entitlement.

We demand things from God.

We even demand God’s grace and forgiveness.

But the truth is that we do not deserve any of these gifts from God.

Scripture clearly points out that we fall time and time again from the ways of God.

But the miracle of Palm Sunday is shouting at us this day.

God chooses to give even though we do not deserve God’s love and forgiveness.

God loves us and forgives us because God is gracious.

It is not because we are so good.

It is because God is so good.

We don’t deserve any of God’s good blessings.

We are not entitled to anything from God.

We receive God’s blessings and forgiveness because God chooses to give to us these things.

This is the miracle of Palm Sunday.

The definition of miracle is an extraordinary and astonishing happening, that surpasses all known human or natural powers, and that great happening is attributed to the action of God.

A miracle points to the power of God at work in the world.

The great writer C.S. Lewis once said that a miracle is something so unique that is breaks a pattern so expected and established that we hardly even consider the possibility that it could be broken.

In other words, a miracle completely disrupts our typical way of looking at things.

A miracle has the power to create a shift in our thinking about the world.

A miracle has the power to create a shift in our understanding of who God is.

This is what happens on Palm Sunday.

For in the miracle of Palm Sunday we know by faith that…

God loves.

On this day we know that God forgives.

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

And then God does one more thing.

The cross and the forgiveness that we receive from God through the cross is not the end of the story.

There is still much more.

This is only the beginning for us.

After the cross, after the miracle of what God is doing here, God pushes us forward to join him in mission.

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 all possible because of the miracle of the cross.

The cross is the bridge by which all people are forgiven, by which all people are invited to come to God, by which we join God in mission and in ministry.

God chooses the way of the cross so that we might be have new life.

On Palm Sunday we enter into this new life with all the restorative healing power that comes from God.

As followers of Jesus this new life only comes to us by this most holy and sacred way.

It is the way of the cross.

And the cross is the way to Easter.

This coming week is the holiest week of the entire church year.

This coming week we anticipate our Lord’s resurrection.

We wait for it and we hope for it, knowing by faith that it will indeed come.

You and I are witnesses.

Forgiveness, new life, grace it is all around us at this time of the church year.

Praise be to God!

Blessed is the coming kingdom!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!

These palm branches which we wave today in worship are a sign of our hope in God.

Keep this palm branch in a visible place this coming week.

-pray that Jesus would come in and walk with you this week.

May we find our voices this day in proclaiming the wonderful miracle of Palm Sunday that in Christ we are forgiven and loved by God.

I pray that this coming week you might experience moments of grace.

May you feel the blessing of being a part of the whole Body of Christ this Holy Week.

May you receive the Lord’s grace.

And may you be surprised by God’s rich love poured out for all of us in Jesus.

Let us pray:

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April 6, 2022 – Violence, Evil, and the Cross

Tonight, I have decided to do something a little different.

With this being our last Wednesday together before Holy Week I would like to give a short meditation upon Jesus’ passion and death on the cross.

On Sunday we will hear the long passion reading from the Gospel of Luke.

In preparation for that dramatic reading, I offer this evening some reflections on violence, evil, and the cross.

I chose tonight’s sermon topic before the beginning of Lent and before the war in Ukraine.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine every evening as we turn on the news, we come face to face with great evil and violence.

But even before the war in Ukraine we are all well-aware that violence and evil acts are committed all the time.

The pain and the suffering never ends.

The pain and suffering of innocent people never ends.

Trying to make sense of all of this is an exercise in futility.

But this is where our faith comes in.

It is through the cross of Christ where God meets us in our pain and in our suffering.

Through the great evil and violence that Jesus suffered on the cross God was willing to go to the darkest place and most painful place for us.

The theology of the cross does not explain why there is violence and why there is evil in this world.

But what the cross does do is that it communicates to us how Jesus was willing to suffer for and with us.

Jesus experienced violence, evil, suffering, pain, and despair from the cross.

On the cross he said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!”

Jesus even felt the pain of being abandoned by God.

And in that moment in time on the cross Jesus hangs there in a space between faith and doubt.

In the hymn, What Wondrous Love is This, which we will sing to begin our Good Friday service, we will ponder such a love that would take Jesus to the cross.

Jesus is the suffering servant who lived in a brutal and violent world.

Pontus Pilate was a harsh and unjust ruler.

He was a violent man – who sent Jesus to the cross.

It would appear now, at this point, as Jesus suffered on the cross that Jesus’ life came to an end in a final violent, evil act.

But we all know that this is not the end of the story.

Our faith does not end with such a conclusion.

Our forty-day Lenten journey takes us to this point – and to this very edge.

We follow Jesus to the cross.

We take up our cross and follow him.

We take a hard look at the violence and the evil in the world.

And then we give witness to a greater truth.

It is a truth that is more powerful than the forces that oppose it.

It may seem, at times, that evil has the last word.

It may even be for a time that evil does have the last word.

For three days Jesus’ followers believed that violence and evil had won.

But then something happened.

From the cross a true miracle happened.

On the cross Jesus surprises us.

On the cross he not only meets us in our suffering and pain but Jesus makes the cross the defining act by which he will sacrifice himself for our salvation.

Jesus becomes the sacrifice of love.

The cross does not explain why there is suffering, violence, evil, pain, or sin in the world.

What the cross does do for us though is it communicates to us that God is on our side and that God loves us.

Today the cross is a great critique and rebuke of all the senseless and terrible violence in the world.

In the cross evil and violence ends in love.

“Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree, when God, the mighty maker died.”

To see God in the crucified Christ means to understand that in the violence and evil of this world the hunger, the war, the injustice, the racism, the pain that God is alive and that God suffers by us, with us, and that suffering is in God.

In his suffering our suffering is changed and transformed by his love.

In the cross violence and evil have not won the final victory but rather on the cross Jesus puts an end to all crosses of death, to all the destructive webs of violence and evil in this world.

In the cross we come to see that God’s way of life is so much greater than our ways of death.

As Lent comes to an end and as we pray and fast during Holy Week and prepare our hearts to receive this great love and grace, we find our peace and our hope in the cross.

Let us pray:

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May 1, 2022 – Third Sunday of Easter

Jesus shows himself before his disciples.

His disciples are scared and afraid and Jesus appears before them.

He has risen from the dead.

He gives his disciples – his peace and he gives them the Holy Spirit – the very presence and breath of God.

And after he appears to his followers in Jerusalem – the disciples are ready to do great things in the name of Jesus.

So, what do the disciples decide to do?

After seeing their Lord and Savior risen from the dead.

You do just what you would do after seeing someone rise from the dead.

You go fishing.

Well, maybe not exactly what you would do but that is what the disciples do.

Simon Peter says to his friends, “I am going fishing.”

And his friends say back to him, “We will go with you.”

Can you see the humor in this text?

The disciples have just seen the risen Lord and what do they do…?  They decide to go fishing.

They return to what they know and what they are familiar with.

But while they are fishing that night, in the dark – they catch nothing.

Now it is morning – the light is out once again.

And there in the light -stands Jesus.

He is on the shore waiting for them – even though Jesus had just appeared to them, when they were in the locked house, the disciples not only are not willing to do what Jesus wants them to do… they do not even recognize him on the beach.

And Jesus goes along with his disciple’s fear and stubbornness and he calls out to them, “Children, you have no fish.”

Notice how Jesus uses the word, children.

The disciples answer, “No.”

In other words… you got that right.

So cast on the other side Jesus says.

A simple solution that might just work.

They cast their net on the other side and suddenly they catch so many fish that they cannot haul their net back into the boat.

And then the true miracle happens – not that they catch so many fish but that now a disciple knows who this man is.

The disciple who Jesus loves says to Peter, “It is the Lord!”

When Peter hears him say that he is the Lord, he too recognizes that it is Jesus.

And what does Peter do… he jumps into the water to escape from Jesus.

He is ashamed and does not want Jesus to see him.

But Jesus says in the Bible reading, “Bring some of the fish that you just caught.”
And Peter climbs back into the boat and drags the net filled with fish to Jesus.

153 fish in total.

153 fish what do you think that number means?

I don’t know either but wouldn’t it be interesting if we did know what that number meant.

Some scholars think it could refer to the total number of fish in the Sea of Galilee.

Therefore, this number could represent the disciples’ mission work to all the nations.

This number could also point to the abundant nature of God.

Regardless, of the symbolic meaning of the number – it is a lot of fish when they did not catch anything during the night.

But in the day – in the light – with Jesus they catch more than they need.

This points to the abundant nature of God!

Now comes the wonderful part of the Bible story.

At this point in the text, Jesus invites them to have breakfast.

They share in a meal of bread and fish.

We all know how life-giving it can be to eat with others.

Just two weeks ago we brought back our tradition of sharing in an Easter breakfast together between our two Easter services.

I really enjoyed that breakfast and how we shared together in a very special meal on Easter morning.

Did you know that sharing together in an Easter breakfast has its origin in this first Easter breakfast – as the risen Lord appears before his disciples and they share together in having breakfast?

After they finish their meal Jesus questions Peter three times about his love for him.

This is very hard for Peter.

Peter feels hurt that Jesus questions him three times.

Now remember Peter already feels bad here.

When he first sees, Jesus while he is in the boat, he jumps into the sea.

Later he gets up enough courage to still have breakfast with Jesus and then this happens.

Can you identify with Peter here?

Peter denied Jesus three times before Jesus was crucified.

He jumped into the sea when he first saw Jesus.

And now he feels hurt because Jesus questioned him three times about his love for Jesus.

Peter knows that he has messed up.

He has fallen short of his call to be a disciple.

Have you been there?

I know that I can be very hard on myself and feel badly when I fall short in some area.

Peter feels awful here.

He is ashamed of his behavior and he feels that he has let Jesus down.

All of us can identify with Peter here.

But Jesus still loves Peter just as Jesus still loves us – always.

Far more important than seeing Peter as one who denies Jesus and falls short is to understand and to recognize the love and grace of Christ.

And he says to him and to the other disciples, “Follow me.”

Follow me!

Jesus doesn’t give up on his followers.

Today this Bible reading is good news for us as well – just as it was for Peter and for those first disciples.

Jesus calls us to follow him and to give witness to Jesus in the world that God loves.

The future is open for the Holy Spirit to work and to move among us.

Our congregation is not defined by the last two years of the pandemic.

God is doing a new thing.

We are Easter people who celebrate the resurrection.

Christ was crucified but now is alive.

As the Psalmist says in Psalm 30 – Weeping lasts for the night but joy comes in the morning.

In the light of Christ, we follow Jesus in wonder, love, and praise.

Amen.

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Let us pray:

“Lord, may these words from my mouth and this meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer.”

Amen

Two weeks ago, I shared a very personal story in my Sunday sermon.

I spoke how the Lord greatly renewed my faith, some sixteen years ago now, through the holy meal of the Eucharist.

The word Eucharist is taken from the Greek and the word means:  “thanksgiving.”

In the Eucharist meal we receive Jesus Christ to which we are deeply thankful.

I was and I am grateful.

Sixteen years ago, I was just starting seminary and I was really wrestling with God and with my faith but at the same time I felt a persistent call from the Lord to a life of faith and service.

At Wartburg Seminary every Wednesday during morning chapel we received Holy Communion.

It was there at the table of the Lord that I received a very real spiritual healing.

The weekly meal brought healing and resurrection to my spirit at a very difficult time in my life.

The healing came for me at a time when I needed God to come to me and to ignite my faith.

The risen Christ appeared to me in the bread and the wine of the Eucharist and I felt a peace and a joy that I desperately needed at that time of my life.

I was experiencing a lot of pain at that time of my life and Jesus healed me.

Holy Communion is more than simply bread and wine.

Holy Communion is a miracle.

It is a miracle of God’s grace and mercy shown to us through Jesus’ body and blood.

It is the way that God uses through his Son to call his children home.

The Eucharist meal is a means of grace which means it is the way that Jesus calls us by name.

And please know that Jesus goes with you from the table.

So, it is not as if you receive Jesus in the Eucharist and then he is gone.

Jesus goes with you out from the worship service to a life of faith and service.

In my preaching you have noticed that I often turn my sermons back to meal – it is because not only do I believe in the words that Jesus said on the night in which he was betrayed but I have personally experienced its salvific power.

Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading, “My sheep hear my voice.  I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”

The sheep – that’s us – we hear Jesus’ voice.

We hear his voice and we welcome and receive his presence.

The Psalmist says in Psalm 23, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

With Jesus comes blessings and abundance and grace.

Now this does not refer to material abundance or success or fame.

The Psalmist is referring to those things that truly matter in life – peace, joy, happiness, love.

And in Revelation chapter seven we hear that the Lamb at the center of the throne will be our shepherd, and he will guide us to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Jesus will comfort us in our suffering and pain in this life and he will be with us to the very end.

These verses from Scripture give us hope for the future and these verses give us hope today.

In the light of God’s Word, in the real-presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, in the shared hope that we carry within – we move forward as the people of God at this time and in this place.

In this Easter season be open to miracles, trust in the movement and the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us, know that resurrection and new life is possible through Jesus Christ.

May Jesus’ healing presence be with us.

In Acts chapter nine a woman disciple named Tabitha became ill and died.

She was a deeply spiritual woman who devoted her life to helping others and to acts of love and charity.

Tabitha lived a life of faith and service.

When I think of Tabitha, I think of women saints who have greatly blessed the church of Christ over the years.

Tabitha, was such a disciple of Jesus.

When the disciple Peter finds out that Tabitha is dead, he immediately comes to the room were Tabitha laid.

Now this is where this Bible story gets very interesting.

Peter knees down on the ground.

Then he begins to pray.

And then he says, “Tabitha, get up.”

Tabitha opens her eyes and she rises.

Tabitha who once was dead is now alive!

Peter preforms this miracle through the power of God.

The same Peter who was scared and afraid.

The same Peter who denied Jesus.

The same Peter who turned away from Jesus – is now in Jesus’ name healing and raising the dead.

Now Peter trusts in Jesus, he follows Jesus, and he is living in the light of Christ.

We too are given power and boldness and new life to do great things in the name of Jesus.

Like Peter after seeing the risen Lord we may be tempted to return to the familiar – to return to what we know, to dismiss the resurrection as an idle tale.

Peter returned to fishing.

It is not as if Peter should never go fishing again but now in the light of the risen Christ he is called to much greater things.

As we go about our day to day lives, we are called to greater things in the name of Jesus.

Often like Peter we resist.

We hold on to our pain because we do not want to let it go and to give to Jesus, we do not trust in the full power of the Holy Spirit, we may not really believe in the resurrection and the gift of new life that come to us even now.

But Jesus continues reaching out to us – never letting us go.

That is what Jesus did for me in the Eucharist sixteen years ago now during the season of Easter and that is what he does for me still.

It is what he does for all of us.

He reaches out to us with his real presence – to that we ever eternally grateful.

And so may the Lord bless you with his real presence in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

May you hear his voice and may you follow him now in this life and may you follow to eternal life in heaven.

And may the peace and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be with you now and always.

Amen.

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May 15, 2022 – Fifth Sunday of Easter

A reading from Philippians chapter four:

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

The Apostle Paul teaches us in his letter to the Philippians to not be anxious about anything.

In life there are so many reasons for why we might be anxious.

So many cares at hand to worry about.

Anxiousness often leads to long-term anxiety where the worry is continuous – it just keeps going.

The word anxiety comes from the Greek word:  ankho.

That Greek word refers to a tightening or a compressing feeling – it is a choking feeling.

Just talking about this is giving me anxiety!

With anxiety we do not fear what we have already lost.

With anxiety we fear what is still to be lost.

The Apostle Paul wants to calm our anxiety here.

He wants to encourage us and to bring us back to the truth that in the midst of our anxiety that God is near.

And more than that… that God gives us a peace that is beyond our understanding.

It is a peace that calms our anxiety and the storms in our lives.

Last year I led a Bible study on the book of Revelation.

It was the second time that I led a Bible study on that book.

This time though as I read through it during the anxious time of a pandemic a key insight that kept coming to me was how much the writer, John wanted to give the people hope and peace in the midst of trials.

In Revelation chapter twenty-one John paints a beautiful vision of God’s kingdom.

He is giving hope to a people that are being greatly persecuted.

He writes:

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”

John continues:

“I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”

This new city has none of the things in it that cause people mourning and crying and pain.

The world that the first Christians knew and that we know today with its violence and suffering – is gone.

The world that the first Christians knew and that we know with its pain and grief will be wiped away.

Now in this text John does not explain why there is suffering.

He does not teach us how we should interpret the suffering in life only that it will be wiped away by the very presence of God.

John has a different agenda here.

He wants people to know this:

God has made all things new!

This text gives us one of the greatest pictures of heaven from the Bible.

I often will read this Revelation reading at a funeral service especially at a graveside service in the cemetery.

These words speak to the hope that we carry inside as people of faith.

The book of Revelation and in particular this text from Revelation speaks to our deep human longing and need for peace and for rest in the Lord.

We long even now for the new Jerusalem – the place where God dwells with God’s people.

We long for the place where we are free from the old order of things.

We want God to make all things new and we want to speed towards its coming.

For the early Christians to have faith in Jesus and to do ministry in his name meant that they were speeding forward to the new day of God’s coming.

It’s like this:

You know when you are watching a video and you push the fast forward button.

That’s how the early Christians saw their ministry.

Living in holy ways and having faith in Jesus pushed forward the day when God would restore and renew all things.

Having faith in Jesus would quicken the day where we would be with God and all of God’s people in the New Jerusalem.

This is why when you read the New Testament there is always this great sense of urgency.

For the first Christians they believed that the coming kingdom of God was just around the corner.

They even believed that the day of Christ’s coming again would happen in their lifetime because they believed that with faith and in living a life in Christ, they hastened the day when Christ would make all things new.

In 2 Peter chapter three we hear of both warning and promise.

The writer of 2 Peter writes:

“The day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.  Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.  The day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”

These past two years, I think has created a sense of urgency among us.

Our collective anxiety and worry and fear at times has been intense but this time has also caused us to lean more deeply into our faith – in order to speed and to hasten the day of Christ’s coming.

This time has caused us to reevaluate things, to get our own house in order meaning to resolve and to face our fears and our anxiety, to make amends and to seek reconciliation where it is needed, and to return in faithful living to God.

The pandemic has taught us that life is short and that we don’t have a lot of time here on earth.

Even if we live to be ninety – time always goes so much faster than what we ever imagined.

We don’t have a lot of time to live in the ways of God’s love and so the present moment is always the best time to seek the Lord and to come to him laying aside our anxiety and trusting in his peace.

And so, I leave you all with a promise from Scripture from 2 Corinthians chapter five:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”

In Christ we are freed from that which holds us captive and we are free to live into the peace that passes all understanding.

And so, when we feel that choking feeling of anxiety may the peace of God be even greater.

May we all come to rest more deeply in the presence of God for God is making all things new.

And may the grace and peace of God our father and from our risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ be with us now and always.  Amen.

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May 22, 2022 – Spiritual Vision

Caryll Houselander, a writer and spiritual teacher, tells of a powerful, vision that she had of the risen Christ.

In her own words I would like to share part of her story to begin my sermon:

It all happened, she writes, on a very ordinary day:

“I was in an underground train, a crowed train in which all sorts of people came together, workers of every kind going home at the end of the day.  Then quite suddenly I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all.

But I saw even more than that; not only was Christ in everyone of them, living in them, rejoicing with them, sorrowing in them – but because he was in them and because they were here the whole world as it were was here too, here in this underground train – at that very moment.

The train ride ended.  I came out into the street and walked for a long time in the crowds.  It was the same here, on every side, in every passer-by -Christ.  I saw the risen Christ everywhere.

After a few days the vision faded.  People looked the same again, there was no longer the same shock of insight.  Now each time I was face to face with another human being, I simply saw another human being.  Christ seemed hidden once again, indeed through the years to come I would have to seek for him and usually I would find him in others and still more in myself only through a very deliberate and blind act of faith.”

Houselander’s spiritual vision speaks to the presence of Jesus among us.

The presence of the risen Christ with us!

He is here, he is there, he is everywhere.

In one Gospel Jesus said:

“I am the light above everything.  I am everything.  Everything came forth from me, and everything reached me.  Split wood, I am there.  Lift up a rock, you will find me.”

Gospel of Thomas

And in another Gospel Jesus said:

“I am the light of the world.”  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Gospel of John

Granted sometimes in life it may seem like Jesus is more hidden than visible.

We know that he is the light of the whole world but do we live as though he is the light of the whole world.

Even as we gather together on Sunday mornings, the time in which we set aside for worship and for our spiritual growth, do we anticipate encountering the risen Christ in worship?

In our day to day lives do we anticipate the risen Christ walking with us?

Now this is where a leap of faith is required in order for us to experience Christ with us.

Without this leap of faith, we may get stuck in our faith.

To recognize the presence of the divine Christ in every thing and every one is to take one big step forward in our spiritual maturity.

This step forward though does not happen through our own power or effort.

In fact, it cannot.

I love this quote by Martin Luther!

Luther writes in the Small Catechism:

“I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel.”

Faith happens through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

The vision that Paul received in Acts chapter 16 and that John received in Revelation 21 came about through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said in the Gospel of John chapter fourteen:

“The advocate, meaning the helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

Now what does the Holy Spirit teach us?

The Spirit teaches us what Houselander saw in her vision – that Christ is with us, in us, and around us.

The risen Christ is with us even now.

It is like this…

In life sometimes things pass us by without us truly noticing or seeing it.

Maybe we are even trying to see what we are looking at but cannot.

Let me give you an example here:

For years I was trying to connect with the ideas of the theologian and teacher, Richard Rohr.

I have been buying his books, reading his books, and then telling Kalen after each attempt… I don’t connect with this author!

But this past week… all of a sudden, for some reason, I picked up one of his books, from my shelf, and started reading.

And his ideas started connecting for me for the first time.

Not only was it affecting me here in my mind, where I could process what he was saying, but maybe more importantly I started to feel it here and that is when the book really started to impact me.

What changed?

It’s hard to say… but something did change in me and now I see what the author was trying to say and now I know why so many people love reading books by him – including many of my friends.

The Advocate, which could also be translated as helper or as one called to one’s side is the One who helps us to see Jesus.

I especially like that image of the Spirit as One who is called to walk alongside of us – teaching us and reminding us that Jesus and his peace is upon us.

This Spirit, who is called to walk with us, opens our eyes to see the risen Christ among us – to feel his joy, to feel his pain, to experience him in the here and now.

May the Holy Spirit call, gather, and enlighten us and on the last day bring us and all believers in Christ eternal life.

Amen.

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May 29, 2022 – Belonging through Christ

As I reflected deeply this past week, one word that kept coming back to me was the word, belonging.

To belong is to be a part of something bigger than one’s-self while at the same time maintaining one’s own unique self.

In other words, you are connected to a wider group of people while being yourself in the group.

Belonging is not dependent on what one does.

Belonging is not dependent on the approval of others.

Belonging just is.

I have often said that the starting place for faith is that of belonging.

We belong to God and in Christ we belong.

Faith is that basic and that profound.

Last Sunday in my sermon, I spoke about a person who had a spiritual vision.

In this vision she suddenly saw Christ.

Jesus came to her and in her vision, she could see Christ in others.

There was this feeling of connection and oneness.

The vision was so moving for her that it changed her life.

She came to a new understanding of what it means to belong to Christ.

In our Gospel reading for today Jesus prays a prayer for us.

It is a prayer for something that we desperately need in our world today.

Jesus prays:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.  As you, Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me.”

From this prayer, what did you hear?

When I hear this pray from Jesus.

These truths come out of the prayer:  a prayer for oneness, a prayer for belonging, a prayer that Christ would be in us through the glory of the Father.

And lastly, I hear that Jesus is praying for unity.

There are so many forces at work in the world that undermine unity.

The kind of oneness and unity that Jesus has with God is the same kind of oneness and unity that Jesus wants for us.

Can this be true for us?

I can remember as a child walking through a small-town neighborhood with my father.

We were visiting his hometown of Akron, Iowa.

Akron is a tiny community in western Iowa.

As we walked together, I can recall seeing church after church on every street corner.

And I asked my dad, “Why are there so many different churches when we all believe in Jesus?”

Maybe you too have had that same question.

My father’s response has held up for me now for over three decades of my life.

He said to me, “Tom, the Lord speaks to us all but he speaks to us all in different ways.”

I believe that this is true.

The Holy Spirit speaks to each one of us but the Holy Spirit speaks to us in different ways.

Our unity is not found in having the exact same experiences of faith or in having the exact same theological beliefs – our unity is found in Christ – in Christ we belong.

In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we belong to God and we belong to the community of saints.

The advocate, the Holy Spirit, helps us to understand and to come to the knowledge of this truth.

Because of the Holy Spirit we can together pray this prayer of unity:  “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

“Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

In that prayer, we may we receive this blessing that John writes in Revelation:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.”

John does not say in the book of Revelation that some of the saints would receive this bless or every other saint or the ones that believe in having churches that like red carpet vs. green carpet.

No, John’s blessing is for all the saints of God.

All the saints of God belong.

And so, people of God, remember that we belong.

We belong as the saints of God.

We pray for those in need and we especially pray for those who have forgotten that they belong.

We pray for oneness and unity in Christ.

We are called to be bridge builders who work together to build up the body of Christ.

And may God bless us in this holy work.  Amen.

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June 5, 2022 – Pentecost Sunday

This is a good day!

Today is Pentecost Sunday!

We are gathered together as God’s people.

We have come together from different places.

We come with faith that God is here.

By faith we believe that God is present with us through God’s Holy Spirit.

On Pentecost Sunday, we remind each other of the presence of the Spirit among us.

The Spirit connects us and joins us together as the Body of Christ.

The word Pentecost comes from the Greek and the word means fifty.

Pentecost Sunday is celebrated in the church fifty days after Easter.

You might look at this day as an opportunity for a fresh start in your spiritual life.

Or like a reset in your faith and your walk with Jesus.

The Spirit renews life.

The Spirit brings new energy and new power into our lives.

The Spirit helps us and guides us to live lives of faith.

We celebrate this gift today.

And we celebrate this day knowing that we all come to this day with different backgrounds.

And we also come to this day from different places in our faith.

We are all at a different point in our spiritual journeys.

But the Spirit brings us all together just like the Spirit brought those first Christians all together on the Day of Pentecost.

In the book of Acts the people came together from all different places and yet they understood each other through the power of the Spirit.

The text demonstrates to us how the Holy Spirit can make us one and can bring unity.

This same Spirit of God is at work in us now.

Again, no matter what place we are at in our faith lives or in our personal lives the Spirit is working through each one of us.

Let me tell you a story…

When Kalen was serving in her first congregation in Iowa an older and very respected member of the church came to speak to Kalen.

This was not her name but I will call her Martha.

Martha said, “Pastor Kalen, I wanted to tell you that you may ask me to help with worship in any way except please don’t ever ask me to read in worship.”

“OK, I will not,” Kalen said back to her.

“You see,” Martha continued, “I don’t know how to read.”

“Also, if you see me not singing or participating in the worship service it is not because I don’t care it’s because I can’t read and I can only participate in the parts of the service that I already know by heart.”

“But even though I cannot read and participate as fully as others I still find the service so meaningful to me.”

This member found a place for herself at that small, country parish in rural Iowa and the Spirit helped her to feel that she too belonged.

The Spirit was at work in her life helping her to know that she too was connected with others in Christ.

One more story here…

One of my colleagues that I serve with in this Synod is blind.

I once asked him to share with me what it is like for him to lead a worship service.

He shared with me that because he cannot see his parishioners, he has needed to find other ways to know that he is connecting with them.

For example, he told me that when he is preaching there often comes a point where he can tell if the people are engaged with his sermon by listening very carefully to how they are breathing.

Yes, you heard me right.

He shared that when the people are truly receiving the message, they breath together more closely as a group and after years and years of preaching he shared with me that he can feel that slight shift in energy in the sanctuary.

He can do this by simply paying attention to the way in which his congregation is breathing.

In the Bible the breath is often connected with the Spirit.

The Spirit is seen as the breath of life and the Spirit sustains life.

The Spirit joins us together from many different places and gives us the ability to be connected as followers of Jesus.

No matter who we are or in what place we are at in our faith the Spirit speaks to us and joins us together as the people of God.

Now granted sometimes we miss the mark and sin enters in and we think that we are more separate than unified.

We think that we have to choose a side and be separate from one another.

But the Spirit is always working to bring us together.

Last Sunday during worship we heard Jesus’ prayer from the Gospel of John about unity.

Jesus prays that we might be one and the Holy Spirit makes it so.

On this Pentecost Sunday may the Holy Spirit speak to us anew.

May the Spirit give our congregation a fresh start as we move into a new season in the church year.

May the Spirit give us that reset that we need in faith and in life so that we might continue joining God in mission.

This coming week look for ways to build community.

Look for ways to find similarities instead of differences in others.

It is easy to see how we are different but can we find ways that we are the same – one people in Christ.

No matter how different you might feel you are from your neighbor remember always what we hear on Ash Wednesday – we are dust and to dust we shall return.

In the end we are return to God from whom we came from.

We have a lot in common after all.

And lastly, remember the two people that I spoke about this morning and may their stories give witness to the unifying power of the Holy Spirit.

From the outside we may, at times, seem very different but through the power of the Holy Spirit we are all a part of the Body of Christ.

Amen.

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June 19, 2022 – Serve One Another

One night a man has a very powerful dream.

In his dream he goes to heaven.

There in heaven he meets Jesus.

Jesus welcomes him at the Pearly Gates.

But before the man can through the gates and receive eternal rest, he must first visit the other place.

So, the man then descends with Jesus into hell.

There the man sees millions of unhappy, hungry people seated at a very large table.

The table is filled with very fine food.

But no one is eating.

The man wonders why these people are hungry.

He asks Jesus, “Why are these people not eating?”

Jesus replies, “To eat here you must use 11-foot-long spoons.”

“That’s terribly harsh,” the man says back to Jesus, “There is no way you can eat with a spoon like that.

Jesus looks at him with love and says back to him, “You are correct.”

Then in an instant the man is taken right back to heaven.

This time the man is allowed to enter into the gates of heaven.

Upon entering heaven, the man again sees millions of people seated at a very large table.

The same food is set on the table – an identical scene.

People are laughing, full with good food, and they are very happy.

The man asks Jesus, “Do these people have different spoons to eat with?”

“No, the same 11-foot spoons.”

The man is very confused at this point.

“I don’t understand.  How is this possible.”

Jesus again looks lovingly at the man, “My child, in heaven people have learned how to feed each other.”

“You cannot eat from an 11-foot spoon but you could feed someone else with one.”

“Heaven is where we have learned to give and to receive.”

“Welcome into this place.”

On this Father’s Day I remember how my father would tell me this story when I was a child.

He would tell me this story to teach me a great truth about how we should live life in the here and now.

Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “on earth as it is in heaven.”

When we care for one another and when we serve one another then no one goes hungry and we share the love of Jesus with others.

Today this story still impacts me and reminds me how we are to live on this side of heaven.

In the Galatians reading for today we hear that in Christ Jesus we are all children of God, that we belong to Christ, and that through faith we are heirs of the promise.

The promise is the gift of God’s grace for you and for me.

We are saved both in this life and in the life to come through God’s grace.

When it comes to faith in Jesus – faith in Jesus is grace responding to grace – gracefully.

In order to end with God’s grace in heaven and be heirs of the promise we must first start with God’s grace right now in this moment.

Our lives are to be about the activity of sharing God’s grace.

How we serve one another, how we care for one another, how we treat one another – these are the things we ought to be thinking about.

When we respond to God’s grace we live in grace-filled ways.

As imperfect as we are, at times, God’s grace is bigger.

God’s love invites us into living more deeply in Christ.

We are invited as heirs of the promise to the table of the Lord.

But in order for us to fully enjoy God’s bountiful provisions and blessings we must first learn how to share, to serve, and to give.

We cannot hoard and keep God’s blessings to ourselves – they must be shared.

The Holy Spirit will empower us and guide us always.

The Church of Christ is called to show a glimpse of God’s welcoming table right now.

In Christ the Spirit transforms us into a people that live by the ways of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – the very fruits of the Spirit.

God compels us to love and to serve one another with humility and grace.

This coming week look for ways to serve and to proclaim the good news of God in Christ Jesus through word and deed.

This means that you might teach a child the song, “Jesus Loves Me,” you might extend a welcoming hand to a new neighbor, you might call someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one, you might seek reconciliation with a co-worker or speak words of grace and forgiveness, you might even serve a meal to someone in need.

By serving others we move our hope in God’s future kingdom into action in this life for the sake of God’s world and for the sake of God’s people.

At the end of our lives, we may have some regrets.

But we will not regret the ways that we have served others, the ways that we have given grace to others, and the ways that we have shared Christ’s peace.

Thanks be to God for God’s gift of life and grace in Christ!

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Jesus is slowly making his way to Jerusalem.

On the journey he is teaching his disciples.

When he gets to Jerusalem he will be rejected, he will suffer, and he will die.

The day is drawing near but it is not yet.

In the meantime, Jesus is sending messengers ahead of him and he is going from village to village.

On the way some do not receive him.

At one point, James and John are greatly angered by this.

They say to Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

Do you ever have prayers like this?

“Lord, I forgive this person but please send down fire from heaven to consume him.”

Amen.

Here Jesus is not amused.

In fact, he rebukes his disciples and dismisses their question.

In life violence for violence often makes matters worse.

Jesus said in another Gospel those who take the sword will perish by the sword.

In other words, violence becomes a mirror.

Anger, revenge, violence reflects back towards the person.

So, Jesus will have none of it.

He simply teaches his disciples to walk away.

In verse 56 it says:  Then they went on to another village.

Sometimes we need to confront a situation head on.

But sometimes it is better to simply move on.

When I was a freshman in high school my family moved from Iowa to Illinois.

When you are a freshman in high school and you are a new kid, you quickly become an easy target for bullying.

And I discovered that year that if I simply walked away and ignored the bullies, they would lose interest in bullying me.

Walking away and choosing not to start a fight made all the difference.

Here Jesus teaches his disciples to move on to another village and that is what Jesus and his disciples do when they are not welcomed by the Samaritans.

They travel on.

And as they continue on their way someone approaches Jesus and says to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Here Jesus gives his famous line about his home:

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Jesus is an itinerant preacher.

He is a traveling teacher.

He does not have a permeant place to live.

He goes from village to village seeking those who will listen to him.

And then another person approaches Jesus, Jesus says to him, “Follow me,” and he says back to Jesus, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Jesus wants him to go immediately to another village to proclaim the kingdom of God.

And then one more person approaches Jesus.

He says to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”

Jesus says back to him, “No one puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Now what happens if we look back?

If we are moving forward and we stop to look back sometimes we turn back – don’t we?

Sometimes we turn around and then we never return to that which we are called to turn to.

Jesus knows the human condition.

He knows that if people turn away from him to take care of some business, they may never come back to him again.

So, when Jesus catches someone he wants that person to come to him right now.

Have you ever wanted to do something in life but never got around to doing it because too many other things came your way?

When I was a child, I really wanted to learn how to play the piano.

But when opportunities came my way to learn how to play, I would pass them by… thinking I would do learn how to play at some future time.

And suddenly before I knew it, I was an adult and my opportunity to learn how to play the piano was gone.

Yes, I can still pick it up even today but it is not the same.

Learning to play the piano is like learning a language it is much easier done when you are a child.

I may learn how to play it somewhat but I will never learn how to play the piano like I could if I would have picked it up when I had the chance as a child.

To follow Jesus means to follow him now… today.

If we put off following him today, we may put off following him tomorrow which may mean we put off following him next week… next month… next year.

So, this teaching from our Lord may seem harsh but it is actually a very gracious teaching.

It is like the song, The River, by Garth Brooks where he sings, “Too many times we stand aside and let the waters slip away til what we put off til tomorrow has now become today.”

For Jesus following him is always about following him today.

It is in listening to him, praying to him, and in responding to him today without delay.

By God’s grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we follow Jesus and find life in him.

Through Christ we move forward in positive and in life-giving ways as we journey with Jesus to the cross and to the life that he gives us beyond the grave.

Choose him, choose life in Christ – follow Jesus.

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July 3, 2022 – The Witness of Peace Pilgrim

Jesus appoints seventy people to go ahead of him to prepare the way for his coming.

Once again, we encounter the sacred number seven in Scripture.

The number seven in seventy points to God and to divine perfection.

Jesus here is doing a divine work – it is God inspired.

There is also an Old Testament story in the book of Numbers where Moses is told by God to bring seventy leaders forward to join Moses in the work that he is doing.

Here Jesus is doing the same thing.

Jesus says to his seventy, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”

Today just like in Jesus’ time workers are needed in God’s kingdom.

When the people have gathered, Jesus gives them a warning.

They will be like lambs in the midst of wolves.

The wolves come to destroy and to attack the lambs.

Jesus’ disciples will not be welcomed by everyone.

Some will turn them away and some may even attack them.

As they travel, they are to share the Lord’s peace with those they meet.

In verse six Jesus gives a very interesting teaching to them.

I have always been fascinated by this teaching.

In verse six we hear:  “If anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”

I would like for us to think about that word, return for a moment.

To return is to go back to something.

Here Jesus is using this idea as a positive thing.

In life if you share the Lord’s peace with someone that peace will rest upon that person but if the person chooses not to receive that peace, then it will return back to you.

So, nothing here is lost.

Either you bless someone with peace and that person receives peace or the peace is not received and then it is returned and you are blessed by the Lord’s peace.

Jesus teaches us here a very important truth about life.

If we put out peace into the world that peace will be received by others or it will return back to you and you will receive that peace.

Either way peace is given and received.

Think for a moment about the peace makers in the world.

Jesus said in another Gospel:  “Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called what… they will be called children of God.”

This verse reminds me of a person that I have admired for many, many years.

In her life this person simply went by the name, Peace Pilgrim.

Her actual name was Mildred Norman but everyone knew her as Peace Pilgrim.

Peace Pilgrim was a spiritual teacher, mystic, and peace activist.

For twenty-eight years she walked around the United States going from town to town spreading the life-giving message of God’s peace.

She had no money or possessions.

She walked until she was given shelter and she fasted until given food.

The day before she died someone asked her if she was happy living such a life.

Her response was simple and profound.

She said, “I am certainly a happy person.  Who could know God and not be joyous?  I want to wish everyone peace.”

After her death in 1981 her ashes were spread in a family plot near Egg Harbor City, New Jersey and in 2017 she was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

She lived today’s Gospel reading literally and blessed so many people with the Lord’s peace.

Now we may not pick up and start going from town to town spreading God’s peace as the Peace Pilgrim did but still, we all have a calling from the Lord to spread Jesus’s peace.

People like her and others inspire us to do what we can to spread the life-giving message of God’s love and peace.

And we live right not at a time when peace is very much needed in our world.

In the Bible peace refers to wholeness.

The word shalom is used in the Old Testament to mean peace.

The word shalom is a Hebrew word which means not only peace but also harmony, completeness, and abundance.

To receive God’s shalom is to be blessed by God.

In the Bible shalom can also refer to restoration and a return to completeness.

Now hear again that word, return.

Sometimes in life it may feel like we do not have peace.

The peace that we desire is not with us.

We have stress, we have conflict in our lives, we live with regrets and we have of sorts of problems.

If this is the case know that this is not what God wants you to experience in your life.

God is with you in your pain and God wants to bring you healing and peace.

God wants us to return to that place of peace and shalom where we know God’s joy and God’s happiness.

So often in my life when I have felt the absence of God’s peace it only took for me to return back to the Lord where my peace was restored.

If I am struggling and life feels very difficult that’s when I need to return to Jesus in pray to receive his peace once again.

How valuable my morning prayer and meditation time is for me in finding a new sense of peace in my life.

Without fail, when I begin my morning with prayer and with meditation how much more deeply, I feel the Lord’s peace.

Then when things come my way, I am able to handle those things with more grace.

I am certainly not perfect so don’t hear me saying that… what I am saying here is that the Lord’s peace comes to those who seek it.

And when we receive God’s peace, we are to give it away knowing that even if the peace is not received it always returns back to us.

Jesus said, “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

And again, he said, “If you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into the streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”

In other words, as we spread God’s peace, as we share the Lord’s peace with others, after we do so we then let go.”

We let go and give it to God.

Either it will be received or it will not be received but either way you have God’s peace upon you.

People of God, live in this peace.

Do not let your life to be filled with anger and resentments.

Forgive, give your peace, and pray to the Lord of peace for the gift of God’s shalom.

And above all rejoice that your names are written in heaven – for we belong to God.  Amen.

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July 17, 2022 – Martha and Mary

In Colossians chapter three we hear that we are to let the word of Christ to dwell richly in us.
We are now halfway through summer.
Each Sunday during the weeks of summer we hear teachings and parables from Jesus.
I hope that these stories from our Lord dwell richly in you during these summer days.
Each Sunday we are given the opportunity to ponder Jesus’ words for the new coming week.
Let these words work in you during the week.
Let these words from Jesus, dwell in your hearts and your minds.
Last week we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan and how Jesus taught us to redefine
who our neighbor is.
Maybe we took some time last week to truly consider what this teaching might mean for our
lives.
Today we hear a Bible story on the priority of hearing the Word of the Lord as Jesus visits the
home of Martha and Mary.
When I read this Bible reading now what came to your mind?
How might you apply this reading in your life?
In this story from Luke chapter ten we have two opposite responses to Jesus.
When Jesus comes – Martha decides to get busy with her many tasks.
Mary simply sits at Jesus feet.

Now it doesn’t say this in the text but I image here that Martha prepares a nice spread of food
for Jesus.
She was the one who welcomed Jesus into her home.
So probably she is also the one who is serving Jesus.
And, as far as we know, Jesus accepts her hospitality.
But Mary is not helping at all.
Mary is not helping her sister with any of the jobs that need to be done.
This is just not right!
She should be serving too and helping Martha.
I learned early in my marriage with Kalen that when we have company over,
I cannot let Kalen do all the work in preparing for and having company over,
and then for me to just sit on the couch while she is busy working.
Well, I actually I could do that but that would be a very bad idea.
No, I need to help and to serve with Kalen when we have company.
So, there is this feeling of: “Where is the fairness here?” – that Mary is not doing any of the
work and Martha is.
Where is the justice in that?

But as it is the case in many of the Bible stories and parables from Jesus – Jesus is making a
larger point here.
This Bible reading is not so much about Mary not working and Martha working as it is about
how we respond to Jesus.
Here Mary is giving her complete devotion to Jesus while Martha is distracted by other things.
The distractions are pulling Martha away from and not closer to Jesus.
Martha’s worries and her distractions are keeping her from Jesus.
In verse forty-one we hear:
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one
thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
When I first read this text earlier this week, Jesus’ answer to Martha about her worries and her
distractions jumped out of the text for me.
I said to myself, “That is me too.”
My worries and all the distractions in my life pull me away from Jesus and from my faith.
In this text there is a way in which Mary does something very beautiful here.
She simply sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to him.
At that time, to sit at the Rabbi’s feet meant that you were taking the role of a disciple ready to
learn from your teacher.
Here Mary takes on that role as disciple eager to listen to and to learn from her teacher, Jesus.

Martha is not doing anything wrong here.
If she is serving Jesus food, Jesus is probably eating the food that Martha gives him.
But what Martha needs to do is to let go of her worries, to let go of her concerns, and all of the
distractions and tasks at hand and then to go and to sit by Jesus.
There she will learn things about God and she will receive exactly what she needs to receive –
God’s love and God’s grace.
God’s love and God’s grace will never be taken from her.
Jesus loves her and Jesus wants her to be a follower as well.
This coming week let this Bible story dwell in you richly.
Consider the worries and distractions in your life and how they pull you from Jesus.
What is preventing you from sitting at Jesus’ feet in order to listen to him?
What is getting in the way of your relationship with Jesus?
Remember that Mary chose to sit and to listen to Jesus and by doing so she was given
something that will never be taken away from her.
How might you find time this week for purposeful silence to simply listen to Jesus?
No phone, no screen, no distractions, just time with Jesus.
This coming week may we take this teaching to heart…
May this word from Jesus dwell richly within us…

May we be ready to welcome and to serve Jesus as Martha did…
And may we especially be ready to sit and to listen to Jesus as Mary did.
Amen.

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July 24, 2022 The Lord’s Prayer

When you pray, how do you pray?

What do you say to God?

What are your prayers like?

Do you pray these words that Jesus taught his disciples to say?

“Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.  And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

Today we know this prayer as the Lord’s Prayer.

It is one of the first prayers that we learn to say and it is the prayer that we say before we receive Holy Communion.

Do you remember when you first learned this prayer.

I can remember as a small child, saying this prayer over and over until at last I memorized it.

I can recall how happy I was when I finally got it and could recite the prayer from memory.

Maybe you have a similar memory.

Hopefully, this is a prayer that you pray regularly.

And it does not matter if you prefer the traditional style or the contemporary style of this prayer.

The important thing is that we pray the prayer often and with heart.

Jesus teaches us that we are to pray this prayer over and over and over throughout our lives.

Praying this prayer without ceasing and faithfully praying each petition of this prayer.

We are to prayer this prayer with great persistence like the friend in the parable who continues asking for bread over and over and over again until the friend receives the bread.

In the same way we are to prayer the Lord’s prayer continually throughout our lives.

For if we ask it will be given to us, if we search, we will find, and if we knock the door to a life of faith will be opened to us.

In life it is easy to get caught up in praying for things that in the end do not matter at all.

Jesus teaches us today in the Gospel of Luke what we ought to be praying for.

First, we are to pray to God whose very name is holy.

We are not God, only God is God, and we are not alone.

God is above us, around us, and within us.  God is here.

We are not alone in life.  God is always with us.

That truth is something we talked about in VBS this week with the kids.

God is always with us.

And God’s kingdom is what we are to be seeking.

What is God’s kingdom?

God’s kingdom is where peace, joy, and love are found.

God’s kingdom is where God is.

There can be a heaven on earth and there can be a hell on earth too by the way in which we believe and by the way in which we treat others.

As followers of Jesus, we are to strive for a heaven on earth – that God’s kingdom in heaven is also found here on earth – that God’s kingdom will come in this world.

We are to ask each day for our daily bread.

Daily bread is not bread alone but everything that we need in life.

Each day we ask God to provide us with what we need and then we ask God for the generosity to share the rest with others.

We do not need to hoard God’s gifts and blessings but we are to share and to give as God shares and gives.

Next, we are to pray for forgiveness for all of our sins.

In asking for forgiveness, we then try to forgive others and to show grace to those who have hurt us.

This is a hard one and we certainly do not do this one perfectly.

It is only by God’s grace that are we able to show grace to others.

It is only in receiving God’s forgiveness that we are able to forgive.

Now this does not mean that we forget the harm that was done to us.

Sometimes the pain is so deep that the relationship can never be returned to what it once was.

This is especially true in the case of abuse and sometimes boundaries need to be put into place but even still by God’s grace we are to work to find a way to forgive and to let go trusting all the while in God and God’s ability to restore and to heal.

And lastly, we ask the Lord to save us from the time of trial.

We need God and without God we fall into temptation and without God there is no life.

God is our protector and our savior.

These things we pray for throughout our lives.

God is good and loving and God is ready to hear our prayers and to answer our prayers even before we say the words.

God provides for us all.

God provides for us even if we do not believe in him.

But O, how much greater it is to know that all that we have and all that makes us who we are comes from God.

Knowing this brings about a great inner feeling of gratitude and peace.

The gifts that we have in our lives comes from God.

Even life itself comes from God.

Each of us have the ability to experience peace, happiness, and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, Jesus said in verse thirteen of today’s Gospel reading that the heavenly father is only too ready to give us the Holy Spirit when we ask him.

This means that right now we can know and feel the very presence of God in our lives.

This means that we can have faith in Jesus.

To live a life of faith is a tremendous blessing from God.

No money, no success, no power can compare to the joy of a simple, humble life of faith.

I have known people in my life who have died without a penny to their name but have died in peace because they had great faith.

The door will be opened.

Jesus waits, always waits for us at the door.

I have always loved that painting of Jesus knocking at the door.

Maybe some of you own that painting in your home.

In that famous painting Jesus becomes the friend in today’s parable, he is the one knocking and waiting.

He is the one who is ever persistent never giving up on us.

He comes not asking for bread.

He comes looking to give bread.

He comes as the bread of life – looking to give us what we need, looking to give us life and salvation.

Jesus will never force his way into our lives.

He gives us free will.

Jesus is at the door, he is waiting for us, and he will never stop believing in us.

He waits even now to hear our prayers.

Lord, teach us to pray.  Amen.

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July 31, 2022 The Parable of the Barns

Today’s parable of the barns is unique to Luke.

This teaching can only be found in this Gospel.

And even though this parable can only be found in one of the four gospels the message here is both convicting and instructive.

In the parable Jesus argues for extreme reliance on God.

Jesus also teaches us here to place our trust in God and not in wealth.

It seems simple enough until one tries to put this into practice.

Our world operates around money.

It is kind of like this…

Have you ever seen the 1947 movie:  “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring James Stewart as George Bailey?

I can use the example of a Christmas movie in my sermon because my family and I just celebrated Christmas in July at home with some friends… so I have Christmas on my mind.

Anyway, at one point in the movie George Bailey is desperate for money since his Building and Loan business suddenly loses $8,000.

Today that would be like losing more than $100,000

Then in an answer to prayer George’s guardian angel, Clarence comes to visit him.

During a conversation that the two are having George asks his guardian angel, Clarence if he has any money.

Clarence responds with a laugh and he says, “No, where I come from, we don’t need any money,” to which George then says, “Well, it comes in handy down here.”

Yes, it does.

We simply cannot function in the world without money.

Jesus knows this and that is why he tells the kind of parable that he tells.

This parable is told by Jesus to teach us to direct our attention from money to God.

God is the source of all blessings and all good things.

Last week in my sermon I spoke about how we are to pray each day for our daily bread.

Daily bread being all that we need in life.

Martin Luther writes in his Large Catechism of instruction that the petition “daily bread” includes everything that belongs to our entire life in this world.

Luther went on to say in his Large Catechism that this would include not only our food, clothing, house, and health but also peace in our daily activities and peace with the people whom we live with and work with and interact with.

Luther is teaching us here that we are to ask God for all that we need and then to trust that God abundantly provides.

Jesus said in another Gospel in the Gospel of John that he came to bring abundant life.

Abundant life in this context means a life that exceeds one’s expectations.

In Christ one’s life is more meaningful and is richer, and fuller than one would even hope for.

This past week Evie and I both watched a movie together and after the movie was finished, we both said to each other that the movie was better than we thought it was going to be.

We had high hopes for the movie and we were hoping to see a good movie together and, in the end, the movie went even beyond our expectations of it.

This is how it is with Jesus.

The life he gives is of a higher level then what we can even imagine.

So, in going back to the parable, why would we place our hope and our trust in things of this world like building bigger barns when there is something much greater for us – which is a life of faith in Jesus.

What is true wealth is knowing God.

Neither wealth or poverty is a sign of our relationship with God rather what is a sign of our relationship with God is our trust in God and our faith in God’s ability to provide all that we need.

Although God gives and provides us with everything that we need even before we ask, God’s wish for us is that we would put our trust in him so that we would know that the gifts in life come from him.

And more than that… that we might come to know his great love for us.

In our lives we put Christ and his cross at the center of our daily living we do not put bigger barns at the center of our daily living.

This does not mean that we do not practice faithful stewardship with our finances and careful planning and saving but what it does mean is that our faith is more important than what we own.

A great depression can wipe out our savings, a flood can ruin our home, COVID can take away our ability to gather together but God’s gift of faith in Christ remains through it all.

As the Apostle Paul says in Romans:  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or sword… for nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

May this promise from Scripture go with you this coming week.

Amen.

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August 14, 2022 Division & Awareness

When I have a text like this to work with for my sermon I often wonder where the best place to start is…

There is a lot here in this morning’s Bible reading from Luke.

It is an extremely provocative text.

Jesus’ words here are meant to cause a strong reaction.

It should make us feel something and to awaken something within us.

Maybe a good place to start in unpacking today’s Gospel reading is to break it up into two texts.

We have verses 49 to 53 which is largely about division and then we have verses 54 to 56 which is largely about interpreting the present time.

First, the part on division.

Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

Not peace but division.

When we think about Jesus we think about peace – we do not think about division.

But in this teaching from Jesus, he is talking about division.

Jesus said that a household will be divided.

Family ties will be cut.

Separation will occur.

And how painful it will be.

Whenever division happens there is great pain.

Whether it be in a family or in some kind of a group whenever there is division there is loss and pain and anger.

We long for unity and peace and when that doesn’t happen the pain and the conflict can be so severe.

In the text Jesus is naming a true reality.

His teachings and his ways will bring division.

And, at that time, that is exactly what happened especially among families.

In the first century, Jesus’ teachings caused division within families.

And it did not stop there.

If you study church history you will find that in the last two thousand years the church has encountered division, conflict, and separation – again and again and again.

The hard truth here is that as much as we might like to preserve unity – Jesus’ words point to a greater truth.

In our sinfulness we turn from the peace of Jesus.

We cannot say that we believe in Jesus and his peace and then act in ways that are contrary to his peace.

We cannot pray to Jesus for peace and then act in our old sinful ways.

To know God’s peace, we must take steps towards peace.

To have peace in our families we must take steps towards peace.

It is like the old saying… “Hard work doesn’t guarantee success but without it you don’t have a chance.”

We cannot expect Jesus to do all the work of bringing peace and love and grace to the earth.

We need to join him in that cause.

We are to be part of the solution.

When division happens do we make it worse by our actions or do we make amends and find a way back to peace and harmony.

God wants to use us to bring about the kingdom of God – but we must not get discouraged when division happens, as Jesus warns us that it will happen – it is inevitable, but as Christ followers we are to stay with him on the path.

Then after saying these words on division Jesus turns his preaching to the interpretation of signs.

“When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’ and when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens.”

In today’s time we know so much about the weather and about the earth and sky and even space.

We can know things about the natural world that brings incredible insight into the smallest details of creation.

But as Jesus warns us here can we interpret the present time?

Jesus is calling for awareness.

First, he warns us that division will happen as followers of Jesus and next he calls us to be aware of signs of God’s kingdom.

We are to be aware of the things of God and not blind to God’s ways.

If we can know so much about creation, can we also know so much about Jesus and his mission.

We are to put our hope in him – not wavering back and forth but staying true in our faith.

People of God, may we pray for unity in our families and in our church, may we pray to be aware of signs of God’s presence around us, may we pray for grace for when we fall short of God’s ways, and may we pray for understanding and for compassion.

We are to be peacemakers in a world that seeks to be divided, we are to be the people that point to God’s reign around us, we are to be the one’s that work to heal and to restore that which is broken.

We can do this because Jesus is with us.

Amen.

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August 21, 2022 Healing on the Sabbath

What a miracle it is to be healed.

To suffer for so long and then to instantly be cured.

It all happened on the sabbath day.

Jesus was teaching the people and then there appeared a woman.

This woman was crippled and bent over.

For eighteen long years she suffered in this way.

But Jesus sees her.

He notices the woman – he does not ignore her.

And most importantly he sees her pain.

He calls the woman over to him.

“Woman,” he says, “you are set free.”

Jesus then lays his hands upon her and immediately, without delay, she stands up and praises God.

Now you would think that the healing story would end there.

And there would be this great celebration of the miracle that Jesus preformed.

A woman who was crippled is now set free from her ailment.

But, as we see from the text, this is not the case.

The leader of the synagogue instead of joining in the celebration and the joy of the healing miracle he is instead indignant.

He is upset that Jesus would heal on the sabbath.

Here in this Bible reading we see division on how one should treat the sabbath.

Now remember from last Sunday – Jesus said his words and his actions would cause division.

Today we see this happening in the healing story.

The synagogue leader is upset that Jesus would do such a thing as to heal on the sabbath.

By doing so he believes Jesus is breaking God’s commandment of working on the sabbath.

He is blinded to God’s ways and he cannot see the miracle that just happened.

At that time healing a person was seen as work.

To the synagogue leader Jesus is not following the law.

But wisely, Jesus will have none of it.

Jesus can see through this man’s intentions here.

The man is not concerned about God or on the woman in need of healing rather his intentions are focused on casting judgment on Jesus.

And so, Jesus says to that man and to those who are listening that this woman, who Jesus just healed, is a daughter of Abraham, in others words, Jesus is saying that this woman is a child of God.

And that she was in bondage for eighteen years.

Jesus sees the situation for what it is and he makes it right.

What is more important not working on the sabbath or in helping someone who is suffering.

Of course, we know the answer.

This is not a trick question.

God’s will is always to relieve suffering.

In this case it is to relieve the suffering that the woman is enduring.

Jesus wants to heal her.

In the end Jesus puts his opponents to shame and the crowd rejoices.

In hearing this Bible story right now, I wonder what comes to your mind?

How do you understand the sabbath?

What meaning does that day hold for you?

And what are your thoughts around healing and being cured?

As with every gospel reading that we hear on Sunday mornings there is always a lot to unpack.

So much is happening in this particular text.

We have the woman who is crippled.

We have Jesus who is teaching on the sabbath day.

We have Jesus breaking the sabbath law and healing the woman.

We have the synagogue leader who is indignant that Jesus would heal on the sabbath.

And finally, we have the crowd who witness everything that happens.

Now if I had to pull one key takeaway from this Scripture reading it would be this… that Jesus loves the woman who is suffering.

This text is really not about the sabbath or the synagogue ruler and his feelings about Jesus or the crowd or even about Jesus’ teachings.

This reading is about Jesus’ great love for a child of God who needs help.

What we learn from this reading from the Gospel of Luke, is that Jesus loves us and wants to heal and save us from our pain and suffering and then to bring us back to God and to others.

By healing on the sabbath Jesus shows us that he does not want us to suffer for even one day more – he wants us to be healed now.

In our world today there is great suffering and pain all around us.

Even God’s earth cries in pain from the ways in which we have harmed God’s creation and have not acted as faithful stewards of God’s world.

There is much healing that is needed.

Healing for the world, healing for our communities, healing for families, healing for those who are crippled.

To be healed is to be relieved from suffering and to be brought back to wholeness and oneness with God and others.

As we place our hope and trust in a God that desires wholeness and wellness for us, we too will rejoice with the woman who was healed.

Even on the sabbath Jesus wants to heal and to restore and to forgive.

For that – may we praise God for Jesus’ power over the spirits that cripple us and for Jesus’ great love for each one of us.

Amen.

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September 4, 2022 Jesus and the Cross

I always have a hard time reading and preaching this text from Luke.

It is hard to know what to say.

Jesus gives us a difficult teaching here.

Sometimes when we are reading Scripture and we get stuck with what we are reading it is helpful to look at a different translation to see if we get any additional insight into the text or possibly a new perspective.

With this reading from Luke, I decided this past week to look at it from the translation, The Message.

The Message is a translation of the Bible through the lens of our modern language.

It is not a perfect translation as no translations are.

All translations of the Bible are filtered through the lens of the people who are translating it but still The Message is a fairly good translation that I enjoy reading from.

It’s also a translation that I like to use with my confirmation students because of the modern language.

The Message reads almost like a novel.

Now with the NRSV, the New Revised Standard Version in mind, which is what we have in the bulletin, I would like to read that text again but this time from the Bible, The Message:

A reading from the Gospel of Luke chapter fourteen:

One day when large crowds of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, 

“Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters- yes, even, one’s own self! – can’t be my disciple.  Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.

Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it?  If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish.  Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: “He started something he couldn’t finish.’

“Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other?  And if he decides he can’t won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?  

“Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple”

There is certainly a different feel here with a different translation.

The same message from Jesus but given in a different light.

What Jesus is getting at here, I believe, in this particular teaching is that he is pointing out our very human tendency towards idolatry.

Idolatry is extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone.

Jesus is teaching us here that God is to be source of our admiration, love, and reverence.

We are to place Jesus and his cross central in our lives.

Our sanctuary points to this truth as the cross is at the center of our worship space.

The cross is the point of our focus and worship.

I love that verse in The Message:  “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.”

Probably here the use of the word, hate in the NRSV translation, which again is in your bulletin, was not meant to mean the definition of hate that we have today in our context.

A more accurate translation for us would be what The Message uses, which is letting go, meaning that we hold on to Jesus in a way that we do not hold on to other people or possessions.

For example, I love my family but I do not worship my family or look to my family as the source of my life.

I receive help from my family and love from my family but I know that the gift of my family comes from God and the love that I receive from my family comes from God.

I am grateful for the possessions in my life but I know that possessions can be here one day and gone the next.

My savings in the bank can look good one day and then be gone the next but God’s provisions continue and God continues to provide even during times of scarcity.

We worship God and God is the source of our lives.

Through the cross of Christ, we look forward to the resurrection and we trust in God’s ability to give life and to make things new.

When we lift up the cross and follow after Jesus, we are given by him a new direction and a new path for our lives.

In Christ we lay a foundation for our lives that he helps us to finish.

We will be like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither.

Last month I came down with Covid and I was knocked out for about a week.

So, I had a lot of time to think and also to pray.

And one thought that continued to stay with me during that time is this… that if everything was taken away from me the one thing that remains is my faith.

My faith grounds me and keeps me close to Jesus and his cross.

Fortunately, I did recover well, and I certainly pray for the families that have lost loved ones because of Covid, but for me, the blessing that lingered after my recovery from Covid is that my illness gave me a different perspective on my life and on my faith – just like how a different translation of Scripture gives you a different perspective on the text or texts that you are reading.

And so may we, walk more closely with Christ and cling to his life-giving and healing power.

It is a power that sustains us in this life and it is a power that can even bring life in death.

With God’s help may we let go of those things that prevent us from following him and from picking up the cross.

May we lift high the cross of Christ.  Amen.

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September 11, 2022 At Home With Jesus

Jesus offers two compelling parables this morning.
First, the parable of the lost sheep.
Then the parable of the lost coin.
And unlike last Sunday’s Bible reading, where it was very hard to understand Jesus’ teaching,
today’s Bible reading is quite clear.
The two parables point to the truth that God is gracious and that God pursues us even when we
turn away from him.
God is a loving father who wants to be in relationship with us.
God wants us to know him and to find joy in him.
God wants us to turn to him and to be found – to be found is to be, finally, at home with God.
To be at home with God happens in our death, yes, when we are raised from the dead to be
with Jesus and the whole company of God’s saints, but it can also happen in this life as we
come to know Christ and his grace and his peace.
We do not have a permanent place here on earth but that does not mean we cannot find a
place of belonging and a place that feels like home.
This past week in considering this text from Luke, I have been reflecting on the meaning of
home.
What does it mean to be at home?

To no longer be searching, to no longer be lost, to be found, to be at a place of rest, to be at a
place where you can be yourself, to be at home.
Home can refer to a house, it can refer to a place, it can refer to family but in the context of this
Scripture reading – home is being with Jesus.
This truth became very real to me as I was growing up.
By the time I reached eighteen I had already lived in five different towns, three different states,
and I had attended four different schools in four different communities.
To this day I still don’t know what school I should go to if I were to attend a school reunion.
Maybe some of you here have had a similar experience.
So, I realized as a child that being at home does not necessarily mean a place – it can mean that
to be sure but for Jesus – being at home means something else.
Being at home is something more spiritual, something we feel and know inside of us.
Being at home is an inner knowing and belief that Jesus is right there.
And that his peace and his grace is always there for us to receive.
Our weekly Eucharist meal both reminds us of this and our weekly Eucharist meal is a spiritual
means for us to receive his grace and his peace.
At the table we are at home.
We are at home with Jesus.

And then as we leave this place and go on – for the rest of the week Jesus goes with us and
ahead of us.
If you are like me, you may have some anxiety about the future.
The future is unknown, there is always uncertainty about the future.
And how comforting it is to know that Jesus is already there.
He goes ahead of us and then he meets us each step of our journey.
He does not let us to become lost on the way.
Suddenly then the mistakes that we make in life and the regrets that we hold to become
absolved in his presence.
And if we turn from him, Jesus is quick to help us to find the way back to him so that we can be
at home with him.
This is the hope that we share together as God’s people – it is an active kind of hope.
This means that our hope in God and in Jesus impacts us each day of our lives.
This coming week spend some time thinking about what home means to you.
We often have strong attachments to the places we call home.
My family and I recently visited a place that is very dear to us on our family vacation.
For me it is the place that feels most like home.
It’s Dubuque, Iowa.

Why you might ask?
Well, it’s the place where Kalen and I met and where we went to seminary together.
It is a life-giving place for me.
I still keep in touch with many of my professors, teachers, and classmates that I first me in
Dubuque.
One of whom you met and welcomed this past spring, in our guest organist, Dr. Roy Carrol who
was one of my worship professors and the seminary worship organist.
There are so many wonderful memories from that place and it always feels like home when I go
back to Dubuque even though I only lived there for short four years.
Places do that.
We associate a lot of meaning to a place and the people we meet there.
This is good and the places that we call home provide the foundation and the stability that we
need in life.
Now think about that and the places that are dear to you.
And then think about your relationship with God and how God calls us to himself to be found in
him and to be spiritually at home with him.
Even during the times that we feel distant from God and the times that we feel lost in our faith
God is there speaking to us and reaching out to us.

Like the man who looks for his lost sheep and the woman who searches for her lost coin – God
continues, always to pursue us until we are found in him.
When we are found there is rejoicing indeed – for we are home.
Amen.

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September 25, 2022 The Shrewd Manager

Today we hear another shocking teaching from Jesus.

It appears that Jesus is praising an act of dishonesty.

The manager who acts shrewdly is the hero of the story.

I can remember hearing this story as a child and thinking what a weird parable.

Even now I have to really think about this parable and what Jesus is trying to teach us.

Clearly there is an important lesson here if we just dig a little deeper.

What is Jesus trying to say to us in the parable of the rich man and the manager.

As with most of Jesus parables you can look at them through many different angles.

Today I would like for us to think about the quick and smart behavior of the manager.

He showed composure – he did not act compulsively – he made a plan and then he executed it.

Now I don’t believe that in the end Jesus was praising his dishonest behavior but Jesus was trying to make a larger point here.

Jesus is praising the man’s resourcefulness, his wits about himself, his smart intuitive thinking.

That is what Jesus is lifting up.

Jesus wants us to be just as bold for his kingdom work.

He wants us to use all the gifts that we have to move his kingdom and his mission forward.

Can we be just as creative and smart and yes, shrewd as the dishonest manager but and, here is the twist here, can we be that for what is right – for what is just, and for what is honest.

Remember the scripture from the book of Micah – we are to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.

Jesus is calling us to respond to him with the same kind of boldness that the manager had in the parable.

We are not to shy away from our faith but we are to lean more deeply into our faith with all the strength that God gives us.

It is a shocking parable but it is also a parable with a good message.

Each of us can find ways in our work, in our home life, within our families to really live from our hearts and not to just to complacently get by.

Life is too much of a gift to let it just slide by…

As I was working on this sermon this past week, I thought to myself if the shrewd manager were to write a book what kind of a book would it be??

And the first book that came to my mind was the book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey.

This is a book on how to live from that deeper and more creative part of ourselves.

The book also is a very worldly book and it takes an almost mechanical approach to living.

In other words, the book feels at times a little distant from the day to day lives of real people.

But if you look at the book and take his ideas and apply them with your faith then suddenly it gives your faith new meaning.

For example, one of his ideas in his book is to create a personal mission statement.

Our congregation has a mission statement – our shared mission statement is to praise God, to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ, to reach out with this message to people of all backgrounds and cultures, and to create a community of Christian support, love, and forgiveness.

Maybe you work at a place that has a mission statement but do you personally have a mission statement?

Do you have a mission statement that you think about everyday that impacts your choices and decisions that you make each and every day of your lives?

I have a personal mission statement that I have been living from for the past twelve years.

In January of 2010 I received some strong inspiration and I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote down my personal mission statement which I have been living from ever since.

During good days and seasons I remember my personal mission statement during difficult days and seasons I remember my personal mission statement.

My mission statement gives meaning and purpose to my life and the statement give me direction in living out my faith and in being a better steward of the gifts that God has given me.

I am not going to share my mission statement because it is between God and me but I want to share with you now how impactful my personal mission statement has been for me over the years.

During some of the dark days and seasons of my life my personal mission statement has been a light for me – almost as if the Holy Spirit is reminding me to keep moving forward and trusting in Jesus.

How about you – what is your mission statement between God and you?

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Reformation Sunday 2022

Today is Reformation Sunday.

On this day we remember the good work that was done, 500 years ago, by Martin Luther and the other early church reformers like Philip Melanchthon and John Hus.

These church reformers taught us to always be about the work of reforming and renewing the church.

There is never a point where we can say – I think that the church is perfect.

As much as I would like to say this

– there is never I point where I can say – I think Williams Bay Lutheran Church is perfect.

We will never reach that point.

We will never be able to say that we will not need to change or make any improvements to our church because everything is already right.

Reforming / renewal is an on-going process in the church.

Somethings do stay the same in the church but other things change and through it all we look to God for guidance and direction.

We do not cast the vision – it is God who casts the vision – who gives us the mission.

We do not move the church forward it is God who moves the church forward and then we move into God’s future with trusting hearts.

It is easy to get caught in the temptation that we are the ones who direct and guide the church but that is wrong.

It is God who directs and guides the church.

For Luther he believed that the church was greatly misguided because the church was moving in a direction that was not led by God and by God’s Holy Spirit.

The church was corrupt.

Through Luther’s work, along with other early reformers, the church changed and became more faithful to the Gospel.

There was resurrection and new life in the church.

Even today we strive to seek God’s will and not our own.

How do we do this?

How do we hear God’s voice in the church?

In my personal devotional time, I am reading through the book of Proverbs.

The book of Proverbs is a book that gives advice and guidance on a wide range of issues.

In Proverbs chapter twenty verse eighteen we hear that we are to form our purpose by asking for counsel and advice.  Then and only then can we carry out the plan.

One of the things that I have really appreciated over the years as a pastor is being on church counsel.

I am grateful that I don’t have to cast the vision for the church on my own.

I listen carefully to the direction and the guidance that I receive from the leaders of our congregation as they carefully seek God’s will.

And then I lean on them for help in order to carry out the mission of our church.

Over the years some seasons in the church have gone very smoothly with very little concern but some seasons have been much more challenging and difficult but through it all we listen to the voice of God.

We trust in God’s future and God’s ability to draw us forward into God’s mission.

We catch ourselves when we are tempted to be visionary dreamers – this means times when we put our plans ahead of God’s plan.

These are times when we try to push our will forward instead of taking the time to carefully discern God’s will.

And the only way we can discern God’s plan is through prayer and listening.

There is no other way.

Prayer and listening.

We pray to God and then we listen.

During the first two years of the pandemic this was my constant work.

Prayer and listening.

Prayer and listening.

Praying to God.

Listening.

Listening to the church counsel.

Listening to others in the church.

Listening to the Spirit at work in our church.

Listening, listening to the voice of God.

In Proverbs chapter three verse five we hear that we are to listen for God’s voice in everything that we do, everywhere we go; for God is the one who keep us on track.

And Jesus said in today’s Gospel reading that if we continue in his word – meaning that we continue listening to him and seeking his will, then we are truly his disciples.

We will know the truth – we will know the way and his truth will set us free.

We will be free to live a grace-filled and life-giving life.

As the church continues listening to God’s voice the church will continue to reform and be shaped and pruned by God’s Spirit.

God will continue using the church for God’s purposes.

God has not given up on the church.

Even now I see God at work in our church.

Yes, here in this place.

As we gather together each week for worship

– God is at work.

In seeing the children and youth in church

– I see God at work.

In Stu’s stewardship talks where he speaks about the work and activity of this church

– I see God at work.

In the work that our church council does each month working together to help our church discern God’s ways

– I see God at work.

In the hymns that we sing that speak to our faith in a gracious and loving God

– I see God at work.

In the laughter and the joy that we share together over coffee and pie – I see God at work.

As God’s people in this place and time

– may the Lord bless our church and may we have the faith to continue moving forward into God’s future as God makes a new covenant with us.

A covenant where God writes on our hearts that we are God’s people and God is our God.

We ask for all this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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All Saints Sunday 2022

This past week I had a graveside service at Roselawn Cemetery here in Williams Bay.

The service was for someone who was a previous member here but had since moved away from this area many years ago.

But even through the years and the distance she still felt a connection with our church.

I am grateful that people feel that way – connected to the church even though time passes and distance separates.

Whenever I officiate for a graveside service or a funeral service, I am reminded that we do not have a permanent place here on earth.

Sometimes it seems as if our lives will continue forever but that is not the case.

As wonderful as life can be the time we have is set.

There is a Scripture verse that says:  “People are appointed once to die.”

That is from Hebrews chapter nine verse twenty-seven.

We will not live forever.

We will, one day, die.

Today on this All Saints Sunday we remember this truth just like we remember this on Ash Wednesday.

Every year on Ash Wednesday, as we begin the forty-day journey of Lent, we hear the words:  Remember we are dust and to dust we shall return.

We believe by faith that our spirits will continue but our bodies will go back into the earth.

“We commit her body to the ground earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Those were the words that I said at the graveside service this week.

The words that we hear at the beginning of the book of Genesis will come true for all of us.

In Genesis chapter three we hear:  “We will return to the ground, since from it we were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”  Genesis chapter three verse nineteen.

On this All Saints Sunday we also remember that we are connected to the whole company of the communion of saints.

All of God’s people in heaven and on earth are a part of the company of saints.

There is a never a moment in life where we are not a part of the communion of saints.

Again in Hebrews chapter twelve it says that we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.

The writer of Hebrews wanted us to imagine that we are all in an arena and there at that arena are previous generations.

They are present for us.

These people witness and see our faith in action and from their seats they cheer us on.

Think about your favorite sports team.

If you follow your team regularly you will notice a pattern.

Your team always plays better at home.

Your team feeds off the energy, the excitement, and the positive energy of the home crowd.

This is true for us as well.

Knowing that we are a part of the communion of saints gives us encouragement and hope especially during the struggles and challenges of life.

We have people right here in this place who will encourage and support us but we also have those who have gone ahead of us who now rest with God who wait for us and who cheer us on.

And they do cheer us on in life and at the hour of our death.

When I first became a pastor, I thought that I would have many difficult conversations with members about dying and in addressing people’s fears around death.

Now over the years I have had some of those hard talks and these talks are very important as I try to give these people hope but overwhelmingly, I have seen such peace and faith in those who are near death.

Overwhelmingly, those who are at the end of their life, talk to me about their love for God, their faith in Jesus, they talk about their loved ones who have passed away and how they are ready to be with them again, and they talk to me about their readiness to be with God.

I have seen such faith over the years.

Surely these men and women that I have seen with my own eyes were already surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.

In fact, I can recall one conversation in particular, this conversation happened when I was serving a church in Iowa, that especially moved me.

I met with this person for our visit at the nearby town’s favorite diner in Toledo, Iowa.

Big-T, which was a Maid-Rite restaurant, was our stop.

Not only was the restaurant a town favorite but the owner, a very kind man and humble man, was a member of the church that I was serving at the time.

So, over a Maid-Rite and a cup of coffee, we talked about faith and about dying.

From my memory he did most of the talking, which was fine with me, and I remember him telling me this:

Pastor, I have learned that we don’t need to be afraid of dying.

It is going to be beautiful.

When my time comes, I am ready to go to heaven.

The conversation that day really impacted me.

His faith was so strong.

When his time was up, he was ready.

He had made peace with his life and he made peace with God.

We do not have a permanent place here on earth but we do have a permanent place, a permanent home in heaven where we will be with the whole company of God’s saints.

On this All Saints Sunday we give thanks for our faith in God’s gift of eternal life and we give thanks for all the saints.

If I could leave you with one more thing this morning it would be this:  Eternal life is our inheritance.

It is God’s gift to us.

There is nothing you can do to receive an inheritance.

You receive an inheritance as a gift from the owner.

This is Christ’s gift for us.

For Jesus was faithful to us and Jesus was faithful to God even to death on a cross.

Now n Christ our lives will continue even in death.

Jesus said in the Gospel of John:  “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

May God give to each one of us here the faith to believe this promise from our Lord and may the peace and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.

Amen.

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  • 9:30 a.m. In-Person & Virtual Worship with Holy Communion
  • 9:45 a.m. Sunday School
  • 11:00 a.m. Bible Study