Tag Archives: first saint johns Lutheran church

Repent and be saved 1 John

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are not just about confessing and receiving forgiveness, but also about true repentance on their part said … AMEN!

Every Sunday we start worship with “Confession and Absolution”. We start with confession, we want to start our worship in a way that we’ve dealt with the sins of the past week, that we recognize that we need to start this time of worship truly opening up to God, knowing that we have failed, that we have offended Him through the week, and we want to deal with that before we start, we want to know we are worthy to be in God’s presence. We are sinners, but we are affirmed and forgiven in Christ, that we can come into the Father’s presence knowing that we are worthy, in Christ, to be in His presence. All that we’ve done in the past week to separate us from the Father, we come before Him now completely forgiven in Jesus. But there seems to be an element that is missing. You are completely forgiven in Jesus. I’ve had this discussion with the local parish priest. One of the issues Luther had was the idea that we are not completely forgiven in Jesus, that there still is this one extra element on our part in order to seal the deal and that is penance. As usual, when something is at issue, we lurch from one silly extreme to another, and we simply ignore that element which is in dispute. “If Jesus died for my sin and I confessed my sin, as we are told to do in James: “ESV 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” We are told to confess to one another, but there is still a little something missing. You’re not any less forgiven, you are completely forgiven, but… there’s a lack of intent on our part, when we omit our repentance. That we are truly sorry for our sin, that we want to do better. In our liturgy for individual confession, there is a place made for that. On page 292 in your hymnal, you will find “Individual Confession and Absolution”… wonder how many of you knew that was in there? The penitent can, if they wish, list out the sins that they are confessing, that are most weighing on their heart. Then: “They conclude by saying, I am sorry for all of this and ask for grace. I want to do better.” Generally that part gets omitted from our “corporate” confession, because we want to be good Lutherans and emphasize that we are forgiven and absolved in Jesus and we are! But that one little aspect of genuine repentance on our part, true regret for the things that we have done that are an offense against God, that do separate us from a truly, completely, holy God, we sort of omit them and decide that we’ve been forgiven, we can just move along until the next time. Gosh, I’ve done what I could, so let’s not dwell on it. What’s missing? Any thought of genuine sorrow and … how am I going to live my life in terms of not committing that sin, or any others in the future? The old man is always in us, our old human nature is always going to lead us to sin. We all know; “none are righteous no not one…” by the same token treating it as “drive by” absolution; I’m covered until the next time and I will just get forgiven then, that’s not being faithful in Christ, that’s not showing any desire to grow as a true disciple of Christ. What the rest of the world is about, “go along to get along”, then we wonder why nothing ever really changes in our life, why we always seem to be stuck in this spiritual adolescence. We’re all guilty of it, but it is how we deal with it. Judas and Peter, both deeply sinned against the Lord. Judas’ was straight out betrayal. But… Was it the unforgivable sin? No, not really. Peter also betrayed the Lord. A little girl confronts him and he almost hurts himself saying he has no idea what she is talking about, or who this Jesus guy is. One was forgiven… Peter! Peter is on notice, the angel tells the women go to the disciples and Peter, why is Peter singled out? Ya, Peter you messed up, your sin was very grievous, you denied me. My disciples are called to proclaim me and you ran away, the big tough fisherman, ran away like a frightened little rabbit. But who does Jesus take aside on that day on the beach and says “Feed my sheep”. Jesus is making sure that Peter knows he is being given an enormous responsibility. And Peter is obviously repentant. Judas? What did he do? Did he stay faithful in that room, in that period after the resurrection, waiting for the Lord to come back, trusting Jesus’ words in His resurrection? No! Judas didn’t even see the resurrection, he ran away too, but in a weaker way. He didn’t try to go back to Jesus and ask for forgiveness, to show repentance, genuine or not so genuine. He takes the issue into his own hands, he decides for himself that there is nothing left and he goes and hangs himself. Peter goes to Jesus in repentance, hangs his big head in front of Jesus and gets whacked right in the head… right? No, Jesus gives Peter a little poke, but much more importantly Jesus reorients Peter right away, gets him back on track; “Peter feed my sheep, get out there, do what you’re called to do, what you’ve been prepared to do for the last three years and bring My Word, My guidance, My Lordship and salvation, My resurrection to everyone the Holy Spirit guides you to, so that they will know “life and life more abundant”, go and build My church, with the other disciples, those who are here and those who to come, that all may be saved in true baptism, with My Body and Blood in My Church, My Body on earth, composed of all those who are saved in Me and who come together in My Church to reach out into the dark, sinfilled, death filled world. Bring the hope and promise of My Lordship and salvation to a hopeless world, with no promise other than death.

How did all that come about? Peter was repentant, he came back to lead, to wait on Jesus’ resurrection, trusting in Him, and not in his own opinion. Judas decided, by himself, he was beyond forgiveness, maybe too proud to go to Jesus in repentance, to truly trust that Jesus would forgive him and restore him. Judas, not Jesus, decided that Judas was irredeemable and the only result could be his death. That Jesus’ forgiveness did not have the power to forgive, at least not this sin. This was a really bad sin, so Judas decides on his own, that Jesus can’t help him and that he will now take matters into his own hands and decide the issue, once for all, to all eternity. Judas was guilty of the horrible sin of betraying the Lord, he was truly despicable. He was furthermore guilty of his lack of faith, that Jesus couldn’t redeem even this horrible treachery. Peter, in faith, humility and repentance returned to Jesus and was restored by Jesus. How many of us take the Peter way out, truly repent and look for restoration in Jesus? How many of us take the Judas way out, decide they aren’t going to repent, maybe they think repentance or anything else they do won’t be sufficient in order to restore us in Jesus? I’d say the majority of, even Christians, just decide to resolve the matter their way and not to trust in Jesus’ forgiveness. What way do you think truly works out?

Repentance is from the Greek word meta,noia the Greek word means: “a change of mind, as it appears to one who repents, of a purpose he has formed or of something he has done” you also see it translated a “change of direction”, I’m not following this route anymore, this constant sinful practice that I pursue as much as daily. That I am going to change that practice. Now, how do we really change? In our own strength? No… Jesus is faithful to us, the Holy Spirit does dwell in us and has been pushing us to realize our sin, to bring us not just to confess the sin, to acknowledge it, to put it out there to be forgiven. The Holy Spirit is also moving us to change our direction, another definition of meta,noia to go in a different way, a way that is 180 degrees the opposite of where we’ve been going. In a way that changes from offending God, to pleasing God. We can only do this through “repentance”. This is a concept that we as the church don’t emphasize, that doesn’t mean the church doesn’t condone repentance, it just doesn’t emphasize it, that we should be doing what we can and trusting in the Holy Spirit that He will lead us to true change and away from those things that do cause us to sin.

Here are some examples of, let’s say non-genuine repentance, in the sense I’m saying sorry, but I’m not really saying I’m sorry, no less making any meaningful personal change. The first one is not attributed, but is certainly illustrative: “I am very sorry if I called you bloatie, and booger faced, buttface, jerk, stupid, numskulls, what were you thinking if you had a brain, fur face, Lord bless me you stink so bad you make me faint, I’m sorry.”[1] Not genuine repentance, it is taking a further shot. Just wanted to make sure that was clear for everyone. In case we are not clear on this concept, allow me to give another example of what repentance is not, this is from Ty: “I’m sorry for kicking you with a feather. Kicking is not okay, because it hurts people. Also don’t forget about the time when you were a baby-crying little devil, but I liked you and now you still are a crying little devil who gets away with everything…”[2] Again, not genuine repentance. One more from Liam: “Miss P made me write you this note, all I want to say sorry for is not being sorry cause I tried to feel sorry but I don’t.”[3] I can see a great career in law, international diplomacy or corporate finance for Liam here. We don’t really come in true repentance, to church, to those around us, to ourselves in terms of doing anything for any meaningful change in our lives. We engage in drive through confession, expect to be given a clean slate when we pull up to the window and then decide to worry about it the next time, next week, next month, next Christmas, that we’re in church and have to deal with the pastor standing up in front of you and saying, “we rise for Confession and Absolution”. In your prayers let’s not make it just about confession, but Lord please change my heart, move me to change to be more pleasing to you and to those around me.” For Him who chose death on a cross, all of what He endured for us so that we would be forgiven and in relationship to God the Father. From now on, what did the Holy Spirit put in your mind to see forgiveness for and what did He put in your mind to lead you from your sins, to repent after He has forgiven you?

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom        He has risen! He has risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 

[1] https://www.ranker.com/list/funny-apology-notes-from-kids/ashley-reign

[2] Ibid

[3][3] Ibid

Loving Your Neighbor on the Highway to Hell Luke 10: 25-37 First Saint Johns July 10, 2016

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who serve their neighbor on the highway said … AMEN

I’m sure, at least for those of us who are of an age, you remember the song “Highway to Hell”, since we are talking about the Good Samaritan being on what was probably a main, as it were, “highway”, during that period it is not hard to wonder if the men who left the man to die on the road, we will call him “neighbor”, if those men really were on a highway to hell. Today, someone, a police officer, ambulance, will come along and do what’s necessary to get “neighbor” help. Not the case in first century Israel, there was no highway patrol, no one charged with patrolling the highways for such a situation. Walking past that helpless man, not stopping to help him could well be a death sentence. We Lutherans know that we sin by what we do and what we don’t do. Walking by this man in such a condition was leaving him to die, and is our sin of omission.

Highway to Hell by AC/DC is rather insightful for what was intended to be parody. Do what I want, when I want, I don’t help anyone, I don’t need anyone’s help, don’t need reason, don’t need rhyme, on and on, yea, the exact recipe for Hell, eternal condemnation. Entirely that person’s choice. That’s not love, yet you have many today who say the exact opposite, that it’s entirely loving to let a person do what they want and go where they want in their own time. That’s not God, that’s not love, that’s walking by that person on the highway, crossing over so that you don’t have to interact with that person and moving on in your life, your agenda.

Jesus asks the lawyer, “who do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy”. Samaritans were so hated by Jews in that time, the man couldn’t even bring himself to acknowledge that a Samaritan would extend such kindness, but conceded that he did show mercy in compliance with the Levitical command: “…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” God made sure Moses knew to emphasize, “I am the Lord” the Great I AM, the One who is telling you to show this kindness to “neighbor”. Something the lawyer, the priest or the Levite just didn’t/wouldn’t do. They would expect someone to stop for them, but the truth is, on the “Highway to Hell”, “nobody’s gonna slow me down”. Not in terms of them moving on to provide for their own lusts and desires, and certainly not in terms of helping someone else. That is what will always differentiate Christians and everyone else. We are under command to “love our neighbor”, we may not always do it, we may not always do it right, but we are reminded as we move along the highway, that the rest of the world is not under such an injunction. Sure they may stop once in awhile to help, but they often expect something in return, or any number of motivations, but not out of love, and love is always to be the Christian’s motivation.

We have a lot of people today who think that love is about what they receive. They put other people on a treadmill, expecting them to keep providing for them, never really giving anything, but expecting that someone else is supposed to show them “Christian love” on a continuous basis. That’s not “love”, it’s not about me thinking of new ways people are supposed to do things for me, it’s about me doing my best to provide, strengthen, pray for, encourage, provide material help in physical need. That’s love, not what many today want to convince us that love is, our continually doing for those who just want to continue to take and never do anything for themselves, or anyone else that will help them to grow and mature. Those who wag their finger at us about “love”, are usually the ones who do nothing else but accuse others and then expect to be provided for. But there will be those like “neighbor” who will find themselves in times of trouble, we are to be there for those who, through no fault of their own, need our help. We should step up to help “neighbor”. Thieves aren’t going to go to the trouble to mug someone unless they think that there is a payoff. Clearly “neighbor” had means and he was going about his business to the best of his ability. Clearly he deserved to be helped by the priest and/or the Levite. These men were probably afraid that “neighbor” was dead and they might make themselves ceremonially unclean. That is legalism, legalism is never an excuse to not help someone. There are those who have found themselves caught up in lifestyles that are clearly sinful. As Christians we continually walk that fine line between “enabling” someone in their sin and helping someone who is in need and is looking for help to overcome. I find myself here, in a downtown church, continually having to make that call, with limited resources of time, money, energy and the need to tell anyone I come into contact with the good news of the Gospel. We do exercise a great deal of love and compassion here at First St Johns. We do reach out in love to help those who we can help. But our ultimate expression of love is always to tell anyone we encounter of the love of Jesus. That He died on that cross as a payment for our sin and through His righteousness to put us in relationship with God, our all holy, righteous, just God.

The AC/DC song, is a clear expression of those who just aren’t interested in the Gospel message. They are on that highway, and remember Jesus’ words; there is a narrow road that leads to salvation, a highway is wide and fast. There are plenty of highways that I’ve been on that have a speed limit of 55 miles per hour, but all around me, vehicles are buzzing around at 65, 75 much faster than me, I’m trying to stay safe, but getting caught up with what’s going on around me is putting me in jeopardy and those zooming by are completely callous to the fact that they’re putting me, anyone else with me and themselves in jeopardy. We can try to keep up with those who are on that highway to hell, or we can continue to do the right thing. Jesus said “if you love Me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). We can zoom by neighbor on the highway, literally or metaphorically, or we can do whatever we can to provide a safe place to tell him, and others, the truth and grace of Jesus. Gerhard Grabenhofer in his book God Grant It, a devotional based on the writings of CFW Walther quotes Walther: “The task of every Christian church that rightly bears this name is to provide eternal comfort… To still [our accusing conscience] God has established the holy Christian Church. It should be a garden of heaven on earth full of living springs at which the tired earthly pilgrim can rest and out of which he can draw the comfort that heals his wounded conscience and fills him with the hope of eternal life. A church that does not provide this comfort, one that acts instead like a school of morals, preaching only one’s duties, awakening a servile fear of God and leaving of God and leaving doubt about eternal salvation, is a church in name only.”[1] This is what we see today, too many churches who take a “moral”, politically correct position, that is truly legalistic, that is about conforming to the world’s positions, like the priest and the Levite. More concerned about going through the motions of appearing “right” instead of being that place of true love, that agape love, that puts us in genuine relationship with a God who does desperately love us. The Father wants so much for us to know His Son Jesus and to know that we are saved only through Him, not through our political/social activities, but Him who died to save us. That our strength is always through the love, grace, faith that we have in Christ and not our own. Yes, we have encountered many right here in our downtown area, who try to tell us what we should be concerned with, everyone has their agenda. In Leviticus, God is telling Moses, “…you shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you…You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 18: 3-4) We have a lot of people telling us that’s old news, we need to get with the new world. The things that were happening in Egypt and Canaan, were much like things around us today. People who were oblivious to what God wanted and who did what they wanted. God goes on to tell Moses: “…you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.” (Lev 19: 17) We can’t lose where we need to be and to somehow think it’s loving to enable people in their sin. It’s not, we are well aware of what is loving; “God, who is the eternal love, does not want even one person to be lost, however” quoting Walther. The however being if that person ignores God and choses the highway to hell. We present Christ in love, we see wounded “neighbor” laying by the roadside and try to render assistance, but if he dismisses us, we leave him alone, but keep him, or her, in constant prayer.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Gerhard Grabenhofer quoting CFW Walther “God Grant It” p 582

The heavens declare the glory of God Psalm 19 First Saint Johns July 3, 2016

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know that all creation glorifies God, said … AMEN!

We had to stay constantly qualified in the Coast Guard, even being part-time. One of those qualifications was being underway in different areas, night-time, day-time, all year round. Many times we’d be going out at 8pm in January because we had to get the underway hours. No I don’t like being cold, but you have to do it. There you are, far away from shore, no other light around you, especially when there’s no moon. Even in the sky over the ocean at 18 degrees, there is very little humidity in the atmosphere, the sky is clear and dark, and looking into the sky, stars are bright and sharp, the Milky Way is so prominent, it felt as if I could reach up and brush my hand through the Milky Way. The number of points of light in the sky is staggering, we who are so used to seeing the night-time sky in the middle of man-made lighting, the stuff that gets into the atmosphere, we have very little of the total view, even in the best circumstances there is very little that we see with the naked eye. Most of what we see is the galaxy that we are in, what we know as the Milky Way. When we proclaim that God created the universe, that our all creative, powerful, all knowing God made us in His image and set us in this universe, gave us all His creation, many will accuse us of presumption: “How can you think that in this immense universe that we are the only people in this massive, universe? There has to be other people.” There are complicated calculations estimating how many other planets are populated by sentient beings like us. I submit that if you do rely on complicated mathematics and you do the calculations of all the factors involved to account for the fact that we are here, you would see that our presence here is beyond any estimate of scientific possibility. If you really want to justify our existence through science you have to concede that there is an all-powerful, transcendent Creator of the universe. For us to be here is, under the laws of probability, beyond any statistical possibility. If we are statistically impossible, then even in this massive universe, the “probability”, the scientific word, for other life is beyond impossible. Further if God creates us in His image, creates an environment that not only “supports” our existence, keeps us alive, but more so allows us to flourish and grow despite our rather fragile constitution, especially in a universe that consists of such extremes in terms of temperature, radiation, water, atmosphere, and many other factors, that God did provide us an extremely unique environment for us to live. The Christian perspective is that God is all loving, all providing and all powerful in all respects of creation, for His people. Why wouldn’t He give us, His people, His creation, and for those in Jesus, His children. Why wouldn’t He give us an enormous, magnificent, immense universe?

God did create the universe, the prevailing scientific opinion is that the universe was created as a result of the Big Bang. Interestingly, the Big Bang Theory was formulated by a Roman Catholic priest. “This startling idea first appeared in scientific form in 1931, in a paper by Georges Lemaître, a Belgian cosmologist and Catholic priest. The theory, accepted by nearly all astronomers today, was a radical departure from scientific orthodoxy in the 1930s. Many astronomers at the time were still uncomfortable with the idea that the universe is expanding. That the entire observable universe of galaxies began with a bang seemed preposterous.”[1] It’s interesting that conventional science at the time was that the universe had always been, this is called the “steady state” theory that everything always was, and always would be. It took a Christian clergyman to point out to the rest of conventional science that “steady state” was just not reality. No scientist in this day and age believe in the “steady state” because of a number of factors, one being that the universe isn’t just kind of sitting there, that the universe is actually pulling itself apart. At some point, millions of years from now, the universe will have pulled so far apart that gravity will no longer be able to control, that everything in creation will be a lump of frozen solid matter. There will no longer be any heat, because heat is a factor of gravity.

Father Lemaitre, the formulator of the Big Bang is quoted to the effect of saying that if God the Father chose to create the universe in one huge, lightning fast bang, one brilliant flash then so be it. Christians have actually been in the lead of scientific discovery since the beginning, people like Louis Pasteur, arguably the most brilliant mathematician Blaise Pascal to name a few who were devout Christians. Many believe that Galileo proved that the sun was at the center of the solar system. Actually a Catholic cleric named Nicholas Copernicus showed the sun, not the earth was at the center.  A theory expanded upon by another devout Christian Johannes Kepler. The argument has been made that Christians are far better equipped to be scientists since the paradigm for the universe is what God has established, that the God of Scripture is very rational. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14: 33: “For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace.    The universe is a testament for order. There are times when we feel that the world is out of control. But then we realize the disorder is what we create, what we do as a matter of our sin. The order that maintains the universe, what God has established, order that we can’t undermine, that the sun shines, the water cycle continues, that we are protected from the harsh environment that surrounds us; extreme cold and heat, radiation, lack of water, extremes of gravity. Our environment, what is around is, is so balanced, so controlled, so tailored to our very specific needs, that to say that this is all an accident is just living in denial to an extreme.

The claim is that it’s science versus faith, but faith has been proved over and over since the beginning, in contrast to science which has been disproved over and over. While the church was setting up universities, training people to teach and to do research in the Middle Ages, secular science was still far more concerned with alchemy and astrology, areas the church condemned. If being right is arrogant then so be it, I submit that being arrogant is far less of a sin than being wrong, or taking a position because of what others want you to believe, because it’s popular, because it’s the world around us living in denial, than yes, I guess I’m going to be arrogant. It is more important to be right than to be popular.

As Christians we know that it is because of God’s will that not only are we aware human beings in the middle of God’s creation, recognizing that the complicated, intricate universe around us could not have been an accident, but on this Independence Day, Christians recognized God’s hand in what we have in our freedoms today, in the United States. In Thomas Jefferson’s final form, he writes: “…to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them…” recognizing that not only that the complicated intricacies of our world, in nature, has been created and controlled by God, but that He also moved the men and women of 240 years ago to create a nation that is still the most faithful in Christ in the world, but also faithful to the true guidelines and inspiration of the Bible. To deny that is to be in denial of history as much as so many are in denial of science and probability.

And of course the most quoted part of the Declaration: “That all men are created equal”, that is there is a Creator, we didn’t get here by accident, we were put here intentionally, as the writer of Esther states: “For such a time as this.”

That God not only created us, but that He endowed His people in His creation, with certain inalienable rights: “…that these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, yes we’ve stretched those “rights” out into the ungodly, but we know who not only created, but also gave us the dignity and responsibilities of His creation in Him as a witness to God. Jefferson ended by stating that the members of the Continental Congress representing all those in the United States; “…appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world, for the rectitude of our intentions”, that is we appeal to God to either confirm our course of action, that we feel we are confirmed in that course, or that He should intervene in order for us to be brought back into His will. For Americans God’s creative power is not just in terms of the entire universe, but also in our very tiny part of that universe, guided by His Supreme will, even in these days when it seems we don’t follow His will.

Craig Blaising and Carmen Hardin write: “The nineteenth psalm present three laws in harmony with one another”, quoting Theodoret. And “It also presents a rebuke of atheism.” Quoting Diodore. They go on to say, quoting various writers: “The pslam begins proclaiming that God, as designer of the heavens, is known by His design. The creation is not by chance. Rather, created things are servants for our instruction. It is the spectacle of creating that speaks, drawing a response from us that glorifies the Creator. … That “God is revealed especially in the order of things. For it is clear that Reason rules through the natural order… This order forms the primal music of the cosmos. This natural revelation constitutes a message of the Lord’s greatness … His providence is a message of his love … in a book open to all … declared in a universal language.”[2]

Truly God is great, He reveals all that we need to know that He is in control. That He has given us life and life more abundant through His Son. That even in this universe which is so sunk in sin, that He gives us the promise of salvation and resurrection through His Son Jesus Christ. All for us who when we consider the vastness of creation and the even more massiveness of God, that He has provided for us in so many ways, continues to provide for us and gives us the promise of eternal life in the New Creation in Jesus Christ. Only someone who is truly in Christ or preaching in Christ can know that this message is truly on their heart.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] This is an excerpt from COSMIC HORIZONS: ASTRONOMY AT THE CUTTING EDGE, edited by Steven Soter and Neil deGrasse Tyson, a publication of the New Press. © 2000 American Museum of Natural History.

[2] Edited by Craig Blaising and Carmen Hardin  “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old Testament VII p 146

Body of Christ 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a First Saint Johns January 31, 2016

[for the audio version click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are part of the Body of Christ which is His Church said … AMEN!

The Apologetics Study Bible prefaces this discussion this way: “The church in Corinth was in some degree of turmoil, and Paul wrote this letter in response to some disturbing reports he had heard from the church as well as by way of reply to a set of questions the church had sent to him.”[1]

Have to give the Corinthians credit, they did realize that they were not where they should be and took the initiative to write to Paul and acknowledge that, and ask for guidance. As Christians we could take a cue from that. It’s a guy thing, if I’m lost I’m going to keep driving around thinking I will find the way. What happens? You usually end up more lost than you started. Today’s sermon is related to the last sermon in that we are given gifts in order to serve God and serve His church. But it is more than just properly utilizing your gifts, it’s understanding that as a Christian it’s not just about me. It is about the community, community is made up of many parts, the Holy Spirit guided you to be a part of this community. All the parts of your body are important. If you do not have all the parts then you are limited in what you can do. The church is the same way and this is also about your stewardship in the church. When all the parts of the Body, the Church, are working to the level that God designed for them and placed them together for, the Body/the Church functions at its finest level and serves each other and our neighbors much more effectively. The Corinthian church was sadly dysfunctional, it wasn’t the Body of Jesus, it was each man and woman for themselves. Much like today’s world; what am I getting out of this, I do for me let everyone else handle their own life. If I’m an eye, well too bad for the rest who can’t see. Imagine First St Johns where we have those who are so gifted in so many things, and yet chose to keep their gifts to themselves. Next week is our Chili-dog/bingo bash, what if Marge decided not to share her award winning chili? We would all be the lesser for it.

Paul writes that in baptism, in that new life that we are given, we are baptized into one body. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we are or do, it matters that we are all equally brought into the Body of Christ through baptism. Likewise we all eat the Body of Christ and drink His blood, all equally, all to our soul’s health. If we are all equally baptized and share in the Body and Blood of Jesus, doesn’t that mean that we also bring to the Body our gifts that make the Body stronger?

One aspect that seems to be ignored in today’s world is the understanding of synergism. Together we are much stronger in our individual life and in the Body of Christ by bringing our time, treasure and talent together, not withholding it and keeping it for ourselves. It is the synergism of the Body of Christ that not only helps us to grow and strengthen as a person, but also as a church. I bet you that any player in the NFL would like to be on the Carolina Panthers right now, than they would the 3-13 Tennessee Titans! You can be a superstar, but if you are in it just for yourself, no one’s really going to know you and you’re sure not going to be getting a Super Bowl ring anytime soon. If you’re Cam Newton, everyone knows you and you’re probably getting fitted for your Super Bowl ring right now.

Jesus has put together His church for a time and a place and a reason. He has made you part of His church in this time and place. For a tiny band, we had a 2015 season that would make any church sing and praise! We came together as the Body of Christ and in God’s strength proceeded to make a mark for His Kingdom in this community. That is because people put aside their individual agendas and came together as His Church to work His will. We all recognized that we’re baptized and given new life in the same water as everyone who is part of First Saint Johns. We all ate the same Body and drank the Same Blood of Jesus as everyone here and stepped up to collectively and in a positive and uplifting way build the Body of Christ in York! One of you were the eye, one the arm, one the leg and all came together in the Holy Spirit’s brain, vision and guidance to bring us together to accomplish so much in bringing the Gospel of Jesus to York. If someone chose not to come together, the rest realized the importance of what was being done and were used by the Holy Spirit to compensate for those who chose to withhold their gifts. Likewise for those who chose to take and to be a drain on Christ’s Body, others were guided to work around those who were hindering the advance of the Kingdom. Ben Paynter writes in Men’s Health Magazine quoting the journal Philosophical Transactions “… that men throughout the ages have clustered in tribes to stay motivated, embrace risks, conquer pain and build empires.” The Kingdom of God is the greatest empire and we as the Body of Christ, His Church, here at First Saint Johns are an integral part of the Kingdom. We have been clustered together by the Holy Spirit so that we can motivate each other, embrace the risks that we have taken. We have conquered pain, we have overcome the obstacles others have thrown in the path of Jesus’ Church. But it could only happen because, unlike the Corinthian Church we chose to take the difficult path. The result? Many have been touched by the church to hear the Gospel. If you have been listening to the radio station, the platform that we have all helped to build, was used by Bill Stockwell to broadcast a powerful message of the scourge of heroin addiction that is having a destructive impact on the York greater community. You all here, as members of this church had an impact on the world that far outstrips anything you could have done individually. You submitted to the will and leading of Jesus and accomplished far more than you would have if you decided: “If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” Everyone, even those who did not think they had strength, stamina, skill or resources, decided that they would only grow and serve each other and themselves by bringing their gifts and blessings together to serve their part of the Body of Christ here at First Saint Johns.

Okay, no one’s going to be getting sized for a Super Bowl ring, but I have no doubt that for those who came together and overcame in order to bring about such great service for the Kingdom he or she will be the recipient of great treasure in heaven. You have followed Jesus’ promise: “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Because we have come together, because we have been good stewards, because we have acted like the Body of Christ we have laid up that treasure in heaven. That treasure in heaven will make a Super Bowl ring look like something you can get out of a gumball machine.

The Blackabys write: “If you are not a part of a caring community of believers, you are missing out on what God designed you for. You are also in danger of falling into sin. You must link your life with others who are seeking God’s will. Seek to be a person who willingly joins others in carrying out God’s assignments. Strive to be a source of support and encouragement that those around you need.”[2]

Let’s grow in our stewardship. How much more can we give of our time, talent and treasure in order to accomplish more for the Body of Christ in the world? We have seen what our mustard seed faithfulness has done in the past year. What can we do this year and the next? It doesn’t have to be a huge feat, so often the smallest mercies, gifts, blessings that you bestow on a young man or woman, on just one who is less fortunate, have effects that echo through years, decades. How would the Holy Spirit guide His church to use that extra money you give now to have an impact on the Body of Christ that will ring through our community for the good of so many, for years to come?

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] The Apologetics Study Bible p 1707

[2] Blackaby’s Experiencing God Day by Day p 327

Unworthy, yet still saved in Jesus Luke 3 First Saint Johns Dec 6, 2015

[for the audio of this sermon click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who hear John the Baptist’s words to warn those to flee from the wrath to come said … Amen!

It’s Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year when we remember the coming of Jesus, not just the first coming His incarnation, but we also think about His second coming, when the old will be destroyed and Jesus brings the new perfect world.

John the Baptist, some like to call him John the Baptizer, can well be talking to our generation as well as talking to the generation of the first century. John was an Old Testament prophet, he wasn’t playin’, he was there to make sure that things were set up for the coming of God the Son. He was quoting Isaiah, we often call Isaiah’s book the fifth Gospel. The Greek word Gospel means “Good News” and Isaiah was certainly telling the people of his time, five hundred years before Jesus’ coming, the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus’ coming. That the hope and promise of Yahweh, God the Father, would come and that they would have the hope and promise of reestablishing the relationship that Yahweh had with His people. The people of Isaiah’s time had been brought to the bottom. They needed this hope and promise, they were beaten, they were exiled, they had no expectation of seeing their homeland, Israel, ever again. They felt abandoned and lost, and they knew they were exiled for a reason. They knew that they had sinned against God over and over. They knew they deserved to be punished. By the same token, God knew that He couldn’t just leave His people in Babylon with no hope and He gave Isaiah the words to give them the hope and promise that He had not forgotten them and that they would be restored into the relationship they had with Him. But it wasn’t going to be right away. God wanted to make sure the lesson had sunk in. It seems that it had. Israel stopped looking for foreign “gods” we don’t see further evidence of people worshipping Baal or Molech or other pagan “gods”. By the time John made his appearance, they did seem to be patiently waiting for Messiah, the anointed one of God, to restore them.

This doesn’t mean that they were all nicely squared away in waiting. They let a lot of pious kinds of beliefs build up around God’s Word. Jesus certainly criticized them for letting their man-made traditions get in the way of God’s Law. Also the Jews expected that Messiah would come to drive out the Romans which was wrong. Jesus was not some Davidic king who would drive out the Romans and re-establish a Davidic kingdom, the height of the Jewish nation. Jesus came so that all people would know the true God, and to give them God’s Word and Will. Jesus came to live that perfect life, to be the perfect, wholly innocent sacrifice, He would be the payment of our sins. God is truly holy, merciful and just. God’s justice cannot allow sin, there has to be a penalty for sin. The only penalty that would be truly sufficient to pay for the sin of the world, was the sacrifice of His truly holy, perfect Son, who lived the perfect life, in order to be the perfect sacrifice. So the Old Testament preacher, John the Baptist, is sent to fulfill the first prophecy that in the spirit of Isaiah, the one Isaiah said would come to make his, the Messiah’s, path straight. Like Isaiah and the rest of the Old Testament prophets, John knew he hadn’t been sent to make nice, pat people on the head, tell them it’s all about “Your best life now” [Joel Osteen book]. John is telling them, no more playin’, it’s time to pay attention and know that God the Son is coming and will lead you back to a relationship with the Father in Him and John is not pulling any punches.

John quotes Isaiah saying: “…Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight … all flesh shall see the salvation of God…” [Isaiah 40:3-5]. His words, 500 years earlier. Now, it’s happening and it’s time to stop floundering around, making things up, living in denial. It’s time to either know who Jesus is and that a new generation, a new era has begun, or resign yourself to hopelessness and loss. There’s no other choice. John says: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Let’s take the second part first. John is saying, you’re not worthy to be here, who led you here in order to hear the words of salvation? If we are following God’s script, that’s really kind of a rhetorical question. If you know why you’re here, how do you know that? As Lutherans we know the answer to that. Who leads us to know Christ as our Lord and Savior and leads us to salvation? … The Holy Spirit leads us. We can’t know how to be saved, we don’t make that decision. We are too lost in our sin to know the holiness and salvation of God. John is the first to refer to the Holy Spirit, that Jesus will baptize us in the Holy Spirit.

Too often we read the Bible as being all nice and polite. But John’s first statement is flat out judgmental, oooh, that’s not nice, being judgmental. Yet here it is. Why is this so judgmental? A brood is defined as a family of young animals. So first Johns is saying that you’re just a bunch of not just immature, but animals. Not just any animal, he says they are a brood of snakes. Why snakes, why would that be especially compelling, even insulting to a group of Jews? What was special to them about the snake? … The snake was the form that Satan took to corrupt God’s perfect creation. The snake corrupted Eve and because Eve had fallen, Adam followed Eve and gave in to the temptation offered by Satan. Adam snubbed God and chose to give in to Satan’s temptation. The same with the people John is preaching to.

So John goes on to say. “OK, you may be here as a result of the Holy Spirit leading you here. If that’s the case, then you better start living up to that and repent of all your sins, and start to bear fruit in accordance with that repentance.” In other words, you need to start living your life in a way that glorifies God and justifies the fact that He has sent His Son to save you. Why? Because “…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” John is saying that at this point, every one of you here is doomed to Hell. God has already condemned you and judged, oh, that bad word again, judging. God has already condemned your sin and your snubbing of Him will send you to Hell.

The people listening, have completely understood what John is saying and decided that they need to take him seriously. How do we know that? … The crowds started to ask him “What then shall we do?” It’s too early for John to say “you need to know Jesus as Savior.” Neither he nor anyone else there knows how that’s going to play out. But he does say, “start getting your life together”. Stop trying to live just for yourself and live for those around you, so that they will see that things are changing. John answers the crowd saying: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food to do likewise.” Stop living selfishly, if you are in a position to help someone else give them something that they are in need of. The tax collectors and soldiers then ask John what they can do. Remember, these are probably the two most hated groups in Israel at the time. But clearly the Holy Spirit has moved these groups of men, who appear to be far over the boundary of redemption. No one wants them saved, yet John gives hope and promise to even the two groups of hated sinners. He tells them, stop ripping people off, stop trying to intimidate, injure and kill other people.

His listeners are now just breathless with anticipation, “…surely this has to be Him, this has to be the Messiah that God has promised us for centuries.” John sets them straight, that someone who will be much more then him is coming. He promises them that the Messiah to come will be that hope and promise. But in good Lutheran style, John warns them one more time: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” For those who are trying to convince us that Jesus isn’t serious about Hell, John is making it very clear. Jesus will come and gather the wheat, the good crop, gather those who are saved in Him into His “barn”, into heaven, to eternal life in the Resurrection. But, for those who are chaff, those who are not a good crop, not saved in Him, they will burn with unquenchable fire. The only place I know that is “unquenchable fire” is Hell. John makes it very clear, this is the default, which we are all in danger of, which is Hell. Salvation and true life is in the Messiah to come. That is the message I am telling you now. John then goes on to “preach good news to the people”. The Gospel of salvation in Jesus.

Advent is a time of preparation, our preparation as those who are saved in Jesus is always to the time when He will return, our resurrection in the New perfect World. Part of that preparation has to be in terms of being someone who will warn those around us who do not know Jesus “to flee from the wrath to come.”

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

Will God really bless you’re being MIA from the real church?

Since I’ve been in ministry over five years, I think I can make some valid assessments. Especially being in a downtown/inner city church. While it is inner city and there are violent incidents, I can honestly say that there has been very little impact while I have been there. We’ve had a couple of incidents of material vandalism, but these were isolated, no one really even around. A couple of incidents of people who needed to be confronted, one physically removed. But I frankly don’t believe it’s anymore than any other church. We all have our unfortunate incidents, a downtown church is not immune from that. I grew up and lived in a larger city for over thirty years. There’s nothing in York that is really impressively violent. It’s certainly not parts of Boston, Detroit, Baltimore etc. While I can’t give you hard measurements, it seems that if anything, at least for the area surrounding First Saint Johns, things have improved, since I’ve been here.

Another observation I’ve made is the number of “realists” who think that their uninformed opinion and their life in general is just A-J squared away and that they have some compulsion to share it. Part of that is this disregard for the importance of the serious Christian church, especially in the urban area.

At First Saint Johns, there is a faithful group of people, who genuinely want to be part of the community. Now, that has been somewhat stunted because of some negative influences among the membership. More and more that is being pushed aside and the church is more and more being a part of the community.

But we still have many outside of the church who seem to think that it is all about them (and yes, there certainly is that element in the church), that the church is there solely to meet their needs. It’s as if it’s some kind of social service agency that is just there to meet their needs and then leave them alone.

For those outside of the church, I’ve had many over and over who show up and expect people to just hand over things. People showing up around worship is a regular routine. Apparently the scenario is that I’m too busy to really deal with them, so I’ll just hand over what they want, they seem to think that I don’t want them there to begin with. Seems that they may be a disruption and I don’t want to deal with that. Yea, I’m just not going to rise to that bait. My standard procedure is to tell them to go to worship and then I’ll have time to talk to them afterwards. We have fellowship time after worship and they’re certainly welcome to share. I know that doesn’t go over big with some people in the church, but again I’m not there to play to those who have been there decades and expect that I’m supposed to be on their script. In five years there’s been a couple of people who’ve stayed and it gives me a chance to see a little of what they’re about and, maybe, help them. For the most part, when they see that the their plan isn’t going to play out the way they want, they unceremoniously leave.

When someone like that actually does want to talk, one thing I emphasize is what they’re going to do in order to pull things together. That being a part of a church community is probably one of the few places in our world today that you can build a genuine human face-to-face relationship. I try to impress upon them that people are much more willing to help and help in a meaningful way, if they will make the first step to become part of that community. I have seen it work. Too often, the subject person just won’t give it a legitimate try and walks away in scorn. But for some who have really done it the right way, I have seen them grow and begin to pull a real life together. Not saying it’s perfect, but I think and I’ve been told, that it has made a real change.

This is the more obvious example, but everyone out there needs to build genuine relationships and of course the most vitally important relationship is with Jesus. There is simply no way to build that relationship unless you are in a church body, the Body of Christ, with genuine, faithful, orthodox Christian believers. Sure other non-Christian churches do build personal relationships, but they are not building people to relationships in Christ.

My question is: Does God bless someone when they are MIA (Missing In Action) from his genuine, evangelical, Law and Gospel preaching church? Have to tell you, the answer is a genuine no. I’ve had it happen a few times, most recently when we were doing an outreach, right out in front of the church for a large road race that goes right by the church. A man stops who’s asking me what’s the difference between our church and the local big box church, which of course he thinks is all that and a bag of chips.

I told him, First Saint Johns is genuine worship. We’re not there for entertainment and amusement and feel good Christianity. We are here to be genuine disciples. Jesus tells us in Matthew: [ESV Matthew 7:22] On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'” And Jesus replies to them: “[ESV Matthew 7:23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” Sorry, but there are too many “pastors” out there who are playing to the crowd and too many crowds expecting to be entertained and patted on the head, who both think that what they’re doing is genuine worship. Not only that, but I’ve had this a few times, people who have had nothing to do with a genuine church, but when real life happens (as compared to big-box churches who generally will tell you that everything is just hunky-dory so long as you have faith), they expect a genuine church to swoop in and give them the comfort of Christ in their tragedy. Sorry, but the big-box churches won’t do that, to them, any kind of trial is on the person being subjected to trial, they obviously didn’t have enough faith. But please, showup and tell me about your nice earth toned building that entertain you once a week, or whenever you show up, but does little in terms of growing disciples and genuine outreach to serve those in genuine need.

Let’s look at the Acts church, a genuine church. Now let’s put aside all the charismatic stuff. Because I’m sorry Pentecostal churches, the Acts Church was not dancing around making the Christian life all fun and games and miracles. Yes, there were miracles, but this was the church in its infancy, the Gospels hadn’t been written yet. The moving of the Holy Spirit discipled them, and that’s fine. But for subsequent churches, they were discipled by men who had been genuinely taught and trained and could teach from the writings of the Gospel writers. Faith was based and is based today on what we are taught and led by the Holy Spirit. Not some fatuous, pretentious claim of speaking in tongues, healing, prosperity, but genuine Christian discipleship. There are genuine Christians out there who don’t speak in tongues, who are unhealthy and who are not financially well off. There are too many phoney Christians out there who are pretty sure they know more than everyone, they can buy or work their way to salvation (I refer you to Donald Trump’s recent comments) and that it is according to their script. This ladies and gentlemen, is the Pharisaical philosophy of the big-box church. This was the Corinthian Church as compared to the Acts Church.

The Corinthian church had a bunch of pretty well to do members who were pretty sure it was all about them. They would tolerate gross sexual immorality, they would bring in their big feasts, send the poorer members out to the kitchen to forage what they could, while they enjoyed their big feasts with their fellow Pharisees in the stately dining room, of course befitting their position, opposed to those poor Christians in the kitchen.

The Acts Church was nothing like that. In fact Paul was out raising money to support the church in Jerusalem. The church had nothing to speak of, its members had nothing to speak of and basically every one lived hand to mouth. Living not for themselves, but for each other feeding each other, caring for each other, helping each other through the trials. The Corinthians would have pooh-poohed such a pathetic situation. Sound familiar? Now objectively looking at both, which church would you really say demonstrated genuine faith?

Referring back to those Pharisees who come and tell me how everything should be, “I’m going to share with you everything you need to know to do things right” types. (Really I swear these people think I just fell off the tuna trolley.) This type of person is an interesting study, they will tell you how smart they are, yet, not smart enough to know what they’re talking about, or who they’re talking to. They simply don’t let the facts get in their way. I would compare education, life experience, work ethic with any of them, but they simply are not interested in getting the full story, they just want to make sure they know that I know they know it all, and that I’m incredibly naive to think that anyone needs a genuine Law/Gospel, discipling Christian church. Hey, here’s a thought Mister know it all, I might actually know things that will help you, I can give you real ministry, trained, experienced, genuine, doctrine that’s been around for 500 years and has guided millions of people to Christ. You might actually get something out of a genuine Christian church and know what it truly means to be a Christian.

Now this applies to both those who are coming in demanding that I hand over what they want, so they can leave and buy their booze, drugs, sex etc. And to those who are quite sure that because of their blessings that they are all that and a bag of chips and if I were smart like them (heaven forbid) I should listen to them and they’ll get me all straightened out. I submit, that if you would give me the opportunity, you might finally realize that the poorly trained pastor (most barely have a “Bible School” training. The Lutheran Church generally requires a Masters Degree) at your pretty happy-clappy-earth toned theatre, (ya, hardly ever a real church, usually built like a theatre for entertainment versus a genuine sanctuary. And you’re never going to see a crucifix, and probably not any type of cross or other meaningful Christian symbol. Because hey that would just harsh everyone’s buzz). Contrast with the “pastor” who really has no life experience, no real education, thinks that being a Christian (like to much of the world is entertainment and a handful of nice cliches, which are not usually even biblically based), mostly because he/she is immature and has never lived any life yet, but hey at least they make you feel good.

But when you want true Christian ministry, because you are now confronted with genuine crisis, genuine trials and you realize the “churches”, Christian mantras and “feel good”/prosperity prattle really doesn’t help you to cope in life, you may not have a church to come back to. You may find that genuine Christian ministry doesn’t have time for you. Does God really bless and support you when you’ve rejected His real church for decades? That you’ve failed to raise your children in a real church? That you’ve made it all about you and nothing about Jesus who died as a payment for your sins? That you expect an already overworked, extended pastor, who has been doing genuine ministry, for people who have been leading a genuine Christian life, that pastor is going to drop everything and jump through hoops for you? You, a person who expects people to jump through hoops and yet you make little if any sacrifice from your own life? That’s the sin of “simony”, when Peter told the sorcerer Simon that he should perish with his money. Do me and a lot of genuine pastors out there, a favor, keep your money. My integrity is only in Christ and what He did for me. Show some real integrity on your part and start supporting a genuine church of Christ. Are you genuine or do you just talk a good game? I know for most of those people who want to tell me what it’s really all about, they talk a good game, but they wouldn’t know genuine Christian ministry and discipleship if it bit them in the  nose. I’ve seen a lot of types, in different areas of my life, who have managed to do well in life, by doing very little except talk a good game, but not really know what it is to be a new creation in Christ.

Too many out there need to pick the real team, get back in the real game. Great things are happening here at First Saint Johns Church. To be sure God is going to work His blessing, with or without you. For once in your life, listen instead of presuming to know what is really going on. For those who have been truly serving for so long in God’s church, they need others to step up as genuine Christians to begin to do genuine Christian service and ministry, in a place where it really matters. If you’re really all that smart, show us how real Christian ministry can lead others to eternal life in Christ and genuine service in the world, true disciples.

Call me intemperate, over the top, but it’s way past time for many to step up and take real responsibility for their role in Christ’s church and to support genuine ministry and not ministry that is solely about entertainment and tickling your ears. I will be working my butt of supporting genuine ministry to genuine Christians, those who have been there for Jesus’ church through all the trials, tribulation and celebrations. I owe them my time and I will give as much time, talent and treasure as God leads me to do, day or night, 24/7. How do I know that? Because that’s what I’ve been doing. But for those who expect to drop in then drop out, you may not have a place to go. My time, talent resources are genuine, they’ve been given to me by God to use in His service and the priority for those resources are going to be for the benefit of those who have served and been disciples in Christ’s church. For those who think that the church is their for their convenience and just don’t seem to get true ministry, they may well have to wait. Let’s see real Christian men jump into the true fight and not sitting patting each other in your pretty little earth-tone churches.

Living as brothers and sisters in Christ Acts 4: 32-35 First St Johns April 12, 2015

[for the audio version of this sermon, please click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are brothers and sisters in Jesus said … AMEN! Then we said He has risen! He has risen indeed!

As you have probably realized, one of my main themes is the resurrection of Jesus. In his commentary on the Book of Acts, Dr McGee points out: “…in the early church the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the very center and heart of the message, and no sermon was preached without it. The theme of Peter on the Day of Pentecost was the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[1] Another observation Dr McGee makes, a subject that comes up in terms of Jesus being in heaven: “…He has ascended … But He is still at work! He has moved His headquarters. As long as He was here on this earth, His headquarters were in Capernaum. Now His headquarters are at the right hand of the Father.”[2] That’s more of a discussion for Ascension Day, but can never be overemphasized. Jesus is in glory at the right hand of God continually interceding for His people, for us!

The other thing that we overlook in the Acts church is the fellowship of the church. Lots of people like to say they’re an “Acts” church, but really I haven’t seen it and I’m not sure it can really be replicated. “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” This is something that you just don’t see in the church anymore. I believe one big reason is that we are all so immersed in the world, that we project that life into our church life. Too many people see the church not as a place to worship, to truly lift up and glorify God at which the Holy Spirit comes to us and gives us the faith, strength and integrity we need to go into the world for God. Instead it’s where we lift up to God our wants in the sense of “ok God, I’m here, You owe me, come on and back me up, help me with my agenda.” We may never be able to replicate the Acts church, until, I imagine the resurrection, but we should always strive for that as a goal. Our mission statement here at First St Johns gives us that focus: “Spiritual Warriors, Faithful Servants, Disciples of Jesus”. Are we focused on what is in Jesus or our agenda? Certainly the church of Jesus Christ has an agenda, Martin Luther put us back on that agenda: ““Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” It is always and forever about God’s Word and not about our agenda. In a world where we see Scripture being tortuously warped out of shape, the Lutheran Church, at least should be, all about His Word.

Yes, we all have lives, but, as Christians it’s not about how we make God’s Word apply to our life as it is how is God working through us, according to His Word, to shape not just our life, but the world around us. We are way too quick to discount that we are all in the Body of Christ, all indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We take Jesus’ Body and Blood as very real sustenance, if you don’t understand and accept that, then you abuse His Body and Blood. The Body and Blood that were abused to give us true forgiveness of sin. How can we then reabuse that same sacred body? We become part of His Body when we are given the Lord’s Supper, but too often when we hit that door on the way out, it’s no longer about Him, it’s all about getting back to life. Our life is in Him! How can we justify trying to impose our agenda on Him who gave Himself for us when He has promised us “life and life more abundant” in Him? We are complete, when we are together in the Body of Christ, His church, His people. That is very much how the Acts Church was, totally about the Body of Christ.

We have to remember the extremely difficult life that people came in to when they became a Christian. In our reading from Palm Sunday we read: “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue, for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” (John 12: 42-43) What we have in Acts is the result of what happened when people were put out of the synagogue. Anyone could be thrown out. Today, people change churches on a whim. In that time, it could be the difference between making a living or being in poverty, possibly even being left to starve. No Jew would do business with someone who wasn’t a part of the temple, they would not hire them as an employee. When these people became Christians they often had little or nothing in terms of money or material possessions. They usually needed the basics, food and clothing. The Acts Church found itself in the position of having to support its members. We sure don’t have that today. I’ve had this discussion with a few people lately. We do things to help our non-Christian neighbor, but that is not what we are about. We cannot be a general social service agency, the Holy Spirit leads us to do good works and we do good works. But our priority is always about our brothers and sisters in Jesus. First St Johns is a great old church, it has been sustained marvelously by its members. Many who came here at the beginning had nothing and many members of this church gave in order to support those who were in need. We need to recapture that focus here. We don’t have a lot in terms of resources, time, treasure and talent, we have become dependent on what has been left by members and feel that should be enough to further our mission. It is just not enough. We have become way too self-focused, what I get out of the church and that was not what the Acts Church was about. Many Christian brothers and sisters would have starved except; “for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

Your church, First Saint Johns, does much, but there is so much to do. When we rely on what was left to us and decide that should be enough to get what we need, we certainly have forgotten what the church is all about. In a way this is a sermon about stewardship, about how we need to portion our time, treasure and talent to the church. But it is also about how we need to be Jesus’ church the way it was originally formed. The Book of Acts is often called the Acts of the Apostles or the Acts of the Holy Spirit. It is because it was a church that followed the Acts that the Holy Spirit guided the church in. Are we living that today?

Let’s take a look at how we share with our brothers and sisters in Jesus, which is part of our Christian life as the original church Acted in the Book of Acts. The apostles gave “their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all.” Me, you, we can all do better, it’s not to say that we’re going to sell everything we have. But as a church we can share, we can share space in our marvelous building and not begrudge its use, we can share our time to serve brothers and sisters and then others, we can share what we have, including but not limited to money. But as always we dedicate more of our time to growing in our faith and sharing that with those who do not know Jesus and helping them in ways that will show them the love of Christ and His church.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] J Vernon McGee “Thru the Bible Commentary Series Acts” p ix

[2] Ibid p viii