Tag Archives: First Saint Johns

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

We are called to constant Reformation John 8 Community Reformation Service First Saint Johns Nov 1, 2015

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.

My sermon subject last week was, do we need a new Reformation? We are in Jesus. We do not live static, boring, stagnant, uninspired lives. We are children of the King, Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, all creation. We shouldn’t be waiting for a new Reformation, Reformation for us should be a continuous, exciting, challenging life full of new experiences, new opportunities, yes new adventures. Do you really believe we should be sitting around waiting for a new Reformation? Do we really see our Lord Jesus waiting? Not the Jesus of the Bible. He was always pushing, always entreating, exhorting and rebuking. Change is a constant in the Christian life. We were not given new life in Christ to go and hide from the world. If anyone honestly thinks that, they have no concept of one of Jesus’ great commandments. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Does anything in that statement imply sitting around and waiting? Do we need a new Reformation? OK, but starting right now, and until the time that we are called to be in the presence of the Lord, that Reformation should be continuous, joyful, exciting, provocative, a new daily experience.

I will grant you that yea, it sounds challenging, maybe even exhausting. Is that a reason to quit, not even try? I’m not going to try to sell you some idea that faithfully living the Great Commission means you charge right back out into that world and expect everything to fall right into place, exactly as you expect it to in Jesus. Did it for Jesus? No! Look at the rich, young ruler. Jesus gets right up in his grill, right where Jesus knew it would hurt that man the most and said “that’s great, you’re going to be one of my followers. Now you just run along, sell everything you have, turn it over to those who are truly in need and then you trot right back here and follow me. How’d that work out? Jesus said “you have to eat my Body and Blood…” what happened with the thousands who were listening? A large percentage of them picked up and left. “Hey we like this free food and all these nice platitudes, but come on, that’s just weird, eat His Body and Blood? See ya, I’m outta here.” Jesus didn’t chase after any of these people, begging them to come back to Him. The church does that today. Oh heavens, have someone walk out of church. Hey pastor you better run after that person and get them back, we have to keep up attendance numbers.

I would never say ignore anyone who rejects Jesus. Certainly they do need pastoral attention and care. But on the other hand, there will be those who have been in church for the wrong reasons. We can appeal to them and help them to understand. But in the final analysis, it’s always about what the Holy Spirit does. We faithfully follow and do what the Spirit leads us to, to those who don’t know Christ or who have rejected Him. But on the flip side, Reformation doesn’t mean conform to the ways of the world in order to somehow keep our numbers up. It does mean to continually look for the leading of the Holy Spirit and certainly Dr Luther did just that. He appealed to the world. When he posted his 95 Theses on that door in Wittenberg on the front door of the Castle Church. He wasn’t looking for a confrontation, he wasn’t trying to pick a fight. As a highly educated monk, a college professor, Luther had been looking at Scripture and comparing it to the actual practice of the Christian church at the time. He struggled mightily with this. He was a faithful part of the church, he was a highly regarded clergyman in his community. He had no reason to pick a fight. But more importantly than all that, he faithfully followed Christ. The Holy Spirit guided Luther in his study of Scripture and Luther knew that God’s word was right. How could it not be? Should he trust the church of the time to truly live according to Scripture? Obviously he didn’t and he was led by the Holy Spirit to point out where the church was wrong. He only wanted to bring it to the attention of the church. He trusted that the church had strayed into wrong doctrine and practice by accident. He wasn’t pointing the finger and accusing. He was sincerely lifting up questions and asking for an honest dialogue and to be genuinely led by the Holy Spirit to identify and correct the bad practices of the church. We can certainly say that Luther was probably naïve in the ways of the world, but as Christians, in some ways, we should only trust in Christ and not get caught up in the ways of the world. Does that make us look naïve? So be it. Jesus tells us:  ESV Luke 16:9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” He is telling us to be shrewd and smart, but by the same token Jesus tells us: “ESV Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Should we trust the church? Yes, but as always there’s a limit. There are “Christian” churches out there who have gone way off the rails. The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, has stayed faithful, however that doesn’t mean blind trust there either. As I said, we are called to stand up, to challenge, to push, to continually live in Reformation. So can we always trust the church? No! There are churches who call themselves Christian who have lurched way off on the other side of wrong. Just recently there was an article about two women pastors, United Methodist and Episcopalian, who led a prayer rally to bless an abortion clinic.[1] Can the church be wrong? Oh yeah! Do we sit passively by and let the errors go? No, way! Luther certainly didn’t. But we better know what we’re talking about and we better accept, that just like Dr Luther, we are going to be subject to a lot of fire and flak. Too many times people see attacks on themselves as somehow meaning that they are wrong. Luther was attacked constantly through the rest of his life after 1517. Did that mean that he was wrong? No, obviously he was right. But when we challenge the church to Reformation, whether it be “Christian” churches who tell us that we need to have faith and if we do we will be pretty, smart, wealthy, happy, successful, or Christian churches that tell us that abortion and homosexuality are just A, skippy OK, we better know what we’re talking about. We are called to be those disciples that Jesus told us we need to be in the Great Commission Matthew 28. Was he sending them out into the world where everything would just fall into place and be nice and easy: “ESV Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Obviously not. Did he send Luther to make a nice easy, clean overhaul of the church? No! He became a marked man, there were people who would have happily burned him at the stake as they did with John Huss a hundred years earlier. Was Huss wrong, was Luther wrong? No! Obviously not, so when I say that Reformation should be a constant part of our church life, I am not saying that it is going to be clean and easy. What I am saying is that you better know what you’re talking about. Did Dr Luther know what he was talking about? Absolutely and he struggled with it mightily. When he says he was attacked by Satan I don’t doubt it for a minute. If you stand for the truth in Christ you put a target on your back and don’t think for a minute that Satan won’t take shots at that target. And believe me those shots will hurt, as well as the shots that you will receive from a world that thinks it’s ok to bless abortion clinics and call itself the church of Christ. You will! Is that a reason for you to stop standing up for the true church of Christ? No, but again you better know what you are talking about and what you are doing.

How do you do that? You need to be strong in prayer. Faithful to the true church. Take the true Body and Blood of Jesus faithfully and see that the sacraments, the preached word and the true church are faithfully living in Christ. Hold your pastors and your fellow Christians accountable. ESV 2 Timothy 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” We are called to be faithful, to continually be in Reformation, to continually remember that it is about Sola Fide, Sola gratia, Sola Scriptura, Sola Christi. That we preach, disciple and live Jesus’ words, in our Gospel reading: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”(John 8: 31-36) To truly be His disciples requires us to be faithful to His word.

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

[1] http://www.lifenews.com/2015/10/12/united-methodist-and-episcopalian-church-clergy-lead-prayer-rally-to-bless-abortion-clinic/

We are His saints, enriched by Him Matthew 5 All Saints Day First St Johns Nov 1, 2015

[For the audio 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 saints in Christ said in a spirit of celebration and joy … AMEN

I am going to paraphrase Paul: “To the church of God that is in York, Pennsylvania to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1: 2-6)

Paul goes on to say to his brothers and sisters in Corinth as I would like to express those same sentiments to my brothers and sisters in York: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge-even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1: 7-8)

As His Saints we win and we didn’t do anything. Because He’s overcome, we have overcome. We have overcome the world. We have overcome death. We couldn’t do any of these things ourselves. While we like to think that we are so strong that we can achieve whatever we are confronted by, deep in our hearts we know we can’t. Why do you think that there is so much fear, anger, angst around us? All of these people who know perfectly well that they just can’t confront the world. They hear the lies of the world all around them and they try to believe them. They have to. Why? Because there is nothing else for them to believe. So they accept that they are somehow gifted, strong, personally endowed with some skill that is going to enable them to make it. But when you ask them what that looks like, how did they get there and for that matter, where is there? You get bewilderment, you get frustration. They don’t know. The world’s told them a lie, that they are somehow special. But they don’t feel special, they say they are. Students in the United States today rank way below the rest of the world in math, language, science. But they do rank first in one thing, in self-esteem. They feel good about themselves. But when you confront them with the reality of what that means, they have nothing. They are somehow special, but special how? They don’t know. Those around us today can’t perceive, or maybe more accurately don’t want to perceive anything past the next event. “Well let’s see what happens after the World Series. Let’s see what happens after the next election. Let’s see what happens after the next Federal Reserve meeting. Sure we wait to see the outcome, then what happens? Pretty much where we were. Nothing much has changed. We cling to the latest stock market numbers, and then we watch as our IRA’s, our financial future drop again. We think we have a way to make money on the stock market, we might even have a little success, then the market closes and we just spent money without lifting a finger. That affects the Christian and the non-Christian. But we have Jesus to cling to. He has overcome the stock market, the housing market, the GNP, the President and the Congress.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” That’s us! Ours is the kingdom of heaven. It might not “feel” like it right now. Another thing that separates us from the world? It’s not about our feelings. It is about what Jesus has done, what He continues to do. It’s His promise of heaven and eternity. Things might not be that great for you right now. We all know perfectly well that there are Christians all over the world who are very much suffering for their witness to Christ. You see that last verse in our Gospel reading? “…for your reward is great in heaven…” We have all had days and will have days, when we don’t feel so great, when everything’s going wrong, the future looks doubtful. Are there times when we’d like to give up? Sure! But because we are saved the Holy Spirit doesn’t give up on us. Why? We are His, we aren’t allowed to give up and we won’t because the Holy Spirit saves us from ourselves. The world does not have that promise, believes Satan’s lies and gives up, gives up in the form of drugs, alcohol, sex, money, power. They honestly believe this will save them, but we all know, and they know deep inside too, it will make them slaves and condemn them.

As a saint, as one who is saved in Jesus you are saved, you have the promises of Jesus, you have new life in Jesus, you are a special, holy, sanctified person, completely saved in Jesus and the Father’s special child and you didn’t do anything to be any of that. God chose you, He saved you, He recreated you in baptism, He lifted you up from the waters of baptism a new creation in Him. He gives you His own Body and Blood. His ministers share His saving, life restoring word with you. You received all this. You should praise and glorify God for what He’s given you. But none of that is yours because of your praise or worship, it’s yours because God gave it to you in your baptism in Jesus. Randy Alcorn writes: “What God made us to desire, and therefore what we do desire if we admit it, is exactly what he promises to those who follow Jesus Christ [His Saints]: a resurrected life in a resurrected body, with the resurrected Christ on a resurrected Earth. Our desires correspond precisely to God’s plans. It’s not that we want something, so we engage in wishful thinking that what we want exists. It’s the opposite – the reason we want it is precisely because God has planned for it to exist. As we’ll see, resurrected [saints] living in a resurrected universe isn’t our idea – it’s God’s[1]

For those He has separated, not our choice, His decision. That’s something that we take to the bank. If Jim makes a decision for God what does that mean? Well did I do it the right way, did I do it at the right time? I’m fallible did I make some kind of mistake? It isn’t on me, I am hagios I am holy, separated. You and I are made to be a completely new and different being because Jesus redeemed you and me, He died for you and me, He paid for all of our sins and now we are made perfectly clean and holy. I am made to be completely acceptable to God because of Jesus. The Holy Spirit led me to be baptized and in that baptism I am cleansed from the sin I was born in and the sins I have committed in my life and made to be that new creature, His saint. Then as a part of His church, the Body of Christ, I am given His Body and Blood to strengthen me in Body and Spirit, to be newly cleansed of my sin, renewed in my Spirit. All because of what He did for us, nothing of what we did. We therefore have that assurance that because God did it that it’s done, completely right, totally in His power and none of it in ours. There can’t be a mistake, because of that we have complete assurance that Jesus is the Lord of our lives, in this worldly life and in the true life that is eternal and perfect in the resurrection. Journal about it for the next week, what does it mean to you to be a[gioj completely clean in Christ, how does that compare to what you see in the rest of the world, why is this a reason to give thanks, to praise and glorify our Savior Jesus Christ?

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

[1] Alcorn, Randy   Heaven  pp 7-8

It’s not The banal, provincial and idiosyncratic, it’s about true Christian worship.

It’s about the infinite, the whole Body

One of the main points of Christianity is its universality, it’s timelessness, about being so part of something so much bigger, infinitely bigger. Christianity is not limited to a time and place, it is worship that we share with all the generations of brothers and sisters in Jesus who have preceded us, all who will follow us and all who are around the world.

That connection surely is in Jesus, the Triune God, but it is also in shared worship. Be honest, if Augustine showed up at the door of First St Johns today, he would get it.  Yea there are variations, especially since the time of Martin Luther, but Augustine would still understand that this is Christian worship. If someone from Liberia, Thailand, Russia, South America showed up at First St Johns they would recognize what is going on, they would be comfortable that they are with fellow Christians and know the point of what we are doing at worship.

When we do our provincial, idiosyncratic, bouncing around that is only meaningful to your particulaf generation, in your little part of the world, to your little culture, that doesn’t apply geographically, generationally, that is only about your tastes, your preferences, you have limited yourself. It’s really not about worshipping Jesus, it’s about worshipping your preferences, and Jesus just happens to fit those preferences.

Liturgical worship is not about “little ole me”, it’s about being part of something infinitely bigger, that cuts through time, generations, thru space, across cultures, both now and through history. Liturgical worship, genuinely ties me to the worship of Christ, to hundreds of millions of people in time and space.

Sure would I like a time where I’m being entertained by Michael Card, Rich Mullins (yes I know he is in the presence of the Lord)’ Chris Rice, John Michael Talbot, Carmen. All due respect but those musicians are part of an older generation and now it’s about Mandisa, King and Country, David Crowder. Sorry for most out there, they are only going to recognize the names of their generation. Sorry, I’m much more interested in being tied to brothers and sisters in Jesus around the world and down through history, than those who are Michael W Smith fans talking about Jesus.

As much as many would like to think that “worship” today is oh so cutting edge and meaningful, be honest it’s really not. It’s all about you, all about your entertainment, and not really not about worship. You may think your praise band is the most plugged in, but to Christians around the world and through history it’s not! Not even recognizable, to most Christians and to the vast majority of Christians even offensive.

Yea, you want worship your way, but it’s time to recognize that it’s not about you. Christian worship is and always will be about Jesus first, then about you being part of the “catholic” that is “universal, authoritative ” true Christian church that is about serving Christ and His people and not about your provincial, narrow tastes. You may think new is somehow more enlightened and applicable, but it’s only to you and your big box church are a tiny part of the universal church in time and place. Maybe it’s about time, for you to become part of the universal church and save the entertainment for afterwards. By all means Michael Card coming to your church, invite me. I’m inviting you to real worship, that will unite you with Christians throughout the world and history at First St Johns.

Acting Audaciously

Audacity will usually be rewarded. We started here at First St Johns at what was probably its lowest point in a history that dated back to 1875. We still have a long way to go and it’s certainly all about God’s will. The question remains as to how we may or may not end up, we could still very well not make it, but this church would be missed.
There is no doubt that we have made a mark, the test is, will the church be missed if it closes tomorrow? Without qualification I would say yes, that FSJ would be missed. Jim McClure the editor of the York Daily Record identified FSJ as a community outreach church, we have made a mark with the Food bank, employment group, Grief Share, NA, AA, prayer breakfast, workout area and of course the radio station has garnered an immense amount of attention.
Regardless, God has used us for His purposes, but it doesn’t mean He has to keep us here. I have learned that acting audaciously, doing things that appear to be over your capacity does get attention and does generate support. When things are happening, people will notice. They’re not going to notice a church that is just hiding behind its walls. When I started at FSJ I started walking around the neighborhood. When I told our neighbors who I was, they told me they thought FSJs had closed. Who is going to respond to a place they think is closed? But if they see activity, they see involvement, there’s at least a chance they will respond with physical and financial support. We’ve seen that happen at FSJs. If you are doing things to serve, to be a Christian disciple, people will provide money when they see that things are happening, that there is a level of excitement and we’ve seen that happening at FSJ.

It does make me wonder what so many churches are thinking when they seem to chose to passively conduct Christian ministry. Remember the “Parable of the Talents”? (Matthew 25:15-28 ESV) The “Master”, clearly God; Father, Son and or Holy Spirit (Matthew Henry says the Master was Jesus). The Master gives His servants 5, 2, and 1 talents to be used to enrich Him. A “talent” was about a 100 pounds of silver, in today’s value that would be about $2,000., certainly not an inconsequential amount, especially for the first servant who is given about $10,000. The first servant takes the $10,000, entrusted to him and what does he do? Brings another $10,000. Good job! Right? “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'” (Matt 25:21)
The second servant takes the two talents he’s given, brings back $4,000. Not too shabby, I’d sure like to find out what they invested in. But the third servant just returns the one talent he was entrusted with???? Wha…. What’s the point? What good is that? And yet there are plenty of churches out there who somehow think that they are serving the Lord. They’re not, they’re just serving each other. Matthew quotes Jesus as saying: “You wicked and slothful servant!” Pretty strong! But was the servant there just to hide the money and return it to his Master? Anyone can do that, he was there to serve his Master and he was “afraid” and chose to just run away from his responsibility. So it is with so many of these dying churches.
There are the churches that are dying, the churches that aren’t going to burn out, but rust out. They sit around bemoan their fate, maybe do some bake sales, or find a few children to have a VBS for, then they go back, carefully count their pennies, agree that if they’re careful and no serious problems they may make it another year and then go and do the same uninspired, unexciting things they’ve been doing and only that. They sit around and wonder why no one else is interested in being a part of their church. How do they really expect that God is calling to call them “good and faithful servants”? Why on earth would God send someone there to be discipled? Discipled to what? Sitting around with a lack of faith and service and hope that you can hide from reality?  How are they really serving, except, maybe, each other, just returning to God what He gave them, in fact if anything, not even what they were given. Why on earth would anyone think that God is going to bless and encourage that kind of attitude?
The flip side, so it appears to me now, is that you do things that do attract attention, you get people involved in things. Sure they may not work out or are as successful as they should be. Servant 3 would take that as a reason not to do that activity, or anything else for the duration. FSJ takes that and says, “ok, how do we make it better? What should we have done before…” and we start again.
Now, the radio station thing? Pure nuts, right? But it has generated attention and even given us entree to people and groups that we would never have had any opportunity to go to otherwise. People have seen what’s happened, they have moved on faith to support us, encouragement, prayers, financially etc. They have been a part of something they’re proud of, that their neighbors see in the newspaper, hear about in other places, they hear exciting plans and opportunities. Hopefully they get involved and of course it generates more interest, support and activity in the church.
You know what? We may not be around in another year, wouldn’t be the first, won’t be the last organization not to make it. But if we don’t make it, there will be a lot of people who will say; “what a shame, they did a lot of good stuff… hmmm, what could we do to help them get back into the game?…”
Conversely Servant 3 closes the door and not with a bang, but with a whimper and nary a person notices. No one was served, no one grew or was encouraged. Nothing was done to get people excited or involved, just poof, no one showed up for worship the next Sunday and really no one else noticed or cared.
Could be compared to a human, the one who slowly kills themselves through selfishness and bad habits and the bad habits; cancer, obesity, cardio, pulmonary, diabetes, liver disease on and on and they finally die. And the person who pushes themselves in one more triathlon and gloriously just drops right there on the course. Both knew they had a chance to die and one chose to just keep to himself and die a lonely, miserable death. The other one decided, one quick blaze of glory. Who wouldn’t want the blaze of glory? You’ve served others, you’ve made yourself a better person for your spouse, children, family, friends and they will remember you and may even live by your example. You’ve lived and served as a true disciple of Jesus. There are plenty of Christian servants who maybe didn’t “succeed”, but the results of their service will be, is, known by God and will be rewarded. The other? Doesn’t inspire in the least, is really seen as just miserable and even pathetic and no one misses them for an instant.
When we are being Servant 1 and are doing great things for the Kingdom, being faithful, being audacious, faithful to God’s will but crazy to the world, we may not be around next year, but we will be missed. Yea I’d rather do it the FSJ’s way.

Wow, do we make the wrong choices! First St Johns April 19, 2015 Acts 3:11-21

[For the audio version 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 have denied Jesus for the ways of the world said … AMEN!

Peter, Peter, not known for his subtlety … I know, you always recognize in someone else the thing that is your own biggest issue. Peter was as subtle as a sledge hammer, like me. But I would submit that there is a time for tact and diplomacy and there is a time for up in your grill. Don’t hand me this odd idea that Jesus was always nice and comfy and tactful. He wasn’t! There were plenty of times when Jesus wanted someone to feel uncomfortable, He wanted the other person to know Who He is. Calling Pharisees white washed sepulchers, telling the Rich Young Ruler, “you go and work out your issues with all that wealth that you have, really show me who is God in your life, sell all that stuff, give it away to those who don’t begin to have enough and then we’ll talk. The Biblical talk might seem couched, but when Jesus was calling the religious leaders, snakes, vipers, He wasn’t pulling any punches. Neither is Peter.

“But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murder to be granted to you …” There is no one more debased, more sinful, vile, more of an affront against God than a murderer. God gives us life, there is no one permitted to take it unless it is specifically granted to someone as a public authority in the left hand kingdom. Let’s not get into these arguments about the capital penalty. The state is authorized by God to protect the citizenry and that includes putting to death those who would deprive another of life. As Christians we know we are made in the imago dei the image of God: “ESV Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Every life is of value to God and yes that includes the whole discussion on abortion. Is this the “unforgivable sin”? No! Jesus died for all the sins of the world, including murder, yes. As Christians when we repent and lift up our sin for forgiveness to God He forgives, even murder, but remember, taking life, God’s creation, is grievous sin against the Creator of Life.

The issue is the terrible irony that Peter is pointing out, that when given the choice by Pilate, the people in the crowd chose to ignore all the proofs that Jesus had given, the incontrovertible evidence who Jesus was, is, who He said He is during the incarnation, the people still chose a murderer over Him: “ESV Matthew 27:17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ”?… ESV Matthew 27:21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” How do you justify that? How can you with any kind of honesty, given the choice of life “I am the way, the truth and the life.” chose someone who, with his own agenda, choses to kill? Jesus healed, gave people new life, healed them of diseases such as leprosy, an issue of blood, young people who died. He restored hope and promise in so many ways, how can you chose someone who arbitrarily decided to be judge and jury and deprived people of God’s gift?

Peter goes on to point out: “ESV Acts 3:15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” Remember who Peter is talking to, this is all very fresh in everyone’s mind, they were either right there on Good Friday and watched while they turned against this man who had given so much or they had heard about it. Jesus raised at least three people from the dead. Two ; the ruler of the synagogue and the “widow’s son of Nain”, it happened way out of the way, up in the north, you know what kind of crazy stuff comes out of there. But the straw that broke the camel’s back, the raising of Lazarus, happened just one and a half miles outside of Jerusalem. Jesus was getting right in the face of the rulers of Israel, for that matter everyone in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where it mattered, if it happened in Jerusalem, a statement ended with an exclamation point. “ESV John 12:10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well,” Meaning as well as Jesus. John goes on to write: “ESV John 12:11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” Don’t try to confuse us with the facts, just because Jesus did this, doesn’t mean that we’re going to fall on our knees to Him, you can hear them saying, as too many of us often say; “There’s important things to do and we haven’t got the time to get into this Jesus stuff right now, we’ll do that when we have to. I seem to run into people who are obsessed over end times prophecy, eschatology, the study of end times prophecy. Those who are more concerned about maintaining their current life so that they can time it just right to come to Jesus at the end of time and be saved. Wow, that’s a gamble, for anyone who is like that, they are assuming they’re going to live that long and then be able to just jump right over and be saved. God is not mocked, and that makes playing with fire seem like a kiddie birthday party game.

We all play that game to an extent. Yes, we are human, Dr Luther says, the old man is constantly going to assert himself, steer us away from Jesus and to sin. Too often we make the wrong choices. It is not our choice that the Holy Spirit guides us to the church of Christ and gives us pastors and brothers and sisters in Jesus to minister to us. That is grace, that is God saving you. You do not make a choice for Jesus, He chooses you. We really have no choice, we either are led to Christ as our Lord, or anything else we do leads to destruction. The path to destruction is wide, wide enough to accommodate all the things that take us from Jesus. As Peter said, it’s not so much that the people on Good Friday made the wrong “choice”, as much as they denied Jesus. They denied the Lord, the Author of life, the one whom God raised from the dead. They were witnesses to that and we are as much today. Too often, we simply deny the Lord and turn to other things to worship. Sure we don’t turn to murders as such, but we do turn to things that clearly deny Jesus. Are we forgiven when we turn to the idols in our lives that deny Jesus? Yes, we are. Jesus died for all of our sins. As my good friend and brother pastor in Christ, Christopher Irelan writes: “”Have no fear, little flock. For the Father has chosen, to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) You future is secured. “Lead me in good paths, for your Spirit is good.” (Psalm 143:10) Your present is secured. “Rejoice in the Lord, always.” (Philippians 4:4) You can rejoice.[1]” It’s not so much about how we deny Jesus, it’s about the fact that the Father has chosen us. We can start on the wide path to destruction, take the wrong course, deny our Lord, but He chooses us, He puts us on good paths, as Christopher says “Your present is secured in Him”, even when we deny Him.

Lift Him up and praise Him, ask the Holy Spirit to guide us around those things that turn us away from Him and as Peter promises the crowd: “ESV Acts 3:19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”

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

[1] Christopher Irelan FB devotional April 18, 2015

For God so loved all peoples, all heritages John 3: 14-21 First St Johns Mar 15, 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!!

You may have heard me refer to St Patricks as the “high holy day”, if you grew up where I grew up, it would be easy to come to that conclusion. I went to the St Patrick’s Day mass in Boston, once. It was conducted, by then, Cardinal Law. You wanna talk “high holy day”, that was it. The worship service, for what was during the week, was very ornate and well attended. This was at the Cardinal’s seat at Holy Cross Church in Boston. Say what you will about the Roman Catholic Church, but I left there very much feeling as if I had been in worship.

The story is told of Mayor James Michael Curley of Boston. Mayor Curley was quite the character, sort of a Robin Hood figure at the time, which was pretty much during the depression. He couldn’t make March 17 a holiday for a Christian Saint, he tried to find an historical event to commemorate. He hit upon the fact that March 17 is when the British evacuated Boston during the Revolutionary War. Well the fact that our Boston ancestors drove the mighty British out of Boston wasn’t something that not only the old Boston Yankees would happily commemorate, but also the Irish-American population would also buy into. Call it what you would, there was a holiday on March 17 and we all know what it’s really about. Evacuation Day is still a recognized holiday in Middlesex and Suffolk counties where Boston is located in. And it is duly celebrated.

Heritage is an important thing, it should be shared and celebrated. Right here we have at least four different groups in First St Johns Lutheran Church that are very serious in the living and celebrating of their heritage and there is nothing wrong with that. In a society that has become so splintered and so alienated, I submit that those people who remember their heritage, share that heritage with others of the same group, make sure that their children, grandchildren and other relatives remember that and don’t surrender to what has become an increasingly homogenized society. As much as diversity is promoted in today’s society, it really is putting away ethnic and religious heritages, to be bound together under an increasingly secular and humanist heritage. Many talk a good game about heritage, the lack of knowledge of American and ethnic history is getting to be scandalous. Too many young people can’t even think in historical terms, as if what came before them doesn’t matter and yet has very much made them what they are. This lack of anchoring in our society, to our Christian heritage and our family heritage has left us with a society that is increasingly detached and alienated.

When you were baptized, you became a new person. In Baptism you are “born again”, you are given real life, in Jesus Christ, you are that new man or woman. Because of that you are born into a new heritage. You may be of German ethnicity or Irish or Spanish, African-American, Italian, but as the song says “…in Christ alone…” We share a heritage that goes back to the beginning in Jesus. As Paul wrote to the Galatian brothers: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Because it is the “high holy day”, I bring this up because I do try to make St Patricks a little special. I know it’s the middle of Lent and should be somber. Sundays, though, even in Lent, are still festival days on the church calendar. It’s odd how it works out and if you would like me to explain it, I will, but I see St Patricks as a way to kind of stay in touch with the culture that I was brought up in and even as a Lutheran was included in. I have to admit, being of Irish/Yankee ethnicity, makes me an oddball in the Lutheran Church. Although it’s not the only thing that does, but I see St Patricks as a way to remember not just our ethnic identity, but so much more importantly our identity in Jesus.

One reason that I have felt it was so important to recite the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds with the word “catholic” is to emphasize that the Lutheran Church is very much a universal church. We should not concede that to any other church. We are universal and the Lutheran Church has members and churches in almost every country in the world. There are countries where Christianity is seriously repressed, so we really don’t know what church is or isn’t represented. The fastest growing Lutheran population in the world is not in the United States or Europe, it’s in …. Africa, by far. “…there are over 16 million Lutherans in Africa?  To put that in perspective, that’s more Lutherans than in all of North America. Unlike the Church in Europe and North America, Africa as well as Asia is seeing phenomenal growth in membership.” Put in perspective, from Dr Luther grew the churches of modern Protestantism. [1] Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, genuine Protestant Christian, excluding Anabaptist churches, churches are the result of what Martin Luther did 500 years ago. We are all truly brothers and sisters in Christ. Often more brothers and sisters than the people that we share physical parents with.

I may use St Patricks Day to add a little twist into worship, I try to do it better, but it never seems to come about. But we have a shared heritage that far transcends what countries our ancestors were born in, we have a heritage that matters for eternity. Jesus died for all of us equally, we are all equally saved in Jesus, whether you were baptized last week, or seventy years ago. I am no more saved because I’m of Irish descent than you are of German descent, or Spanish, African American. In the eternal resurrection our heritage is solely in He who died so that we could be saved. He who is the Lord of our life, in this life and in the life eternal. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” World, ko,smoj in Greek means “…the inhabitants of the earth, men, the human race”[2] We are all brothers and sisters in the Holy Catholic, universal Lutheran church of Jesus Christ.

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

[1] See more at: http://www.messiahlacrescent.org/2010/09/lutherans-in-africa/#sthash.x7ApeFjD.dpuf

[2] BibleWorks