Tag Archives: sacrifice

Renew and energize your disciples Lord Matthew 28 First Saint Johns Lutheran Church April 17, 2017

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

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 the hope and joy of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ said … AMEN!

For us in a liturgical church, this season, starting on Ash Wednesday, for many people seems to be such a dreary day, I put ashes on your forehead, which in itself is certainly counter-cultural what the world would see as “weird” and then I quietly tell you from dust you came and dust you shall return. Not exactly a “whoopee do” moment. Then we spend the next 40 plus days sacrificing something, hopefully, and remembering our sins. In a world that is all about lurching from the next exciting/breathtaking event, again seems weird that we should invite such reflection when the world around us is all about denial and minimizing their sin. But we get it, we get the whole human condition, when we are serious about our faith, we are equipped by our yearly liturgical calendar to deal with all the conditions of life. We don’t live in a zippity-do-da world, that when the trials strike, we don’t just curl up in a cocoon and become a zombie. That is part of what being in the church, in the Body of Christ is all about. We know that we have a pastor and brothers and sisters in Jesus that are there to strengthen us and remind us of the glorious promises that we have in Christ. While the Words and promises of Jesus give us inspiration and strength, the resurrection of Jesus is what gives us the ultimate, slam dunk hope that it really isn’t about this world and the trials. It is about the New World of the resurrection that gives us the deep down peace and joy that we will live an eternal, perfect life of true living and fulfillment.

Palm Sunday is good, but we know what it’s leading to, it’s kind of a interval, but certainly not the end. Maundy Thursday doesn’t really get the notice it should. Maundy is Latin, mandate or commandment, when Jesus told His disciples “ESV John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this that someone lays down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.” How we minimize this in our church calendar mystifies me. That Jesus gives us this incredible direction, you will not find in any other belief system, to love one another. That He is telling them, again, this is it, I am laying down My life for those I love, for My friends, that He is also telling them, and us, His disciples, that we are His friends. I certainly have a friend in Jesus, but it is the most one –sided friendship you can imagine, He gives me everything, up to and including His life in order for me to truly live now and the eternal life of the resurrection. But there’s more, He puts an exclamation point on this by giving His disciples His Body and Blood, we who are His disciples now are fed Jesus’ Body and Blood to the strengthening of our body and soul. We receive this actual nourishment of His Body to build us up and make our relationship with Him as strong as conceivable.

Good Friday, that’s a tough day. To see Him who called us friend, who is there for us all the time, and we helplessly watch as He is mercilessly beaten, abused, and then brutally murdered. Completely innocent, completely holy and abused so ruthlessly, showing how we can be so debased and so cruel as a people.

It seems unnecessary to have such a brutal scenario. But we know our greatest fear is death, to blink into non-existence, to leave behind everything we’ve known and just stop living. In order for our greatest fear, terror, our greatest anxiety to be defeated it had to be met head on, how else could death be defeated but for someone to die and then be restored to life? We are all doomed to die, without Jesus there is nothing but death. No human being could overcome death, because by our lives, we are already dead in our sin and trespasses, we deserve death. But not Jesus. Jesus, He who is completely holy, completely without guilt, no sin. He is not destined to die, He has eternal life because He is eternal, God the Son. He could pay the penalty, overcome death, which none of us could ever do. In God’s economy, in order to have mercy on us, in order to keep us from eternally paying the penalty for us, God permitted His Son to be the paschal victim. He did all that was necessary mostly during this season in order to give us the promise of eternal life and life in this world of joy and promise.

In all this it is very little about feelings. Yes we have feelings, but the point isn’t about how you feel, why etc, what you “feel”, just doesn’t change anything. Sam Storms writes: “What you and I “like” is utterly and absolutely irrelevant. God doesn’t set his eternal agenda based on what we “prefer”. What we might “hope” to be true simply doesn’t matter. What does or does not make us “feel comfortable” has no bearing on the truth or falsity of this issue. The fact that we have an intuitive sense for what strikes us as “fair” or “just” doesn’t really matter, what actually is, is what matters to God.”[1] To our harm we let our “feelings” our opinions, the way we think things should be dictate way too much of what we think. In God’s providence, in His Lordship, His creation it is about what He thinks. It is going to be His way, whether we think it’s fair or not. Yet, He does so much for us. We live the sinful lives, He doesn’t, Jesus didn’t and doesn’t, yet who was made the way to God and eternal life? Jesus. Not about our opinion or our feelings, entirely about what Jesus did for us. What we like and don’t like is certainly about our “feelings”. We could walk away on Good Friday, decide “what’s the point”, give up, give in to our feelings of loss and depression and not wait for the true joy. Jesus’ resurrection isn’t a jump up and down the Patriots won the Super Bowl happy. That’s superficial, it’s there for a moment and then back to reality. It’s that time when you stop in your life, a smile spreads over your face. Not a goofy, giddy smile, but a smile of knowing, of contentment, a mature and thoughtful smile knowing that the shallowness around us is just passing. That there is true joy, contentment. Have you ever noticed that when you’re all giddy-up happy, it’s quickly followed by kind of a crash? You were all yippy, then just kind of settled down into a discontent of “why did I do that”? The temporary giddy-up is fine, so long as we don’t get hooked on it and require continuous shots of “happy”. It doesn’t last. It’s been a tough last few months for me. On Friday I had to be with a mother whose 22 year old son was murdered. A few weeks ago I did a funeral for a ten year old boy, the week before that my father died, a few weeks before that I had to be with a mother and father whose 22 year old son committed suicide. Throw in car problems, other assorted issues, the strain has been huge. If I was dependent on happy how do you think I would continue to function? Being a Christian means you have the support of brothers and sisters in Jesus and pastors who are there for you during the trials and encouraging you. I really appreciate how some people here stepped up to encourage and support. Ken stepped up and really helped with a lot of the worships of the last few weeks. How can I stand before people who’ve just lost a child and make them “happy” as the world thinks they should be? Amusing them, stand up comedy, platitudes? Do I just leave them there to deal with it, get over it? As difficult as you think your trials might be, imagine being the parents going through such trials. There’s nothing that’s going to make them “happy”. But as a pastor, I am going to do whatever I can to give them true joy. That is the whole purpose of the resurrection. Tertullian wrote about the resurrection: “It is by all means to be believed because it is absurd.”[2] There will be tragedies in our lives of varying degree, the longer the life the higher the chance and even more tragedies. We might think of Jesus’ being horribly murdered on Good Friday as tragedy, yet out of His suffering on that day, came the greatest promise that we can imagine and as a pastor that is what I get to share with people who have endured ghastly tragedy. By doing this I am going to help them to know joy. That our God is very much aware of what they’re going through. He saw His own son unmercifully brutalized, beaten, nailed into wood and left to suffer. God understands our horror when we have to endure tragedy, He is right there with you reaching down through the layers you experience in order to help you understand that there is a far greater promise that overcomes the horror. The horror is for a time, the promise of our eternal life, the joy that we have in Jesus right here and now gives us the joy, the hope, the promise that restores, renews and energizes us now. The world tells us just to accept tragedy and move on, to find happiness or turn to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex to overcome tragedy, because it doesn’t matter anyway. That is such a hopeless, appalling lie straight from Hell. We were created by our all-powerful – all loving God. He knows the horrors, but He also knows that it is not the end and gives us that promise, that there are more and greater eternal joys that He has for us in our eternal life and that restores and renews us in our life now. That is what the promise of the empty grave of Jesus is all about, that at the end of time all of our graves will be empty. Our bodies we will be resurrected, restored to a perfect life that we were always intended to have. Martin Luther wrote: “The resurrection consists not in words, but in life and power. The heart should take inward delight in this and be joyful.”[3] Happiness only lifts us up to drop us again, the joy, peace and promise of God the Father in the resurrection of Jesus, God the Son, gives us joy now, that when we have the tragedy of the death of someone we love, we know that when we are all in Jesus, this life and all its tragedies will be a dim memory as we live life together in the eternal, fulfilling, perfect life of the resurrection.

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

 

[1] Sam Storms “Ten Things you should know about Hell”   http://www.crosswalk.com/slideshows/10-things-you-should-know-about– hell.html?utm_content=buffere08f1&utm_medium=fbpage&utm_source=cwpg&utm_campaign=cwupdate

 

[2] Cal and Rose Samra “Holy Humor” p 59

[3] Ibid

Leaving it all on the course for Him Matthew 5:21

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 left it all on the field for Jesus said … AMEN!

You’ve heard the interviews after an athletic contest, one of the most common phrases; “I left it all on the field”, basically I gave everything I had in order to win. It can get a little cliché, but by the same token, I have no doubt that each person who says that truly believes it. At the end of that contest; a race, basketball game, matholympics, I gave everything I had, physically, mentally, emotionally in order to win, or at least to do my best. I’ve done races where I expected it to be a little more challenging and at the end upset with myself that I was holding back too much and I could have pressed harder on the bike or the run. By the same token I’ve seen people sprinting to the finish line, giving everything and as soon as they crossed, going off somewhere and literally getting sick right after they finished. No question they exceeded their normal physical ability in order to find that tiny little bit that they had left in order to finish as well as they could.

We certainly see this in so many of the people described in the Bible. King David wrote dozens of Psalms, but if you think he was all about sitting at a desk pen in hand and dreamily wondering how to compose his poetry, you would be mistaken. Most of his prose was about the different ways that he was left it all out on the field for God. David was a powerful soldier, his soldiers followed him into many different situations, they trusted him as a leader who would be there for them, do whatever it took for his men and defeat his enemy. David had no compunction going out on that field and doing what God directed him to do and pouring every last ounce he had into the fight for his men, his country and very much so for his God. David lived his life for Yahweh, there were times when he failed in that and he failed in a way that only a great king and general could fail. As Dr Luther wrote: Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [or sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”[1] If King David had known about Jesus and written about Jesus, he would have understood completely what Dr Luther wrote.

In a lot of ways that is what Jesus is saying in the Beatitudes, you have to go over and above, you have to leave it all out there. There may even be a physical price to pay. The Beatitudes can be taken in a legalistic way. Jesus is not saying you have to do this, you have to do that in order to be saved. People have told me that they live by the Beatitudes. It’s not about grace, it’s about them and their performance, what they need to do, that God is keeping score and waiting for them to tank, to hit the wall, to not finish the course. If they somehow fail in one of Jesus’ directives they failed to leave it all out on the field for Jesus, they kept some back for their own pleasure, maybe cheated on the course somehow and didn’t completely live up to what Jesus directed us to do.

The fallacy is this, the Gospel doesn’t tell us that unless we are picture perfect, that we have somehow failed and therefore don’t manage to hit the finish line having left it all out on the course for Jesus. The Gospel does say that Jesus who is entirely perfect God and perfect man, something we could never be, a person that we will never be because there was only one Jesus. Jesus absolutely did leave it all out on the course and it was entirely for us, Jesus didn’t do all that He did for Himself. What’s the point? Jesus is the One through whom all creation came into existence, He is perfectly God, all He did was not for Him, but entirely for us. Nothing we can do, can add to what Jesus did for us, not one iota, not one jot or tittle.

Yet, many people are pretty sure it’s about sticking to the letter of the Law in the Beatitudes and that gets you over the line. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be obedient, Jesus said “if you love Me, you will obey Me.” But Jesus knows that we are fallible, that our obedience is qualified by our failings as sinful people in a sinful world. However, for all that Jesus did for us, how can we not strive to be obedient? How can we not strive to leave it all out on the course for Jesus?

Does a completely good, completely holy, completely gracious God want us to pluck out our eye and throw it away if we are not completely perfect in everything? In this day and age you can’t look anywhere that doesn’t offend your eye. The issue is, did you let your eye linger over that which offended? Or did you realize, “hey, this isn’t glorifying Jesus or doing me any good”, and just turn away? That’s what Jesus is asking us to do, in the Beatitudes. He exaggerates to make a point. He might say. “You really want to try to earn your way, this is what has to happen, if your right hand causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. I’m thinking, none of us would truly stand that test. That does not, however, minimize the fact that we should strive to avoid things that offend our eye or what we do with our right hand, or our left hand in order to sin.

Marge and I were at Pastoral Leadership Institute immersion this past week, which, ironically is about us and our performance, and driving us higher in Jesus. It’s an honor to be asked to attend, not everyone is, and it’s recognition of the fact that we are striving in evangelism and discipleship and given the opportunity in PLI to push to the next level. It doesn’t makes us more saved, but it does push us to better serve you and the Kingdom of God as leaders of His church.

The Father is not trying to impose unrealistic expectations on us, He is trying to get us to realize that we can’t get there on our own effort. We will fail! We will have plenty of good efforts, being obedient to the things Jesus asks of us, but at some point we will fail to push as hard as we could. That doesn’t mean we’ve lost, that we should cut off our hand. Matt Popovits was one of the speakers, the overall subject was discipleship, which was great, I emphasize discipleship in my ministry. While we are called to be strong and faithful disciples of Jesus, our performance in that respect is not what saves us. The thesis was “How do I measure my worth?” For those who are so sure that it’s all about me and my “opinion”, because my “opinion” is so vitally important! I have bad news for youse, your opinion just doesn’t really matter. Heavens, how can I say such a thing, come on pastor, we all know it’s all about me! It really isn’t. I can tell myself how great and special I am, but despite what I think, it’s not going to get me diddly. Whose opinion does matter? Oh yes, God’s opinion. That is a great thing! By the way, I told Matt I was going to rip him off relentlessly here, he said “fine, go for it!”.

Anyway, Matt talked about “Performacism”, this idea that we measure our worth by what we do, how well we do it, in and of ourselves. Performacism drives you to the following: 1) The fear of and trying to avoid a horrible outcome, a false Hell that you’ve created, that you’re running from in order to make it to an “unfulfilling heaven, that you earn the applause and approval of your peers. That heaven can’t do what you want, doesn’t fulfill your life.”[2] God’s not all powerful, it’s all about you and what you do and more importantly the way you want it to play out. It drives me nuts hearing people talk about heaven as a boring place, “why would I want to end up there”. Heaven is not our ultimate destination, our ultimate destination is the eternal resurrection. We will be put back on this earth in our physical bodies in order to live our lives the way God intended us to live, a world filled with unlimited possibilities and life fulfilling beyond anything we could imagine. Matt points out that Adam and Eve rejected the “Garden of Yes” in favor of the “tree of no”. We make that wrong choice all the time, a garden full of all kinds of possibilities in order for us to indulge in our personal besetting sin.

Matt further observes that we make ourselves a “Functional Savior” that it’s all in our hands whether or not we make it to that amazing eternity. It’s our activity, and accomplishments that save us, so that we are valued by ourselves and by others, because, heavens! in today’s world, it is all about everyone else’s who so precious opinion. We have that problem on a massive scale in our society today and something that our youth get so caught up in, but we’re all susceptible to it. Our self-image, whether our physical attractiveness is valued by others. In a world where everyone’s equal regardless, ya right! Our hypocritical world is just so full of themselves. The fight is to be as superficially attractive as possible to be of value, if you’re not, you might be patronized a little, but just not taken seriously. We see girls today going to extremes because hey the vital thing is to be beautiful, get the right guy, have all kinds of worldly wealth and live happily ever after. Forgetting that despite all our efforts, some, like me, who’ve just been ugly from birth, end up simply being dumped out the other end of life, whether we were beautiful  or not because we no longer meet the standards.

The cut to the chase is this; Jesus tells us that we can do it the hard way, by our own standards, our own worldly, wrong opinions. Or, because Jesus did it the hard way for us, we can trust in Him, that He has done all that’s necessary. Yes, we should leave it all out on the course for Jesus, because that’s what He’s done for us, but never think that is what gets you His promises.

We are so incredibly valued by the Father and there’s not one thing that we can add to that, not by anything we’ve done, not done, or done wrong, but solely who we are in Jesus, so incredibly valued because of who we are in Him and that He died a horrific death in order to save us. For such a huge price and to be adopted into true life in the Father’s family in baptism, we are, each one of us, so incredibly valued and loved. There are those of us who the Holy Spirit is moving to do big things, to serve at high levels. There are those of us who just physically can’t or who are called to do what we feel are humble things. Doesn’t matter to the Father, yes we should follow our calling, but no, we should never doubt how precious we are to the Father and what we are to Him in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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

[1] Dr Ryan M. Reeves https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/ryanreeves/2016/04/20/did-luther-really-tell-us-to-love-god-and-sin-boldly/

[2] Matt Popovits PLI seminar, Cary, NC, February 9, 2017

Serving and Faith Luke 7: 1-10 First St Johns May 29, 2016

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

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. Amen.

The observance of Memorial Day is about those who have served in the United States military and have died as a result of that service. I had ancestors who fought in the Civil War. One returned home after suffering serious injury, he lived a few more years, but his life was definitely shortened by wounds in military service, therefore someone who should be remembered and honored on Memorial Day.

The United States’ highest military honor is the Congressional Medal of Honor. It’s not a requirement, but the Medal of Honor is usually presented posthumously, that is the recipient died as a result of the action they took to be awarded the Medal of Honor. According to Wikipedia the Medal of Honor has been awarded to 3,471 members of our military. “The first Army Medal of Honor was awarded to Private Jacob Parrott during the American Civil War for his role in the Great Locomotive Chase. The first African American recipient was William Harvey Carney who, despite being shot in the face, shoulders, arms, and legs, refused to let the American flag touch the ground. The only woman Medal of Honor recipient is Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon.[1]” Of the number awarded there are only 76 living recipients.

The Medal of Honor is awarded to any member of the military who is so qualified. The next level are the service crosses; the Distinguished Service Cross for the Army, the Navy Cross for Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, the Air Force Cross. Interesting how our second highest military honors are crosses. The posthumous rate for the crosses is not as high as the Medal of Honor, but is still significantly high. How appropriate is it that for many who sacrificed themselves to often rescue or protect others, that they should be awarded a cross, the symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice for all of us.

One particular mission in Afghanistan early in the War on Terror resulted in a few people being awarded the Navy Cross. Probably more than any time in the military history of the United States Special Forces, all branches of the military are required to have a Special Forces unit, have been utilized in the War of Terror to rescue civilian and military persons and to also perform covert U.S. operations and  to assist host countries in various military operations. There is a Special Forces prayer that is quoted in Lt Col Oliver North’s book “American Heroes in Special Operations”. The prayer is: “Almighty God, Who art the Author of Liberty and the champion of the oppressed, hear our prayer. We, the men of Special Forces, acknowledge our dependence upon Thee in the preservation of Human freedom. Go with us as we seek to defend the defenseless and to free the enslaved. May we ever remember that our nation, whose motto is “In God We Trust”, expects that we shall acquit ourselves with honor, that we may never bring shame upon our faith, our families, or our fellow men. Grant us wisdom from Thy mind, courage from Thine heart, strength from Thine arm and protection by Thine hand. It is for Thee that we do battle and to Thee belongs the victor’s crown. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. AMEN”[2]

In one of the first actions in Afghanistan, Navy SEAL Petty Officer Neal Roberts, was part of a unit to be inserted by helicopter into a mountain top area known as Takur Ghar to engage Taliban. During the approach the helicopter was hit by ground fire, engine fluids started pouring over the inside of the helicopter. Petty Officer Roberts lost his footing and went out the back of the helo: “…His buddies watched him fall about ten feet to the snowy outcropping below.” As the Chinook wheeled away from the mountain, the rest of the team watched helplessly as Roberts came under heavy enemy fire. The last they saw of him, was returning fire with his squad automatic weapon, attacking a superior force and going it all alone…”

“A drone was sent to observe and sent back video of Petty Officer Roberts fighting off the enemy for nearly an hour, first with his automatic weapon and then his sidearm until he expended all his ammunition and grenades. He was finally overrun and killed, becoming the first Navy SEAL to die in the war on terror …”[3]

I have interacted with a lot of military and also civilian public safety. They realize that they don’t work a 9-5, punch in/punch out job. They’ve seen and had to deal with situations of life and death and sometimes inhuman acts done against people. Death is a reality to most of them and unlike most people, they are very aware of their own mortality. Too often their attitude towards God, is often, like most people today, think that they’re doing good works and that will punch their ticket to heaven. Many though want to know about God, I’ve had many uplifting encounters with military and public safety people. Often they want to know how God can permit such violence and injury. This has given me the chance to talk to them about sin. God gave us free will, which means that we are free to sin and we do, quite often. For those who are not Christians they are dead in their sins, they don’t know anything other than sin. They might bargain with God and try to do works they think will earn their way. My answer is that we can’t make a bargain with God. He provided one way, Jesus! That’s a great thing. Too often I see people floundering around trying to make their own way to God and they know in their heart that it doesn’t work. We need to be in relation to God through baptism and in Jesus. Anything else is our own works and ends in failure in trying to reach up to God. But there is no mystery about it, Jesus, God the Son, told us very plainly: “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Our way to God is obvious, it is not a struggle to be saved. Being saved might be a struggle, but in Jesus we are helped through our struggles and helped to maintain our faith through His grace, that we are living in His will.

In the same sense a Roman centurion is not your garden variety pushover. He had enormous power and authority. He certainly could have been U.S. special forces today. A Roman centurion could pretty much act as he felt necessary, for the most part was trusted to do what was necessary and his word would have much more influence than others. The centurion in this pericope would have been classified as a “God-fearer”, someone who was not Jewish, but who acknowledged the God of Israel as the supreme Creator, Sustainer of the universe. The Hebrew name was yirei Hashem[4]. They did not convert for various reasons, but they recognized the monotheism of the Jewish God. A Roman did not reach the level of centurion by getting involved with charlatans. Certainly an important point of this pericope was to show that Jesus’ power and authority was recognized outside of Jewish circles and was a precursor of the rest of the world recognizing Jesus as God as His disciples/apostles went out into the world. The centurion saw Jesus as having authority as the Roman did. If it was Jesus’ will to have something done Jesus had only to give the word. Chrysostom writes: “…the reason he had not brought him in [his house] was itself a sign of his great faith, even much greater than those who let the patient down through the roof. Because the centurion knew for certain that even a mere command was enough for raising the servant up, he thought it unnecessary to bring him.”[5] Chrysostom also notes: “While on previous occasions he [Jesus] had responded to the wish of supplicants, in this case he rather springs actively toward it.”[6] Obviously the Jewish leaders in Capernaum saw His authority also, they seemed to have no problem intervening with Jesus on behalf of the centurion. For those who deal with the very real world of life and death, they don’t necessarily know Christ as Savior, I’m sure the centurion would have reservations about making that level of commitment, but they usually know the real thing, their life often depends on it. Often as they go along in life they are led by God to know true salvation, again they finally see the authenticity. We honor those who have made a sacrifice for us, we continually hold our Savior Jesus in our heart and in our prayers as He who made the ultimate sacrifice for those who are His to have eternal life in the resurrection. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

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

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Medal_of_Honor_recipients

[2] Lt Colonel Oliver North USMC (r) “American Heroes in Special Operations” p 8

[3] Lt Colonel Oliver North USMC (r) “American Heroes in Special Operations” pp 44-45

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God-fearer

[5] Chrysostom “The Gospel of Matthew Homily” quoted in “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Matthew 1-13” Manlio Simonetti p 161

[6] Ibid

Leftovers for God? Is that a smart way to go?

Yea the Blackabys have inspired me to get this written, it’s been sitting for awhile, but the blanks have been filled in. It’s about how we give God the leftovers, if that. I’m not innocent of this, as I lay person I didn’t have an appreciation for what goes on at a church while I’m not there and didn’t feel as motivated as I should to give the very best. The Blackabys point out”When the Israelite gave an offering to God, it was no longer their own, it belonged entirely to God. God would only accept the best that people could give. It was an affront to almighty God to offer him animals that were damaged or imperfect in any way. God Himself set the standard for sacrifices when He offered His own Son as the spotless lamb.”(Experiencing God Day by Day Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby p 268).

Certainly to the point they write “You do not serve Him in your spare time or with your leftover resources.” Yea, as a pastor I really do feel it. Too often “hey here’s five in the offering plate, great service.” Try to imagine how that makes me feel. I really do try to make worship as uplifting and yes challenging as possible. Compare that to the therapist/counselor who charges, just you, a lot more. I’m there to push you to grow in Jesus, to make the best for Him for what He’s given you and to also push myself. I have some great folks who help me, but too often you just hear about how the big box church has produced some massive show for about one-tenth your total annual budget for one Sunday.

But for the most part, it’s about people’s soccer games (a general reference to all the other things going on Sundays. Really?! Sunday? Morning? seven days in the week, you can’t reserve half a day, read give or take three hours?) To be there to lift up praise and worship to God Father, Son and Holy Spirit who created you, sustains you and gives those in Jesus the promise of eternal life? How about the other folks that do rely on church for encouragement, often times just to see younger people and interact and encourage others. Few if any there to encourage them, because they’re working, they’re traveling, they’re at sports or some other event, they’re at home because they had a tough week. Yes, maybe three Sundays out of 52 (not including weekday worships, which I miss even more rarely), I am there the rest of the time really trying my best. No I’m no Chuck Swindoll and I’m always looking for feedback. However I’m also working hard to faithfully worship as millions have for 500 years and millions do around the world today. That is a faithfulness that can’t be matched by any of our current fads, that just have to be on Sunday morning.

I get it, people do travel, people do other things. But clearly the priority is no longer church, worship, their pastor, their fellow congregants. People tell me all the time they’re going to meet with me, they’re going to come to church. Gotten to the point where it seems, unless of course someone wants something, that about 80% of the time what they say is bupkus. So much for integrity. My wife says they just tell you what you want to hear. Really how about just tell me the truth? It’s far more disillusioning when someone tells me something that they will do and don’t, then just telling me the way it is. I’m a big, tough, ugly, gnarly guy, you’re not going to hurt me with the truth. But wow, when people say they’ll be there, do something, support something and don’t because there is something more interesting going on elsewhere, it really does beat you down and yea does hurt. Really what I do isn’t interesting and challenging?

Hey, to be sure I’m not going to stop. There are Christians through history and all around the world who are going through far worse than I am and I’ve made promises to the church, to the congregation to do as much as I can. I feel very strongly the need to be able to tell someone I did all I could, probably more for Christ and His church. Yes, there may come a time when I may have to sacrifice a lot more. For now I can look you in the face and say I have every intention of being faithful to my vows, for working hard 6+ days a week. For those who have become church members, you might also want to remember that you made vows to be a member to support the church with your time, treasure and talent. From 13 year old confirmands to those who come to Christ later in life. Way too many just pooh-pooh those vows. (As far as time, for most of you a two day weekend is a given, for me, it’s a holiday. If I have one day that is truly about me and my family, that’s even pushing it. I can’t remember the last time that I had a three day weekend. Hasn’t been in the last year.)

How about it? For those who have never gone, maybe you should get over yourselves and see what it’s all about. For those who have a “sawtooth” pattern, if that regular, maybe you could step it up about 50%, maybe everyone could do a little more in all respects to the time, treasure and talent? “But I’m so busy!” I will compare Day-Timers with anyone out there, you’re not that busy. Giving the best to God? I’ve had people who haven’t been in church in decades, members, who call me and expect that because of some, usually tragedy, that I’m supposed to now jump for them. There are people who’ve supported that church for decades, so that I could be there, but you didn’t, now I supposed to jump for you? And for those who like to give me that patronizingly little pat on the head “oh it will all work out”, no, no it won’t. And you won’t like it.

I am privileged to work with a handful of people at my church who can say they do. But for the most part, the rest just give left-overs and for too many people pretty scraggly left overs. So yea, this is a challenge, especially to the guys. Let’s see you step up and really lead your family in Christ, start by showing up, listening to what needs to happen, being that disciple of Christ that your wife, children, community, employers will be forever grateful for, as well as your brothers and sisters in Jesus, you will be great and I will be there to do whatever I can to make you that guy. Lose the lame excuses and step up to things of eternal value.

O Sacred Head and Heart now wounded Luke 22, 23 First Saint Johns March 20, 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 thank and praise God for the Passion that Jesus suffered for us and our salvation said … AMEN!!

Our sermon series for Lent has been based on the hymn “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”, composed by one of the great Lutheran hymnists Paul Gerhardt, according to Wikipedia is based on a Latin poem written by Arnulf of Leuven sometime around the 12th century. While we know the physical wounds that Jesus experienced, the flogging, the crown of thorns, dragging a rough wooden cross over His beaten back, being nailed into that cross, being lurched up into the air and left to hang from that Cross. But more than that were the wounds that were inflicted on His heart, the emotions, the wounds that cut us deeply, as the series said those wounds that are inflicted by those we trust, or those who aren’t satisfied with just physical wounds but want to cut right into our very being, humiliate and debase us. Jesus suffered physically and surely felt the pain of what His disciples did, or failed to do the night before He was crucified.

We talked about the wound of betrayal. Yes, Jesus knew who would betray Him, it didn’t come as a surprise. Jesus wasn’t sitting at that table in the Upper Room thinking “didn’t see that coming”. He talked about the son of perdition and how that man, one of the twelve, one of His closest followers would betray Him into the hands of the world, of sinners. Quoting that sermon: “He had traveled many miles and shared many meals. Here was a wound that weighed down our Lord’s sacred head and brought Him sorrow and grief that compounded the weight of sin He bore upon His cross.”[1] As you will see in our Living Last Supper presentation, Jesus will tell His disciples that; “One of you will betray Me” and each of the disciples asks the question; “Is it I Lord?” Jesus knew this time was coming, but I can’t imagine that lessened the cutting hurt He endured to have it finally happen and see a man who was so closely associated with Him, quietly slip away from the table and slither out of the door, trying to leave unnoticed by the other disciples. I don’t know how Jesus reacted, but I have to believe He was hurt deeply. I know if it was me my heart would sink in my chest and there would be a huge lump in my throat.

The next sermon was titled “The wound of apathy”. He and His disciples have finished the Passover Dinner. Jesus has left them with one of our greatest gifts, The Lord’s Supper. The next day Jesus will be the perfect sacrifice, for them, for us, for all Christians who know that we receive His true Body and Blood in His Supper. He has just taken the bread, “…and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” Right after He makes this new covenant, this new promise, gives us this new hope that we would have the incredible privilege of taking His true Body and His true Blood, that our bond with Him would be very much spiritual and very much physical, that the nourishment we would receive from His Body and Blood would be the only nourishment that would preserve our body and soul, the only nutrition that keeps us strong in body and soul, immediately after one of the most profound moments in His ministry, in the history of all man, He reveals that “…the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.” We know the passion that He suffered physically, but we don’t really think of the passion in His heart, but that injury inflicted on Him right after He promises that His Body and Blood would strengthen and sustain our souls, His Body given for us His disciples. Then Judas slinks out the door: “A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” Wow, guys, were you listening? It’s happening NOW! Is it that everyone has gotten a little too comfortable? They’ve ignored all the warnings He’s given them, that this would happen and there they are cluelessly chirping away about who is going to be the greatest? I can imagine how I would feel. “What is wrong with these guys? Have I just been airing my lungs out here? Have none of you been paying attention?” Yet, how many times do we forget what Jesus has told us and frisk merrily on our way, happy in our own little denial?

He knows it’s only a matter of hours, they go back to their sanctuary at Gethsemane. Hey it’s been a long holiday, we’re all bushed, what’s Jesus do? All the other guys are sacked out all around us and Jesus is schlepping Peter, John and James away. “My soul” He says, “is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with me.” Is that really too much to ask? “Guys this is it, in a few hours I will be experiencing unimaginable agony, stay with Me and pray, support Me while I pray in these final hours.” Just doesn’t sink in, Jesus goes and prays that He doesn’t want to go through the physical, emotional and spiritual agony that He knows is coming. He is so consumed that He is sweating drops of blood. But He trusts His Father’s will and goes back expecting His closest friends to be up waiting for Him in expectation. But they’re not, it’s just like any other night and they don’t even seem to try to stay awake with Him in His time of agony.

Now it is completely obvious what is happening. Jesus has been hauled away by soldiers and Jewish officials, taken to the high priest to be judged. All of His disciples have scattered or hidden. At least Peter did follow, at a distance. He’s trying not to be noticeable, but I can imagine Peter is still trying to figure out what’s going on, what’s going to happen. The same Peter who declared: “Even if I must die with You, I will not deny You!” (Matt 26:35) Peter makes this manly declaration to Jesus, but when it really counts, confronted by a little serving girl, a woman, Peter not only denies the Lord, but curses at the ones suggesting that he knew Jesus at all. Jesus knew Peter denied Him. He was brought outside, escorted right past Peter and looked at Peter, not with scorn, but with disappointment.

Perhaps at this point Jesus is so emotionally and physically wounded that the taunts and mockery of the Roman guards don’t really sink in. He hasn’t been with them, but He does know Judas, Peter, John, James, the ones who have failed and abandoned Him. But to know fully well who you are and why you’re there and to have a bunch of louts laughing in your face? The world still treats the Lord that way and if we think about it, there are times we do too.

The final wound is not something we, any of His followers inflicted, but because of the things we did, the sins we committed, the atonement for all of our sins, hanging on the cross, in the dark, with all of the sins of humanity on His shoulders, our completely holy, completely perfect Father has to turn His back on His Son.

God will not let our sin, our black ugly failings soil Himself. The Son has now become the perfect sacrifice, the propitiation of all our sins and His broken Body, which now bears all of that sin so that it may be forever forgiven of those who know Jesus as their Lord, but the Father in His perfect, holy nature will not bear that sin and has to turn away from His perfect Son. Hell is that place of eternal separation from the Father. For those who choose their own way and reject God, God allows them to have their way and eternally separates them from Him. In addition to the physical torments of Hell, is the torment of being eternally cut off from our only Hope and Promise in the Triune God. But Jesus suffers that separation, for the sin of all of humanity.

Yes on this day we remember how Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem as the King, because He is the King. King of all creation, Lord of Lord, He who will be at the right hand of God the Father. But five days later, subject to unimaginable physical and emotional torment, brought on by the sins of all of us here, all of mankind. Our eternal life is bought for us by Him, who through Him put us back into relationship with the Father, who when we sin, when we fail to live our life in Christ, the Father only sees His beloved Son, our Savior Jesus the Christ. By His stripes our sins are healed and three days later He will rise to defeat death and to give us the promise of true, eternal life in the New Creation, with Him as our only Lord.

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

[1] “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” Lent sermon series Concordia Publishing House

One Flesh, One Body in Jesus Mark 10: 2-16 First St Johns October 4, 2015

[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 know they are of one flesh with their spouse and of One Body with Christ said … AMEN!

The world does continue to push on the Body of Christ. That is the way it has been and will continue to be. I’ve said this before, but there were more Christian martyrs in the twentieth century than in the previous 1900 years of the Christian church, combined. The twenty-first century, is beginning to seem like it will exceed the previous one.

We remember brothers and sisters in Jesus who were singled out in the shootings at Umpqua Community College. Another incident that hits close to home for us.

Since I saw the readings for this Sunday and especially since Thursday when reports of the tragic events in Umpqua came out, I have really felt led to remember that yes, Jesus was certainly quoting God in Genesis that a man and woman become one flesh when they are married within the church. We who are in Jesus are part of the Body of Christ, This is not “one-flesh”, but it certainly does say to us that when those who are in Christ, are part of the Body of Christ as those who died in Umpqua are, that we feel something of what they were subjected to. I wish I could really convey what this means, and this is more than empathy. We’re all human, we all have some empathetic understanding of what it means to be killed or to die. But for us who are part of the Body of Christ this treatment that we are seeing of Christians has to transcend just this feeling of just human empathy. When we become aware of those who are part of the Body of Christ who die because of their witness to Christ, there must be an emotion that runs through the entire Body, exceeding empathy that understands the communion we have with those who have died witnessing to Jesus. When we take communion, the true Body and Blood of Christ, we are making a statement that we are very much a part of the Body of Jesus. The Body of Jesus is His church. You can’t be in communion with Jesus unless you are in communion with His Body and His Body is His Church, us, all brothers and sisters in Jesus. I am not making some call to action either. I’m not trying to sensationalize this like some others are. I’m certainly not endorsing Ron Ramsey’s call for Christians to get gun permits. The church has gone through periods like this before. The Acts church was sorely persecuted, starting with Stephen who was taken out and stoned when he stood before the Sanhedrin and proclaimed that Jesus is Messiah, God the Son. The church is going through persecution. Our society today has turned against Christ, Jesus told us that there would be those in the world who would murder Christians thinking they are serving God. Clearly we are seeing a realization of that prophesy. Our society is straight out teaching that the church is somehow evil, the enemy. I’m not saying that anyone, who is credible, is saying that Christians should be killed, but it is clear that in the United States the church of Jesus, the Body of Christ is being portrayed as somehow evil and the enemy. I really have pondered over what I am trying to convey in this sermon. Really wrestled with trying not stir people into a frenzy, create fear and feelings of chaos. That is not how we are supposed to feel as Christians. We are told not to be fearful, we are told that God is in control. God is in control and we should have no doubt that all we see around us is under His control. Christians have suffered martyrdom all through history. We have to come to grips with that realization, that just because we here in this part of the world, are so incredibly privileged, that we are not immune to what is going on around us. That we do need to have a revitalized realization that we are part of the Body of Christ, and that those in this country, in Umpqua, Charleston SC, Columbine Colorado, even right next door in Bart Township, and certainly those Christians in Iraq, China, Africa, India, Syria, are suffering for the cause of Christ. It will probably sound outright bizarre that we trust that this is all to the glory of Jesus. I really don’t want to think that way. But it is hard for me to dismiss. Too often we have seen an amazing growth of the Church because of those who suffered martyrdom. Many who might not come to know eternal salvation in Christ, have been saved because of the sacrifice of others.

The church in eastern Europe suffered severe persecution up until the fall of communism. Now we see a remarkable revitalization of the church in Russia and eastern Europe. Hundreds of Muslims are becoming Christians in what was the communist part of Germany twenty years ago. The church in China is still being actively persecuted and yet there are estimates that there will be more Christians in China than any other country in the world in the next twenty years. Tertullian, a father of the church, said that “The more you mow us down, the more numerous we grow”, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. Tertullian was a Roman who died in 225 AD, he saw some of the most vicious persecutions of Christians in history. These persecutions started under the Roman Emperor Nero in 64 AD and lasted until 313 AD when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire. In all these persecutions from Rome up to the present day in China and eastern Europe, Christians have never responded with violence. Jesus was completely innocent and holy and He suffered a violent death, even praying that God the Father would forgive those who persecuted Him because they did not know what they’re doing. Today, there are those being indoctrinated in our society to hate Christians. We cannot respond in hate. Jesus showed love and forgiveness even while He was undergoing the agony of the cross. For us to respond in hate and violence would be sin, and would be an unfaithful witness to the church, the Body of Christ. We are about forgiveness, we are about life. We must respond in true love and forgiveness in order to faithfully witness to Jesus. He died in order that our sins would be forgiven and that we would be saved who are lost in our sin. Certainly we have seen that martyrs all through history up until right now have died so that, as Tertullian said, their blood would be the seed that others might be a part of the church of Christ, to be a part of the Body of Christ, to be saved because others have died. Jesus modeled true courage for all who are in Him. We must show that courage now. We must be in prayer for those who hate us because of our faithfulness to Jesus and His church. Many continue to be led away from true life in Jesus and even if we suffer it must be so that others will come to know Christ and be saved to life, life more abundant in Jesus, eternal life in the resurrection. One of the things that our different prayer groups here have committed to, is to keep a list of those they know who have not been saved in Jesus. I ask all of you here today to put together a list of those who you know who are not saved in Christ. Some of those might be people who you consider to be hostile to you personally. All the more reason why they should be included. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount: “ESV Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It will not be easy, but certainly Jesus did not take the easy way out for us.

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

Rejoice? Yes! But for what? Zechariah 9:9-12 First St Johns March 29, 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 rejoice in our Savior Jesus Christ and His sacrifice said … AMEN!

A local radio show a man was saying that he was in traffic around D C and they had just blocked off the lane that he was in and he had to get over. He rolled down his window and pleaded with a woman to let him in. He says that she just let him have it, every blank, blank, blank, what she thought about him and his mother etc. He did get into the next lane and ended up ahead of her and they were going into a toll booth. He gets up to the toll booth and goes ahead and pays her toll.

Yes today is Palm Sunday, it is the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. We also have to remember that today is Passion Sunday too. Yes, Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem, no doubt the disciples were convinced that this was it, that Jesus was finally going to make His move and restore the kingdom and that they would be on His left hand and His right hand ruling over the new Davidic Kingdom. They had no thought whatsoever of how it would really turn out. The week started in triumph, but it would end in what they probably thought at the time was disaster. There weren’t going to be any cheers, no one was “hosannaing”, cloaks weren’t being laid in front of Him. Instead, He was dragged through an all night trial, the beating began, he had no sleep, no food, no water, thrown into a cell, beaten again. The next day He would be flogged, excruciating torture, forced to drag a rough wooden cross through the streets of Jerusalem, being jeered and hounded. Finally nailed to a cross, left hanging, no mercy, suffering in front of all these people that had been cheering Him a week ago. Instead of cheering they were jeering, they were mocking Him, we can only imagine what else to make His anguish on the Cross even more wretched.

The man in the car could have driven off, cut the woman off, been a jerk too. He didn’t, he showed this woman grace, no doubt when he drove away from the toll booth he felt the satisfaction that he did show her grace. I can’t say I’m as gracious as that, and I know I should be. After Jesus had been so despicably treated, He had every reason to just proceed along. Why would He have to do anything to save these miserable sinners who treated Him so disgustingly? Who could blame Him if He said “let those miserable sinners rot, why should I do anything else for them? He could have just driven off, and let us deal with our own fate, the fate that those who are not in Jesus all face. A life without Christ and an eternity of suffering, of separation from God, of torment.

Jesus didn’t leave us to our fate. God had decided earlier in the Bible to leave people to face the results of their sickening, sinful behavior. He pulled the plug on the world, found the only righteous man and told Noah to build an ark and to save creation for a new beginning. He decided to stomp on Sodom and Gomorrah for their appalling sin, telling Lot and his family to get out of Dodge.

But that wasn’t the plan going forward, that wasn’t how Jesus, God the Son, and God the Father and God the Holy Spirit decided to leave things. They would save us, by the sacrifice of God the Son. He was going to be the payment for all of our sins. He would not destroy the world again until He decides to end time in this world. He gave us a way to be saved, He paid the toll on His way through and not only that, but then returned. Friday He was shamefully treated, on Sunday He overcame our greatest enemy, not His, God the Son will never die, but we will. Jesus overcame death in order for us to live and not just life as we know it here, or life in some spiritual state in heaven. Jesus was resurrected on the Sunday after Good Friday not to perform some magic trick, not just to show us that He could, that since He is all powerful He can overcome death, but as a very powerful promise to us that we have the hope in Him that we too will be resurrected in our perfect bodies, to live in the perfect world where He had always intended for us to have that perfect life.

Now as we enter Holy Week, we have to take it as a composite and remember not just the triumphant entry, but how that will play out, that He will be abused by sinful men, and we are well served to remember that we are sinners just like them. Looking at verse 42 in our Gospel reading, that there are too many who forget Jesus today, some even here, many that we meet outside of this church: “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue.” You can’t be halfway about Jesus, you can’t “believe” and yet still carry on in the world. You are either a confessed child of Christ here and now or lost. The world can’t save you, the world is doomed to destruction. We can’t put our agenda on Jesus and expect that He is there for our convenience and our plans. We are His, He is our Lord, He is our Savior, He is our resurrected God. If He is not the Lord of our life in the world, He will not be the Lord of our resurrection. He will leave us to our own plans and that can only result in eternal damnation.

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday, Holy Week are a composite of our life journey, we have to see it in terms of how the crowds cheered Him on Sunday because they expected Him to carry out their agenda and how they turned on Him on Friday. Martin Franzman lays out Holy Week very pointedly to us: “The sign of the resurrection of Lazarus has made Jesus a man of note, sought after by the Passover pilgrims in Jerusalem (John11: 55-57); Mary’s anointing of Him is a token of the devotion He has inspired in His own (John 12: 1-8); a crowd hails the King of Israel at His entry into Jerusalem (John 12: 9-19) Greek proselytes present at the Passover seek Him out ( John 12: 20-22) even among the authorities there are many who believe in Him, though they cannot find the courage to confess Him (John 12: 42-43). But to Israel as a whole the Word has been spoken in vain: Judas, one of the Twelve will betray Him … The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified (John 12:23)”[1]

We see the world glorifying Jesus because they think He has come to carry out their worldview, those who believe but want to see their agenda carried out and will then sign up with Jesus, the winning team. But Jesus clearly knows how this is going to end and He also knows why and it’s totally contrary to what everyone around Him wants: “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified (23) The seed must fall into the ground and die before it can bear much fruit – life for the world is won by dying” (John 12: 23-26)[2] We think we know what is best, but in God’s eyes we haven’t got a clue. We have been born into this world as sinners, we have been brought to Christ, through His church, to be baptized, to be made His children. We take His body and blood, we hear the preached Word from His Word and live our lives in the church to be saved because of what He has done for us and to be given new and perfect life in the resurrection. Our friend showed grace at the toll booth to the woman who treated him so rudely, our friend Jesus, our mighty Lord and Savior showed us so much more grace, in His death for the forgiveness of our sins and His resurrection for the promise of eternal true life in the perfect world to come.

Nolan Astley writes: “In our post-9/11 world, we talk a great deal about heroes and victims. Heroes are often portrayed as utterly selfless individuals who willingly throw themselves in the path of danger to save others. Victims are often portrayed as innocent people who did nothing to deserve the tragedy that has come upon them. While there is a certain level of truth in those portrayals, God’s Word tells us something different. We all fall short of the glory of God; this world’s heroes and this world’s victims are all sinners.”

“Hero and victim are not so distinct. On Palm Sunday, we focus on the only true hero. Jesus is the true hero because He selflessly rides into Jerusalem to become the victim. Neither the heroic efforts of our lives nor the innocence of our lives makes us worthy of his love. Our salvation comes only from the Righteous King, who comes to conquer sin and death (Zechariah 9:9). He is our hero because he is the victim!”[3]

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

[1] Martin Franzman “The Concordia Self-Study Commentary p 96

[2] Ibid

[3] Nolan Astley  Concordia Pulpit Resources Vol 25, Part 2, Series B p 6