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7/22/18 "Peacemaking"

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.”  Ephesians 2:13-14; Pentecost 9; July 22, 2018

Grace…

We live in an increasingly hostile world.  It seems that people are divided on almost every issue.  And they are not often just quietly divided, but sometimes openly hostile.  There is a lot of anger, and people almost prepared to march in opposition at the drop of the hat against the other division. Divisions between male/female; adult/teens; citizens/immigrants; blue collar/white collar;  African American/Caucasian/ Hispanic; liberal/conservative; democrat/republican; pro-choice/ pro-life; NRA member/ those in favor of gun control; carnivore/vegetarian/vegan. Even in the church we have divisions, —Catholic/Protestant; liberal/ conservative; contemporary music/traditional music.

And these divisions may at times bring great anxiety, worry, and stress.  Maybe you even noticed this as I listed off the various divisions, that you got a bit anxious and worried yourself.  You wish that you could just have peace.  That we all could have peace.  That there would not be such an uproar always.  That we could all just get along, instead of always being “at each other’s throats.”  Wouldn’t that be great?

So, where do we begin?  Where does peace come from?  Many people wrongly believe that peace comes from within us.  That we can just have to find that peace within us.  By cleansing our minds, or simply to let these situations roll off of our backs, just like water off a duck’s back.  Others try to find their peace in a bottle of alcohol, or some other drug.  Still others go off into the woods, or retreat far, far away to just get away from it all.

Well, God’s Word for today points us away from ourselves, and turns us instead to Jesus.   The Apostle Paul helps us by tuning us into just how Jesus has brought peace to both Jews and Gentiles.  You might say, well that’s easy, that’s not a difficult division, not like some of ours today.  But you would be very wrong!  This was a major division.  The Jews had absolutely nothing to do with the Gentiles!  Gentiles were considered by them to be unclean.  Gentiles were uncircumcised.  They ate foods like pork that were considered unclean.  They didn’t follow the laws of the Sabbath.  In Paul’s terms, “they had no hope and were without God in the world.”   

But, now those Gentiles who were far off, distant outsiders, were brought near to God through the blood of Jesus Christ.  His death on the cross was for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike.  When Jesus died for the sins of all people, He broke down the dividing wall of hostility, between Jews and Gentiles, by abolishing the Law, even fulfilling it for all people, so that “He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.”  It took the creative power of God to destroy old divisions and create one new person.

For Paul this was very important and personal.  You may remember that He was raised as a strict Jew—a Pharisee.  He was trained under very strict regulations, to believe that the Gentiles were outsiders.  But, Jesus changed his mind completely.  He opened his eyes to see that He died for all, Jews and Gentiles alike.  In 2nd Corinthians Paul writes, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died.”  Christ Himself is our peace!

Just think about what that means for each of us.  We may all have disagreements over things, but we have peace in Christ.  Those disagreements may be small like a disagreement over a certain food, or they may be major like the disagreements of policies between Republicans and Democrats, but we all have peace in Christ. Jesus Christ died for all, “to reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”

Look at Jesus earthly ministry.  He preached peace both to those who were far off from God and those who were near.  Peace to Zacchaeus who had cheated many with their taxes.  Peace to the woman at the well who lived an adulterous life.  Peace to the man with a legion of demons.  Peace to the Syro-Phonecian woman, who needed help with her little girl.  And peace to the Apostle Paul himself, a one time persecutor of the church.  And what is more, Jesus died for each of their horrible sins as well, and yours and mine too, so that we can all say, “He is our peace.”  In a chaotic world, filled with divisions, we all can find our peace in Jesus!

Each one of us here today, has probably done some things in your life that keeps getting replayed again and again in your life.  It’s been forgiven, but Satan keeps dredging it up again and again to try to get your mind off of Christ, and to cast doubt on His Word.  It sometimes becomes a barrier for you.  But, let me remind you, Jesus is our peace!

I remember years ago, visiting a woman, who was very sick with cancer.  I came to pray and read the Bible with her.  But, she had a very troubled look on her face. I could tell that something was wrong, so I asked her about it.  She proceeded to tell me that she had a vivid dream the night before, and in the dream Satan told her that she wasn’t good enough to get into heaven.  I asked why, what did he say?  She then went on to tell me about something sinful that she had done when she was in 8th grade at 14 years old.  Now this woman was a devout believer, and she was now 80 years old!  I looked at her and said, “You’ve been forgiven of that sin long ago! Jesus died for that sin too!  You tell Satan to get lost, because Jesus died so that you would have peace with God!  You’re not good enough, we’re all not good enough, but Jesus is!”  The look on her face changed almost immediately.  It was like a load was lifted off of her shoulders, and a smile came to her face. 

Jesus said “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give unto you.  I do not give unto you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)  The peace that Jesus brings is deep and profound.  It is peace between God and man.  There may be situations where we don’t completely achieve world peace between people.  In fact the Bible teaches that there will be wars and rumors of wars to the last days.  But, that doesn’t mean that we should stop praying for peace.  It’s never a lost cause.  Because we also remember that Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

We may have situations in our workplace, or school, or neighborhood, or even in our own families that are not always peaceful.  In fact, at this time, they may be chaotic.  But, Jesus death and His resurrection means that there is peace with God.  And that means everything.  Pray for opportunities for reconciliation and forgiveness.  I encourage you to take the first step.  Jesus took the first step for each of us, whether we were far off or near.

And there is something more.  I have always read the statement in this lesson that we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. “  There are times that I have kind of skipped over that.  I wondered what it meant to be built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.   I’ve come to understand that this means that we are built on the words of the Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit through the apostles and prophets.  That means that we are called to  faithfully study this Word of God, to read, mark, and take it to heart.  Not just once in a while, or even once a week.  How about every day?  Even several times during the day?  Our lives are called to be built on this Word.   

And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus.  He’s the foundation.  Who reminds us that we truly have peace with God and all the barriers have been broken down.  And we are joined together with all believers from all times into one Holy Temple in the Lord, for Jesus is our peacemaker.

God grant it…

7/15/18 "Chosen!"

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.”  Ephesians 1:3-4; Pentecost 8; July 15, 2018

Grace…

Have you ever had the opportunity to see a good illusionist, who works with cards, amaze you?  They work so confidently, so calmly, and ask a person to choose a card, any card, and then watch as they pull out that random card.  But, to the amazement of many, that illusionist, calmly and confidently pulls out a match of that same card, as if he had it all planned out ahead of time.  Perhaps some of you have had an opportunity to hear how the illusion is done.  And then everything seems to make sense. 

Or perhaps you have recently read or watched a really good mystery, recently.  Much of the book or movie is spent wondering….  Why did this happen the way it did?  Could this person be the culprit?  Or how about her?  And then, when it is all revealed, everything seems to make sense.

Mysteries…there are many mysteries in life, and often we don’t know what to make of them.  But, today, in our text from Ephesians, St. Paul, through inspiration, explains to us, one of, if not the most important mystery of all time.  Why am I here?  Not just why am I here this morning—although that plays into it too, but why am I on this earth, breathing this air, in this place right now?  Why?  Paul says, “God has chosen you in Christ before the foundation (creation) of this world!”  You have been chosen by God to be here, to be part of His plan before the foundation of the world! (Wow!)

Today we begin on an eight week journey through the beautiful book of Ephesians.  This is Paul’s letter to show us the “God’s eye” view of His grace and purpose to our lives.  Sometimes we all struggle with why we are here.  Whether it’s a 9 year old here in worship today, or a 99 year old, we all need to know that we have been chosen by God to be here, and you are part of His plan!

For Paul this had to be a monumental understanding, a glorious unfolding if you will, something that the Holy Spirit had made clear to him, as he was writing this letter.  Ephesians is one of the letters we call the “Prison Epistles”, along with Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, because Paul wrote them sometime during his imprisonment, about 60 AD, as he awaited his trial before Caesar.  This imprisonment, as tough as it was, allowed Paul to really reflect upon God’s will for his life—of how he, this one time enemy of the Christian faith, had become the head apostle for the church, as the Good News of Jesus Christ was being spread to the Gentiles. 

By this time, Paul had served the Lord for 25 years, served on three major missionary trips, spreading the Gospel from Cyprus, to Psidian Antioch, to Berea, to Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and yes, for sure, to Ephesus, where this letter was directed.  These were people Paul knew quite well, and of all the different areas, where he had served the longest, close to three years.  Many of the people here were Gentile Christians, people who didn’t originally have a lot of the background from the Old Testament, but people who nevertheless were chosen by God to serve Him.

God had a plan for Paul, before the creation of the world, to use him to bring the message of hope and forgiveness through the cross of Jesus Christ. God had a plan for the Ephesian Christians, to hear this message of forgiveness and hope through Jesus, and to spread it to their family members, their co-workers, and the people they came in contact with at the market.  And God has a plan for you, to hear this message, to read, mark, and inwardly digest this Word of Hope so that the Gospel is spread and more and more people come to faith in Jesus, and have eternal salvation.  For you see, God wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  This is His plan before the foundation of the world! 

It is His gracious and good plan!  Theologians call it “predestination”.  You see God knows all about us, our past, our present, and yes, our future.  He knew about them before the creation of the world!  God intended for us to be “holy and blameless before Him.”  He planned ahead of time for our goodness.  But, God also knew that sin would enter the world.  Not that He caused it, in any way, but He knew that Adam and Eve would take that first bite, and that sin would be passed on in this world.  He also knew that each of us would take part in that sin, in thought, word, and deed.  He knew that because of His justice, there would need to be necessary consequences of sin—pain, hardship, suffering, and yes, even death itself.  Again, God did not cause sin, or these consequences of sin, but He is certainly aware of them.  He knows all things!  And through it all, God also knows that His plan, His will, is often accomplished in weakness, in suffering, and in persecution. For His “grace is sufficient” for all times, and His “power is made perfect in weakness.”

For Paul this was of major importance, because even while he was imprisoned, God’s grace was shining through in his letters.  For the Ephesian Christians, even while they were facing persecution, God’s grace was shining on them and the church was growing.  And most important of all, God’s grace shined through, as they remembered the saving work of Jesus Christ, shown most fully when we might think He was weakest—on the cross.  There, on the cross, as Jesus hung, all of the sins of all time were hung on His shoulders.  There on the cross, He said those powerful words, “It is finished!”  And the multitudes of sin for all time were forgiven.  There in the tomb, Jesus’ lifeless body was placed, so that He would take the death that we deserved.  And three days later, His body was gloriously raised so that everyone who believes in Him will have everlasting life, and victory over sin, death, and the devil.  Yes, this victory is part of God’s will, which He planned before the foundation of the world.

And He chose you (and you), and me, to be part of that plan!  Isn’t that awesome?  No human being could have ever conceived of something this good!  Now Paul could have grumbled and complained and fought against that plan in the jail cell.  John the Baptist could have grumbled and complained and called out in anger against God about this plan.  And the Ephesian Christians could have said that they had enough of the persecution they faced for the sake of the faith.  And you and I could complain, doubt, and even fight against God’s plan for our lives.  But, that would be wrong, right? That would be sinful!  But, sad to say, there are times that we all fall into that trap.  Dear Lord forgive us!  And help us to trust your plan, your will from before the foundation of the world.

In a little while, several of you are going to be commissioned to go to Guatemala, to serve the Lord, and His Church, by bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to God’s wonderful Guatemalan people.  For some of you, this is the very first time!  Who would have ever thought that you would be going?  But, God did before the foundation of the world.  He has made plans ahead of time for Guatemala City, Amatilan, and Buena Vista.  Some of you are going for the second, third, fourth, or multiple times.  Who would have ever thought this?  When you were younger, did you ever think that you would do this type of thing?  God did!

God has a plan for all of our lives.  Maybe some of you today are a bit “envious” of our friends who “get to” go to Guatemala to do God’s will.  You may ask, why am I here?  Well, let me remind you that He is using each of you wherever you go, through whatever you do, whether it’s in playing an instrument, teaching at VBS, showing compassion to a child, or an elderly person, loving your husband or wife, being a parent or a grandparent, being a friend to your neighbor, caring for His wonderful creation.  God chose you, and had planned how He would use you before the foundation of the world.  St. Paul wrote in Colossians, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

For Paul this was a profound and wonderful revelation.  It brought meaning and purpose to him, while he waited in prison.  And I hope and pray that this revelation of you being chosen by God, leads you to praise our God with great joy, in our daily lives, both now and for the days to come!

God grant it… 

 

6/17/18 "Walking Lessons"

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”  2 Corinthians 5:7; Pentecost 4; June 17, 2018, Father’s Day

Grace…

(Congratulations to you fathers and grandfathers today…)

Today we thank God for our fathers.  Although it may not be so in every case, I hope and pray that we can say that we have learned some good things because of our fathers.  Maybe it was how to catch a ball, or how to hammer a nail, or how to pray.  But, maybe, just maybe it was also how to even “walk.”

We all know that walking is not always the easiest thing to learn.  If you have ever watched a toddler, there are many “baby steps” to take first.  Then there are many tumbles and falls, and plenty of bumps and bruises along the way.  In addition, any of you that have broken a leg or had leg surgery, know that it takes quite a while to learn how to move your muscles again in the right ways, to walk correctly.  Walking is tough.  Although sometimes we don’t even think about it, walking is difficult and complex. 

So it’s really no wonder that in the Bible “walking” is really picture language for living.  As a matter of fact the Greek word περιπατοῦμεν (peripatoumen) can be translated either as walking or living.  For instance, in the ESV it says “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” And the NIV says, “For we live by faith and not by sight.”  So the question for us today, first is “How are you walking lately?”  Paul says we walk by faith, in Jesus!

Our text from 2nd Corinthians begins with Paul speaking about our “tent”.  This term “tent” may at first cause you to wonder, but remember that Paul, himself was a tentmaker.  This was a skill that he used to help support his ministry.  But, Paul is using the term “tent” to make reference to our earthly body.  He writes, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Just like a tent, our earthly body is temporary.  And although while we are young our body is strong and vigorous, we realize that a brief illness can easily take that away.  It is temporary.  And as we age, our strength of our body starts to decrease too.  Our “tents” our bodies are temporary, but we look forward to our heavenly dwelling.

It’s also helpful to remember that Paul, through the Spirit, relied a great deal on the Old Testament.  We can never forget that the Children of Israel walked through the wilderness (or desert) for 40 years.  They regularly set up their tents, only to take them down again and begin walking again.  Walking was their life.  But they yearned for the Promised Land.   To remember this, year after year, the Jewish people would celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles (Booths), where they would build temporary dwellings, to remember their days of walking in the wilderness.

But the reality is that we are still walking in the wilderness.  Like the Children of Israel, we often sin by grumbling, complaining, doubting, and fearing the things of this world, rather than trusting in God.  When we think that things are not going our way, we grumble that maybe God has it out for us, or we complain and lash out in anger at our family, or even against God.  We may also sin by doubting that God is truly for us, and because of it we try to hide, developing habits in things like drugs, alcohol, or even our work, or some other thing that takes us away from God.  Dear Lord forgive us!

Paul writes, “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” Shortly after Adam and Eve committed their first sins, you may remember that they hid and tried to cover up their nakedness.  Their sin brought shame to their life.  And they tried to hide from God.  We too may try to hide our shame from God.  But our God knows everything about us.  And the beautiful thing is that He does not condemn us. 

Out of mercy for us, He sent His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, to come into this world full of complaining, doubting, and groaning.  He came to bring forgiveness, hope, and joy for every moment of life.  He understands the complications that have come into our lives because of sin.  And for those reasons, He willingly went to the cross, bearing our shame, and died for the sins of the whole world, so that everyone who believes in Him would have peace in their hearts.  On the third day He rose again, so that we would have victory over every sorrow of life brought by sin, death, and the devil.  Jesus took the guilt of our shame and in turn clothes us with His own righteousness.

In Baptism, we are given more, the gift of the Holy Spirit, that Paul calls a “guarantee.”  He is a “Deposit” that God has given to us so that as we walk by faith in this world, we are able to overcome the temptations from Satan, the world, and our own sinful self.  This is God’s divine design that God has brought into our lives so that we may walk with courage and confidence.

I know that there are times in our lives where we are all greatly challenged.  We may sometimes wonder how we or a loved one will ever get through a difficult situation.  Things may look very dismal and hopeless.  Whether it is our finances, our health, or a relationship problem.  But, that is why this passage is so helpful for us.  It says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”  Sometimes our “eyes” may play tricks on us.  But, faith says to us to have courage!  That’s what the guarantee of the Holy Spirit says to us. You are a beloved child of God.

I believe that’s what a good father often needs to remind his children.  They may have fears of the darkness, or a spider, or some other animal that just causes them to fear.  But, a good father, comes into the room, and turns on the light, and eliminates the fear, and reminds the son or daughter that he is there and there is nothing to fear.  He is their dear father, and they are his dear children. 

And He is “for us.”  Paul says in the book of Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31)  Let’s think about that for a while.  Nothing in this world can match up to the power of God.  No resentment from your coworkers or a neighbor down the street; no army from our fiercest enemy; not even the steaming arrows of Satan himself, can come close to matching the power of God.  And if (since) God is for us, these other things of this temporary world will fall apart. 

The Bible even tells us that even when there are bad things that happen to us in our lives, God will bring them to good.  Paul says, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.”(Rom. 8:28)  Remember Joseph from the Old Testament, whose brothers threw him into a pit, then sold him into slavery.  But God brought it to good, bringing Joseph to second in command in all of Egypt.  So while we are home in this body, we walk with courage, knowing that God is for us!

And what is more, Paul invites us to make it our aim to please God!  He’s the one who has given us life.  He has redeemed us through the cross, and He’s given us the guarantee of the Spirit.  So, let’s live our lives to please Him.  Some of you might know what makes your earthly father happy.  So you may have bought him a special card, or made him a special meal, or are going with him to his favorite place.  We also know what pleases our heavenly Father. 

6/3/18 "Treasure in Clay Jars"

“For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  2 Corinthians 4:6; Pentecost 2; 6/3/18

Grace…

This morning I would like for us to begin by thinking about the blessings of light.  Where would we be without light?  What a dark and dismal place this world would be!  In fact, it’s quite true that we would probably not even be here.  Our life is really dependent upon light.   Light was the first creation of God.    Genesis 1:3, God said, “Let there be light.”  And it was good!  Even before the creation of the sun and the moon, God created light. 

In fact, it could be said that everything begins with light.  Without light, not only can we not see, but plants do not grow, and our physical lives, of course, depend upon plants.  Science tells us that the process of photosynthesis would not take place without light.  This is the process by which plants grow, and produce food--glucose and also the oxygen we need to live.  We would starve and suffocate without light.  We need light desperately to live! 

Our text today from the book of 2nd Corinthians, talks about light in an even far greater way than this!  Here, the Apostle Paul talks about the light of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.  This light of the Gospel is the greater light for this world, even far above the light of nature.  Because in the Good News of Jesus, we have the forgiveness of sins, hope for every situation of life, peace even amidst hardship, and eternal life for all who believe.  Paul writes, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Now Paul was writing through inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to this church at Corinth, in Greece.  This was a congregation that faced several troubles.  First of all, Christianity was at that time just a very small group of believers, amongst the huge metropolis of Corinth.  The vast majority of people there worshiped many different Greek and Roman gods.  And the Christians, of course, were called to worship only the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to live their lives in a different way for Him.  There were struggles on the outside.

In addition, the Corinthian Christians had many struggles within their congregation.  Some felt that they were better than others.  There were divisions among them.  Some were still living immoral lives, even though they professed to be Christians.  They were dealing with divorce and remarriage.  Some felt that their spiritual gifts were more important than others.  Some were abusing the Lord’s Supper, and some didn’t think the Resurrection, (Easter Sunday) was really all that important.  Paul, of course, tried to straighten these problems out. (That’s what the book of 1st Corinthians was all about.)  And it needed to be said to them, but maybe it came out pretty harsh.

This letter of 2nd Corinthians is like first aid to their and our wounds.  They go together so well.  That even though we live in an impure world, with all kinds of problems.  And even though we’ve got some real problems of our own, that we, by ourselves, can’t overcome,  we do have the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And this light of Jesus Christ lives in our hearts.  It is the faith that God the Holy Spirit put there, and it shines through in our lives.  Paul says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

This Gospel is a treasure that lives in us, and Paul speaks of us as being “Jars of Clay.” It’s no accident that he refers to us this way, because man when he was first created was made from the dirt or clay from the ground, ”and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7)

All through the Bible, God speaks about man and woman being the clay, and God, Himself the potter, who shapes us and forms us, through life experiences.  Through baptism and the Gospel, He places the light of faith inside of us, and allows us to shine out of our clay pots.  Sometimes God even permits some cracks into the clay pots, so that the light of Christ would shine out through us into the darkness of a sinful world. 

Paul was reminding the Corinthian Christians about this as he said, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Cor. 4:8-10)  We don’t give up, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ has an answer and a cure for every situation of life.

Jesus Christ personally came to this world to overcome sin, death, and Satan.  He didn’t shy away from the problems.  He came to destroy the works of the devil, and to show mercy to the people of the world.  Through His teaching, through His healings, and especially through His death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead, He has won the victory for us, so that everyone who believes and is baptized in Him would have this victory as well.

Oh, I know that sometimes we feel like we are being pushed to the brink—afflicted (hard pressed), perplexed (not knowing what to do), persecuted, and struck down, but the life of Jesus Christ always brings us forgiveness, hope, joy, and the energy to carry on.  Like one person said, “We may feel that we are at the end of the rope, but we are never at the end of hope!  It’s amazing, and really miraculous how this works.  God provides the light of Christ for us to shine into this dark world.  Psalm 112 says, “Even in darkness, light dawns for the upright.”

Today is Commitment Sunday here at Trinity, and it’s also Graduation Sunday for one young man.  Andrew, you have shown a lot of commitment, a lot of faith, to carry on.  God has richly blessed you with many abilities.  Here at West Shore Lutheran School, you have stepped up into a leadership role.  You have been an encouragement to a lot of younger students and a lot of older people too.  Faith in Jesus has carried you on!  We pray that God’s light would continue to shine through in your life.

For the rest of us, members and friends of Trinity, today is an opportunity to step up in faith.  We live in a world often very dark with sin and sorrow.  But, what a great opportunity we have to let the light of Christ shine out of us, clay pots though we are, as we help others, showing mercy, sharing with others, and witnessing our faith in Jesus to others. 

In the last few weeks, and today as well, we gave you a tri-fold pamphlet in your worship folder, titled, “How Will I Be Involved?” that lists several ways that each of us could be involved.  We ask that you would circle or put a check-mark by the area that you feel led to be involved, and also make sure to put your name and information.  Also, inside of this there is a promise card for your financial offerings.  We ask that you would fill this in, tear off the bottom portion, for your records.  Then, later on in the service, after the offering, we ask that you would bring your tri-fold pamphlet and your promise card to be dedicated to the Lord and His kingdom.

In a few moments, we will look at a power point presentation of our members and friends who are serving in various ways in our congregation and our community.  We praise God for this wonderful service, and we pray that, through faith in Jesus, even more of us would take part…  I ask you now to watch this and consider how you also may be involved…

God grant it…  

5/27/18 "How Can These Things Be?"

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”  John 3:17; Trinity Sunday; 5/27/18

Questions…We’ve all got a lot of them!  Why is the sky blue?  Why is the grass green?  Why do some people hear “Yanni”, while other people hear “Laurel” even when it is the same sound byte?  Many of these questions have answers, like there is water vapor in the air that reflects blue light, and chlorophyll in the grass which reflects the green light, and we think we hear Yanni or Laurel because of the sound frequency that particular people normally hear.

But, there are other times that there are just not easy answers.  Sometimes, you need to dig, really dig into the question and go right to the source. You can’t just “google it” or “you tube it” to get the answer.  They are deeper mysteries. You have to hear it from the source.  You have to hear the reasons and the motivation behind the answer, to be able to understand.      

Well in an age way before google, and way before youtube, and thank God that it was, our text from the Gospel of John shows us that Nicodemus had a question or two, and he wanted to go straight to the source.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee.  He had probably heard of Jesus for quite some time.  Jesus had been performing miracles all throughout the land.  Turning water into wine, healing a paralyzed man, giving hearing to the deaf, and sight to the blind.  In addition, Jesus had been teaching multitudes of people.  Why was Jesus doing these things, Nicodemus probably wondered?

And what is more, Nicodemus was on the ruling council of the Jewish people, called the Sanhedrin.  There were some others who were also on that council, especially the High Priest, Caiaphas, and his father in law, Annas, who were furious about Jesus.  They wanted Jesus dead!  They were Sadducees, and they didn’t believe in miracles.  They thought Jesus was a fraud.  But, Nicodemus wasn’t so sure.  Some things that Jesus did probably tugged at his heart.  Things like healing the sick, and the lame, and the blind.  Certain things that the prophet Isaiah had spoken about the Messiah, that seemed to closely match what Jesus was doing.

So, Nicodemus decided he needed to go to the Source Himself, Jesus.  He likely waited until dark, so no one else would see Him, because Jesus was so controversial.  And he began saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” That was the statement, but the questions behind it really are, “Jesus, who are you?  And just why have you come?” 

But, Jesus, the Master Teacher, wouldn’t give those answers quite yet.  At least not without some background.  He said, “Truly, truly I say to you unless one is born again, He cannot see the kingdom of God.”  You won’t really get me, (Nicodemus) you won’t really understand Me, Jesus is saying, unless you’re born again (born from above.)  You need a change of mind and heart, Nicodemus!

What is this, Nicodemus wondered.  “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  This defies human logic.   I don’t understand.  So, Jesus responds, “Truly, truly I say to you unless one is born of water and the Spirit He cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” 

Before you can understand, Nicodemus, you need to change.  You were born of the flesh.  You were born covered in sin.  You need to have a change to be able to understand.  And that change comes through water and the Spirit.  It comes through Baptism, where your sins are forgiven, and you become a child of God and a temple of the Holy Spirit.  It’s then that you will begin to understand.

And that is where we all begin too.  Because like Nicodemus, we must change.  The Bible teaches, that we also were covered in sin, spiritually blind, dead, even enemies of God.  Like Nicodemus, we, needed to be born again, born from above, through baptism.  We, could not understand the Kingdom of God, or why Jesus has come.  But, now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we see!

We see that sin has a way of destroying us, like serpents in the wilderness.  We would be lost forever, wiped out, and destroyed eternally in hell.  But God has the solution, the perfect cure.  He sent His Son, Jesus, out of love as our Savior.  So here are the answers Nicodemus had been waiting for all along.  He wondered who Jesus was and why He came.  And Jesus responds, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

There’s a reason that this passage, John 3:16 has become the most famous passage in the New Testament of all time. (Sometimes we have become so familiar with it, that we take it for granted.)  But, this passage states a truth that we all need to know so well.  It needs to be repeated again and again.  For God so loved the world, that He gaveHis only Son!  God loves the people of this world!  He doesn’t love the sin!   But, He loves all people, sinners like you and me.  He loves us so much that He gave His precious only Son, to die the death that we deserved, so that we, through faith, would not perish, but have eternal life.

Today on this Memorial Day weekend, we remember those who have given their life for the sake of our country.  And we thank God for them.  But, on a far, far greater level, we thank God for sending His only Son, Jesus for the sake of the whole world, people of all times and places, that their sin would be paid for, and through faith in Him, they would be saved.

But, sometimes this truth of God’s love, is hard to fathom.  It’s like a great mystery.  Why would God love us so much?  And what may be more for us to fathom.  Why would He love all the people of this world—even those who hate Him?  I’ll just simply say, that’s who He is.  That’s what He’s all about! Go to the source—in the Bible. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

Today, we also celebrate the Holy Trinity—One God, yet three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Although we cannot completely understand how three are one, we can go to the source of the Bible and clearly see, the work of the Father, who sent His Son, Jesus, who gives us the Holy Spirit, so that we may believe in Jesus and be saved.

Oh, we may have many questions in life.  Some that are easily answered, and others that need to be researched more fully.  Others that we will never fully understand in this life.   But, let us never forget the beautiful answer that Nicodemus first heard, in that intimate room with Jesus, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

God grant it…

 

 

5/20/18 "My Spirit is in You!"

“And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.  Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken and I will do it, declares the Lord.”  Ezekiel 37:14; Pentecost Sunday; Trinity Ministry Sunday; 5/20/18

Grace…

Many years ago, “Time” magazine ran an article in their medical section about a man who went to a psychiatrist complaining that he was always hearing radio broadcasts.  Wanting to humor him, the psychiatrist asked what the man was hearing right then, at that time?  The man replied that he was hearing a singer, singing with some big band music, broadcasting from the Steel Pier in Atlantic City.

After much questioning, the psychiatrist discovered that the man worked in a glass bottle factory and had gotten some silica crystals in some of his dental cavities.  The combination of crystals, saliva, and some bridgework in his mouth had literally transformed him into a walking radio! So, wherever he went, he did hear music!  Way before Walkmans with headphones, Ipods, and way before smartphones, this man had music wherever he went.

The Bible says that those who are filled with the Holy Spirit are tuned into a heavenly frequency and carry a song around with them everywhere they go—speaking to themselves in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music to the Lord in their hearts.

Today is the day that we remember the mighty work of the Holy Spirit, who came powerfully into the lives and hearts of the Apostles that day in Jerusalem that we call Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit brought courage and joy into the hearts of those disciples, so that they were able to speak the words of the Good News of Jesus Christ in many different languages.  And on that day, the Bible says, 3,000 people were baptized into the family of God!  Wouldn’t that be great—to see 3,000 baptisms?  No wonder we call Pentecost Day the birthday of the church.  (So, Happy Birthday Church!)

Today, we also come to God on this birthday of the church, asking that He would renew us, and revive us, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Many times in life, we feel like we are running on empty.  The temptations of Satan and the troubles of the world, and our own sinful self have a way of really getting us down and discouraged.   Even with our faith in Jesus, at times we may feel afraid, deflated, and stagnant in our faith.  But, we should always remember that we are not alone.  We have the Lord with us on every side, and He will send us His Spirit to help us overcome.

Our text for today is from the book of Ezekiel, chapter 37.  Ezekiel was a prophet of God during a very difficult time.  He was a prophet at about the same time as Jeremiah and Daniel, about 580 years before Christ.  Now if that time frame doesn’t immediately grab you, you should know that this was an extremely discouraging time for the people of Judah.  In about the year 587 BC, the entire city of Jerusalem was routed by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, the buildings and the temple itself were destroyed.  In addition many of the people were captured by the Babylonians, and most of the talented and able bodied ones were taken off to Babylon as exiles.  Ezekiel the prophet was one of them, who had been exiled in shame.  

Just imagine, how difficult it must have been for the people of Judah.  They were God’s people, that’s what they thought, even though they had not acted like it.  They thought however that God would never let His temple be destroyed, and His people carried off.  But, here they were now in a foreign country, cut off from their homeland.  Maybe, some even felt cut off from God. 

But, God gave Ezekiel a new vision.  In it, God took Ezekiel, in the Spirit of the Lord, and brought him to a valley of bones.  All around, wherever he looked, he saw bones.  And the text tells us, they were very dry.  This means, there was no life left in them.  They had been there a while.  But, the Lord asks Ezekiel, “Son of Man, can these bones live?”

It’s a strange question, really.  Can they live?  Yeh, right!!! Ezekiel might have been tempted to answer.  He had probably seen a lot of destruction during his lifetime.  Life in Jerusalem during his lifetime was like a deflating balloon.  Tragedy after tragedy in his lifetime.  Can they live?  Can they live?  “O Lord God, You know.”

Then God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.  Thus says the Lord God to these bones:  Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”  And that’s exactly what Ezekiel did.  He spoke the words God told him to speak.  And an amazing thing happened.  Those dry bones started coming together.  Sinews and muscles started to appear on them, with flesh and skin.  And then God told Ezekiel to speak more of His Word, and command breath to come into these bodies, and this one time valley of dry bones, “lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.!  Dry bones came back to life, as God’s Word was spoken, and the Holy Spirit came into them!

God did this to show Ezekiel that His Holy Spirit revives people who feel lost, rejected, and even exiled.  Yes, even dead.  God’s Spirit brings life.  He brings hope.  Listen again to the last verse of our text, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.  Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it declares the Lord.”

This reminds me of what Jesus told His disciples in our Gospel for today. Jesus’ disciples were afraid of what was to come.  Jesus had told them that He would suffer and die for them.  He also told them that He would rise again on the third day.  But it didn’t sink in to them.  They were still afraid.  But Jesus said, “I have more to say to you, more than you can now bear.  But when He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth….He will bring glory to Me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” 

And that is exactly what the Holy Spirit did for the disciples on Pentecost Day.  The Spirit of Truth came into their hearts and they were guided into all truth.  They went from fearful disciples into bold preachers of the Gospel.  It’s like dry bones coming back to life.  And God raised up an “army” of believers for Him on that day, through His Spirit.

Sometimes, we all come to points in our lives where we feel discouraged, fearful, and we even doubt God and His Word.  Sometimes it’s longer than points in our lives, it goes on for months, even years.  Dear Lord forgive us!  Today, on this day of Pentecost, we pray, send out Your Spirit, to forgive us, revive us, and unify us for work in Your kingdom. 

Today, in your worship folder, you received a tri-fold brochure.  (It says, “How Will I Be Involved?)  It lists many of the different ways that we serve the Lord together here at Trinity.  Many of you are serving already.  But, we pray that all of us would, by the power of the Holy Spirit, would be moved to help out this mission that God has given us, in at least one way.   Maybe you could be a “Reader” or a “Greeter”, serve on the properties and grounds committee.  Maybe you could be a part of the “Let Us Pray” prayer chain, work with student hospitality, or serve with Vacation Bible School.  We pray that God would send His Spirit into our hearts to “raise up an army” for Him.

Ezekiel saw how God transformed dry bones into a living and mighty army for the Lord.  The disciples saw how God transformed them from being fearful, into might preachers of His Word, that now led a huge group of people.  And God has not forgotten us.  He will send His Spirit into us, to revive us, and fill us with joy to serve our risen and ascended Savior, Jesus Christ, so that the world will know that they have salvation in His name! 

God grant it…

5/13/18 "Calling Out Confidently"

“And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”  1 John 5:14; Easter 7; May 13, 2018

Grace…

Today is Mother’s Day.  It’s a day that we set aside to give thanks to God for the woman who carried us, nurtured us, and helped us along during our primary years of life.  And also, as the years went on,  hopefully also taught you how to care, how to treat others,  and gave you an example of a loving faith in God--one to live by throughout your life. 

As I was thinking about Mother’s Day this past week, I thought about the way my mom helped me in my life especially as I got older.  She was a great mom when I was young, but as I grew older, our relationship matured.  We became good friends too.  She was someone I knew who was always praying for me and my family.  She was always encouraging us.  And I always knew that I could confidently talk with her knowing that she had my family’s best interest at heart.

Confidence…This is something that God’s Word highlights for us today.  John says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”  Jesus, the almighty Son of God, who rules in all authority, (He) hears us!  We can be confident in this!

Over the past month we have been preaching a sermon series called, “For the Love of God!”  This is based on the book of 1st John.   For the love of God, we “proclaim Jesus’ life” and resurrection.   For the Love of God, we are called “Children of God.” For the love of God, we know love”, and show love.  For the love of God, He is our Vine and we are His fruitful branches.  And last week, For the love of God, we are “Overcomers”, we are victorious.  And now lastly, this week, “For the Love of God, “We call out to Him confidently.”

The Apostle John wrote this letter of 1st John in about the year 85 AD.  He was the only one of the original twelve disciples who was still living on earth at this time.  The others, except for Judas, had died from persecution.  The disciples had been faithful in spreading the Good News of Jesus wherever they went.  And the Christian faith was growing and growing.  But, they faced great opposition.

Some of the opposition was physical, and the disciples’ lives were put on the line.  But, the other even more sinister opposition was spiritual.  False teachers were coming around and they were leading others away from the truth.  At this time, we believe that John was writing against the false teaching that Jesus was not fully God and man at the same time.  The false teachers wrongly stated that He couldn’t both be God and Man.  And so they said, Jesus couldn’t really die.  He couldn’t shed His blood.  It just looked like it.  But, that is why right before this lesson, John says, “For there are three that testify:  the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, and these three agree.”  The Holy Spirit (the Word of God) , Jesus’ baptism (where God said “This is my beloved Son) , and His death on the cross, they all agree.  Jesus Christ is the Son of God, 100% God, and 100 % Man. 

John says, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater.”  I think it’s interesting that the Apostle John lived to be the last living link of the twelve disciples to Jesus.  He held a unique position in that He knew exactly what Jesus said, what He did, and how He lived.  John was an eyewitness.  So when false teachers came along and tried to lead people astray, John could say, that’s not what Jesus said, that’s not what He did, and  God’s testimony is greater.

So often in our lives we also listen to other voices to try to get the approval of other people.  We are tempted to put the testimony, the advice of other people above the testimony of God.  And we often fall.  We follow their ways, rather than God’s ways.  We try to be popular with the world, rather than being faithful to God.  And we pray, “Dear God, please forgive us!  You are the Lord of all life.  And in You we have confidence!  John says, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”

Look at the life and ministry of Jesus.  Every moment was lived to bring life.  He was baptized by John in the Jordan, to fulfill all righteousness.  He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness and He overcame by the Word of God.  He came back to Galilee and called out to people, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. (It’s present!)”  Everywhere He went, He brought the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.  He healed the lame, the blind, the deaf, the lepers, and the demon-possessed.  He calmed the storms, He raised the dead.  No one else has ever done these things.  But, the greatest thing He did was to bring the forgiveness of sins and hope to all people by submitting to death on the cross, and rising again on the third day.  So that we, through faith in Him would be victorious, and have eternal life.  Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life to the full.”

Have you ever wondered what life would be like without Jesus?  What do people do?  What do they think?  How do they live without Jesus? I’ve often wondered that myself.  Because without Jesus, we would be lost, alone, and have no purpose.  We wouldn’t know what we are truly worth.  We would be empty and broken, still carrying our guilt and shame.  We would have discontent, and live in despair.  In fact, we would still be stuck in our sins, and have no hope for eternal life. 

But with Jesus, we have everything! We have hope for every moment of life.  There’s not a single situation that does not have hope because of Him.  We have a purpose to life, to serve Him.  We have a value in life because of Him.  We are Children of God.  (Just think of all that Lydia was given today in baptism!) We have freedom, peace, and contentment, because of Him.  And through Him we have forgiveness for all that we have done, and the full promise of eternal life with Him forever.  John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Today, we also celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, where He is reigning (ruling) in all power and authority at the right hand of God.  This happened 40 days after the Resurrection.  And we can be confident that He is in charge.  John says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Far greater than our earthly mothers or fathers we can trust in Him!  We are confident in Him. Our hope is real in Him!

At the beginning of the sermon, I mentioned that as the years went on with my mother, our relationship matured.  Not only was she my mother who cared for me when I was little.  She became someone I could confide in, when I was older.  In a far, far greater way, God’s Word invites us further to confide in your Greatest Friend, Jesus Christ, who loves you, and desires to help you in the greatest way.  He has all authority, above all, and invites you to call out confidently to Him.

Oh, I know that sometimes the troubles of this world can really weigh us down.  We are prone to discouragement, doubt, despair, and unbelief.  And sometimes that’s all we see.  I’m sure that there were times that the Apostle John also struggled with these things.  But the testimony of God’s Word reminds us today, that Jesus, the Son of God, has come to give us life, and we can call out confidently to Him in prayer.  Remember, the testimony of God is greater!

He will never let us go.  We are His beloved children.  Like Paul says in Romans 8, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)

God grant it…

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