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2/11/18 "A Sample of His Glory"

“For God who said, “Let light shine out o 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; Transfiguration Sunday; 2/11/18

Grace…

When my children were younger, I remember that I enjoyed going to the grocery store in the afternoon with them, because the store gave away free samples.  Free samples of chocolate eclairs (yum), chips and a new kinds of salsa, and sometimes even a new kind of pop!  It kept us all happy. The samples were big enough to allow you to make a decision about the product, but small enough to leave you wanting more. 

Auto dealers have learned this trick too.  It’s one thing to walk around the lot and check out the prices, and maybe kick the tires.  But if the salesman can get you to test drive the new model, he or she knows that you will start imagining yourself behind that steering wheel.  He knows that you won’t be too excited to get back behind the wheel of your old clunker.  And he’s well on his way to closing the deal!  He’s given a test ride, a free sample if you will.

Today, we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday.  It’s a day we remember how three of Jesus’ disciples were given a glimpse, a sample, of Jesus’ unveiled glory.  In our text from 2nd Corinthians, the Apostle Paul will help us understand even more what was taking place at this transfiguration.  Basically, the old was giving way to the new; the lesser was giving way to the greater.  Come to find out Moses and Elijah—the Law and the Prophets—are the samples, but Jesus Christ is the real Power, true God, very God of very God, in the flesh, shining and standing right in front of them!

In our text from 2nd Corinthians, Paul refers to a time in the Old Testament where Moses needed to put a veil over his face.  (We heard it in the OT lesson.)  Moses had been on Mt. Sinai receiving the 10 commandments, the Law of God.  He had been in the very presence of Almighty God.  And because Moses was in God’s presence, His light, Moses face began to shine with the brightness of God’s glory.  So much so, that the Bible tells us that when he came down from the mountain, the people were afraid to look at Moses.  His face shone so brightly that it hurt their eyes to look at him.  So, a veil was used to cover the brightness of Moses’ face and the people could look at him and listen. 

But Paul, speaking of many of the Jewish people said, “to this day…the same veil remains unlifted.”  That is, when they read the Old Testament they still don’t understand the glory of God.  They still don’t grasp the grace of God, because it’s only through faith in Jesus Christ that the veil is lifted away.  Only through Jesus Christ do we fully understand God.

As I was preparing for this sermon today, I began to think about how often in life we live with the veil covering the truth.  I mean, how often do we live our lives as if God is not in control, and as if Jesus Christ is not with us?  We fret, we worry, we doubt God, and fear the things of the world.  We wonder how we will ever make it through the week ahead of us.  And because we doubt God and fear the things of the world, we, like the Children of Israel of old, make reckless and sinful decisions for our lives.  Dear Lord, please forgive us!  Please lift the veil for us again, so that we may understand and believe that you are Lord of our life and our Savior. 

Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transformed before them.  They no longer saw Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son.  They saw the majestic Son of God, standing in the middle of the heroes of the faith, Moses, and Elijah the Law and the Prophets personified.  And if that wasn’t enough they heard the majestic voice of God saying, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him!”

Jesus was taking this time on the Mount of Transfiguration, to prepare His closest disciples, for what was to come.  Up to this time, they had seen Jesus, the healer, the preacher, the comforter.  But, now in the weeks and months to come, they would see the One who would lay down His life for all people of all time.  They would see Jesus, mocked, betrayed, spit upon, whipped, and crucified.  They saw how He died, and they probably wondered, “This is the Son of God?”

But, all of this became clear on the day Jesus rose from the dead.  Death was defeated.  The power of sin was overpowered and Satan was defeated.  Jesus is alive!  Yes, this (this!) Jesus who appeared to them on the Mount of Transfiguration, is the Son of God!  Listen to Him.  The veil was lifted up.  Now we see, we really see!

Sometimes, we, like the disciples, are also tempted to doubt the glory of God, and we fall into sin.  It’s like a veil is covering our eyes too.  Perhaps a certain sin in the past haunts you and you begin to believe that God could never forgive this sin.  And it keeps you from a closer relationship with God and believing your sins are forgiven.  But, the Apostle Paul says, “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”

Maybe there’s a problem in your family that is really troubling.  It has caused all sorts of problems.  Maybe an addiction to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or some other sin and you wonder if there is any way out.  And God says, “Yes! There is a way out, it’s through faith in Jesus!”  Remember Jesus, the Son of God.  Listen to Him.  He’s not just the answer to some of our problems some of the time.  He’s the answer to all of our problems all of the time.  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.”

Through God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will lift the veil. So that you will feel (really feel) that peace that passes all understanding and the forgiveness that Jesus Christ brings to life.  You will begin to understand again that there is hope (real solid, sure, certain hope) for every situation of life.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart.  For I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

One of the great blessings of the Bible is that we see heroes of the faith go through difficulty and they overcome through faith. They were real people, just like you and me! Life was tough for them at times, and there were struggles. Paul the great apostle sure struggled.  There were times in his ministry where he wondered how he could carry on.  Earlier in 2nd Corinthians he wrote, “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.”  But then he writes, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril.  And He will deliver us.  On Him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again!”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, He will deliver you as well!  From whatever trials and troubles face you!  On Him, we set our hope.  “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.”

Sometimes, life gets pretty hard.  We may have a bad day, a bad week or two at work or school.  Our health or that of a loved one may be bad, but God still keeps blessing us with His Word and Sacraments.  In many ways they are samples of His glory, given to us, to forgive us, inspire us, and use us for His kingdom, to keep us moving on in faith.

Beginning this week Wednesday, we enter into the season of Lent.  Lent takes us in a closer walk to the cross.  Our theme for this year is “Thy Will be done!”  It’s a time to look at God’s Will for our life.  You may wonder exactly what His will is.  Although we cannot always tell for every circumstance.  This much I can say for sure.  Like the voice from the cloud, I encourage you to listen to Jesus.  Let His Word bring light to your life, to knock out the gloom and doom so that the light in you will shine for others to see!

God grant it…

2/4/18 "Living For the Mission"

“And He said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”  Mark 1:38; Epiphany 5; February 4, 2018

Grace…

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, a day that more people will sit around and watch a bunch of grown men, known as the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, tackle and pound each other into submission than any other day of the year.  Of course, the Super Bowl is regularly the number one watched television event of the year.  Even 9 of the top 10 most watched shows of all times are Super Bowls.  Advertisers for this year’s Super Bowl are so interested in the event that now they are willing to pay over $5M for 30 seconds of advertisement.  It just goes to show you where the priorities of the people of our country are. 

As I think about the Super Bowl, I can remember some of the very first Super Bowls.  They were quite different back then.    A thirty second commercial cost $42,000.  The half time show was a marching band.  And many Americans watched the game on a black and white tv.  Today most Americans will be watching the game and its commercials on wide screens and high definition.  Just think of the difference in the color, clarity, and size of the picture we see today.

God’s Word for today helps us to get the big picture for something that is far greater than all of the Super Bowls of the world.    It helps us to get the big picture for God’s mission for the world.  So often we get sidetracked into thinking about our own struggles and ambitions in our own little picture of the world.  But, we know that God has the big picture in store for us, and today, He helps us to see our life in its right perspective.

Our text begins from the Gospel of Mark, just as we left off last Sunday.  Jesus had just shown His amazing authority in teaching and casting out a demon in the synagogue of Capernaum.  The people were overwhelmed with amazement.  They had never seen anything like this before!  Jesus spoke with authority, right directly to their hearts.  He didn’t need to consult any rabbinical books.  He knew just what needed to be said, because He was and is the Almighty God.  And when He was confronted by the unclean spirit, Jesus easily casted it out with one swift command.  (Be silent and come out of him!)  And the people were amazed.  It shows that when Jesus speaks there is change and transformation.

The Gospel of Mark has a wonderful way of continuing to describe the rhythm of the Gospel.  In the first sentence of our text for today, we have the beautiful Gospel word, “Immediately.”  “And immediately He left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.” Jesus didn’t just cast this demon out and then wait around a month or two, no!  The need was so great that He went right away to Peter’s house, to continue the work He had started.  It reminds us of the urgency of the work to be done.  Sometimes we lay back far too long before we advance with the work of the kingdom.  We say, “I’ll talk to her sometime down the road.  That can wait for later!”  Not Jesus!  There was an urgency in getting the work done, for the sake of the mission.

And so Jesus goes from the synagogue to Peter’s house, and there at the house is Peter’s mother-in-law, who is sick with a fever.  The understanding is that this is not just the “sniffles” either, this was something more troubling, and Luke tells us that she’s suffering.  But, Jesus touches her, lifting her up, (in the Greek “raising her”) and the Bible tells us “she began to serve them.” This isn’t just teaching with authority, and casting out demons—the major stuff.  He’s healing diseases with authority too!  He’s attending to personal needs!  No one else has ever done all these kinds of things.  Wouldn’t it be great if He were to come here bodily today?  Just imagine, we would have a line going out to Roosevelt Rd. stretching out to Norton, because each one of us could bring one, two, or more friends and relatives to be touched by Jesus and be healed.

(And) That’s what’s beginning to happen in the Gospel of Mark.  People are getting wind of this amazing power being shown by Jesus, and the Bible tells us that at sundown (when the Sabbath was over) the people started bringing everyone to Him.  So much so, that the Bible even tells us that the whole city was gathered, facing the door of Peter’s house.  What a sight!  What a healing ministry!  Everyone is out, looking for some healing!  Think of the joy that must have been there as people’s lives are changed.  Mark says, “And He healed many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons.  And He would not permit the demons to speak because they knew Him.”

Now you may think that last part especially to be kind of strange.  You might think, “Why not let the demons speak?  They know that He is the Holy One of God.  They know that He is the almighty who has come to destroy the works of the devil. But, Jesus keeps them silent, for now.  He knew Satan would try to divert Him from His real purpose of bringing eternal salvation to all who believe.  His time for the cross had not yet come.  He also knew that the people would at first try to make Him an earthly king for their own purposes, rather than the Heavenly King who He truly is.

That is true for us as well.   So often we get sidetracked into thinking that Jesus came only for our physical problems, and our situations in life.  Like maybe He could get rid of some diseases, like malaria, or AIDS or cancer.  Or maybe He could find us better jobs, or get better housing. And while we know that He care about these things and does bring help and healing for them, we need to remember that Jesus came first and foremost for the salvation of the world, so that all people who believe in Him would be saved.  His focus was sharp.  His perspective was clear.  He was living for the mission!

This is why Jesus went off early in the morning to a desolate place to pray.  He went to speak to our Heavenly Father.  To talk to Him about the Will of God, and to overcome the temptations of the devil. Notice that the disciples search for Him and find Him.  They say, “Everyone is looking for you!”  And Jesus responds, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also.  For that is why I came out.”  His  mission was so clear.  The kingdom of God is here (staring you in the face) in Jesus.  Forgiveness, mercy, and peace are there right now.  He came to preach that Good news.  He was living for the mission.

Dear people of God, this is such an important message for us.  Are you living for the mission of God in your life?  Joe and Travis today you were baptized.  It’s a new start for you!  The past is the past!  Your forgiven, and set free to live a new life for God.  And that’s not just true for Joe and Travis, it’s true for each of us.  Just as Jesus came and raises Peter’s mother in law and she served Him, so He comes to our lives with His Word to raise us up, so that we may serve Him.  The past is forgiven, the present is blessed by Him, and the future is assured through Him.  We are living first and foremost for the mission!

How about in your home life?    Is your home a place where others can see that you’re living for the mission?  Or is it all about you?  Your pleasures, your wants, your pride?  Do you show Christian compassion and forgiveness for one another?  Is God’s Word read in your homes and families? Do you talk together about the hope Jesus brings?   (I sure hope so.)  How about your work, school, and social life?  And what about in our congregation? Are we living for the mission?  Is the mission of Jesus to bring salvation to the lost first and foremost?  Or are we mainly concerned with our own priorities?  Making the budget…keeping our building fixed…having our youth group go on trips?  These are fine things!  Don’t get me wrong.  But, we can easily let these things become our first priority.  We can never let these things override the first priority that God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  Let’s live for the mission!

(Several years ago, I remember a sports team had a slogan for the season.  It was “All In.”  They wanted everyone to know that they were “all in” the game together.  And they lived for the team.  God calls us to be “All In” for His mission.)

Over the years, I have seen church members fight each other over many trivial things!  The color of paint and the carpet in a Bible Study room.  A parking spot.  A place to sit down in the church.  (Like, “Hey you’re sitting in my seat!)   Dear Lord, forgive us.  Help us to see the big picture.  And when we fail and fall and get sidetracked, Lord bring your rich and powerful grace and mercy into our lives.  Help us to see Jesus, who came first and foremost to seek and to save what was lost. 

Today, we pray that God would help us get a new perspective, and a new heart to grasp again the joy we have in living for the mission. 

In Jesus name…

1/28/18 "When Jesus Speaks"

“And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this?” A new teaching with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.”  Mark 1:27’ Epiphany 4; 1/28/18

Grace…

Words are powerful.  They can heal or wound.  Words can build up, or tear down.  They can curse or bless.  How often in our lifetime, we remember how words can linger and hurt.  Maybe the discouraging word said that really hurt you.  But, the encouraging word of a friend, or a respected leader can change people’s lives.

We all have different stories, but this is mine.  I remember as a sophomore at Concordia University, Ann Arbor, there was a professor by the name of Dr. Schmaltz.  Dr. Schmaltz was known as an expert in history, yet many of the students feared him, because of the grades he gave.  He certainly did not give A’s or B’s for just showing up.  He required work, reading large amounts of history, and writing several in-depth papers.  And he would definitely give C’s, D’s, and F’s.  Not that he was cruel.  He was just demanding and fair.  So, if you did average work, you got a C.  That’s what C means.  But, since he taught some required courses, he was feared.

I, too feared him.  Since, I wanted to get a good grade, and there was no other way around it, than doing the work, I resolved to do it.  I remember one paper that I wrote about the American West, in the 1870’s.  I worked hard in preparation, and when I handed the paper in, I was trembling. 

When the day came to receive the paper back, I was literally shaking.  I wondered how I did.  I had heard reports from others about how tough Dr. Schmaltz was.  Then, I opened the paper, and there it was.  An “A-“ with the words, “Really a good job!  I can tell that you did your research.  Keep up the good work!”  It still gives me a good feeling today!  His words of encouragement really changed me, and built me up for many many years.

Words are powerful.  And how much more when we talk about the Words of Jesus! His Words are truly powerful, and life changing….

Imagine for a moment, if you were a worshiper in our text from Mark,  going to worship at the synagogue in Capernaum on the day that Jesus showed up. The people of Capernaum probably didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary as they made their way to the synagogue that day.  It was the Sabbath, so there would be prayers, followed by the reading of the Law, then a reading of the prophets, and finally a “sermon” followed by a priestly benediction.  The sermon at that time, was not an eloquently crafted message.  In fact, the sermon, at that time was usually the reading of a previous rabbi’s.  Like reading from a book, to people.  Rabbi Gamaliel said this… they might say, and then read what he had to say.  That’s probably what they were expecting.  And then the blessing, and then they would go on their way.

So, you can imagine the concerned looks on the faces in the crowd, and the dead silence as they listened to Jesus speak as if He were the authority.  The Bible says that the people were amazed as He was teaching—and perhaps at first not in a good way, as we are told they debated among themselves.  What is this? Should we accept His authority?  Their questions were answered when Jesus added actions to His words.  He commanded an unclean spirit to come out of a man, saying, “Be silent. And come out of him.”, and the spirit obeyed Him.  At that, the people couldn’t help but believe, and the news spread like wildfire.  Today we would say that the “news of Jesus went viral.”  Many people were changed that day, and all because they heard the words of Jesus.

Well, how about you? Perhaps you also thought when you came to worship today, it’s a regular Sunday, well here’s the order of worship, welcome, hymns, confession, forgiveness, Scripture lesson, hymn, children’s message, sermon, prayers, communion, hymn, blessing, (boom) then on to brunch and home to my couch.  Perhaps you also forgot about the amazing authority of God’s Word.  Like the person who once asked me before church, “Hey pastor, is there anything important happening today?” Sometimes we need a wakeup call, because God’s Word is being spoken, and it’s amazing and powerful.  Dear Lord forgive us for not listening to Your Word.

God’s Word created the universe.  Jesus is the Word in flesh.  “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God.  And the Word was God.”  Jesus Word casts out demons.  His Word inspires.  It tells us, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink…but seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” 

Yes, when Jesus speaks, God’s truth is revealed.  Jesus always backed up His words with action.  Could you imagine, if Jesus commanded the demon to come out, and it didn’t?  But, He spoke with God’s authority, and the Bible says, the “demon came out with a loud voice.  And they all were amazed.”

I am amazed how often Jesus words speak directly to a person’s exact situation in life.  Not long ago, I had a friend tell me, that she was struggling and depressed, and was really debating about coming out to a Bible Class we were having.  But, God helped her to overcome the temptation to stay home.  She realized that Satan wanted her to stay home and not come to the class.  In the class, we talked about the power of God’s Word, and how it helped the early Christians to overcome all fears, even persecution.  We remember the words of Jesus, who said, “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart.  I have overcome the world.”

When Jesus speaks, people are set free.  I know, years ago when I looked at this passage, I found it hard to understand that a person in the synagogue would have an evil spirit in them.  But, then I realize that every time we come to worship, people come in, hoping that they will be set free from things that control their lives—finances, the love of money, or the fear of not having enough, alcohol, perfection, gambling, lust, greed.  Jesus had authority over that unclean spirit.  His Word sets people free today.  He said, “All authority, in heaven and earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.  And behold, I will be with you always, even to the very end of the age.”  He has all authority. 

So, what are you struggling with?  Are there fears and sorrows that are overwhelming you?  Or do you know someone who is overwhelmed.  Jesus word has all authority in heaven and on earth.  Like Paul says in Romans 8, “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.”

And when Jesus speaks, people are transformed.  Isn’t it interesting in the lesson that the demon even acknowledged Jesus as “the Holy One of God.”  It knew who Jesus was, and yet it didn’t believe in Him.  But, when Jesus spoke and commanded it to come out of the man, people were transformed, and they spread the Good News about Jesus all around Galilee! 

Jesus Word still transforms people today, from knowing about Him, to really “knowing” and believing in Him.  The book of Hebrews says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword.” His word is amazing, and has supreme authority.

I pray today that you also would be transformed.  From doubting to trusting.  From fearful to courageous.  From sorrowful to full of hope.  From burdened to set free.  To trust that Word of Jesus, and to spread that Good News throughout our Galilee, our Muskegon, our West Michigan, and on to the ends of the earth.

God grant it…

 

1/14/18 "Hope For Life"

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15; The Sanctity of Human Life Sunday; 1/14/18

Grace…

Today is “Life Sunday.”  It’s a day to remember the great gift of human life that we have been given.  Human life is a gift for many many reasons, but probably first on the list is because the Bible teaches that we are created in the image of God.  And because of that deep connection we have to God, we have hope for life.  Hope for all of life.

“Hope” is a very interesting word in the Bible.  When we talk about hope today, we might say something like, “I hope it doesn’t snow any more today.”  What we mean is: “I think it might snow, but I really wish that it wouldn’t.”  With that kind of hope, there is always a possibility that we might not get what we want—what we are hoping for.  Hope is often wishy-washy in our language today.   That’s not how the word “hope” is used in the Bible, though.

In the Bible, hope is a word brimming with confidence.  The hymn we sang at the beginning of the service said, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness”.  It expresses a confidence in the blood and righteousness of Jesus for our salvation.  It’s saying we can build our whole life on Jesus and His love for us.

In our text, St. Peter writes, “But in your hearts, honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

What is this hope that is in us?  It’s the Gospel, the Good News, that God the Father out of His great love and mercy for us, gave His only Son to bridge the gap that separated us from Himself.  Jesus Christ suffered and died in the place of sinners, therefore satisfying the Father’s wrath against human sin and bringing about true reconciliation between God and human beings for those who believe.  Then on the third day Jesus rose again from the dead, conquering sin, death, and all the powers of Satan.  By the grace given to us through faith in Jesus death and resurrection, we share in His victory over the grave.  This is our hope!  This is our confidence!  Through Jesus Christ, we come before our heavenly Father clothed in Christ’s righteousness.  This is the hope that is in us, and it speaks to and overcomes all the forces of evil and difficulty in our world.  We have this hope!

Our text in 1st Peter was written to believers who were facing persecution.  Peter’s call to “always be prepared to make a defense” meant that believers had to be ready to answer objections to the Christian faith.  When the Christians in Peter’s time were charged by the Roman government, and ordered to renounce their faith, they had to be ready to defend their hope (speak about their confidence) in Jesus Christ despite the threats of prison, torture, and death.  Peter’s instruction in our text meant that believers were to already have reflected upon it, and were prepared.

Although at this time, in our country, we may not have the overt persecution that Peter’s people had, we do realize that many around the world do face this persecution.  And we pray for them today on this Life Sunday.  We pray for their lives and their witness.  But, we also realize that we live in a world that more and more does not understand the value of human life.  Like Paul says in Philippians chapter 2, we live in a “crooked and twisted generation.” Values on human life are skewed and twisted.  Abortion, the taking of an unborn baby’s life takes place at a rampant rate in our country.  In addition, we have many other situations that show a loss in the value of human life in our society, such as the murder rate, suicide rate, and also the assisted suicide rate, which are all on the rise.  But, Paul also says in that same chapter that we are called to “shine like stars in the universe.”  We have a hope that is in us, which is full of life!  We have life in Jesus Christ, who came “that we may have life to the full.”  (John 10:10)

Jesus is here.  He has come in the flesh, conceived in a miraculous way by the Holy Spirit, into Mary, as a tiny little embryo, who grew into a baby, a child, a teenager, a man.  He brought hope to human life.  Jesus lived, suffered, died, and rose again, so that we would all have life to the full!   He comes to this world filled with problems, such as, poverty, promiscuity, and perversion, and He brings forgiveness and hope.  He comes for the downtrodden, the loners, and those who feel they are losers.  He brings hope for those with dysfunctions, dependencies, and disasters.  He brings compassion, the presence, and the power of the Holy Trinity to all of those situations.  Where Jesus is, there is hope.  And that hope springs eternal.

So, some may ask, “What hope is there in an unintended pregnancy?”  And we answer gladly, “The Word (the Son of God) became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) and “He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:4).  Others will ask what hope is there with abnormalities and handicaps, and we will proclaim, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7).  Neighbors will ask, “How is there hope in a conflicted marriage?”  And we will confess joyfully, “We are His workmanship” (Eph 2:10) “made in His image” (Gen. 1:27) And still others ask, why is there hope in a situation, where the disease is terminal, and we will say, “He who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today God calls us to “give the reason for the hope that is in you”, and to “shine like stars in the universe.”  I believe that one of the biggest problems we face in our society today, is the feeling of hopelessness and despair that so many have.  Satan and this world have twisted people’s understanding, so that they cannot find hope in their lives.  And sometimes we give in to this hopelessness too by doubting God’s Word, and instead do our own thing. So we pray, dear Lord forgive us and strengthen us! 

God has brought you here today to worship to hear His Word, and to be encouraged with hope for life.  This is also what reading the Bible, going to Bible Study, sending our children and grandchildren to Sunday School, Christian schools, confirmation, and youth classes give.  It allows us all to be prepared to make a defense of the hope that we have, with gentleness and respect.  You have the privilege and honor to make the case for salvation through Jesus death and resurrection to anyone who comes to you and asks you why you believe what you do.  And from time to time, people will ask.

God provides plenty of these opportunities already in your daily life.  The neighbor next door, who seems to be depressed needs your witness of the Gospel.  He needs to know that Jesus is the answer to his troubles.  The young person, who seems to be looking for love in all the wrong places, needs to know that through Jesus they will find all of the love and fulfillment that they need.   And the person you work with, or who is in your family, or even yourself who has made some bad choices in the past, needs to know that there is hope because of the forgiveness that Jesus Christ brings to life.  He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

By God’s grace, your witness will be a credible one.  Why?  Because you live your life as believer in a way that others will see God’s love shining through.  You will “shine like a star in the universe.”  They will see that you live with hope, with confidence that our Lord lives, and because He lives, they, we all have hope for life.

God grant it…

 

1/7/18 "A New Beginning"

And when He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.”  Mark 1:10-11; Baptism of our Lord; 1/7/18

Grace…                              

Happy New Year to all of you on this first Sunday of the New Year, 2018! 

I know that to many of you that the celebration of the “Happy New Year” seems so long ago—like a distant memory.  It’s been a week, and so much has gone on in life.  Think of all the snow that’s fallen in this past week!  Think of the stuff that’s gone on in life!  Happy New Year, yah right!

But for others, it’s wonderful and welcome greeting.  Happy New Year!  It’s a good message.  We could say it every day!  We need that encouragement that the year will bring much joy to your life.  Because the New Year is a like a journey that we will all be going on.  What will it be like?  Will it bring the challenges of the past year?  Will it bring the joys?  What will it be like?  Well, what we can be certain of it’s a new beginning. 

Our text for today, on this First Sunday after the Epiphany, is from the Gospel of Mark, which begins this way, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” I believe it’s no mere coincidence, that Mark begins with the term, “The beginning…”.  Those words connect us back to those most famous opening words of all time, from the book of Genesis, (our Old Testament lesson for today), “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”(Let there be…God said…and it was good.)

But, so much had gone wrong since that first beginning.   Although God created this world perfect and holy, man and woman had sinned against God, bringing darkness, and heartache, and despair into this world.  It was no longer the very good world that God had created.  It needed a new start, a new beginning.

So, God lovingly set the plan in motion.  At just the right time, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ into the world, to be born of a woman, to be born under the law.  And, to prepare the people of the world for His Son, God sent His messenger, John the Baptist, to “prepare the way”!

John came, calling the people to repent,  and to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  Many many people came to John.  They repented.  They were baptized.  But, John only prepared the way.  He said, “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Then Jesus came.  Some thirty years after His birth into the world. Jesus came to John at the Jordan, to be baptized.  It was the time for the new beginning.  The Gospel the Good News to be declared.  So, Jesus was baptized by John to “fulfill all righteousness.” And, as our text says, “when He came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”

Just imagine it for a moment!  Heaven being wide open!  There is no barrier between God and man!  Open communication between our Holy God, and us mere sinful mortals.  And it’s all because of the One who stepped into the water for us.

Just imagine, the Holy Spirit descending down to earth as a dove.  God’s presence being upon this earth.  And just imagine the Voice of God the Father saying, “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”

It’s a new beginning, a new start.  It’s the Good News.  It’s like God was beginning anew, after all of the things that had gone wrong in the past, it was time for a new beginning!

And dear friends, that’s exactly what our baptism is for us!  It is a new beginning.  Heaven is wide open for us! There are no barriers between God and man.   The Holy Spirit has descended into our hearts and lives.  And God the Father has said to us, “You are my beloved Son (or daughter) with you I am well pleased.”  It’s all about the One who stepped into the water for us.

The Holy Son of God, Jesus Christ, identified with sinful man by being baptized in the Jordan, so that we sinful people could be connected with the Holy God once again.  In baptism we are reborn of water and the Spirit, to become part of the Kingdom of God.

In fact, the Apostle Paul, often speaks of those who are baptized believers as being, “In Christ.”  Our life is wrapped up in Christ Jesus.  We are connected to Him in a wonderful and marvelous way.  We are “in Christ.”  And Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a “new creation” the old has gone, the new has come.  All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”  (2 Cor. 5:17-18)

So, on this first Sunday of the New Year, we are “Beginning a New Journey” together as a new creation.  The old has gone.  The new has come.  Just think how important this belief is for us.  Not that everything in the past year was bad, but there were certainly some things I am sure for each of us, that were not so good.  There were some sinful habits, that you kept going back to, sins of thought, word, and action, that you did, and some things that you sinfully left undone.  A person (perhaps)you kept gossiping about, making fun of him or her behind his/her back, because somehow it made you feel good.  Another person perhaps that you should have talked to about Jesus and the forgiveness He brings, but you let it go undone, because you didn’t want to take the risk.  Dear friend, you are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come, let this be a new beginning.

It’s also January, the first month of the New Year, and I am reminded of how many people get very discouraged in this first month.  Perhaps it has something to do with the lack of sunlight, and the cold weather that we face.  Some say maybe it’s from the bills that have now come in from Christmas time.  But, maybe even more, the worry about how everything is going to go in the New Year. Some may also still be discouraged from the past year.  Dear Lord forgive us!  Help us to remember that we are your new creations!  It’s time for a new beginning!

Some of you may say, I wish the person that I work with, or go to school with, a friend of yours, or even a member of your own family, would hear this.  They are struggling, and are feeling so discouraged, and depressed.  I would encourage you, perhaps you are hearing this today, so that you can be God’s instrument to help them.  Let them know that you care about them!  If he or she is baptized already, remind them that they are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.  And if they are not baptized, point them to Jesus.  Let them know that through baptism, heaven is open to them, the Holy Spirit will come into their heart and they will be called a son or daughter of God!  It’s time for a new beginning!

The great theologian, Martin Luther even reminded us that each day is a new beginning.  He recommended that we remember our baptism each day, beginning the day, as we were baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Heaven is wide open, the Holy Spirit has descended into your heart, you are a child of God.

This is a limitless gift for our entire life.  Just as Jesus was baptized and heaven was opened, the Spirit descended and the voice called out, So God calls out for us, for all of us, for our congregation, and for all who believe and are baptized saying, “You are my beloved Son/Daughter!  What a wonderful Beginning for a New Journey for 2018!  And what a wonderful blessing we have to look forward to throughout this year!

God grant it…

12/31/17 "Jesus Comes With Fulfillment" "

“Sovereign Lord as You have promised, You now dismiss Your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory to Your people Israel.”  Luke 2:29-32; Christmas 1; 12/31/17

Grace…

One of the greatest experiences in all of life is to live to see the fulfillment of something that has been promised.   It’s a joyful moment to see a building dedicated after it has been promised for quite some time.  Think of the feeling that most Americans had as the memorial building at the site of the World Trade Center bombings was dedicated on September 11, 2012.  After going through the terror of the bombings, and now to have a tower in the same spot, is quite a feeling of fulfillment.

But, there are many other fulfillments.  The birth of a child is a fulfillment, after the nine months of preparation.  Baptism is a fulfillment of a promise that this child will be a child of God.  Confirmation is a fulfillment of the promises made by parents and sponsors at a child’s baptism.  A graduation is a fulfillment, as a young person has completed his/her time in school.  A wedding, also is a fulfillment, as the couple who started dating, became engaged, and are now standing beside each other to pledge a lifetime of faithfulness to God and to each other.  An anniversary is a fulfillment within a marriage.  A retirement is the fulfillment of a lifetime of work.…What a joy it is to witness the fulfillment in these special moments of life. 

How much more of a fulfillment it would be for Simeon.  Simeon had been told by God (Himself)that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ—the Messiah.  I am sure the temptations probably came to him, over the years, like to any of us—“How long is this taking?”  “My goodness!” Lord, You have promised it for so long.  You said the Messiah would come.  But, day after day, month after month, nothing seems to be happening.  And what is worse our enemies mock us.  They laugh at us for praying to You, pleading with You, wishing You would come.  Lord, show us the Messiah!

Simeon lived an interesting life.  Generally, we always tend to think of him as an older man, but we really don’t know how old he is.  But, at some point earlier in His life, the Holy Spirit had told him that he would not die before he saw the Lord’s Christ.  What an interesting revelation that must have been.  To be on alert, every day.  Could this be the day?  How about today?  Or tomorrow? 

And then the day finally came.  God had laid on his heart, that this would be the day.  Simeon, as usual, went to the Temple.  He was used to doing this.  He was a man of faith, a “true blue” believer in God.  This was the day he had been waiting for, for so long.  His senses were on high alert.  There was a gleam in his eyes, an extra skip to his step.

And just what might the Messiah look like?  Will He walk in wearing a white robe?  Will He be a mighty warrior, like His ancestor David?  Will He be walking into the Temple with a lamb for sacrifice?  And he waited, and waited, and waited.  Could He be the one?  Here He comes!  And then the moment came. 

The Holy Spirit directed His attention to a young couple with a Child in His mother’s arms.  That’s the One, Simeon.  Go over, take hold of the Child, I have something to say to the parents and the whole world.”  And as he took hold, he spoke,Sovereign Lord as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for the revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel.”  It’s been fulfilled, Lord.  Your Word is the truth.  I have seen the Lord’s Christ with my own eyes!  He is a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory to Your people Israel.  This child is the fulfillment of your promise, Lord!

As Simeon spoke those words, the Bible says that Joseph and Mary marveled at what was said about Him.  And we too, marvel today, because that Child, the Messiah Jesus Christ is a light for the revelation to the Gentiles and the glory to Your people Israel!  It’s just not how we planned, but far better yet, how God planned.  Although we see a baby in His parent’s hands with two pigeons, God saw the Mighty Savior.  Although we see humility, God saw His power.  Although we see lowliness, God saw the promised comfort coming to His people.  He is the One long promised to bring light to this dark world, and He has brought God’s glory!

This Child brought light to dark places wherever He went.  From Bethlehem the star would shine brightly upon the Magi who came to worship Him.  He brought light to Nazareth, where He grew in wisdom and stature.  He brought light to Galilee as He called His first disciples.  He brought light to Samaria, and a woman at the well.  He brought light to a man filled with demons, living in the tombs.  He brought light to a Syro-Phoenecian woman, with a child possessed with an evil spirit.  Light for all these Gentiles.  And He brings light to us today.  Light through the truth of His Word.  Light through the power of the cross that brings forgiveness of sins, hope, and joy to all who believe in Him.  Light to our darkened lives and hope in the midst of all circumstances.  Yes, those words of Simeon have been fulfilled.

But, Simeon had more to say that day.  As Mary and Joseph were still marveling, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

These words too have been fulfilled.  Today, we remember the little children who King Herod killed to try to find Jesus.  ….  We also remember all of the other opposition that Christ faced, while He walked on this earth, as He went from town to town, and that He still takes today.  On this last day of 2017, we remember all of the followers of Jesus who have suffered at the hands of persecutors all around the world.  All of those who oppose the Prince of Peace.  Those who devise different gods.  And those who say there is no God.  As Simeon said, He will be “a sign spoken against.” 

Dear people of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, perhaps you have been in a situation in your life where Jesus Christ is spoken against, maligned, and dragged through the mud.  It hurts.  Especially when it is someone who is close to your family or friends.  It may be a co-worker, someone you go to school with, and may be someone within your family.  They may reject Jesus for a variety of reasons.  Simeon said, “the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” This also is part of the fulfillment, but it is not the end.

Simeon left Mary by saying, “and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  It’s a reminder of the hardship that Mary would face during her lifetime, as she watched her Son, Jesus, grow and mature.  Many of us see our children grow up, and it brings us joy and peace.  To be sure, Mary had that joy and peace.  But, Mary also saw her Son grow to stand in the line of fire.  The Bible says that she was present at the foot of the cross, watching her Son, die for the sake of all people, and there was nothing she could do about it.  How that must have pierced her own soul!

God’s Word to Simeon was fulfilled.  Simeon’s Word to Mary is fulfilled.  And God’s Word is fulfilled to us today as well.  Jesus is the light for revelation.  He brings light to our sin-darkened world.  There are many who oppose Him for various reasons, and while it may baffle us, remember Jesus died for them too.  Don’t give up on them.  Never stop praying for them.  Listen to them.  Forgive them.  And when you have the opportunity, speak the message of hope to them that Jesus is their Savior too.

Most of us know someone who is opposed to Christ and Christianity for a variety of reasons.  I pray that you, like faithful Simeon, would live to see God’s fulfillment, maybe even that you would be God’s instrument, through whom that they would be brought to Christ, to find in Him a light for revelation, and the glory of God.

God grant it…

 

12/24/17 "Jesus Comes and Reality Hits Home"

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Luke 2:19; Christmas Eve Night; 12/24/17

Grace…

Did you ever notice in life, how people build up a lot of things as being grand and glorious, and then you get to the time, and reality hits, and you realize that you have some challenges that come with it..  Like, for instance, when you’re young and in elementary or junior high school, they tell you how high school is going to be so grand and glorious, and then you get there and reality hits home.  It’s not all that grand and glorious, and even more, you’re just a freshman, and you’re at the bottom of the heap.  Or on a bigger scale, they tell you how great college is, and then you get there, and you have to go to class, and you have to study, and take exams, and write papers, and there’s work to it.  Oh and then there’s the tuition bills to boot, and reality hits. 

Or how about when you get out on your own, and have your own apartment, people say it will be so grand and glorious.  And then… you look at the apartment after a week, and it looks like a tornado hit it.  The dishes don’t automatically get washed.  The floors don’t automatically get vacuumed or mopped.  Reality hits, and you realize you’ve got to do these things, otherwise the neighbors down the hall will be complaining about the strange odor coming from your apartment.  Reality hits home…

During this Advent Christmas season, we’ve been following a theme, called, “Come, Lord Jesus Be Our Guest.”  Of course, it’s a table prayer that you may have prayed during this past year, (some of you even hundreds of times) but it’s also an excellent Advent prayer.  Come, Lord Jesus be our Guest, and let these gifts to us be blest.  Come Lord Jesus, (come) into the reality of our lives, come and be our Guest!

Often, when we talk about reality, we mean the problems, the challenges, the real grit and grind of life.  That’s been the selling card of the so called “reality shows” on tv.  And while so often they show arguments, and competition, they don’t often show the reality of ordinary common life.  Because that reality doesn’t sound very glamorous at all.

Tonight on this grand and glorious night, that we call Christmas Eve, let’s consider the reality of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  Mary, a young virgin, was told she is going to be the mother of the Savior of the world.  Joseph, who knows his young wife to be, is pregnant, and not from him, wants at first, to get a quiet divorce.  But, he is told not to be afraid in a dream, that Mary is carrying the Son of God.   So Joseph wakes up and takes Mary to be his wife.

But, there’s a glitch.  Caesar Augustus has issued a decree, and everyone has to go to their own family town.  For Joseph, who’s from the house and lineage of David, he and Mary need to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  While Mary is 9 months pregnant!  No comfortable rides in a limo, or Amtrak, or private jet plane are available.  They will be walking, perhaps with a donkey, but regardless, it’s about an 8-10 day hike or walk, while 9 months or so pregnant.  That’s the reality.  It doesn’t sound very grand or glorious, and yet this is where and when the Son of God is born. 

Just think of the rest of the account, it’s filled with reality.  When they get to Bethlehem there’s no room in the inn.  They find a place to lay down, but it’s a place where animals are kept.  The baby is born, and there’s no place to lay the Savior of the World, except a manger, a place where animals are fed .  The first people that hear about this birth, are not kings, or priests, or scribes, or Levites.  They are shepherds!  Grimy, gritty, smelly, shepherds.  The angels tell them first.  And these shepherds are told to go find this baby, wrapped not in a robe, sleeping in a beautiful crib, but in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. That’s the reality of Jesus’ birth!

These shepherds come!  They are the first visitors to see the Child!  Mary and Joseph probably exhausted from their journey, and certainly Mary still in pain from the birth, and here comes this rag-tag group of shepherds to see this baby.  It’s not doctors and nurses that come to see them.  It’s not grandpas and grandmas with a cake or some present.  It’s this group of shepherds, and my goodness do they have a story!  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, “Fear not, for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you, you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger!  (And here he is!) “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”  This is Him, the One we’ve all been waiting for, and here He is, a little baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger!”

And there are those words of wonder and reality.  Luke writes, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Reality hits home.  What treasures Mary had for her memory.  It was all so miraculous, and yet, there were so many points to ponder.  This is the Savior of the World.  But, where will we go from here?  Have others heard what’s happened?  How will we survive?

You too have probably thought about the grand and glorious moments of the birth of Jesus Christ.  The praise from the angels, the search for the child by the shepherds.  That is great, for they are there and they are glorious.  But, tonight, for this moment in time, I would like to focus upon the reality of the challenges they faced. 

It is highly likely that Mary and Joseph pondered how they could ever provide for this Child.  Especially looking out from their meager dwelling.  And although shepherds came adoring, bearing the news of angels, it wasn’t as if the Child was welcomed by everyone in Bethlehem.  And as the days went on, King Herod would even want to kill Jesus.  But, here is the greater reality, as difficult as the situation was, God protected this family, and provided for them in ways far beyond their human understanding.

And here is the point for us to ponder tonight.  We all have come to worship this evening, perhaps in some of our finest clothes, on this grand and glorious night, to rejoice with the angels, but we all have some real struggling situations in our world, neighborhood, work, school, home, family, and in our own personal life.  We may wonder at times, what are we going to do?  How are we ever going to get out of this one?  What will the future bring for us?  Is there any hope for us? 

Well dear friend, the reality of the birth of Jesus truly answers this.  Just as God provided for Mary and Joseph, because of Jesus, so God will provide for you, in ways beyond our human understanding.  First, He understands all about our reality.  He understands the mess.  He understands the problems of life.  Just remember, the reality of His birth.

But, it’s more than that.  Not only does He understand it.  He forgives our sin.  This is truly what Jesus came to earth for.  He was born in a humble setting, and even more humbly died on a cross, for the sins of the whole world, to bring forgiveness and hope for all people.

And it doesn’t stop there!  On the third day, He rose from the dead so that we would really have victory over the challenges of life.  Maybe you know someone going through some real challenges right now.  They may be worried, afraid, or full of anger.  I pray that God would use you, as His instrument, to teach them about the reality of Jesus, who understands, brings forgiveness, and leads us forward in victory!

God grant it…

 

 

 

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