“The Reformation Today” • August 20, 2017 Sermon

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Over the last 12 weeks, you and I have been invited into a journey through 16th Century events known today as the Reformation. We explored many of the figures and important themes of this time. Not only important to the history of the Christian movement but also the history of western civilization. Many historians see the reformer Martin Luther as one of the most important figures in the history of humanity. And there is little doubt in Image result for the reformation todaymy mind that he is still impacting history today.

In the first sermon, we heard at the start our summer worship series I quoted Luther Seminary Professor the Rev. Dr. Rolf Jacobson. As defined by Professor Jacobson, Reformation is “A revolution within Christianity that started in 1517 and is either still happening or needs to happen again, depending on whom you talk to.”
(Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms, pg. 140)

In the words of 17th-century theologian George Gillespie – “Reformation ends not in contemplation, but in action.” (George Gillespie 1613-1648)
Which speaks to just one reason why I believe the Reformation is still happening today.

Because of what God has done for you and for me in the action and saving grace of Jesus, God’s mission and ministry for the church is one of constant reform. Always unfolding. Daily being made new.Image result for grace of jesus

The scripture readings that are part of our worship today were among the most important verses in the Reformation. As we think about what it means to be a reformer today, I think these ancient verses continue to shape our lives of faith, just as they did for leaders In the reformation movement 500 years ago.

Let’s look at just a few of them.

From the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (2:8-9)

The question many of us ask as we hear these words from the Apostle Paul is, just what is the grace of God? I turn to own Lutheran Study Bible to provide a little insight. “God always takes the initiative in forgiving and recreating us.” the commentary for these verses offers. “It is not our social status, the color of our skin, gender, citizenship, age, or good deeds that make us worthy before God. The Holy Spirit is the first missionary who grants us salvation freely based solely on God’s love. This powerful discovery led Luther to add a word in his translation of this verse into German. “For by grace alone you have been saved…” Luther translated. [pg. 1923]

This truth of God’s saving grace so boldly revealed during the Reformation is something we struggle with still today. The gift of grace through faith that we have already received – is not of our own doing. And because of this gift, we are free to share God’s love with others in all that we say and in all that we do. If proclamations of God’s grace for all of God’s creation filled our streets today, I’m guessing the news of the day and the way we treat one another might be significantly different.

Take a look at this recent news story for example.

So often when we think of the Reformation we think of grandiose events. The 95 theses, thunder storms and lighting bolts, bold defenses against the highest authorities of the church and world as Luther announces “Here I stand. I can do no other, so help me God.”

The burden of feeling like we aren’t strong enough or smart enough to be a reformer can seem a bit overwhelming. “What am I supposed to do? I can’t possibly be a reformer?” “There is no way God can do anything good or amazing through me.”

It’s one of the reasons why I find comfort and strength nearly every day in the words we heard from Matthew’s gospel. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Image result for burden is lightBrothers and sisters in Christ, don’t miss, or try to ignore, what God is doing in and through you. Because it is truly beautiful. It is transformational for you and those God places along your path. It truly is life-giving in every way, shape, and form.
Professor Christopher Gehrz believes that “If we Protestants are ‘reformed and always reforming,’ then commemorating the Reformation should cause us not so much to celebrate the past as to renew our mission and ministry in the present.”

Over the past 12 weeks, we have reflected upon teachings, events, theology, and people of the Reformation – a movement in the Christian church that began nearly 500 years ago. In the present, today, 2017, it is my hope and prayer that you and I reflect upon the many ways that God’s mission and ministry is being lived out. And as Jesus reminds us in Matthew’s gospel, God’s mission and ministry is something never done alone – Jesus is with us in every breath. In every step. Making the yoke lighter.

At Good Shepherd, we believe God’s mission and ministry is “to share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children.” I invite you to take time each day this week to celebrate how God is using you to fulfill God’s mission and ministry to bless and serve the world today. Rejoice in every opportunity you will have this week to be a reformer that shares the Shepherd’s love.Image result for share jesus love

For the church, for children of God who follow the savior of the world Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Good Shepherd, the reformation has no end. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Sermon on The Lord’s Prayer 07.23.2017

I am grateful to my colleague, Rev. Nadine Lehr. The bulk of this sermon is from a teaching sermon that she offered to her congregation, Lord of Life Lutheran Church, during a 2017 Lenten worship series.

Matthew 6:5-15

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ who teaches us to pray. Amen.

This weekend, we dive into the third part of the Small Catechism – The Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is so familiar to most of us that we often just pray it by rote and hardly pay attention to what we are actually saying. Martin Luther considered this mindless repetition an abuse of the second commandment to not take the name of the Lord in vain.He said: “What a great pity that the prayer of such a master as Jesus is prattled and chattered so irreverently all over the world!…In a word, the Lord’s Prayer is the greatest martyr on earth… everybody tortures and abuses it; few take comfort and joy in its proper use.”

Image result for the lord's prayerHe said: “What a great pity that the prayer of such a master as Jesus is prattled and chattered so irreverently all over the world!…In a word, the Lord’s Prayer is the greatest martyr on earth… everybody tortures and abuses it; few take comfort and joy in its proper use.”

So, let’s unpack the Lord’s Prayer a little in order to better understand the comfort and joy that God offers to us through this prayer. The Small Catechism is the cover of your bulletin again today.

First – the introduction or invocation: “Our Father…”  In the ancient world of Jesus’ day, people did not have the right to address a superior whenever they felt like it. They first had to ask for permission. And if they didn’t ask with formality and respect, they could be killed. When Jesus tells us to call on God as Father, all of the formality is thrown out the window. Our relationship with God is a safe and intimate one.

“…Who art in heaven.”

In heaven is not God’s address. It is simply a description of God’s perfection. God is the perfect Father. Note also that we pray our Father, not my Father. Showing us that our connection to God’s creation is not an individual pursuit, but one that involves the community.

After the invocation, we enter into the many petitions – or requests – found in this prayer. Initially, petitions about God.

Hallowed be thy name. Image result for the lord's prayer

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done.

It kind of sounds like we might be praying for God. But that’s not what we are doing. As Luther reminds us, God’s name will be hallowed. God’s kingdom will come. And God’s will shall be done. Our prayers do not make these things happen. Rather, when we pray for these things, we are asking God to help us recognize and embrace the name, the kingdom and the will of God when we experience them at work in the world.

In Luther’s explanation of the first petition, we can see the connection between God our Father and hallowing God’s name. Simply stated, when we know God as our beloved Father, we want God to be honored. And when we know that God is our Father, we simply will not tolerate someone who dishonors God’s name. And we pray that we will never be guilty of dishonoring God’s name. Then we pray, “Thy kingdom come…”

Then we pray, “Thy kingdom come…”

Especially as citizens of the United States in 2017, how can we truly understand the word kingdom? Isn’t that one of the things we fought for independence from a few hundred years ago. Luther makes it clear that God’s kingdom is not a geographical place. And Luther says that God’s kingdom will come on its own without our prayers. In this petition, we pray that it will come to us. The kingdom actually comes, when the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of faith and plants in us the desire to obey God’s commandments.

Finally, the last petition about God – “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”

This is similar to the first two. However, here we ask God to destroy whatever stands in the way of God’s work. And we ask God to keep us steadfast in God’s Word so that we can celebrate the work God is doing.

After these first 3 petitions about God, we come to 4 petitions about ourselves. Notice how the tone of the prayer changes and we plead for ourselves.

Image result for give us this day“Give us this day our daily bread.”

At first, you may think this is just about food. And it is, but food is not all there is to this petition. Luther said we are all beggars before God. We do not create anything in this world. All that we have or that is created comes from God’s hand. We are to see God as the giver and to admit our complete dependence upon God.

And notice that we do not pray for all days. We do not worry about tomorrow. And let’s face it, in our culture, there is a great deal of attention given to worrying about tomorrow. Anyone have a savings account or rainy day fund? How about a retirement account? Jesus teaches us to believe, not in scarcity – the possibility of not having enough – but to believe in God’s abundance. To trust in God’s provision. Thus, we pray for today, not tomorrow. In the middle of this summer’s drought or if you struggle each week to make ends meet, that’s a difficult thing to do, isn’t it?

Forgiveness is next – “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The word trespass can be tricky. Trespass means to cross a boundary. We cross a boundary when we overstep and go where we should not go. Brothers and sisters, that’s what sin is. We overstep a boundary.  Ans frankly, I believe the root of all sin is the desire to be our own God. To do what we want, when we want to do it. Who cares about God’s will for our lives. In this petition, we ask God to forgive us for that foolishness. Or as Luther offers in his explanation – we ask God not to hold our sins against us.

One word of special note in this petition is the word “as.” The word as is also in the third Image result for forgivenesspetition.  Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

One way we might interpret this is “in proportion to.” With that in mind, we are asking God to forgive us in proportion to how much we forgive others. I don’t know about you, but that’s kind of a scary thought. If God forgives me only in as much as I am willing to forgive others, I’m in BIG trouble. And I assume you are all in just as much trouble as I am.

Or, we interpret the word “as” to mean a progression. First, we forgive others. Then God will forgive us. I’m sorry, but that’s just as scary as the first interpretation. The good news here is that neither one of these interpretations is correct. God puts no conditions on our forgiveness. Period. In the Lord’s Prayer, the word “as” simply means at the same time or in the same manner. We are asking God that as God forgives us, God’s forgiveness will flow through us and out to our neighbors. We are asking that when we experience God’s forgiveness, we will be given the desire to forgive others.

In the Lord’s Prayer, the word “as” simply means at the same time or in the same manner. We are asking God that as God forgives us, God’s forgiveness will flow through us and out to our neighbors. We are asking that when we experience God’s forgiveness, we will be given the desire to forgive others.

“Lead us not into temptation.”

Temptations and trials are empty promises intended to deceive us and lead us into false belief. For example, we hear a commercial that if we just buy a certain type of lotion, all of our wrinkles will go away. So we fork over $100 on something that we know cannot Image result for temptationand will never be able to make us young again. We believed in an empty promise. Temptations always come with empty promises. And so in Luther’s explanation to this petition, he says that we are asking God to preserve us and keep us. Just as Jesus fought temptations in the wilderness by remembering God’s promises, God preserves and keeps us in the same way. “But deliver us from evil.”

Temptations always come with empty promises. And so in Luther’s explanation to this petition, he says that we are asking God to preserve us and keep us. Just as Jesus fought temptations in the wilderness by remembering God’s promises, God preserves and keeps us in the same way. “But deliver us from evil.”

This can best be seen as a summary statement. We ask God to protect us, to preserve our faith and to deliver us completely from everything that opposes God and our safety. Because one day our struggle will be over. Sin will be no more. We will no longer need to fight evil because it will cease to exist.

This petition is a bit circular in nature. If God delivers us from evil, everything in the Lord’s Prayer can happen. But in order for God to deliver us from evil, the rest of the prayer must happen. In other words, we end where we began – asking God to bring our petitions – our requests – to fulfillment. Asking God to deliver on the promises God has made.

The final section of the Lord’s Prayer is called the doxology or words of praise. For thine Image result for doxologyis the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. We say THINE is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Not MINE – THINE. God’s. At the end of the prayer, we surrender. We die to ourselves and place every part of our very being under God’s rule. Luther said “Amen, amen” means “yes, yes, it is going to come about just like this.'”

Luther said “Amen, amen” means “yes, yes, it is going to come about just like this.'”
We confess that God’s name will be hallowed, God’s kingdom will come, God’s will shall be done, our bread will be given, our forgiveness is secured, our trials and temptations will end, all evil will be destroyed.

And none of this comes about because we make it happen. It comes about because God makes it happen. The doxology of the Lord’s Prayer commits us to these promises – the promises of God – and it commits us to watch for their fulfillment in our lives, to recognize them and to embrace them.

Image result for promises of godSo, brothers and sisters in Christ, when you pray, pray like this. Pray each word, trusting that beneath each petition, God is giving you a promise. And may the Lord’s Prayer help you to never forget that when God makes a promise, it shall be so.

And all God’s children say, “Amen.”


“Are You Available?” 10.01.2017 Sermon

Matthew 21:23-32 • October 1, 2017

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

An owner of a small manufacturing company was asked by one of her employees to write a letter of recommendation. The owner wanted to be honest but also wanted the employee to find a new job because of his poor work ethic. She was a little reluctant to write the letter at first but eventually agreed. In the letter that she finally wrote, this is how it concluded, “if you get John to work for you, you will be extremely fortunate. Yours truly…”Image result for writing a letter

Today’s gospel reading is the second week in a series of three weeks where we find ourselves in the vineyard. I don’t know about you, but my only real experience with a vineyard was during a short vacation in Napa Valley California. And my time in the vineyards of Napa Valley had little to do with work or hard labor.

One of the reasons I hear from people who don’t read the Bible or study scripture as part of their faith journey is that they get stuck trying to relate to the story. Today might be one example of that if we are trying to relate to the story by relating it to our literal experiences of working in vineyards. I’m hoping we can move beyond that a little today.Image result for working in the vineyard

In her book Stitches, Anne LaMott wrote, “If there is a God, and most days I do think there is, He or She does not need us to bring hope and new life back into our lives, but keeps letting us help.” (Stitches, p. 60-61)
Here’s the thing about God’s work. God really doesn’t need us in order for God to be able to do the things God wants to do. I believe God can get it done without our helper our getting in the way as is more often the case. But for some strange reason, reasons that we’re probably not going to figure out in this life, God keeps insisting that we do in fact get to help.

Another story.

Image result for around the cornerA man applied for a job as a handyman. The prospective employer asked. “Can you do carpentry?” The man answered “no.”
“How about bricklaying?” Again, the man answered, “No.”
The employer asked, “Well, what about electrical work?”
“No. I don’t know anything about that either.”
Finally, the frustrated employer said, “Well, tell me then, what is handy about you?”
The man replied with a beaming smile on his face and excitement in his voice, “I live just around the corner.” [Story from King Duncan, Time for Action]

Sometimes the greatest thing that we can do to help God in God’s work to bless and serve the world is to live just around the corner. To be available when God calls.

So, I want to ask you one simple question today.

And as I ask you this question, I invite you to be open enough to allow this question to rest on your heart in ways that you may never have let something do before in your faith life. I think it’s the same question that Jesus is asking us today. Ready? OK – here it is…here’s the question.

Are you available?Image result for are you available

I believe that is the question Jesus is asking the chief priests and the elders of the people in today’s gospel reading. I believe that is the question Jesus is asking the money changers in the Temple as he overturns their tables just a day earlier. A day earlier or about a dozen verses of scripture earlier in Bible time. I believe that is the question Jesus is trying to illustrate in his parable about the father and 2 sons. And, most importantly, I believe that is the question Jesus is asking you and me today.

Are you available? Well, are you? Are you available?

Douglas Hare, in his commentary on today’s gospel reading, reminds us of our tendency to behave as the chief priest and elders did. “As religious leaders,” Hare writes, “they claim to be faithfully obedient to God, but they are blind to the fact that authentic obedience includes responding in faith to the new things God is doing.” (Interpretation series, Matthew, p. 247) The point Hare is trying to make is not only important to religious leaders – in Jesus day or in 2017. His point is for every human being who claims to be a follower of Jesus.

And that point, for followers of Jesus, is that responding with authentic obedience in faith to the new things God is doing is not something reserved for super holy pastors or priests or bishops or other professional church people. Responding with authentic obedience in faith to the new things God is doing is something that all children of God are invited to participate in each and every day.

Are you available?

Are you available to the new things God is doing? Image result for what's absent is awareness

Are you available to the new people and places and situations God is sending you into each day?

Are you available to new opportunities to share the love of the savior of the world with others in unlimited ways?

Or are you stuck in the past.

Please hear me when I say this today…no matter what you have done or what you think you have failed to do, God is doing new things in and through you. The future is wide open. Whatever hurt you may have experienced or thing you have done that you think has caused God to forget about you is…in the past.

no matter what you have done or what you think you have failed to do, God is doing new things in and through you. The future is wide open. Whatever hurt you may have experienced or thing you have done that you think has caused God to forget about you is…in the past.

Because of what God has done for us – and continues to do for us – through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we do not have to allow our past to determine or control our future. By the grace of God this is most certainly true.

Image result for the future is openBut in order for you and me to realize this – to finally realize that our past does not hold back our future, we need to be available to the new things God is doing.

Theologian Brennan Manning says that “Christianity used to be risky business; it is no longer.” I think statements like that are true because we are no longer available to the new things God is doing.

Instead, we make ourselves available by working too much and forgetting about our family and friends. We make ourselves available trying to satisfy our loneliness with more and more material possessions. We make ourselves available by making as much Image result for money godmoney as we possibly can because we have some strange belief that the almighty money god will make us happy again. We make ourselves available by giving up our lives to the addiction pressures of sex or alcohol or drugs.

The gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world – for us today, is found within the opportunity we have to be available. Available for the work God has for us to do.

Image result for new thing god is doingBrothers and sisters in Christ, are you available? I promise you, being available will involve risk on your part. And I also promise you that by being available you will be blessed and you will be a blessing to others in ways you can’t begin to imagine today. Make time every second of your day, with every breath that you take, to be available to the new things God is doing. Amen.


“We Are a Re-Membering People” 09.10.2017 Sermon

Matthew 18:15-20 • September 10, 2017

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

In the introduction for today’s worship that’s printed in our bulletin, we read, “Conflict is a part of relationships and life in community. Jesus’ words in today’s gospel are often used in situations having to do with church discipline.” For those of you that know the constitution of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in detail, you know very well the importance of the 18th chapter of Matthew. There are 22 chapters in Good Shepherd’s constitution. One of them, the 15th, is titled “Discipline of Members and Adjudication.” In this chapter of our congregation’s constitution, Matthew 18 is our guide.

SOOOOO…it’s Rally Weekend and we have Matthew 18 before us. We have 2 options.
We can focus on church discipline, sin, retribution, treating each other like tax collectors and Gentiles in the misinterpreted ways that we often do in the church.
OR, we can spend some time reflecting on another way God might be calling us to think about Jesus’ teaching in this section of Matthew’s gospel. Because I think Jesus is challenging us to stop remembering for a little while and to start re-membering. The church today needs to start re-membering again.

Today, we remember that fall programing is beginning. I hope and pray that we also re-member just how many ways God invites us to learn and grow together in faith. If you’ve done nothing to grow in your faith beyond going to worship once in a while after you were confirmed, I challenge you to take a leap of faith this year and become a regular and fully engaged member of a Bible study or adult faith formation class.

Image result for re-member

Today, we remember activities at Good Shepherd like eating pancakes, blessing backpacks, and donating blood – although we had to cancel the blood donation activity because of no participation. Hopefully we’ll be able to reschedule that later in the year. Beyond church activities, I hope and pray that we also re-member how significant our lives of service are for our brothers and sisters. Brothers and sisters that we are sitting next to right now and others that we may never actually meet in person like those whose lives have changed forever because of hurricanes or wildfires or illness or earthquakes.

Jesus’ challenge for you and me is to stop remembering and start re-membering. Pastor Amy Ziettlow stated this challenge clearly this past week as she wrote, “The first mark of the church is to be one. Christ calls us to the holy work of re-membering one another through the steps of reconciliation. We are a re-membering people.” I couldn’t agree more. You and I are a re-membering people.

Image result for walls to keep people outAnd I believe our failure to be a re-membering people might be the greatest sin that the church commits. We have failed to remember our holy work is of re-membering. The reason so many people, many of whom you and I know well, are leaving the church or any organized religion today is because we are failing to re-member each other.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus refers to binding and loosing. Binding and loosing are often interpreted by the church as ways to build walls of division or systems of hierarchy that inevitably keep people out.

The holy work that Jesus calls us into in the 18th chapter of Matthew’s gospel is about bringing people in, restoring relationships and systems that are broken by sin. Jesus invites us to celebrate this holy work wherever two or more are gathered in his name. As we do this holy work, and wherever we do this holy work, Jesus is with us. Helping us to re-member one another into the body of Christ.Image result for welcome people in

On this Rally Weekend, this holy work of re-membering should cause excitement and joy and renewed commitment to who we are as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ formed by God into one community of faith. May this day bring forth renewed commitment to one another as fellow members of the body of Christ who are called to be one as Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

Right now, you may be thinking, being members of the body of Christ is fine to think about when I have time to fit worship or squeeze a church activity into my already over-scheduled life.

Image result for grocery store stressBut Pastor, don’t make me think about being a member of the body of Christ when I’m just trying to survive getting through the grocery store in one piece.

And Pastor, don’t make me think about being a member of the body of Christ when I’m badmouthing someone on social media or at the local coffee shop because they have a different political or cultural viewpoint than I do.

Image result for social media stress

And pastor, you better not even dream about making me think about being a member of the body of Christ while I’m cheering on my favorite sports team, hoping my team will destroy the opposing team. Even though, I’d like point out that the players and family members from that opposing team are probably sitting next to you right now aa we worship Jesus.

Believe it or not brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus’ teaching for us today reminds us that our love for one another is lived out most fully inside and outside the walls of a church.

As I’ve already offered, I believe the reason why the Christian movement is dying in many parts of the world today is because we have forgotten about each other.
Forgotten about the holy re-membering work that Jesus calls us into.

The most important part of your life is not accumulating more things than your neighbor. The most important part of your life is not making sure your schedule is busier than your competitor’s. The most important part of your life is not about which political party you stand beside. The most important part of your life is not about whether or not your sports or business team destroys the opposing team.

Image result for life in christThe most important part of your life – is your life in Christ.

And in our shared life together in Christ, we need to help each other remember that we are all members walking beside one another in this journey called faith.

And so, on this Rally Weekend, celebrate how God is assembling you and me together in groups of 2 or 3 or 300 or 10,000.

Assembling us together so that every member of the body of Christ knows that we need them in ores for the body of Christ to be whole – no person, no matter how far they have strayed or how broken your relationship with them has become, no child of God is left out. No community burdened by the tragedy of hurricanes or fire or earthquake or any other disaster is ever forgotten.

In other words, no one – not even a Gentile or tax collector or your most despised enemy is lost from the love of God poured out for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Image result for jesus hugYou and I are sinful beings living in a broken world. Our hearts and minds and actions prove that on a daily basis.

In spite of that unfortunate fact, thanks be to God that the truth of our life together in the body of Christ is that Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, re-members – yesterday, today and in all the tomorrows to come. Amen.