“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.


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.”

“The Work of the Spirit” 05.20.2018 Sermon

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 • May 20, 2018

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

Happy Pentecost!

If you missed our youth-led worship last weekend, you missed a wonderful Spirit-filled time of worship as the Easter season came to a close. Our youth are not the future of the church – they are an active and blessed part of the church alive in the world today.

I do need to clarify one thing that was said last weekend by one of the preachers though. One of last week’s preachers, whom Pastor Bob and I believe is well on their way to seminary and ordination as a pastor one day explained one reason why they wanted to be a pastor. “Why wouldn’t someone want to be a pastor?” They said, “I mean, you get to drink coffee and eat cookies all day.”

Today is one of the great festival days of the church – Pentecost. It’s kind of like the birthday of the church because this is the day that the church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit. A gift that comes 50 days after celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. A gift that continues to come as the Spirit blows in so many amazing and life-giving ways through each one of us.

A couple weeks ago I shared in another sermon that this section of John’s gospel is known as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. It encompasses chapters 14–17 of this gospel. In these chapters Jesus is preparing his disciples for what is about to come – namely the events of Holy Week and the crucifixion. He is also preparing them for their ministry and mission in the world beyond the time that Jesus is able to be physically present with them.

In today’s gospel reading, he is sharing with them that the Father is going to provide an Advocate for them.

flameAn Advocate that comes in our reading today from the book of Acts with tongues of fire and languages from every nation under heaven being spoken at the same time.  An Advocate, as Jesus says, that is one who will testify on Jesus’ behalf.  An Advocate that challenges those of us who claim to be followers of this Jesus still today to also testify on behalf of Jesus.  An Advocate that gives us hope in this work that we are called to do as children of God.

But, the obvious question for Lutheran Christians with all of this is “What does this mean?” And Pentecost and the breath of the Spirit and all this talk about an Advocate gives us pause to ask that question again and again to find meaning in the movement of the Spirit right now, right where we are.

Princeton Theological Seminary professor Keri Day answers our question “What does this mean?” in this way. “The joy of Pentecost is that it gives us a vision and a hope for a community made possible through the work of the Spirit. This miracle involves being open to the shocking and surprising ways of the Spirit, which empowers us to reach across differences in order to experience radical and insurgent communions.” [Christian Century, May 9, 2018, pg. 10]

Yes, as one of our preachers last weekend reminded me, cookies and coffee are one of the blessed parts of a pastor’s work and life. But the last 7 days in my life as a pastor have existed around an over-abundance of meetings, pastoral care and visitation appointments, presiding and preaching at 3 funerals, and way too many phone calls and emails to possibly begin to return within the framework of a 24-hour day.

It was also a week when Jesus words in today’s gospel spoke deeply to this journey. A journey with Jesus reminding me several times each day that I have an Advocate – the Holy Spirit – walking alongside me. The Advocate, who gave me peace and hope and endurance each day this week.

In just the last 7 days of my life as a pastor, God has provided hundreds of opportunities to witness the vision and hope of a community made possible ONLY through the work of the Spirit.

The work of the Spirit in the care and concern we share as we gather together as brothers and sisters in Christ in order to help families grieve and heal following the death of loved ones.

The work of the Spirit as Good Shepherd serves alongside a Leadership Class with the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce to increase the number of locations offering Little Free Pantries for brothers and sisters in need in our community.

The work of the Spirit that is always a work of peace in spite of violence and evil that continue to ravage the communities and nations in which we live. The work of the Spirit as church school children and adult leaders celebrate the end of a church school year, by creating amazing pieces of Pentecost artwork that adorn our worship spaces this week.

Wendy and I recently attended the annual Senior Pastor’s conference. This is an event that gathers together Senior Pastors and their spouses from the largest congregations in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It’s a few days of learning, networking, rest, and relationship building with other pastors who serve congregations like Good Shepherd across this church. To be honest – it’s among the most important few days of the year for Wendy and me.

Pastor Reggie McNeal was one of this year’s conference speakers. Reggie’s most recent book is called “Kingdom Come: Why We Must Give Up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church – and What We Should Do Instead.” Throughout the week he encouraged us by reminding us to always keep our eyes and ears open to the work of the Holy Spirit. We don’t want to miss out “on being a part of what God is already doing in the world.” Reggie said. [Kingdom Come, Reggie McNeal, pg. xxi]

Image result for south carolina license plateSo, by now you might be wondering why I have a South Carolina license plate on the screens this weekend. Well, first, the Senior Pastor’s conference was in South Carolina this year. And, second, believe it or not, the tag line on the South Carolina license plate of our rental car reminded me of the work of the Spirit. If I wasn’t open to it, I probably would have missed it. Which is something that, unfortunately, happens more often than I care to publicly admit.

If we look closer, you’ll see that the license plate says, “While I breathe. I hope.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Spirit is still breathing. Jesus has a lot more to say to us. God has more to do through us. And the breath of the Holy Spirit that’s already been given to us and is living in you and me will guide us and be our Advocate along the way.

You are deeply blessed along this journey. Blessed and sent into the world once again this week with a vision and a hope. A vision and a hope that is radical and shocking and surprising – even for those who already follow Jesus like you and me.  A vision and a hope that will bless you and those God places before you in ways that are only possible because of the work of the Spirit.

The Spirit is at work, brothers and sisters. Thanks be to God that it is. Amen.

A Whole Lot of Abiding Goin’ On” 04.29.2018 Sermon

John 15:1-8 • April 29, 2018

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

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Well done brothers and sisters. It is still Easter!

I heard a story recently about a man who ordered a tree house for his kids from an online company. After several days of anticipation, the day finally came when the box containing the tree house arrived. A box that revealed every parent’s worst nightmare. In large bold red letters on the outside of the box, it said, “Some assembly required.”

Image result for tree house sailboatNot to be deterred, with a tool-belt around his waist and an unrealistic goal in sight, the confident dad began to assemble the tree house. He spread all the parts across the backyard and began to read the instructions, soon to realize that the parts and instructions were not for a tree house, but for a sailboat!

His confidence gone and the tool-belt lying in a dark corner of the garage once again, the now frustrated and slightly angry dad quickly sent an email to the company complaining about his order.

The next day, he received this reply from the company. “We are truly sorry for the error and the mix-up and the inconvenience. However, it might make you feel better to consider the fascinating possibility that somewhere today there is a man out on a lake trying to sail your tree house.” [James W. Moore, Collected Sermons]

Jesus says to us in today’s gospel reading, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” You and I cannot live our lives in Christ and bear good fruit in the world apart from Christ, any more than a backyard tree house can make a good sailboat on a lake. Our gospel reading today reminds us that our identity in every way begins, and ends, as we are connected to the vine. A vine which is Christ abiding in us. A vine that is possible because God, the vine-grower, makes it possible in the first place.

Occasionally when I read and study scripture, I get stuck on a word or phrase. I hear it a little differently than I’ve heard it before. It’s really one of the main reasons why I believe we call scripture the Living Word. Scripture is constantly meeting us where we are. Transforming us and making us new every time we receive it. God abides in us. Jesus abides in us. Scripture abides in us. We abide in God. And we abide in each other.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the word that stuck with me this week was the word abide. I’m guessing that the word abide is not a regular part of your conversation or vocabulary. To be honest, I can’t recall the last time I actually used the word abide in any conversations I’ve had or written communication I’ve shared.

Abide, as defined by dictionary.com, means “to remain; continue; stay:”; “to be able to live with, or stand.” The important part of the word abide to take note of is that it is a verb. It is not passive, but active. And it always requires a relationship.

Image result for abide in meSo when Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you.”, this mutual abiding is not something that we can do independent of anyone or any other part of God’s good creation. Like it or not, as children of God – children of God who are created in the image of the vine-grower – we are connected to each other. Abiding in each other.

This section of the gospel of Saint John is known as Jesus’ farewell discourse. It begins in chapter 14 right after the disciples have celebrated what we now know as The Last Supper and concludes in chapter 17 with Jesus praying for his disciples. Which leads directly to the time of the crucifixion.

Jesus is trying to prepare his disciples for what’s about to happen. He is also trying to assure them that he will be with them always – even when life gets hard. And we all know because of the experiences we walk through each year in Holy Week, it’s about to get really hard for the disciples. I want to also note that John’s gospel is written for a community that has likely been thrown out, rejected their by friends and family, and probably feeling pretty isolated and alone. They are probably feeling like they have been cut down, not simply pruned.

There are dozens of times when the word abide is used in Holy Scripture. In every single verse where the word abide is used, it is used in ways that speak about relationship. Relationship with other people. Relationship with creation. Relationship with God.


Image result for feeling aloneThere are times in our own relationships when we might feel like the people who are first hearing these words from John. When we feel left out, alone, even abandoned. It’s precisely in those times that we need to hear Jesus say to us again, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” It’s a reminder that we are never alone because of the relationship we have with God through Jesus.

And there will be times in all of our relationships when a little pruning needs to be done. Pruning not to disconnect or destroy or cut down, but pruning in order for good fruit to come forth. Pruning that happens – or maybe needs to happen in spite of our opposition to it – from time to time. Pruning that will result in much fruit being produced and God being glorified.

One of the central purposes for John’s gospel is to show this early community of Jesus followers who have been shunned and thrown out from the lives in which they have always lived is that, even as they feel shunned and cut off from the community they’ve always known, they are now called to witness to the presence of the Word in the world even after Jesus has returned to the father. They are called to witness to the fact that this Word – this Jesus – abides in them as they abide in him. Always. Forever.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, even in 2018, you and I are called to do the same thing. Called to abide and bear fruit. And as Jesus promises, we abiding in Jesus and Jesus abiding in us – fruit is harvested abundantly because of this abiding. Fruit that was described by Mother Teresa in this way. In her words, today’s sermon comes to a close, “Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand. Anyone may gather it and no limit is set.” [Love: A Fruit Always in Season, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987]

One of the ways that we show each other in worship each week that we abide in God and God abides in us is through the sharing of the peace. “Within reach of every hand” as Mother Teresa reminded us, we abide with one another in the peace and love of the risen savior Jesus the Christ.

And so as we abide with one another today, I invite you to stand as you are able.  Please take a moment to share the fruit of our branches as we share the peace of Christ with one another. A sign of peace and love that is a sign of our abiding in one another as brothers and sisters in the one body of Christ.

May the peace of our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be with you all. And also with you.