“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.

Advertisements

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.”


“How Is This Good News?” 07.15.2018 Sermon

Mark 6:14-29 • July 15, 2018

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

Whenever this gospel reading comes along in our worship – which is every 3 years in case you didn’t know – I hesitate a little to conclude the reading by saying “The Gospel of our Lord.” After all – the gospel is the good news of our Lord. The good news of God’s love for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. How in any way are these 15 verses of the gospel of Mark good news?

John the Baptist – Jesus’ close relative and first proclaimer of the good news of the Messiah coming into the world – is in prison. Although many seem to think he’s already dead.

 

Herod’s wife used to be his brother’s wife. And she seems like someone who holds onto grudges by seeking revenge. Revenge at any cost.

 

Herod’s wife used to be his brother’s wife. And she seems like someone who holds onto grudges by seeking revenge. Revenge at any cost.

Herod’s daughter is dancing at her father’s party. Dancing in ways that are pleasing to her father and his guests. One can only imagine what kind of incestuous dancing this may have been.

Herod gets caught in a trap to murder John the Baptist by his wife and daughter, even though he is intrigued by John’s teaching and proclamation. Herod even protects John.

Jesus is never mentioned. In fact, this is the only story in the gospel of Mark in which Jesus doesn’t even make an appearance.

How is this gospel? How is this good news?

We are spending the bulk of our worship time this year in the gospel of Mark. It’s the shortest of the 4 gospels and definitely the fastest moving. It’s also the gospel that spends the greatest amount of time on the story of John the Baptist. A story of intrigue, greed, revenge, murder, and family dysfunction that extends far beyond anything that I have ever witnessed.

Why is this shocking story so important to Mark’s telling of who Jesus is?
One possible answer to that question might be found in the recent writing of Dr. Leroy Huizenga, a theology professor at the University of Mary.

His most recent book is called “Loosing the Lion.” It focuses entirely on the gospel of Mark. The first words of Professor Huizenga’s book solidify why I think today’s gospel reading is important for us to receive – even if it only appears once every 3 years. “Our age is numb.” Huizenga writes, “It’s numb to beauty, to goodness, to truth, because it’s numb to grace, and ultimately numb to God.”

He uses these opening words to remind us of the shocking ways in which the gospel of Mark tells us the beautiful story of the good news of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.
In other words, today’s gospel reading may not seem like good news on the surface. But if we dig just a little deeper – something that you and I are not always willing to do in our faith journey – we will discover something much more. Something that will bring forth gospel and restore new life in each one of us and the neighbors that God places on our path along the way.

A time long ago, but a time in human history and society quite similar to today, theologian G.K. Chesterton wrote, “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but tried and found difficult.” Or in my own words, being a follower of Jesus ain’t always easy. And if you think it is, I question whether or not it’s Jesus you’re actually following.

The Jesus we follow did not die in a quiet and peaceful way at the time and place of his choosing. The Jesus that we follow was crucified on a cross. One of the most painful and destructive forms of death to ever exist in the history of humankind.

It

is in the shadow of that cross we live and move and have our being as followers of Jesus. It is in the shadow of that same cross that makes the story of John the Baptist that much more significant for our own lives and our time.

John the Baptist’s proclaiming the coming of the Messiah results in his head showing up on a platter for Herod’s daughter. And 10’s of thousands of other followers of Jesus throughout the centuries have found a similar fate as John the Baptist because of their proclamation of Jesus as Lord.

I’ve prayed a lot about that recently. What have I done, or better yet, what am I doing today as a follower of Jesus, the might warrant my head on a platter – metaphorically or otherwise? Or, am I too chicken to actually live out my faith in words and deeds that may cause a little risk to my being and the relatively comfortable lifestyle I enjoy?

You see, brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I live in a broken world that continues to mirror the story of John’s beheading. We have all been part of a similar story at one time or another.

Persons in power deflecting fault.

Times when we have sought revenge at all costs on those who have been bold enough to speak truth to us.

Making vane promises that we know will cause harm to others if we ever have to, in fact, bring those promises into reality.

Lording power over another part of God’s creation because we think they are somehow less important to God than we are.

In the words of Pastor David Lose this past week, “Herod’s beheading of John seems rather brutal, something we look for on Game of Thrones but are surprised to see in a Gospel (conveniently forgetting, of course, the brutality of the cross!). Yet are Herod’s actions really all that far from the callous manipulations of power we see today?” Pastor Lose boldly asks. And then, offers this concluding thought. “This is our world and our story, and perhaps we forget that only because we have become so numbingly accustomed to seeing it play out daily in the headlines.” [www.inthemeantime.com]

It is my hope and prayer that we haven’t become numb – like Professor Huizenga and Pastor Lose suggest. Or have somehow forgotten that following Jesus may in fact not be as easy as we think it is. But if we have become numb to God or forgotten what following Jesus is all about, I hope and pray that the shocking good news that we are invited to receive from the gospel of Saint Mark today gives us pause to recommit ourselves to this work. And for that, I give God thanks and praise.

Like Herod, you and I are invited each and every day to really listen to the challenging voice of God in our day and age and to turn away from the lures and temptations that attempt to seduce us away from loyalty to God. And like John the Baptist…through us – through you and through me – God speaks words of peace, love, forgiveness, and mercy. Words of truth that challenge the world’s appetite toward violence, hatred, deceit, judgment, and ultimately death. [sundaysandseasons.com]

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I’m grateful for your commitment to this work. Commitment to this call that following Jesus invites us into. As we await God’s final redemption of the world, may we continue to be beacons of God’s love for all of God’s children. After all, that’s all John the Baptist was trying to do. That’s the gospel of our Lord. And that most definitely is good news indeed. Amen.


God’s Kingdom Comes…06.17.2018 Sermon

Mark 4:26-34 * June 17, 2018

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

First of all, on this 4th Sunday after Pentecost, we also celebrate and give thanks for all of the dads in our life. Those that have been and continue to be fathers toward us in so many grace-filled ways. Happy Father’s Day.

We have two parables from Jesus before us today as we continue our journey through this season after Pentecost.

Do the parables of Jesus reflect what God does or what we do? Hang on to that question for a few minutes. Do the parables of Jesus reflect what God does or what we do?

And for clarification purposes – I’m using the terms reign of God and kingdom of God to refer to the same thing in today’s sermon.

Image result for god's kingdom comeI spent a couple days this week at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. So I decided that it would be appropriate to quote a professor from the seminary in today’s sermon. New Testament professor Matt Skinner reminds us about this general idea of Jesus’ parables. “Parables are comparisons, meant to cast two things alongside one another to provide analogy, contrast, or reflection.”  Skinner believes. He goes on to share that, “Jesus’ parables … have a way of reordering conventional assumptions and values. They don’t explain how one is supposed to recognize the reign of God, but they make it clear that we will need to adopt or receive new ways of perceiving.” [www.workingpreacher.org]

The first parable in today’s gospel is unique only to the gospel of Mark. I think this is probably the case because it just might be the most boring of all Jesus’ parables. The seed is sown. The seed grows. The crop is harvested. Everything happens as it’s supposed to happen. Oh well…

I mean – the seed doesn’t grow into a BMW or become an apple tree instead of a head of grain. It simply does what God made it to do. And all of this happens while you and I are away taking a nap as the parable implies.Image result for mustard seed

About today’s first parable, Professor Skinner says this. “It is the nature of God’s reign to grow and to manifest itself. That’s what it does. God’s reign, like a seed, must grow, even if untended and even if its gradual expansion is nearly impossible to detect.”

God’s reign – God’s kingdom – gradually expanding through dozens of children who are participating in Day Camp and Vacation Bible School at Good Shepherd this summer. Seeds planted. God growing them. You and I enjoy the harvest of young people living out their lives with the love of God at the center of who they are and everything they ever will be – simply because God has planted us to be together in Christian community through Good Shepherd.

The second parable today is a bit more complex than the first. The seed planted doesn’t just grow into something that we can harvest or gaze upon its beauty. This seed grows into something that will also provide shelter and security for other parts of God’s creation – “birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” The parable offers.

But the second parable’s seed is not seen as good by all. A mustard plant in Jesus’ time wasn’t a cash crop. In essence, it was kind of a noxious weed. Only bigger. And much more annoying. Think crabgrass that you can never seem to get rid of in your yard or a seemingly endless number of dried up thistle bushes rolling across the prairie.

Back to professor Skinner, while reflecting on the mustard seed and the kingdom of God, Skinner offers this insight, “the reign of God apparently isn’t much of a cash crop. Yet it grows. It is not easily eradicated. Good luck keeping it out of your well-manicured garden or your farmland. Better be careful what you pray for when you say, “Your kingdom come…”

As we celebrate Father’s Day this week, I’m also mindful that this day isn’t a day of celebration for everyone. For some, thinking about your father brings forth feelings of abandonment and abuse. For others, thinking of your father brings joy and comfort. And for others still, thinking about your father brings forth sadness and grief because your father is no longer alive and has already joined the great cloud of witnesses.

Image result for hugThe father of one of our daughter’s closest friends died very suddenly this past week. Throughout our daughter’s lives, Wendy and I have tried to plant seeds of God’s kingdom. As parents, whether these seeds are growing or not is something we ever really know for sure. But God does. And this past week, we witnessed our daughter’s care and compassion for their friend following the death of her father in amazing and life-giving ways that we never dreamt possible. Our teenage daughters are becoming the “greatest of all shrubs” so that God’s love shines through them even when we least expect that it is possible for God’s love to shine. So that God’s love can give comfort and peace and shelter as they hold onto their friend in her time of greatest need.

I began today’s sermon by asking the question – Do the parables of Jesus reflect what God does or what we do?

Author Jeanne Choy Tate believes that “the parables aren’t meant to be understood, at least not fully,” she writes. “Their many possible meanings allow us the flexibility to apply them to the seasons of our lives.” [Christian Century, May 23, 2018, pg. 23]

I think there is truth in that statement. Because the parables are not about what we do, but about what God does. What God does through us as God’s kingdom comes.

I’ve witnessed God’s kingdom coming as seeds are being planted at one of our church’s seminaries. Seeds that will grow into the philosophers, theologians, teachers, pastors, Christian movement leaders of tomorrow.

I’ve witnessed God’s kingdom coming as seeds are being planted in young people at Day Camp and Vacation Bible School. Seeds that will grow into abundant harvests of God’s love that has no end.

I’ve witnessed God’s kingdom coming as seeds are being planted in my own family. Seeds that are producing mighty shrubs that provide shelter to dear friends during their time of unimaginable grief and pain.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s parables remind us that the good news of Jesus Christ does not remain buried in the ground like a dormant seed.

Through your savior Jesus, God is planting seeds in you each and every day. Seeds that will bring forth God’s kingdom in the world today – even though this world seems darker and more broken with each passing day – God’s reign is at work.

Whether you know it or not, or can even begin to grab on to this truth of God’s love for you today – God’s kingdom is growing and shining forth through you. Growing in you in amazing, transformative and life-giving ways.

Don’t be afraid to keep growing brothers and sisters. Seeds are being planted as God’s kingdom comes. May your continued growth in the kingdom bring blessing where God plants you. May we always keep growing. Amen.