“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.”

“Our Journey with Nicodmus” 03.11.2018 Sermon


John 3:14-20 • March 11, 2018 • 4th Sunday in Lent

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

One of the things that our confirmation students are asked to do each year as they prepare for the Rite of Confirmation is to select a scripture verse that is meaningful to them or has spoken to them during their time in confirmation. Without a doubt, the three most popular verses of scripture that I have heard over the years are Jeremiah 29:11 – “For surely I know the plans I have for you…”, Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”, and one verse from the gospel of John that we just heard.

If I give you just two numbers, you’ll probably know what I’m talking about. What’s the first thing that you think of when I say the numbers 3:16.

Theologian Len Sweet believes that followers of Jesus are often plagued with an awful disease. He calls this disease “versitis.” Let me show you what he means. John 3:16 – “For God so loved……” Good. Who can tell me what John 3:15 is? Or how about 3:17? Or the context in which this text appears?

You and I, and really anyone who has ever heard or read Holy Scripture, will have “versitis” from time to time. No child of God today with a bible in their hands is immune to it.

Len Sweet says that, “knowing individual Bible verses, as helpful, hopeful, and healing as they might be, does not mean that you know the Bible, the story of the scriptures. The whole story. The big story. The back story. Both the huge moments and the hidden aside. All of the components of God’s story are necessary in order to comprehend the whole, unfolding drama of the divine words and work that are found in scripture.”

Image result for john 3:16 athleteSo, what might be the bigger story behind one of the world’s most famous verses of scripture – John 3:16? Because there’s a lot more to it than simply seeing it painted on an athlete’s faces or posted on a billboard advertisement.

John 3:16 comes during a conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee known as Nicodemus. A prominent leader of the Jewish community and a character who only appears in John’s gospel. And his appearances are significant to how John reveals who Jesus is – especially who Jesus is for an outsider like Nicodemus. Or like you. Or me.
Nicodemus’ relationship with Jesus begins in this late night conversation early in John’s gospel. I don’t think Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night has a lot to do with the time of day. As if Nicodemus couldn’t get an appointment with Jesus until he got off work in the evening. Although I know many will argue with me about that. Image result for nicodemus

Throughout John’s gospel, their relationship develops. In chapter 7 Nicodemus defends Jesus at a time when the chief priests are trying to arrest this Jesus who is starting to become quite a pest and beginning to get in the way of their power and control on society and the Temple.
At the end of John’s gospel, a story that we’ll hear in a few weeks, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea – two people not connected to Jesus’ inner circle of disciples – ask Pontius Pilate for Jesus’ dead body. They want to prepare the body with spices and linen cloth in order to give it a proper burial. After a lengthy journey that we see unfold throughout John’s gospel, Nicodemus finally embraces discipleship.

In so many ways, I’m a lot like Nicodemus. Nicodemus and I like darkness more than light. Darkness that involves control and authority, right sacrifice according to the chief priests and religious leaders. Life that is built on certainty that I’ve created according to my own plans and ideas, not God’s.

For me, that darkness often looks like an endless need to work harder and more. Another common disease – being a workaholic. If I just put a few more hours in at work today, then I’ll be more successful. Then God will pay attention to me for being the amazing child of God that I am and I’ll finally be the pastor that God wants me to be.

Or the darkness involves beating myself up thinking that I’m not praying enough or in the right way, so I add new spiritual practices to my life that promise to make me a better pastor to the people I serve or father to my daughters or husband to my wife.

In Nicodemus’ first encounter with Jesus, he thinks that Jesus will give him a simple, magic answer to becoming his disciple. What he discovers is that following Jesus will take him to the cross on a day that we now call good.

Image result for tv evangelist collageYou and I are bombarded by Christian teachers telling us that if we just say a simple, magic prayer to invite Jesus into our hearts, then we will become Jesus’ disciple and our lives will be whole.

As Nicodemus’ relationship with Jesus grows, it doesn’t result in riches and fame or happen because of anything Nicodemus does. And it takes him to the deepest pits of death and despair, where he finally discovers that Jesus has been with him all along.

What darkness are you holding on to today that is getting in the way of your relationship with Jesus? That’s getting in the way of you being able to see that Jesus is right there with you already?

For the writers of the bible, faithfulness and belief didn’t refer to “intellectual surrender to a factual truth. They were writing about fidelity, trust, and confidence. As they saw it,” Christian author Debie Thomas writes, “to believe in God was to place their full confidence in him. To throw their whole hearts, minds, and bodies into God’s hands.” [blog post http://www.journeywithjesus.et/essays/1687-in-a-nutshell, but Debie Thomas]

Or as I read from another author this week “The light of God’s love shining down from the cross demonstrates the totality of God’s love and proclaims God’s desire to transform the dark places in this world into places of light, healing, and salvation.”
[www.sundaysandseasons.com reflection]

The Apostle Paul reminded us of what this might look like today in his letter to the church in Ephesus, which is also a letter to the church in Bismarck by the way, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” [Eph. 2:9-10] By the time Nicodemus goes with Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Jesus’ dead body for burial, I think he understands what God has made him to be.

As you and I continue our journey through Lent, which will takes us to the cross of Good Friday, may our walk be reflective of what God has already made us to be. God has made us to be his children, called to bring healing and hope and light into a world too often filled with darkness.

May the words from Jesus that rang true in the ear of our brother Nicodemus, also ring true in our ear today…“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”


Brothers and sisters in Christ, Nicodemus’ long conversion throughout the gospel of John invites us to trust in the slow, steady, eternal work that has already begun. Work that we are called to do with our whole hearts, minds and bodies. Work made possible because God sent Jesus into the world to save the world and not to condemn the world. What are we waiting for? Let’s get to work. Amen.

“Take Up Your Cross” Sermon 02.25.18


Mark 8:31-38 • February 25, 2018

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

One of the greatest books – my opinion of course – on Christian discipleship over the last century is called The Cost of Discipleship. It’s a book that I’ll pick up periodically as I’m wrestling with my own call as a disciple or when events in the world happen that make me think about discipleship more than usual.

One chapter in this book speaks directly to our gospel reading today from Saint Mark. The chapter’s title Discipleship and the Cross. In this chapter, the books’ author, Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote, “To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us.”

Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor who was a leading figure opposed to the Nazi regime during World War II. He was arrested in 1943 for his opposition to Hitler. He had been linked to a group of conspirators who made a failed assassination attempt on Hitler. In April 1945, he was hanged in a Nazi concentration camp just as the regime was beginning to collapse and the war was coming to an end. Bonhoeffer not only wrote about discipleship and taking up our cross, he lived it to his death.

Our gospel reading today from Mark is the first of 3 predictions Jesus makes about the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Son of Man. In this first prediction, Jesus says that “If you want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

That seems simple enough.

If you want to follow Jesus, you need to take up your cross.

Bonhoeffer referred to this as denying oneself and becoming only aware of Christ and not of anything self-serving. You see, taking up our cross, denying oneself is not simply about putting up with suffering or bad things in life. Taking up our cross is to only focus on Christ and no more on self – in all parts of our life, not just on the parts of our lives that involve suffering.

That seems simple enough.

Focus on Jesus always, nothing else.

At the beginning of our gospel reading today, Peter – one of Jesus closest friends and first disciples – misses this point entirely. Which is the reason why Jesus reminds Peter that he is setting his mind not on divine things but on human things. You see, Peter thinks Jesus needs to be the messiah that is all powerful, all controlling. A king, a president, a warrior who has come to destroy anything that stands in the way of what Peter thinks a messiah should be. A messiah who is the wealthiest, most powerful man to ever live in all of the ways that were important to Peter’s first-century mind. All powerful in human things – Peter’s understanding. Completely oblivious to divine things.

But that’s just a first-century simple-minded man – this Peter – we don’t think like that anymore in 2018, right?

I mean, we don’t set rich people on powerful pedestals in order to bring further oppression upon poor people, right?  We don’t look to politicians or government leaders or military power as the all-knowing, all powerful, all controlling and domineering rulers of societies today, right?  We don’t live in societies where only the strongest survive and everyone else can just get lost and get out of our way. Right? I mean, our societies are more civilized today than they were in the first-century world under the rule of the oppressive Roman Empire – the world’s first super-power. It’s no longer US vs. THEM like it was in Jesus day.

We have no problem bearing one another’s burdens today, we take up our cross willingly and follow, we deny ourselves always and look only to Christ Jesus. Wealth and power and fame and prestige…those things no longer matter in our society or in communities of Jesus followers.

Well…if you’ve turned on a television or looked online or read a magazine or newspaper lately, you might be joining me and thinking…wow…we haven’t made it very far from the first century, have we? Jesus shouting, “Get behind me, Satan!” still rings in the ears of God’s 21st Century children, just like it did when Jesus first said it to Peter nearly 2,000 years ago.

The cross that Jesus takes up is one of rejection and shame and suffering. We know today that it takes him to the cross of Good Friday. It’s actually a journey that we take every year in the season of Lent. Peter and Jesus’ first disciples weren’t walking through a season called Lent. Peter didn’t know that Easter was coming or what that meant for his life.

We do.  Or at least you and I say that we do.

Back to the book The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer wrote, “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which everyone must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. To go one’s way under the sign of the cross is not misery and desperation, but peace and refreshment for the soul.”

Through the cross of Christ Jesus – a cross that you and I are called to take up each and every day – we discover that there is no place God will refuse to go in order to love us and redeem us and shows us daily that we do not take up our cross alone. Ever.

Crosses“We are called to take up our cross,” Pastor David Lose shared in a reflection on today’s gospel reading this week, “expecting that God is most clearly and fully present in the suffering and brokenness of the world. We are called to take up our cross by being honest about our brokenness and thereby demonstrate our willingness to enter into the brokenness of others. We are called to take up our cross because we follow the One who not only took up his cross but also revealed that nothing in this world, not even the hate and darkness and death that seemed so omnipresent on that Friday we dare call good, can defeat the love and light and life of God.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in this holy season of Lent, and in every other day of the year, set your hearts and minds on divine things, not human things. Take up your cross and follow! In times of suffering and pain. And in times when you are overwhelmed with joy and completely satisfied with life. You’ll find Jesus there. Amen.