“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.”


“Resurrection Life” – 04.15.2018 Sermon

3rd Sunday of Easter * Luke 24:36b-48 * April 15, 2018

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

For the most part, all of the Easter lilies and azaleas are gone. Which for those of us with pollen allergies, we proclaim through runny noses and watery eyes, “Thanks be to God!” I imagine the last bites of Easter dinner have long been consumed. In many respects, I’m guessing that Easter gatherings are a dim and distant memory for many of us.

That’s really too bad. It’s too bad because we are STILL in the Easter season. And it’s too bad because we always are Easter people – people of the resurrection every day of our life in Christ. Not just on Easter Sunday or in the Easter season.

Image result for christ is risen he is risen indeedSo the ancient greeting that we shared with one another on Easter Sunday – at Good Shepherd or somewhere else – is still a greeting that we can share today.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Awesome – you remembered! And you better pay attention today, because we aren’t done with that greeting yet.  Is that greeting, just a greeting? Like saying hi to someone? Or maybe we think of it only as a greeting that symbolizes a philosophical or Image result for jesus country clubmetaphorical idea that people outside the church no longer understand. It’s become a way for Christians, after 20 centuries of using it, to be our secret knock or handshake to get into the Jesus country club so to speak.

Here’s the entire point of this sermon today. The greeting Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Is NOT a metaphor. It’s NOT a secret handshake. And it’s NOT simply another way to say HI to one another.

This sacred, ancient, and holy greeting is an invitation into a way of life that will change you – in this life and beyond. And maybe even more important than that, is that this way of life – following the risen savior Jesus – will bless your neighbor and change the world in ways that we can’t possibly imagine today.

You see, if the disciples were looking for a philosophical argument or a spiritual metaphor for what happened to them as they followed Jesus, that’s not what they got in the resurrection. Jesus wasn’t a metaphor. And Jesus didn’t rise from death so he could show off a clever magic trick by flying off on a fluffy white cloud into the sky.

Jesus appeared over and over and over again to his closest friends and said, “Touch me and see. Peace be with you. You know what, I’ve been dead for a few days. I’m kind of hungry, do you have anything to eat.”

“If the disciples are looking for God to be some wispy spiritual being, or philosophical concept, or metaphor, or ghost, what they get instead is the Lord of heaven and earth chewing on tilapia Galilaea.” That’s how Pastor Peter Marty describes the disciples encounter with Jesus in today’s gospel reading. He goes on to say, “Their God and ours proves to be a flesh and blood God, not a disembodied spirit. This God is vulnerable to everything that is human, including the capability of being hurt and spilling tears.” [Christian Century, March 28, 2018, pg. 24]

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

The problem I see though is that, most people in our community, even our own congregation really, and throughout every corner of the Christian world today don’t believe that truth anymore. Or at least live their lives like they don’t believe that truth.

Either they don’t know the story of Jesus or the story of Jesus has been so diluted in their life that it has no impact on how they actually live a resurrection life each day. We continue to be disbelieving and wondering as today’s gospel reading reminds us. Or even worse than that, we don’t believe anything we say or do or give effort toward is good enough or part of God working through us. God can’t possibly use me to live the resurrection – we say – I’m just an ordinary little speck in the universe. Jesus resurrection from the dead is nothing more an incredible literary metaphor from some ancient author’s story that has nothing to do with me as I struggle to live out my life in 2018.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that greeting carries with it a responsibility. A responsibility that extends far beyond simply saying hi to one another or trying to be good to yourself or someone else or successful in your school or professional career. And that greeting carries with it the weight that God’s ability to conquer death in the resurrection of Jesus has changed the world forever and will continue to change the world until the end of time.

Image result for original ideaOriginal is the title of a chapter in a great little book by Pastor Rob Bell. In it, Bell writes, “Sometimes we hold back from throwing ourselves into it” (the resurrection life) “because we think that the only work worth doing is something completely original that’s never been done before.”

And then Bell goes on to share the story of a conversation he had with someone who introduced himself to Pastor Rob by saying that he was just an insurance agent.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Bell’s story of his conversation with just an insurance agent illustrates how I believe that EVERYONE is called to live a resurrection life – because of what God has already done for us and continues to do for us through the birth, life, death AND resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Have you ever been in a car accident and had to call your insurance agent?” Pastor Bell recalls of the conversation. “When you’re standing by the side of the road staring at the smoldering wreck of what was formerly your primary mode of transportation, you don’t want just an insurance agent to answer the phone. You want someone to answer who has given himself (or herself) to being the best insurance agent they can possibly be.

No one is just a mom, just a construction worker, just a salesperson, just a clerk – because you doing your work in your place at this time is highly original and desperately needed.

It may have been done or said by someone else. That’s a distinct possibility. It may have been done or said before.

But it hasn’t been done or said by you. It hasn’t come through your unique flesh and blood, through your life, through your experience and insight and perspective.” [How to be Here, by Rob Bell, pg. 139-140]

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

“You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus says to you and me today. Witnesses in whatever way or place or person God places in your path. Witnesses of the resurrected Jesus who is alive in the world today, tomorrow, and every other day to come. Alive in the world through you and me, just as we are and just where we are right now.

If you don’t subscribe to our church’s magazine yet or even know that the ELCA has a magazine called Living Lutheran, you really should take a look at it. There are several free copies available in the information carousels around the church each month.Image result for resurrection life

In an article from this month’s edition, ELCA Pastor Dave Daubert further points to what I believe God is trying to say through this sermon today. Daubert writes, “Be more excited about your faith; help people love Jesus more; be more active in the community; share your faith with others; love God; love people, and make sure people know why you’re doing the whole thing.” [Living Lutheran, April 2018, pg. 19]

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Thanks be to God that we get to be part of this whole thing known as resurrection life. Amen.


“Christ is Risen!” 2018 Easter Sermon 04.01.2018

Easter 2018 * John 20:1-18 * April 1, 2018Easter 2018 * John 20:1-18 * April 1, 2018

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

So this year, Easter falls on April’s Fools Day. The last time this happened was in 1956 and there will only be two more occurrences of Easter falling on April Fool’s Day this century. In case you didn’t know this, the actual date for Easter changes each year. It’s not a set date like Christmas. If you were paying attention as we received the gospel readings over the past four days of Holy Week worship, you’ll note that scripture doesn’t tell us that Maundy Thursday or any of the other days have a specific calendar date – only a specific day of the week. After all, God’s time is not the same thing as human time. It may surprise some, but God, in fact, does not have an Apple Watch.

I’ve never explored this too far but…the date for Easter is determined as the first Sunday, after the first full moon, on or before the Spring equinox.

OK – before I keep chasing after that squirrel, let’s move on.

Since the very earliest days of the Christian movement, there’s been a very significant, and somewhat foolish I might add, greeting used to signify Easter and the resurrection. Someone will say “Christ is risen!” And someone else will say “He is risen indeed!”

Let’s try it.
Awesome! You guys are great.

BUT – wait a minute. Weren’t you listening? Why are we shouting for joy?

In our gospel reading on this Easter Day, Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved have been to the empty tomb, don’t seem to understand what is going on so they decide to head for home in order to continue their Xbox video game tournament. Or something like that.

And Mary, one of Jesus’ closest friends and someone whom I believe we should see as one of the first disciples, is weeping.

So why are you and I, followers of Jesus nearly 2,000 years later, shouting for joy?

Here’s something about the resurrection that has rested on my heart this year. Peter, the other disciple, and Mary Magdalene don’t know what’s going on – they don’t know the end of the story. At this point, all they know is that Jesus – this friend of their’s whom they thought was the Messiah – has been brutally killed just a few days earlier. They don’t see any reason why there is going to be anything more to this story than the horrific, bloody death of their friend on a cross. They have to be thinking – this is the end. Nothing more to see here. Let’s move on with our lives.

Early on this first day of the week, they come to the grave where they thought Jesus was to be buried, and he’s not there. Is that all there is to their story? Is the story of Jesus, God’s son, our Savior, over?

You and I know that death on a Friday we dare call Good, is not the end of the story. The first disciples to witness the resurrection didn’t know that, at least not yet.

As Mary is weeping, she doesn’t recognize Jesus, but Jesus recognizes her. Not because of anything she does, but because of what God does for her through Jesus.

We began worship today by giving thanks for and affirming our own baptism. In the sacred and holy waters and words of promise from God that is the sacrament of Holy Baptism, God claims us. A sacrament when we see Jesus recognizes us. Not because of anything we do, but because of what God does for us through Jesus.

Peter and the other disciple have no idea what is going on at the tomb “for as yet they did not understand the scripture.” Over the next few weeks in our worship life together, we’ll discover that they will begin to understand the scripture as they experience the resurrected Jesus first hand. Again, not because of anything they do, but what God does for them through Jesus.

After all of the Easter candy has been consumed – or hidden by wise parents – and the Easter dinner is over, and family and friends have returned to their homes and busy lifestyles; what does any of this mean? What does it mean to be a follower of this Jesus?

This Jesus who couldn’t even be stopped by death. This Jesus who recognizes and calls each of us by name as precious children of God – loved and claimed and freed – in spite of all of the ways that we try to turn and run from God. All of the ways that we try and put God to death expecting that we, somehow, can keep God dead.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the resurrection of Jesus is not simply a historical event that we remember each year like a national holiday or birthday. And the resurrection of Jesus is not only about some future hope that we have for ourselves and our loved ones after our earthly death.

I’m sorry, but if we focus all of our attention on a past or future event, we are completely missing the resurrection promise that’s right in front of us today. The resurrection promise of Jesus that calls us to live with a hope that we can experience and witness each and every day of our life together as part of the body of Christ. Hope that is only possible because of what God has already done, and is continuing to do for us, through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.

So don’t worry about Easter falling on April Fool’s day this year. You don’t need to ignore it. It actually might be helpful.

One ELCA pastor, Paul Lutter said – “Through his death and resurrection for us, Jesus Christ is God’s foolish power on the loose among us. Our strength is toppled by his weakness. Our wisdom is toppled by his foolishness. And we are never the same again. We are made new. We are turned upside down for the sake of Christ, who dies and is raised from death for us. We are given new identities. Marked with the cross of this foolish Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit in the waters of baptism, we are made fools for Christ.” [“Foolish Power,” Living Lutheran, April 1, 2011]

So for today, let’s greet one another as fools for Christ with foolish joy and proclaim “Christ is Risen!” “He is risen indeed!”

And just like Peter, the other disciple, Mary Magdalene and every follower of Jesus since that first resurrection day, let’s not be afraid or stand around weeping. Let’s proclaim truth every day.

The truth that God has, is, and will always be a God of resurrection. A God of resurrection that conquers every death we will ever experience. A God of resurrection that sounds foolish to some. A God of resurrection that brings forth new life, always and in all ways.

And so tomorrow, on Easter Monday, let’s continue being fools for Christ as we greet one another with joy and proclaim “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”

And next weekend we will greet one another with joy and proclaim “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”

And later this year, we will greet one another with joy and proclaim “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”

Thanks be to God! Amen.