“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.”


“Live Generously” 10.22.2017 Sermon

Philippians 2:1-12 • October 22, 2017

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

As we enter the second week of our fall stewardship series Live Generously, I’m guessing many of us might be scratching our heads at the scripture readings we are hearing. What does our theme verse from first Timothy or today’s gospel reading about the Image result for live generouslyhemorrhaging woman or the letter from the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi have to do with stewardship? There is no mention of time, talents or treasure in these scripture readings. There is no call or plea for a godly use of resources. All of the common trappings of stewardship-related biblical texts that pastors are so well known to use during worship series like this are absent from these readings, right? Or are they?

Philippians is Paul’s most joyful letter. It is a letter of thanksgiving. It’s also a letter in which Paul gives ultimate thanks and praise to God for all that God has done for the Philippians – and you and me today – through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

I believe that one of the core reasons that North American Christians struggle with God’s call to stewardship is the way that we have marginalized the practice of stewardship altogether. For too long, Christians – both pastors and church members alike – have associated stewardship with fundraising campaigns, pleas for volunteers, church meetings, and budgets.

Image result for give you my heartThe call to be stewards is far deeper than the need of the church for more of your money or begging you to volunteer for things that you really don’t want to volunteer for. Here’s the important point that I hope we hear today – The call to be stewards is directly connected to our relationship with God as recipients of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. As Pastor Pam reminded us last week, it’s about our heart.

Paul’s words to the Philippian church ask us to place our whole life into God’s eternal care. Not just our life during an annual fall stewardship series. Not just when we feel like paying attention to God. Our whole life. So as we consider our call to be stewards again this fall, we must think about our entire life of faith. We cannot separate stewardship from other parts of our existence. It’s simply not possible for those who claim to be followers of Jesus.

Image result for god's graceThe call to be stewards flows first from God’s gift of grace to us in Jesus. Simply stated, there is no other foundation or purpose to anything we are or do as Christians than Jesus. As Paul moves into the second chapter of Philippians, he places that foundation in Jesus at the center of our focus. Paul says, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the spirit, any compassion and sympathy…” There’s supposed to be an obvious answer here to what Paul is asking. Of course there is encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, and sharing in the spirit. We find all of these things and more in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s next words to the church, “make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

If you’re like me, you have tried to do these things before…to make the joy of the Lord complete in your life and in the world around you with your own effort. And, if you’re like me, you’ve discovered that is impossible to do.

We try to find agreement with one another, yet fail time and time again.

We try to have the same love as Christ, but we fail to live up to that over and over.

We try to be generous, but fall short of our expectations as we fall back into quick fix self-gratifying things instead.

We are human. And as humans, we sin and fall short of the glory of God.

Too often our approach to stewardship starts by asking, “What can we do?” When we start with our own efforts, we set ourselves up for failure. Just like the focus of our discipleship is not on our own works, neither should the focus of our stewardship be about us.

Image result for god is doingWhen Jesus called Simon and Andrew to follow him at the beginning of the gospel stories, he did not tell them they were good workers and would achieve great things as his disciples. Jesus told them to come and follow him and he would make them fish for people. Jesus did not call the first disciples to show their greatness through their own abilities. He called them to follow him, receive him, trust in him and find salvation through him. Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus issues that same call to us in October 2017.

Before we can worry about what to do with this call, God invites us to witness what he has already done, what he’s doing right now, and what he will do for us in all the days to come through Jesus. The starting point to loving and serving God is receiving God’s good gift of grace that has already been given to us through the Savior of the world Jesus Christ. It is a free gift, that, no matter what we do or how hard we try, we can never earn. God’s love for us through Jesus is not something that can be bought or sold, traded or bargained for. Our identity as Christians does not come from our inherent goodness, from the things that we do or from the gifts we offer. Our identity as Christians comes to us from the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus.

And if receiving the gift of Jesus in our baptism is the beginning of being called a disciple, then it is also the beginning of our life as stewards.

While this may seem impossible to us, Paul continues in his Philippian letter by saying that it is God who is at work in us, enabling us to both will and work for God. When the Holy Spirit dwells within us, the Spirit empowers us to do the work of God.

When we share the gospel, it is not our effort, but God’s grace that allows it to take root and grow.

When we serve others, it is not our efforts, but God’s grace that blesses our service.

If we take Jesus as our example for service and discipleship, why should we not take him as our example of stewardship?

Image result for serve othersBuilt on the foundation of God’s great love for us through Jesus, our call to stewardship is simply about being stewards of God’s love. At Good Shepherd, we see this expressed in our mission and ministry “to share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children.”

So stewardship, isn’t just about money, it never has been and it never will be. Stewardship is about our hearts. Jesus is God’s greatest gift to us. When we grasp the overwhelming love and grace and generosity this gift is for us, our words and hearts and behavior in every part of our lives will mirror our gratitude for the abundant riches we receive. Behind the sharing of money, of time, of talent, of our very selves, is the sharing of God’s love and grace which we have so richly received in Jesus Christ. God did not give us this love so that we could hold it for ourselves, but so we could share it with others.

In the days ahead, remember that God loves you and is abundantly generous toward you. As we continue our journey through the Live Generously stewardship series this fall, I invite you to set aside intentional time in order to explore how God is calling you to become an instrument of grace with a singing heart and a joyful, generous life. You and I are richly blessed. The Apostle Paul’s letter of thanksgiving to the ancient church in Phillipi is also a letter to the modern church of Good Shepherd today. How are the rich and abundant blessings we have already received being shared with others in thanksgiving?

Live generously brothers and sisters in Christ. Live generously. Amen.

Image result for live generously[I give thanks for Daniel L. Rudy’s reflection “The Gift of Christ” for much of the thematic content and inspiration for this sermon. Live Generously Stewardship Emphasis Worship Resources. Ecumenical Stewardship Center. www.stewardshipresources.org]


“Are You Available?” 10.01.2017 Sermon

Matthew 21:23-32 • October 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Another story.

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

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

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

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

Are you available?Image result for are you available

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

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

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

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

Are you available?

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

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

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

Or are you stuck in the past.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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