Monthly Archives: February 2011

“Seek the Gospel”


Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

Matthew 5:21-37 • February 13, 2011

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

I’ve been called a pretty committed optimist by many people over the years. I’m not sure that I think of myself as an optimist though. Being an optimist feels limiting to me. It feels too predictable. Too easy. And at times it places an incredible weight on my shoulders as I try to maintain control.

Instead, I like to think of myself as a seeker of the Gospel. I have had the great joy and privilege to participate in a few events recently that affirm what I think it means to be a seeker of the Gospel. One event happened yesterday when I was invited to participate in the ordination of a friend of mine into the priesthood of the Episopal Church. The gospel reading was offered in the middle of the community. I found that to be a profound and moving way to hear and receive the gospel.

The second event also took place yesterday as I joined about 200 brothers and sisters in Christ from across our synod for a day of conversation, study, and fellowship with the ELCA’s Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson who was in Bismarck yesterday.

The third event I’ll talk about in a few minutes.

These events have challenged the idea of being called to be a seeker of the gospel. As a seeker of the gospel, I try to discover and lift up all of the ways that I see and experience and feel the good news of God’s activity in my life, in my work and ministry, and in all of my relationships – personal, spiritual, and professional.

I think that in many ways, the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew calls us to be seekers of the Gospel.

All of us have been an active participant at one time or another in Jesus teaching today. And I’m guessing that if you were listening to what I just said, you are either squirming a little bit in your pew or you are thinking of ways that you can justify that you have no connection with what Jesus is saying. So, let me offer it again in case you missed it – all of us, you and I, have been an active participant at one time or another in what Jesus is teaching today.

But you may be asking how in the world am I supposed to relate to this? I’ve never murdered anyone. I’m not divorced. I try to avoid swearing for the most part.

Jesus is serious here – that seems pretty clear. Jesus takes us to hard places that challenge us to look deep into ourselves, to places that many of us are often unwilling to go, in order for newness to begin and grow. All of us have committed murder. All of us have caused a relationship to be destroyed. All of us have not been entirely truthful at one time or another.

Seeking the Gospel is not simply a list of behaviors that we are supposed to try to obtain or rules that we are supposed to follow or laws that we must try to remember not to break. In order for us to be seekers of the Gospel and hear God’s yes given to us in and through Jesus, we are called to live our lives rooted in relationship. Relationship with God AND relationship with each other. Those relationships and the ways in which we engage them, affect who we are as children of God.

I was recently part of a First Call Theological Education workshop at Metigoshe Ministries in Bottineau. Pastor Dick Hendrickson, who grew up at Good Shepherd and has served for several years as the pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Garrison, shared a wonderful story about Mr. Rogers during one of our worship times at this workshop.

I’m not sure if I ever openly admitted this before. And I know I’ve never admitted it in a large public gathering like this before. Growing up and even still today, I really enjoy Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. One of the reasons I enjoyed Mr. Roger’s as a child was often because of the great musicians he had as a guests on the show. And one of the reasons I enjoy Mr. Roger’s as an adult is because I think his teaching is about seeking the gospel. Seeking the gospel in the neighborhood, so to speak.

I don’t know how many of you know that Mr. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian pastor. He tells a story in the book The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers (pg. 33-35) about an experience he had while in seminary. Pastor Dick shared this story with us at Lake Metigoshe. I share it with you today and give thanks to Dick for sharing it with me recently.

Mr. Roger’s was on a weekend vacation in a little town in New England midway through his seminary education. One Sunday, he decided to go and hear a visiting preacher in the town’s chapel. The sermon he heard that day was the worst sermon he had ever heard before. Mr. Rogers sat in the pew thinking, “He’s going against every rule they’re teaching us about preaching. What a waste of time!” That’s what he thought until the end of the sermon when he happened to see the person sitting beside him with tears in her eyes whispering, “He said exactly what I need to hear.” It was then that Mr. Rogers realized that something very important had happened that day. The woman beside him had come to worship in need. Somehow the words of that poorly crafted sermon had been translated into a message that spoke to her heart. On the other hand, he had come in judgment and heard nothing but the faults.

It took a while, but Mr. Rogers eventually realized that the lousy sermon he heard on that day turned into one of the greatest lessons of his life. He said of that day, “Thanks to that preacher and listener-in-need, I now know that the space between a person doing his or her best to deliver a message of good news and the needy listener is holy ground. Recognizing that seems to have allowed me to forgive myself for being the accuser that day. In fact, that New England Sunday experience has fueled my desire to be a better advocate, a better ‘neighbor,’ wherever I am.”

In a way, Mr. Rogers became a seeker of the gospel on that Sunday in a little town in New England. Maybe today is a similar day for you and I gathered in worship? A day when we need to be grounded again. A day when we need to stop for a moment so our need can be filled once again by God. A day when God says to us again that our life in faith is not about getting everything right or trying to climb a ladder to heaven filled with expectations that not one of us will ever be able to reach. Today is a day to become seekers of the gospel again.

As we live in relationship as Good Shepherd Lutheran Church we are seekers of the gospel as we celebrate Pastor Tim Johnson joining us in ministry this week.

We are seekers of the gospel as we discover new ways to provide musical opportunities for children’s choirs and a youth worship team in ways that we have never done before.

We are called to be seekers of the gospel.

Let us give thanks on this day and all days and never stop seeking on this journey of faith that we share in relationship with each other as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. Amen.

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“Salt & Light”


Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

    Matthew 5:13-20 • February 6, 2011

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

In baptism our gracious heavenly father frees us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are born children of a fallen humanity; by water and the Holy Spirit we are reborn children of God and made members of the church, the Body of Christ. Living with Christ and in the communion of saints, we grow in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God.

These are the words that we hear at the beginning of every celebration of the sacrament of Holy Baptism in our congregation. I think they are some of the most important words that we will ever hear as followers of Jesus. They are words that have been offered in our congregation more than a dozen times in the past month alone. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t really heard these words before, I miss them sometimes even if I’m the one offering them, but do make a point to listen deeply to them the next time we celebrate a baptism in worship. In fact, hear them again right now –

In baptism our gracious heavenly father frees us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are born children of a fallen humanity; by water and the Holy Spirit we are reborn children of God and made members of the church, the Body of Christ. Living with Christ and in the communion of saints, we grow in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God.

Baptism is not a one-time event that freed us from having to be part of a community of faith or do anything or grow in any way during our life as followers of Christ.
Our baptism is not simply a get out of hell free card OR a one way ticket to heaven. In our baptism we are freed to grow and to be active in the world and the communities in which we live as we experience God’s grace in everything that we say and do.

Presbyterian pastor Thomas Long offers an insight that is helpful as we live our lives rooted in baptism. Long says, “The hardest part is not in being Christian for a day, but being faithful day after day, maintaining confidence in what, for all the world, appears to be a losing cause.”

In today’s text, Jesus is calling us to live in ways that won’t make us the greatest and most powerful people in our community, or give us material wealth beyond our wildest imagination, or make us amazingly attractive in the eyes of the culture around us, or even enable the physical institutions that we build and love to survive forever.

Thomas Long offers another insight into today’s text, “Jesus is saying that what the people of God do in the world really counts.”

You are salt. Jesus says, you are salt. Salt? I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like much of a mineral.

While on our most recent trip to Mexico I accidently cut one of my toes on a sharp rock. I didn’t think much of it until later in the day when I was walking along the beach and accidently stepped into the saltiness of an ocean wave. Saltwater and an open cut on your foot is not a combination that I need to experience again anytime soon. It was quite painful actually. But salt in the ocean’s water is life giving for millions of organisms in God’s good creation.

I love to cook. And while cooking I love the quest for the delicate balance that salt plays in making a meal perfect.

Salt sitting by itself in a kitchen container is pretty useless, but salt incorporated with other ingredients in a meal can be amazing. Water in the ocean by itself is useless, but perfectly combined with salt is life-giving and sustaining. Salt is useful when applied to other things. Jesus saying, you are salt is a call for us to live as followers of Jesus in ways that always look toward others.

Jesus also says that you are light in today’s text. You are light. In our modern world, where electricity and technology always seems to be within reach, it may be difficult for us to imagine a time without light.

Let’s think about light in this way. I think community is a very important facet of living out our faith in this world. There is light from the sun shining into this room through the windows. This sunlight is available to us who are gathered here and to other parts of the world at the exact same time. Its light that is given for all to share as we live in God’s creation.

We are also experiencing light from the electricity in this building. Again, it is light that is not meant for our own individual purposes. It is light that we share as a gathered community of faith in worship.

Salt and light are ways in which we live out the faith that we are invited to live out in our baptism.

I recently heard a cute story about a mother mouse who decided to teach her children a bit about the world one day. She gathered all of the little mice together and set out for a walk. They walked down the hall and out into the front yard to enjoy the afternoon sun and have a little fun outside. They didn’t get very far outside before they found themselves in front of the family cat dozing in the afternoon sunshine. The mother mouse was scared, but she didn’t want her children to let them know or see her fear, so she signaled to them to be very quiet as they tip toed past the lounging cat. They were almost past the cat, when it opened its eyes and lifted its paw.

The little mice were terrified. What would they do? What would their mother do to protect them? Just as the cat’s paw started to come down on the little mice, the mother mouse looked the cat right in the eye and started barking like a dog as loud as she could. The cat was so startled that it jumped up and ran away!

The mother mouse wiped the sweat from her brow, shook a little and turned to her little children and said, “Children, I hope you learned a valuable lesson today. Sometimes it’s good to know a second language!”

Thinking of ourselves as salt and light is a little like that. In our baptism we are given a new identity. A second language so to speak. The language of God; the language of grace; the language of hope and love. And when this language becomes active it is the most beautiful language we can experience. We are called, today and all days, to be salt and light living out of the language of God in our life of faith. A new language and a new way of being that is given to us in baptism.

This week, remember that you and I are called to be the salt of the earth in our baptism – a perfect seasoning and life-giving presence to others. We are also called to be the light of the world, light that is always given to us in community to serve our neighbor as we walk together as followers of Jesus.

The opening sentences of the sacrament of Holy Baptism draw us deeply into relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus and in the presence of the Holy Spirit. And one of the last things that we do at every celebration of baptism is light a candle and offer the words in verse 16 of our text today. May these words from Jesus sending us forth to be salt and light in the world guide us as we leave worship today – “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Amen.