Category Archives: Recent Sermons

“Jesus is Calling. Will You Follow?” 01.26.2020 Sermon

Matthew 4:12-23 • Annual Meeting • January 26, 2020

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, the one who calls us into mission, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

The gospel reading we just received comes right after the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and right before the beginning of a major three-chapter teaching section from Jesus called the Sermon on the Mount. And you may have noticed that today’s gospel is closely related to all of the gospel readings that we have received thus far in the Epiphany season. A common theme that runs throughout Epiphany this year is that of call.

Last week, Pastor Bob referred to your call as the thing that makes your heart jump when you do it. The thing that you can’t help but do. The thing that is part of every aspect of your life. The thing that Jesus invites you to come and see and just like the brothers Peter and Andrew, James and John, when Jesus says “follow me” you immediately drop what you are doing and follow.

At Good Shepherd, we are called to immediately drop whatever we are doing and follow Jesus every time we try to live out our calling as a congregation, as a faith community, through God’s mission for us “to share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children.”

If you are a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, hopefully, you know that this weekend is the Annual Meeting. This meeting, unfortunately, is one of the most sparsely attended things we do together as a congregation. I always find that disheartening. Because a congregation’s Annual Meeting is one of the most important things we do together. It’s one of the most important ways we demonstrate our willingness to answer Jesus’ call to follow.

A congregation’s Annual Meeting is a time to make decisions about future leadership. A time to reflect upon the ways that Jesus has called us to follow in the last 12 months. And a time to celebrate the many ways we anticipate Jesus calling us to follow in the coming year.

If you can spare an hour of time, please attend the Annual Meeting on Sunday at 12:15 in the Lynne Center.

Together as a faith community, we see Jesus’ call to follow unfold as we live out our mission in community. In a sermon offered a few years ago by Deacon Beth Anderson, she said, “God calls us together into community so that we might be fed and nourished, and so that we might work together caring for all of God’s people and the rest of creation.”

At one of the recent Community Leader Gatherings hosted by Good Shepherd, one of our guests expressed his appreciation for Good Shepherd’s ministry of hospitality to organizations like Gambler’s Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Alcoholics Anonymous. This individual said that they first entered Good Shepherd’s doors in 1981 to attend their first AA meeting. Because of the welcome they experienced during that first visit to Good Shepherd, they believe they are still sober today.

And, an even more spectacular part of this story is that this individual has gone on to a lifetime serving thousands of other children of God through a career in behavioral health and addiction services. A journey of sobriety and a career in helping others that had its beginning because of a welcome received when this person entered Good Shepherd for a meeting in 1981.

Every Friday, there are about 120 home-schooled children and their families participating in activities at Good Shepherd through an organization called Catholic Schoolhouse. It is a Roman Catholic organization serving home-schooled families in Bismarck-Mandan. They too experience a warm welcome and gracious hospitality each week. This is yet another story of Good Shepherd listening to God’s call and then putting that call into action as Jesus invites us to follow.

In 2019, the offering of our hands, feet, voices and financial resources not only provided a safe and welcoming building for people to gather in. You and I, who call this congregation our faith home also provided nearly $240,000 in financial support to ministries taking place outside our building. Financial support that enabled these ministries to serve God’s children where they are – whether those individuals are located in downtown Bismarck or Watford City, North Dakota or Santa Ana, El Salvador.

Hopefully, it’s no secret to you that I believe with everything I am as one of your pastors that you and I are called by God to be together as members of this faith community. Our work together not only calls us to serve the neighbor outside of our congregation’s walls, but also those who are located inside the walls. Our mission “to share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children” empowers us to do both. To serve those who are members and not members. And to do both with excellence.

Each week, nearly 800 young people under the age of 18 gather for Church School, Confirmation, Bible study, devotional time and service work. It’s a staggering number of young people and their families that gather us together into a community larger than most towns in North Dakota.

In the past few years, many Church School classrooms are often overflowing with enthusiastic students – overflowing to the point where we struggle to fit an adult leader into the classroom. And our confirmation ministry has continued to grow to the point where we can no longer hold formal classes with all three grades of students on the same day or in the same room.

This fall, 69 young people will affirm their faith in the Rite of Confirmation.

One mother of two confirmation students recently told me that her kids, “crave coming to church and being part of what God is doing here. When one thing ends,” she said, “they are immediately talking about the next thing and looking forward to the ways they can be part of it.”

Thousands of service hours happen each year through our youth and family ministries. Service work in places like Good Shepherd or the Dakota Zoo or Heaven’s Helper’s Soup Café or on the streets of Denver, Colorado and Minneapolis, Minnesota or among our brothers and sisters served by the Good Heart Community Center on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

This past Thursday and this coming Monday we offer compassionate, Christ-centered care to families who are grieving the death of loved ones. During these times, this Sanctuary is filled with people grieving the death of someone they love and at the same time celebrating the promise of resurrection and life eternal that is a gift we are given in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. A sanctuary and fellowship area of the Lynne Center filled beyond capacity as we provide care for one another during this most important and difficult season of our faith journey.

A few years ago Good Shepherd’s endowment provided a grant to our congregation for use in a newly formed transportation ministry. If people in our congregation, or wider community for that matter, need help to get to church, appointments or other events, Good Shepherd can provide funds for a taxi, transit service, Uber or Lyft to get them safely where they need to go.

And finally, brothers and sisters in Christ, the images that are scrolling on the screens during worship today, illustrate hundreds of additional stories of Good Shepherd living out its mission from God. And our 2019 Annual Report lifts up even more. If you have yet to look at it, please take some time to open it up.

I share these stories with you today, not only because this week is our Annual Meeting, or because the Epiphany season focuses our attention so directly on our call as children of God. I share these stories with you today because these stories are ways in which you and I, as a faith community called Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, are answering Jesus’ invitation to follow.

These stories are living, breathing stories of the Shepherd’s love being shared. Our response to the invitation offered to us with each new day connects us with millions of other children of God since Peter, Andrew, James and John first answered Jesus call.

A call and an answer that ushered in the kingdom of God.

A call and an answer that continues to unfold today as we teach in our churches and proclaim the good news of the kingdom in all we say and do as individuals … and … as members of faith communities like Good Shepherd.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is calling, will you follow? Amen.

2019 Christmas Eve Sermon

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ-child we are here to worship on this holy day. Amen.

There is an ancient spiritual practice among Christians called Lectio Divina. It’s a way to read scripture slowly, repeatedly and prayerfully. In recent decades, the practice of reading and studying scripture like this has seen renewed interest. At Good Shepherd, we regularly practice something called Dwelling in the Word, which is a similar kind of prayerful scripture reading.

Both of these practices are an important part of my own faith journey. There isn’t a sermon I offer or a word I write that isn’t impacted by using lectio or dwelling in my study and preparation. Drop me an email or give me a call if you’d like to learn more about either of them. I promise they will positively impact your faith journey. Now, before I lose you completely because you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with Christmas or our worship today, stay with me.

Even if this is the first time in your life that you have been in a church for worship, I’m guessing you have heard Luke, chapter two before. You’ve probably heard about the baby Jesus before. You’ve heard about the shepherds and the angels. About Mary and Joseph. Maybe you’ve even heard this story as it is told by Linus from a Charlie Brown Christmas or heard it told through one of the thousands of Christmas movies that exist.

But, I ask every one of us gathered here today on this holiest of nights, have you really ever heard this story before?

In fact, I would challenge you after all the Christmas craziness is over and gone, I challenge you to sit down and read through Luke chapter two again. Read it slowly, quietly, prayerfully. It might surprise you what the Holy Spirit will reveal to you about Jesus and his birth and why any part of this story still matters for you.

Pastor Amy Redwine points us to why this story still matters and who it’s for, as she writes, “Of the four gospels, Luke’s is written for the most ordinary of us, including – maybe even especially – all those who have been pushed aside and marginalized: the young, the poor, the refugee, the laborer. Luke wants to make sure we know that this baby, who is nothing less than Emmanuel. God-with-us, came not for some but for all. Luke wants us to know, there are no extras in this story. Everyone belongs. [Amy Starr Redwine, Journal for Preachers, Vol. XLIII, #1, Advent 2019]

As I began preparing for this year’s Christmas Eve sermon several months ago, I began as I always do, by slowly, intentionally and prayerfully reading the scripture texts for the day. And, as we all know, and I’ve already shared, the scripture for today includes a story that we most often hear on Christmas. The story of Jesus’ birth as offered to us in the second chapter of Saint Luke’s gospel.

I’ve read this story hundreds, if not thousands of times before. I’ve written countless articles, blog posts, sermons and seminary papers about it. Surely, there is nothing new that I could hear from it. Surely I’ve uncovered all that the Holy Spirit wanted to reveal to me in a lifetime spent hearing and studying this story. Surely I know everyone who belongs, who is important in this story.

This year, though, the Holy Spirit decided that I needed to hear something new. Something I wasn’t expecting. Something I had never heard before.

In the nineteenth verse of the second chapter of Luke, I heard, as if for the very first time, “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Mary pondered them in her heart. While everything around her was blowing up with shouts of joy from shepherds and angels and everything else in all creation, Mary was quiet. Mary pondered. Mary.

To be honest, I’ve never given Mary much thought before. Of course, I should have. She is, after all, the mother of the savior of the world. But it is so easy to focus on the excitement and noise and chaos of the Christmas story that I think I may have actually been missing part of the center of the Christmas story my entire life. An unwed, teenage woman, giving birth to the savior of the world, the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us. A birth and a woman who’s experience on that holy night changes creation forever.

And in that moment, as Mary holds the baby Jesus and ponders in her heart what this might mean, she doesn’t send a tweet. She doesn’t rush to her Shutterfly account to change her Christmas card order before it ships. She’s not posting on Facebook all that she has seen and heard. She simply, quietly…ponders.

As Mary takes in all the events of Jesus’ birth, Luke tells us she “treasured” and “pondered” them in her heart. The word “pondered” here is the word symballo in Greek, which can also have stronger and more contentious meanings like “to engage in war with” and “to wrestle with.” Mary takes in, treasures, but she also wrestles deeply with the meaning of the experiences she is having because of Jesus birth.

Later in our worship today, we will sing “let every heart prepare him room.” Will our hearts have room to wage war with, wrestle with, to ponder what the birth of a savior named Jesus has to do with us as we seek to try and follow this savior beyond today?

I’m not going to pretend to know why you are here. I don’t know what you are feeling as I share this crazy discovery I’ve had with a scripture reading that we hear every year at Christmas. I don’t know if you’ve ever had an experience that felt like you were wrestling with God before. Or if you believe that the Holy Spirit has anything to do with our faith journey. I’m not going to judge you if this is your 1st or 500th time hearing the Christmas story as told from the gospel of Saint Luke.

I’m okay with wherever you may be.

As I’ve studied and wrestled with and pondered in preparation for this time of worship, I want you to know that I’m glad you are here today. I want you to know that I’m really glad you and I are able to experience the Christmas story together tonight. To ponder it a little more deeply.

I believe the people who are sitting near you today are glad that you are here as well, after all, they are part of this story too. They might even be wrestling with it just like you are.

And I believe with everything that I am as a Christian pastor that Jesus Christ, the savior of the world whose birth we celebrate tonight, is glad you are here too.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as our journey of faith continues beyond this time in worship on this most sacred night called Christmas, take time to silence the chaos and noise of the world around you once in a while. Take time to wage war with the things that pull you away from your relationship with God. Take time to simply be with God. To make room in your heart for the Christ-child to live. To ponder a little in order to hear the quiet voice of God speaking to you by name. To wrestle with the fact that God has come to us in Jesus, and because of that truth, nothing in all creation will ever be the same again.

Merry Christmas brothers and sisters. Merry Christmas. Amen.