Category Archives: Recent Sermons

“Generosity Because of God’s Grace” 10.28.2018 Sermon

[In addition to the sermon, each week of this series will feature a video Bible Study. You can find this week’s Bible study by clicking here.]

2 Corinthians 8:1-7October 28, 2018

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

It is Reformation weekend – a time when we celebrate the fact that the Lutheran Christian church is called to always be a reforming church.

It’s also Confirmation weekend – a time when 46 of our brothers and sisters in Christ affirm their baptism and make promises to each other and to God that they intend to continue to live out their life as followers of Jesus in all they say and do.

It’s also the first week of one of my favorite worship series of the year. Every year, in the fall, Good Shepherd sets aside several weeks of time to explore what it means to be a steward of God and how being a steward shapes the entirety of our life of faith.

I hope and pray that you are blessed by this year’s series. It’s called “Abundant Joy. Overflowing Generosity.” This series will include special worship services over the next month, stewardship moments shared with some of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, an opportunity each week during worship to reflect upon our own stewardship and generosity, short weekly video bible studies that will be posted on our YouTube and Facebook pages, and an opportunity for all of us who call Good Shepherd our faith home to make a financial commitment to the mission and ministry God is blessing us with.

The scripture reading that will guide us throughout this worship series is the one we just heard from the Apostle Paul’s second letter – or possibly his third letter as some biblical scholars believe – to the church in Corinth.

Is this text about money? Yes.

Is that all it’s about? No. Because stewardship is not only about money. Generosity is far more than just money. Stewardship, or living our faith generously, is about far more than money or the church’s quest to get into our bank accounts. Thanks be to God for that truth.

The Macedonians are a generous people – generous to an extreme. Even though they have experienced great poverty and persecution, they are committed to the work of the church and generously and joyfully support what God is doing. Paul uses them as a way to encourage the Corinthians to be equally generous. After all, the Corinthians are far more affluent than the Macedonians ever hope to be.

Here’s the rub though. Paul is not trying to guilt the congregation in Corinth into giving like the Macedonians. He’s trying to help the congregation in Corinth see first-hand the gift of God’s grace that has empowered the Macedonians to give in the first place.
And to give abundantly, joyfully, generously – far beyond what anyone could have imagined. God’s grace – and God’s grace alone – invites them into a life of overflowing generosity.

Bishop NT Wright offers this thought in one of his many volumes on the Apostle Paul. “Grace is one of Paul’s ‘big’ words – so big, in fact, that we often fail to realize all the tasks he gets it to perform. Often when people talk about ‘grace’ in church circles they are referring simply to the undeserved love and power which God showers on people in bringing them to faith in the first place and enabling them to live and grow as Christians. That remains central and vital.” Bishop Wright states. He then goes on to say, “But Paul also uses the word in what seems to us (though probably not to him) a different way, as in this passage: to refer to what God wants to do not just in and for Christians but through them.

What counts is not whipping up human sympathy for a project, nor making people feel guilty that they have money which others need, nor yet encouraging them to gain social prestige by letting it be known that they have given generously. What counts,” Bishop Wright concludes, “is a work of grace in the hearts and lives of ordinary people. Paul has seen this spectacularly in Macedonia; now he declares that he wants to see it in Corinth as well.” [Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians, pg. 86-87]

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what might grace like that look like in the hearts and lives of people who call Good Shepherd Lutheran Church their faith home?

Over the course of a year, tens of thousands of people gather at Good Shepherd for times of worship and praise. On average, more than 800 people gather for worship in this sanctuary every single week.

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But our worship life is not only contained within this space. Our worship life also gathers us together with brothers and sisters in 170 congregations of the Western North Dakota Synod and 9,000 congregations across the United States that are part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Our worship life also gathers us with our brothers and sisters of Cristo Rey Lutheran Church in Santa Ana, El Salvador and in Lutheran congregations across Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and Madagascar.

As God’s grace works through the hearts and lives of ordinary people like you and me at Good Shepherd in the next year, how might we grow generously in order to bring forth new mission opportunities and joy to worshiping communities we don’t even know exist today?

IMG_1451.JPGDuring the program year of September through May, seeds of faith are planted in about 700 young people through Church School, Little Angels, Confirmation, and Senior High School ministries. Ministries led not only by pastors and paid church staff, but by dozens of additional leaders who volunteer their time to walk alongside these young people in their faith journey.

As God’s grace works through the hearts and lives of ordinary people like you and me at Good Shepherd in the next year, how might we grow generously in order to bring even greater joy to additional opportunities for us to form faith together – from our very youngest to our very oldest members?

Image result for little free pantry bismarckEarlier this year, we began participating in a ministry called Little Free Pantry. In just a few short months, the little, non-descript, wooden box on the north side of our property has offered thousands of items and hundreds of pounds of food to brothers and sisters in our community who are among the working poor living with food insecurity as a daily part of their reality.

As God’s grace works through the hearts and lives of ordinary people like you and me at Good Shepherd in the next year, how might we grow even more generously in order to bring even greater joy to brothers and sisters in our own community who are hungry, poor, feeling forgotten? Brothers and sisters who just need to know that someone cares about them, someone who can remind them with words and actions that God does love them unconditionally.

I’m filled with joy that we are together today. I’m filled with joy that God has called us to be a faith community together just like those in Corinth and Macedonia. Our worship series begins with today’s theme…giving God our day. We begin here because one of the central beliefs of our faith is that every day is a gift from God. Every day in our life of faith begins with God because it’s all God’s in the first place.

This week, let us give God each day that we are given. And let us do that with overflowing generosity toward our brothers and sisters. I pray God’s blessings to be upon you as we journey together over the next four weeks seeking to live with abundant joy and overflowing generosity. Amen.

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Stuff & Humility 10.14.2018 Sermon

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPP8iu2SDz4&feature=share

Mark 10:17-31 • October 14, 2018

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

The devil was on the prowl one day. He was out to get a Christian who’d been hanging around his neighborhood. The devil saw the Christian coming close. He shot one of his fiery arrows. It struck the Christian in the chest. The Christian wasn’t harmed. He had a breastplate of righteousness on to protect him. The devil took another shot. This time at the Christian’s head. That didn’t do anything either. He was protected by the helmet of salvation. The devil figured everyone has an Achilles’ heel. That will do the trick, so he shot at the Christian’s feet. The feet were also protected – by the gospel of peace on which the Christian always stood. The Christian smirked and turned around to walk away. The devil had one more arrow though. He fired and the arrow hit the Christian’s wallet that was in his back pocket. That arrow worked and instantly brought the Christian down.

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OK – I’ll admit, that joke is a little shocking. Maybe mildly offensive. But I think it’s also truer that any of us care to admit. Although, I believe it’s not nearly as shocking as the gospel reading we just received from Mark.

On the surface, this gospel reading of the rich man or the rich young man or the rich ruler depending on which gospel you are getting this story from, on the surface I suppose you could say it’s about stewardship. And maybe it is…but is stewardship really only about our wealth or our possessions? What’s in our wallet so to speak?

Stewardship, as defined by Luther Seminary professor Rolf Jacobson, is “believing that everything you own actually belongs to God.” [Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms, pg. 168]

By taking Professor Jacobson’s definition into account, stewardship is not just about the things that we own or the tight grasp we have on our bank accounts or investment portfolios. At the heart of it all, being a steward of God, claiming to live out our faith as a reflection of stewardship, stewardship isn’t only about our stuff. It’s about being humbled to the point of not letting our stuff get in the way of being in relationship with God – who is the real owner of all our stuff and our entire life in the first place. Not just the parts or times when we want God to be around. Our entire life and all that is in it. Always.

achievement adult agreement arms

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Stewardship then, has to be about humility from the very beginning. Being humble enough to know that everything we have and everything that we are, is God’s first, not ours.

The Urban Dictionary’s definition of humility is helpful here. “True humility is to recognize your value and others value while looking up. It is to see there is far greater than ourself into who we can become, who others can become, and how much more we can do and be together. To be humble is to serve others and be for their good as well as your own.” [https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Humility]

The rich man’s challenge in today’s gospel is not in his inability to let go of his things. His challenge and problem is the way his possessions, which also have a lot to do with his status in the community, are blocking him from being concerned with anything else in his life or anyone else around him. He is unable to humble himself to a point where Jesus, and being in relationship with Jesus first and foremost, is more important to him than his possessions or his status in the community.

“Jesus will accept nothing less than our very selves. He wants us, and therefore also wants the things that keep us from him; he gazes upon us in love, even as he calls us to leave behind our false sources of security…eternal life (it) is a gift that claims the entirety of our lives and therefore reshapes our stewardship of whatever earthly goods we do have.” As one pastor shared this week, “Following Jesus is about loving others beyond the rules, beyond the hierarchies, beyond familial loyalty.” [www.sundaysandseasons.com]

During a speaking event in Indianapolis this past week, another pastor, Pastor Andy Stanley, said “People outside our community (of faith) should be envious of how well we treat each other and stunned by how well we treat them.” [http://deepandwidetour.com]

green and white wall plaque

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Like the rich man in today’s gospel reading, you and I know that even though we claim to keep the commandments all the time, we cannot actually do that. Get over yourself if you think you actually can keep all the commandments all the time.

Like the rich man in today’s gospel reading, you and I know that we identify ourselves by our possessions and our status in the community more often than we will ever admit.

Faced with the reality of our own sin, the grip of our possessions and our unending quest to be placed upon a pedestal of greatness, just like the rich man in today’s gospel reading, instead of humbling ourselves before Jesus, we relentlessly cling to our human illusions of power, wealth, and control.

Former President Jimmy Carter, in his book Sources of Strength, said that “God creates us with a variety of needs, desires, interests, talents, and opportunities. But these things don’t define what we’ll be. They’re like the bricks, lumber, wallboard, shingles and tiles we might see piled on the road near a construction site. It’s what we make from the raw elements of our personalities that defines who we are; and this is where priorities and choices are crucial.” [pg. 230]

Do we choose to hold tightly onto those things which keep us away from being in relationship with God through the savior of the world? Do we choose something different, even as Jesus looks upon us and loves us?

four rock formation

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Episcopal Priest Heidi Haverkamp offers a final thought I’d like to share as today’s sermon comes to a close. “Inheriting eternal life in Christ is not about checking off boxes, not even the boxes of the commandments. It is not about achieving extreme-sport levels of prayer or atmospheric levels of spiritual wisdom. Whatever we think eternal life means, perhaps its first lesson is that we cannot earn or create it ourselves. Perhaps the eternal life that Jesus offers means emptying ourselves and our lives rather than accomplishing anything.” [Christian Century, September 26, 2018, pg. 20]

Brothers and sisters in Christ, our culture and the world in which we live today, bombards us with the message that we will find life and eternal happiness in the things we own or the social statuses we achieve. Our life of faith, as people who claim to be followers of the risen savior Jesus, calls us into something in complete opposition to that. As followers of Jesus, we are called to live in ways that always bring life to our neighbor. Which will in turn, bring life to us. I hope and pray that you and I who make up the congregation of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, will not walk away from that opportunity. Amen.