St. John's - Morgan
The 2nd Sunday in Lent - B
Text: Mark 8:31-38
Subject: The Cross
Predicate: must be taken up by Jesus for our salvation and
us in order to follow.
In our Gospel last Sunday we heard Jesus begin his ministry with these words: "The time has come, the Kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the Good News!"
As we know, many of the people who heard Jesus preach did repent and believe. And a lot of them even chose to follow Jesus and assist him in spreading the good news.
We know that Jesus had at least 70 disciples because Luke tells how Jesus sent them out in teams of two, to all the places that Jesus planed to visit later on. And we also know that Jesus selected 12 of those who repented and believed to be his inner circle of helpers.
I also hope that over the years as we've heard the call to repent and believe and follow Jesus, that we've answered affirmatively -- that each and everyone of has personally confessed our faith in what God has done through Jesus, and that we've intentionally tried to re-orient our lives toward God and God's will for us.
And if you have yet to repent and believe, (or if you feel that you've drifted away from the Lord), as you hear the Word proclaimed today, may the power of the Holy Spirit kindle the flame of faith in your heart.
As long as you live it is never too late to turn to God. For God loves each and everyone of us very much and never gives up on us, no matter what we've done, no matter how we've sinned, no matter far away from God we've been in the way that we live.
But now, to turn our attention toward today's Gospel, let's assume that we've all repented and that we all believe. What comes next?
How do we live our lives as faithful followers of Christ?
You might think this would be an easy question to answer. But it's not.
For even after a person has repented and believes in Jesus, the sinful, human side of us is both blind to the road Christ lays before us, and reluctant to take that road when you see where it leads.
That's what was going on between Jesus and his disciples in our lesson from Mark.
The 12 disciples were eager for the Kingdom of Heaven to be established, and they enthusiastically followed Jesus to do what they could to help bring the Kingdom to power.
The only thing was, at first none of them fully understood exactly what Jesus needed to do to usher in the Kingdom. So, being a good leader and teacher, when the time was right Jesus began to teach the disciples what the next steps would be.
He sat down with them and told them in no uncertain terms that the "Son of Man," must suffer many things. Jesus said that he was going to be rejected by the chief priests and elders and teachers of the law.
And Jesus went on to explain that this rejection would lead to his torture and execution.
Jesus also told the disciples that he would rise again on the third day.
But the disciples didn't really hear the last part of what was going to happen. For the first part, the news that Jesus was going to suffer and be killed, was so shocking to them that they couldn't believe it. They didn't want to believe it.
And if they could do anything to prevent it, they would.
Mark tells us that after Jesus told his disciples what was going to happen, Peter (who was a leader and spokesman for the rest of the disciples) took Jesus aside and rebuked him. Or in other words, Peter told Jesus that something like that should "NEVER happen to him."
Peter said that, "God should forbid it!" And Peter implied that if he or any of the rest of the disciples could, they would prevent Jesus from suffering and dying on the cross.
Now I think Peter's reaction was pretty normal. I mean, who in their right mind would agree that their friend and mentor should intentionally walk into a situation that would lead to certain suffering and death?
I wouldn't. I'd try to talk some sense into anyone who wanted to suffer and die. I'd probably take steps to intervene if I though it might help. And I suspect most of you would feel like this too, and that most of you would react the same way.
But at that point in time, the problem with Peter, and the disciples, was that they just didn't understand God's plan of salvation that Jesus was supposed to fulfill.
And on top of that, Jesus saw that Peter's rebuke was actually a "temptation" of Satan that threatened to undermine Jesus' own faith and trust in his heavenly Father.
So Jesus turned to Peter, and all the rest of the disciples, and rebuked them saying, "Get behind me, Satan, for you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of people!"
And then Jesus went on to explain to the disciples, and the rest of the crowd, exactly what the "Cost of Discipleship" really is.
Jesus said that, "If anyone would come after me, they must deny themselves, and take up their cross to follow me."
When Jesus said this, he was telling his followers that the implication of their repentance and belief is that they must be willing to bear the cross and suffer for his sake, just as he was going to suffer and die for our sake.
Now, these are hard words.
The prospect of suffering in any way is not appealing. And the prospect of willingly choosing a path of faith that requires one to make certain sacrifices, one of which is suffering for the sake of the gospel, seems to be total insanity.
But that it what the Christian faith is all about. It is about a Lord and savior who faced humiliation, agony and a death he did not deserve so that we might live forever.
And it is about followers who are willing to put everything on the line, including our lives, so that this good news might be spread around the globe, and so that the world might be transformed by acts of love and service performed in the name of Christ.
Now let me say just a little bit more so you are clear about what it means to be willing to bear the cross of Jesus in our living.
Perhaps you've heard a person reflecting on their life and the trials and tribulations they've experienced by saying, "I guess that's my cross to bear."
Well, while it may certainly be true that the person who says this is suffering, they may not be willingly bearing the cross in the sense that Jesus was asking us to.
For example: Events like hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes are not crosses that we take up. For when they strike we have NO choice in the matter. Events like these are natural disasters and unfortunately many innocent people are victims of their destruction.
In the same way, when illness strikes, or when a loved one dies, it is not a cross that we willingly bear for we did not seek to get sick and we did not choose for our loved one to die. Illness, injury and death are a part of human life and we will ALL be touched by them in some way at some time.
And it also means that people who live life with a "Poor, poor pitiful me" attitude are not willingly bearing the cross of Christ, but are in fact people begrudging and resentful persons who are having difficulty with their attitude toward the situations (many of them beyond their control) which they face.
When Jesus talks of taking up our cross to follow him he is talking about something that involves both a decision to do it, and a sacrifice of some sort.
About 800 years ago, a son of a very wealthy and privileged family in Italy decided that the way he was called to live his faith was to renounce his fortune to embrace a life of poverty and service to people in need. Everyone though he was crazy. His friends mocked him and his father and brother ridiculed him.
But he followed though with his plan, and denied his comfort and riches and pleasures for the sake of those whom he choose to help. When he did this, he was taking up his cross to follow Jesus in the way that Jesus was talking about in our Gospel.
Today we remember this man, St. Francis of Assisi, as one of the great Christians of the middle ages. And the legacy of his faith and service continues in many ways - such as the many hospitals started by people who emulated his care and concern for the sick and needy.
A more contemporary example of a person who willingly took up a cross is the great Lutheran theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
When Hitler rose to power in Germany, Pastor Bonhoeffer decided to leave a safe and secure teaching position at Union Seminary in New York, to return to Germany to establish a seminary which trained new pastors, and supported existing pastors, who would actively preach and teach against the evil destruction of human life being unleashed by the Nazi dictator and his henchmen.
Eventually Pastor Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned. However he continued to serve the Lord by ministering to his fellow prisoners and conducting regular worship services in the prison.
In 1945, literally hours before the Allied army liberated the prison holding Pastor Bonhoeffer, the last act of his Nazi captors was to execute him by hanging.
Now I don't think too many of us will be called to take up our crosses in such a dramatic fashion. But each of us, in our own way, are asked to deny ourselves, and make sacrifices for the sake of others, just as Jesus willingly offered himself for us on the cross.
That my friends is what comes next after we've repented and believed. That my friends is how we are to live our lives as followers of Christ.
And when we do this, as we take up our crosses what ever they may be, be assured that God's blessings will rest upon our efforts, just as they did when God raised Jesus from the dead. AMEN!
Sermon Given at the Funeral of Gerald Gaertig
Saturday, April 17, 1993
Jones Funeral Service, Oconto Falls, WI
The Rev. Paul F. Heykes
Text: Genesis 1:24-31
Dear Elaine, Gladys, Family and Friends,
It may seem a bit unusual to read a part of the creation story at a funeral. It may seem a bit incongruous to be talking about the beginning of things at a service that marks the end of Gerald's earthly life.
And yet I think it is a very appropriate text. It is appropriate for Gerald because to the relationship he had with the land and it's creatures. This relationship was an important part of his life, both as a farmer, and as an avid hunter and sportsman.
And I also think it is an appropriate text because it reminds all of us about our relationship with God our creator.
In Genesis we read how God created EVERYTHING by his Word and with his own "hands."
In Genesis we read that God declared everything he made to be "good."
In Genesis we read that people were created to live in a special relationship with God that is described as being created "in the image of God."
In Genesis we read that because of our unique relationship with God, God provides us everything that we need -- the whole world of creation in fact -- provided for our survival, our use and our enjoyment.
And in Genesis we read about the beginning of a relationship that NEVER ends, even when the day comes that we must die.
It is further appropriate that we read this text from Genesis because it sets the stage for the rest of the Gospel story.
For it is BECAUSE God created us, and it is BECAUSE God loves us, that he continues to care for us, even going so far as to provide the means for our care and eternal salvation when we die. Namely, his son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, who suffered, died, and was resurrected for our forgiveness and salvation.
My friends, death is never easy. Especially when a disease grips and destroys an otherwise healthy person like Gerald.
BUT when we recall the special relationship that we have with God, that is rooted in the creation of the universe at the beginning of time, AND that continues on beyond the grave to all eternity, we can face death. Both Gerald's today, on one day our own, with hope and trust that the God who created us will recreate us in a resurrection just like the on Jesus experienced on Easter morning.
Today we mourn the loss of Gerald. Yet even in our grief receive these words of hope.
TRUST that as a baptized child of God, Gerald is resting in the loving arms of God.
BELIEVE that all who are united with Christ in baptism shall be united with Christ in resurrection.
BE THANKFUL for the forgiveness won through Jesus and given to us freely despite our unworthiness.
And finally, look forward to the day of new creation. A day of reunion with God, with Jesus Christ, and with our loved ones. Forever! AMEN!
St. John's - Morgan
The 2nd Sunday After Christmas
Text: Isaiah 61:10-62:4
Subject: Proclaiming the good news
Predicate: Should be our inevitable response when we've received God's gift of salvation.
On the Monday after Christmas I saw a sure sign that the secular world's Christmas season has run its course and come to an end.
Over 100 people were lined up to return or exchange gifts at the Toys-R-Us on the north side of Milwaukee.
We waited about five minutes to exchange the duplicate video game that my son received from his grandmother. The line didn't move an inch. So we decided to return home first and wait a few days until the "after-Christmas rush" subsides.
Though there isn't a line of people outside my office because they want to return or exchange something, it is still the case that in the Church, we may also feel like Christmas is over.
In the church everything seems to come to a head on Christmas Eve with the Sunday School presentation and the 350 (or so) worshippers in attendance. But technically, Christmas Eve is NOT even Christmas. Technically, Christmas Eve IS STILL the last day of the season of Advent.
Christmas Day itself IS the official beginning of Christmas. And from then, the "Season of Christmas continues for 12 days (just like the song - the "Twelve Days of Christmas), ending on January 5th at midnight.
So, since today is the 2nd of January, that means it's still Christmas for us, and it will be for 3 more days after today.
And since it is still Christmas, it is right that we keep the symbols of Christmas before us.
So the tree remains up, the lights stay on, the candles stay lit, Christmas carols are still sung, and scripture lessons that help us to understand the birth of our Lord are still read.
For three more days, our attention SHOULD be particularly focused on the miracle of the incarnation.
That is, we should focus on the fact that God himself came to this earth in the form of a little tiny baby, to live among us and to save us.
A baby who was God's REAL presence among the people of the world.
A baby who was destined to suffer and die, not for his own sins, but for ours, and for all the sins of the rest of the people of the world, past present and future!
A baby who was also destined to be resurrected from the dead so that we might be certain that God's promises are true.
When our attention is focused on the baby born in Bethlehem, then the Christmas season will be what it really should be - not a season of parties and presents - but a season of discovery and joy.
The discovery that God loves us so much that he will do what ever is necessary in order to save us. And the joy that this discovery brings, even in the face of the burdens of life. Burdens such as illness, injury, depression, family strife, addiction, suffering, grief, and even death.
This theme of discovery, and the joy of the incarnation, is one that we hear in a lot of the lessons read during the Christmas season.
On Christmas Eve and Day we heard how the shepherds were visited by the angels and then went searching until they discovered the Christ child lying in a manger.
Last Sunday we heard the story of Simeon and Anna, two elderly people at the temple in Jerusalem who longed to see the promised Lord before their death. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for his circumcision (as required by the Jewish religion) the power of God's Spirit enabled both Simeon and Anna to discover that Jesus WAS the one who had been promised for all these years.
This coming Thursday is the Day of Epiphany. Though most of us put the magi in our manger scenes right from the start, a careful reading of the Bible will show that the wise men did not come calling on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but an indeterminable number of days later, by which time they found Jesus in a house and not in a barn.
So January 6th, the day called "Epiphany," has the become the "official" day of the Magi, recalling the time when their quest reached its destination and they discovered the baby Messiah residing in a placed marked by a holy star in the sky.
Now since Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, all the discovery stories we read and meditate on during the season are stories from the time when Jesus was a baby or child.
But, since the real meaning of Christmas for any one particular individual is the discovery and acceptance of Jesus as savior, we could say that the Bible is in fact full of Christmas stories.
For example, though the Gospel of John doesn't have a story of Jesus birth, it does start off with John the Baptist spotting Jesus and proclaiming, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes a way the sin of the world."
Two of John's disciples were intrigued by this observation and they followed Jesus to find out more. They asked Jesus where he was staying and even though all that Jesus said was, "Come and See," one of them (Andrew) was convinced that Jesus was the messiah.
After this, one by one, each of the men who would become the 12 apostles, heard the call of Jesus and each one in turn discovered that Jesus was the Lord, the one who was promised, the one who would save the world.
And the Bible tells about still other people also had one of these "Christmas experiences" that changed their lives, even though they did not become full time followers like the 12 disciples.
For example, Nicodemus was a powerful and important teacher of the law and ruler of the Jews. Because of his position he came under the cloak of night with his questions. Yet despite his skepticism and confusion at first, he discovered that Jesus was the Lord.
Another interesting story is about the time Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at a well. Thought it was technically improper for a Jewish man to even talk to a Samaritan woman, Jesus befriended her, and in their time together at the well, she experienced her "Christmas" discovery and she believed that Jesus was the Messiah.
Now these are just a few examples that come to my mind when thinking about how every individual has a "Christmas experience" when they first see the savior of the world in the baby, (or man) Jesus, for the first time.
For millions of people over nearly 2000 years, Christmas has occurred over and over and over, every time the discovery (or re-discovery) of the Messiah occurred in their hearts and minds.
But, there is more to Christmas than the personal discovery of the savior.
In our Old Testament lesson for this morning, the prophet Isaiah wrote, "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent. For Jerusalem's sake I will not keep quiet."
This points out that the discovery of the meaning of Christmas is ONLY the first step.
The discovery of the savior in the baby of Bethlehem is GOOD NEWS. And GOOD NEWS must not be kept under wraps. GOOD NEWS must be published. It needs to be spread from person to person and nation to nation. Everyone MUST have a chance to hear the story and in turn discover the Messiah in the manger.
Think of all the people in all the Christmas stories in the Bible (even the "Christmas experiences" that occurred when Jesus was an adult).
Invariably, the people did more than to simply receive Jesus as their "personal Lord and Savior." They also went forth, and they proclaimed the good news that they discovered to others, so that they too could know that they have been saved.
Luke writes that the Shepherds "made known all that had been told them concerning the baby in the manger."
In the temple courtyard, Simeon sang a song for all to hear that declaring that "my eyes have seen the salvation which God has prepared for all people."
The prophetess Anna spoke of Jesus to everyone who was hoping for their redemption.
It was a little backward for the wise men. They didn't tell Herod where to find the child, but in their omission, they gave the family of Jesus time to escape to Egypt so that Jesus could fulfill his mission. And, though it is not recorded in the Bible, I am certain that they magi did talk about their discovery to others who posed no threat to the child.
After Andrew discovered that Jesus was the Messiah, he went and found his brother Simon Peter and said, "We have found the Messiah"
Nicodemus was present at the death of Jesus, bringing the spices for Jesus burial and in so doing giving witness to his belief that Jesus was someone special.
And the woman at the well hurried back to the city after her conversation with Jesus in order to tell everyone that she could to come and meet Jesus the Messiah. According to John, may people in the region believed in Jesus due to the woman's testimony.
Now in the same way, the sharing of the Good news should be our response to our Christmas experience.
It is not an optional thing to do if we feel like it.
It is a mandate. It is the objective of the church and every baptized member of the church.
It is the command of Jesus himself who said "Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them AND teaching them to observe all that I have taught."
We call the spread of the Good News of Jesus birth and the salvation he brings, "EVANGELISM."
And we recognize the essential nature of evangelism in the way that we've named our church.
Our denomination is the EVANGELICAL Lutheran Church in America. And this congregation's legal, full name is, "St. John's EVANGELICAL Lutheran Church.
It is no accident that the word "EVANGELICAL" is used in our name. For spreading the GOOD NEWS IS THE PRIME OBJECTIVE of our church.
Everything we do, collectively, and individually, absolutely MUST be directed at reaching more and more people with the joyful message of salvation.
To do anything less is to make a mockery out of our church and to become hypocrites in the worst sense of the word.
So my friends, even though the Christmas Season is just about over, Christmas, in the sense of discovering that Jesus is the savior of the world, never ends, providing we don't neglect our obligation to spread the news. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
The Baptism of Jesus
Text: Mark 1:4-11
Predicate: links us into an eternal relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.
About two years ago, in a sermon on stewardship, I shared a story I heard from one of my pastors about 10 years earlier.
It was about a very wealthy man who owned factories, and warehouses, and office buildings, and a huge mansion, and a luxury vacation home, and everything else from fancy cars to fancy clothes.
Unfortunately for this man, his life was so dominated by all his property and possessions that he refused to see the truth of what Jesus once said, "That life does not consist of the abundance of possessions," and the truth of the old cliché, "You can't take it with you."
Even as he got older and the day of his death drew steadily closer, this man continued to accumulate more and more, and he continued to live as if he was going to live for ever.
He selfishly clung to his possessions, afraid to let anyone else use them or benefit from them.
He refused to consider how everything should be dispersed once he died.
And even after this rich man's pastor tried to get him to face reality by suggesting that about a 100 or 200 years from now they ought to sit down and have a talk about who REALLY owned everything, the man stubbornly refused to listen.
As far as he was concerned, his possessions were his and his alone, and he intended to keep everything for himself, no matter what might happen in the future, even if he died.
Now the man in this story is not the only person in history who thought that you could keep everything you have, even in death.
The ancient Egyptians believed that death was a journey from one world to another and that you needed to prepare for the trip just like you prepare for a trip when you are alive.
So when an Egyptian died (especially if it was a rich person, or a member of the royal family), they carefully preserved and dressed the body for the next world. And whether the person was buried in an unmarked grave, or one of the great pyramids, their tomb was packed with items deemed useful on the journey. Everything from clothes to food has been found in Egyptian graves. I even recall that one of the kings Egypt was buried with his pet dogs.
Now believe it or not, there are still many people who think like this and put things into the caskets of friends and family who have died, sincerely thinking that the person will be able to use it in the after life.
(But please note carefully: I'm not talking about putting cards or letters or tokens of our affection, or symbols of the person's life into the casket. These are ways that we express our grief and say that the one who died is special to us and will be missed.)
Rather, I'm talking about circumstances like the one one of my fellow pastors experienced a few years ago. Everyone who was close to the deceased brought bottles of his favorite whiskey and cartons of cigarettes to the funeral home. And they literally packed the casket so full that the funeral director had to line up the boxes and bottles from head to toe on both sides of the body!
Now perhaps this helped the survivors to feel a little better, and if so, I suppose that's OK. But in reality it was at most a symbolic gesture because the truth is, that when it comes to the material possessions of life, we CANNOT TAKE THEM WITH US.
We were born into the world possessing nothing of a material nature, and we will leave this world with nothing of a material nature. On Ash Wednesday we confess what the Bible teaches when we say that, "Dust we are, and to dust we shall return."
So therefore, if we live our lives thinking that is it what we have that defines who we are, we are doomed. When Jesus said, "that life does not consist of the abundance of possessions," he knew what he was talking about. He may have been blunt, but he was truthful.
And the truth of his statement means that no matter how much we may like to, we CANNOT derive our identity and purpose in life from the things of this world.
Now, having said that, the obvious question is, "What then does give us our identify and our purpose in living."
And the answer is our Baptism.
Today is the Sunday of the church year when we recall the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ..
For a lot of people though, the baptism of Jesus is a troubling event.
For John the Baptist, Jesus was the one who he prophesised about, saying that the "one coming after him" was actually one from before him (meaning, the "Son of God who is one with God from the beginning of all time). And not only that, but Jesus is one who is so much more important and powerful that John deemed himself unworthy to stoop down to untie his sandals.
According to Matthew, when Jesus asked John to baptize him, John balked and at first refused to do it, saying that it should be the other way around, that Jesus should baptize John. But Jesus insisted, and over John's objections, it was done.
For theologians and those in the church responsible for articulating the doctrines of the faith, the baptism of Jesus is troubling because technically, it was unnecessary.
We believe that people are baptized for the forgiveness of sins.
But according to the Bible, though Jesus was tempted like us, he never ever succumbed to temptations that came his way, and thus he never sinned and thus he DID NOT need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.
We also believe that baptism is a sign that we have been adopted by God and through the water and the word we become children of God.
But, according to the Bible Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. So from the moment his life began, he WAS the Son of God. He DID NOT need to be adopted or transformed through the waters of baptism. The voice of God even said to Jesus, "You ARE my Son," and not, "You have become my son."
In the church we also believe and teach that the moment of Baptism is the time when the Holy Spirit enters our hearts and minds and empowers us to live a life of faith.
According to the Bible, the Holy Spirit came to Jesus when he was baptized. In every account of Jesus' baptism we read about how the heavens opened up and the Spirit of God descended upon him.
Yet despite the fact that the Spirit descended upon Jesus, there is no indication that it was necessary for Jesus to be empowered for his ministry by a special infusion of the Spirit. Nor is there any indication that from the Spirit, Jesus received any new powers beyond what he already possessed as the Son of God.
So then, why was Jesus baptized?
From everything the Bible tells us, he didn't need to be. But yet he came to John for baptism and even insisted that it be done over the objections or John.
So again, why was Jesus baptized?
To understand, we need to look at baptism from a completely different perspective than we are used to.
As sinful humans who would be eternally estranged from God if it were not for God's love and grace, we think of baptism in terms of the benefits that we receive from it.
Therefore, the mistake we often make in trying to understand why Jesus was baptized is to apply the same perspective to Jesus. That is, to think in terms of what benefits HE receives from it.
However since Jesus needs none of the benefits that baptism brings it seems to make his baptism into meaningless act.
But, when we look at the baptism of Jesus from the SAME perspective that we view our own baptisms, that is in terms of what benefits WE RECEIVE from it, then it starts to make sense.
One of the most important doctrines of salvation is that Jesus became like us in every respect. He was born of a human mother. He experienced all the temptations, and pain and suffering that we experience. And he died just as we will die.
Thus, the baptism of Jesus means that we have one more thing in common. It is one more thing that links us and our identity, and our future with Jesus.
I think that St. Paul summed it up best when he wrote his letter to the Romans.
There he wrote, that "all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Glory of the Father, we too might live a new life."
So why was Jesus baptized?
He was baptized for our sake.
He was baptized so that there IS something that we can both have in this life, AND take with us in our death.
He was baptized so that when we are baptized, who we are is connected with who he is.
He was baptized so that those of us who are connected by our baptism to his life and his death, are connected to him throughout our lives, and remain connected to him our death.
And, Jesus was baptized so that those who live in him and die in him will be resurrected in his name too.
Through baptism we are united as one. We are born in Christ, we live in Christ, we die in Christ, and we WILL live again in Christ. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
2nd Sunday After Epiphany
Text: 1 Cor. 6:12-20
Subject: The misuse of Sexuality
Predicate: is ultimately a form if idolatry.
For the last year or two, the pastors of the ELCA, and many of it members, all knew that we had a task force that was working on the first draft of a statement about human sexuality. We were prepared to hear from the task force at the end of 1993 and to respond a few months later so that a revised draft could be written, and eventually adopted at the 1995 church-wide assembly..
But none of us was prepared for the press to get the document before we did. And none of us was prepared for the way the press zeroed in on several admittedly controversial proposals. None of was prepared for the headlines that gave the impression that the ELCA sanctioned masturbation, sexual activity among teenagers, premarital sexual relations, and the practice of homosexual behaviors.
Instead of being able to rationally discuss the whole document, revise the troublesome parts, and end up with a final statement that is both faithful to the scriptures, and that is acceptable to the great majority of our members, and that is useful for people when wrestling with questions and problems in the area of their sexuality, we have found ourselves on the defensive -- trying to reassure our members that we are not on the road to hell, and trying to respond to our critics, many of whom are intentionally stirring the waters of discontent by accusing us of abandoning the Bible and our Lutheran heritage.
Starting next Sunday at our regularly scheduled adult Sunday class, we will be going over the first draft of the statement with a fine toothed comb. I encourage your attendance at these sessions so you can find out what the entire document says. And so that you can challenge those parts that you feel are controversial or at odds with what the ELCA should be teaching.
But it also just so happens that today's second lesson from 1 Corinthians directly addresses the issue of sexuality and the misuse of sexuality.
And so, given that sexuality is a very current and hot topic for us in the ELCA, I feel compelled to expound on the ideas that Paul was addressing in his letter.
To begin with, you will need a little background information about the city and people of Corinth.
Corinth was a city located on the isthmus that separates northern Greece from southern Greece, and the Aegean Sea from the Adriatic Sea. As such it was a center of shipping and trade both in the country of Greece and the northeast region of the Mediterranean.
Corinth was also the location of numerous temples dedicated to the gods of Greek Mythology. And out of all these temples, it happened that the biggest one of all was dedicated to the goddess of love -- Aphrodite.
The Temple of Aphrodite was staffed by over a thousand women who served as the temple priestesses. And their main job as priestesses of Aphrodite was to engage in "sacred prostitution."
Some of their sacred sexual encounters occurred at the temple itself, but historical records also indicate that every evening the prostitutes emerged from the temple and went into the city to ply their trade. A Greek proverb that dates back over 2000 years says that "Not every man can afford to travel to Corinth."
Now when Paul began a Christian congregation at the city of Corinth, a lot of people were attracted to it by the promises of the gospel. A lot of people placed their faith in Jesus and were baptized. And a lot of people trusted in the proclamation that their sins were forgiven and that they were freed from the law by the death and resurrection of Christ.
The last point needs to be restated so you are clear about what I'm saying because it is the key to understanding both the problem, and Paul's argument for the proper use of sexuality.
In the Old Testament, the way to righteousness or salvation was to keep the law (or the 10 commandments) -- perfectly.
Of course no one can do this. As Paul wrote in another letter, "All people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."
So, God sent Jesus to keep the law on our behalf, and to win the full and complete forgiveness of our sins through his death and resurrection.
Jesus did this. And now we are freed from the law. WE do not have to keep the law to get into heaven. All of our sins, no matter how grave they may be, can be forgiven by God through Christ. The slate can be wiped clean. And even if we sin again tomorrow, God is gracious and loving enough to wipe our record clean again.
Unfortunately, the Corinthians (and lots of others too) interpreted this to mean that anything goes.
You probably remember the man one of my seminary professors always talked about -- the one who said, "The world is wonderful, I like to sin, God likes to forgive sin, who could ask for anything more!" . . . Well that sums up the thinking, and the actions, of many of the people in the Church at Corinth.
They honestly thought that since they were completely and totally forgiven in Christ they were free to do as they pleased.
And so you had situations among the membership where one man was having an affair with his step-mother, and lots of others were messing around with the prostitutes from the temple of Aphrodite.
Now even though it is true that God has both the power and the grace to forgive no matter what the sin and no matter how often we sin, it is also true that Christians are called to put forth their best effort to live an exemplary, moral, and upright life, conforming our actions to the will of God to the best of our ability.
St. Paul knew this to be true and in his letters he put forth a number of arguments to help the members of the church see the truth of this too.
When he wrote to the Romans Paul explained to them that, "Sin will have no longer have dominion over you since through Christ you are not under the law, but under grace."
Then he went on to explain further when he wrote, "What then? Does this mean we can sin all we want because we are under grace and not the law? By no means!" For people become slaves to that which they obey. And if we yield to sin, we can become slaves of sin which in turn can lead to our eternal death, despite God's gracious attempt to save us.
In Paul's letter to the Corinthians he put for a different argument, but one that ultimately brings out the same point.
To the Corinthians Paul wrote, "All things may be lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things may be permissible, but I will not be mastered by anything."
In saying this Paul was acknowledging that no sin is too great to be forgiven, but, he was also stressing that to live in sin is not helpful or beneficial in anyway. In fact, to live in sin destroys both the faith of the sinner and the fabric of the Christian community.
Paul explained how through our baptisms we who make up the church have become the body of Christ. In today's passage Paul wrote that the body is meant for the Lord and the Lord for the body. Elsewhere in this same letter Paul explained how we are all parts of the body of Christ, each one serving a particular function under Christ the head.
Given this, Paul goes on to say, "Your bodies are therefore members of Christ himself. So, should members of Christ go and unite themselves with a prostitute (or engage in any other kind of sexual immorality)?"
The answer is "Never!" For when people unite in sexual relations they become 'one flesh.'
Now within the marriage relationship becoming one flesh is a good part of the way God created us.
But outside of marriage Paul explains that when a Christian engages in sexual immorality, it actually links Christ to the sin because those "who sin sexually, sin against their own body" which is both, a part of the body of Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.
This is also to say that ultimately, the question comes down to a question of who and/or what is our "Lord." In other words, it is a First Commandment issue.
The First Commandment says that "You shall have no other gods."
Martin Luther wrote that whatever or whoever we put all our trust and hope in is our "lord."
And Paul is saying that to engage in sexual immorality is to displace Christ from his position as the Lord of your life.
Thanks to the ideas that were tossed around at our weekly text study I've titled the sermon today, "Who Are You Sleeping With?" I think it fits because of the sexual connotations of what it means in our culture today.
But I also think it fits when you bring all the ideas I've talked about together and ask the First Commandment question, "Who IS MY Lord?"
For in terms of faith, that is the ultimate question.
And to answer it we must examine our lives and ask ourselves, "Are we sleeping with the Lord, or are we sleeping with the devil?"
Even though God can forgive, we are flirting with danger whenever we choose to live in sin, what ever the sin. Today's lesson focused on sexual immorality because it was a particular problem for the Corinthians. And I talked about it in the sermon because it continues to be a major problem in our world today.
But any sin and every sin can be just as destructive to our lives and our faith. Therefore, as Paul says, "Honor God with you body." That is, with all your being, through everything you do.
Choose that which is beneficial. Choose that which honors Christ. Not because it saves you. Only Christ can do that.
But simply, because it is the right and Godly thing to do. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Texts: Jonah 3:1-5:10, Mark 1:14-20
Predicate: is asked of (and even demanded from) us however reluctant we may be.
Mark makes everything sound so easy.
One day Jesus was walking along the shore of the sea of Galilee. He looked out and saw two brothers in the fishing business, Simon and Andrew, casting their nets into the lake.
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "I will make you fishers for people." And IMMEDIATELY they left their nets lying on the shore and went with Jesus.
A little further down the beach, James and John were in a boat working on their nets. Jesus saw them and called them too. And they did something that was unthinkable in those days -- they IMMEDIATELY turned their back on their father and the family business, and left it all behind to work with Jesus.
Now I am sincerely glad that Simon and Andrew and James and John and the other disciples followed Jesus. The fact that they did ultimately enabled the good news about Jesus death and resurrection to be spread around the globe, and for the Christian Church to be established so that today, nearly 2000 years later, we too can hear the good news and be saved.
But at the same time, the story of the call of the first disciples seems a bit too unreal to be true. For most of us, the immediacy of their response just doesn't jibe with what we've experienced in our lives and what we know to be true about ourselves.
Just think about it. Would you walk away from your job, or business, or family, on a moment's notice, if someone came up to you and said, "Follow me! I want you to devote your entire life to preaching and teaching the good news of salvation to others."
Fortunately, the Bible is one of the most realistic books that has ever been written.
Even though Mark has given us a very simple, unembelished account of the calling of the first disciples, that makes it seem like people must respond immediately, and obediently without asking any questions or going through any kind of internal struggle, there are other stories in the Bible that deal with the conflict between God's will and our will that makes responding to God's call one of the most difficult decisions a person can face.
Probably the very best story to illustrate this is the story of Jonah.
I'd like to take a few minutes to retell the story of Jonah this morning. We only hear from the book of Jonah once every three years, and I know that I haven't addressed it in a sermon for 6 years. As you listen to the story, listen for the ways in which Jonah wanted to follow his will instead of God's, and his reluctance to answer God's call.
The story starts right off with a problem, and a call from God. One of the great cities of the middle east region in those days, Nineveh, had become so corrupt and evil that nearly every one had turned their back on God and was living in rampant sin.
God was painfully aware of this and wrestled with whether or not to unleash his wrath and destroy the city and its inhabitants on account of their sin.
However, as so often is the case, God's merciful side prevailed and he decided to give the people of Nineveh a chance to repent.
So God chose the prophet Jonah, and told him to get up and go to Nineveh and call upon the people to repent, or else!
Well, Jonah got up to go -- but instead of heading to Nineveh, he booked passage on a ship and took off in the opposite direction, heading for Tarshish, a city in southern Spain.
What happened next is the part of the story you are probably most familiar with. No sooner did the ship get out of sight of land than a great wind arose and the violent storm that ensued threatened to break up the ship.
The sailors were terrified and each one called upon their own god to save them but still the storm raged on.
While this was happening, Jonah was sleeping below deck. Since they needed all the help they could get, the captain woke Jonah and demanded that he to pray to his God too.
Even Jonah's prayers did not quell the storm so the superstitious crew decided to cast lots to see who was responsible for bringing the storm upon them. The lot fell upon Jonah, and the crew said, "Tell us who you are and why this evil has come upon us."
So Jonah confessed. He told them that he was a Hebrew prophet and that he was fleeing from the LORD and the mission the LORD had called him to do. And he said that, "Yes, it was true that the storm was the LORD's vengeance, aimed a Jonah for his disobedience."
The crew wondered what to do next. Jonah himself actually suggested that they throw him overboard, but the crew refused -- after all Jonah was a paying passenger.
But as hard as they rowed they could not bring the boat any closer to a safe harbor. On top of that the intensity of the storm increased. Finally, the sailors gave in and threw Jonah into the sea. And immediately, the storm ceased.
(An interesting side point to take note of here is that God actually used Jonah's disobedience for the good of the sailors. After the crew realized that it was indeed God who both sent the storm, and calmed the storm, they believed in God, offered a sacrifice to God, and made vows of lifelong commitment to God.)
Meanwhile, just as Jonah hit the water, God sent some kind of big fish to swallow Jonah. After three days inside the fish, during which Jonah prayed prayers of repentance, the fish spit Jonah out onto the dry land.
And once again, God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach to the people.
Despite his reluctance to do so, after what he had just experienced, Jonah could hardly say, "No!" again.
So he went as the LORD directed him to and he preached the Word of God and lo and behold, the people of Nineveh believed him and repented and God saw their repentance and did not bring the destruction God had threatened to send upon the city.
There is an interesting post-script to this story.
When Jonah saw that God had accepted the repentance of Nineveh and had compassion on the people, he was angry at God.
Believe it or not, Jonah actually told God that it was because he knew God was gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and repentest of evil, that he refused to go to preach to the Ninevehites.
Now we might prefer to think otherwise, but in all likelihood, we are probably much more like Jonah than we are like the four disciples Mark described.
Yes -- God calls us to be fishers for people -- God wants us to help them to hear the Good News and bring them in to the flock of believers that is the church.
And we constantly hear this call from God. First in our baptisms. Later at our confirmation. And countless times in sermons, Sunday school lessons, Bible studies and the like.
But all to often we are reluctant anglers.
All too often we are afraid to immediately and positively respond to God's call.
All too often we are afraid to go where God wants us to go, or to do what God wants us to do.
All too often we are afraid to reach out and invite a friend or neighbor or co-worker to come and hear the good news and be a part of the fellowship of believers that is the church..
A recent study indicates that the average Lutheran invites someone to church only once every 28 years!
Another recent study shows that perhaps as many as one/half of ALL Lutheran congregations intentionally do not want to reach new people and grow, or, are so indifferent to outreach that the effect is to thwart any efforts at evangelism that the pastor or some members may try.
Still another study has shown that when a pastor calls on a first time visitor there is a 36% chance that the visitor will return for a second time. However, if the pastor ignores the visitor and doesn't call on them, the chance that they will return again IS STILL 36%.
But, if a lay member of a congregation calls on the first time visitor, the chance that they will return jumps to 76%!
Yet nearly 90% of all congregations DO NOT have people who are willing make such calls, or, DO NOT USE members to make such calls due to the congregation's indifference to outreach.
Now these are just a few examples of how we may be like Jonah: called to reach out to others -- but through our actions or indifference, turning our backside and running the other way.
But my friends, the call of God is powerful. More powerful than human disobedience.
Think of how God used a storm and a giant fish to turn Jonah around and bring the word to Nineveh.
Such a God can surely turn us from our sin and apathy so that we will bring the Word to those who need to hear it.
But be warned too -- that God will only tolerate our refusal to answer his call for so long. Remember how Jesus summarized his parables of judgment -- like the one about the evil tenants who beat up the servants and killed the son of the owner when the rent was due.
"What will the owner do to those wicked tenants," Jesus asked?
"He will evict them and give the vineyard to others," the people correctly answered.
And so it will be in the church.
The word must get through. God will turn to whoever is willing and able to say yes to his call.
Today, each and every one of us IS CALLED to share God's word personally, and to support the evangelism and outreach ministry of everyone who is a part of this congregation.
By the grace and power of God, let us all follow our Lord, and reach out in love, instead of running the other way, and turning our backs on those in need. AMEN!
St. John's - Morgan
4th Sunday After Epiphany
Text: Mark 1:21-28 (With ref. to OT & NT lessons.)
Subject: The power of God
Predicate: is there for us and is in us through Jesus Christ.
On Tuesday evening, President Clinton delivered this year's State of the Union Address.
For those of us watching on TV, the applause in the chamber of the House of Representatives had barely subsided before the leader of the opposition party was on the screen, giving his rebuttal, showing us where and why the president's ideas were bad, and telling us how his party had the plan for 1994 and beyond that will really put our country back on track.
Now, like everyone else, I have my opinions about what the politicians should do.
But I also know that not too many people in Washington are going to be calling me up for my advice.
For ultimately what is going to happen in Washington in the next year is what has always happened there - people, both individuals and groups, with power will struggle against each other, trying to sway the votes to their way of thinking.
In the end, the side that most effectively marshals its power will prevail.
Unfortunately there is no guarantee that our best interests will be served. We can only hope that the powers that prevail will be working for us instead of against us.
I've started my message today with this brief illustration of how powers struggle against each other, because that it what our gospel is all about.
In it, Mark tells us about Jesus' first foray into the public eye. He and some of his disciples went to Capernaum and when the Sabbath came they went into the synagogue where Jesus began to teach.
According to Mark, the people were amazed at the way that Jesus taught. There was something about the way that he spoke, and the content of his speech that conveyed a sense of authority that was lacking in the regular teachers of the law.
Of course we know all about Jesus' authority. We know that HE IS the Son of God. We know that when Jesus speaks it is the same as God himself speaking.
But on that Sabbath Day in the synagogue of Capernaum nearly 2000 year's ago, virtually no one knew that Jesus was the Son of God.
Even the disciples were still unclear about Jesus' true identity. If you read the Gospels carefully, you will see that it isn't until just before Jesus made his final trip to Jerusalem that Peter first confessed that he believed that Jesus was the Christ.
And yet, even though this was perhaps Jesus' first public appearance in a teaching capacity, and even though the people who were amazed at his teaching had no idea about where his authority came from, there was one being in the synagogue who DID recognize Jesus' true identity.
It was the evil spirit, living within a man who just happened to be present at the synagogue that day.
As Mark tells it, Jesus was in the midst of his teaching when the spirit cried out through the voice of the man who was possessed. "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth. Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are -- you're the Holy one of God!"
Now Mark has structured his story of Jesus' life and ministry very carefully. He wants everyone who reads it to be aware of the fact that the ultimate power struggle in the universe is taking place through the life and work of Jesus.
For in Jesus, the power of God is facing the power of the devil. In Jesus, the power of light is facing the power of darkness. In Jesus, the power of good is facing the power of evil.
Right after Jesus was baptized, he spent forty days in the desert during which time the devil came to him at least three times and tempted Jesus to stray from the path that God wanted his son to follow.
In this private encounter between Jesus and the devil, Jesus, and the power of God prevailed. However, the devil is not easily subdued. In fact, Luke tells us that after the first three temptations, the devil didn't depart for good, but only until another opportune time came up.
In Mark, we read that the first opportunity for the reappearance of the power of the devil happened real soon after Jesus' time out in the desert -- as I've said, this was the first occasion of public teaching for Jesus.
And in the synagogue, as in the desert, the power of God in Jesus prevailed.
Jesus ordered the demon to, "Be quiet," and, "Come out," of the man. And immediately "the evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek."
With the exorcism of the demon, Jesus' power and authority was clearly established. The people were even more amazed than they had been by his teaching alone. And news about Jesus spread quickly throughout the region.
Now I should mention that the devil, though twice defeated in the first days of Jesus' ministry, didn't give up on his attacks against Jesus. Jesus faced may more demons over the next few years, yet he always prevailed.
And Jesus also faced personal temptations to abandon his ministry. In fact, even as he hung on the cross he was tempted to give up. "If you are really the Son of God, use your power to save yourself!" the guards and passers by taunted Jesus. But Jesus steadfastly refused to listen to the devils temptations.
Then when Jesus died, it seemed to many that he finally had lost the power struggle between good and evil. For death is considered to be the ultimate manifestation of evil.
But we know what happened on Easter Sunday. Jesus rose from the dead and broke the evil bonds of death for once and for all.
Now, when you put all these events together, the message is clear.
Yes, there is a struggle between God and the devil -- between good and evil. But it is not -- and never was -- a struggle between equals.
The outcome may have seemed uncertain to those who witnessed it first hand, but the truth is that God IS the ultimate power and God HAS prevailed, and God WILL prevail in all things, for the benefit of us, his people.
That my friends is the "Good News" of the gospel that we need to hear over and over again.
Unfortunately, when you look around at the events taking place in our world it seems that the power of evil is in control.
An earthquake rattles southern California and in an instant some people lose everything they own. Some are injured and disabled. Others lose their lives.
At the same time the earth was shaking out there, bitter cold swept over us here in the midwest, and nearly 100 people perished in its deep freeze wake.
Around the world, wars and skirmishes are disrupting the lives of people from Mexico to Bosnia.
In our cities people are paralyzed by fear due the violence being unleashed by gangs and drug dealers and other criminals. Murder is on its way (if not already there) to being the leading cause of death for children, teens and young adults.
And you know full well from your personal experiences in life that which ever way you turn there are manifestations of evil that touch us.
It is probably safe for me to say that absolutely every one of us here today has seen the evil of disease or accidents strike close to home within recent memory.
And so we need to hear that God IS the all powerful one. We need to hear that at every test along the way, Jesus remained faithful to his ministry and that through him the power of God has prevailed over ALL sin and evil.
Today, through Jesus, the power of God sustains us each and every moment of our lives -- and especially at those times when we come face to face with the evil powers which still attack us.
And through the Holy Spirit the power of God is able to restore and recreate us.
By the power of the Spirit, our sins are daily forgiven and our relationship with God is re-established. And on the last day, the same power of God that raised Jesus to new life will be the source of our resurrection.
We also need to hear that the power of God is within us empowering us in love and service.
When a person is baptized, the pastor lays his or her hands on the newly baptized person's head and prays for the Spirit to come.
Through Jesus, we are assured that the Spirit does come to each and every one of us.
It is an awesome gift. And one that we are to use every day as we live our life of faith, and as we reach out to share this faith with others.
A pastor from New Mexico has observed that we are often reluctant to talk about the power of God that is within us. According to her, many people insist that we are always subservient to God's commands and the best we can to is to be pliable and obedient to God's every whim.
But a better way to live our lives as Christians is to boldly and wisely use the power of God which has been gifted to us. A better way is offer our lives and time and possessions to the service of God's kingdom.
. . .Following where the Lord would take us, proclaiming his love for all, and giving witness to the fact that God's love is so powerful that there is nothing, not even the evil powers of the universe, that can sever us from our Lord..
Today, let us give thanks for the power of God that defeated sin, death and the devil through Jesus Christ.
Let us rejoice in the power of God that empowers us in our living, and enables us to love our neighbors and share our faith with others.
And let us hope in the power of God that will raise us from the dead to be with Him forever. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
Texts: Gen. 1:1-2:3, 1 Cor. 13:11-14, Matt. 28:16-20
Subject: Three aspects of the Holy Trinity
Predicate: are depicted in the three texts - 1) Creation, 2) Calls us into community, and 3) Commissions us to go forth with the good news.
According to an ancient legend, back in the year 430 or so, when St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, he developed a simple method to teach the people about the triune nature of God.
As the story goes, Patrick would pick a THREE leaf clover, and hold it up for the people to see. And he'd tell them that just as each leaf was separate and distinct from each other, and yet all three leaves were the same single clover, so it was with God.
God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit are three separate and distinct Gods, and yet all three persons of God are the same single God.
Now, St. Patrick's explanation isn't too bad. It is simple and easy to understand and it conveys a basic understanding of the essential nature of the Trinity, that God is three persons of God in one.
But unfortunately, explanations like St. Patrick's, can only convey a small part of what is means that God is triune.
To really understand the Trinity means that you must also wrestle with what it means that the three persons of God are co-equal, and co-powerful, and co-eternal.
I urge you to spend some time, perhaps during the distribution of communion today, or maybe before church next week, reading over and meditating on the words of the Athanasian Creed as you find it on page 54 of our hymnals.
When you do you will discover that there is no such thing as a truly simple explanation of the Trinity.
The Athanasian Creed, which is one of the three basic creeds accepted by ALL the major denominations of the Christian church, goes on in great detail for nearly two pages. And as detailed as it gets, I can tell you from what I learned in my theological studies, that even the Athanasian Creed comes up short in terms of fully explaining the mystery of the Trinity.
And perhaps that's OK.
For the totality and mystery of who God is and what God is like will ALWAYS be beyond what we can understand during this earthly life of ours.
And not only that, our salvation is not dependent on a correct, or complete understanding of how the three persons of God are related and connected.
Our salvation comes through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. And, by the grace of God, our faith that his suffering and death is the full and sufficient payment for our sins.
But today is the Sunday when we celebrate the Holy Trinity and so it is appropriate that we spend some time thinking about who God is and what God does for us through his triune nature.
To do this, we can look at each of the three Bible lessons assigned for today. When we do we will see that each of the three focuses on a particular work of God, and that each of these three works are associated with a particular person of the Godhead.
We will also see that the three works mentioned in the texts are of the utmost importance to us today.
There is temptation to think that God did all of his work in the past and that today God is just sitting back up in heaven, watching all of us live our lives on our own. But in fact, the work of God is ongoing and continuous. God is working just as hard today as he was at the beginning of time. God is at work today, among ALL the people of the world. God is doing the work that is described in each of our three lessons for this "Trinity Sunday."//
Our first lesson is the creation story as told in the first chapter of Genesis.
It is a story that all of us know by heart. It describes the "7 days" of creation and tells how God said "Let it be," and over the course of the next 6 days, step by step, God tamed total chaos, and brought order and meaning and purpose into being. And it tells us that on the 7th day, God rested.
Now today there is a lot of debate and argument between science and the church, and between so called "liberals" and "conservatives" within the church, as to whether Genesis is a literal description of what actually happened when God created the universe, or whether creation could have happened more slowly over billions of years.
Quite frankly, no one but God knows the answer to this question. And, no matter which position you take, you have to accept it on the basis of faith for it is impossible to prove what actually happened in the time before there were people to observe it.
And not only that, but to argue about what happened thousands or billions of years ago is to risk missing what is happening today.
For even though there was a day a long time ago when the universe came into being, what is really important is the fact that we are still here today because of the continuous creative power of God.
We are here today because God sustains his creation. We are here today because God continues to say, "Let it be!"
If God were to cease showering this universe with his on going creative power, everything, including all the galaxies and stars, and this entire planet, and every single one of us, would instantly disappear into total nothingness. And I don't mean that we would just die. I mean we would simply NOT EXIST!
So, every day of our lives we should pause to give thanks to God for this wonderful creation and his ongoing support of it. //
Now as we've just heard, in Genesis we learn how God created the whole universe and brought order and meaning into being out of chaos, and how God keeps it going. But in Genesis, the emphasis is primarily on the "things of creation." Things like light and dark and water and land and air and plants and animals and humans as a species.
As we now move on to our second lesson from 2 Corinthians, we are reminded that God's creative powers go far beyond the mere existence of things and people. God also calls the people he created to live in community.
In other words, by the power of the Holy Spirit, our human life has been transformed from a mere biological existence where every day would be nothing more than a chaotic struggle for survival, to a life in society, or community, where people live in relationships and where people care for each other and love one another.
The Genesis story talks about how God created people in his image. Unfortunately we hear the word image and get stuck on the visual level. We think that this statement means that we look like God.
That may be, but it is not the most important aspect of being created in the image of God.
More important is the fact that we share personality traits with God.
Our God is a not a distant, aloof, solitary, unapproachable God, but a God who's nature is to be in relationship with others, especially the human beings he created.
Our God is a God who took on human form in the person of Jesus and came to this earth to live with us, to care for us, to heal us and to love us.
Our God is a God who willingly chose to suffer with us, and to die just like us so that the evil power of sin and death could be defeated forever.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul's prayer is that the grace of Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with everyone. For when these things happen to us and among us, then we can live in the image of God.
We can love. We can care. We can support others in their suffering. We can be the family of God that God created us to be.//
Our third lesson this morning, the Gospel lesson from St. Matthew is a very familiar text. It is commonly called the "Great Commission." It contains Jesus' last words of instruction before his ascension.
And the word is to spread the Word.
Jesus told his disciples to go out to all corners of the world to make disciples, to baptize them into the family of God, and to instruct them in all the things that Jesus did and taught.
Today, on June 6, 1993, in the hearing of this lesson, we receive the same commission.
In our lives we are to live as Christ did.
Through our proclamation, through our teaching, through our loving acts, we can lead others to Jesus and show others that God has created us all with meaning and purpose for our lives.
By the grace of God we can leave the chaos of sin behind us and enter into a new creation within a community of believers. Through the words of Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit we are commissioned to share our Triune Gods love and mercy with all the world.
St. Patrick's three leaf clover may not explain all the subtle nuances and deep mysteries of the Trinity, but at the least it can remind us that God IS three in one, and that we are CREATED, CALLED INTO COMMUNITY, and COMMISSIONED to spread the Gospel by the three persons of God. AMEN!
St. John's - Morgan
2nd Wednesday In Lent
Subject: The mouth of Christ
Predicate: speaks the word of God (and things happen!)
Tonight, as we continue our meditations on the body of Christ, we turn our attention to his mouth.
Like the rest of Jesus' body, his mouth was used for all the normal purposes and functions that God intended when he created us.
Jesus sucked his mothers' milk when he was a baby, and he ate solid foods as he matured.
Jesus kissed his parents and other relatives in greeting and as a sign of affection and familial love.
Jesus cried and said things like, "ga-ga, goo-goo," when he was a baby. And over the years as he grew up he learned and spoke the language of his nation just like all the rest of the children.
As Jesus played hard and worked hard, both as a child and as an adult, he took in the oxygen he needed when he breathed hard through his mouth.
Now all of the functions of the mouth are important.
We could die if we aren't able to breath or to take the nourishment that the rest of our body needs in through our mouth.
And we need to be able to communicate to be truly human in the fullest sense of the word. In fact, if you want to know who a person really is, and what they are really like (including yourself) the mouth is the gateway to this understanding.
The people of Jesus' day understood that you could tell a lot about a person when you knew what passed over his or her lips. The only problem was, they were more concerned about what was going in, than what was coming out!
You've heard me talk many times about the Old Testament concepts of "clean and unclean." Certain things, including certain foods, were considered to be clean. Thus a Jewish person could eat them and be holy in the eyes of God and properly prepared for worship.
On the other hand, other things, including certain foods, were considered to be unclean. And a person who ate unclean food was not holy and was not permitted to participate in the rites of worship at the temple. Or in other words, if unclean things wee taken into the body through the mouth, the person doing so was thought to be a SINNER.
But as the son of God, Jesus knew that this was not actually the case. Jesus knew that what came out of a person's mouth, including the praise of God, and kind, loving, helpful words spoken about and toward others, was far more important than any thing that a person might eat.
In Matthew 15:11 Jesus actually said as much when he told the people listening to him, "That it isn't what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth defiles that person."
Jesus also had this idea in mind when the devil tempted him to turn the stones into loaves of bread in order to ease his hunger. Jesus refuted the devil by quoting from Dueteronomy 8:3, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."
As he lived and worked over the next three years, Jesus practiced what this verse said. What he ate, when he ate and where he ate was of little concern to him.
He plucked grain on the Sabbath, and he was invited to dinner with tax collectors and other sinners. Even though the Pharisee's tried to condemn him, Jesus didn't worry because he knew that these acts were not sinful in the eyes of God.
At the same time, the words that came forth from Jesus mouth were of vital importance.
For one thing, everything Jesus said was kind hearted or helpful to the people who heard him speak.
And for another thing, the most important thing, every word that Jesus spoke was the word of God.
Jesus knew this and took the responsibility seriously. And so, after his temptations in the desert, the very first thing that Jesus did was to go to the synagogue in his home town where through the words of his mouth, he identified his mission.
From the prophet Isaiah Jesus read, "The Lord has appointed me to preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and announce the acceptance of the Lord."
When he finished reading he closed the scroll and said, "Today, in your hearing, this passage has come to pass."
And the people were in awe of the words that proceeded out of his mouth.
That pretty well sums it up. Jesus' ministry began with preaching and teaching and talking with people. And the Word of God continued forth from his lips, even as he reached the climax of his earthly in his suffering on the cross.
For the rest of the sermon tonight I want to create a montage of some of Jesus most memorable and important words.
If you watched the last night of the Winter Olympics you saw something similar when they showed several minutes of highlights from the 16 days of competition. By the time it was over it was as if you'd seen the whole thing from start to finish.
So sit back, listen deeply. Close your eyes if you'd like. Let the meaning and mood of these words sink in. For these words are the Word of God, the word by which we live, now and forever.
I am the light of the world; those who follow me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.
Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.
I am the bread of life, those who come to me shall not hunger, and those who believe in me shall never thirst.
Jesus said to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven, arise and walk."
In the middle of a storm while sailing on the Sea of Galilee he said, "Peace, be still."
Jesus also said, "I am the good shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep."
To his friend Mary Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life; those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."
Then they opened the tomb and Jesus said, "Lazarus, come out!"
Another time Jesus said, "I an the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the father but by me.
Even as Jesus was dying on the cross, he continued to speak.
As he looked at his killers he prayed, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."
To the crucified thief he promised that, "Today you shall be with me in paradise."
As he endured the pain of separation from his father he cried out. "Eli, Eli, lamma sambachthani -- My God My God why have you forsaken me."
The to fulfill scripture he said, "I thirst."
And as he completed his mission he uttered the words, "It is finished."
Then he died as he lived, placing his being into God's hands saying, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."
That may sound like the end of the story, but the mouth of Christ was not silenced forever by death.
On Easter morning Jesus told the women at the tomb, "Do not be afraid, but go to Galilee and you will see me there."
When he appeared to his disciples the first words from his mouth were, "Peace be with you!"
And the final thing that Jesus said before ascending into heaven is a great promise that we should remember everyday, especially when life is a struggle. Jesus said, "Lo I am with you always, even to the close of the age."
These are just some of the gracious words of Christ that truly show us that we don't live by bread alone, but also by the word of God.
Let these words sink in. Let their meaning sustain you. They are the words that announce the great truth and comfort that God loves us and that there is nothing that can separate us from his love which is in Christ Jesus. AMEN!