Monday, August 29, 2011
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
As the confirmands and I gathered earlier today, I gave the age-old assignment that all catechism students dread: reciting memory work. Opening the Catechism and reciting parts of it is all part of every confirmation instruction program.
What's distressing to me as pastor is not the confirmands struggling to memorize the catechism, but adults confirmed as teens who don't crack the book anymore. So, true to my promise to the students today, I'm asking all church members to undertake the same task as they are undertaking.
That's right, I'm asking all confirmed adults to spend time this year learning and relearning the catechism. Begin with the First Commandment. Read it and the explanation. Use the Catechism as a basis for prayer - if you need help, I've got a system for you. Consult the Large Catechism. It's available on line. Once you learn the First Commandment, move to the Second, and so on.
If you wish, feel free to recite to me the parts of the Catechism you learn.
Let's embark on a Confessional renewal at Mt. Olive!
This week at Mt. Olive has a couple of changes and special events. Here goes!
Tuesday I will be the pastor on Prayer Time at KBNJ, 91.7 FM. I'm not sure of the time, but I hope to be able to "tweet" it to you tomorrow.
Wednesday, due to a certain birthday, Lutheran Book Club will meet at B & J's Pizza on Staples. By the way, we're almost done with "Why I am a Lutheran." Following this book, we will undertake "Hammer of God" by Bo Giertz.
Charlotte Birnbaum (hospitalized), Eunice Lewis (now at home)
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell, KY), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen (Corpus Christi)
Our Sunday School teachers and the students committed to their teaching
Our sister congregations, fellow Christians, and fellow Americans who are enduring the effects of Hurricane Irene
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, August 29
Wednesday, August 31
Bible Study (Revelation)
Lutheran Book Club at B & J's on Staples
Sunday, August 28, 2011
The love that God has for you and me is not hidden away in his heart so that we have to wonder if it is real —it is not a mere emotion that can ebb and flow and change with the times—but God’s love for us is concrete and real and it looks like Jesus: caring for those around him—speaking words of comfort and concern—laying down his life as a sacrifice for the world. Jesus is what the love of God looks like.
And Jesus is what our love for others is to look like: caring for those around us—speaking words of comfort and concern—offering up our lives as living sacrifices in service to God and others.
Today in God’s Word, we hear the Apostle Paul tell us that our love for others is to be genuine—that it is not to be hidden away in our hearts or exist as a mere emotion—but our love for others is to take on a concrete shape: that of Jesus.
Paul goes on with an extensive list of what Christ’s love will look like as we interact with others--both friends and enemies. But there is no need to memorize all of those injunctions so long as we remember that our love for others—a love that is genuine—will look like Christ’s love for us. By the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote these words:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
In our world today, all kinds of hateful, terrible, sinful things are done in the name of love. The elderly, ill, and disabled are killed by family members who “love” them too much to let them go on as they are. Unborn babies are aborted by those who “love” them too much to bring them into a difficult situation or accept their handicaps. Couples “love” one another enough to engage in sexual sin but not enough to commit their lives to one another in marriage. Love is a word that is twisted out of shape by the godless culture in which we live.
But genuine love—love that is a reflection of Jesus Christ—love that is the mark of the Christian life--hates what is evil and has nothing to do with it-- and instead, lays hold of- and clings to -what is good. It is heartfelt and sincere and treats others as beloved family members. And far from being resigned to- and complacent about- the evils of our day, Christian love for others is active and energetic. The bible says:
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
The love that God has for us moved him to action, sending his Son in to the world to be our Savior--and so our love is active and energetic in its service to others.
Anyone who has ever taken that calling seriously and has stepped out in faith to actively, fervently show Christ’s love to others-- knows what a challenge it is. It is easy to get discouraged and impatient and give up when we see the enormity of God’s call to us to love others as Christ loved us.
To be about the vocation of love that is ours as Christians, the Bible says that we are to rejoice in hope—to have a view of the future that includes the Last Day and our Lord’s remembrance and commendation of even the small things we do in love. We are to be patient in tribulation—recognizing that it is not easy to love others—especially those who mistreat us. And to be constant in prayer—asking for God’s help for ourselves and others.
But the active, fervent love, that we are to have for others--a love that rejoices in hope and is patient in tribulation and constant in prayer –also recognizes that often times WE will be the answer to prayer.
Our financial resources will be needed to meet the needs of our fellow Christians. Open hearts of welcome and open doors of hospitality and open hands of generosity will be the invitation that others need to come and have a part in the life with God that we have through faith in Jesus. This active, fervent love that prays and gives and welcomes- extends to all people and meets them wherever they are in life. The Bible says:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those
who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
How can we read these words and not see Jesus lovingly meeting the needs of people in whatever state he found them?!
We think about our Lord’s suffering and death upon the cross and how he blessed and forgave those who cursed him and caused his death. We think about our Lord attending the wedding of a young couple and how he added to the joy of that day. We think about our Lord standing at the graveside of Lazarus and how the grief of Mary and Martha moved him to tears. We think about our Lord meeting and interacting with the high and low-rich and poor-men and women.
The love of Jesus did not keep people at arm’s length but he met them in their need and took them as they came—and people were drawn to him because of it—they recognized that there was a place for them within God’s family through Jesus.
So it is with us and our love for others. There are going to be people who are opposed to us—but they need our blessing rather than our anger. There are going to be people that want us to be glad for them in their joys and there are going to be people that need our comfort in their sorrows.
The call to Christian love is a call to meet people where they are- and take them as they come. It’s a call to empathy—of being able to put ourselves in the place of others and see things from their perspective. That takes humility—a willingness to set aside what’s important to us so that we can really understand and value what it important to others.
This is a challenge in all our relationships- but it’s especially a challenge when it comes to loving those who don’t love us in return- and instead oppose us and misuse us. The Bible says:
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
When someone hurts us—we want to hurt them back. When someone insults us—we want to think of something worse to say to them. Even the smallest child defends hitting their siblings by saying: “They hit me first”!
The desire for vengeance is as close to us as our old sinful nature and it causes a constant cycle of violence and hatred in the human family. But genuine Christian love turns aside from vengeance because Christ turned aside from vengeance.
Throughout his earthly ministry and all the way up to last moments of his life upon the cross—Jesus was hated and ridiculed and treated with contempt—but not one time did he return the hatred and ridicule and contempt. Instead, he was always ready to bless and forgive those who mistreated him and misused him.
This was the life of Christ-- and this is the life of the Christian—that of a peacemaker who lets the cycle of hatred and bitterness that is directed towards them--end with them.
The Christian is able to do this—not only because we have before us the example of our Lord—but we are able to do this because we know that there will be a day of reckoning when no injustice or act of violence will escape the judgment of God and his righteous wrath will call to a strict accounting all of those who have misused and mistreated others. The Lord promises us that he will deliver us from the hand of wicked and redeem us from the grasp of the ruthless.
Sometimes that day of reckoning happens in time as the wrath of God is executed by the civil authorities—sometimes it will have to wait the last day and the final judgment—but no matter when it happens, the example of Christ’s forgiveness and the promise of God’s wrath allows us to forgo vengeance, forgive our enemies, and leave justice in the hands of Almighty God where it belongs.
When we do this, it is a powerful witness to the world about the forgiveness and love that we have in Christ.
The whole world took notice when Corrie Ten Boom forgave the Nazis who put her family to death. Our entire nation took notice when the Amish forgave the madman who killed their children at school. When Christians forgive those who mistreat them it is a powerful witness that in Jesus Christ, good is able to overcome evil through the concrete love and care and concern we have even for our enemies. The Bible says that:
…“if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
It is so very easy, when we have been mistreated by others, to be overcome by evil—not because we have had to suffer in some way (that is simply a part of the Christian’s cross). But we are overcome by evil because we in turn act hatefully towards those who have hurt us.
It is particularly sinister thing that Satan does in tempting us to let that pain and anger fester in our hearts through our lack of forgiveness for those who have wounded us. The devil has done his work when he has overcome and conquered, not only the one who sinned against us—but us too-- because we will not obey our Lord and forgive our enemies. Jesus says that there is no profit in gaining the whole world and forfeiting eternal life and there is certainly no profit in being right in some argument at the expense of our soul.
It is a terrible, terrible spiritual tragedy when Christians are overcome by evil by letting the sins of others against them become more powerful in their lives than the forgiveness of Jesus Christ because they refuse follow him in blessing, helping, loving and forgiving those who have wounded them.
To make sure that we are not overcome by evil- and instead overcome evil- we love even our enemies and do good to those who hurt us. When we act in concrete, loving ways to our enemies—we heap burning coals on their head. In other words, we make it painfully obvious to them that they are the ones who have done wrong and we are the ones who have followed Christ in forgiveness and love.
You see, Christ loves them too and wants them to understand what they have done wrong so that they can repent of it and be forgiven for it and have a life with him and we have an important part to play in their understanding what the love of Christ is really all about when we treat them with care and concern.
Today God calls us to live lives of genuine love-- and to accomplish that in our lives he directs our attention back to the cross where we see what real love is: a love that is not only words and emotions—but a sacrifice that cost Jesus everything. Amen.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
Concerning today's Gospel (Matt. 16:13-20), I found this quote from Francis "Rev" Rossow in his book, Gospel Handles:
What do we do with what we find out about Jesus? We build the church with it (v. 18) through the Office of the Keys. (v. 19). Christ stood in for us in suffering the punishment for sin. Now we stand in for Him in pronouncing the forgiveness of sin.
That reminds me of the lesson about confession in the Small Catechism:
Confession has two parts, first that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.
This Week at Mt. Olive our Lutheran preschool begins a new term of classes! I've often been asked about the benefits of the school. Yes, there are difficulties. But, with the school comes the opportunity to tell the Good News about Jesus to children who might not otherwise hear it, or to those who need to hear of His great love. In chapel, children get to hear a pastor proclaim the Gospel - something that might not otherwise happen. Praise God for the ministry He has given us at Mt. Olive Lutheran School!
Preparations for Rally Day are now in progress. I'll keep you posted during the coming week. It goes without saying that this coming Sunday is an excellent opportunity to invite your friends to come to church with you.
Wednesday morning Bible Class will begin a study of the Revelation to John this coming Wednesday morning. I'm looking forward to this challenging study!
One of our number, Charles Fink, is in need of some sitting services for his children a couple of days this week. If you're available and willing, please give me a call and I'll give you his telephone number.
I'll be out of the office Tuesday morning for an Advisory Board meeting at Bokenkamp.
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen (Corpus Christi)
Mt. Olive Lutheran School and all the schools, college, and seminaries of the Church
The students who begin classes tomorrow and later this week, as well as those who have already begun
Norman Hanelt, Eunice Lewis, Mary Norton
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, August 22
Classes begin at Mt. Olive Lutheran School
Wednesday, August 24
Bible Class (Revelation)
Lutheran Book Club
Thursday, August 25
Last week we heard the call of Almighty God to stand in awe of his majesty and glory—to gaze in wonder and amazement at his goodness and mercy that extends even to sinners—but to also look with fear and trembling at his righteous judgment over sin.
This week we hear that this awe that we feel in our heart when it comes to the goodness and might of God will show up in our lives in two ways: in words of praise for who God is and what he has done-- and in good works that God equips and empowers us to do for others—so that our entire lives are offered up to God as living sacrifices.
These words that we hear today from the apostle Paul are an excellent corrective to the false teaching that equates faith with mere knowledge—that because we know the details of Jesus’ life or because we know some theological terms that we are believers.
BUT THAT IS NOT FAITH! The devil knows all the details about Jesus and is in hell and will remain there. What we learn today from God’s inspired, inerrant Word is that a true and living faith in Jesus (which stands in awe of the goodness and might of God) is readily seen in a person’s life—in what we say and do. Paul wrote:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
These words of praise from the apostle Paul come at the end of eleven chapters of very carefully laying out God’s salvation of sinners. Paul wrote about mankind’s sin and God’s gift of a Son. He wrote about God’s verdict of “not guilty” spoken upon all of those who believe in Jesus and the difference that makes in our lives. He wrote about the freedom that we have in Christ and God’s promise that no matter how bad things get- -he is working all things for our good and that he has always planned to bless us.
Paul’s Spirit-inspired response to all that he had just recounted were these words of praise that we just read—praising God for the riches of his grace and his wisdom and knowledge that had been perfectly ordering the affairs of the entire world so that we can be saved.
How can a Christian do any less than praise God and extol his saving name when we consider that God has known us and loved us from eternity—planned for our salvation—given his Son into death—and perfectly ordered our life so that we would come to faith and remain in faith unto our life’s end! How is it possible for someone to truly believe this and remain silent in their praise of God? It is not possible!
Far, far from ever doubting God- or questioning his ways-or standing in judgment of how he has accomplished our salvation—all we can do is join the apostle Paul in praising and glorifying God for his greatness and goodness that extends even to us.
All that God has done for us is, from beginning to end, a pure gift from the hands of a loving God without any merit or worthiness on our part—apart from anything we have ever done or ever could do. Our life, our salvation, our eternal future -are due to God’s grace alone and to him be the glory forever and forever!
IT IS BECAUSE all that we are- and all that we have- and all that we hope to be- flow from his mighty and merciful hands- that we can then offer back to God what he has already given to us—our very lives, body and soul as a living sacrifice. Paul wrote:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Just as it is impossible for us to remain silent when gazing in awe at the mercy and judgment of God, so it is impossible for us to withhold anything from him—including our own lives. No sacrifice of ours is too great for our Savior who gave himself for us!
When we really understand and believe that our life, our salvation, our eternal future is a gift of God’s grace—that all that we have and are and hope for exists only because of him—how can we not devote ourselves wholly to his service in whatever place he calls us -in whatever manner he chooses for us?
The Christian stands at the foot of the cross in faith and says to God: from this moment on-- my life—cleansed and sanctified and made whole by the bloody sacrifice of your Son Jesus—now belongs to you-- and I offer it up to you in thanksgiving for all that you have given me.
This- is- the- only- possible –response- of a heart that truly believes in Jesus --and it is completely different than what we see in the world around us and completely different from those who are only posing as Christians but are hypocrites.
The world around us tells to put ourselves first—to live for ourselves. False Christians tells us that God exists to serve us and give us what our flesh desires.
But the child of God knows nothing of these lies! We have been utterly and completely transformed by the goodness of God in Christ and we have a brand new way of thinking about our own lives.
We no longer see ourselves as standing at the center of the universe, masters of our own destiny, bowing to no will but our own. But now we bow the knee to the God who, from everlasting to everlasting, has known us and loved us and destined us to be his own precious children and we gladly acknowledge him as our sovereign king.
We do this—not out of fear—not out of compulsion—not out of a desire to get something from God or manipulate God—but we offer our lives to God out of love and thankfulness for what he has already done for us—ready to do his perfect, fatherly will—discovering moment by moment and situation by situation—that living by God’s design really is the only way to a meaningful life here on earth.
Marriages endure the test of time because Christian couples submit to one another—husbands loving their wives and wives respecting their husbands. Friendships and families are blessed because they stand ready to forgive and be forgiven. We discover that God really is able to provide for us as even as we give generously back to him in tithes and offerings.
We are at peace in their souls because we don’t carry around a burden of worries and anxieties and guilt—and on and on it goes—stepping out in faith according to God’s will—rejoicing in the gifts that he has given us. Paul wrote:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
A big part of being transformed by the renewing of our mind- and living according to God’s will- involves humility—seeing the truth about ourselves. Far from being lifted up by pride at the blessings we have as Christians, we are humbled by the blessings we have been given.
The prideful person looks to themselves, believing they are the source of their blessings-- but the humble person looks to God and knows that they do not even have a next heartbeat apart from his will. This is why pride is incompatible with saving faith. We know that there is nothing that we possess—not even the smallest part of life—that did not come from God’s almighty and generous hands. But interestingly enough, humility is also the reason why we can be honest in acknowledging our gifts and abilities.
We know that we are not the source of them—God is—and so we are free to acknowledge that we have this or that blessing—this or that ability—and give God the glory for it—and see that gift or ability NOT as a monument to ourselves and our hard work and our efforts-- but as a way to serve others and do good for the church and bring glory to God. Paul wrote:
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
As little room as there is for prideful boasting in our lives—so is there no room for prideful comparisons between ourselves and other believers. God has uniquely equipped each of us to serve in a particular place and time and way in the church that no one else can fill --and so each believer is needed and valued in the church.
None more necessary than another. None more important than another. But each of us is important to the life of the church and the welfare of our fellow believers.
To illustrate this, Paul uses an example that is common to his letters—that of a single body with many parts—each of them playing a vital role for the whole body—each of them connected to one another.
That is the truth about Jesus and those who are a part of him by faith. Not only are we a valuable part of him—but also of one another. And so not only do we serve one another- but we care for another as Christians because we are a part of one another. Paul wrote:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
God’s grace not only reached out to us and made us a part of his people through faith in Christ—but his grace bestowed upon each of us particular gifts that are to be used to build up the church -and serve others -and bring glory to God.
Paul mentions gifts of serving and teaching and giving and leading and helping and preaching. This list is not exhaustive by any means but just a few of the gifts that God’s gives to us for the sake of others, to be used to his glory.
You will also notice that there is nothing miraculous in these gifts that God gives—nothing that requires super-human effort on our part-- but only a Spirit-filled desire to use the gifts that God has given us.
And so in closing today, let me ask you: How has God gifted you? What gifts and abilities and skills and interests do you have—AND—just as importantly--how are you using them to serve those around you- and bring glory to God- and build up this congregation?
WE are the living sacrifices that God desires- and he has redeemed us and gifted us for that purpose. And so just as concretely as we know what financial gift we will put in the offering plate this morning—each of us should have a ready answer for what we do as individual members to benefit the whole body of Christ in this congregation.
Standing in awe of the goodness and mercy and righteousness of God—we are called by God to serve him with lips of praise and lives of service-to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, using our God-given gifts to serve others. Amen.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
Today in the Church it is the day of St. Mary, Mother of God. Yes, that's her proper title. Much of Mary's identity is not derived from herself, but the holy Child she was chosen to carry. In the New Testament, there are about a dozen or so indicators that shape Mary's life.
I once was told that Mary was the mother of Jesus, not God. But, such things have a way of being really important. If Mary's not the mother of God in the flesh, then Jesus of Nazareth is just a man and we have no Savior. If Mary is not the mother of God, we are still dead in our trespasses and sins. I've long said it and I'll say it again, churches that are not Roman have a habit of wanting Mary to be trotted out briefly at Christmas time and then ushered back to the storage of the Christmas decorations.
But, this isn't what Holy Scripture tells us. Our Lord Jesus Christ is true God (Matthew 1) and true Man (see the resurrection accounts in Luke and John). His enfleshment happened in the womb of Mary.
In fact, rather than wanting Mary to be kept behind a curtain, we should praise God for this young girl of Nazareth. For Mary is not the great exception, but the great example of faith. Her words of unconditional obedience are words to be on our lips, too: "Let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).
By the way, according to the traditions of the Church, Mary lived in the home of John, in accordance with Jesus' commission in John 19. She accompanied John as he served in Ephesus, where she died.
Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your only Son. Grant that we, who are redeemed by His blood, may share with her in the glory of Your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
This week at Mt. Olive, the return of the school is in full swing. Teachers return to prepare their classrooms. Parents and students continue to enroll. It's a busy time.
The Sunday School is currently in need of two teams of teachers. Teachers are needed in the 3-4 year old class. And, teachers are needed in the Cradle Roll (2 and under group). If you're so moved by the Spirit to fill these vacancies, please call the Church Office or Kim Waddle. Respond with the prophet Isaiah, "Here am I! Send me!"
Rally Day is set 28 AUG. The menu is still being planned, but will be fairly simple.
Eunice Lewis, Mary Norton, both recovering from surgery
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen (Corpus Christi)
Teachers who are returning to class this week
Students at all levels who have already begun classes or will begin classes this week and next
College students who continue to travel back to their campuses
Our school at Mt. Olive, her teachers, and the students committed to their teaching
This Week at Mt. Olive
Monday, August 15
Zumba (Fellowship Hall)
Board of Elders (Pastor's Conference Room)
Wednesday, August 17
Bible Study (finishing study on the letters of John)
Lutheran Book Club
Pastor Kevin Jennings
Report as Junk
Proper 16, Series A August 21, 2011
Lessons for The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 51:1-6 ~ God’s saving power promised to Abraham and Sarah is still extended to us today.
Psalm 138 [Antiphon: Ps. 138:8a]
Romans 11:33 - 12:8 ~ We cannot understand God’s ways, but He renews our minds to embrace His will.
Matthew 16:13-20 ~ With faith revealed by the Father, Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: What Does it Take to Know God?
God makes himself known through his actions. God’s blessing of a nation and a name to Abraham and Sarah gave evidence of His saving power to His people of all time. To Peter and the rest of the disciples God revealed his Son, Jesus, who by the power of the living God, prevails over the gates of hell. It takes God's self-revelation by the power of his Spirit for us to know the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Moses, you have called me to do some special work for you. Today let me see you at least a little more clearly, so I may follow you more nearly in your will. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: The everlasting arms of God uphold His Church more surely than the wealth and the ways of this world. When we use the things of this world in service to God, they are transformed according to His will.
OFFERING PRAYER: God of grace and mercy, in Your pledge to Abraham
And in Your mercy to Your people, we have known You..
In the life of Jesus, we have seen Your mighty hand.
May we reach out to share Your love in what we say and do.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Sometimes when we go with the crowds, we fail to confess that Jesus is the Son of the Living God in our presence. Our words as well as in our actions do not conform to the standards of the new community of faith, but Jesus has given faithful witness that His power of life has overcome the forces of death. He binds us to himself for eternity and renews our hearts and minds to live for Him in this age.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Today in God’s Word, we hear the apostle Paul tell the Christians at Rome and the Christians here today—that far from having an attitude of pride because we are believers and contempt for those who are not—we are to fear God—to stand in awe of God—both for his mercies and judgments.
When we stand in awe of God, our eyes are not directed to ourselves and what good folks we are—and neither is our gaze directed to those who are not believers and what bad people they are. Rather, our eyes are fixed upon the Lord with a holy reverence and wonder that he would save people such as ourselves-- and a fear and dread of ever doing anything that would destroy our life with him.
By the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote these words:
I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.
Two weeks ago we heard the pain and heartache in Paul’s voice when he said that he was willing to suffer eternal damnation if it would mean the salvation of his kinsmen, the Jews. But he knew that was not possible—that it was Christ’s suffering and sacrifice alone that mattered—the very salvation that so many Jews rejected.
And so if he could not suffer for them—he would try to win them another way: he would magnify his ministry among the Gentiles. Now what did he mean—that he would magnify his mission to the Gentiles so as to save the Jews?
He meant that he would lift it up—talk it up—make a big deal out of it—speak constantly about the goodness of God that extended even to the Gentiles. He would share with his fellow Jews the wonderful blessings that came to those who believed in Jesus so that they would desire those blessings for themselves—blessings that God had promised to them first thousands of year before—blessings that were rightfully theirs.
This is an evangelism strategy that we forget about. And so let me ask you, are you living out your faith in such a way that unbelievers around you want what you have as a Christian? Are you talking up your church home and magnifying the blessings that come with being a Christian? Are you sharing with others the difference that Jesus has made in your life?
People in Paul’s day were drawn to Christ because they were drawn to Christians- and it is time for us to recapture that in our day so that others will be drawn to Christ because they see his blessings in our lives and want them for themselves. Paul wrote:
If the Jews rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
As we heard today in the Gospel lesson, there was a place in God’s family even for Gentiles and always had been. In the days before Christ, Gentile believers had been few and far between—but there were Gentiles among God’s people. It was after Pentecost that the presence of Gentiles among the people of God exploded in number.
The church that began as a group of twelve Jewish disciples of a Jewish rabbi and remained a few hundred Jews even after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, grew by the thousands in just a few short years as the Gentiles accepted the Gospel with open hearts—while the Jews continued to reject the message of Christ.
As Paul would travel from town to town, going first to the Jews, he was often times rejected by his own people-- but he found a ready audience among the Gentiles so that they were reconciled to God through faith in Christ and the Christian church expanded throughout the world.
But what about the unbelieving Jews? Did Paul wash his hands of them? Did God abandon them? No! God still loved them and the Gospel was still preached to them- and every time they came to faith it was a demonstration of the power of God to give spiritual life--where before there was only spiritual death.
This was God’s plan from the beginning: salvation by God’s grace through faith in the Messiah. When Paul talked about the dough of the firstfruits offering and the root and the branches he was using illustrations from the worship life of the Jews and from nature to make the point that when believing Jews and Gentiles were added to God’s people through faith in Jesus-- it was proof that the way of salvation had always been through faith. We are still saved through faith in Jesus apart from deeds of the law.
That the Gentiles believed this while the Jews didn’t--that we believe this even as others reject it--is no reason for arrogance in the believer. Paul wrote:
If some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.
The example of an olive tree with its roots and branches was a picture that ancient people would have recognized and connected with. The tree is the whole people of God in Christ Jesus—the root is the promise of salvation through faith made to Abraham-- and the branches are those who believe in Jesus –be they Jew or Gentile.
From that promise of salvation through faith made to Abraham—a people came forth, like branches from a tree. In the beginning, the vast majority of believers were Jews. But God cared about all people and when Gentiles would hear of God’s promised deliverance and come to faith—he would graft them into the tree by his gracious power just like we have come to take our place among the believing branches of that tree.
In Paul’s day, and even more so in our day, the vast, vast majority of branches in the tree of God’s believing people are no longer Jew but Gentile. But that is no reason for pride on our part. It is by the mercy of God alone that we have a place among his people and our life of faith is fed by the saving works and words that he did among his ancient people thousands of yeas ago.
As little room as there is for pride when it comes to our standing before God, there is even less room for contempt for those who are not God’s people —ESPECIALLY for those Jews who do not know Jesus as their Messiah. Paul wrote:
You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.
Paul’s letter to the Romans has 16 chapters and four of them deal specifically with God’s relationship with his ancient people and their rejection of their Messiah. You can imagine why. As Gentiles were coming to faith in Jesus, they were being taught the whole story of salvation going back to Adam Eve and the patriarchs and Moses and the prophets.
There are thousands of years of salvation history that takes place among the Jews and the new Christians in Rome could not help but wonder—just like we wonder in our adult bible class: what happened to God’s ancient people? Why aren’t there more Jews in the church? And the answer is: the vast majority of them did not believe in Jesus and were cut out of the tree of God’s people.
Knowing this, you can imagine what was going on the minds of the new Gentile believers in Rome: “Well, I may not be a part of God’s ancient people—and my ancestors may have been pagans--and I may not know much about Jesus—but at least I believe in him” Even the Christians sitting in these pews are not beyond believing that we are somehow better—by nature—from those who don’t believe. But we are not.
Paul knew human nature and the sinful pride that cuts to the very center of our existence and our willingness to take the credit for spiritual things—and that is why he wrote these words about not being prideful when it comes to our faith.
There is no reason for human pride when it comes to our salvation and our life with God—that is his work from beginning to end. And so rather than having pride in our faith—and contempt for the lack of the same in others—we need to focus on making sure that we remain in saving faith through the regular, faithful use of Word and Sacraments—so that we do not fall away like God’s ancient people.
We need to stand in awe of God’s mercy that made us a part of his people--but we also need to stand in fear of our own frailty and God’s judgment. There is nothing terrible about the Jews as a people-- and there is nothing special about us as a people—we have a life with God only by his grace through faith in Jesus-- and the judgment that he has exercised in the past upon his ancient people for their lack of faith --will be meted out to us in exactly the same way if we do not continue in faith.
Paul intended for the Gentiles of his day- and for the Christians of this day -to learn from the Jews rather than stand in judgment over them. Paul wrote:
Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
God is both kind in salvation and severe in judgment. His kindness is shown in the gift of his own Son—given into death for our sins. There can be no doubt what God’s attitude is towards us in Christ as we hear of our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross and rejoice in our adoption into God’s family through Holy Baptism and receive the saving gifts of the cross in Holy Communion in Jesus’ true body and blood. Truly God is kind beyond measure and we stand in awe of his mercies that extends to sinners such as ourselves!
But God is also severe in his judgments. Those who will not accept his kindness in Christ—those who reject the judgment of God upon the world’s sins made at the cross—those who turn their backs on his offer of life made at the resurrection of our Lord—those who will not continue in faith--cannot expect anything other than God’s wrath—his righteous judgment of their sins—and eternal punishment in hell.
All of us should stand in awe- with fear and trembling- at ever suffering such a fate because we willfully refuse his kindness.
But even if that is where this day finds us—having abandoned his kindness in Christ or even knowing nothing of it—it is still not too late—for he stands ready to make us a part of his people. Paul wrote:
Even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.
So long as you are living and breathing it is not too late to have a life with God. For the Jews of Paul’s day, their rejection of the Gospel was a terrible thing—but it did not have to be final. There was still time for them to come to faith in Christ and be grafted in to the tree of God’s people once again.
So it is for us here today. If you have wandered away from the Savior’s side—if you have made room in our life for some sin—if you have been living in opposition to God’s will—it is not too late to repent of your sins, return to God, and know that he has the power—and has promised-- to once again make a place for you among his people. God grant it for Jesus’ sake! Amen.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
Here is this week's lesson from the Catechism.
The Sixth Petition.
And lead us not into temptation.
What does this mean?
God, indeed, tempts no one; but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us, nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally overcome and gain the victory.
I also read this in the Large Catechism:
This, then, is leading us not into temptation, to wit, when He gives us power and strength to resist, the temptation, however, not being taken away or removed. For while we live in the flesh and have the devil about us, no one can escape temptation and allurements; and it cannot be otherwise than that we must endure trials, yea, be engulfed in them; but we pray for this, that we may not fall and be drowned in them.
Therefore we Christians must be armed and daily expect to be incessantly attacked, in order that no one may go on in security and heedlessly, as though the devil were far from us, but at all times expect and parry his blows. For though I am now chaste, patient, kind, and in firm faith, the devil will this very hour send such an arrow into my heart that I can scarcely stand. For he is an enemy that never desists nor becomes tired, so that when one temptation ceases, there always arise others and fresh ones.
I've also attached today's sermon in PDF form.
This Week at Mt. Olive
August's LWML meeting will be off-site! Enjoying a Ladies Night Out, the LWML will be meeting for dinner at Applebee's on SPID. If you'd like attend and weren't able to sign up this morning, please send me a blast and I'll forward it to Mary Hanelt.
Adult Information continues this Tuesday evening. We're just a few weeks out from finishing. I'll also be conducting this class in September, but on a different night of the week. Again, this is a great opportunity to invite your friends to discover the rich heritage we as Lutherans have.
The Lutheran Book Club also continues this Wednesday evening. We're still in "Why I am Lutheran" by Rev. Daniel Preus.
Rally Day for Sunday School is set for August 28 - a short four weeks away! Traditionally, we have meal following late service, as well as a few games. Look for more information to come.
Mary Norton and Eunice Lewis, both undergoing surgery this week
Kathy Vadney's sister, Becky, and Marilyn Nance's cousin, Susanna, as both deal with health issues
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi)
College students and faculty who will be returning to campus and classes in the coming weeks
Students who have already begun classes and those who are preparing
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, August 8
Tuesday, August 9
LWML Ladies Night Out at Applebee's
Adult Information Class
Wednesday, August 10
Bible Study (1 John)
Lutheran Book Club
Over the last thirteen years that I have been the pastor here at St. Paul Lutheran Church, one of my primary spiritual concerns has been church attendance. That less that half of the members of this congregation attend church on the Lord’s Day has always weighed heavily upon my heart and so I take every opportunity I can to encourage folks to come to church.
But I can’t remember that I have ever told you why this is such a concern for me as your pastor.
It’s because I know that your church attendance affects your eternal salvation—not just because God commands it (which he does) and to willingly, knowingly break his commands is to endanger your immortal soul.
But church attendance affects your salvation because faith in Jesus comes to you in no other way than by hearing the Good News of his death and resurrection. The Bible says: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.”
I have one goal as your pastor—and that is to see you go to heaven. Jesus Christ has provided all that is necessary for your salvation—but for you to enter into eternal life, it is necessary for you to believe in him --and the only way for you to believe in him is to hear the message of Christ.
It is that message that brings us to saving faith—but it is also that same message that sustains our faith throughout life. And so to come to faith in Jesus Christ and to persevere in faith—it is necessary to hear the word of Christ. The Bible says that:
Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.
To be saved, it is necessary to believe in Jesus. To believe in Jesus, it is necessary to hear the Good News about Jesus. There is one place on the face of the earth where that faith-giving preaching and hearing is possible: and that is the Christian Church. Only the Christian Church has the message of Christ that gives and sustains faith unto salvation.
Now, that does not mean that you can’t hear religious messages elsewhere—you can. The Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the various world religions all have a religious message—but none of these messages are the Gospel—they are simply variations on the law—the idea that you can be right with God through obedience to various precepts and rules.
Moses wrote about a righteousness before God according to the law—that the person who did the commandments would live by them. And that is true. But what Moses knew—and the neighborhood cults and various world religions don’t—is that the standard for “life through obedience to the law” is: perfection—which none of us has.
That is why coming to church is so important—because it is only in the Christian church that you can hear of another way to have a life with God—the ONLY way to have a life with God—and that is through the righteousness of faith in Jesus. The Bible says:
The righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
The righteousness of the law says: do this and you will live. It is so simple-- and the only problem with that message is that it is so impossible. We haven’t done the things that the law commands-- and so rather than the law being a word of life for us—it becomes a word of death and damnation since we have failed to do what it says.
But the righteousness based on faith—that is, the way to a life with God based on faith in Jesus, doesn’t direct us to our own efforts—either in keeping the law OR in bringing about a Savior for ourselves. Instead, the righteousness of faith tells us to not even let those thoughts have a place in our hearts!
There is absolutely no need for us to make our way up to God --because God has sent his Son Jesus down to us—taking upon himself our flesh and perfectly fulfilling the law’s demand in every place where we have failed.
There is absolutely no need for us to undergo some great suffering and offer up some great sacrifice so as to atone for our sins because Christ has already done that for us—laying down his life on the cross and rising up victorious over death and the grave.
The message of the Bible is that we must not even let this thought (that by our efforts salvation can be gained) enter our mind. Instead, the message of righteousness through faith—a message that is only heard in the church-- says this:
“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
The message of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the sins of the world is the word of faith and it is only heard in the church. It not only calls for our faith (Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!)—but it is the way that the Spirit creates faith in us (the gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes).
Everywhere the Good News of Jesus in preached throughout the Christian church, there the Holy Spirit is working faith in people’s hearts—calling us to abandon any hope of saving ourselves-- and leading us to trust what Jesus has already done in his death and resurrection.
And God makes an absolute promise regarding that word of faith that we hear in the church: that if we confess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and believe in what he has done for our salvation—we will be saved. The Bible says:
With the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Being justified and being saved are really just two sides of the same coin but there are some nuances worth mentioning.
The moment we believe in Jesus Christ and trust him as our Savior, we are justified by God—that is, he declares that we are right in his sight. But that faith that is in our hearts is meant to be publicly expressed—in the words that we say and in how we live our lives. That is our confession.
When God says that we are saved in this confession he is making a promise for the future: not just that things are fine between us and God right now—but that we can be confident that the hardships of life and even the darkness of the grave will not overcome us—but that God will bring us safely through—that he will save us. We can count on it because God has promised it. The Bible says:
“Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Throughout the Christian church on this Lord’s Day there are millions of our fellow Christians all over the world who are assembled to hear the Good News of Jesus preached. Asians. Africans. Hispanics. Europeans. Men and women. Rich and poor. Young and old.
And they are all hearing the same basic message that you folks are hearing today: that putting your faith and trust in Jesus Christ—following him as your Lord and Savior—you can be confident about the future—that God will never let you down—that your faith in Jesus is not misplaced. That is the central message of the church that our fellow Christians are hearing this Lord’s Day.
No matter the color of their skin—no matter how much money they have—no matter their gender or their place in society—they all stand with us at the foot of the cross—equally blessed-- with the riches of salvation that Jesus earned for us there: forgiveness for all our sins—a renewed and right relationship with God—strength and guidance for the day—and eternal life. This is God’s salvation and everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
But on this same Lord’s Day-- when Christians throughout the world gather together to hear the Good News of Jesus for the strengthening of their faith and to thank God for the riches of his grace--there are billions more who do not believe in him—who do not know the comfort of that wonderful promise that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. What about them? The Bible says:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
At the beginning of this morning’s message we talked about the importance of being in church to hear the Good News of Jesus for our own life of faith—that we are brought to faith and sustained in faith through that message and that there is no substitute for it. But there is another purpose for coming to church—and that is to be equipped for our own part in the mission of the church.
You see, God’s loving care and concern that he showed in Jesus Christ extends—not just to you and me and folks who are already Christians—but his loving care and concern in Christ extends to every person in the world. He wants ALL people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth and call upon his saving name in faith.
But how can they call upon Jesus’ name if they’ve never heard of him? They can’t. And how will they hear of him unless a preacher is sent to them? They won’t. And how does the kingdom of God grow if those who already believe in Jesus don’t support the mission of the church? It doesn’t.
Jesus’ last words before his ascension to those who already believed him was to go and make disciples of all nations. Of course, the power to bring people to faith is his alone. The means to salvation is the Good News that he provides in his death and resurrection.
But every person who has called upon the name of the Lord in faith—every person who is right in God’s sight through faith in Jesus—every person who is saved for eternity-- is also called by God to be about the business of making him known to others.
We do this by giving for the mission of the church so that preachers can be trained and so that missionaries can be sent to places where the Gospel hasn’t reached.
But we also do this by speaking up for Jesus and making him known in our own lives. It begins with those who are closest to us in our family and in our circle of friends and extends to those who know in our schools and workplaces and neighborhoods.
Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. That is true of us in our own life of faith and it is true for all people. No one will be saved who has not heard and believed the word of Christ.
And so we rejoice to come into the Lord’s house and hear the Good News of Jesus so that we can be strengthened in our own faith—but also come here to be reminded that there is a world full of people who need that same blessing of faith that we have and that we have a unique place in Christ’s mission to save others. Amen.
Monday, August 1, 2011
Proper 14, Series A August 7, 2011
Lessons for The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Job 38:4-18 ~ When Job questioned God’s justice, God challenged Job with impenetrable questions.
Psalm 18:1-6 (7-16) [Antiphon 18:46]
Romans 10:5-17 ~ Faith that clings to the promise of Christ’s righteousness comes from God’s Word.
Matthew 14:22-33 ~ Even in Peter’s doubt, Jesus was there to save him from the threatening waves.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: God’s Word Strengthens Us in Our Doubts.
Job had asked some hard questions of God when he struggled with his disease, but God challenged him with harder questions and a stronger Word. God’s Word calls us to trust in His promise and be saved from spiritual disaster. The disciple Peter learned in a dramatic way that his fear would overcome him if it weren't for the strong, saving arm of his loving Lord who pulled him from the stormy waves. God helps us stand through the power of His Word.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord, when I have questions, you speak to me; when I have doubts, you strengthen me. Pick me up in your love and set me in the palm of your hand for eternity. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: When we receive mercies from God’s hand we are obligated to inquire how He wants us to use them.
OFFERING PRAYER: We see, O Lord, Your gifts of love
hidden in Your vast creation.
Now fill our lives with acts of love
telling of Your great salvation.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Our questions often come from hearts that presume we have all the answers, but we hear God’s rebuke as well as Peter: “You of little faith,” for we doubt in our hearts and often show that doubt in our actions. It is not our cry, but God’s strong arm and the ever constant love of our merciful Savior that reaches out to rescue us from the storms of life. We are eager to proclaim the Word we have heard , “Whoever believes in Him will never be put to shame,” so all may hear and believe.