Monday, July 30, 2012

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

I'm not as great a student of the Olympics as some. I have my favorite events. I like watching swimming, diving, and some the track events. I love watching the power and fast pace of volleyball. My favorite event, though, is watching an American receiving a gold medal, complete with standing on the top tier, watching the Stars and Stripes lifted, and hearing "The Star Spangled Banner" played. It doesn't matter the reason for the gold medal, that's my favorite event.

In the Gospel for today (Mark 6:45-56), Jesus walks on water and calms His frightened disciples. The disciples were experienced seamen and, yet, not even their knowledge and abilities could deliver them from the fierce storm. Seeing Jesus walking on the water, they were convinced He was phantasm. Yet, when this same Jesus enters the boat, the frightened disciples are safe. The safest place, you see, is where Jesus is.

The crowds that came to Him experience the same thing.
He goes ashore walks among the sick and afflicted. When they so much as touch His garment, they are made whole. The safest place is where Jesus is.

Olympic athletes are always fun to watch, but their abilities are able to be surpassed. I've noticed that the once invincible Michael Phelps is, well, vincible. Not so with our Lord Jesus Christ! The safest place is where He is. Imagine the disciples trying to make themselves FEEL safer in the storm, or the sick looking deep within THEMSELVES for good feelings. That's not comfort. Comfort is where Jesus is. It's not a feeling; it's a reality. Where is the safest place? It's His body and blood, in the waters of our baptism, in the word of His forgiveness.

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Once again, I praise God for your care and concern for my wife and family! Kathy is doing fine, up to 120 degrees flex angle on the CPM. This week, physical therapy should begin.

Why Does It Matter group will meet Wednesday evening. Last week, we talked about absolutes. This week, we'll look at another pertinent topic.

I invite you to watch a short video on You'll probably recognize the tune, and, yes, it is the same hymn, but in a different language. Here's the address:

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, July 30
6 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

Wednesday, August 1
9:30 a.m.
Bible Study (Revelation 22)

7 p.m.
Why Does It Matter (Barnes and Noble)

Thursday, August 2
6 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

Prayer Concerns:
Ann Cleveland, Ruby Rieder, Burt and Doris Nelson, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston)
Lucinda Rodela (a friend the Jennings family), Kathy
Teachers and students who have already begun the news school term, and those who are preparing for the new term
Sunday School teachers through the summer and those who will begin in the fall
Lutherans in Africa as they work to train pastors and evangelists with Holy Scripture and Luther's Small Catechism

God bless!

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 13 – August 2, 2009

Lessons for Proper 13 (Lutheran Service Book)

Exodus 16:2–15 ~ God provided quail and manna for the Israelites in the wilderness.

Ephesians 4:1–16 ~ Christ nourishes His body, the Church as He builds us up in the unity of the Spirit.

John 6:22–35 ~ Jesus is the Bread of Life and far more valuable than bread which molds and spoils.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: “Food for Eternal Life”

God sent manna and quail to keep the Israelites alive in the wilderness. That was food for the desert. Years later in Galilee, the crowd that had enjoyed Jesus’ bread in the late afternoon learned that God had provided an even greater food for heaven. Jesus is the Bread for Eternal Life. Just as the manna fed the whole company of the Israelites and the bread strengthened the crowd on the hillside, so Jesus nourishes the body of believers in the bond of peace and keeps us united to serve one another with His gifts of love in the unity of the Spirit.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Merciful Father, thank You for giving me faith in Jesus, Your own Son. May my life be enriched and nourished for eternity by the Bread from Heaven, so that I may not struggle desperately for the things I need each day, but accept them gratefully from Your generous hand -- and as generously, share them with others. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God provided food for the daily needs of His people, but the bread that was stashed away as a hedge against God’s bounty, spoiled the next day. Why do we work so hard to keep the things that God provides, instead of sharing the one thing that keeps us all in God’s love – Jesus, the Bread of Life?

OFFERING PRAYER: Bread from Heaven, much of what we have today

Only serves our wants and quickly wastes away.

Bless these earthly gifts to serve You mightily,

Feeding hungry hearts with Life eternally. Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We concern ourselves with provisions for our body and eagerly expect luxuries that ease our lives and enrich our recreation. God provides them willingly, but desires even more that we embrace His greater gift, the Bread that nourishes our faith and gives us eternal life. Jesus is the One who feeds us the Bread of life that we may grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ our Lord.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Who Will Enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

Matthew 7:15-23

There are a number of frightening scenes of God’s judgment in the Bible: Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden with a sword-bearing angel blocking their way back; the flood of Noah’s day destroying every living thing except those on the ark; and the ground opening up and swallowing the disobedient and rebellious at Korah.

There are many, many others—but for me, this scene of the final judgment that we have before us today in our Gospel lesson is one of the most frightening-- for there is no chance for repentance for those being judged and the fiery punishment is eternal.

On one side is heaven and an eternal life of joy and blessing with God. On the other side is hell—an eternity of torment in fire. Before the multitude stands Jesus Christ—not as the babe of Bethlehem—not as the gentle rabbi—not as the suffering man of the cross—but as the king of kings and lord of lords and righteous judge whose holy eyes see directly into souls of those assembled before him for judgment.

The people going into the eternal fire had always—even in that late moment—regarded themselves as God’s people. They used religious words. They did religious works. Jesus said that there are many of these kind of people who saw themselves one way-- while God saw them differently.

They thought they knew God—but Jesus never knew them—and he judged them guilty of lawlessness and sent them into the eternal fires of hell from which there is no escape.

That alone is frightening—but the really frightening thing is that right up until that moment they were cast into the lake of fire—they thought everything was fine between them and God—but they were profoundly deceived about that which is most important—their relationship with God.

How had they come to that place of fiery eternal punishment from which there was no return? How could they have avoided it altogether? These are the questions that Jesus answers for us today. He said:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

The Bible says in Romans chapter ten that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God and in the first chapter of James the Bible says that that God brought us forth by the word of truth and in the first chapter of I Peter the Bible says that that we have been born again by the living and abiding word of God.

That is how important the truth of God’s Word is—it is a matter of our eternal salvation—that we would know the truth rather than lies about our life with God and be born again to a true and living faith in Jesus.

Conversely, that is the deadly danger of false prophets-- for they do not bring the saving truth of God words--but lies that deceive people to eternal damnation.

What is truly frightening about false prophets is that they are found WITHIN the church. Not every person who holds themselves out as a pastor and teacher can be trusted to tell us the truth and lead us to heaven.

Not only is it possible that someone is a false prophet—Jesus tells us that there WILL BE false prophets that we have to beware of. Paul said the same thing—that there will come a day when people in the church will not endure faithful teaching but will flock to pastors and teachers who will tell them what their itching ears want to hear.

Jesus says these false prophets come in “sheep’s clothing”—in other words they intentionally try to fit in with the flock of the Good Shepherd—presenting themselves as harmless—cloaking themselves in the trappings of Christianity-- while all the time they are absolutely deadly to our life with God because they do not bring us the truth—but lies that lead to destruction.

But as dangerous as they are and as deceptive as these false prophets are—they can still be recognized—not by their outward appearance (which they try to hide)—but by what they say. Jesus says:

You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.

When it comes to false prophets, Jesus says that we are to do two things: watch out for them—that is, believe him when he says that they exist within the church and be on the lookout for them—and secondly, we are recognize them for who they are—in other words, we are to be discerning in who we listen to and measure their teaching by the perfect standard of God’s Word.

False prophets are deceptive and they are dangerous but Jesus expects us to be on guard against them and be able to recognize them by examining their fruit.

The fruit of a prophet—be he true or false—is what he teaches—not how he seems on the outside, not how pious he acts, not how great is his following or how beautiful his sanctuary, not even if he is able to do miracles—but whether or not what he preaches and teaches is exactly what the word of God says—no more and no less—in big things and small. That is the measure of a prophet.

You will notice that Jesus assumes that his followers will know enough of the Bible to make that determination—that they are to be as familiar with the great truths of the Bible as they are with the everyday things in the world around them.

He used the example of the plants and trees that they were familiar with. If he were here today he would remind us that we don’t look for peaches on Mesquite trees and we don’t look for grapes on Catclaw and neither should we look for anything good from a false prophet who cannot bring himself to simply teach God’s Word as it is written.

But many people do that very thing. There are countless millions of people who call themselves Christians who sit in pews Sunday after Sunday or in front of a Television listening to some false prophet who, in the name of Jesus, teaches lies.

They listen to him because of the fancy church he preaches in. They listen because he’s an excellent speaker and draws great crowds. They listen because he is reported to do miracles. But no matter how impressive the outward trappings—Jesus knows which prophets are his own and which are not-- and those who are not can only expect his fiery judgment. Jesus says:

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

In James chapter 3 the Bible says that “not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” and Moses writes in Deuteronomy that the false prophet who speaks his own words in God’s name—even if he is a miracle worker—is to be put to death for he has led a rebellion against God.

This is how the Lord regards false prophets—as destroyers and deceivers of his people—as rebels against his rule—and his judgment is that they should suffer the fires of hell because of their lies that lead men away from God and destroy their souls.

And so it is not just the false prophets who will be subject to the fires of hell—it is also those who listen to them and believe their lies.

Jesus says to all who would follow him: you WILL recognize them by their fruits. Whether it is because of moral laziness or doctrinal laxity, the Lord will not excuse those pew sitters who listen to-and believe-false prophets. Jesus says:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Jesus tells us plainly that every person won’t go to heaven. Not every person who uses religious words or does religious works is going to heaven. The fact of the matter is, not even every person who calls Jesus “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven.

And so who can be confident about going to heaven? Who is the person who can be absolutely certain that they have a place in God’s kingdom? Jesus says it is the person who does the will of his heavenly Father. And what is his heavenly Father’s will?

As Jesus travelled up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles the crowd of pilgrims asked him: “What must we do, to be doing the works of God? And Jesus answered them, “THIS is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” He went on to tell them: “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him, should have eternal life.”

The will of the Father in heaven for you—the way that leads to eternal life—is to believe in Jesus—to trust that his death and resurrection is the way to heaven—that his righteousness counts in God’s sight for your salvation.

That is the only way of salvation and those who trust in Jesus have nothing to fear-- but those who have listened to the lies of false prophets—those who do not believe in Jesus—those who do not do the Father’s will--will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said:

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

These people who are cast into the eternal fires of hell are people who thought they knew God. They used religious sounding words and they did religious seeming works.

When they discover that they are headed for hell rather than heaven you could knock them over with a feather so completely have they been deceived about what life with God is all about.

We should take this warning from Jesus to heart!

We live in a religiously pluralistic culture where we are told that it doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you believe, and that way of thinking has infiltrated the church.

We live in a time and place where the truth is considered relative rather than objective so that even in the church people are embarrassed to take up the Bible and say “this is what God’s Word teaches and if you believe differently you are mistaken and if you teach others differently you are misleading them.”

Jesus calls us to resist these cultural forces and the lies of false prophets with all our might and do the will of the heavenly Father by looking to Jesus and believing in him as our one and only Savior from eternal death in hell.

It is only these who can be certain that they have a place in the kingdom of heaven. Amen.

Trinity 8 General Prayer

Lord God heavenly Father we come before You in prayer, confident of Your steadfast love:

We confess that we often have vain hopes—trusting in the things of the world rather than in You. Forgive us our sins and grant us a sure hope in Your Son Jesus Christ.

Because Your Word is like fire and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces, grant that Your Church would always preach Your Word faithfully, that hard hearts would be broken in repentance and the fire of Your redeeming love would fill them.

Continue to raise up pastors who will proclaim to us the whole counsel of Your Word. Grant them courage to face the fierce wolves that tear Your flock apart by speaking twisted things.

Through Your good gifts of Word and Sacrament bestow Your grace upon us, that we would be built up in the Faith and obtain the inheritance promised to Your saints.

Grant us the Spirit’s gift of discernment so that we might be able to test what we hear spoken in Your name and measure it against the pure standard of Your Word.

Help us to do your will and believe in the One that You have sent to be our Savior. Through faith in Jesus grant us a place in Your kingdom now and forever.

We give You thanks and praise for Your steadfast love and especially for the measure of that love You have granted to John and Shana in their marriage. Grant that their love for one another and You would grow stronger each day.

Heavenly Father we know that Your right hand is filled with righteousness. Extend that hand to those in need and grant them Your mighty and merciful help. Heal the sick, comfort those who mourn, watch over and guide our nation, and grant rain to this dry land.

All of this and whatever else You see that we need; whatever is good for our neighbor and gives glory to You; grant to us dear Father in heaven for the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ in whose name we come before You today. Amen.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Jesus Upholds the Law

Matthew 5:17-26

There was a man in the early church named Marcion who taught that the God revealed in the Old Testament (the God who spoke from Mt. Sinai and gave the Law to Moses) was incompatible with the God of the New Testament who forgave those who broke the Law. He believed that they were opposed to one another—the God of the Old Testament being a harsh, demanding God of wrath-- and the God of the New Testament, Jesus, being kind and merciful and forgiving.

His teaching was condemned as heresy and he was excommunicated-- but his ideas are still around.

You hear people saying that because Jesus never specifically addressed abortion that it must be acceptable to him. You hear people saying that what Jesus really cares about is not who you are intimate with-- but that you love that person. You hear people saying that the Holy Spirit is leading the church away from the old morality contained in the Ten Commandments-- to a new way of approval and acceptance.

And these modern followers of that ancient heretic appeal to Jesus as their authority—they tell us that surely if Jesus were still here on earth he would agree with them. But he would not! Jesus upheld the Law as the unchanging will of God for mankind and he bound all of us to that Law until the end of time. Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Those who look to Jesus for their authority to cast away the moral Law of God cannot appeal to his words or to his life. They will find no support from him for their heresy that denies the moral Law as being from God. Jesus said of himself again and again: I came to do my Father’s will. I speak my Father’s words. The command I give you was from the beginning.

Jesus’ entire life was lived—not in opposition to the Law of God—but in perfect fulfillment of the Law of God. In thought, word and deed he was careful to do his Father’s will and keep his Father’s words and live in holiness like his Father—and he called people to leave their sins-- rather than leave them in those sins.

Jesus cannot and must not be pitted against his heavenly Father when it comes to the moral Law because he and his Father share the same divine nature and have exactly the same divine holiness. And Jesus and his Father are also perfectly united in their expectation of how we are to live until the end of days. Jesus says:

Truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Besides appealing to Jesus for a new understanding of morality, you will hear people say that times have changed-- and we Christians have to change along with them when it comes to what is right and wrong and accept what has always been a sin.

Well, they are right in that times have changed—but what is right and wrong in God’s sight cannot change -because it is grounded in the unchangeable will of God. God’s will, expressed in the Law, flows from his own holiness --not from what we think is right and wrong at some given moment in human history.

The Law comes from God—it is written on the human heart and it was written on tablets of stone on Mt. Sinai and people can try to ignore their consciences- and they can break stone tablets- and they can enact legislation that goes against God’s law-- but not for one moment can they change it.

God has not changed his mind about the necessity of worship or the sanctity of life or the definition of marriage-- and he stands opposed to those who claim to speak in his name to set aside his commandments—and so does Jesus. Jesus said:

Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

This last Tuesday the Episcopal Church USA voted to approve a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex couples. The order of service mentioned “gathering together to witness and bless their union in the name of the church”—that the church was to pray “in the name of Christ” that these same-sex couples would be strengthened in their promises.

This decision is nothing other than a wholesale apostasy from the faith and morals of Christianity for it sets aside the Law of God and teaches others to do the same.

The unbelieving world, of course, looks on with glowing approval. Look how loving they are! Look how accepting they are! Look how open and welcoming they are!

And by contrast of course the world judges those who hold fast to God’s word as unloving, judgmental, and angry.

But what matters, is not what the world says-- but what God says-- and he says that those who hold fast to his commands will be called great in his kingdom.

And so why does Jesus put such a high priority on upholding God’s Law and making sure that it is not diminished in the least but taught faithfully? It is because, only through the rigorous preaching of the demands of the Law, can we know of our need for God’s salvation in Christ.

To tell someone that their sin is not a sin is the most loveless thing that anyone can possibly do to another person because it leaves them in their sin and condemns them to hell and to do this- from the church- in the name of Christ is an outrage!

Rather than diminishing the law, the church needs to uphold it in all its moral rigor so we can see our need for a righteousness that lies outside of us. Jesus says:

I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Jesus in no way, shape or form diminished the requirements of the law like so many do today in his name. Instead, he pointed out that the righteousness requirements of the Law (what God expects of you and me) go far beyond what most of us think.

The law doesn’t just demand of us that we never commit adultery so that we can pat ourselves on the back if we have never been divorced or have never had an affair—the law demands of us that we have never, not even once lusted in our heart.

The law doesn’t just demand of us that we do not bow down before idols or worship a false god-- but that we have never, not even once failed to trust God perfectly by worrying.

And the law doesn’t just demand of us that we not murder so that we can congratulate ourselves on not being thugs--but the law demands of us that we have never, not even once been angry or called someone a bad name.

The fact of the matter is, that, according to Jesus-- just one of these sins against God’s law will keep us out of the kingdom of heaven and make us subject to the eternal fires of hell!

That is the way that Jesus wants the Law upheld and taught among his people for this reason: that we would see our great need for a righteousness that is far beyond what even the most devout and decent people can offer up in their lives.

The righteousness that God counts as salvation is found in only one place and that is Jesus Christ who came into this world—not to do away with the law---but to suffer our punishment on the cross and fulfill the Law for us, in our place-- so that through faith in him, his righteousness can become our own.

And because this righteousness of Christ is ours by faith, Jesus expects us to show it in how we live—not returning to sin, but living in holy obedience to the Law. He said:

“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Jesus’ expectation for you and me is that we would take seriously what God has to say in his Law and live our lives according to it—and that we ought to be careful that we do not fool ourselves into believing that things can be right between us and God while we are living in unrepentant sin.

The example he gave is one of interpersonal conflict. Maybe harsh words were spoken between these people—maybe there was an angry disagreement—maybe there was some kind of business deal that was not on the up-and-up—but whatever happened--there was conflict and he says that before there can be worship --there needs to be repentance and reconciliation.

Jesus used the example of interpersonal conflict as a sin that comes between us and God but he could have used any of the Ten Commandments. When we are living in unrepentant sin, actively, purposefully going against God’s will—we must not believe that things are right between us and God (because they are not!) until we repent.

We must stop talking badly about others. We must stop looking at our horoscope. We must stop sinning sexually. We must stop using bad language. Whatever the sin is—the ones we think “big” because others do them-- and the ones we think “small” because we do them, the only solution is to repent of them and receive Christ’s forgiveness.

God promises the blessings of forgiveness for those who love him and keep his commandments. But he also warns us that there are curses and consequences that come with disobedience. Jesus said:

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

There are consequences to sin—God has built it into his Law: abusing drugs and alcohol wrecks your health—sexual immorality ruins marriages—constantly bad-mouthing others makes others keep you at arms-length and anger and bitterness destroys families and friendships.

A lack of repentance hurts us and those around us and it also hurts our relationship with God. The man in Jesus’ example had every chance to be reconciled --but if he wouldn’t- he faced jail. We have an opportunity today to repent—to change the direction of our lives, be reconciled to God, and to go a new way. To turn our backs on this moment of grace is not to face a lifetime in jail but an eternity in hell.

Jesus has fulfilled the law’s demands and he has paid, with his life’s blood, every last penny that we owe on account of our sins. There is no reason for anyone to go to hell when he has paid to set us free.

As the free children of God we live our life like that of Jesus: upholding the Law and fulfilling God’s commands and walking in newness of life. Amen.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day—July 4

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you. Psalm 33:12-22

This year on July 4th we will celebrate the 236th birthday of our nation. But as we do so, we recognize that there is a good bit of trepidation about where we are right now-- and where we are headed as a nation.

Our economy continues to struggle in many places. The institutions of marriage and family as they have been traditionally understood are under attack. Radical Islam continues to be a very real threat. Abortion and pornography are legal and the tastes/values/culture of our fellow citizens is coarsening.

It is very easy to grow discouraged. It is also very easy to look for quick solutions. Enact these laws! Elect these people! Energize the economy! Empower our military! We seem to think that the next group of politicians or the next set of laws or the next Supreme Court decision will make things right. But these are false hopes!

The solution to what ails us as a nation is, at the same time, much more difficult and much easier. True hope is found in a wholesale return to the LORD among our fellow citizens—that we fear his wrath, knowing that his eyes see our national sins—but that we also trust in his steadfast love that led him to send his Son as our Savior.

The problem that is at the heart of what ails us as a nation is spiritual-- and we Christians have a role to play in helping our nation turn to the LORD in repentance and faith.

We are called upon by God to be an example of those who trust, not in riches or power, but in the LORD and look to him alone for help. We are called by God to proclaim his saving name so that our fellow citizens could come to know him through our witness. And we are called by God to be people of hope who are confident that, come what may, he is our shield.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage. Grant that we remember Your generosity and constantly do Your will. Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action. Grant that we, who came from many different nations with many different languages, may become a united people. Support us in defending our liberties, and give those to whom we have entrusted the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there may be justice and peace in our land. When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in You fail; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Proper 9, Series B July 8, 2012

Lessons for Proper 09

Ezekiel 2:1–5 ~ The Lord sent Ezekiel to carry a message calling for the repentance of a stubborn Israel.

Psalm 123 (antiphon: v. 1)

2 Corinthians 12:1–10 ~ Paul was given a great message, but was kept dependent on God’s grace.

Mark 6:1–13 ~ Jesus’ hometown did not welcome His message, nor are His followers always welcomed today.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: : The Marks of a Prophet

How do you recognize a prophet? God sent Ezekiel to proclaim his Word to an obstinate and rebellious nation which might or might not listen to him. St. Paul faced the boasts of some "super apostles" who questioned his authority since he didn't have as many credentials as they had. Jesus wasn't recognized as a prophet in his home town because he didn't do as many miracles there as he had done in other places. But the marks of a prophet are the Word and the power of God.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Holy Spirit, fill me with your power so that I may be a willing witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus, my Lord and Savior, who gave his life to free me from the power of sin and death, that I may be his own and serve him in everlasting righteousness. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God supports us with His grace in Jesus Christ and charges us to spread that good news. We are sent out to announce the Kingdom by means of all our resources, whether we are welcomed or ridiculed, received or rejected.

OFFERING PRAYER: Gracious God, Your Word among us, welcomes us in Jesus’ name.

As You send us out to witness, use our gifts to spread Your fame.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Often we do not recognize God’s message, whether we are the recipients or the messengers. God grant us the discernment to hear His word and the humility to accept it, for only then will we own our dependence on God’s grace and proclaim His steadfast love in Christ our Savior.

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, brothers and sisters in Christ!

Today's Epistle text is really great. St. Paul had been receiving an offering from the Gentile churches to give to the church in Jerusalem which was undergoing affliction. In chapter 8, today's text, Paul writes of the Macedonian church, which, "
in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part." The way the Macedonian church came to this point of overflowing in generosity in spite of their poverty was simple: "But they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us."

They gave themselves first to the Lord... In a couple of weeks, Mt. Olive will embark on another year of the ministry which seems to be our mark on this community, Vacation Bible School. Resources are needed, as well as volunteers. But, taking what Paul says of the Macedonians, as we approach VBS week and wonder how we might be a part of this needed ministry, the blessed apostle gives us sound counsel. We first give ourselves to the Lord that we may serve and glorify Him who has redeemed, purchased, and won us.

This Week at Mt. Olive:
This month's Olive Branch is attached.

Many of you over the past several weeks expressed your concern for Kathy. I praise God for your words of comfort and wisdom and for your prayers. As I mentioned, she will be undergoing heart catheterization (sp?) on Thursday morning. This is being done to confirm that there is no difficulty with her heart, so that we may move toward knee replacement after VBS.

With the 4th of July at hand, the Church Office will be closed on Wednesday.

Monday, July 2
6 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

Wednesday, July 4 (Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!)
Church Office is closed; Bible studies will not meet

Thursday, July 5
6 p.m. Zumba Aerobics

Saturday, July 7
1 p.m.
VBS decoration and set creation

Sunday, July 8
1 p.m.
VBS Set Up

Prayer Concerns:
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell), John Sorensen
David Simonds, Kathy Jennings
Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Burt and Doris Nelson, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston)
Our nation, the President of the United States, the Congress, courts, and leaders at all levels
VBS mission at Mt. Olive

God bless!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Trinity 4 General Prayer

Lord God heavenly Father, You are our light and salvation. Hear us as we come to You in prayer, through faith in Jesus Christ:

As our nation celebrates its birthday, let it be said of us that You are our stronghold. Revive our fellow citizens to a renewed faith and trust in You. Rid us of our national sins. Guide those in authority over us. Protect our military men and women.

Deliver us from our enemies of both body and soul and keep us close to You all the days of our life. Let Your mighty power be our confidence in all the trials of life.

When we encounter hardships and difficulties, grant us the faith of Joseph, that whatever happens to us we can recognize that You are working good in our lives. Let his example of forgiveness be our guide when it comes to animosity within our marriages and family.

Set before our eyes the glory of Your heavenly kingdom so that we would be strengthened in our faith and remain steadfast in our earthly pilgrimage. Make us heavenly-minded people, longing for our true home with You.

All around us we see the truth of Your word, that on account of human sin, Your good creation has been subjected to futility. Bring an end to the wildfires that ravage the west and give hope to the people affected. Grant us the gift of rain and prosper the work of those who make their living from the land.

When we experience physical frailty, remind us that there is coming a day when our bodies will be whole and healthy and unbroken by sin and death. Until that day, grant Your healing to those who are ill. We also ask Your blessing upon expectant mothers that You would grant them safe deliveries and healthy children.

Heavenly Father, You have been merciful to us in Your Son Jesus Christ who suffered Your judgment over sin so that we can be Your children. Bestow upon us the first-fruits of the Spirit that we would believe this Good News and take comfort in it. By that same Spirit, help us to be merciful to others. Forgive us when we stand in self-righteous judgment over the sins of others.

All of these things and whatever else You see that we need; whatever is good for our neighbor and brings glory to You; grant to us dear Father in heaven for the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.

A Merciful Father and His Merciful Children

Luke 6:36-42

In the words that Jesus speaks to us today we hear one of the funniest and most familiar images in the Bible—the person with the log in their own eye trying to get a speck out of someone else’s eye---Jesus’ point being that we are often times blind to our own faults but have perfect 20/20 vision when it comes to the faults of others.

That log in our eye (which is really self-righteousness) blinds us to our own sins—blinds us to our need for God’s mercy—it blinds us to the truth about others. What Jesus wants to do for us today is to take that log out of our eye so that we can see our own need for God’s great mercy but also see that others need the same mercy from us.

In other words, God wants us to know and believe that we have in him a merciful Father and that he expects us to be his merciful children. Jesus says: Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

What do you want from your life with God? What do you want your relationship with God to be based upon? Justice or mercy? We may not phrase it as justice, but isn’t justice what we really want from God?

That God would recognize what a great person I am, much better than the rest of the folks around me, and reward me accordingly for being such a fine fellow. That God would take a little bit closer look at those around me and punish them for their failures.

The fact of the matter is, we wish God were a little bit more exacting in his judgments because surely then we would be lifted up above those around us. So says our sinful flesh that does not recognize the depth of our sinfulness or the height of God’s holiness.

We may want justice from God-- but Jesus tells us that what we really need is mercy. He says: Your Father is merciful. Those words tell us something about ourselves—that we need his mercy. And they tell us something about God—that we can count on his mercy.

The fact of the matter is, we have an elevated view of how good we are because we measure ourselves against the standard of other men. But that is not God’s standard. God’s standard for us (what we think and how we live and the things we say) is himself-his holiness and goodness. And by that standard none of us can stand under God’s justice—all we can do is cast ourselves upon his mercy.

And he has had mercy on us in his Son. Jesus was the One who met God’s standard in all that he said and did -and what was in his heart- and how he lived his life. And yet the justice of almighty God fell upon because he came into this world to take our place under God’s judgment at the cross so that all we would know is God’s mercy.

We are God’s children because of his mercy Jesus Christ and because of that mercy we are called to be merciful towards other people—to have compassion on them-to take pity on them—to empathize with their plight—and reach out to them with forgiveness and love. Jesus said:

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.

So far we’ve asked: what do we want from God for ourselves? And now the question is what God does want from us when it comes to others? The answer is very simple: as his sons and daughters he wants us to be like him: merciful and generous and forgiving.

The verse that we have before us about not judging is one of the most often quoted and yet misused and misinterpreted verses in the Bible. When Jesus says that we are not to judge he is not contradicting himself and the rest of the Bible when it comes to spiritual discernment and the moral judgment of the church. When we measure behavior against the standard of the Bible we are not judging—God is.

But what Jesus is talking about- and what is absolutely forbidden to the child of God- is the self-righteous, self-exalting judgment of those who make themselves the standard for everyone else—the kind of judging that always seems to acquit us while condemning others.

This kind of judgment and condemnation ALWAYS earns God’s condemnation because it removes God from the judgment seat and places us upon it.

Instead of being judgmental and harsh, we are to be forgiving and generous towards others just like the Father has been forgiving and generous to us--with the promise of Jesus that we will receive his abundant grace. Jesus says we can expect that:

[A] Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

This picture comes from the ancient marketplace. A woman goes to the market place and makes her purchase of grain. But a generous merchant refuses to use an exacting scale and instead fills her order with an overflowing abundance—far beyond anything that she had any right to expect—far beyond what was merely just.

That’s the way God has dealt with us. His overflowing grace has been poured into our lives. Not only has he given us life—not only has he provided for our material needs—but he has forgiven our sins and given us a place in his family and promised that we will live with him forever.

Unexpected, overflowing gracious generosity—that is what we have received from our heavenly Father. And because we are his children—he expects us to use the same generous measure in our dealings with others.

Our forgiveness is not to be grudging. Our giving is not to be pinched. We are gracious, generous, forgiving people because we have a heavenly Father who is gracious and generous and forgiving and Jesus is the one who puts flesh and bone on what that kind of life looks like:

Jesus also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.

When Jesus calls us to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful-- and to be as forgiving and generous to others as God has been to us--he is calling to live a life for which there are no earthly parallels or analogies.

While the world may know something of mercy-- it knows nothing of mercy that reaches out again and again to lift up those who are avowed enemies. While the world may know something of forgiveness and generosity-- it knows nothing of forgiveness without limits and generosity that extends to the giving of one’s own life.

But this is the mercy and forgiveness and generosity that we are called to live out in our lives as children of the heavenly Father and the only place to learn of it—the only place to see it in action-- is in the life of Jesus Christ.

Jesus called the religious leaders of that day “blind guides” because they knew nothing of the true nature of God-- and all of those who followed them could expect the same fiery judgment that they would receive in the pit of hell.

But Jesus came to open the eyes of the blind—to give us the ability to see God for who he really is through his own life. And so Jesus is the God-given teacher who leads us in the ways of mercy and forgiveness and generosity.

We come to him with our sins and he forgives us. We come to him for assurance that we are really his people and he feeds us with his body and blood. We come to him needing guidance and direction for our lives and he speaks to us in his Word. And though his word and through the sacraments he is forming and shaping our lives to be like his own.

This training in Christ-likeness doesn’t take place overnight—all of us are growing in our faith and we need his ongoing help—but day-by-day we are becoming more like Jesus until that day we stand in his presence with the burden of sin and selfishness cast away and we will be like him for we will see him as he is.

Until that day we need to recognize the limits of our own righteousness while we do everything in our power to be merciful and forgiving and generous to those around us when they don’t quite measure up to our standards. Jesus said:

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.

Occasionally Caroline or I will get an eyelash in our eye and we will get the other one to help us out--which is like a Three Stooges skit because neither one of us can see all that well.

“Can you see it?” “No, I don’t see anything!” “Well, I feel something.” “Look up--now look down!” “There I think I got it!” It’s hilarious! But imagine how ridiculous—how absurd it would be if one of us was trying to help the other with an eyelash in their eye while we had a wooden fence post sticking out of our own eye! There’s something not quite right with that picture.

But Jesus says that’s the way it is when we look with judgment on the shortcomings of others—constantly focused on their little failures-- all the while we are blind to the big problems in our own lives that need to be recognized and confessed and forgiven by Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t say that we are not to help our friends and family and fellow believers with the problems in their lives anymore than Caroline or I would not try to get an eyelash out of the other’s eye. But we begin, not with the failures of our loved ones, but with our own failures—asking God to help us see what our sins and shortcomings are so that we can get rid of them through repentance and faith.

It’s only that person who recognizes how good God is to take those fatal logs of sin out of their eyes, who can clearly and compassionately see what needs to be done in the lives of those around them. Then the help that we give to others doesn’t come from a place of self-righteousness and judgment--but from the mercy that was first given to us.

And so let us turn away from self-righteousness and hard-heartedness and rejoice in the Good News that in the Lord we have a merciful Father who calls us to be his merciful children. Amen.