Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. Mark 6:14–29

There are a number of lessons that we can learn from the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. Don’t make rash promises! Be on guard against the dangers of lust and pride and drunkenness! Recognize the importance of leaders who are wise and rational!

Perhaps one of the most important and timely lessons we Christians can learn is the necessity of bearing witness to the truth-- no matter what the cost.

Over the course of our lives we are all going to face situations and circumstances when we need to speak the truth in love. We have an adult child caught up in a sinful lifestyle. We have a family member who doesn’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior. We have a friend who ridicules the things we believe. Will we remain silent or will we speak up?

St. John the Baptists spoke up—at great risk to himself. Why did he do that? What gave him the courage to speak up when remaining silent would be much easier and safer? He spoke up because he feared God more than he feared men and loved God more than he loved the approval of men. He spoke up because he served a King infinitely greater than Herod: Jesus, the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world. And he spoke up because he knew that even if the truth cost him his life, there was another life to come.

May God grant that the same is true for us so that when it comes time to speak the truth in love we may do it with courage and clarity!

Let us pray:

Almighty God, You gave Your servant John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in both his preaching of repentance and his innocent death. Grant that we, who have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, may daily repent of our sins, patiently suffer for the sake of the truth, and fearlessly bear witness to His victory over death; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Monday, August 27, 2012

This Week at Mt. Olive

How precious is Your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. Psalm 36:7

Almighty and everlasting God, always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than we either desire or deserve, pour down upon us the abundance of Your mercy, forgiving those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things that we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Prayer Concerns:
Arnold Kruger, Ellie Reiners
Kathy Kunca, John Beauregard
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell)
Ann Cleveland, Ellie Reiners, Burt and Doris Nelson, Walter and Pearly Theiss
The schools and institutions of learning in our nation, both those that are in class and those beginning classes this week
Teachers and instructors in those schools
The Sunday School teachers and students at our Sunday School at Mt. Olive

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Tomorrow begins another academic year at Mt. Olive Lutheran School. It's another year of learning for young minds. It's also another year of sharing the Good News about Jesus, teaching the faith to young ones. How many of these will never have heard of their Lord Jesus? How many will only see a pastor at Mt. Olive? These are the opportunities for which I praise God.

Why Does It Matter group begins again Wednesday evening. As a slight change (and because it's the week of my birthday), we'll meet at B and J's. I can have something good to drink there.

Monday, August 27
8:30 a.m.
Classes begin at Mt. Olive

6 p.m.

Tuesday, August 28
6:30 p.m.
Adult Instruction

Wednesday, August 29
8:30 a.m.
School Chapel

9:30 a.m.
Bible Study - Lord's Supper

7 p.m.
Why Does It Matter Group - B and J's Pizza

God bless!

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost September 2, 2012

Lessons for Proper 17

Deuteronomy 4:12, 69 ~ When Gods people obey His commands, others will be attracted to our great God.

Psalm 119:12936 (antiphon: v. 132)

Ephesians 6:1020 ~ God provides spiritual armor to protect His people from the powers of the devil.

Mark 7:1423 ~ Jesus declared that all foods are clean, but evil thoughts from our hearts make us unclean.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: A Way That Only Appears to be Right

Some things are done just for show. The Lord God of Israel gave commandments to His people so they would look good to their neighbors and His name would be glorified, but it was to go more than just "skin deep." Jesus taught the Pharisees and teachers of the Law that only appearing to be right on the outside was not the same as being clean within. St. Paul explained that the full armor of one of the Lord's soldiers must include the breastplate of God's righteousness that changes the heart through the blood of Christ.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: O Holy Spirit, nourish me by Your holy Word that I may not be contaminated with the false teachings of this world. Guide me in living by the wisdom of Your righteousness so that my life will be an example of Your great love and I may always be ready to speak the Gospel of Your peace. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God has given us great resources and commandments on how to use them in relationship with others so that we bring glory to His name. When we use His gifts to show off the love of God, He will bring many people to know His grace.

OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, when we bring these gifts to You

Dont let them just be brought for show.

Bless them and us in all we do,

To show Your grace for all to know. Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: God demonstrates His loving care for all people through the caring love of those who keep His commandments. When we put on a good front but carry on selfish and hurtful practices in secret, we deny the relationship to which God has called us. We have been given the breastplate of Christs righteousness to make us clean in Gods sight, inside and out. We now stand ready to share the good news in loving ways that will bring people to declare how wonderful God is.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Trinity XII General Prayer

Lord God heavenly Father, we praise You for Your great deeds and rejoice in Your gracious reign over us. Hear as we come to You in prayer, believing that You hear us for the sake of Your Son Jesus:

We ask Your guidance for ourselves and our fellow citizens during this election year. Guide us to choose elected officials who will fear You and govern with wisdom. As we consider political leaders, keep us from putting any trust in them that is due to You alone. Enlighten our elected leaders and protect our military men and women.

We know that unless Your Son comes first, our breath will depart from us one day and we will return to the earth. Comfort those who mourn with the Good News of Your Son’s resurrection. Especially do we give You thanks for Doretta who now rests in Your presence.

We count ourselves blessed that You have been our Helper, delivering us from sin and death by Your Son Jesus. Help us to live in faith and hope in him. Especially do we pray for Barbara as she celebrates a birthday. Grant her every good gift of body and soul.

Lord, You are the One who opens the eyes of the blind and lifts us those who are bowed down. Grant your help and healing to those who are ill, especially Lornadell, Henry, Ray, and Noah. Watch over expectant mothers and grant them safe deliveries and healthy children.

You have promised to execute justice for the oppressed and give food to the hungry. Continue to meet the physical needs of those who do not have the necessities of life and lead to us to be generous in sharing with those around us.

Because You have promised to set the prisoner free and open the eyes of the blind, be with those who are imprisoned and suffering persecution for the sake of Christ’s holy name and set them free from those who would harm them. Be at work in the lives of their persecutors so that their eyes would be opened to the love that Christ has for them too.

Make us compassionate towards those who our culture counts of little worth, the sojourner, widow, and orphan. Use Your church to provide all people a place of refuge and a family to love.

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. Amen.

Jesus' Power to Heal and Make Whole

Mark 7:31-37

St. Mark writes that: Jesus returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.

When this man was born, his parents and family and neighbors rejoiced. Every safe delivery of a child–especially in that place and time–is a blessing from God. The Bible says that children are a heritage of the Lord.

Over the first months of life how they must have delighted in this child. But it was only as he grew up, perhaps not until he was two or three that his parents began to suspect that something was wrong with their precious child-- and then finally they learned the sad truth–he couldn’t hear or speak.

As we view this scene from a distance of thousands of years and thousands of miles, it’s difficult for us to get caught up in the personal tragedies of just a few people long ago and far away–it’s hard to feel emotionally connected.

Even when we hear of modern tragedies it’s hard to really connect with what’s happening unless it comes close to us with the loss of our own family and friends.

We simply hear too many of these stories and we become used to them. We can watch the latest reports of military casualties and famines and natural disasters and simply click the button on the remote when we become tired of it. We even explain these tragedies away by telling ourselves that this is just the way that the world is–that suffering and death are natural.

But God says something very different. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and called it good. He created the seas and the plants and the animals and humanity and called it good. In the beginning—in God’s good creation--there was no suffering or death.

What this was like we cannot understand because we have no frame of reference for a world without suffering–seeing, as we do, nothing but death and evil all around us.

But the world has not always been this way- and it is not the way that God intended it to be. He did not intend for there to be birth defects or famines or terrorist attacks or any of the tragedies we see and read about every day on the news. The world is not supposed to be this way. And yet it is-- and there is no escaping from it.

We shield ourselves from this painful truth and we do a pretty good job of keeping the harsh realities of this world at an emotional distance until it comes close–like it did for this man and for his family and friends and neighbors.

For them, the broken-ness of this world could no longer be ignored–it had come directly into their homes–into the lives of their loved ones-- and so they came to Jesus for help. St. Mark writes that:

Taking the man aside from the crowd privately, Jesus put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

I am immediately struck by the differences between Jesus and the Benny Hinn charlatans of this world. No wild gyrations. No silly screaming. No diamond rings or Rolex watches, fancy hairdo’s, satellite TV broadcasts or million dollar homes.

Just a simple man who commands the waves to be still and they are--who says to the ill “be healed” and they are--who commands lifeless bodies to rise and they do.

The miracles that Jesus performed served as a sign for the people that day, and for us this day, and it’s this: the One who spoke at the beginning and called light and life into existence-- entered into his creation -and by that same powerful word brought healing and restoration and new life to that which was broken by sin.

In this, Jesus is a very different kind of God than the world offers up to us to believe in. In the face of suffering and death, the lodges offer the Great Architect who with cold, calculating efficiency orders the universe according to his design–each of us merely a cog in the wheel.

Philosophers both ancient and modern offer us the prime mover who set the universe into motion and then went off to do more important things than helping his poor creatures. Islam offers us a god of death and terror.

But Jesus is very different indeed. He is the One who entered into the broken-ness of his good creation to make things right. He is the God who cares about his creatures enough to suffer and die with them.

We see his compassion and love and goodness that extends to each individual as Jesus confronts this one little piece of suffering in one little out of the way place with a deep sigh.

That sigh communicates much! This man’s suffering was the Lord’s suffering. Jesus did not keep his suffering at arm’s length, but entered into the midst of it and was affected by it. Our God is a God of compassion and mercy who is moved in his inmost being to help his creatures.

One other clue as to goodness and love of Jesus is not so clear in the text but it is there nevertheless. Jesus performed this miracle in the very same area where he was once driven out by the people because they didn’t like that he helped a demoniac by sending his demons into their herd of hogs.

It is in that same area that this healing takes place. Despite their initial rejection of him and their love for material goods rather than the healing of God, Jesus didn’t wash his hands of them–he didn’t say “forget you”--he kept on loving them–desiring to bring healing and wholeness and new life even to these sinners who had rejected him.

That is the story of our good and gracious God from beginning to end. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, God could have said, “enough’s enough” and destroyed the whole thing and started over—but he didn’t. As his ancient people abandoned him time and time again he could have washed his hands of the whole sorry mess and said “I’m done with you”—but he wasn’t. The countless times we have sinned and disappointed him he could have said “that was your last chance”–but he doesn’t.

Instead of giving up on us, he comes to us again and again with healing and forgiveness and the opportunity to begin again with a new life. That’s what the deaf man received that day–nothing other than a new life. And yet Jesus didn’t want it publicized. St. Mark writes that:

Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

As compassionate as Jesus was-as sympathetic to even one man’s suffering--his primary mission in his first coming was not to heal every disease, cure every birth defect, raise every dead person, or feed every hungry person.

These miracles served their primary purpose in identifying who Jesus really was–true God in the flesh–the Messiah sent by God to cure the root problem that led to the world’s broken-ness and misery-and that was sin.

Jesus could have healed every sick person, raised every dead person, fed ever hungry person-- but he would still be doing it right down this very moment and would do so forever.

Now I know that for those of us who have recently lost loved ones or who have loved ones suffering from various illnesses–that sounds very good indeed! But then what? Some other disease and some other tragedy–forever and forever without end.

Jesus could not–would not act in such a heartless way. The solution to the broken-ness, misery, suffering, and death of this world would have to strike at the root problem–at the sin of the world-- not just the individual symptoms-and the solution would cost the life of God’s son.

A great miracle took place that day in that man’s life but a much greater miracle was still to come for all people. Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world, the broken-ness and sinfulness of all people everywhere in every time and place and carried them to the cross on Calvary.

His suffering and death there brought us healing–real healing-- for our real problem: sin and Satan. His glorious resurrection three days later was the proof and promise that the best is yet to come for us.

When Jesus comes again we will be given a new, resurrected life. A life unencumbered by the effects of sin–no more suffering, no more sickness, no more death. A new, perfect life that never ends–just exactly what God has always intended for us from the beginning.

What a blessing this is and what a blessing to share! The man who was healed was brought to Jesus by those who cared for him. We have the exact same responsibility and privilege.

All around us are those who need to be brought to Jesus. All around us are those who need to hear about the good things Christ has done for us. All around us are those who need the healing that comes through Jesus

I pray that we would have the same compassion as our Lord and reach out to those who need his healing touch; that we would turn aside from the temptation to ignore the suffering all around us; that we would see in each person that we meet an object of God’s love and concern and that we would bring others into his presence where there is forgiveness and healing and new life. Amen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 16 August 26, 2012

Lessons for Proper 16 (tweeked for Christian Education Emphasis)

Isaiah 29:1119 ~ When people think they have all the answers, God will surprise them with His plans.

Psalm 14 (antiphon: v. 7a)

Ephesians 5:2133 ~ Marriage is not a human tradition; it is modeled on Christs relationship to the Church.

Mark 7:113 ~ Jesus called the Pharisees to task for putting rules taught by men in place of Gods Word.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Learn the Rules, but Trust the Ruler!

In Isaiahs day, rules taught by men allowed the people to feel secure even while they ignored God. They sealed up the scroll of Gods Word by pretending they knew all of Gods plans. Jesus taught the Pharisees that their obsessive attention to rules prevented them from following Gods commands. Even in a marriage, keeping all the rules is not what makes it strong, but the love and trust between husband and wife. Thats the way it is in the church: we can learn all the rules, but we can only trust the Lord when we know His sacrifice of love for us. Christian Education includes the rules for Christian living, but if it doesnt teach us to know the steadfast love of God, it doesnt really teach us what we have to know.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord, I have not always trusted You; sometimes I have thought Your teachings -- and Your commands -- were too hard for me. Touch me again with the power of Your Spirit that I may serve You in word and deed always. Help me lead others to Your Word of Life through my loving deeds. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Rules for living are a dime a dozen, even adjusted for inflation, but the steadfast love of God that presents us to Himself holy and blameless, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, cannot be bought at any price, other than the blood of Christ who gave Himself up for us to make us His for all eternity.

OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, it is good to know You and to know we can trust You.

Thank you for those who teach us, not just Your rules, but Your love.

Use these gifts to teach us more and to teach more of us

to know and trust and love You. Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: It is easier to keep the traditions we have become accustomed to, than to obey Gods commands. Outward forms fit us comfortably, but the spirit of the law requires commitment from our hearts. When we are just keeping the rules, but dont care what the rules are for, it is time to unseal the Word of God and rediscover that Christ gave himself up for us to make us clean by the washing of the water and the word. When we know the One who has claimed us, we will give ourselves, not just our actions, to God.

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

Today, Mt. Olive raised just over $61 for Lutherans in Africa. This money will be used by Lutherans in Africa to teach African pastors and evangelists the basics of Christian doctrine, using the Bible, the Catechism, and the Hymnal. Our goal is $150 - a good start today! Remember to bring your quarters each Sunday!

Prayer Concerns for this Week:
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney, John Sorensen
Sunday School teachers who are preparing to serve
Teachers who have returned and those who are preparing to return
Students, both those who are already in classes and those who will be soon
Students who will be attending school out of town: Kathryn Guerra, Jason Rhode, Jessica Peterson, Stephanie Peterson
Arnold Krueger, Ellie Reiners, Esther Felsberg
Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Burt and Doris Nelson, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston)
The ministry of Lutheran's in Africa

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Sunday School teachers will meet Wednesday at 7 p.m. This week, this will take the place of the Why Does It Matter group. Hearing from Lori today, I'm really pumped about the Sunday School teachers who will be serving. To be sure, I'm always pumped about the Sunday School teachers who serve.

Please don't forget the important scout fundraiser on Saturday, August 25. The fundraiser, at McDonald's on Alameda at Airline, is a fundraiser for Matthew Catherman's Eagle Scout project which will be completed at Mt. Olive. The scouts will be selling pancakes for 99 cents from 8-11 a.m. Please give these guys some business and support Matthew!

Zumba will meet only on Wednesday this week at 6 p.m. The regular schedule will resume next week.

Finally, next Sunday is Rally Day! This is a great opportunity to participate and rejoice in one of the signature ministries God has given Mt. Olive, and that's the Sunday School. Join us as together we lift high the cross and proclaim Christ and Him crucified. Also for Rally Day, Idon't have the meal sign up in front of me right now, but I do know that we're probably still in need of sloppy joe meat, buns, baked beans, slaw, and dessert, preferably homemade ice cream. If you're able to provide one of these, please give me a blast.

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, August 20:
6:30 p.m.
Board of Elders

Wednesday, August 22
9:30 a.m.
Bible Study - Lord's Supper

6 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

7 p.m.
Sunday School Teachers Meeting

Thursday, August 23
7 p.m.

Saturday, August 25
8-11 a.m.
McScout Fundraiser at McDonald's, Alameda at Airline

Sunday, August 26
Rally Day!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

General Prayer Trinity XI

Lord God heavenly Father, we trust in Your promise that You are present here and that hear our prayers for the sake of Your Son:

You have promised to give power and strength to Your people and provide for the needy. According to Your fatherly will, grant healing to those who are ill, especially Lornadell and Henry. Provide for the material needs of all those who suffer want and send rain upon this dry land.

We confess that You are our salvation. That You have chosen us as Your people before the foundation of the world. That you have sent Your Son Jesus to die and rise again for us. That You have called us into the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. That You will preserve us in faith until our life’s end. Continue to strengthen our faith by Your gifts of Word and Sacrament we receive today.

From the time of Cain and Abel Your people have lived in a world of violence and death. Strengthen and uphold and guide those who are Your ministers in the government to punish the evil and reward the good. Protect our military men and women from harm and danger. Enlighten our fellow citizens in this election year to make wise choices for the good of our nation.

Help our congregation to keep first things first and deliver what was entrusted to us by those who came before: the Good News that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the salvation of sinners. Empower us by your Holy Spirit to be about Your work in our daily vocations.

Grant us the ability to see the truth about ourselves: that we are sinners who stand in great need of Your mercy. Forbid that we should ever trust in our good works or lesser guilt than other people. Make us humble people that we may exalted on the Last Day.

You have promised that the righteous will be glad, that they shall exult before You, that they shall be jubilant with joy. We give You thanks for Irene and Annie and all those saints who rejoice in Your presence and pray that You would keep us in the same faith until that day we join them around Your throne of gracious love.

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. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

That Which Is of Most Importance

1 Corinthians 15:1-10

On September 18, 2007 Randy Pausch, a computer science professor, stepped in front of a groups of 400 students and fellow faculty members at Carnegie Mellon University and gave a lecture entitled “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. It was a lecture about what was most important to him. It was his last lecture and he knew it.

He had slides on his computer that he projected on a screen beside him. They showed CT scans of his pancreas, ravaged by the cancer that would in short order rob him of his life; his wife of her husband; and his three young boys of their father. A teacher to the end, he wanted this one last chance to tell his students and colleagues and family what really mattered to him—what came first.

What about you? If given the opportunity to tell those you loved and cared about what really mattered to you—what was of first importance—what would you tell them?

That’s the situation we have in our lesson today: Paul taking one last opportunity to tell the Christians at Corinth- and us here today- what was really important. He said:

I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

The Good News of Jesus was of first importance to Paul and not only was of first importance to Paul, it was of first importance to God. Paul wasn’t the one who prioritized this message and said it was first, he received it from Christ as that which was most important and passed it along the same way.

There are all kinds of important things in the Bible. In fact, everything there is important! God the Holy Spirit inspired every word and caused it to be written down. But there is something that comes first- and that is what Jesus Christ has done for us in his dying and rising-- for that alone is the way of salvation. Paul wrote:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,

In Paul’s ministry- and in the life of the Corinthian Christians -the gospel of Jesus Christ came first. The Good News of Jesus was the content of his preaching and it was the content of their faith. When Paul preached-- they listened-- and took it heart and believed what he said.

Now we may say “well, of course—that’s the whole point”—and it is—but we should never become cavalier about the gracious way that God brings us to faith through preaching. The bible says that: Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. That means there has to be a preacher who will tell us the truth-- and we have to be willing to listen to it and believe it-- and there can be a failure on both ends. But there in Corinth…

Paul preached the Gospel- and the people believed the Gospel- and they were being saved. How blessed we are to say that the same is true for us!

And yet Paul knew that we need to hold fast to the Gospel throughout our life --or it all will have been in vain-- for it is only those who remain faithful to the end who will be saved. He said:

You are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

I read story this week about an ancient king who was the richest, most powerful man of his day. And he called a philosopher into his court to ask who was the happiest man who ever lived—thinking it would be himself. But the philosopher said that it was another man no longer living. Then he asked who was the second happiest man who had ever lived, thinking that, surely this time it would be him. Again the philosopher mentioned another man no longer living. And so it went. When the angry king asked for an explanation the philosopher said that it was only after a man’s death—when his whole life and manner of death could be seen—that one could determine who was truly happy.

It is important to begin well when it comes to our faith. That is why we baptize babies. It is important to continue in faith. That is why we come to church to be strengthened in our faith. But it is also important to recognize that it will all be in vain if we do not continue in faith until that day we stand in the Lord’s presence. There are many things that can trip us up along the way which is why we return to the main thing again and gain. Paul says:

I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

The gospel message is simple: I am a sinner in need of a savior and Jesus is that savior who died for my sins and rose again to give me a new life. This way of salvation was what God promised from the very beginning to Adam and Eve and renewed again and again throughout the Old Testament. This Gospel message is of first importance because it is the only way to God.

This message tells us the truth about ourselves—that we are sinners who need a savior—and in fact, we are such great sinners that it takes the death of God’s own Son to make things right again between us and God.

We must never lose night of that like the Pharisee in our Gospel lesson today who either forgot- or didn’t know- that being in right in God’s sight came from counting on God’s mercy -rather than being better than others.

The Gospel message tells us the truth about God: that he loves us with an everlasting love and sent his Son to take upon himself all of our sins and suffer the punishment we deserve on the cross where he died for the whole world full of sinners.

The Gospel message tells us the truth about our own lives: that since Jesus Christ has conquered death and the grave we too can live a new life and be certain of an eternal home with God.

And if all this simply seems too good to be true, it is important to remember that Paul sets this Gospel message on the rock-solid foundation of real people in real places in real moments of history. Paul says that after the resurrection, Jesus:

appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

The message of the Gospel—that which is of most importance—is a matter of life and death and so it can never be of the same quality as the myths and fables of ancient Greece and Rome. The apostles proclaimed a man they knew. Events they saw. Places they traveled to. The faith they proclaimed was not, first of all, a dogma—it was a person—and it was not a myth-- but times and places and people who were witnesses.

It’s is important for you to know that God does not ask you to commit your life here on earth and your eternal future to a fable or metaphor—but to a real person: Jesus Christ—and to real historical events: his death and resurrection that makes a way back to God for even the worst of sinners. Paul said:

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am

Paul not only taught the truth about what mattered most—his own life was a testimony and enduring example of what matters most.

When Paul wrote these words about being unworthy he had been an apostle for decades. He had seen the risen Christ. His mission field was the entire Gentile world.

And yet even after years of faithful service to Jesus and his people-- there was no thought in his mind of how deserving he was of God’s salvation—no thought of how much better he was than everyone else.

He says that he is the least of the apostles—that, in fact, he is unworthy to be called an apostle. In our bible study last week we heard Paul call himself the foremost of sinners. There is simply no thought in Paul’s mind of his own holiness—but only of the goodness of God that extended to a sinner like him.

It is important for us to know that, what God has done for us in Jesus Christ—the first things of which Paul writes—is a gift from beginning to end. It is not given to us because we are better than others or because we deserve it.

It is given to us because we are sinners who can not save ourselves but can only cast ourselves upon the mercy and grace of God like the man in our Gospel lesson today who left the temple justified in God’s sight. At the same time, that grace and mercy DOES makes a real difference in how we live our lives. Paul says that God’s grace:

was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Earlier in our sermon we talked about the necessity of continuing in faith so that all Christ has done for us will not be in vain. Paul uses that same phrase to talk about the necessity of an active Christian life—that God has saved us to do good works that serve our neighbor and bring glory to him.

Our life with God is a gift. Christ has done it all. All of us can say with the apostle Paul that it is only by the grace of God that I am what I am. But it’s also important for us to know that just because our salvation is God’s gift—that doesn’t mean that we then sit back and do nothing once we come to faith in Jesus.

In fact, just the opposite is true! What God has done for in Christ moves us into action --and the greater our awareness of our sin is and the greater our awareness of God’s goodness is, the more profound a change there is in our life. That was certainly true of Paul! Of the other apostles he said I worked harder than any of them.

The Christian life takes effort on our part. Luther says that faith is a living, busy, active thing. We repent of our sins. We ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to amend our ways and our deeds. We open our eyes and our hearts and our hands to the needs of those around us. We bear witness to the goodness of God. Our Christian faith calls us into action.

But it’s also important to know that we can have this kind of faith- and live this kind of life -only because of God’s grace.

When Paul says that he worked harder than the other apostles he was still not bragging on himself—even then he says his busy, active faith is by God’s grace.

So it is for us and that is why we are here today—to receive God’s gracious gifts that he gives in absolution and in his Word and in Holy Communion which empower our lives of faith.

Earlier in the sermon I asked the question: If given the opportunity to tell those you loved and cared about what really mattered to you—what was of first importance—what would you tell them?

Well that opportunity does exist right now—to share with our friends and family and this community that which is most important: the Good News of Jesus and the difference it makes in our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good morning, fellow redeemed!

Last night we had a great discussion about mission in the Church Council meeting, but it isn't what many would think. We didn't talk about being missional or evangelism projects or anything like that.

Instead, we talked about the mission of the Church that's being carried out in...Africa.
In Africa, there is a hunger for the Word of God. A few weeks ago, I was blessed to hear Pastor James May of Lutherans in Africa speak about the work he and the organization he serves do in Africa. Spanning through twenty countries, Lutherans in Africa takes the basics of Christian doctrine (the Catechism, the Bible, the Hymnal) to teach and train native pastors and evangelists.

Wouldn't it be great to be part of something like that? Wouldn't it be a blessing for us here at Mt. Olive to participate in such a great mission?

We will! Here's how. According to Pastor May, the cost to attend a teaching seminar in Africa is about $150. That's travel, materials, etc. Notice, I'm not asking for door offerings or anything like that. I'm asking for three quarters.

A soda from the machine in our Fellowship Hall costs seventy-five cents ($ .75), or three quarters. For the next several weeks, I'm going to provide a "Skip a Soda" bottle in the sanctuary. I'm not asking for door offerings or anything like that. I'm asking for three quarters. Drop three quarters into the bottle each week. Let's try this for a month and see how long it takes us to sponsor one person. When this goes well, and I believe it will, I'll leave it out for another month. Three quarters - by my calculations, that's 200 sodas.

Skip a Soda - bring three quarters (or as many as you like, for that matter). Let's be part of this great endeavor in Africa!

Here is Lutherans in Africa's website: Search for them on Facebook.

Here's a video that might interest you:

Finally, please pray for Lutherans in Africa as they proclaim the Gospel of Christ.

God bless!
Pastor Kevin Jennings