Sunday, September 30, 2012

Let Us Maintain the Unity of the Spirit!

Ephesians 4:1-6  The title of today’s sermon is “Maintain the Unity of the Spirit”—words taken directly from our text and inspired by the Holy Spirit.  They capture the theme of what God is calling us to believe and do in these verses. 
But a simpler way to express the same thought is this:  God’s guidance on how to “get along” with our fellow Christians.
These words are not quite as holy sounding as the title from God’s Word, they are a little bit blunt, and maybe they take us aback.  We hate to think that Christians would ever be at odds with one another or that there would ever be any conflict between Christians.  “How can I not get along with fellow believers—they believe in Jesus too?!”
But what about that Christian you are married to—are you always on the same page with your spouse? 
What about those Christians who are your children or your parents—do you always see eye-to-eye? 
What about those Christians sitting here in the Lord’s house with you today—do they never rub you the wrong way?
The Spirit-inspired words that we have before us today from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians gives us down-to-earth, practical advice on how to get along with fellow Christians in our marriage, home, and congregation. 
These words tell us that:  1. We are called to unity and peace-filled relationships with fellow believers—2.  They tell us how peace and unity is accomplished through Christ-like lives—3.  and they tell that unified and peace-filled relationships with fellow Christians are a reflection  of the deepest truths of the Gospel.  St. Paul wrote:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
            The reason for many of the struggles we have in our Christian lives (including getting along with our fellow Christians in our marriages, homes, and congregation) is that we do not give sufficient attention and importance to our identity in Christ—what Paul labels our “calling”.  And so, what is our Christian identity or calling?
By virtue of our baptism into Christ we are God’s children:  we have died with Christ and been raised with Christ—we have been reconciled to our heavenly Father and filled with the Spirit-- and are called to walk in newness of life—in other words:  to live out that identity by taking up our cross and walking in Jesus’ footsteps of love and sacrifice for others as his disciples.
Children of God and disciples of Christ—this is who we are—not who we would like to be—not what we have to strive to be—this is who we are.  And our lives—what St. Paul calls our “walk” should correspond to that identity and calling.  But that’s not always the case, is it?
There have been times over the course of my ministry when I have been asked to mediate a conflict between two Christians and when all else fails I will tell them:  “Let’s just pretend for the sake of argument that we are Christians, what would a follower of Jesus do and say in this situation?” 
And that always gets their attention.  “I don’t have to pretend I am a Christian!  I am a Christian!”  “Wonderful!”  I say, “How then should a child of God and disciple of Christ act in this situation”?  “Oh”!
When we get caught up in conflict with another Christian—whether in our family or marriage or congregation—often times it’s because we have forgotten the high calling of being children of God and disciples of Christ.
The content of that calling is Jesus and it is his life that is to be shown in our lives—in other words, that we are to live, as the Bible says, in all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love just like Jesus did.
            Now, I want you to think about the last conflict you had with a fellow Christian—the last argument or disagreement—the last time there were hard feelings between you and a fellow believer-- whether in your marriage or family of congregation. 
Just for a moment forget about that other person and what a stinker they are and ask yourself:  Was I humble—did I count that person more important than myself?  Was I gentle- or was I ready to give as good as I got?  Was Iwilling to bear with that person—in other words, was I willing to put up with that person -or was I quick feel put upon?”
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that often times we don’t get along with other Christians in our marriages, homes, and congregation—not because they are such stinkers—but because we are not the humble, gentle, patient, loving children of God and disciples of Christ that we are called to be.
There is one more piece to this when it comes to our attitude towards other Christians that especially applies to times of conflict.  The Bible says that we are to be EAGER to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  And so let me ask you a question:   Are you EAGER  to live at peace with your fellow Christians?
All of us are tempted to say “yes” to that question.  “Of course, I am willing to live at peace with them!”  But are we really? 
You see, being united to, and living at peace with, fellow Christians is much, much more than avoiding those Christians that we don’t particularly like in our congregation.  It is much, much more than the simmering “cease-fire” we reach with our children or parents.  It is much, much more than the “let’s just try to make the best of this” attitude that couples often fall into in their marriage. 
That we are EAGER to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace means that no matter what that other person does, WE will take the initiative when it comes to making things right.  It means that no matter how that other person acts, WE will be the ones who are humble and gentle and patient and willing to go the extra mile. 
And we will do that because that is who we are as Christians and that kind of life shows the deep truths of our Christian faith.  The Bible says that:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
            For all of us, there are times in our lives when we do not live in peace and unity with our fellow Christians-times in our lives when we are not the humble, gentle, peaceful, long-suffering people that we ought to be.  What a blessing to know that Jesus Christ never failed to live this kind of life and through faith in him his holy life is counted as our own! 
The Bible says that Jesus’ cross has removed the diving wall of hostility—not just between our sin and God’s wrath—but has removed the dividing wall of hostility between us and others—that he has done this to unite us to himself along with all those who share the same faith and hope that we have in him.         
Because of Jesus’ forgiving life, death and resurrection:  God is our Father- and heaven is our home -and we are filled with the Spirit right now.  AND SO THEN…
We cannot say to our fellow Christians “I want nothing to do with you”-- because they are members along with us in the one body of Christ.
We cannot think the worst of our fellow Christians-- because they are filled with the same Spirit as we are and he is at work in their lives too.
We cannot withhold our love from our fellow Christians-- because our heavenly Father loves them and sent his Son to die for them too to make them members of his family just as we are.
Whatever the differences might be that we have with our fellow Christians, what are those differences compared to what we share in common?
We confess the same faith on Sunday mornings in the words of the creeds.  We have been washed in the same baptismal water and fed with the same body and blood.  And we confess the same Jesus to be our Savior and Lord.
When we elevate (what are really minor) grievances and aggravations into divisions and bitterness, we deny the profound gifts we share together with our fellow Christians.
Today we hear God’s call to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”—in other words, to “get along” with our fellow Christians.  We are reminded that we are God’s children and Jesus’ disciples and that because this is our identity we are called to live Christ-like lives.  And that as we do so, we are showing the deep truths of our Christian faith:  that God loves us and has brought us to himself to live with him and our fellow Christians forever. 
May our peaceful, united lives with other believers always reflect this wonderful, saving Good News!  Amen.

Trinity XVII General Prayer

Gracious heavenly Father, as we Your servants come to You in prayer, deal with us according to Your steadfast love and hear our pleas for mercy:

Empower us by Your Holy Spirit so that we would walk in your ways and live lives that are blameless in Your sight.  Lead us to an ever deeper knowledge of Your will, fix our eyes on Your commandments, and help us to love You with our whole heart. 

Strengthen and sustain all of those who are persecuted and imprisoned for their faith in Jesus Christ and grant their oppressors repentance unto life. 

We give You thanks that the Spirit has called us into fellowship with You and one another in the Church, forgiving our sins by Jesus.  Make us eager to do our part in maintaining Christian unity, overlooking the faults of others and living lives of gentleness and peace.  End all sinful divisions in the church and grant us unity based on Your Word.

As Your Son Jesus Christ healed those who were ill, continue to grant healing according to Your wise fatherly will, especially for J.A. and Blake and Barbara.  Protect all pregnant women and grant them safe deliveries and healthy children.  Comfort those who mourn with the resurrection promise of Your Son Jesus Christ, that because he lives we also shall live.  Especially do we pray for Erna’s family as they mourn her passing.  

You promise us that blessed is the nation who has You as their God.  Grant that it would be so in our own nation.  Lead us to repent of our national sins that destroy life and undermine Your gifts of marriage and family.  Empower the witness of the church so that our fellow citizens would come to faith, especially do we ask Your blessing upon missionary efforts among native Americans.  Bless our leaders, protect our military member, and enlighten our fellow citizens to elect leaders who will walk in Your ways and do what is right in Your sight.

We confess and believe that You are the Maker of heaven and earth and have called them into being by the power of Your Word.  We thank You for all of the blessings and tender mercies that You have bestowed upon us, especially for the gift of rain.  Help us to be faithful stewards of Your good gifts, putting You first in our financial lives.

Whatever else You see that we need, whatever serves our neighbor and brings glory to You, grant to us dear Father in heaven for the sake of Your Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Do Not Weep!

Luke 7:11-17 If there is any event that proves this world is broken and dying-- it is for a parent to stand beside their child’s grave-- and that very scene is repeated ten of thousands of time across the world each day.   Sadly, it’s nothing new.  The Bible says that: 
Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him.  As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 

            The name of the town “Nain” means “Valley of Beauty” but that day it was the valley of the shadow of death.  That contrast between beauty and death is the way of life in this world. 
Most of us go for many years experiencing nothing but God’s blessings—seeing life in this world as green pastures and still waters.  But then some tragedy strikes that reminds us our life is a journey through the valley of the shadow of death.  We just see it more clearly when we face a tragedy-- like the widow of Nain.  That poor woman—long before the death of her son—already knew about heartache:  she lost her husband. 
When I look out at this congregation, I thank God for all of the good marriages we have here.  Couples who have stayed married and genuinely love and care for one another.  Those of us blessed by God this way (with one who is truly flesh of our flesh) know that we have been blessed by God with the greatest earthly gift he gives.
But we are reminded today by the widow’s story that there will come a day of parting for us and our beleoved—when that one who is as close to us as our own flesh is parted from us by death—and we know how painful that will be. 
That is what that poor widow had already gone through—but even then, with that painful loss, she was not finished walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  Her only son died.
To lose a child is the worst pain a human being can endure.  All of us who are parents can imagine what she was going through-- but what not may be immediately apparent to us is what this death meant for her own life as a childless widow.
Women in that time and place were almost completely dependent upon the men in their lives for their welfare.  They grew up under their father’s authority--went from there to live with their husbands—and if their husband preceded them in death—they went to live with their sons.  That is how women were cared for in that culture.
As heart-broken as she was over the death of her son, somewhere in the back of her mind she was already wondering to herself:  how in the world am I going to live?
That was the burden that weighed upon her as she walked behind her son’s body in that procession of death—until she met the Lord of Life who took that burden upon himself.  The Bible says that:  “…when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep."
            This is the first place in his Gospel that St. Luke, as the narrator of these events, addresses Jesus as Lord—the mighty covenant God who has the power and the authority to change even death.  And not only did he have the power to do so, he was moved with compassion to do so—his heart went out to this poor, sad widow in an obscure town. 
Jesus’ attitude of love and concern for those without much earthly power must have really made an impression on St. Luke, because he tells us again and again in his Gospel that Jesus reaches out to help those who the rest of society regards as having little value-- and we see that same thing here. 
From the world’s perspective, one, poor widow in an obscure town doesn’t matter much—but the Lord counts her worthy of his help.  Both compassion and power were perfectly joined together in Jesus and that’s what makes such a life-changing difference in the lives of those the Lord touches.  He told the widow “Do not weep.” 
If we didn’t know how all this would turn out—if we were simply part of the crowd that day-- we could appreciate Jesus’ word as simply a kind gesture—but one that was ultimately empty-- because they couldn’t really change anything thing. 
But when the Lord “Do not weep” he means it!   Do not weep-- for there is no reason for tears in the presence of the giver of life!  The Bible says:
Jesus came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And Jesus said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." 

            People of that day were not buried in coffins but were wrapped in cloths and laid upon a stretcher and carried to their graves and as the widow’s son was being carried to his grave, Jesus walked up to the stretcher and said “Arise.”  And the dead man sat up and began to speak. 
Life- from- death!  Just- like- that!  And what is even more stunning than the dead man being raised-- is how it was accomplished—simply by a word—spoken by the One who brought all things into being by his Word.
What we see here is that the Lord is not some impersonal force far removed from our lives.  Instead, he is the living Word of God who took upon himself our flesh and was moved by compassion at what we have done to ourselves by our sins to reach out and help.  That day at Nain, the Word spoke—and the Word was spoken—and life came where there was only death before. 
The scene that we have before us today gets our attention because it is so common—so easily recognized.  1. We recognize ourselves in that group of mourners—grieving over a loved one 2. We recognize ourselves in that poor mother—wondering what the future holds for us 3. We recognize ourselves on that stretcher being carried to our graves—knowing that we too will one day die. 
And Jesus wants us to see our helplessness in the face of it all—because that is the painful truth about us too.
There was absolutely nothing that anyone there that day could have done to change what happened—there were no tears of grief that the mother could have shed which would have brought life back to her dead son.  There was no show of support from the friends powerful enough to change tragedy into triumph.  There was certainly nothing the dead man could do to help himself. 
But Jesus could—and did—and at Jesus’ Word the man was restored to life.
Through this miracle, Jesus wants us to believe that there is now something greater than sorrow and death in this world—he wants us to recognize that he has entered into our sorrow and death and his life changes everything for us—even death. 
When Jesus touched the stretcher of the dead man that day he should have become ceremonially unclean.  But just the opposite happened—Jesus’ wholeness and cleanness and life came to rest upon the man.  And the Good News for us today is that what he did for that one man—he has done for you and for me. 
Jesus took all of the uncleanness and sin and death that is a part of our lives and carried it to the cross where it was washed away in his shed blood.  Three days later he rose up from the dead, promising us that we too will rise from death.  And that promise that he speaks in Word and Sacrament continues to bring life in the midst of death.
Each of us, by nature, is like that dead young man on the stretcher—we are helpless to change anything about our spiritual condition on our own—but when the words of Jesus are spoken to us:  in Baptism (that we have died with him and been raised with him) and Preaching (rebuking our sins and calling us to faith) and Absolution (that we are fully and freely forgiven all our sins) and Holy Communion (that his body and blood are given for us)—when these words of Jesus are spoken to us --death is transformed into life—real life—abundant eternal life that only God can give.  Just like he gave that day at Nain.  The Bible says that:  Jesus gave him to his mother.    
Too often, we hesitate to give ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord because we don’t know what the Lord will ask of us and we’re afraid to follow him.  But Jesus tells us that it is the devil who comes to kill and steal and destroy --while Jesus has come to give life—rich abundant life—a full measure pressed down and overflowing. 
That’s what we see here.  The community was given their friend.  The widow was given her son. And the young man was given his life.   And none of their lives would ever be the same.  The Bible says that:
Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and "God has visited his people!"  And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

            The Good News for us today is the God has indeed visited his people in his Son Jesus Christ and in his compassion and power has brought us a new life that is just as real and just as life-changing as what occurred that day at Nain that day for the widow and her son. 
The dark shadow of sin and death has been driven from our life by the cross and empty tomb.  And Jesus invites us to take our place along side of him, glorifying God by speaking to others his words of hope and faith that give life.  Amen.

Trinity XVI General Prayer

Lord God heavenly Father, for the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, be gracious to us and hear our prayers:

We praise You, O Lord, for Your goodness and forgiveness, setting us free from sin and death by Your Son Jesus Christ.  Grant that as Your forgiven people we would be forgiving to others.

Because You abound in steadfast love, fill us with Your love for others.  Especially do we ask Your blessing upon Michael and Elizabeth as they celebrate their anniversary.  Grant that their love for one another and for You would grow each day.

Bless all of those who call upon You in the day of trouble.  According to your wise fatherly will, grant healing to those who are ill.  Meet the needs of those who are poor and needy.  Fill us with mercy and compassion for those who need our help.  Protect persecuted Christians throughout the world especially the pastor and people of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Mardan, Pakistan whose church was burned to the ground.   

You have delivered us from death and hell by the resurrection of Your Son Jesus Christ and promised us eternal life.  Be with all of those who mourn the death of loved ones, especially the family of Lornadell and Ron.  Assure them that their loved ones are safely at home with You and keep us in the same faith.

Throughout our life You have blessed with Your steadfast love, giving us gifts that enrich our lives.  We thank for the blessing of friends and fellow believers, especially for Ed and Helen, and for our many years together as fellow members of this congregation.  We pray that You would continue to be with them in the days ahead and bring them new friends and a new church home.  We also give You thanks for the new baby girl that You have given to Chris and Joy and pray that You would bring little Lilly safely to the waters of Holy Baptism.

Watch over and protect all expectant mothers and grant them safe deliveries and healthy children.

Make us truly thankful for Your many gifts and tender mercies and help us to live lives that glorify Your holy name.  In our family life and work life and civic life help us bear witness that we are Your people. 

All of these things we ask, counting on Your steadfast love promised to all who call upon You.  Amen. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

In Life And In Death, God is For Us!

A Funeral Sermon For Lornadell--Romans 8:28-39

It is a remarkable promise that God makes to us today, we who mourn Lornadell’s passing: that he is working all things together for our good. All things! Even our sorrow and loss—all things for our good.

This promise from God’s Word is easy enough for us to believe when everything in our life is going the way we want it to—when we have our health and when we have our family close to us. Of course God is working all things for our good—we can see it!

But the truth of this promise of God working all things for our good is also true for this day—this day when we mourn the loss of a wife and mother and aunt and friend and sister in Christ. Eyes that are focused on illness and loss and sorrow cannot see how any of this is for our good—and yet the promise of God stands:

We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

So that we might believe this and be comforted in our grief, God calls us to lift our eyes to him—to focus our attention on his gracious work in Lornadell’s life—his care and concern for her that began long before her birth and will continue forever in heaven and know that even today he is working all things for the good of those who love him—for Lornadell and for us. The Bible says that:

Those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

A simple summary of these words from the Bible might go like this: God has always loved Lornadell and will always love Lornadell and the circumstances of her life- and the difficulties of her last days- and her passing from this life- doesn’t change that love one bit. From everlasting to everlasting God has always cared for Lornadell.

He chose her in Christ to be his own child before the foundation of the world. He sent his Son Jesus to live and die for her to forgive her and give her life that death cannot end. He planned her life so that she was born and raised in a Christian home. He called her to himself in the waters of Holy Baptism at St. John Lutheran Church in Poth, Texas. He declared her right in his sight through faith in Jesus. And now he has brought her to himself in glory where she will live with him forever in heaven.

All of this our gracious God has done for Lornadell in time and eternity so that on this day when we mourn her passing there can be absolutely no doubt in our minds that even in the painful and difficult and sorrowful things-- God was working for her good and he is working for ours too. And so…

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Even though it is difficult to see it right now, even though there seems to be some overwhelming evidence to the contrary, God promises us that in life and in death he can be counted on to do what is best for us—as the Bible says, that he is for us.

That promise was made especially to Lornadell when she was confirmed at First Lutheran Church in Floresville, Texas. On Pentecost Sunday in 1944, Pr. Winters laid his hands on Lornadell’s head and gave her this very verse that he had chosen for her, to bless her with: If God is for us, who can be against us?

Pr. Winters knew that God was FOR Lornadell—he knew everything that God had done to bless her and bring her to himself—but he also knew that life in this broken world would hold some hardships for her as well—that there would be times and circumstances and events when she would wonder to herself: is God really for me?

And those times came. She lost a son-- and can there be anything harder for a parent than that? She had various health issues that became more prominent and disabling over the years. She had her own share of the world’s sorrows.

But throughout her life she could be confident that God was for her—not because things were always going her way-- but because of what God had already done for her in sending his Son Jesus to lay down his life for her on the cross. There was no doubt that God was for her because of the gift he had given her in Jesus.

Along with this most important gift of Jesus, God also blessed her with other gifts just as he promises to those who love him. He gave her the gift of a husband in Charlie with whom she was blessed to enjoy sixty one years of marriage; the gift of a son in John who was as kind and caring and attentive to his mother as any son could be; a successful work life in banking; and many friends in this community.

God did indeed, along with Jesus, graciously give her all things just as he promised. But now he has called her to himself and the questions and doubts come. Why were her last years filled with such difficulty? Why couldn’t God have let her stay with us for just a while longer? God’s word has an answer to these doubts and questions that every believer struggles with at times like these. The Bible says:

Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

When we are confronted with doubts and questions about the loving purpose of God in the hard times of life-- he reminds us what his real purpose is: to restore us to our status as his children and bring us safely to heaven where we will live with him forever. That’s what he wants for us more than anything else—that we would live with him forever.

We are sad to say goodbye to Lornadell. But how much sadder it would be to know that she had to live on forever in broken health and increasing disability? God wanted much more than that for his child! And so he sent his Son to die for her sins and he raised him from the dead to give her a new and eternal life.

Through faith in Jesus, God declared that Lornadell was right in his sight and promised that she would live with him forever. The fullness of that life is still to come on the Last Day—but it is no less certain than all of the other blessings God has already given her.

That is what Jesus came to do for her- and that is what he has been doing for her every day of her life as he prayed for her before his heavenly Father’s throne, ordering her life so that she would live in faith and depart this life in faith.

Jesus was with Lornadell every day of her life until he brought her safely home and he promises the same to us. The Bible says:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

When we lose a loved one it is normal that we grieve—even for Christians. St. Paul said that we grieve—but not as those who have no hope. And so we shed tears and we mourn our loss but that sorrow does not overwhelm us because we know that Christ’s love for Lornadell continued right up to that moment when he called her to himself and that same love will be with us in the days ahead.

Nothing can separate us from that love. Even when we do not feel it—even when the sorrows of life seem to crowd it out—Jesus cares for us and he will not let anything change that love he has for us.

That promise is what gives us the strength we need to carry on—to do the things that need to be done: meals to prepare-a garden to plant-volunteer hours to be worked—Javelina games to attend—service projects to accomplish with the Lions Club.

There will be tears in the days ahead—the weight of sorrow will seem at times to be unbearable—but God promises that we are more than conquerors because of Jesus’ love for us. In other words, he will see us through. In fat, he will see us through not only the days ahead-- but he will see us safely through our entire life until that day he calls us home to join those we love in heaven. The Bible says:

I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God wants you to have that same confidence that St. Paul had when he was inspired to write these words—to believe that nothing, absolutely nothing, not even the death of those we love, not even our own deaths-- can separate us from Christ.

Lornadell believed that. She was a Christian lady who knew and believed that Jesus was her Savior and that she was loved by God from everlasting to everlasting. And while she is separated from us for a time---she is at home with Christ. I pray that God would grant the same to each of us assembled here this day. Amen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost September 23, 2012

Lessons for Proper 20

Jeremiah 11:1820 ~ When God showed Jeremiah the plots against him, he trusted completely in the Lord.

Psalm 54 (antiphon: v. 4)

James 3:134:10 ~ The wisdom of God has no place for selfishness, but fills us with grace and peace.

Mark 9:3037 ~ Jesus showed the disciples that the greatness of life is measured by the depth of its service.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Where is the Honor in Being Chosen?

Usually being chosen first is a sign of honor and respect. Jeremiah was chosen to be Gods prophet in a tough time. Even his family plotted against him. James explained that once God has chosen us, we must choose lives of peace, mercy, and service. Jesus showed us what it means to be chosen: He is the first to give his life in service. We have also been chosen for service in Gods family. What a risk -- and what an honor!

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord God, by choosing me through the water of Baptism and the Word of Your Grace, You have laid some difficult choices before me. Give me vision to see those choices clearly and strength to carry them out willingly so that with humility and joy, I may serve others as I serve You. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God has called us to lives of service and has provided us with goods and skills to help others. When we follow Jesus example we give ourselves in service.

OFFERING PRAYER: Lord Jesus, You have truly said that life is measured best

When every opportunity that puts us to the test

Is met with grace to welcome little ones by word and deed,

And willing hearts to use Your gifts to ease anothers need. Amen

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: It is because of our selfish ambition that we quarrel about who is the greatest and justify our desires with unspiritual, demonic wisdom. It was because of that attitude on the part of leaders in Jesus day and those attitudes in our own hearts today, that Jesus made Himself servant of all, and let Himself be delivered into the hands of men. It is through His sacrificial service that Jesus has rescued us from our own greed and handed us over to Gods grace and mercy, that we may live it out in our service to the poor and burdened of this world.

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

Today we remember and thank God for the life and ministry of St. Cyprian (A.D. ca. 200รข€“258). He was acclaimed bishop of the north African city in Carthage around 248. During the persecution of the roman Emperor Decius, Cyprian fled Carthage but returned two years later. He was then forced to deal with the problem of Christians who had lapsed from their faith under persecution and now wanted to return to the Church. It was decided that these lapsed Christians could be restored but that their restoration could take place only after a period of penance that demonstrated their faithfulness. During the persecution under Emperor Valerian, Cyprian at first went into hiding but later gave himself up to the authorities. He was beheaded for the faith in Carthage in the year 258.

Almighty God, You gave your servant Cyprian boldness to confess the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, before the rulers of this world and courage to die for the faith he proclaimed. Give us strength always to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Prayer Concerns:
Summer King
Lucinda Rodela
Ann Cleveland, Ruby Rieder, Burt and Doris Nelson, Ellie Reiners, Walter and Pearly Theiss
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney
Our nation and those who serve in her, that they be kept safe from our enemies
Our Sunday School superintendent, Lori, and the Sunday School teachers

This Week at Mt. Olive:
This afternoon was a great time among youth. Matthew, Rose, Trevor, August, Jonathan, Michael, Katie and I took to the bowling alley. To tell the truth, a lot of gutter balls found their way to the end of the lanes and some strange bowling strokes were displayed. A good time was had by all, and Pastor Jennings took the lanes with a 128.

Monday, September 17
6 p.m.

6:30 p.m.
Board of Elders

Tuesday, September 18
4:30 p.m.
Adult Instruction

6 p.m.
Jr. Confirmation Instruction

Wednesday, September 19
8:30 a.m.

9:30 a.m.
Bible Study

7:30 p.m.
Why Does It Matter - Barnes and Noble

God bless!

Monday, September 10, 2012

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. - James 2:14

These words from St. James have been used and abused for centuries. Usually it's the source of the problem in the passage. You see, reading this problem, if there are no good works, the problem isn't the good works, but the faith that produces them.

Good works are not absolutely necessary for salvation, but good works are necessary. God does expect His people to do good things. This, again, is another source of problems. Sinful people have a habit of dreaming up good works that aren't pleasing to God. Society has a list of good works, and there are all kinds of civic organizations that have guidelines for good works.

Yet, none of these are good works. Good works are those done in faith. The person who believes in Christ will, by the Holy Spirit, desire to do what pleases God. What pleases God? The list is in the Ten Commandments.

This week, take out your Catechism. Review the explanation for each of the Ten Commandments. If you have the chance, look at the Large Catechism section on the Ten Commandments. In these two works, Luther systematizes the teachings of Holy Scripture.

How will your works show your faith this week?

Prayer Concerns:
Lucinda Rodela, Harley Barrow and his family
Arnold Kruger
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell), Pastor Dale Brynestad (Austin, Texas)
Ann Cleveland, Ruby Rieder, Burt and Doris Nelson, Walter and Pearly Theiss
The Church as she proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the world
The Church Council at Mt. Olive as they meet this week

This Week at Mt. Olive:
I will be out of town Monday through Wednesday for the Circuit Counselors Conference. There will be no Junior Confirmation instruction, Wednesday Bible Class, Adult Information, or Why Does It Matter group. If you have an emergency, please call your elder.

Monday, September 10
6 p.m.
Board of Education - Overflow

7 p.m.
Church Council

Tuesday, September 11
7 p.m.
LWML Meeting

Wednesday, September 12
8:30 a.m.
School Chapel

Save the Date!
Voters Meeting September 30 between the services.

God bless!

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost September 16, 2012

Lessons for Proper 19

Isaiah 50:410 ~ The Lords servant had an encouraging word to speak, but was met with reviling ridicule.

Psalm 116:19 (antiphon: v. 5)

James 3:112 ~ The words we speak, whether good or bad, have great power to help or harm others.

Mark 9:1429 ~ With a sharp word, Jesus rebuked an evil spirit, and it released a boy who had been deaf.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Whats on the Tip of Your Tongue?

Isaiah spoke for the Lords servant who brought a new word of encouragement every morning, but was met each day by opposition and ridicule from those who would not listen. Jesus demonstrated to the disciples that even a deaf spirit hears and obeys the word spoken by the Son of Man. St. James pointed out that our tongues, although they are only a small part of the body, can drive us to destruction or lead us in giving praise to God.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord Jesus, let me hear Your powerful word to heal and strengthen me. Give me an encouraging word to bless my friends and neighbors. Let me speak words of praise to glorify Your name that all may know Your gift of love and mercy. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Words at our command can help or harm our neighbors, just as we can use the material blessings God has put at our disposal either to bless or to oppress.

OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, Your Word made flesh brought teachings we should heed!

In these gifts flesh out our words with loving deeds. Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We often subscribe to the idea that words can never hurt me. Although we have all known hurt enough from things others have said, we still think the careless, and at times malicious, use of words is no big deal! When recognize that we have failed to speak healing words to the hurt and disconsolate, Gods Word in Christ is a mighty power to redeem us from the bondage of our own sentence of destruction.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

To Children Belongs the Kingdom of God

Luke 18:15-17

In obedience to our Lord’s command to make disciples of all nations this congregation gives between 20 and 30 percent of its offerings to outside missions. We support missions here in Texas and in the United States and throughout the world.

In addition, each year we have two mission festivals—one in the spring and one in the fall—to keep our focus and awareness centered on the mission of God to save the world in his Son Jesus. Over the years we have heard from missionaries who work along the border among Hispanics and missionaries who work among Muslims and missionaries who work in Africa.

But in giving to outside missions and in listening to foreign missionaries we tend to forget that the mission of the church extends to every person and so that mission to bring people to Jesus is as close as our own family members.

Our first priority as Christian people when it comes to the saving mission of Jesus Christ is to make sure that our own family members—and especially those we have authority over (like our children) are believers who will live with us forever in heaven.

That has always been the first mission priority in every parent’s heart. St. Luke tells us that the crowds who followed Jesus were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. In contrast to the disciples, these followers of Jesus knew that the growth of the church began with their own children and in this they revealed the heart of God.

In the beginning, God created man to enjoy fellowship with him like a Father with his children. He made man in his own image—male and female-- and told them to be fruitful and multiply so that man could enjoy fellowship with his children. A close, loving relationship where God and man and his family members were all joined together by love is what God intended for mankind.

When that fellowship was broken by human sin, God sent his Son into this world to make things right again by dying on the cross and conquering death in his resurrection. The people who were bringing their children to Jesus that day wanted them to participate in that new life with God—to be joined together with their children in a right relationship with God.

I say this by way of introduction because in our day there is a way of thinking and living when it comes to children that undermines the creative and redemptive purpose of God-- because it does not view children as a blessing.

In Jesus’ day, it was simply assumed that there would be children around to be brought to Jesus. But in our culture, where are the children to bring to Jesus today? The birthrate in this country and even among Christians has declined dramatically over the last fifty years. When Matthew Harrison became the president of our church body this declining birthrate and its effect upon the church was one of the first things he addressed.

We live in a culture that sees children not as a blessing but as a burden. Not as a gift to be received but as obligations to be managed. We live in a culture that allows parents to murder their own children because they are inconvenient, unwanted, and less than perfect. But this is the way of the unbelieving world—not of Christ and the church.

Children are a blessing from God and Jesus wants a kingdom full of them. If we want to see the church grow we need to encourage our Christian young people to value marriage and family and children and aspire to be fruitful and multiply and bring their children to Jesus so that they can take their place in his kingdom. Jesus said,

Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it.

Not only are Christians expected to have fruitful marriages where children are welcomed, but they are to bring these children to Jesus, so that they can take their place in his kingdom as his disciples.

The Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ is to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. That commission applies to all people without distinction: to men and women—to all ethnic groups—and to all ages.

God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth-- and Jesus Christ has laid down his life on the cross for all people because all people—without distinction—need to be reconciled to God—including our children.

The Bible teaches that from our very beginning we need saving because Adam’s sin passed to all people which is why all people die. Our children are not magically excluded from this curse and so they too need to be brought to Jesus so that his redeeming work can be applied to their little lives too.

That is why we baptize children. They too need to be buried with Christ in his death. They too need to be raised with him in his life. They too are part of that great harvest field of souls that is all around us.

In the early days of the church, Peter was preaching the Gospel to multitudes of people and they wanted to know what they were to do. And Peter told them:

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

We tend to think of mission work happening somewhere else and other people being missionaries --but when Christian parents bring their children to be baptized they are bringing them to Jesus and when these children are baptized the kingdom of God has grown no less than if a tribesman in Africa had been brought to faith.

That’s important for us to remember. It is a wonderful thing that we give what we do to missions. It is incredibly valuable to be reminded twice a year on our mission festivals of the necessity of mission work in other places where we can’t go.

But we must not lose sight of the fact that the local Christian congregation has always been the place where the primary mission of the church goes forth as the Gospel is preached and the sacraments administered. When you put your weekly offering in the plate you are supporting the mission of Christ in this place --which is no less important than the mission of Christ in other places.

It is our first duty as Christian parents- and as a Christian congregation- to make sure that those who are closest to us among our own families and children are brought to Jesus and take their place in his kingdom through baptism and then- are- formed- as- his disciples- through- the –teaching- of- the- church.

In the Great Commission Jesus said that we are to makes disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe everything commanded by Jesus.

And so it is not enough to simply be fruitful and multiply- and it is not enough to simply bring children to the waters of Holy Baptism and think we have fulfilled out part in his mission. God wants his baptized children to be taught his ways.

That little child who has been baptized is to be taught who their Savior is and what he has done for them. They are to be taught the way that God would have them live. They are to grow up in homes that are pious and faithful. That is what Moses taught the believers of his day and it still stands to this day. He said:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

In that article by Pastor Harrison that I referenced earlier he went on to talk about another troubling trend in our church. Besides the declining birthrate among Christians, only half of those children who are baptized in our church are ever confirmed.

I began the sermon this morning by talking about the creative and redemptive purposes of God: that we were created and redeemed to have fellowship with him—that we were made in his image and commanded to be fruitful so that we would have children with which to enjoy fellowship here on earth and forever in heaven.

That doesn’t happen by accident. Children need to be brought to God—but they also need to be taught the things of God. They need to know the story of salvation—that God has set them free from sin and death by Jesus. They need to be taught how they are to live as children of God and how they are to view the world around them.

Teaching our children the things commanded by Jesus is what the Great Commission is all about and it happens when parents read their children bible stories at night and when they teach them their prayers and when they teach them the values and worldview of the church. The Christian faith and Christian living is to fill the Christian home and family.

Teaching the ways of Jesus is fully one half of the great commission and it is the Christian parent’s first responsibility-- and their responsibility, first. Each section of the catechism begins with these words: As the head of the household should teach it in a simple way to his children.

But the church is also called to help. Sunday school and confirmation classes and VBS and church camp and youth gatherings are all ways that the congregation helps parents with their responsibility to raise Christian children.

This is where the Christian Day School can also be a great asset in the mission of the Christian home and family. It is a wonderful thing if a parent is able to home school their children using a Christian curriculum- but many cannot- and so the Christian Day School can provide that comprehensive Christian training that we want for our children.

In the early days of our church a school was always started along with a new mission plant so that parents could fulfill their responsibility to raise their children in the faith. We had a Christian Day School here for decades and Bernice taught in it.

Even though we don’t have a school here now we are blessed to be able to help St. Paul-Bishop down the road through our gifts and prayers and students and teachers. This congregation—and our mission to make disciples of all nations—has been strengthened greatly by the mission and ministry of that school.

On this fall mission festival Sunday we hear our Lord Jesus Christ tell us: Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them and we are reminded that the mission of the church is not just far-away places and specially trained and gifted people—but the mission of Christ begins at home, with us and our children for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen.