Monday, February 25, 2013

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

The Third Sunday in Lent  March 3, 2013

Lessons for Third Sunday in Lent
Ezekiel 33:7-20   Ezekiel was sent to warn the house of Israel and call them to return to Gods love.
Psalm 85 (antiphon: v. 8)
1 Corinthians 10:1-13 The example of Israels sin and suffering serves as a warning to us.
        Luke 13:1-9 Suffering around us should draw us to Gods protecting care and redeeming love.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Open Your Eyes in Suffering!
God sent Ezekiel to proclaim to the people of Israel that their sufferings did not indicate Gods rejection, but rather His call for them to return to Him.   Gods ways are not in question, but the wayward ways of sinners.  St. Paul reminds his readers that many Israelites forsook God and perished; their sufferings serve as warnings for us.  Jesus explained that when suffering is seen in the light of Gods love, it is an invitation for the sufferer to seek comfort and courage in Gods steadfast mercy.  Suffering opens our eyes to the presence of God in our lives.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Gracious God, help me remember that suffering in my life is not a sign of Your displeasure but a loving call to repentance.  Help me see the suffering in Jesus life as a sign of Your love that He would share my life and my sin.  Help me be a servant to others to ease their burdens of suffering and to call them to Your love.  Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God provides us with material blessings to sustain us in life and to ease the sufferings of those who travel beside us through life.  We are His hands to reach out to the hurting and sorrowful.

OFFERING PRAYER:      Lord, in our sorrows You are near
                                                And when were lost You hold us dear.
                                                Give each of us strong hearts to care
                                                For those who suffer anywhere.  Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: When we suffer affliction, we think God is not fair.  Why should we undergo such trials when others seem to have comfortable lives?  Such an attitude is a reversal of the relationship of Creator to creation.  In other words, it is idolatry.  We make ourselves the judge of Gods ways.  When we understand our place before God correctly, we see Gods hand as he sustains us in suffering.  That is how God comes to us in the death of Jesus Christ.  Through Jesus suffering, God reaches out to claim us and cleanse us.  When we suffer in Christ, we are drawn closer to Gods love.

Matthew 6:33 A Funeral Sermon for Rosalie

The text that I have chosen for our meditation on God’s Word is Rosalie’s confirmation verse, Matthew 6:33:  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”. 
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and especially you, Rosalie’s family:  I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.
Our dear sister in Christ Rosalie was a small town, south Texas girl.  She was born and raised in Bishop, Texas and spent her life there.  She was a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Kingsville, Texas.  Bishop and Kingsville.  Neither one of them are exactly a metropolis! 
She was a wife and mother and homemaker.  She was never named Time’s Person of the Year. She never won the Nobel Prize.  And the vast majority of people in the world are not aware of her passing—though we feel it keenly—because we have lost a beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and sister in Christ.
South Texas girl.  Homemaker.  Member of a small congregation.  Some folks may think that all of this does not add up to very much—even for a very long life like Rosalie was blessed with.  But that is the way the world thinks about Rosalie—not God. 
You see, from before the world’s foundations were laid- and now forever in eternity- God knew her and loved her and accomplished her salvation so that she would be with him forever.
Rosalie was the daughter of a King—and not just any king.  She was a daughter of the King of kings and Lord of lords and at this moment she has entered into a mansion that is far, far grander than Buckingham Palace-- for she has entered into the glory of heaven—into that place prepared just for her by her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who said:  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”. 
Jesus spoke these words to people whose lives were consumed with worry about all the wrong kinds of things:  what kinds of clothes to wear and what to have for dinner and how to meet their material needs.  But Jesus wanted them to know that there was something much grander, much greater than this earthly life—even when it is rich and famous.
Jesus wanted them to know that there was an eternal kingdom that God had prepared and he was the way into that kingdom.  He said I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except by me.  He wanted them to know that even the greatest earthly life would pale in comparison to having a place in his kingdom—that there is only loss in gaining the entire world but losing our soul in the process.
The kingdom Jesus offered was life with God—a life that even death cannot end.  It was a kingdom where peace reigned eternally because he had made peace by his death on the cross.  It was a kingdom that was open to all people—even to a small town, south Texas girl. 
The life that Jesus offered to Rosalie in his kingdom was not just life of a subject and their ruler—but a life where that small-town, south Texas girl would become a daughter of the King-- and an ordinary life could become something truly beautiful and grand and lasting.
When Rosalie was born on August the 21st, 1918 in Bishop, Texas she was a healthy little baby girl and I’m sure that her parents, Ludwig and Selma, were grateful to God for that since those were dangerous days for both mother and child! 
But spiritually she was born alienated from God and an outcast from his family.  It was a blessing to have the Christian parents that she did—but God wanted even more for her—he wanted her to be his child—and so did her parents!
And so those good people brought her to the waters of Holy Baptism just a few short days later on September the 8th 1918.  And there at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bishop, Texas Pastor Moebus poured water on her little head in the name of the Triune God and the Holy Spirit made her a member of God’s family and a daughter of the King. 
God loved Rosalie so much that he made a promise to her there—a promise that stands to this day:  that having died with Christ in those sacred waters she would be raised in a resurrection like his—that her status as a daughter of the king and her place in his kingdom was eternal. 
From that moment on she learned what her gracious status as a daughter of the King- and what her life in his kingdom- was all about. 
Her parents kept their baptismal promise to God to raise her in the Christian faith.  They saw to it that she was brought to church and to Sunday School.  And they made sure that she learned about the Christian faith in confirmation classes.
She was confirmed on April 9, 1933 by Pr. Niemann at the same church where she had been baptized fourteen years earlier.  As she knelt at the altar, she heard Pr. Niemann pray that God would pour out his Spirit upon her and then he blessed her with the words that are our sermon text this morning:  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”.
Rosalie’s place in the kingdom and her status as a daughter of the King was God’s gift to her through Jesus Christ.  He laid down his life for her on the cross so that by his shed blood there she could be reconciled to God and have her sins forgiven.  He rose up again three days so that she could have a share in his eternal life and a lasting place in the Kingdom of God.
Faithful Lutheran lady that she was, she knew that she was justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law but she also knew the truth of Jesus’ words that those who have a place in his kingdom are called by God to seek righteousness.  And so she did.
Rosalie was a pious, devout member of this congregation.  I can’t remember a Sunday that she ever missed until she became too frail to attend and then I would call on her and we would have worship together in the nursing home. 
She took an active part in the life of this congregation--attending Sunday School and small group bible studies and working in the LWML.  When you walked into this place you could count on being greeted and welcomed by Rosalie.  She taught Sunday School for years and made crafts and did handwork for our annual craft sale to support the mission of the LWML.
It is because she was a daughter of the King and was certain of her own place in God’s kingdom that she wanted her life to reflect his righteousness and, according to our Lord’s invitation, first given to her at her confirmation, she pursued a righteous, holy life that reflected her gracious status as a daughter of the King.
But her life in his kingdom was not just filled with spiritual blessings and heavenly priorities-- it was also blessed by God with greatest earthly gifts he bestows in spouse and family. 
To all of those who were so worried about earthly matters, the Lord promised:  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”.  Jesus promised that there was not need to fret and worry about the things of this life because our heavenly Father knows we need them and he loves to give good gifts to his children.
Rosalie understood this and believed and trusted that as she put God first, he would take care of the rest. And he did. 
On August 24, 1941—once more at the church where she was baptized and confirmed, she was united in Holy Matrimony with Ed Graf by Pr. Kasper. 
Theirs was a long and happy marriage and it is still difficult for me to think of one of them without the other but no longer do we have to!  They sat beside one another in this place for years in worship and bible class--they shared a common life and common faith and though parted for fourteen years, now they stand together around the throne of the Lamb in his kingdom, their voices joined together once again to worship the King who made them his children.
Their marriage was blessed with children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the simply joys and pleasures of life that God graciously grants to those who are his.  She enjoyed sitting in the deer blind but not so much the fishing boat (which I think is more a reflection on Ed’s boat than her love of fishing!)  She loved good food and especially shrimp.   
Rosalie spent her long life like many of the Lutheran women of her day where kinder, kuche, und kirche (children, kitchen, and church) were the focus of their life and everyone sitting here in this place has been blessed by their service and sacrifice and selflessness.
No “Times Person of the Year” came from their number—no “Nobel Prize” winners--but an entire generation of decent, hard-working, God-fearing people were raised by them --which is the real and lasting legacy of their love and labor.
Two thousand years ago Jesus said:  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”.  He spoke those words especially to Rosalie at her confirmation and he speaks them again to us here today.  They are not so much a command as they are a gracious invitation to set aside our cares and concerns and believe him when he says that by his death and resurrection we too have a place in his kingdom.  May God grant us faith to believe his promise and accept his invitation!  Amen.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jesus Longs For Sinners!

Luke 13:31-35 When it comes to our life of faith it is often times two steps forward and three steps back.  We don’t make the kind of progress in living out our faith that we ought to make.  We struggle with the same old sins that we have struggled with for years.  Our faith is not as vibrant as we want it to be and our life of prayer is oftentimes spotty.  We are not the kind of people we ought to be considering how long we have been following Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
And that’s discouraging!  To add insult to injury the devil loves to add doubt to our discouragement.  He says:  surely you’re just kidding yourself that you even have faith at all.  It’s just a mental game that you are playing with yourself.  And besides, wouldn’t this Jesus get tired of your constant struggles at some point along the way?  Wouldn’t he get tired of having to forgive you again and again of those same sins? 
None of this is new or unique to us—not the discouragement with our failures to live up to our high calling as God’s people—not the temptation to doubt the depth of Christ’s love and forgiveness.  None of this is new-- but what we must not do is let discouragement and doubt lead us to despair because Jesus loves us—even in our sins and failures.  The Bible says that: 
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 
            While were still sinners—Christ died for us!  Surely these are some of the most beautiful words in the Bible for they speak of Christ’s love for all people—even those who don’t always get it right—even for those who do not love him at all—even for those who are his enemies.
That is what we see in our text today:  Christ’s love that compelled him to go to the cross and die--for those who wanted to have a life with God on their own terms—for those who loved their sin more than the Savior--for those too caught up in their own lives to commit their lives to him—his love for all. 
It is his loving commitment to us--not our faithfulness to him-- that is our hope today.  It is his resoluteness in going to the cross that gives us the strength we need to once again take up our cross and follow him as his disciples.  The Bible says that:  Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.
If this was all that we knew about the Pharisees, we might say to ourselves:  well isn’t that nice!  Those thoughtful, concerned Pharisees trying to help poor old Jesus by warning him of a plot on his life!  But of course their words have to be seen in the context of the big picture.  These guys weren’t his friends at all and their only concern was to get him out of their hair because he was going against their religious ideas.
They were teaching the people (and had taught them for centuries) that life with God was making sure you kept all the rules—and not just the Ten Commandments that God actually gave—but all the hundreds of rules that they had piled on top.  In their system…
Faith in the God who forgives and saves and sets free had been abandoned along the way for a list of rules that would lead you to God by your own efforts and if you had any questions about those rules—just listen to us and we will be glad to tell you how to live.
But then Jesus came along to ruin their racket.  He taught that life with God was about faith in him.  That what God really wanted to do was change people from the inside out—to make them new people who would love him—not out of some kind of legal obligation—but from the heart. 
And horror of horrors, he taught the people that, not only did they not have to listen to the Pharisees—but the Pharisees were nothing but white-washed graves:  nice and clean on the outside but dirty and dying on the inside.  And so as a group they opposed Jesus.
NEVERTHELESS—Jesus loved them and he would go to the cross for them—and he would lay down life and shed his blood to pay for their sins too.  It is what he had come to do—it is what love compelled him to do.  Jesus said to them:  “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.
This Herod that wants to kill Jesus—this Herod that Jesus call a “fox” (one of the worst insults of that day) is the same Herod that put John the Baptist to death by the sword because John had the nerve to point out that Herod was an adulterer—which may have silenced John but did not nothing to change Herod’s sin. 
Herod was still caught up in the same adulterous relationship.  He was still outside God’s kingdom because he was an unrepentant sinner.  And Jesus was just as forceful, uncompromising preacher as John had been and Herod could not stand to have his sin rebuked and so he was opposed to Jesus too and wanted to silence his voice.
The world is still full of Herod’s—people who love their sin more than the Savior.  And in our day it’s even worse.  Herod knew there was no chance of getting anyone to approve of his chosen lifestyle and so he did everything within his power to silence opposing voices.
In our day it’s not enough to silence voices that speak of common decency and shared moral values--now those who love their sin more than the Savior insist upon their evil being called good and demand a moral equivalency for their sin with God’s good gifts.
NEVERTHELESS Jesus loved Herod and would go to the cross for him too and for all of those who love their sins more than the Savior.  Jesus would not be deterred from caring for people simply because there were those in high places who opposed him.  Jesus said:
Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’  
            We can understand why the Pharisees wanted nothing to do with Jesus—they wanted to make their own way to God and that certainly seems easier to do with a list of rules than it is with faith and trust.  And we can understand why Herod wanted to silence Jesus—it is no fun to have our moral failings identified and rebuked.
But surely the common folk, the regular every-day, decent people of Jerusalem would welcome the Savior—right?  No, for you see by nature they were no different than the Pharisees—no different than Herod—no different than us.
They were just as certain as the Pharisees that they could have life with God on their own terms—that what was really needed was not a new birth but a moral touch-up.  They were certain that things were fine between them and God because when they compared to others they came out smelling like a rose. 
Their sins may not have been quite so dramatic—maybe not quite so public as Heord—but they were no less willing than was Herod to hear that lust and worry and anger would send you to hell just as certainly as adultery and idolatry and murder.  They had no interest in hearing that a change in their lives would have to be made.
NEVERTHELESS Jesus loved them and would go to the cross for them and shed his life blood and die for them to forgive them and reconcile them to God. 
Not the works-righteousness of the Pharisees—not the public sin of Herod—not the deaf ears and blind eyes and hard hearts of the Israelites—and certainly NOT our failures to be all that God has called us to be could keep Jesus from fulfilling his ministry or stand in the way of his bringing hope and healing to broken lives, and going to the cross and die.
As hard as it is for us to believe (weighed down as we are by discouragements and tempted to doubt and despair by the devil) Jesus loves us.  That love is difficult to comprehend and it always has been.  Paul prayed that the Christians of his day would know how long and high and deep is the love of Christ that surpasses all human knowledge.
It’s impossible for us to understand it intellectually but we can see it here and be comforted by it.  Jesus:  confronted by his enemies, knowing that he is hated, sent to a people who have rejected every prophet before him and who will reject him too—says this:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
Jesus longs to gather sinners to himself—all of them:  the self-righteous like the Pharisees who think they can make it to God on their own—the terrible sinner like Herod who loves his sin more than the Savior—the person who has rejected him again and again like the citizens of Jerusalem—and even his own children sitting here today who can never seem to make a whole lot of progress in their faith—he loves them all and longs for them to come to him for salvation.
He says:  You will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”  There is both a warning and a comfort in these words of Jesus.  Those who will not acknowledge Jesus as the heaven-sent Messiah and Savior of the world—those who choose to trust in their own righteousness and rules—those who will not abandon their sin—those who are too caught up in this life to prepare for eternal life-- will not see God. 
But the Good News is that whether you are a Pharisee or a Herod or an Israelite or someone sitting in their pews who struggled this week in their faith Jesus loves you and longs for you and says this to you this morning:  My child, my child how I have longed to gather you to myself!  May God grant us willing hearts that welcome his invitation to come and have a life with him!  Amen.