Sermon for Pentecost Sunday/Affirmation of Baptism 2014: “The ‘C’ Word”

The “C” Word

Today is not only the Day of Pentecost.

For us here at Grace Lutheran and in many Lutheran churches, it is Confirmation Day.

Lately, I have stopped using the word Confirmation and have started using the actual term found in our hymnals.

Today is the Affirmation of Baptism for 6 of our young people.

But for many in the Lutheran church, this is not a day of Affirmation.

This is not a day of celebration.

This is a day of “Whew! Thank GOD that’s over!”

Why is that?

I believe our Christian culture has “Commitment” issues.

We are not committed to learning about our Faith.

To learn about the faith takes a lot of time and energy.

And for many Christians, time is more an enemy than an ally.

I also believe our Christian Culture has a “Question” issue, as in we do not know how to answer the questions that every generation has asked:

“Why do I have to go to church?” &

“Why do I have to go to Confirmation?”

For too long the answer was, “Because I had to do it when I was your age.”

Well, that answer doesn’t work anymore.

We live in a different world.

We live in a world where at the touch of a button we can find answers, but we also can find the ugly truth.

In our world, it is hard to lie and get away with it.

From politicians to movie stars to church leaders, people can find out the truth.

People don’t take things at face value anymore.

You have to prove yourself.

And the same goes for the Church.

We cannot just tell a young person, “Come to church…or else!”

We cannot expect young people to run to church with a “Because it’s been our way for a long time” reason.

We need to be able to tell the Story of God.

We need to be able to tell OUR Story of what God has done for us.

Parents and grandparents, was the last time you talked about YOUR faith with your children or grandchildren?

When did you share with them how and why you are a Christian?

THOSE are the stories we need to be telling.

THOSE are the stories that lead to better answers.

THOSE are the stories that can lead to commitments.

Speaking of Commitment,

Today we focus on Promise.

In the movie Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, near the end of the film, Frodo Baggins is sailing off to Mordor to face the enemy on his own.

He is already in the boat and sailing away when his friend, Samwise Gamgee, starts walking into the river, determined not to let Frodo go on the journey alone.

Unfortunately, Sam can’t swim!

And he starts to drown.

But Frodo saves him, and then asks Sam why he would RISK drowning,

And Sam says, “I made a promise, Mr Frodo. A promise. Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee. And I don’t mean to. I don’t mean to.”

So when a child asks, “Why do I have to go to confirmation?”

We can answer: “Because when you were baptized, I made a promise. And I don’t mean to break it.”

Or when a child asks, “Why do I have to go to church?” we can say:

“Because I want you to learn about this awesome God that has shaped MY life…and I want God to shape yours!”

Affirmation of Baptism is the next chapter in our baptismal lives.

Our lives began at our Baptism, where we heard the promises of love, grace, forgiveness, and salvation that God made to us.

The promises that God has kept.

At our baptisms, our parents, guardians, and church families made promises to surround us with the Word, with a Community, and with love: The important factors that help raise children up in a Christian environment.

The promises made at baptism are now brought back today.

And now it is the children who make those promises.

To me, it is our version of the Altar Call.

The questions asked and answered by parents, guardians, and church members at these children’s baptisms return and now are answered by the children themselves.

I say children but I really should say young adults.

Because over the last 2-3 years I have seen them grow.

I have seen them learn.

I have seen them tell their stories.

I have seen:

Ticer teach us not only how to spell “Luke” “L-U-C-K” but also how to read, to study, and ask the hard questions.

Danny, who knows more about St. Paul than anyone I know, and who always greets me with a smile and the latest Star Wars news.

Nicholas, who has been a constant presence in my life since I got here, and who is always ready to be the acolyte at a moments notice, and we still have to see Godzilla together!

Then there are Isis, Tamia, and Naomi who have grown over the last two years.

Seriously, they all have grown at least 5 inches since they first stepped foot in this church.

But these three young ladies have brought a spark to our group.

And I have been a witness to God in action by watching these young people:

They way they work with one another,

The way they joke with one another, support one another,

And the way they are ready to help here at the church and in the community.

They are telling their stores, and in that way, they are telling God’s story.

Today, they add another chapter to their stories by affirming their baptisms.

By saying “yes” to the promises God has made and has kept.

And we are so blessed to be witnesses.

And today we continue with our promises.

We continue to watch, to help, to pray, to support, to challenge these young people.

 

Today is not an ending.

It is a continuing.

A continuing of a life-long journey we call Faith.

Sermon for June 1, 2014: “The Eternal Life Formula”

Readings:

John 17:1-11

1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

 

When I graduated from North Carolina State my degree was in Communication.

But I originally went to State to get a degree in Chemistry.

 

But by the time my Freshmen year spring semester rolled around, I had feeling I better change my major to something less…scientific.

 

You see, I made the mistake of taking Calculus, Physics, and Chemistry all in the same semester.

 

Maybe my major should have been Insanity.

 

Soon enough I was inundated with formulas.

 

Math formulas, science formulas, and I could never remember a single one of them to save my life.

 

If the answer was not E=MC2 (and it rarely was) I was in deep trouble.

 

One formula I did get right was “C’s + D’s + Very-High-F’s DO NOT EQUAL a major in Chemistry.”

 

So for the longest time I was sick of formulas.

But now I have come to realize that there are many formulas that play very important parts in our daily lives.

 

I wanted to share several of those formulas with you this morning. You can see them in handout the ushers gave you this morning.

 

Some of these will probably give you flashbacks to calculus and physics.

 

The first is:

The Pythagorean Theorem– triangulation- used today to pinpoint GPS navigation

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity-this changed our views of matter and reality, helped lead to nuclear weapons, and helps keep our GPS systems from being off thousands of yards.

Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation– used today to learn how objects interact with each other, and it makes satellite TV possible

Shannon’s Information Theory– Used to detect errors in coding, especially internet.

  • =

The Logistic Model for Population Growth– Used to model earthquakes and forecast the weather.

 

So what I have given you are examples of the roles formulas play in our lives.

 

But formulas do not have to be this scientific.

 

If you go to any bookstore or grocery store, look at the magazine sections and you will find headlines like:

“21 days to 6 pack abs”

“How to lose 5 pounds in 1 week”

“Step-by-step guide to making the perfect pizza”

 

As a culture we are fascinated with formulas.

We want a step-by-step process to get certain and definite results.

 

But we don’t just want simple formulas to help us lose weight or make money.

 

We look for a formula that can help us with our faith.

 

We want a clear-cut “how to” formula that will help us achieve Spiritual Bliss.

 

And as I was studying and praying over our Gospel this week, I noticed that Jesus gives us such a formula.

 

And it is not a complicated formula.

It’s so easy that even I can remember it!

 

I call it the Eternal Life Equation (ELE) and I have put it on your handout.

 

EL= K(G+J)

 

Eternal Life= knowing God + knowing Jesus Christ.

 

That’s sounds pretty simple, right?

 

I would bet that some of you think it sounds TOO simple.

 

But that is the formula.

 

To inherit Eternal Life is to know God and to know Jesus Christ.

 

Of course, what it means to “know” God is the key, and knowing God in John’s Gospel is synonymous with being in a relationship with God.

And if you were to look at Chapters 13-17 of John, the section called the Farewell Discourse, you can see the bottom-line reason Jesus does what he does for us is RELATIONSHIP.

When chapter 13 starts, Jesus is the teacher, the disciples are the students.

But over the next five chapters, Jesus takes his relationship with the disciples to another level.

They are no longer his students; they are his “friends.”

And what Jesus does in chapter 17 is something all of us do for one another.

Jesus prays for his friends.

And later on, in John 20, after the Resurrection Jesus tells Mary to let his BROTHERS know he is alive.

The disciples go from students to friends to family.

Jesus does what he does for family.

And Jesus does not go to the cross for his students.

He suffers, dies, and rises for his family.

Jesus does what he does because he loves his family.

He loves US.

And one of the things we do for our loved ones is to pray for them.

Every week, we leave out a prayer notebook for people to write names of those who need prayer.

But we don’t just receive names; we receive the connections they have with the congregation.

We get to see the RELATIONSHIPS they have with this church family.

And relationships are at the crux of the Formula.

Let me also stress that this formula is not a formula for the FUTURE.

It’s a formula we can apply to the PRESENT.

The relationship, the eternal relationship, with God does not start when we die.

The relationship is active.

It is NOW.

So how can we apply the formula into our lives today?

 

Here are some suggestions:

 

Prayer (daily)

Service (serving a meal, donating clothes)

Regular/weekly worship- I cannot stress enough that a regular worship experience is vital to your relationship with God.

Humility- It is not about us. It’s about God.

 

I believe Peter writes about it best in our second lesson.

We need to humble ourselves.

We need to think less of ourselves, and think more of God who

Restores

Supports

Strengthens

 

Peter also writes that God is the one who “establishes” us.

The word “establish” in Greek means to provide a secure basis for the inner life and its resources.

God establishes and provides for us a foundation for our life.

God establishes for us a How To formula.

 

And yes, the formula is simple.

 

But it does take time, effort, and most importantly dedication to make it work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon for May 25, 2014: “Guardians of the Gospel”

Readings:

John 14:15-21

Acts 17:22-31

This past week I made my official request to Kristen for what I want for my birthday.

Which is August 3rd in case you need to make a note about it.

I asked Kristen to take me to a movie that will be opening up August 1st.

I have been looking forward to this movie for a long time.

The movie is called The Guardians of the Galaxy.

And it’s based on a Marvel comic book (The same people who brought us Captain America Thor. Iron Man The Avengers, and The Hulk).

And there is a lot about the movie I already like:

  • It’s set in space
  • You will aliens
  • Spaceships (lots of spaceships)
  • Outlaws who becomes good guys.
  • You have a talking Tree
  • And you have a gun-toting smart mouthed talking Raccoon.

What’s NOT to like about that?

But the underlying story is what brings these people, aliens, plants and animals together:

They come together to fight a very evil foe that has its sights on conquest.

So in their eyes they are the galaxy’s last hope.

Thus they are Guardians of the Galaxy.

I hope it’s a good film.

So what does a movie have to do with Jesus?

It’s a good question.

 

 

Today in our Gospel, Jesus says, “IF you love me, you will KEEP my commandments.”

The word “keep” comes from the Greek word “τηρήσετε”

And that Greek word is best defined “to guard.”

So Jesus is telling his disciples to guard his commandments.

Now, when we think of the verb “to guard” we tend to think of someone who is watching over something or someone of value.

(A good example would be a shepherd to keeps watch or guard of his flock at night.)

And we tend to think that the guardian’s job is to keep something away.

And while that is one way to define “guard” Jesus is telling the disciples of another way to guard: and that is to respond.

Jesus is telling the disciples to respond to his love, his teachings, and his mission.

And to respond is not to KEEP Jesus’ mission behind them, but to present it out to the world.

In a way, Jesus is sending his disciples out to save the world.

To be the Guardians of the Gospel.

And in order to be the Guardians of the Gospel, the disciples will need to act on the commandments that Jesus has taught them.

Now when we see commandments we can look back to the 10 Commandments, but I believe Jesus is talking specifically about the TWO commandments he taught them back in John 13.

 

The two commandments were:

1) Service:

This comes in the form of footwashing where Jesus (the master) becomes the student (servant)

In other words the teacher becomes the student.

Jesus says, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”- Example/Command

2) Love

In 13:34-35 Jesus commands his disciples: “That you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

By doing these two commandments: service and love, the disciples can show the world that God is a good God. A Good Father. A wonderful Savior.

We get an example in our reading from Acts which features Paul’s speech from Athens.

Athens was a major city; people from around the world would come to it.

And in that city were many religions, many idols and gods,

And Paul takes the opportunity to preach about Christ.

He talks about how all the people need can be found in the one true God.

And even if the people call him “The Unknown God,”

God knows them!

God loves them.

God invites them to his family.

This is Paul being the Guardian of the Gospel.

Paul is sending out the Good News, no keeping it away from people who are looking for answers.

 

So today, I ask you, are you ready to be Guardians of the Gospel?

Are you ready to follow his commandments?

Are you ready to serve and to love?

I hope all of you answer “yes.”

But it is one thing to SAY Yes, and its quite another to DO the Yes.

Remember: Jesus calls us to “guard” and “respond” to his commandments.

And that means responsive love to Jesus cannot be limited to emotion.

Our response has to be more than just coming to worship on a Sunday morning.

Our response is taking that worship out into the world!

If we say we love God, if we say we are forgiven, then the world needs to see what that looks like.

Now for many of us, there might be a fear in letting our beliefs out in the open.

We want “to guard” them so nobody can see or touch or criticize.

So let me point you back to the Gospel where we get some much needed assurance not just what we are getting into, but WHO is going with us.

It’s always a nervous time when the student becomes the teacher.

You have a sense that you are on your own and there is no safety net.

The disciples are probably thinking, “I can’t do this.”

But that is when Jesus assures them that he is not sending them off alone.

Or “orphaned.”

Jesus is not letting go of his claim of them.

He is not saying, “you are no longer my responsibility.”

Wherever they go, God goes with them.

And God goes as their “Advocate,” “their defender,” and “their Supporter.”

And as we go and become the Guardians of the Gospel, God goes with us.

We do not go into the world alone.

 

 

When we gather for the meal, when we take the sacrament, that is a sign that as we leave the table, God leaves with us.

As we leave this church, God leaves with us.

As we live our lives, God lives with us.

God lives within us.

God lives around us.

 

In a way, God is the one true Guardian.

 

The point is that God is always there.

Loving us,

Forgiving us,

Comforting us,

Empowering us.

 

Can’t we do the same for others?

 

 

 

 

Sermon for May 11, 2014: “PJ vs. The Gate”

Reading: John (9:35-41) 10:1-10

I have a new arch enemy.
This enemy came into my life recently.
Two weeks ago in fact.
This enemy has caused me much embarrassment, frustration, and even injury.
What makes the situation sad is that this enemy is not a person.

It is an object.

It can be found at the Thomasville Learning Center, and it lurks in the hallways waiting for its next victim.

This enemy is the child safety gate found as you enter Paul’s daycare room.

Our issues started the first time I tried to open the thing.
It wouldn’t budge.
And the more I moved and struggled I could feel my intelligence dropping fast.
I went from Captain Confident to looking at Kristen and saying, “It don’t like me!”

Then our rivalry was kicked up another notch this week.
We went to pick up Paul from his second day at Daycare and the gate was open.
I silently said, “Victory at last!”
But as I was going into the room, carrying the child seat, my feet suddenly could not go any further.
In fact the more I tried to go further the harder it got.
I then realized that I was falling.
And fell I did.
And as soon as I fell, I looked up, and Kristen yelled my name! The teachers were in shock…and some of the children began to cry.

I had tripped over the bottom edge of the gate!

I was embarrassed, so I got up quickly wanting to grab my son and get out of there.

So I picked up the closest child…and it dawned on me.
Wait. Paul wasn’t wearing this shirt or pants when we brought him in.
I turned the baby around and realized he wasn’t Paul.

This poor boy looked at me like, “Who in the blue blazes are you?!”
And with those cute eyes he said, “Just put me down. Real slow. And walk away.”

So now I have gone from a nice caring dad to an accident-prone man who was trying to take home children that were not his own.
And through all this, as the children cried, sharing my pain, there was Paul in the corner FAST asleep in a rocker.
He missed the whole ordeal.
Which is probably a good thing. I’ll embarrass him plenty in the years to come.
And as we left, someone had locked the gate back up!
I thought I was going to stuck in the room forever.

Now as I look back to this budding rivalry, I think back to Jesus’ words in our Gospel: “Anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit!”

I never thought this passage would be about me but there it is in black and white!
I feel like I should pray, “But God, it’s the gate’s fault. It is!”

There are some gates that are just impossible to get through.
You can’t open them.
You trip.
You can’t get out!

And then you have the one gate that doesn’t close on you, but opens wide ready for you entrance.
It is the one gate that picks you up and does not trip you.
It is a gate that marks a relationship, not a rivalry.
And what is amazing is that this gate is NOT an object, but a person.
A real live person.
This gate is not our enemy.
He is our friend.
Jesus.

Now maybe you are thinking,
What does that really mean?
Why does the image of Jesus being a gate matter?

To understand why it matters, I want to remind you of the context for our Gospel.
Chapter 10 features Jesus calling himself the Good Shepherd.
But the story is bigger than that.
Chapter 10 is a continuation of what happened in Chapter 9.
In Chapter 9 Jesus heals a blind man.
This was our gospel lesson a few months ago back in Lent, during our Gospel Team-Up Sermon Series.
After Jesus heals the blind man, this man is brought before the church leaders where he is to explain who healed him and what he knows about the man called Jesus.
By the end of chapter 9, the church leaders throw the man out of the synagogue, which is like being thrown out of your own home in today’s world.
Being thrown out of the synagogue meant a loss of identity, community, and family.

Being thrown out meant a gate had been closed on him.

The man, on what should have been the happiest day of his life, is left alone.

But then Jesus hears what happens and goes and finds the man.
And when the man realizes that Jesus is the one who healed him, he praises Jesus and becomes a follower.
But the story doesn’t end there.

Some of the Pharisees, the church leaders, who threw the man out of the synagogue witness this powerful moment and are totally baffled.

So Jesus sets them straight.

In a way, Jesus lays down the new law of grace and love while at the same time doing something even more powerful.

Jesus is being the gate to this man.
As one gate closes
another Gate opens.

And Jesus lets this man in.

He gives the man a new identity, a new community, and a new home.
That is what being the Gate is all about.
And today Jesus is our Gate.
He is our entrance into a new identity as saved and loved children of God.
He is our entrance into a new community where we call each brother and sister and our main goal is to go and bring the love of God to those who are lost or abandoned or seeking.
And Jesus is our entrance into our new home.
Which is the kingdom of heaven.
Deep in the arms of God.

This is what Jesus offers us.
This is what Jesus GIVES us.

This gate is not meant to keep us out.
This gate is to bring us in.