Sermon for Pentecost 2015: “Alive and Kicking”

 

Reading: Acts 2:1-21

 

What a wonderful day to celebrate Pentecost!

Let me share with you what “Pentecost” means: “The 50th day”

“Pentecost” is not a Christian creation.

The Jewish people celebrate Pentecost every year.

They call is Shavuot.

It is a day they celebrate the giving of the Torah upon Mount Sinai.

 

And since the 2nd century, Christians have kept the 50th day as a celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, and thus giving birth to the Christian church.

 

But why should we as Christians and Lutherans make such a big deal about Pentecost?

To answer that let’s review the biggest seasons in the Church year:

Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter.

For Advent and Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus

For Lent and Easter we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus

Those are things that happened.

They are past events.

On Pentecost, we celebrate an event that CONTINUES to happen TODAY.

 

The Holy Spirit did not just arrive on that one day in Acts 2.

The Spirit is still at work.

 

And one of the reasons I love Pentecost is it gives me an opportunity to talk about the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity.

A person of The Triune God. (I love that word “Triune” because it makes me sound so educated!)

Sometimes rather than treating the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity, we treat the Spirit as the third wheel.

 

Many Christians have a hard time talking about the Spirit.

Especially Lutherans.

 

I learned this lesson the hard way when I was just starting out at seminary.

It was during my first semester and I had my first on-campus interview with my Candidacy Committee.

I was SO ready for this interview!

And then…well…things didn’t go as planned.

The first question asked by the Committee was “Why did you come to seminary?”

I answered, “I decided to go to seminary because…”

And before I could go on, before I had gotten ONE sentence out of my mouth, one of the Committee  members (or as I would call them the Judges) interrupted me and said, “It was not YOU who decided to go to Seminary, MISTER Conrad, it was the HOLY SPIRIT that guided you to seminary!”

 

That was when I knew I was going to be in for a long four year journey.

 

Looking back, that one sentence DID make an impact on my ministry AND my life.

And it was a positive one!

What that sentence did was take the Holy Spirit that can be found all over these Bible pages (hold up a Bible), and it pulled it out of the Bible and brought it into reality.

MY reality.

The same Spirit that was working in and through the disciples was working in and through me.

I DIDN’T decide to go to seminary.

The Holy Spirit DID lead me into ministry.

 

And this same Spirit is alive and well today right here, right now working in, through, under, and with all of us.

Now to get us to realize this, I want us to change our language when it comes to God and The Holy Spirit.

 

Let me tell you someone who loved the Holy Spirit.

Martin Luther.

Luther helped me make the distinction between past and current events:

“For creation is an established fact, and redemption, too, is finished.

But the Holy Spirit carries on His work without ceasing until the Last Day.”

 

And then Luther explains what the Spirit does right here and now in each and every one of us:

  • Enlightens our hearts from within
  • Brings us to true knowledge
  • Begins, arouses, and strengthens faith in us
  • Comforts us
  • Makes us aware of the devil and all his empty promises

 

These are the works of the Holy Spirit.

These are the works of God.

 

And let me urge and encourage you how to look at these works:

Do not look at them as a list of the things God does FOR us.

These are the things God does TO and THROUGH us.

 

The Spirit MOVES us to action and reaction:

The Spirit can move us to say or HEAR the words:

“I love you.”

“How can I help you?”

“Thanks be to God.”

“I forgive you.”

“Forgive me.”

“You need to be at church”

“Repent.”

“Come home.”

 

 

All these things that I mention are not just for our benefit.

These works are meant to send us out and offer these same gifts to everyone around us.

Because the Holy Spirit cannot be contained.

It cannot be controlled.

 

One of the reasons I love having this service outdoors is gives us an image that the Holy Spirit cannot be kept in a building.

The Holy Spirit is out of this world!

And The Spirit has work to do.

WE have work to do.

 

And the first step in doing such work, is to let the Spirit in.

 

One of the songs we love to sing to Paul is called “Open Shut Them.”

And there is a lyric that goes, “Open up your little mouth…BUT do not let them in.”

That’s all fine for the creepy crawlies,

But let’s not do that to the Holy Spirit!

 

LET THE SPIRIT IN!

LET IT MOVE IN!

LET IT MOVE YOU to a newer deeper understanding of God,

And God’s love for you,

And God’s love for this world.

 

Today we do not celebrate something that is in the past.

Today we celebrate SOMEONE who is in our present, and doing wonderful and incredible work.

And this someone…GOD…is calling each of us to be a part of that work.

 

 

 

Dad and Jim

Today is my Dad’s 84th birthday.
Now I know many people would say, “Er. Don’t you mean today ‘would have’ been your dad’s birthday?”
That’s a good point. Duly noted.
But I don’t see it that way.
While my dad’s life here on Earth ended on September 19th, 2010, his life with God continues.
So I know and believe that on this day, in God’s House, my dad is having a blast.
And he is loving the attention.

In a great twist of fate (or as my dad would say a “Twist of FAITH”), today is my father-in-law’s birthday.
I could not ask for a better man to be a part of my life.
In a lot of ways he reminds me of my dad.
Jim’s love of family (especially his grandchildren), his passion for his congregation, and his love of sports help me in two ways.
First, they help me remember my dad and his life.
Second, they help me remain grateful to have a man as good as Jim in my life now.

Some might say that today is bittersweet for me.
But it’s not.
It’s just sweet.

And awesome.

Happy birthday, Dad. You were the best.

Happy birthday, Jim. You are the best.

Sermon for March 8, 2015: “JESUSMANIA!!”

John 2:13-22

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

 

Sermon: “JesusMania”

We are just three weeks away from the biggest event of the year.

Bigger than the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Bigger than the Super Bowl.

I am talking about…

Wrestlemania! Continue reading

Sermon for 12.7.14: “The Story Awakens”

Reading: Mark 1:1-8

1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

Sermon: “The Story Awakens”

 

“There has been an awakening.”

On Friday, November 28th, the new trailer for Star Wars Episode 7 debuted.

Well, not the whole trailer, but what they call a teaser trailer.

A trailer for the trailer, if you will.

It is only 60 seconds long.

But since it debuted, at least count 30 million people have watched it at least once.

 

Why?

Why are so many people captivated by something only one minute long?

 

Because they love the story.

They love the characters: the heroes, the villains, and all characters in-between.

They love the world that was created a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

 

And even if it is a teaser, it is enough to whet the appetite of the fans.

It is enough to say:

“There IS a new movie coming out.”

“The story has another chapter.”

“The story has not ended.”

For the fans of Star Wars, this would be called “good news.”

 

Today, we have a teaser trailer in our midst.

It comes from the Gospel of Mark.

It can be found in the very first chapter and very first verse.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Now, compared to storm troopers, x-wing fighters, and the Millennium Falcon, this teaser sounds a little…soft.

And harmless.

I mean, it’s just one sentence.

But for Mark, the writer of the Gospel, this is more than an opening sentence.

For Mark, this is the opening thesis statement to what will lie ahead in his book.

For Mark, this “soft opening” is really a very powerful witness.

What we get is a tease, a foretaste of what is to come.

In this book we will meet interesting characters, hear stories of ministry, miracles, controversy, death, and mystery.

But that is for later.

Today, Mark begins his book by making a clear statement of his intent.

When the Gospel of Mark appears, no one had ever written “a Gospel” before.

 

Mark probably thought he was writing a biography, but when he chose to call his work “the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ” he gave a name to a new genre of literature.

 

With just this one sentence, Mark is saying: “I am going to tell you about a man named Jesus who is The Christ, The Son of God, the One we have been waiting for our whole lives.”

But before we get to Jesus, the main feature, we are introduced to another character, John the Baptizer.

 

John’s story occurs at the Jordan River.

It is important for us to understand that location is a key for this story.

 

The Jordan River was famous in the Old Testament as the boundary marker for what came to be called “the Promised Land.”

 

In the Exodus story, God’s people wandered in the wilderness for forty years until at last they reached the Jordan River.

 

When they entered the Jordan, they knew their wandering was finally over and that God’s promises were about to be fulfilled.

 

Their story of the exile was over.

Their REAL story was just beginning.

 

So when Mark quotes from Isaiah he is using the images and the language that the Jewish people would be very familiar with.

 

Words that connected the wilderness and paths and a voice.

 

The time of promise is drawing to a close and the time of fulfillment is drawing near.

For Isaiah, the probable context was the end of exile for Israelites in Babylon.

For John the Baptist, of course, it was the coming of Israel’s long-awaited Messiah.

 

And John wants the people to be prepared.

Come to the water.

Come and repent.

Repent as in turn around or away from sin and other distractions that have kept one from following God.

 

And what is amazing is that John is just the messenger.

 

John “teases” that someone greater than he is coming.

 

So even though the beginning of Mark sounds normal.

It is anything but normal.

Mark is signaling something new is happening.

Something new is coming.

 

And with this tease is the GOOD NEWS.

“God is coming.”

“God is going to make good on his promises.”

“God is HERE.”

 

 

Over the last month, I know of members and friends of our congregation who have gone through tough times.

Loss of job, loss of relationships, loss of loved ones.

And then if you turn on the television you see news about war, social unrest, and the lack of cooperation within our own government.

It’s too much.

It’s too much to take.

 

And when faced with this reality, we need to know that there is another person in this reality.

And that He is here.

This is the biggest “Good News” for the people and for us is this.

 

OUR GOD IS HERE.

When we have communion together, God is saying “I am here.”

“And I am not going anywhere.”

 

The “Gospel” the “Good news” is alive and well.

But the Good News is not just for our own being.

“Preparing the way” means more than preparing a way into our own hearts.

“Preparing the way” means helping our neighbors see that God is alive and that God is in the world, and that God loves them.

How do we do this?

Let me share with you what we have done just over the last month here at church:

Open Arms, Sandwich Ministry, Angel Tree, Thanksgiving Dinners, food and supply donations to CCM.

By doing what we do, by showing what we show, we are saying …

 

“GOD IS HERE.”

“There IS a new life coming.”

“Your story, our story, has another chapter.”

 

The story is just beginning.

This story will NEVER end.

 

Sermon for November 30, 2014: “Don’t Leave Me Hanging”

Reading:

Mark 13:24-37

24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

 

Sermon: “Don’t Leave Me Hanging”

 

Waiting and staying alert.

 

Since Kristen and I became parents we have learned a new meaning to the word “waiting.”

Continue reading

Sermon for Christ The King Sunday 2014: “The King That Matters”

Reading: Matthew 25:31-46
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Sermon:
I want to wish all of you a happy new year.
Continue reading

Sermon for November 16, 2014: “Jesus vs. Sasquatch”

Weekly Word for November 16th

Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

6 So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7 for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.

11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

 

Sermon: “Jesus vs. Sasquatch”

 

I am not the biggest fan of the dark.

There is just something about the dark that gives me the creeps.

Let me give you an example.
Continue reading

Sermon for November 9, 2014: “The Waiting IS The Hardest Part”

Reading:

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 5 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words

 

Sermon: “The Waiting IS the Hardest Part”

 

“The waiting is the hardest part

Every day you see one more card

You take it on faith, you take it to the heart

The waiting is the hardest part”

 

What I just read is not from any of our Scriptures today.

It is not from Proverbs.

It’s a song from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

It’s called…appropriately… “The Waiting.”

 

And today the act of waiting is a major theme in our scriptures, especially in the second lesson, which is where I want us to focus.

 

I can be a very impatient man.

I am the kind of guy who will stand in front of the microwave and complain that the Minute Rice is taking too long.

Maybe some of you are that way too.

 

I know that churches can certainly be impatient.

For example, let me share with you some of what I like to call “Grace Waits”:

 

When are we getting a new church sign?

When are we getting new church doors?

How long until we get a new boiler?

Those are some examples of “Grace Waits.”

 

Today in our second lesson, from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, we hear the concerns and “waiting issues” of another church.

 

Before we get into the lesson, there is some context of which you need to be aware:

 

The church in Thessalonica is new.

It has not been around for a hundred years like our congregation.

At the most the Thessalonians’ church is 20 years old.

So they are still in the “diaper” stage (which as the father of a newborn I know a little something of).

Even though they are a young church, Paul is very proud of the work they have accomplished.

In chapter one of this letter Paul praises “their work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).

 

But by the time we get to the third chapter, while Paul still talks about the congregation’s faith and love, he leaves out one aspect.

Hope.

And that is when we get to the waiting.

The people in Thessalonica are not waiting for something.

They are waiting for someone.

Jesus Christ.

The problem is these Thessalonians, has convinced themselves that Jesus is coming back…now.

Today.

ASAP.

 

And as each day passes with no Second Coming, members of this new church have started to die before the big event.

And so not only are the people mourning the loss of loved ones, they are also mourning what they believe could be their loved ones lost chance at salvation.

 

The people did not know what to do.

Where did the hope go?

 

Sometimes in our lives there are moments when hope seems to…vanish.

Moments of wars, famine, nasty politics, the fragile economy, health concerns, and the like.

When hope disappears (or it looks that way), it’s hard…sometimes impossible…to be told to wait.

Or to keep waiting.

 

So when the Thessalonians are faced with difficult circumstances, Paul stops being “Paul the Apostle” and becomes “Paul the Pastor.”

And what he tells the Thessalonians can give us some peace and comfort.

 

Paul tells them, “You can cry. You can grieve. You can mourn. But don’t lose hope. Let your grieving be defined by hope.”

What Paul means is when a church, a community, confesses Jesus Christ as Lord, there is an interconnectedness between  the profound emotions of grief and hope.

 

Paul is reminding us that death is not how the story will end.

That those who have died before the second coming will not be left behind.

Those who have died are not dead but sleeping.

And they will awake at the sound of the Second Coming.

Talk about a loud alarm clock!

 

And to bring some excitement back to the people, Paul uses images that would be familiar with the Thessalonians.

Paul describes Christ’s arrival with the same pageantry and fanfare that would announce the arrival of an imperial messenger or even the emperor himself, an event that was often accompanied by a declaration of “good news.”

 

So one can hear this description of the coming of Christ as an event that has more power and influence than any Roman emperor.

 

By doing this, in a way, Paul is a steadfastness of hope that is solid, steady, and certain of what and who is to come.

 

Now, another point I want to make this morning.

 

In our world today, there are many Christians who refer to this passage ,especially verse 17 where “being caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” as Biblical proof of the Rapture.

 

And they are wrong.

The word meaning “being caught up”in the Greek (“arpozo”) actually means “to snatch away.”

Usually in the New Testament “to snatch away” has a negative connotation of being taken by force (see Matthew 11:12; 12:29; 13:19; John 6:15; 10:12, 28–29; Acts 8:39; 23:10; Revelation 12:5).

But in a few instances, including this one, “being snatched away” conveys a more positive picture of being taken up into something good or out of something bad (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Jude 1:23).

 

For example:

Paul has started crawling.

And he loves to crawl towards our cats.

And our cats, for the most part, are very tolerant of him.

Most times.

Other times, the cats, especially Daisy, are ready to whack him.

And so right before Paul faces the wrath of Daisy I quickly “arpozo” him! I snatch him up from danger and back into my safe arms.

 

So this verse is God snatching us all up from the dead end of sin and bringing us to the Eternal Life that can only be found in him.

 

We want the wait to be over.

We want that Second Coming to happen.

But we talk so much about the future hope, let me assure you that God is in our present as well.

God is present in the waters of baptism, the bread and the wine of communion.

God is present

in the handshakes at the passing of the peace,

in the voices of our prayers,

in the songs we sing, and

in the silence that surrounds us.

God is in the love that is given to us by family and friends,

And in the kindness of strangers.

God is the warmth of a summer breeze and even in the chill of a winter’s day.

 

And while we wait for Jesus to come back, we can live as witnesses to what God has done, is doing, and will do.

We can rest in knowing God is with us.

And we can wait in another way.

 

By serving our neighbors, working for justice, and that those in need have someone looking out for them.

I don’t want you to think that God is only present in your lives.

God is present everywhere.

And we are called to bring that gospel, that good news, to everyone.

 

So while we wait for a new church sign, WE are the church sign.

Tell people about our church, and our community, and what we are doing to bring the Gospel to the world.

While we wait for new church doors, WE are the doors and we can choose to open them or close them.

While we wait for a new boiler, WE are the ones called to warm those who are in the cold.

 

The waiting IS the hardest part.

But it’s only a part of the story.

The final part is yet to come.

 

And that final part is something…someone…worth waiting for.

 

Sermon for Reformation Sunday 2014: “God Is My Mancave”

The Word:

Psalm 46
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. 6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. 8 Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” 11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

The Sermon:

It was September 4th, 2009, when Kristen and I became homeowners. And it was a wonderful moment for the both of us.
And I will always remember one of the first things she said to me as we left the bank after signing the papers.
She said, “You finally get your own mancave.”
And she was right!
For those of you who do not know what a mancave is, it’s actually a pretty recent phenomenon.
There was an article back in March of 1992 in the Toronto Star written by Mike Yost, a retired U.S. Army intelligence officer, that contained the first known use of the term “man cave.’
The very next month, a little book called “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” hit shelves across the U.S. and it would go on to sell almost 50 million copies worldwide.
In one chapter, author John Gray explains the male need to retreat — as if into a cave — as a way of dealing with stress.

Since then us men from all around the world have claimed a room as off limits to other people.
We men get to decorate the room as we see fit.
We can put in that ugly looking recliner (the one your wife is embarrassed you own), and put in that giant HD television that we have been coveting for years.
We men can finally have a room that we call … our own.
But what it really is in our eyes is a REFUGE.
A place that we can be ourselves, and a place that we feel safe.
Today at our church and in Protestant churches around the world, we celebrate the birth of the Reformation.
And it was in the Reformation that Martin Luther helped the world return to a very old concept that had been lost for many years.
That concept revolved around the word “Refuge.”
If you have a hymnal in front of you, I want you to open up to our Psalms section and look up Psalm 46.
Let’s read it together, please.
Psalm 46 is the basis for Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress.”
The words in that hymn echo the theme that we hear in Psalm 46.
And one of the first words that jump out is “refuge.”
What does “refuge” mean?
Literally it means to seek shelter from bad weather or to look for a protected space from enemies.
That is the literal definition.
But when it comes to the book of Psalms, “refuge” has a very specific meaning.
In the Psalms, one of if not THE central concept is that humans can take refuge in God during times of danger.
“Refuge” is defined not literally, but metaphorically.
Now as a metaphor, it is a word about “trust.”
To take “refuge” in God is to:
• Cling to God in times of trouble
• Trust in the protection of God,
• Seek to follow God’s way.

This morning I invite you to take on a very important mission.
It something things I want you to add to your “To Do” Lists:
When you are in times of troubles,
Let God be your refuge.

Let me jump back into the Metaphors:
When your earth, your world, changes (lose a job, lose a relationship, lose a loved one)
When your mountains shake (you lose hope, you lose direction)
When your world…crumbles.
Go to God.

When you fall, let God catch you.
When you cry, let God dry your tears.
When your heart breaks, let God mend you.
When you feel captured by the world’s troubles, let God free you.

And that is probably the biggest gift we get when we go to God as our refuge.
We get freedom.
Not just any freedom.
Jesus talks about this kind of freedom in our Gospel today.
And in the Gospel of John, freedom is a relational term.
In God, in Christ Jesus, we are free to be in a relationship with the one who created us, saves us, and loves us.
And this is what Martin Luther came to realize.

Let me give you another image of this:
Today we baptize Colten Muschlitz.
And this week I went to visit Kurt, Jennifer, Jan-Marie, and Tom to talk about today’s worship.
I watched Colten doing such a great job at sitting up and pulling himself up.
Paul is just starting to do this.
It is not an easy feat for a young child.
And this pulling up is the image that stuck with me.
Martin Luther felt like he had to pull himself up to receive God’s love and forgiveness.
He believe that in order to find refuge in God, he had to climb up to God.
But then Martin discovered had it all wrong.
Luther did not have to climb up to God.
God came to him.

As our Psalm says, “The Lord of hosts is with us.”
God is not away from us.
God is right here.

I enjoyed my mancave for a good while.
But then it became the family cave where Kristen and I would watch tv and movies together.
And now it is now longer my cave, it is Paul’s Play Palace.

And that is more than okay with me.

We can spend so much of our lives trying to build our own man caves.
Our woman-caves.
Places that will only give us a temporary peace.

Today I say to you stop it.

Stop working on the temporary.
And look to the permanent.

Look away from yourself and look to the One who has been with us our entire lives.
Look away.
And be still.
And know that God is here.
And He is OUR God.
And is our’s forever.

Sermon for September 28, 2014: “Trust”

The Word:

Matthew 21:23-32

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

 

Sermon for September 28, 2014: “Trust”

When I studied the Gospel for this week, I took a long look at the story, the parable that Jesus shares with his disciples, the chief priests, and the elders of the temple.

As I was reading the responses of the two sons, I felt the Holy Spirit awakening in me a memory of time in my life when I did not trust many people.

That time in my life began in college, when I was introduced to my least-favorite activity.

The group project!

Ugh!

I hated having to depend on others in order to get a good grade.

And in my major, Communication, these projects happened quite a bit.

Here are two examples:

One was my final in-studio television project where one of my camera men, Andy, for some reason, decided that it was on this day, the day of MY project, that he fell in love with the zoom lens on the camera!

I cannot tell you the number of times I had to yell, “Andy! Zoom out! Zoom out! For the love of God almighty, zoom out!”

The other project involved one of my closest and dearest friends.

We were working on a combined audio and video project.

We were getting near the end, but it was slow going.

And for some reason she freaked out.

She was certain that we were never going to finish the project in time and that we would fail miserably.

And this was coming from someone who was a CHEERLEADER in high school!

So now not only did I have a project to finish but I also had to convince my friend that we were not going to fail.

 

When you have friends go crazy on you, or friends who confess they love the zoom lens, you tend to hold on to those feelings of mistrust.

 

You tend to not take people at their word.

 

Things started to change when I was able to get back to church on a regular basis.

It was there that I began to reflect on God.

And I realized that I not only had trouble trusting people, but I had trouble trusting God.

 

I felt like God let me down.

 

And not because of the two incidents I mentioned, but because of the times in my life where I was let down by people who I trusted. People who hurt me.

 

But then the Holy Spirit went to work on me.

As my faith life began to improve, and my involvement with the church became a priority in my life, I began to look back with more clarity about the rough times.

I thought about my mom and dad, my friends, my time in school, especially my college buddies who to this day are still my friends,

And I realized…all of them were (and still are) gifts FROM God.

They were (and still are) all signs pointing to God’s reliability.

They were signs pointing to the promises that God made to me at the time of my baptism:

“Jonathan, you are my child. You are my responsibility. I am going to be with you always.”

And God was not just watching me.

He was loving me.

And he was guiding me through some very rough waters.

 

So as my relationship with God deepened, I realized I really could trust God with my whole heart.

 

In our time, we spend a lot of time in church talking about how we can trust God.

 

BUT

BUT

BUT how often do we consider to the idea of whether God can trust us?

 

Think about it.

 

If you look back to the Bible, think at how many times God entrusted his message to us.

His people.

From Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to Moses, to the Judges and Prophets, to Kings, to Warriors.

And most times those moments ended badly.

Things did not go smoothly.

 

Over time, the one lesson we could teach God is that He could not depend on us.

 

You would think that God would simply give up on us.

 

But he doesn’t.

And he won’t.

 

Please take a moment and look at the cross.

Look at the cross, and remember who was put on it.

Jesus.

Son of God.

God’s only son.

Why did God send Jesus?

God sent Jesus because of He loved us.

And Jesus did what we could not do.

And so look at the Cross.

Then look at The Font and The Altar- all these are signs that point to a God who does not let us down.

 

And they point to a God who gives us a new assignment.

That new assignment can be heard from today’s parable:

“Go and work in the vineyard today.”

Even after all our failures, God STILL entrusts us to this important task.

What is the vineyard?

The vineyard is the world.

The vineyard is the neighbor, the stranger, the poor, the sick, the enemy, and the earth.

God is calling us to work.

 

And that brings me back to the parable and to a question I want to ask you.

 

Which son or daughter will you be?

Will you be the one who says “no” and then does a “yes”?

Or will you be the one says “yes” and then does nothing?

 

To me, this goes back to the issue of trust.

God trusts us with HIS mission.

God believes in us and that WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

God believes in us and that WE CAN MAKE THE KINGDOM A REALITY!

 

Think about that.

God trusts us!

Even after all that we have done to break that trust.

 

God still sees us for who we ARE and CAN BE, not who we WERE.

 

So, folks. The vineyard is waiting.

God is waiting.

 

So what are we going to do with His trust?

Will we do nothing?

Or will we do something?

 

Let’s go and do some good.

Let’s go and spread the good news.

Let’s go and put God’s trust in us to good use.