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Monday, November 28 2011

Mark 13:24-37; Isaiah 64:1-9


          “Margaret was all ready for her date.  She was wearing her best outfit, her hair was fixed, her makeup was perfect.  Imagine her disappointment when her date didn’t show up!  After an hour of waiting, Margaret decided that he wasn’t going to come.  She changed into her pajamas, washed off her makeup, gathered up a bunch of junk food, and parked herself in front of the television for the evening.  As soon as she got involved in her favorite show, there was a knock on the door.  She opened it to find her handsome date standing on the doorstep.  He stared at her in shock, then said in disbelief, “I’m two hours late, and you’re still not ready?”

          Ah, it’s that time of year again, isn’t it!  The talk about Christmas ultimately leads to talk about getting ready.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  Seems like the world is getting ready before we in the church are ready to get ready.  Two local radio stations were playing Christmas music 24 hours a day two weeks before we even had a chance to get our Thanksgiving menus written down.  I made it a point not to listen to those stations, by the way.  Black Friday and Small Business Saturday – are just now past.  Cyber Monday is just a day away.  There are even some houses in our community who have had their outdoor Christmas lights on for more than two weeks now.  I guess some people like to get ready sooner than others. 

          But, now that Advent is here, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t urge YOU to be ready.  To get ready.  And unlike that young lady whose date arrived late – to stay ready. 

          Now I know, it can be an enormous job to get ready for Christmas.  And ultimately, I do think it is worth it.  The celebrations that we have – and I am talking about the celebrations that keep Christ at the center of things – and again – in our society – I know that that’s not always an easy thing to do – but again – I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t encourage you – in the busyness of this season – in the getting ready – and all the preparations – I would not be doing my job if I didn’t encourage you – to keep Christ at the center of it all.

          Because what are we really getting ready for?  What I like about Advent is that Advent is a celebration of what has been – and what is yet to come.  Anyone who has been around here any length of time knows that Advent – this four week period in the church year that precedes Christmas – you know that the focus for getting ready is not just to celebrate the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ at his first arrival in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago – but to be aware that we are waiting for his second arrival – his second coming – at some point in time in the future. 

          And since we don’t know when that’s going to be – we wait.  We wait with hope and expectation.  We wait for the Savior to return.  And we get ready and we stay ready by living a life of repentance that leads to forgiveness. 

          We get ready and we stay ready by being the kind of people that God is calling us to be – living the kind of lives that God is calling us to live – lives that reflect the light of Christ in our hearts and our lives – making a difference in the lives of others for the sake of Jesus Christ.  That’s how we get ready.  That’s how we stay ready.

          Why?  Because we know that we too – even we – are in need of a Savior.  Believers as well as non-believers.  Believers are in need of a Savior because – well quite frankly – we are sometimes prone to wander.  Sometimes we run away from God.  Or we chose to stay away.  SO we are always in need of a Savior.  We are always in need of the Good News.  Jesus our Savior has come.  The Gospel – the Good News – reminds us that we are forgiven.  AND the Good News shows us what it means to be “livin’ forgiven.” It means, as someone once said, "preaching the gospel to yourself every day."        I know I need to hear it.  I need to hear that Good News every day!

          And non-believers are in need of the Gospel too.  There is a whole world out there that needs to hear that there is a better way.  There is a whole world out there that needs to hear that their wait for a Savior can be over. 

          “The story is told of John Henry Newman, who, in the 1800’s, was an Anglican minister in England. His religious pilgrimage ultimately took him to Rome and the Roman Catholic Church. He ultimately would become a cardinal in the Catholic Church and the most preeminent leader of that church in Europe.

          “While serving as Cardinal, he received a message from an English priest from the tiny village of Brennan, a dirty little mill town north of Birmingham. It seems that an epidemic of cholera had decimated the village and the priest was asking for help, for another priest to assist him in the giving of the sacrament, administering the Last Rites, and to do funerals, so many people were dying.

          “Newman read the letter in his office, and he spent the next hour in prayer. Finally a secretary came in and said: Cardinal Newman. We must give an immediate reply to Brennan. Your eminence, what shall we do? Newman answered: The people are suffering and dying. How can I send a priest to do this work? I must go myself.

          “At [this time of year, we remember that] God looked down upon his dying people, dying from sin and distraction, pride and preoccupation.  How, under the circumstance could he send a substitute? He came himself—in the person of Jesus Christ.”

          Advent is about getting ready.  It is about repentance.  It is about the believer’s and the non-believer’s need for a Savior.  What the world needs to know – what they still need to hear – in the busyness and sometimes the craziness that hits us every December – is that the Savor the world is longing for is Jesus Christ.

          Now – I think that we have a great opportunity every year at this time.  For those of us who know we have a need for a Savior – and indeed we have come to know that Savior in the person of Jesus Christ – what we have is a tremendous opportunity during Advent to invite our unbelieving friends and relatives – and maybe even especially our believing but un-churched friends and relatives – to come here to worship.  To come to discover the Savior – maybe even to discover him again for the first time.

          Folks – the world is in a mess.  Politically.  Economically.  Financially.  Morally.  All you need to do is read the front pages of the newspaper, or turn on the evening news to know what I’m talking about.  Jesus comes to make a difference in this messy world of ours.  If I didn’t believe that – if I didn’t believe that he has made a difference in my life – then I wouldn’t be up here preaching to you this same Good News week after week after week.

          Earlier I said that Advent is a time to celebrate what has been and what is yet to come.  What we often talk of as the first coming and the second coming of Christ. 

          But you know – we miss something if we don’t also talk about the third coming of Christ.  He was born in Bethlehem.  He will come again.  But the third way – is that he also comes to us today.  And this is also what Advent celebrates.  Let me share with you a story.

          “A couple from the United States spent some time serving as missionaries in one of the former Soviet republics. They were caring for children in an orphanage and, like anyone who has been involved in ministry with such kids, they were simply overwhelmed by the tragedy of so many children who’d been abandoned.

          “On one occasion this missionary couple was teaching the children about Christmas. They told them all about Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and wise men, and about the baby Jesus. They told them all about the stable, and the manger, and the star in the sky. They told them all about God’s love for the world embodied in the birth of Jesus. And after teaching the children the Christmas story, this couple invited them to draw some pictures of the manger scene.

          “All of the pictures were wonderful! But one in particular caught their attention. It was drawn by a little boy named Misha. And what made Misha’s drawing distinctive was that there was not one, but two babies lying in the manger.

          “‘Misha, what a wonderful picture!’ said the woman missionary. ‘But who is the other baby in the manger with the baby Jesus?’

          “Misha looked up with a lovely expression on his face. ‘The other baby is Misha,’ he smiled.

          “‘Oh? How is it that you added yourself to the manger scene?’ she asked.

          “And this is what Misha said. ‘When I was drawing the picture of the baby Jesus, Jesus looked at me and said, ‘Misha, where is YOUR family?’ I said to Jesus, ‘I have no family.’ Then Jesus said to me, ‘Misha, where is your home?’ And I said to Jesus, ‘I have no home.’ And then Jesus said to me, ‘Misha, you can come and be in my family and live in my home.’”

          That’s a wonderful story of how Christ comes to us and invites us to let him enter into our lives.  Enter into our homes.  Even as we invite him to come to us and live with us – in our hearts – our lives – our homes.  And that is what Advent is all about. 

          If an emotional fix were all that we needed, then I guess all we would need would be a few warm and fuzzy Hallmark Channel Christmas specials on TV.  No.  We need more than just an emotional fix.  What we need – what the world needs – is a Savior.  His name is Jesus.  And he comes to you and to me today – and he comes to us, and says, “Come.  And be in my family.  And live in my home.”

          God sent us the gift of Himself in the person of His Son Jesus Christ more than 2000 years ago.  And we also know that Jesus will come again someday.  But he comes to us in the now – today – because he knows we need a Savior.  The world – believers and non-believers need a Savior.

          And that’s why we tell the story – because his story can change your story.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Amen                  

Posted by: AT 08:36 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 15 2011

November 12 & 13, 2010

Matthew 25:13-40

          Hey, how many of you are happy that the election season is over?  At least on the local scene, anyway.  Maybe your candidates won, and maybe they didn’t.  But the important thing is, is that we all got a chance to vote.  And whenever you cast your vote, it is an act of trust, right?  What you are in essence saying is that, “I trust this man – I trust this woman – to lead, and to do what is right for our community, and to make wise and honest decisions for the good of all.”  So your vote is an act of trust, wouldn’t you agree?

          Today, I’m going to ask you to cast another vote.  And no, I’m not running for Governor.  No – I want you to cast your vote today for the Lord.  Knowing that your vote is an act of trust, I want you to vote for the Lord.  You see, every time you come here – and place your offering in the offering plate – you are casting a vote.  A vote that says, “I trust you Lord.  And I trust what you are doing in this place – and I look forward with joy to what you are going to continue to do in this place.  And I give my offering as a vote of trust and thanksgiving for who you are, and what you’ve done for me, and what this church means to me.”

          What you give to the Lord for the work of the Lord is always a vote of trust.

          And quite frankly, what God gives you for that purpose is a sign of God’s love and trust in you.  That’s how I look at this parable that Jesus tells us today.  Many of us have heard it before.  The message for us is that the Lord has placed something into our hands, and He wants us to do something with it.

          Now, in this parable the master has given something to three of his servants.  All three of his servants do something with it.  Two take risks with what they have.  The third one plays it safe.  But the master is looking for a return on his investment.  And although we are not told how the first two servants invest – we’re not told what kind of risks they took – it is obvious that the risks pay off, and they are able to double what their master has given to them. 

          And I love the master’s response.  This is so cool!  He says, “Well done good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your master.”

          Unfortunately – to the dude who played it safe – to the dude who didn’t lose any of what his master entrusted to him – the master fires him, and has no good words to say to him.  He rejects the safe approach of the third servant.

          And here I think is the point.   Because they were faithful with what the master gave them – because it was their master’s desire to buy, sell and trade with what they had been given – to take a certain degree of risk with what he gave them – they entered into a new relationship with their master.  They entered into what the parable says is “the joy of their master.”  And that I guess you could say is the bottom line.  The joy of the master.

          Folks, the Lord has blessed us in many ways.  What we do with those blessings is – in many ways – a reflection of our love for and our trust in the One who gave us those blessings. 

          So first we give to the Lord for the work of the Lord.  That I think is the first priority.  It is mine, anyway.  And everything else is to be used for all the things that we need.  Food.  Clothing.  Homes.  Transportation.  Entertainment.  Saving and investing.  It’s all good when we use what the Lord has given us wisely.

          But that part that comes off the top.  The first fruits if you will of all that we’ve been given.  What we give to the Lord for the work of the Lord, there is a generosity there that so many of you have learned to do with joy and thanksgiving.

          Your generosity is in effect a vote for God.  Your generosity is a vote that says, “I thank you Lord, and I trust you.  And I trust this church to use this gift wisely.”

          Generosity in giving shows who it is that you trust.  And let me be clear about this – we serve who or what we trust. 

          So put your trust in God – not in wealth.  Not in things.  But in God.

          Now, having said all that, Jesus never said that having nice things is wrong.  I just want to be clear about that!  But I am convinced that whether we own nice things or not, Jesus certainly wants to be sure that they don’t own us.  Learning generosity – investing in what God is doing – because that’s what you’re doing – investing in what God is doing – casting your vote for God – helps us to realize just how good God is – how faithful God is.  I can tell you from personal experience that being generous – loving God more than I love the money He gives me – helps me to overcome the greed that I know I would easily fall victim to. 

          And quite frankly – I would rather be a generous disciple of Jesus Christ than a stingy or greedy one.  And the wonderful – amazing thing is – I have never lacked for a thing.  Never.  And I know that many of you have experienced the same thing.

          Now everything I am sharing with you today is in preparation for Consecration Weekend – next weekend.  For those of you who are new to the church, this is our opportunity – every year we give the opportunity for all of us to declare what it is that we intend to give on a weekly, or monthly basis to the work of the Lord here at this church.

          And I’ve already used a couple of metaphors to describe this.  I’ve called it casting your vote for God.  Investing in what God is doing.  And now I’m going to use a third metaphor.  And that’s planting seeds and bearing fruit. 

          I want you to know that the sacrifices you make through your giving results in fruit bearing.  Our theme for this Consecration Weekend celebration is, “Making A Difference.”  Through your generosity you are making a difference.  You are pouring your life – I mean that financial gift that you give each week – I know what that represents.  That’s the fruit of your education – your sweat – your time at the job – your hard work.  I know what that represents.  And when you give you are pouring your life into something – and YOU ARE making a difference.  What you do makes a difference – because ultimately you are planting seeds in the next generation. 

          You see, every generation of disciples depends on the one that has come before it.  IF we do not plant these seeds through our generosity – if we bury the gifts that God has given us – if we don’t use it for God’s purposes – then a whole generation of young folks may very well be lost. I like what Leonard Sweet has to say about this.  He says, “Christians are not ‘born.’ Christians are ‘born again.’ And Christians are ‘born again’ only after being hand-fed with the milk of trust and the food of faith that only Jesus’ disciples can produce.”

          In a few minutes – we will be participating in a blessing ceremony that is just one example of where I’m going with this. We are going to observe and participate in a blessing ceremony for our third graders who have received their first Bible, and have just completed eight weeks of learning what that book is all about. 

          Their parents will be keeping the promises they made at their children’s baptisms.  And do you remember that you made promises too?  As a congregation?  Every time a child or adult is baptized at the font, you make promises to pray for and support them.  I just want to remind you that one of the ways you do that, by the way, is through the gifts that you give for the work of the Lord in and through this place.  I want you to see that your generosity is indeed bearing fruit.

          Will you take some risks and invest your gifts in something that promises to bear fruit?  

          Will you trust God to provide for you everything that you need? 

                   Will you vote for God? 

                             Will you take a risk and invest in what God is doing here? 

                                 Are you ready to bear fruit in the lives of people who need  to know about        

                                      Jesus and grow in faith? 

                                           Are you willing to make a difference?


          Just remember that this parable says that people who make a difference enjoy a special relationship – a special joy with the master – our Master, Jesus Christ.

          I don’t know about you, but I want that joy.  And in Christ Jesus we do have that joy.  It’s not something that we have to wait for. 

          But one day, I am hoping to hear those words spoken by our Lord.  Spoken to me.  Spoken to you.  "Well done good and faithful servant – enter into the joy of your master.”                                                 


Posted by: AT 10:47 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 09 2011

Matthew 5:1-12

          “In 1809, the evening broadcasts would have concentrated on Austria – not Britain or America.  [In 1809] The attention of the entire world was on Napoleon as he swept across helpless hamlets like a fire across a Kansas wheat field.  Nothing else was half as significant on the international scene….From Trafalgar to Waterloo his name was a synonym for superiority.

          “During that time of invasions and battles, babies were being born in Britain and America.  But who was interested in babies and bottles, cradles and cribs while history was being made?  What could possibly be more important in 1809 than the fall of Austria?  Who cared about English-born infants that year when Europe was in the limelight?

          “Somebody should have.  A veritable host of thinkers and statesmen drew their first breath in 1809.

·        William Gladstone, Britain’s future Prime Minister, was born in Liverpool.

·        Alfred Tennyson began his life Lincolnshire.

·        Oliver Wendell Holmes cried out in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

·        Edgar Alan Poe, a few miles away in Boston, started his brief and tragic life.

·        A physician named Darwin and his wife called their infant son Charles.

·        And a rugged cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky, was filled with the infant screams of a newborn boy named Abraham Lincoln.

          “Only a handful of history buffs today could name even one Austrian campaign.  [I know I can’t.]  But who can measure the impact of those other lives?  What appeared to be super-significant to the world has proven to be no more exciting than a Sunday afternoon yawn.  What seemed to be totally insignificant was, in fact, the genesis of an era.

          I want you to know that those words are not mine.  They belong to a man by the name of Chuck Swindoll.  He’s talking about people of influence.  And I can’t think of a better day than today for us to do the same thing.  You see, today is the day that we celebrate – every year in the life of the church we celebrate this day – a day we call All Saints Day.  Now the actual date is November 1st, but today is close enough.  So what I want to do today is to talk about people of influence.  The folks I’m thinking about are not political or military leaders, but people of influence in the church.  People of influence in our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Otherwise known as “the saints.”

          Now I like preaching on All Saints Day.  I like it because it gives me a chance to talk about – well – about saints.  And to talk a little bit about who or what a saint is, and what they are not.

          Now, we tend to think of saints as super Christians from the past.  Names like St. Teresa.  St. Francis.  St. Anne.  St. Peter and St. Paul.  You know those names.  Sometimes churches are named after them, and in some churches they have been elevated to a special status.  Statues have been made of these men and women.  You can find them in the corners of some of the great cathedrals of the world.

          And let’s be clear about it.  They were – and they are – men and women of influence.  Men and women of faith.  They are remembered precisely for the things they said or did or wrote because of their faith in – and devotion to – Jesus Christ.

          But let me remind you that saints are not just super Christians from the past And I say that because it is my firm conviction that everyone who names the name of Jesus – in other words – anyone who is a disciple of Jesus Christ – is also a saint.

          That certainly is the understanding of St. Paul – the writer of so many letters that are found in the Bible.  In quite a number of his letters to various churches, he uses the word “saint” to refer to all of the people who were a part of the church to which he was writing.  Everyone!  No one was excluded from the title. 

          Let me give you just one example.  There are quite a few others, but this one will do.  It is from the book of Ephesians – right at the very beginning – where he introduces himself and his audience – first chapter – first verse. 

          “Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus.”  Over and over again in his letters, Paul uses the word “saint” to describe the Christians to whom he is writing.

          Folks!  Saints are all around you!  Don’t look now, but you’re sitting next to one.  Or in front of one.  Or behind one. Yeah.  Yeah, that husband of yours ladies – he’s a saint.  Especially if he has learned to say those two little words, “Yes, Dear.”  And gentlemen – we know our wives are saints, don’t we!  Of course, you are not a saint because you might be a great husband or a great wife.  No!  You are a saint for no other reason than that God declares you to be a saint – through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who forgives all your sins.

          If you are a believer – a disciple of Jesus Christ – you are a saint!

          And saints are people of influence.  Now, you might not have your name in lights.  Most likely no one’s going to make a statue to remember you by.  You might never make it into the history books.  But you –dear saint – you are a person of influence.  And because you are a person of influence – you make a difference.

          Just like the folks who have made a difference in your lives.  Now when I think about that, of course there are my mother and my father – and my grandparents.  They were all influential in my faith development. 

          But there is another class of people who were people of influence too!  And the names that come to mind for me are Harry and Winny Proefrock. Marge Eustice.  Loren DeVantier, Gary DeVantier and Norm DeVantier.  Ummm – in the town of Bergholz where I went to church – everyone was related.  And then there was Albert Milleville and Helen Milleville.  Yeah – they were my grandfather’s cousins.  I told you we were all related.  And Helen now at age 101 – I guess you could say is one of my “old” Sunday School teachers. 

          There is a part of them in me.  There is a part of them standing up in front of you right now!  Why?  Because they were people of influence – people who made a difference in my life.  Saints.  They taught me about Jesus.

          So who are the people of influence in your life?  Who taught you about Jesus?  Who read to you the stories and the teachings from this wonderful book that we call the Bible?  They are our pastors, our teachers, our mothers, our fathers.  Perhaps a close friend.  And can you name one person – one living, breathing saint – who is helping you grow in faith today?  In fact, I hope you can name more than one!

          Now listen.  You don’t have to be a Sunday School teacher in order to be a person of influence.  But nevertheless – you are a person of influence.  So who are you influencing?  Who are you discipling?  You cannot not be a person of influence!  Why?  Because you are a saint!

          Let me share with you a story.  Most of you know the name “Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.  One morning in 1888, he awoke to read his name in the obituary.  Alfred’s brother had died, but a reporter had erroneously reported the death of the wrong brother.  He had reported that Alfred, ‘the dynamite king, the weapon maker, the great industrialist who had made a fortune from explosives’ had died.  The obituary gave people the impression thatNobel had been a merchant of death, and that that would be how he would be remembered.

          “As he read that obituary, he resolved to make clear the true meaning and purpose of his life – which had actually been to break down the barriers that separated people and ideas. 

          “His last will and testament became the expression of his life’s ideals – the thing that he is remembered most for – the establishment of the Nobel Prize – given to those who have done the most for the cause of world peace.”

          Folks, on this All Saints Day, we remember those brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone on before us.  People of influence.  People whose legacies made a difference in our lives.  But what about you and me?  If you were to awaken tomorrow morning and find your obituary in the newspaper, what would it say?  How will you be remembered?  What will you be remembered for?  Will they say that you were a disciple of Jesus Christ?  A beloved saint?  A brother – a sister – in Christ?

          The Book of Hebrews says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  Those who have gone before us – and those who are with us still.  People of influence.  And people of influence make a difference.  People like you and me – disciples of Jesus Christ – who are indeed – the saints of God.


[i] C.R. Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, quoted in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, pp.297-298.

[ii] N. Halasz, quoted by R.Raines, Creative Brooding, paraphrased from The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, pp.300-301.

Posted by: AT 10:56 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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