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Tuesday, October 30 2012

Acts 2:42-47; John 8:31-36

          Let me tell you a story.  It’s a story told by Pastor Joshua Harris.  He says, “I met Michael at a bookstore near my home.  Twenty-something, and sporting a goatee, he had thin black hair.  He was sprawled out on a chair at the intersection of two aisles of books.  What caught my attention about him was that in the midst of all those books he was intently reading a Bible.  I struck up a conversation.  He told me he was a Christian but was going through a difficult time in his life and faith.

          “Eventually I asked, ‘Where do you go to church?’

          “‘I don’t really,’ he said.  ‘The last two churches I went to both went through nasty splits right after I showed up,’ he said.  Then he laughed, ‘I’m convinced that I jinx churches.’

          “‘I don’t believe in luck,’ I told him.  So I invited him to visit my church.  Michael did visit our church a few weeks later, but I haven’t seen him since.  Is he out there still trying to navigate his Christian journey alone, or has he joined a church fellowship?  I’ll probably never know.’”

          And then Harris goes on to say, “‘Sadly, there are too many Michaels – uninterested, disillusioned, distrustful.’”

          This is the second message in our six-week series on Why Church Matters.  Last week I talked about what the church looks like from heaven’s perspective.  What we learned is that the church is a body – we are the body of Christ.  We are the bride of Christ – in other words Christ loves the church in much the same way as a bridegroom looks at and loves his bride or a bride looks at and loves her husband to be on their wedding day.  And then we discovered that each one of us is a living stone – united and built together into a holy temple where Christ himself takes up residence.

          I think that when we look at the church from heaven’s perspective –the body of Christ, the bride of Christ –living stones put together as a holy temple for our Lord – that we will come to a better understanding of why the church – the local church – is important.  So I want to talk to you today about why we need the local church. 

          Now granted, sometimes I feel that when I preach a sermon like this – sometimes I feel like I’m – well – like I’m preaching to the choir.  The people who probably need to hear this message the most – are those who are not here. 

          And yet – there just might be a Michael here today who needs to hear this.  Or those of you who are here all the time – I want you to hear that I appreciate the fact that you already understand why the local church is important. 

          Now you know that the church is more than just this place – this body of believers – gathered together as Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church.  We are part of a larger church body called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, otherwise known as the ELCA.  And the ELCA is a part of the larger church – what we can call the universal church – which is made up of Christians –  disciples of Jesus Christ – of every denomination – all around the world.  So we are a part of this universal church because we are a part of the local church here at the corner of Clarence Center Road and Elm in the heart of Clarence Center.

          Now – I want you to consider for a moment – consider what your life might be like if this church – if Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church were not here. That it did not exist.  That another local church – the Clarence Center United Methodist Church down the street did not exist.  That Epiphany UCC church down the other way down the street did not exist.  That none of the local churches that you know of – or that you have ever been a part of – what if they did not exist.

          What if a whole generation of believers – from years and years ago – had suddenly decided that they could be believers – disciples of Jesus Christ – members of the universal church – who also believed that they did not need to be attached to a local church!  And – let’s take it all the way back to the beginning.    What if those first disciples had felt that way?  What if they thought, “We’re a part of the universal church.  We don’t need to write no Gospels.  We don’t need to write no letters to churches – ‘cause there aren’t any local churches to write letters to.  No – we’ll just sit around and wait until the Lord returns.”

          Do you see?  Of course you do!  The local church matters.  It has always mattered.  And support of the local church matters – not just to perpetuate itself – but to make sure that the Good News of Jesus Christ is passed on to the next generation.  Remember – the church is always just one generation from being extinct.  If we’re not there as a church for the next generation of believers – if we’re not there as the local church – then how in the world is the next generation going to hear about and know about and experience the love of Christ?  Because it is precisely in the local church that we learn about who God is as He has revealed Himself in the person of His Son Jesus Christ.  It is precisely through the local church that we see Christ in action in the world.

          Now – I believe that this also happens in the home.  In fact – it needs to happen in the home.  Faith is caught and taught most often in the home.  But you need – I need – the local church to be partners with parents and grandparents – when it comes to passing on the faith to the next generation.  And what that faith looks like – what the love of Christ looks like – when it is experienced first-hand in the local church. 

          Why do we need the local church?  It’s kind of a worn out phrase by now – but when it comes to passing on our faith – it takes a village to raise a child – it takes a village called the local church to help parents pass on the faith to the next generation.

          In addition to passing on the faith to our children – the local church is visible to the whole community – a reminder even to unbelievers – that Christ is here.  And it is my hope that this visible – tangible – active – and life-changing body of Christ – is making a difference in the communities in which all local churches find themselves. 

          Chuck Swindoll has been preaching the Good News for decades.  He is a pastor of a church in Texas.  Some of you listen to his “Insight For Living” program on WDCX, FM 99.5 at 8:00 AM during the week.  Let me summarize for you what he has to say about the local church based upon our reading today from Acts chapter 2.  And quite frankly, I think that these verses from the end of the second chapter of Acts is one of THE best descriptions of what the local church looks like that you will read anywhere.  Churches that model themselves after these verses are what I like to call an Acts 2 church.  See if these things don’t also describe us here at Zion.  Because I like to think of us as an Acts 2 church.

          Swindoll identifies from these verses four objectives of the local church.  In fact he calls them the WIFE that every church should marry.   W-I-F-E.

          The W stands for worship.  Now I’ll say more about worship at the end of this series – but let me say that it is here – in the local church – that the Lord is worshipped.  One of the primary tasks of the local church is to provide opportunities for worship – to worship together as a body – as brothers and sisters in Christ – the One Lord who is the God and Father and Savior of us all.  Worship is one of the marks of discipleship that we hold up as being of primary importance for those who would call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ.

          The I stands for instruction.  Verse 42 of Acts 2 tells us that the church – the worshipping community – “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.”  One of the pitfalls of do it yourself religion – or do it yourself Christianity – is this.  How do you know if what you believe is true?  How do you know?  When we participate in worship – or in a Bible study group – or a confirmation class – we are learning what the Scriptures have to say about faith – about Jesus Christ – about the things that matter to God.  And this is best done in and through the local church.

          The F stands for fellowship.  Not only did those first Christians devote themselves to worship and the Apostles’ teaching, but they also joined in fellowship.  Again – thank God for the local church.  You know by now that I think that the church – the local church – needs to be a fun place to be.  We need to laugh together.  I think we Christians don’t spend enough time laughing with each other.  But in order to do that, we need to spend time together.  Work with each other.  Study with each other.  Serve with each other.  Just find ways to get to know each other.  That’s what the local church is for.

          And finally – the E in WIFE stands for Evangelism.  Read the book of Acts and just notice how many times it says that the church grew in numbers.  Our job as the local church is to reach out with the Good News of Jesus Christ – through what we say – and quite frankly – how we say it – but perhaps more importantly – by what we do.  Being a sincere, authentic witness to the community for Jesus Christ.  Showing what the church – the body of Christ is really all about. 

          So there you have it.  The WIFE every church should marry.

          Folks – there are too many Michael’s out there in the world who want and who need a place to call their church home.  Whether here among us – or in some other local church.  Even though I think this is a great church – I can’t and I won’t even begin to pretend that this is the only place where people are going to find what they’re looking for in a local church.  You know that I don’t care where people go as long as they go. 

          But it is my firm belief that churches that are modeled after the Acts 2 church model – churches where worship, instruction, fellowship, and evangelism are valued – where children are treasured – where our elders are respected – where all are welcome – these are the churches that make a difference.  And that’s the kind of church that I want to be a part of. 

          If you’ve come here today wondering why you’re here.  Or if you’ve ever contemplated going it alone – or perhaps you’re content with taking a seat on the margins – I hope if nothing else –I hope today I have given you reason to stop – and to think – and perhaps even to pray – about your life as a disciple of Jesus Christ within the body of Christ in the local church. 

          I hope you see why we need the local church.  Without the local church – Christianity would have withered and died centuries ago.

          And that’s why church matters.


Posted by: AT 08:14 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, October 22 2012

John 17:13-24; Ephesians 5:25-32; Ephesians 2:19-22

          If you recall from sometime last spring, I let you know that it was my intention – in fact – I think I made it something of a promise to you – that I would  deliver a sermon series focusing on the church. 

          And if you’re keeping count – you’ll know that this is just the second sermon series I have ever worked on in 21 years.  The second one!  The first one – I hope you remember it – the first one was this summer when I did a sermon series on the book of Ephesians.  So sermon series are a new thing for me – well – for all of us, I guess.

          But why a sermon series on the church?  Glad you asked.  You see, I have a concern.  It’s a concern not only for this church – this congregation – but for the church as a whole.  And it’s because of  all the things that are going on in the world today – all of the things that are going on in the culture of America today.  I see certain trends that have been developing now for quite a number of years that I think we should all be concerned about.   

          Certain trends are emerging in our American society – trends that polling data confirm.  Now polls tell us that somewhere between 87% and 90% of all Americans say they believe in God – or a god.  But a growing number of Americans – especially younger Americans – who say they believe in God – perhaps they might even say that they follow Christ – but when asked which church they are affiliated with – a growing number respond “none.”  None!   Pollsters lump these folks together and call them “the nones.”  N-O-N-E-S.  We’re not talking about certain women who serve the Lord in the Roman Catholic Church.  No.  The nones I’m talking about have no religious affiliation.  Some of the nones – some not all – will also tell you that they are “spiritual but not religious.”  And as you’ve heard me say before – I have a big problem when people describe themselves with that phrase. 

          Now it’s interesting, when Nancy and I tell folks that we are both Lutheran pastors, can you guess where the conversation immediately turns?  That’s right.  Church and religion.  So we weren’t surprised when our traveling companions on our recent trip to Africa started talking about church and religion.  One of our co-travelers described himself to us as spiritual but not religious, saying he was a recovering Presbyterian, and that he believed in reincarnation.  I asked him by what authority he believed what he believed, but he never did answer me.  And just as an aside, I want you to know that resurrection – which is what Christians believe – is totally incompatible with reincarnation.  I just want you to know that.

          Folks – this is an example of the trend that I see developing in our country.  For that reason, I want to talk with you today and the next five weeks about why church matters.   Because I am convinced that it is through the church – and only through the church – that we can come to know who God is – specifically who God is as He has revealed Himself to us in the person of His Son Jesus Christ.  Those who classify themselves as a “none” –  N-O-N-E – when it comes to church affiliation – those who say they are spiritual but not religious – well – that kind of go it alone religion just isn’t going to cut it. 

          For that reason – I am here to tell you today that church matters.  So I want to talk to you today about the church – and how it is that the Lord regards this thing that He calls the church.     

          Now – I am sure that many different images come to your mind when you even hear the word “church.”  Most often, people think of the church as a building.  And you would be right in thinking that.  We are sitting inside a building that people call a church.  But it is also my experience – that many of you understand that the church is more than a building.  More to the point – the church is people.  In fact – the best definition of the church I ever heard is this:  The church is what is left over after the building burns down.

          Another way to put this is to say that we – the church – we are the body of Christ.  We are a body – a body of believers – and we belong to Christ.  And certainly – when we talk about looking at the church from heaven’s perspective – one of the images that the Bible uses to talk about the church is as the body of Christ.

          If you’re taking notes – you are taking notes, aren’t you? – if you’re taking notes – the reference here is I Corinthians 12:27.  Where the Apostle Paul writes: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

          In the entire context of chapter 12 – I Corinthians chapter 12 – Paul is saying that just as your body – your physical body – is made up of many parts – you know – hands, feet, eyes and ears – and each part of the body plays a specific role in how the body functions – Paul is saying that we who are members of the church – disciples of Jesus Christ – we all play a role in the body of Christ just as the parts of our physical bodies play a role in how our bodies function. 

          He’s talking about spiritual gifts – and how we all have spiritual gifts that were given to us by the Holy Spirit at our baptisms.  SO just as our bodies are made up of many parts – hands, feet, eyes, ears – and just as each of the parts of our bodies have a different function – so it is with each one of us.  We are a part of the body of Christ.  And each of us has an important role to play in making sure that this body that we are a part of – this body the church – functions – for God’s glory – for the benefit of others – and for our own good.   

          So what happens when one part of the body is missing?  We suffer, right?  The whole body suffers.  That’s why I have a problem with “I can go it alone,” “spiritual but not religious,” believers who say church is not important.  They’re wrong.  Church is important.  Church does matter!

          So one of the ways in which the Lord looks at us who make up the church – one of the ways the church is viewed from heaven’s perspective – is that the church – and again, that’s you and me folks – that we the church are  the body of Christ.

          Another way that the church is looked at from heaven’s perspective is as the bride of Christ.  That’s what we discover today in our reading from Ephesians chapter 5.  The Bible calls the church the bride of Christ.  Now I know – that the concept of the church as the bride of Christ may not be too appealing to most of us men.  After all – a bride is someone who is – well – someone who is a woman – a woman all dressed in white. 

          But let me work through that with you for a moment.  For those of us men who are married – or who someday hope to be – but for those of us who are already married, do you remember the way you looked at your wife – your bride – on that day you were married?  Now I have been married to my bride for just over 30 years now – and I have more love and respect and concern for her now than I did 30 years ago when I said those words, “I do.”  I did?  Yes, I do.  All I will say about that is that, it is just getting a whole lot better – especially after the kids left the house!

          But to be quite honest – not that I wouldn’t be honest – but to be quite honest, I had no idea what I was getting into on September 5 of 1982 – but I remember Nancy walking down the aisle – escorted by her Mom and her Dad – all dressed in white.  And I loved her. 

          So guys listen – and everyone else listen.  Here’s what I want you to understand.  When Jesus calls the church His bride – what He is saying is that He has tremendous love for His church.  And it is His church.  It’s not my church.  It’s not your church.  It’s His church.  And He loved the church enough – He loved you and me enough to die for us – His church.  He loved US enough to go all the way to the cross for you and for me – His church.   

          So Christ looks at the church the same loving way – with the same loving eyes – that a groom looks at his bride.  And that’s a wonderful thing.

          That’s why I also chose our reading today from John chapter 17.  Read it again sometime this week and notice that Jesus prays for his followers – his disciples – AND all “…those who will believe in (Him) through their word.”  That’s you and me folks.  Jesus is praying for you and me.  He prays for us because He loves us.  And then He prays, “…that they may all be one.”  Jesus prays for us that we might be one – one body in Christ.

          So we are the body of Christ – we are the bride of Christ.  And then there is another way that the church is seen from heaven’s perspective.  The church is seen as a building – a temple – a temple made of living stones.  Did you know that you are a living stone?  That’s right.  Mick Jagger may be a Rolling Stone – but you are a living stone! 

          The Bible tell us in I Peter, “…like living stones, let yourself be built into a spiritual house.”  The book of Ephesians calls us “…a holy temple in the Lord – in whom you also are built together into a dwelling place for God.”  John 1:14 says, “And the Word – Jesus – the Word became flesh and lived among us.” The Greek here means “to tabernacle” or “to set up a tent.”  So Jesus sets up His tent among us.  He chooses to live among us – in this temple – this body of believers that He calls His church.

          So from heaven’s perspective – we are a temple – a spiritual house where God Himself lives – a building where Christ is the cornerstone – built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. 

          Well – what does all of this tell us?  I hope you are seeing by now that we are a part of something that is bigger than ourselves.  And that something bigger is the church.  And that’s why church matters. 

          We are the bride of Christ.  And when we understand what that means – we’ll come to understand just how much Christ loves the church.  He loved the church enough to go all the way to the cross in order to reconcile us to God the Father. 

          We are indeed one body – one body in Christ.  Linked together as brothers and sisters in Christ.  So do you know what that means?  It means we’re family.  And therefore – we need each other.  Do it yourself religion – or even do it yourself Christianity fails on this one point alone.  As Martin Luther said, “He who would find Christ must first find the church.”

          And that’s why church matters.

          I’m Pastor Randy, and I approved this message.


Posted by: AT 09:34 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, October 08 2012

Submitted by Dr. Robert Zielinski

I have a good many pastor friends.  And when I lamented to them that I had drawn THIS week, THIS Gospel to preach on, virtually each and every one of them came back with some version of “you know, there are other readings that day, you don’t have to preach on the Gospel”.


Sometimes in Bible reading, we come across something that seems to mean one thing, but then someone who knows more tells us about the context, or gives us some information about the culture of the time that maybe we didn’t know, and we realize that maybe the passage doesn’t mean what it first seemed.

I’ve never heard anyone try to do that with this passage.

Until I read the preamble I am given to read to you before the Gospel, what you see printed before you.  That would lead you to believe that the message you were about to hear was about elevating the status of women and children. 


Jesus elevating women and children above their accepted station of his day.  A worthy sermon topic, for sure.

But does anyone really hear that when they hear this Gospel?

So, I am going to talk about the elephant in the room.

Here’s a news flash: Jesus is not crazy about divorce. 

He tells those Pharisees, and then in private, his disciples, that Moses was easy on them about divorce because they couldn’t handle the truth. God’s idea of marriage is an unbreakable uniting, two becoming one.  No excuses.

This is awfully uncomfortable, though, because divorce has become so common place in our society.  The trend began a couple decades ago, and shows no sign of letting up, so virtually everyone here today has either been divorced themselves, or is very close to someone who has.  And so, we feel very bad about reading this black and white, clear cut condemnation in the Gospel.

But Jesus uses this technique of upping the ante on traditional interpretation of sin in many other places, and it is not always nearly so uncomfortable for us. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, he talks about the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” which has to be the easiest of the Ten. Most of us get through our whole lives without ever seriously threatening to break that one.  But he says that even if you never actually do the violence, if you just harbor anger and resentment toward anyone, you have the heart of a murderer, and you are no better.

And as long as we are on the subject of adultery, he also says in the Sermon on the Mount that even if you never pursue it, just looking longingly at an attractive person means that in your heart, you are just as guilty as if you actually had the affair.

A fourth example is a bit uncomfortable.  Remember the wealthy young man, righteous and proud of it, who comes to ask what he needs to do to achieve the Kingdom of God?  Jesus says, “You know the commandments,” and the man says “Yes, sir, and I keep them all faithfully”. 

So Jesus replies “Great!  You’re almost there.  Now go give away all your possessions and join us.” 

Uh ohhhhh.  He found that weakness we all have for our “stuff”. The man, who didn’t realize that he was probably failing the very first commandment by putting his wealth as a sort of god before the real God, skulks off in silence and shame.

So what gives?  Is Jesus just trying to make us feel bad?

Of course not.  Well, maybe a little.  His first point here, is to remind us that we are all imperfect, that we are all fall far short of God’s ideal in everything we try.  In his mind, our efforts are like vaulting from one ledge to another with a thousand-foot deep canyon in between.  It doesn’t really matter if we miss by an inch or a yard.  The end result is the same. Falling short is falling short.  And we all fall short.

He tells us these harsh truths to get us to do less finger pointing, and more looking in the mirror.

This is certainly applicable to divorce.  Divorces are always a two way street; both parties, if they are honest, can find things they could have, should have done differently. But most of the time, when it comes to any broken relationship, (not just divorce, but any one……spouse, family, old friend, our relationship with our workplace, take your pick) most of us spend a lot of time complaining about the other party, and little time reflecting on what we could be doing better ourselves, and the positive effect that might have on the situation. 

My wife and I celebrated our 27th anniversary last spring. But it isn’t her first marriage, which I guess makes us both long term adulterers. Like virtually any pair who has been together this long, we have struggled, sometimes very hard, to keep it going.

But we have learned from our struggles and those of others close to us, that you never really know what is going on in someone else’s house once the doors are closed and the friends have gone home.

So, by upping the ante, by setting the bar unreachably high, Jesus reminds us that our job is to acknowledge our own sin, not deny it, sweep it under the rug. And it certainly is not to judge the sins of others. Less finger pointing, more mirror gazing.

The second point of these extreme targets is that Jesus cares at least as much, if not more, about what is going on in your head, and in your heart, than in your actions.  Action is important, to be sure, but intent and sincerity are even more important.

I am sure that one reason why we have too many divorces today is that people’s heads and hearts are not in their marriage. They don’t care enough, they don’t take marriage seriously enough. Perhaps people see giving up on the marriage as easier than doing the hard work needed to make a relationship last through decades of inevitable ups and downs. I think you have to adopt the attitude in marriage that you are in a stalled submarine at 10,000 feet under the sea.  There is no way out of here, so we better figure out a way to get this tub moving again.

But that is certainly not always the case.  I bet there are many among us today who are not guilty of failing to take their marriages seriously. They tried very hard, and wound up divorced anyway.  But whether they did or they didn't, why do they feel as though some of us do not want to forgive them? Why do some of them not want to forgive themselves?

To answer that, let's get to the Good News...finally.

Recall that in the very next paragraph of today’s Gospel, which thank goodness is included in the reading today, Jesus welcomes in the little children and not just encourages, he requires his followers to approach the Kingdom of God as a little child.

Children in Jesus’ time, even more than today were entirely at the mercy of adults. There were no safety nets to protect them, not even the imperfect ones we have today.

So Jesus is really saying here is you must come to me just like the weakest, the most vulnerable, the most humble among you, the ones who have come to expect the least.

And only then will I give you the most. 

His lofty reminders of God’s perfect intentions are intended to humble us like he humbled the wealthy man by pointing out the sin we like to shove under the rug or gloss over.  Even in our strengths, he finds the imperfection to remind us we can never be good enough.

Because until you get that, until you understand that we are all weak, that we are all vulnerable to sin, until you can humble yourself like a little child ….you can’t really get Jesus.

Thank God he gets us.

You see, Jesus likes to toss out the ideal, the perfect as our target, knowing full well that we can’t ever hit it. He knows we can’t keep his commandments all the time.  Sometimes not for ten minutes.  Never get angry at one another, never let your eye drift at the pretty girl or handsome guy strolling by…he knows we can’t do it.  He’s making a point. 

He gets us. He knows we will mess up.

And he forgives it anyway.

That’s grace.

That’s why he came.

That’s the Good News.

 He doesn’t say this sin or that sin is really bad, and I can’t let you go on that one. God’s ideal for marriage may not include an escape hatch. But it also doesn’t include abuse or addiction or infidelity, or any of a hundred other things that mess up the perfection that he intended in marriage. He knows that mistakes and misery became inevitable once he let the people loose on earth, that with humans in charge,  the world will never live up to his ideal.

 He gets us.

So, today’s Gospel may remind us to face our own sin and admit it, not sugar coat it. But it is not our job to carry it around forever. We are to lay it at the foot of the cross, where Jesus’ job is to forgive it. And because of that, we are to forgive others.  And maybe most importantly of all, we can forgive ourselves.

When we mess up, no matter how or how badly, and you know we will, we can go to him, like a child to a loving parent, humble and dependent.  But it’s OK, we can trust him. He was here, he knows how we are.  He doesn’t like our sin, but he gets it.

He gets us.

Thank God.

Posted by: AT 08:47 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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