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Monday, November 26 2012

John 4:1-26; Rev. 1:4b-8; 4:2-11

          I hope you have been enjoying this series on Why Church Matters.   And it is not by accident that I am ending this six-week series today focusing on worship – and why worship matters.  Not an accident that I have selected Christ the King [weekend] [Sunday] to talk about worship. 

          Worship is so important that perhaps someone else doing a similar series might have put today’s message first.  But I want to talk to you today about who it is that we worship – and why and where and how.  But first let me say something about why we call today – Christ the King [weekend] [Sunday].

          “It began in the 1800's, when the world's great empires – British, American, Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Japanese – were all at war or about to go to war somewhere.

          “The Pope seeing the world torn by war wrote a letter in which he dedicated the world to Christ the King.  He reminded these empires that God is present with all peoples, that he alone is king.  The Pope's idea was eventually adapted to what we celebrate this day: Christ The King Sunday.  This celebration at the end of the year is a reminder that Christ will return at the end of time as ruler over all creation.” SO let’s talk about worship today – especially important for us when we consider that Christ is indeed our Lord, our Savior and our King.

          There is a wonderful song that we sing often on Saturday night.  It’s called “The Heart of Worship.”  Now there’s a story behind this song.  “Matt Redmon, the man who wrote it is a worship leader in England.  His pastor was trying to teach his church the real meaning of worship, and to show that worship is more than music.  He did not allow any singing in their services for a period of time.  Imagine me trying to get away with that here.  But during this time of no singing, they learned to worship the Lord in other ways.  That’s how this song came to be written.”  Listen. 

“I'm coming back to the heart of worship, And it's all about you, It's all about you, Jesus. I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it, When it's all about you,
It's all about you, Jesus.”

          Worship is not about us.  And although worship is something that I think needs to be done well – worship is not about how spiffy and polished the worship service is.  On the other hand – when we worship together – and by the way – when we worship together here in this place – it’s called corporate worship – when we worship together – worship that is boring and irrelevant is going to drive people away.  So worship needs to be engaging – done well – and speak to people’s hearts and minds.  

          Having said all that – the music – the singing – the Word – the Sacrament – the fellowship – these are the things that go on in worship.  These are tools – tools that enable us to worship.  And they do need to be done well.  But they are only tools – they are expressions of worship – but they are not ends in themselves.

          Now – in this passage we are looking at today, John 4, we find that Jesus is having a discussion with a Samaritan woman.  This episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples is known as the story of “The Woman at the Well.”  And one of the things they talk about is the subject of worship. 

          What we learn is that there is something that God actually desires from us.  And that thing is worship.    Listen to what Jesus says in verse 23:

          “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will   worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers  the Father seeks.”

          First of all, notice who it is that we are to worship.  We are to worship the Father    – God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Father “seeks” true worshippers – those who worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.  So worship is important because of who it is that we worship – but it is also important because that is what God desires from us. 

          Worship.  Simply telling God how wonderful He is.  Praising God with our voices – with our singing – with our music.  Thanking God for all that He has done for us.  For all that He has done and continues to do for us.  For all the blessings and gifts we have because God has given them to us.  This is why we worship.  Because of who He is and for what He had done for us. 

          But again – those who would worship must worship in Spirit and in truth. You know what that tells me?  First of all, Spirit.  More than anything else – worship is a matter of the heart.  It is a matter of attitude.  It is something to be passionate about!  I want to tell you – there are sometimes – when I am standing up here – sometimes I am just going through the motions.  Not often – not often at all.  Just sometimes.  You know!  It is so easy to say the words.  Especially when we’ve memorized so much of the liturgy – the Creed – the Lords’ Prayer.  Which is a good thing!  But it’s so easy just to say the words – and not have those words come from the heart.  I mean – come on.   When we say the Lord’s Prayer – don’t you sometimes find yourself thinking about something else?  Of course you do.  Sometimes I do too.

          So when Jesus tells us that God is looking for – seeking – people like you and me to worship Him – what He desires is that we worship Him in Spirit and in truth.  So attitude – as it is in all aspects of our lives – but especially when it comes to our worship of the Lord – attitude – the attitude of the heart – is everything. 

          But Jesus also says here that we are to worship in truth.  We are to worship the true God – the Father of our Lord – in truth.  And we find that truth in the Word of God.  And that’s why our Scripture readings are so important.  That’s why every worship service has one or more readings from God’s Word.  Because as worshippers of the true God – we need to hear – we need to learn the truth about who God is – how God has revealed Himself to us – and we can find that truth only in the Word of God. We need to be very careful not to worship any old god we want.  And we must not worship God as we imagine Him to be – or who we want Him to be.  No.  We need to worship God for who God is – for how God has revealed Himself to us.  In Spirit AND in truth.

          Therefore – when we gather every week to worship – we need to come prepared.  Ready for worship.  I know that’s hard when the kiddos are giving you a hard time on a Sunday morning or a Saturday evening.  I can remember a time when I would rather stay at home and watch cartoons.  But Nancy told me, “You’re the pastor.  You have to go to church.”  But really – when I was a boy I remember when I would rather stay home on a Sunday morning to watch cartoons.  I never did win that battle.  Or maybe your mind’s on something else that might be going on in your life right now.  And I know what I’m about to say is not always easy to do – but when we come here to worship – and we need to work really hard sometimes – but for just one hour – to set aside those things – clear our hearts – clear our minds – of all those distractions from the past week – so that our attitude can be in the right place.  So that we CAN worship God in Spirit and in truth.     

          And by the way – one of the neat things about the way Lutherans worship is that we start out each worship service with confession.  I like hearing – even if I’m the one saying the words – I like hearing that my sins – that your sins – are forgiven.  And when our sins are forgiven – they are gone.  And because they are gone we can be bold to enter into the presence of God with clean hands and a pure heart and offer to God our worship and praise. So we need to be ready.

          Now, the next thing I want you to see is that you can worship God anywhere.  I know that that probably sounds shocking to you that I should say that – especially when we’ve been talking about why church matters these past six weeks.  You would think that I would say that because church matters – that this is the place where we must come together to worship God together.  But when Jesus and the Samaritan woman talk about where worship must take place – what we learn from Jesus is that the place is not important.   

          However – you knew there would be a however, right? –however – since church matters – and since this is God’s church – and since God desires that His people meet together – well then – it only seems right that God’s people meet together to worship Him – as our first priority.  If your desire is to truly worship God – then it seems to me right and good to meet together with other people who have the same desire to worship God. 

          So when it comes to worship – what do we know?

1.     Worship is focused – it is centered on God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

2.     Worship is what God desires from us.

3.     Why Worship?  Because of who God is, and for what God has done for us.

4.     God isn’t looking for church goers.  He is looking for worshipers – people who worship in Spirit and in truth.  In other words – it matters where our hearts are at.  The truth of God’s Word matters. 

5.     You can worship God anywhere, anytime – as we should!  BUT the coming together of God’s people to worship God corporately – that is what God desires from us.

          Archbishop William Temple gave us one of the most beautiful definitions of worship you will ever come across.  Listen to what he had to say:

          “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.  [So it’s not just something we do for an hour on the weekend.]  It is the quickening of conscience by the holiness of God, the nourishment of the mind by the truth of God, the purifying of the imagination by the beauty of God, the opening of the heart to the love of God, and the submission of the will to the purpose of God.”

          And as James Merritt says: “Worship is the honor and the praise and the glory of God Himself.”  And that my friends – that is why worship matters.  That is why church matters.          Amen

Posted by: AT 08:45 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, November 19 2012

Acts 2: 41-47; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Luke 12:13-21


          A few weeks ago, I encouraged all of you to dig into your Bibles and read the book of Acts.  That is what I am doing right now.  And it seems like no matter how many times I read or study the book of Acts – I never get tired of looking at verses 41-47 in chapter 2 of the book of Acts.  And quite frankly – I am always challenged – as your pastor – to try to live up to the model that is offered to us in these seven verses.

           But here in these verses is a model of what the church can be like.  And as you’ve heard me say many times before – this model is what I like to call the Acts 2 church.  And I like to think that this church – Zion Lutheran Church – is indeed an Acts 2 church.      

          So what did this Acts 2 church look like?  First it says that they were devoted – they were devoted to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  They shared what they had as any had need.  So it seems to me that a church that is going to be an Acts 2 church will strike a balance that includes worship and fellowship, teaching and learning, serving and sharing.  And when we look at the church as described in Acts 2, what happened?  What we find is that, “…day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

Today we continue our series on “Why Church Matters.”  And I want to say that there is something about an Acts 2 church.  Especially when that church cares about what Jesus cares about.  Invests in what God cares about.  

You know that our mission is to love God, and love our neighbors as ourselves, because nothing else matters.  That’s the primary thing we need to remember about who we are as the church.  First and foremost, it’s about God.  It’s not about you – it’s not about me – and getting our needs met.  No.  First and foremost, it’s about God.  And secondly, it’s about people.

So how do we fulfill that mission?  Well one way is when we worship God.  To worship God is to praise God.  To give God thanks to God for all that God has done for us.  Now I’ll say more about the worshipping church as we close out this series next week when we celebrate Christ the King Weekend.  But for now let me say that worship is the primary way in which we show our love for God. 

But there are other ways in which we show our love for God.  And it seems to me, that we can do that when we do pay attention to others.  When we represent Christ to our neighbor!  So we can pray for each other, spend time with each other – do things for each other. 

But what I want to talk with you about today is that your contributions are making a difference for God and for others in and through this place.  That’s loving God.  That’s loving your neighbor.  Touching hearts and changing lives.  And I don’t know, to me that just feels right.  It feels good.  Does it feel good to you?  I  just want to say thank you to all of you who are helping to make a difference.   

And I am so proud of so many of you who have learned how to properly manage the resources that God has put into your hands.  By the way, that’s what stewardship means.  That’s what being a steward means.  It means that you are a manager – not an owner, but a manger – of all that God has given you.   

And because of that, you know what it means to give back.  And let me tell you – when you wisely invest financially in the things that God cares about – the first thing I want you to remember is that you do this as a way to say thank you to God.  And then you do this in order to show compassion and concern for others in need.  You invest in those things, those places, those people that God cares about.  That’s what you’re doing when you give.

Because what we’re really doing is investing in others.  And when you invest in a person of any age, you are investing in something that is going to last forever.  Yes, we know that someday our physical bodies will die.  But we also know that there is also a resurrection – when we will live with God forever.  So when you have the courage, the passion, and the vision to invest in facilities and in ministries – you are touching hearts, and changing lives.  You have the courage to be an Acts 2 church!

I believe God wants us to making a difference.  That’s why I say the church is in partnership with moms and dads – to give kids the proper direction and guidance for their lives – a purpose and a hope for the future.  And oh yeah – while these things are happening, at the same time, we give them Jesus.  Again, in partnership with moms and dads in the home, we give them Jesus – the only Lord and Savior who is able to give us grace – his undeserved love and favor – to live this life – and hope for eternal life with God yet to come.

And that’s where your contributions to the work of the Lord make a difference.  Just look around.  Each person you see – each one with whom you share the peace – each man and woman and child who comes through these doors is touched by you.

          Is this important to you?  I think it is.  Jesus lets us know in our Gospel reading today that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.   Did you know that your money follows your heart?  Hey – show me your check book – and I'll show you what really matters to you – I’ll show you where your heart is.  Okay – you don’t really have to show me your check book – but we’ve been talking for several weeks now about why church matters.  It matters to the heart of God.  It is made up of people that Jesus cares about – people that Jesus died for – and Jesus wants us to care about what He cares about.  So does your checkbook show that you care about what Jesus Cares about?

          So where is your heart?  Do you have a heart for God and the things of God?  Are you ready to invest in what God cares about?  If your heart’s not there – if this is not a priority – then I guess your treasure isn’t going to be in those things that God cares about either. 
          This past week, I read the story of  “…a Methodist minister who on a Sunday – after the ushers had brought the offering forward – lifted up those offering plates and prayed this prayer,   ‘Lord, regardless of what we say about you, this is really what we say about you, this is really what we feel about you. Amen.’”

          And I thought – wow!  That’s pretty gutsy!  Glad it was a Methodist minister, and not a Lutheran!  The thing is – it’s true.  “Your money follows your heart.  If your commitment to Christ has not yet reached your billfold then it has not yet reached your heart.” Those are harsh words, I know.  But if we are honest about this – we’ll discover just how true it is.

          So let me ask you.  If you are giving nothing, then I have to ask, where’s your heart?  But if you are motivated to invest in what God cares about – if you are motivated to make a difference – to touch hearts and to change lives – then let me suggest that your motivation to give most likely means that first – first you have already given yourself – you have committed your life – to the Lord.       

          Secondly – you know that investing in what God cares about is just one way to thank God and to show love for your neighbor – in other words – both those outside the church as well as your brothers and sisters in Christ. 

          And just remember – that God takes great delight when you give.  When you care about what God cares about.  After all – what does our reading from 2 Corinthians say?  “God loves a cheerful giver.”            So there you have it. 

 And because of you and your contributions – your partnership in this ministry – we can provide meaningful worship.  Sunday School, confirmation, dynamic youth ministries, Bible studies, ALPHA, Total Family Ministry, Stephen Ministry, MOPS – that’s mothers of preschoolers, not those things you clean your floors with – Eucharistic Ministry to shut-ins.  You are making a difference in these areas when you invest in what God cares about.

As your pastor, I have grown towards the tithe – the giving of 10% of our income to the Lord for the work of the Lord – and beyond.  Today, again, I encourage you to grow as well.  Discover the joy of giving – the joy of tithing.  And I know that that kind of giving involves sacrifice.  And remember our definition of sacrifice – sacrifice is the giving up something you love deeply for something you love deeper still.  I want you to know I’ve been tithing ever since I got my first job out of college.  And you know what?  I have never lacked for a thing. 

But I don’t – I cannot – I will not lay this down as a rule or a commandment – but let me just invite you to determine where you’re at now – and to challenge yourself to grow one step – just one step closer – to the tithe, or beyond, in the coming year.  Determine where your giving is now as a percentage of your income – and then grow by one half percent – one percent – whatever.  That’s what we call “Grow One Step.”

You see, folks, if we have honored God with our lives, with our stuff, and with our finances – if we are committed to allowing God to build an Acts 2 church in this place – then let me tell you that there will be a tremendous sense of ownership – of satisfaction – YOU will feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction – of being part of something good that is greater than yourself.  A tremendous satisfaction that you have touched hearts and changed lives.  That you have made a difference for Jesus Christ – because Jesus has made a difference for you.  That you are investing in what God cares about.


And that my friends – that is why church matters.

Let us pray.  Lord God, thank you for reminding us once again of your grace – your undeserved love and favor.   You have given us the privilege of managing the gifts that you have so generously placed into our hands.  We pray that you would remind us always to invest in those things – those places – those people that you yourself care about – of the difference we can make by what we do with what you have given us.  May your Holy Spirit rest upon us now as we partner together –to be the people you want us to be – in the Acts 2 church you are building in this place.         Amen 







Posted by: AT 09:48 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 06 2012

John 21:1-17

          Just in case you missed it – in the Gospel lesson that I just read to you – I want you to know that what is taking place here is taking place after Jesus’ has been raised from the dead.  This is what we call a post-resurrection appearance by Jesus to his disciples – and John – the author of this Gospel tells us that this is the third appearance Jesus made to his disciples following his resurrection from the dead. 

          Now, just how many times Jesus appears to his disciples in all after his death and resurrection we don’t know.  But during the forty days between the resurrection and Jesus’ ascension into heaven – we know that Jesus does indeed appear – alive – in his resurrection body many times.  This is important.  After all, how in the world can these disciples proclaim that Christ is risen from the dead if they have not in truth experienced the risen Christ!  Saw him.  Talked with him.  Touched him.  Ate with him.  How can they do that – unless Jesus is risen from the dead!

          So Jesus appears to the disciples as living proof of both his death and of his resurrection from the dead.  But we also discover something else.  In today’s post-resurrection encounter between Jesus and his disciples – we find that Jesus has some unfinished business to take care of.  Most specifically — unfinished business with Peter. 

          Now – most of you remember that it was Peter who had denied knowing Jesus shortly after Jesus had been arrested.  While the trial of Jesus is going on – some folks are pointing at Peter and accusing him of being a disciple of Jesus.  And what does Peter do?  He vehemently lets them know, “I do not;  I do not; I swear I do not know him.”  How many times does he deny Jesus?  That’s right.  Three times.

          Now hold onto that – because I want you to see what happens in this episode from today’s Gospel reading by the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus and the disciples are on the beach having breakfast, and when breakfast is over, Jesus turns to Peter and asks him, not once, but three times “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Without even one reference to Peter’s denials – Jesus leads Peter through a process of repentance.  And by the third time – you know that Peter knows what the Lord is doing.  Peter can count.  Thankfully – for us and for Peter – Peter confesses his faith in Jesus all three times when he says, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”  And each time Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my lambs; tend the sheep; feed my sheep.”   

          Peter is forgiven.  And now that he is forgiven – he can focus his attention – not on his guilt for having denied knowing Jesus – but on what Jesus wants him to focus on.  To care about what Jesus cares about – the flock – or in other words those who will come to faith and belief in Jesus Christ.  In other words – the church.  But before Peter can carry out this task – he has to be ready.  He has to be forgiven – and know that he is forgiven.

          I want to suggest to you that maybe – just maybe – there may be some of us – maybe even most of us – who see ourselves in Peter.  We feel guilty for something that we’ve said or done.  We might even think that God is mad at us.  Well let me tell you something.  God’s not mad at you. 

          Think about it!  When Jesus talks to Peter – does Jesus say, “Peter you nincompoop!  You told me – you promised me – you would never deny me.  Shame on you Peter.  Three times – count ‘em – three times you denied knowing me.”

          NO!  Christ never once condemns Peter.  Not once!  Notice that Jesus forgives Peter.  He doesn’t rub Peter’s nose in those denials of his.  No.  He forgives Peter.  And in the same way, Jesus forgives you.     He doesn’t rub our nose in what we’ve done either.  Jesus does not come to us wagging his finger in our faces.  You see – Christ cares about us – His church.  Christ cares about you. 

          And when we understand just how much we are loved and forgiven – well then it seems to me that confessing our faith in Jesus Christ is just the right and proper thing to do.  To profess great love for the Lord, and show gratitude for all that He has done for us.  And one of the gifts that He has given us is the gift of the church.  This body of believers – the bride of Christ – the living stones put together as a holy temple where Christ himself lives. 

          And – just like Peter – Jesus asks us to care about what Jesus cares about.  In other words – he asks us to care about the church.  And I will suggest to you that there are two sides to this.  The first is caring for the people who are already a part of the church.  And second – to care for those who are not yet a part of the church.

          It’s a challenge to do both – and to do both well.  But that has been my goal – my target – my focus – from day one.  And quite frankly – I think it is something that we as a church do well – because – number one – so many of you are involved in the caring ministries of this church – I can’t do this alone – and number two – you are also great evangelists.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record – kids you’ll have to ask your parents or grandparents what a broken record is – but at the risk of sounding like one – I want to thank you for inviting folks you know to visit with us here at Zion.  AND I want to thank all of you for going out of your way for making those first and second and third time guests feel welcome here.  That’s important.  That’s part of caring about what Jesus cares about.

          Because – like Peter – Jesus wants us to care passionately about what Jesus cares about – namely His church.   Jesus wants us to have a heart for the church.  And you can’t have a heart for the church – at least it seems this way to me – you can’t have a heart for the church – and stay away from it.  Unless – of course – things like age or illness – sometimes work schedules or other circumstances – keep you away.  I understand that.  But again – going it alone – practicing your faith in private – is not what Jesus has in mind for us – His church. 

          Last week I encouraged you to read the book of Acts.  I want you to know that that’s what I’m doing.  I am in the process of reading the book of Acts – one chapter a day. 

          And when you do, you’re going to see that the first century church exploded.  After the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – where do we find the disciples?  Boldly proclaiming Jesus Christ – and Him risen from the dead.  And that’s where we find our roots – our history – our beginnings as a church – on the day of Pentecost. 

          I know we Lutherans are rather proud of the fact that Martin Luther – the guy after whom we are named – started the Protestant Reformation on October 31st, 1517 when he nailed his 95 Theses to the church door at the Wittenberg Castle Church.  But that’s not where the Lutheran church had its start.  The Lutheran church had its start all the way back to the beginning – on the day of Pentecost.  That’s when the church began with just a handful of people.  120 to be exact.

           So when you read – if you read – the book of Acts you’re going to read about those first disciples.  You’re going to read about a man named Peter.  You’re going to read that he is a different man from the man he was just some 50 some odd days earlier when he denied knowing Jesus.  He is a changed man.  As you read the book of Acts – you’ll find Peter and the other disciples – and other early converts to Jesus – going into the world with the Good News message of Jesus Christ.  Every Gospel – every prayer – every letter that they wrote – that can be found in your Bible – is evidence that Peter and the others took Jesus seriously.  They choose to love what Jesus loves – to care for what Jesus cares for.  To tend the sheep.  To feed the flock.  To care for the church.

          One of the great blessings we have in the Lutheran tradition is to have this day – this weekend – that we celebrate as All Saints weekend.  Again – All Saints Day is November 1st – but we celebrate it this first weekend following the first.  And I love All Saints Day because it is a great time for us to remember all the saints who have gone before us – and to honor the living saints among us – who have had an impact on our lives. 

          And just to make the point – as I do every year – a saint is anyone who names the name of Christ.  Anyone who is a disciple of Jesus Christ is a saint. This is how the Bible uses the word saint – and therefore – what does this mean?  It means that we – WE – all of us – we are all saints.  So how many saints in this room?  That’s right.  Every hand ought to go up.

          Let me conclude with words from Joshua Harris.  I think he says it well.  He says, “Consider the countless men and women since the [church had its start] – not great leaders or teachers or pastors, mind you, just ordinary believers – who have lived their lives for God’s glory in local churches.  How many do we know by name?  Hardly any.  And yet their faithfulness to the Savior is directly connected to the fact that two thousand years later, you and I know Jesus. 

          “If they had not stood for the gospel in their generation, we wouldn’t be here in ours.  They lived out God’s Word; they met in fellowship to give witness to the gospel; they proclaimed Christ crucified and risen from the dead with their words and their lives.

          “Through them God saved and discipled the person who shared the Good News with another.  Who witnessed to another, and another, and another – on and on through the generations till we come to the man or woman who shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with you and me. 

          “And here we are.”

          And then I REALLY like what Harris says next.  Listen!  He says, “This is our time.”  This is our time” [to be the church.]

          “Today, we are Christ’s church.  Today Jesus comes to us with the same question.  Will you and I,…commit to passing on through His church in this generation the treasure of His glorious gospel? 

          “My brothers and sisters, it’s time for us to say yes.” 

          To love what Jesus loves.  To care about what Jesus cares about – His church.  If not us – who?  If not now – when?       

          And that’s why church matters.


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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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