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Monday, June 17 2013

Luke 7:36 – 8:3; 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:10; 12:13-15; Psalm 32

          I want to welcome all of our dads and grads here today.  Today –as we all know – is Father’s Day.  It’s also the day we chose here at ZLC to recognize our high school and college graduates.  And we’ll be doing that a little later on in our service today. By any measure, graduation is a major, major milestone.  In some ways, it’s kind of scary.  In other ways it’s quite liberating.  It is what we call a rite of passage.  If you’re a high school grad – you really are considered an adult now – so you can start acting like one.   If you’re a college grad – perhaps you’re moving on to a career – or at least hoping for a job of some kind – or maybe pursuing another degree.  But for what you have just accomplished, we want to congratulate you.

          But because today is also Father’s Day, I want to talk today to all of the men who are here today.  Well – what I have to say is for everybody – but my message today is geared for all of the men here today.  So before we go any farther, let me invite you to watch this video clip. 

(The video from Skit Guys can be viewed at the following website.  I think you’ll enjoy this.)

          I love the question the man at the garage sale asked.  “Hey!  What’s it like being a dad?”  After raising two boys of my own, and a young girl from Africa who came to live with us when she was 15 – you would think that I would have all the answers by now.  Well, I don’t.  I have experience, but not all the answers.  It’s like I’ve told you before.  I was the perfect father.  And then I had children. 

          Okay men – and ladies – what I want you to know is that being a dad – being a good dad – doesn’t always come easily.  And I am in awe of the responsibilities that come with the job.  And as that video tried to show – being a dad sometimes means being a font of wisdom – being an encourager – being a role model – being someone who is fun to be with – and I think to top it all off – a good dad is also a man of faith. 

          We have a lot of baptisms at this church.  Six in the month of June alone.  [Three Saturdays in a row – and another two weeks from tonight.  How good is that!]  And when I meet with parents I show them a video.  I’d show it to all of you now, but I think one video in a sermon is enough.  The bottom line of that video is that this church has approximately 40 hours a year to share the good news of Jesus Christ with each child – and to teach each child what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Whereas in the home – moms AND dads have 3,000 hours a year to teach their children about the love of God in Jesus Christ – AND to serve as role models for their kids of what being a disciple of Jesus Christ looks like. 

          One of the best lessons you as a dad or a mom could ever teach your kids is that they are loved and forgiven.  Our Old Testament lesson and our Gospel reading are both great lessons on what it means to forgive and to be forgiven.  Teach your children that.  Teach your kiddos about the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Teach them that because of that – God gives us the forgiveness we all need as a gift.  Teach them that. 

          And then show them what it means to forgive others.  And if I might throw this in – this I think is one of the most important things that husbands and wives can do for each other.  To forgive each other.  So learn what it means to forgive each other.  Your children will be watching – and they will learn from what they see and what they hear – and sometimes from what they can sense.  Forgiveness is a way of life, and around here we call it “Livin’ forgiven.”  So teach them.  Show them. 

          One of my approaches to pastoring is to build a church that will attract men.  I think that’s important.  In too many churches the one demographic that is missing is the men.  And in too many other churches – there are no children.  And when that happens – that church does not have much life left. 

          But I think that a church that is a place where men feel welcome – where men feel comfortable being – is a place where you will find children.  And around here, we’ve got lots of children.  Lotsa kids!  With that, let me throw some statistics at you. 

          “Did you know that if a child is the first person in a household to become a Christian, there is a 3.5 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow?  3.5 percent!  If the mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow.

          “But if the father is first, there is a 93 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow.”[i]

          I tell you, dads, it’s an awesome responsibility God has put into our hands.  But you know something?  Your kids – your family – are worth it. 

          But still, it’s not easy.  And yes, you will make mistakes.  That’s about the only think I can guarantee for you about what it means to be a dad.  You will make mistakes.  And that’s OK.  So did all of the rest of us. 

          So – although you are far from perfect – somehow you are still going to manage to love your child – and tell them that you love them.  We are role models for our sons – to show them what it means to be a man.  And let me tell you this.  You will teach your sons how to treat women with love and respect – by the way they see you treating your wife.  By how you love and respect your wife. 

          And you are a role model for your daughters.  You will model for them what they someday will want to find in a husband, yes?   You want to be the kind of dad – the kind of man – that your little girl will one day want to have walk her down the aisle.  And yes – when my daughter got married – when her father was not able to get to this country from Liberia for her wedding – she asked me to be the one to walk her down the aisle.  

          And now I am speaking to every man in this room today when I say –you have a great and awesome responsibility and purpose – that great and awesome job of being men of influence in the lives of those who are closest to you.  Your kids.  Your kids’ friends.  Your nephews and nieces.  Perhaps even the children next door.  And if you’re blessed enough to be a grand dad – well those grandkids need you to be a man of influence as well.  And to the extent that you are being the best father, the best grandfather – the best uncle or man next door you can be – well then let me affirm for you that you are making a difference.

          No, it’s not easy.  No one ever said it would be.  But being a dad – being a man of influence – is the toughest job you’ll ever love.  It takes time.  It takes commitment.  It takes rearranging priorities.  You don’t have to be a perfect father – or a perfect mother.  You just need to learn what it means to be good mother.  A good father.  Maybe even a great mother – a great father. 

          SO men – let me thank you today for the manly way in which you approach life – loving your wives – loving and cherishing your children.  I think you deserve a day off today.  Do whatever you like.  Tell ‘em Pastor Randy said so.  Fall asleep on the couch.  Take control of the remote controls.  Have fun today.  And remind the important people in your life that they are loved by God – because that’s your job.  And then tell them that they are precious and special in your sight too.                   Amen


[i] Polly House, “Want your church to grow? Then bring in the men,” Baptist Press News, April 3, 2003.  Found in Homiletics, May/June 2013, p.56.

Posted by: AT 10:49 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, June 10 2013

Luke 7:11-17; 1 Kings 17:17–24; Galatians 1:11–24


          Have you ever noticed how crowds gather whenever a famous person comes to town?  Ever noticed that?  Crowds gather not only for famous people        , but for big events as well. 


          It’s hard to believe, but football season is less than three months away – two months if you count the preseason – and crowds once again are going to fill the seats at the Ralph to cheer on – once again – our beloved Bills.  Oh yes, we do indeed live in hope, don’t we?


          Anyway, you know that wherever you find a crowd, you know that someone – or something – important is going on.


          That’s what’s happening in our Gospel reading today.  It seems that wherever Jesus goes, he draws a crowd.  Pay attention to that when you read any of the four Gospels.  It seems that almost always, wherever Jesus goes, he draws a crowd. 


          In fact, if you take a look at today’s Gospel lesson, you’ll notice that there is not one, but two crowds. 

  • One crowd is going into the town of Nain.  The other one is coming out.
  • One crowd is drawn to Jesus.  The other one is drawn to a widow as she leads a funeral procession for her son.  Her only son.
  • One crowd is festive!  Jesus, the great teacher and miracle worker is coming to town.  The other crowd is filled with grief.


          Inevitably, the two crowds come together.


          And Jesus – moved with compassion – tells the woman not to weep.  And he reaches out – and touches the casket – and says, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” And immediately, the young man comes back to life.  And Jesus gives him to his mother. 


          This is just one of three stories that we have where Jesus brought people back to life.  Of course, the most famous resurrection story of all is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  And by the way – if the resurrection of Jesus had never happened, we wouldn’t be here today.  The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the very foundation upon which our faith is built.  Take away the resurrection, and Christianity falls flat on its face.


          So besides the resurrection of Jesus, we have this story of the son of the widow of Nain.  There is the raising of Jairus’ daughter.  And perhaps the most famous one is the raising of Lazarus in John 11.  Remember that one?  Jesus commands, “Lazarus, come out!”, and Lazarus – being dead for four days – comes back to life.


          And then there is this other story – which is the first reading we had today from the book of I Kings – where the prophet Elijah offers a prayer to God, and God raises a widow’s son back to life – and gives the boy back to his mother.


          Now, unlike the resurrection of Jesus – who rose from the dead never to die again – what we have here in these other stories is what we call resuscitation.  Lazarus, and the son of the widow of Nain, would eventually die again. 


          But what I want you to see is that no matter where Jesus goes – he makes a difference in peoples’ lives.  And he is moved by compassion on their behalf.


          Remember what I told you last week?  Being with Jesus is an adventure!  We are invited to come along with Jesus to be with him on this adventure.  To be a part of the crowd.  


          By the way, Jesus still draws crowds.  Did you know that?  Jesus still draws crowds, and he has drawn a crowd here today at Zion.  Jesus is present here in this place, and we are drawn to Jesus because in him there is life.  Not just life in the hereafter.  But abundant life in the here and now.


          In fact, may I be so bold as to say, that dead bodies are not the only things that Jesus brings back to life. 


          I think Paul – St. Paul – understood that.  In several places in the book of Acts, and the book of Galatians, he talks about his conversion – the word I like to use is ‘transformation’ – a transformation that takes place after Paul’s encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus.  You see, on the road to Damascus, Jesus gives Paul a new life.  Paul joins in the adventure.


          In our reading from Galatians Paul is reminding us of what his life before becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ was like.  So if you know anything about the life of Paul, you know that before he became a Christian he was a Jew – a Pharisee – who believed that his mission in life was to round up Christians – and persecute them – throw them into prison – and sometimes even consent to their being killed.  He thought that that was what God wanted him to do.  So when Paul has this life-changing encounter with Jesus – and it is a life-changing encounter – it is as though Paul has died – and a new person is raised up in his place – and he is brought back to life again. 


          Now granted, it is not a physical death that we’re talking about here.  But for Paul, it is a death to his old self.  The old self that had persecuted Christians – in the name of God – with the intent of wiping out this small, but rapidly growing Christian church from the face of the earth. 


          The old Paul – whose original name by the way was Saul – so not only was he transformed, but so was his name – he was given the new name of Paul – his new life in Jesus Christ set him free from his old way of life.  So much so that we can talk about Paul as having died a death.  To the point where he himself says in Galatians 2 verse 20 – and by the way – I want you to know that this is one of my top ten Bible verses – Galatians 2:20:


          “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me.”


          Did you hear that?  It is no longer I who live.  In other words, I am dead.  It is Christ who lives in me.  My old self has died – my old way of life with its habits, its passions, its desires – and a new me has arisen in its place.


          Now don’t get me wrong.  The new me certainly doesn’t live that new life perfectly.  I think one of the struggles that you and I as believers – as disciples of Jesus Christ – have is that that old self keeps coming back – keeps trying to resurrect itself.  You know what I mean?  That old way of life keeps trying to come back.


          In the book of Romans, Paul puts this another way.  He says that you and I are a living sacrifice.  But you know what the problem with a living sacrifice, is don’t you?  The problem with a living sacrifice – is that it keeps crawling off the altar. 


          But you know something?  That’s okay.  Because being a Christian is not always an easy thing.  This is nothing new.  I tell you this all the time.  Being a Christian – a disciple of Jesus Christ – is not always an easy thing.  But thank God there is forgiveness.  Thank God there is always, always, always a second chance.  Thank God for grace – God’s undeserved love and favor – that picks you up and brushes you off when you fall – and sets you on our feet again. 

          In Christ, Paul found a new purpose for living.  And as a result, he is one of the greatest – if not the greatest – missionary the world has ever known.           Paul died to the old self.  Christ touched his life and through Jesus Christ he received new life.  

          And so do we.  Following Jesus is an adventure.  And in Jesus Christ we find a new purpose for living.

          Folks, I’ve been here with you for over 22 years now.  That’s a long time to be anywhere.  Over the years I’ve had opportunity to meet with you in your homes, in my office, or at the coffee shop.  I’ve served with you on a variety of ministry teams – or what we used to call committees.  We’ve traveled on mission trips together.  I’ve danced at your weddings, or your children’s weddings.  I’ve been with you in hospital rooms.  I know who has artificial hips and knees. 

          Well, you know I could keep going on.  Sounds like I’m preparing to say goodbye, doesn’t it!  No!  No – I’m saying I know your stories.  I know where you’re coming from.  I know the things you’ve struggled with – and many of you know what my own struggles have been.  We’ve shared our joys – our griefs – our fears.    

          So knowing you as I do, this is what I can tell you.  You are not alone.  You are not alone in whatever it is you have come through – or whatever it might be that you are going through now.  And you are certainly not alone with whatever it is that tomorrow is going to bring.

          No matter what you’re going through – I’m here to tell you that Jesus Christ is walking your way.  He meets you where you are.  And he loves you as you are.  But He loves you too much to let you stay that way.  He’s in the business of making a difference.  He’s in the business of changing lives.  That’s what we mean when we talk about transformation. 

          If there is one thing I want you to remember from this sermon, it is this.  “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me.”  Say that together with me.  “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me.”  Take that verse to heart. 

          Because when the old way of life just doesn’t cut it anymore – you know how Dr. Phil likes to ask, “Well how’s that working for ya?”  When the old way of life just isn’t working for you anymore – there is new life in Jesus Christ.  Jesus says, “I have come that they might have life – and life abundant.”

That’s what the business of faith is all about.  New life – new life in Jesus Christ.       Amen

Posted by: AT 01:15 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, June 03 2013

Luke 7:1-10

          I want you to watch a 3 minute video I have cued up.  And then maybe we can talk about what you’re about to watch.

          So what did you hear or see?  Ignoring some of the crazy gyrations some of the dancers were making.  What did you learn from what you just watched?  Again, use your playground voices so I can hear you.

          One of the things that the narrator lets us know is that leadership is overrated.  I’m not quite sure I fully agree with that, but he does make a point.  However – what a leader needs is to have followers, right?  And the implication is that the first set of followers needs to be embraced by the leader as equals.  It is the followers themselves who invite others to join in, and soon more and more people see what’s going on, they like what they see, and then they join in.  And others join in out of fear or concern that if they don’t join in – they might just be left out.

          Now – what’s this have to do with Jesus?  Glad you asked.  What Jesus did was start a movement.  A movement – let’s call it an adventure – whose purpose was and is to draw us – to draw all people – back to God.  Sin is something that we all have. It is something that separates us from God, so God needed a way to bring us back to Him.  So God sent Jesus to show us what it means to be loved.  To show us what it means to be forgiven by God.  AND what it means for us to love and to forgive others as well.  He came to show us how to live life to the fullest.  And he invited others to join him – to follow him – to join in the adventure, if you will.  And you and I have been invited to join this adventure – AND – to invite others to be a part of the adventure as well.

          I would hope that most of us already have a pretty good idea what this adventure that Jesus started is all about.  Well, maybe.  Maybe not.  But we have at least an idea.  And that’s why over the next six months or so – we’re going to be learning more about who Jesus is and what he taught – and what he expects from those of us who are following him in this adventure that he started. 

          We happen to be in the season of the church year we call the season of Pentecost.  The color for the season is green.  Green is for growth – like the color of the green grass we’ve been mowing like crazy the past few weeks.  Green is for the Pentecost season – the season of growth AND the longest season of the church year.  Six months long.

          So over the next six months our Gospel readings will be from the book of Luke, otherwise known as the Gospel of Luke.  Gospel of course means Good News – the Good News of Jesus Christ.  By the way, have you ever wondered why we have the readings we have each week?  It’s because we follow what’s called a lectionary.  So we are in the year of Luke.  Next year we will hear from Matthew’s Gospel, and the year after that from Mark’s Gospel, and then back to Luke – with readings from John’s Gospel interspersed throughout each of those three years. Our lessons are chosen for us – they’ve been pre-selected because we use this three-year lectionary.

          SO Jesus begins his adventure.  He draws followers to him – we know them as disciples – disciples who go along with him – who follow him – and who eventually invite others to come along too. 

          So this is where today’s lesson comes in.  We’re in the 7th chapter in Luke, and by now, Jesus has already established a reputation.  In chapter 4, Jesus has begun his ministry – his adventure – in Galilee.  We are told here that he is praised by everyone.  So already we see he is developing a reputation. 

          In chapter 5 he calls his first disciples – Peter, James, and John – finally 12 in all.  And there are others who follow as well – women like Mary Magdalene and others whose names we never learn.  But these are the earliest followers of Jesus who join him on this adventure.

          In the meantime, Jesus is building a reputation as a teacher –as a healer – so that by the time we get here to chapter 7 – we find Jesus in Capernaum – a town on the north side of the Sea of Galilee.  And we read that a Centurion – in other words a Roman army commander who has 100 men under his command – has a slave whom he values greatly.  This slave is ill.  Near death. 

          This Roman Centurion has heard about Jesus, has heard about the miraculous healings he has performed throughout the area.  So he sends some of the Jewish elders to ask Jesus to heal his slave. 

          Now remember that the Romans were not liked.  In fact they were hated.  They were foreigners.  Gentiles.  Military conquerors.  They were outsiders.  And yet – there seems to be something different about this particular Roman soldier – this Centurion.  There is mutual respect between the Centurion and the Jewish elders of Capenaum.

          So they go to Jesus and say, “Look, this guy’s a Roman, but he loves our people.  He even built our synagogue for us.  Jesus – will you come and heal this man’s slave?”  And as Jesus approaches the Centurions home, we learn that the Centurion sends others to Jesus to tell Jesus that the Centurion himself feels unworthy for Jesus to enter his home. 

          “Just say the word, Jesus, and my servant will be healed.  I am a man of authority, and I know what happens when I give orders and they are carried out.  You have the authority Jesus.  Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

          And Jesus is surprised at the man’s faith.  “Not even in Israel have I found such faith,” says Jesus.  And immediately the Centurion’s servant is healed. 

          The point that I want to make here today is that this movement that Jesus started he offers to everyone.  Jew, gentile, male, female, Republican, Democrat, Independent.  Doesn’t matter.  Jesus reaches out – Jesus invites – whoever is willing to rise up – and by faith – to join in the adventure.  And as you saw in the opening video – we who are already on this adventure with Jesus – are the ones Jesus uses to invite others to come along. 

          Around here we call such people disciples.  That’s a good word.  Disciple.  We are disciples of Jesus Christ.  His reputation has preceded him to where we are right now.  And so we have heard – and we have come to believe.  Often that belief did not come without a struggle.  Questions, sure.  Skepticism, yeah.  And maybe you’re here – and you still have questions.  Maybe you’re still skeptical about this Jesus thing.  And you know what?  That’s OK.  I can handle that.  God can handle that.   But you’re here today because someone or someone’s once told you about Jesus.  Or better yet – I hope someone has shown you what the love of Christ looks like in action. 

          So let me ask you.  Who do you know who needs to be shown the love of Christ?  Who do you know that needs to be forgiven?  Who do you know who needs to get back to God?  Who do you know who should be with us on this Jesus adventure?

          Let me close using the words of author Max Lucado.  He says things better than I ever will be able to.  Listen to what he says about being a disicple.  This is from his book, Next Door Savior.  He says:

          “You don’t have to lower your standards.  Or saddle a high horse.  Just be nice.  Normal and nice.  Discipleship is sometimes defined by being normal!  You don’t have to be weird to follow Jesus.  [I like that!  You don’t have to be weird to follow Jesus.]  You don’t have to stop liking your friends to follow Him.  Just the opposite.  A few introductions would be nice.”  And then he asks, “Do you know how to grill a steak?”  I like that.  In other words – do you know how to do something for somebody – in the name of Jesus?  And then Lucado tells the following story.  It’s just one example of what the adventure with Jesus CAN look like.

          “A woman in a small Arkansas community was a single mom with a frail baby.  Her neighbor would stop by every few days and keep the child so [the mother] could do her shopping.  After some weeks her neighbor shared more than time; she shared her faith, and the woman followed Christ.  

          “The friends of the young mother objected. ‘Do you know what those people teach?’ they contested.

          “‘Here is what I know,’ she told them. ‘They held my baby.’

          And then Lucado asks, “I think Jesus likes that kind of answer, don’t you?”

          What Jesus did was start a movement.  And he invited others to join him on the adventure.  So let me invite you to join the adventure – AND – to encourage you to invite others to come along and be part of the adventure with Jesus too!                                                                                                                                Amen

Posted by: AT 11:53 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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