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Monday, January 27 2014

Matthew 4:12-23

Those boys of mine!  I worry about them.  Hmph.  They were always such good boys.  Never got into trouble.  Well – not much anyway.  Always a big help to their mother and me.   Learned how to fish at an early age.   Learned how to handle a boat out on this lake in all kinds of weather.   I taught em.  Taught em myself.  They always loved the water. Didn’t mind the smell of handling all them fish.  Mending nets by the hour in the hot sun.  Good thing too, because I needed someone to carry on the family business.  

The boys were always close.  James about 18 months older than his brother John.  Had a couple of close friends too.  Andrew – and his loud mouthed brother Simon.  Uh, you probably know him better as Peter.  Got his name changed to Peter – which means “rock.”   

But him and Andrew – they were fishermen too.   Docked their boat just a short ways up the shore there.  Ehh, we always helped them and they always helped us – specially when the catches were more than any two or three of us could manage.  

Yeah, always hoped my boys would carry on the family business.  And for awhile, it looked like that’s the way it would be.  

But then – oh about three years ago – this traveling preacher came to town.  Jesus was his name.  He settled in.  Made his home here.  But I don’t know.  He never really did hang around much.  A few days here.  Few days there.

 Interesting fellow.  As I said, he was a traveling preacher.  Talked about God like he was real personal and all.  Talked about a kingdom, and how we ought to love God and love one another.  I gotta say, he was pretty impressive.  And I liked what he had to say.  The man sure could tell stories – stories that made you think.  And then there was that time when the guys fished all night and caught nothing, and Jesus came along and they caught so many fish, the nets began to break.

Well, after a hard day at work, and the chores were done, my boys and Peter and Andrew would go into town and listen to him.  After a few days of this, one day Jesus came walking down the beach here.  Peter and Andrew were with him.  We were sitting in the boat, mending our nets, and Jesus looks at my boys, and says, “Come, follow me.”  Didn’t even think about it.  Just looked at each other – looked over at me – and just dropped their nets and went after Jesus.  Just dropped everything – left me here all alone.  Said something – strange.  Something about them fishing for people. And the five of them – the five of ‘em just walked on down the beach.

Can’t say I wasn’t a little bit angry.  Man this younger generation, I don’t know.  They sure are different from my generation.  Well - guess they got to do what they got to do.  

As I say, Jesus made his home here, but never was here very much.  My boys traveled with him, so when Jesus was here, at least I was able to see my boys.  Always brought their dirty laundry home for their mother to wash.

And my boys, and Peter and Andrew, weren’t the only ones who traveled with him.  Twelve of them all together.   And there were some women too.  Called themselves disciples.  Always a crowd.  I don’t think I ever saw Jesus come home here to Capernaum but he didn’t draw a crowd.

Ah, the stories I could tell.  People were healed, I tell you.  Saw it.  Saw it with my own eyes.  Blind people given sight.  People crippled from birth able to walk for the first time.  People possessed came into their right minds.  Why, one of the very first things I remember Jesus doing was healing Peter’s mother-in-law.  She had a fever, and Jesus knocked it right out of her.  

And then, and then, one day my boys came home, Peter stopped by with them, and they couldn’t wait to tell me about what happened out on this lake.  One of the worst things that can happen to us fishermen is to get caught out on this lake in the middle of a storm.  Wind whips up.  Waves swamp the boat.  Sometimes without any warning.  Well – never forget the time they came home right after one of those storms stirred things up – stirred the lake up pretty bad as I recall – and they told me how Jesus came to them walking on the water.  And if that wasn’t enough, Peter told me that he walked on the water too.  Until he became so frightened he began to sink, and Jesus had to rescue him.  And suddenly the storm stopped.  Just like that.  And everything was all calm and peaceful again.  They told me that Jesus just told the wind and the waves to be still, and they were.  Hey!  That’s what they said!  I’m not making this up!

Like I said, Jesus was an amazing guy.  Everybody loved him.  Well.  Not everybody.  Seems like along the way, he made some enemies for himself.  See, in spite of the stories he told, the miracles he performed, the way he lived, and truly cared about people, there were some who had a problem with people saying that he was the Son of God.  

Mostly it was the religious leaders in Jerusalem.  But let me ask you.  Could Jesus have said the things he said or done the things he did if God were not with him?  Aren’t the things he said and the things he did exactly what we would expect God to do if God were with us?  

Anyway, Jesus made some enemies for himself with the chief priests and Pharisees.  Claimed he broke their Sabbath laws by healing on the Sabbath.  I mean can you believe that?  I think they were just jealous.  Jesus didn’t do anything wrong.  They were just jealous because so many people were following Jesus and not them.

So anyway – few weeks ago – up in Jerusalem – things really got bad.   First I heard the news that Jesus entered into Jerusalem – riding on the back of a donkey no less.  And people were running out to meet him waving palm branches and welcoming him as the Son of King David.  I don’t know.  Maybe they thought he had come to overthrow the Romans (spit).  Boy, did they get it wrong!

It was a brief moment of glory of him, but it didn’t last long.  His enemies – those religious leaders, had him arrested – put him on trial.  Yeah right!  What a joke!  They found him guilty – guilty of blasphemy – of saying that he was God.  (And from all that I have heard and seen, I was convinced that he was!)  But they remained unconvinced.  That’s when they made a deal with the Roman governor Pilate (spit) and got the Romans (spit) to do their dirty work for them.

They had Jesus crucified.  Nailed him to a piece of wood.  Let him hang there until he was dead.  That’s the way the Romans (spit) do things.  My own wife was there.   She saw it.  My son John  too.  

From what they told me, everyone was grieving.  Distressed.  Ready to give up.  They saw him dead on that cross.  And they took him down and buried him in a tomb.  They all thought that that was it. (long pause.)

But that wasn’t it.  No sir!  That wasn’t it.  Three days later – I hope you’re sitting down – this is so hard to believe – three days later – some of the women in the group – Mary Magdalene and a few others – went to the tomb early on the first day of the week – and they found the tomb empty.  My son John ran to the tomb when he heard the news, and he found it empty too!  

And that night – that night – Jesus appeared to them alive!  Alive I tell ya!  Yeah, I know, I didn’t believe it at first either.  But how could I doubt my own son!  And James and Peter and Andrew and all the rest!

Why, just this morning, the boys were back here, Peter and Andrew and some of their friends, we all went fishin’.  We caught nothing until a man on shore told us to try once more.  Why, we caught so many fish we could hardly haul them ashore.  (Guess who got to mend the nets!)  But it was Jesus!  Jesus!  We knew it in an instant.  

You see, this had happened to us once before when we first met Jesus.  That’s how we knew that it was Jesus again this morning. The same Jesus who made it possible to catch so many fish three years ago, is the same Jesus who allowed us to catch so many fish this morning.  The same Jesus.   Now risen from the dead.

I think now I understand what he meant by that statement he made when my boys up and followed him three years ago.  It’s a different kind of fishin’ – fishers of people.  We are so excited to know that Jesus is alive.  That’s the good news that I want to share with you today.  My boys – and Peter and Andrew – already today they have left home once more – this time to become traveling preachers.  And I do my part too.  That’s why I’m telling all of you.  I am a fisher of people.

Why?  Because Jesus is alive!  And he wants me and all of you to follow him.  You see, just like Mary, and James and John, and Peter and Andrew, we can all be disciples too.  

Jesus was dead, but now he is alive!  So come.  You come.  Believe.  Walk with Jesus, and let him walk with you.

Join me won’t you?  You can share this good news with everyone who will listen. I – Zebedee – I’ve become a fisher of people.  And let me tell you – IT IS a different kind of fishin’.  You can become a fisher of people too…. …….  Think about it.    

[1].Matthew 27:56

[1].John 19:26-27



Posted by: AT 12:12 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, January 20 2014

John 1:29-42

    One of the things that I love about preaching is that I get to talk about Jesus.  I get to talk about Jesus and who he is and what he does.  
    So just who is this Jesus?  In just the past few weeks – let’s say just since December – Advent and Christmas – what we have heard about Jesus is that Jesus is The Christ, the Messiah of God, God’s anointed.  He is called Emanuel which in Hebrew means “God with us.”  We learned that the name of Jesus means “God saves.”

    Last week we heard that at the baptism of Jesus the voice of God the Father speaks and says, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”  SO we know that Jesus is the Son of God.  Today we hear John the Baptist identify Jesus as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  

    We’ve learned a lot about who Jesus is. So when someone asks you, “Who is Jesus?” you can tell them, right?  You can tell them.  Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Son of God.  He is our Savior – in other words the One who forgives our sins.  He is our Lord – in other words he is our leader.  That’s who Jesus is.

    But it’s one thing to know who Jesus is – and to tell others who Jesus is – but we also need to know what it is that Jesus does.  The number one thing that Jesus does is to forgive sins.  Through his life, death and resurrection – Jesus forgives sins – and because he is risen from the dead – since God raised Jesus from the dead – he has power over even death itself.  Therefore – what Jesus does for us is to give us the hope and the promise of resurrection – the resurrection of our dead bodies – to eternal life with God forever.
    In the smallest of nut shells – that’s who Jesus is.  And that’s what Jesus does for you and me.  And that’s what we call Good News around here.  

    Now – my question – what are you going to do with it?  What are you going to do?  If what the Bible says about Jesus is true – and it is – then what do we do with it?  

    Well, perhaps we can take our cue from one of Jesus’ own disciples today.  And that disciple is Andrew.  When we are introduced to Andrew we learn that he is a disciple of John the Baptist.  And when John the Baptist sees Jesus, he does  an absolutely wonderful thing.  He points away from himself.  He points to Jesus.  He indentifies Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  

    Andrew and another unnamed disciple of John’s trust John enough to believe that he knew what he was talking about.  And they leave John in order to follow Jesus.  And they ask Jesus, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  And Jesus says, “Come and see.”

    Now the first thing that Andrew does after spending apparently just a few hours with Jesus – is to go and get his brother Simon.  We know Simon better as Peter – Peter the fisherman – and Andrew brings Peter to Jesus.

    Now Andrew is not one of the more well-known disciples.  Certainly we read more about Peter, James, John.  We know about other followers like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul – almost sounds like I’m talking about the Beatles, doesn’t it – their names are more familiar because they wrote about Jesus.  The Gospels.  The letter of Paul.  These are the people – men and women – who early on let us know what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

    But Andrew?  We don’t know a lot about him.  But what we do know is that Andrew was an evangelist.  In other words, an evangelist is anyone who shares the Good News of Jesus Christ with someone else.  When we read about him, it seems that he is always bringing someone to Jesus.  

•    Andrew brings his brother Peter to Jesus.
•    When there was a crowd of 5000 people to be fed, Andrew brought a young boy to Jesus who had 5 loaves and 2 fish in his lunch box.
•    When certain Greeks wanted to see Jesus, they first went to the disciple named Philip who then went to Andrew who then took these Greeks to Jesus.

    May I suggest that what we need to do with what we know about Jesus Christ – what we know about who He is – and what He has done – perhaps what we need to do is to follow the example of Andrew and tell someone else about Jesus.
    Sometimes I am asked by other pastors what it is that we are doing here at ZLC that is causing this church to grow.  I simply tell them it’s by invitation and reputation.   A number of you are really good at telling others and inviting others to do – well – to do just what Jesus did when Andrew first met Jesus.  Jesus asked him what he was looking for, and he said, “Rabbi –where are you staying?”  And Jesus said, “Come and see.”  

    Three little words.  “Come and see.”  If someone were to ask you, “Why should I follow Jesus?  Why should I come to your church?”  The simple answer is “Come and see.”  Sometimes that’s all it takes.  A simple invitation to someone else to come and see.  
    Andrew is not one of the more well-known disciples.  He is better known in the New Testament simply as Simon Peter’s brother. Andrew is mentioned by name in twelve verses in all the New Testament. In eight of those verses he is referred to as Simon Peter’s brother.  Simon Peter was the rock star.  Andrew was his younger, tag along brother.

    And we know more about Peter.  Peter was part of Jesus’ inner circle along with James and John.  It was Peter who walked on water, but began to sink when he became afraid.  Nevertheless – Peter is the only one of all the disciples bold enough to step out of the boat.  And it is Peter who Christ gave the name “The Rock.”  “On this rock,” said Jesus, “I will build my church.”  Peter is also the one who denied Jesus 3 times.  So we know more about Peter.  Andrew?  He has to live with the fact that he is known as Simon Peter’s brother.

    However – Andrew has a gift.  He introduces people to Jesus.  And of course Peter is just the first of those Andrew brings to Jesus.  One wonders – if Andrew had not brought his brother Peter to Jesus – would we ever have heard the name Simon Peter.  We will never know.  But remember Andrew today as someone who brought others to Jesus.

    Wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to be remembered?  I would love to be remembered that way.  “He brought someone to Jesus.”  
    Let me go out on a limb here and ask for a show of hands.  How many of you are here today because somebody invited you here – or someone told you about us – or you heard about us somehow, some way?  

    Yeah, you see?  It’s kind of contagious.  Each one tells one.   

    Let me give you an example of how this works.  Way back in 1858 a Sunday School teacher in Chicago named Ezra Kimball became interested in the spiritual welfare of a young shoe clerk in his town.  Kimball went to the shoe store, found the young man in the stock room, and  proceeded to talk with him about his faith.

    The shoe clerk Kimball showed such interest in that day was named Dwight L. Moody.  Kimball got through to Moody, and Moody went on to become the greatest Christian evangelist of his day.  

    Dwight L. Moody went on to preach a crusade in England and, in 1879, awakened the heart of Frederick B. Meyer, a pastor, then, of a small church. Meyer went on to become a renowned theologian.

    Sometime later, Meyer was preaching in Moody’s school in Northfield, Massachusetts. A young man in the back row heard Meyer say, ‘If you are not willing to give up everything for Christ, are you willing to be made willing?’ Those words transformed the ministry of another young man, J. Wilbur Chapman. Wilbur Chapman became a YMCA worker, back when the Y was still a religious institution.
    Among those whom Chapman recruited to help him in his ministry was a former professional baseball player. That baseball player was a man named Billy Sunday.  Billy Sunday went on to become the greatest evangelist of his generation.

    Later at a revival in Charlotte, North Carolina, Billy Sunday so excited a group of local men that they began an ongoing prayer group. Later they engaged an evangelist named Mordecai Hamm to come to their town to keep the revival spirit alive. In the revival with Mordecai Hamm, a young man heard the gospel and made his profession of faith. His name?  Billy Graham.
    In our blue hymnal there is an African-American spiritual titled, “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” I think it speaks to the Andrew in each of us. It begins like this:

“Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.”

It is the second verse that I want you to pay attention to:

“If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus and say, ‘He died for all.’”

    Folks – you don’t have to be a rock star Christian.  You don’t have to be a super saint.  Maybe you can’t preach like Peter or pray like Paul – but you can tell others about who Jesus is.  You can tell others about what he has done for you.  And there are some who might challenge you about who Jesus is – but no one can challenge you about what Jesus has done for you.  No one can take that away from you.  

    A simple invitation is all it takes.  When someone asks, “Why should I follow Jesus?” or “Why should I come to your church?”  By now you know the answer.  You don’t have to argue with them.  A simple invitation is all it takes.  Three little words.  Say them with me.  
        “Come and see!”    


Posted by: AT 01:39 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, January 13 2014

Matthew 3:13-17

    So I see you all survived the winter weather on Tuesday.  It was really cold, wasn’t it!  Lots of wind – cold temps – lots of snow.  Amazing, the power of snow, isn’t it?  One snow flake by itself is one thing – but when you get a whole mess of snowflakes together at one time in one place – well – as we well know – snow has the power to stop traffic.  

    Snow of course is a form of water –which is something that we all need in order to survive.  Water is life-giving.  Not enough water and life dies.  Too much water – whether in the form of snow and ice like we saw this past week – or the liquid kind that when there is too much it can cause floods – and water can be destructive.   But this is church, and I’m not here today to give you a weather report.  

    However – since this happens to be church – and since today happens to be the Baptism of our Lord Sunday throughout the church – I want to talk to you today about water – and more specifically – I want to talk to you about baptism.  A brief lesson on baptism – and the life-giving gift of baptism – which of course – involves water.  

    I have often wondered how it is that water – from the pouring that we do in our Lutheran tradition – or the volume of water needed for full immersion – how is it that that water makes a difference?  For Martin Luther – it is not the water.  Well – it is not the water alone that does such wonderful things – but the water and the Word.  And that word is the words used with the water – as the water is poured or just before a person is fully immersed in water – in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  The water and the word.

    And the Word of God tells us in Romans chapter 6 what happens in baptism.  Listen to what Paul writes:  (Romans 6:3-5)
    “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?   Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

    Have you ever wondered how it is that that historic event of nearly 2000 years ago – namely – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – have you ever wondered – as I have – how that historic event can be effective for me today?  Baptism.  Baptism.  We were buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

    It’s something of a mystery – BUT we are somehow – someway – connected to the death and resurrection of Christ – through baptism.  That’s what God tells us.  God has told us that that’s the way it is.  And that’s why we baptize.  That’s why we can talk about the waters of baptism as life-giving water.  And this new life is given to us as a gift.  

    Last week we talked about our new identity in Christ.  That we are adopted daughters and sons of God, do you remember that?  Today I can tell you that it is in the waters of baptism that you are named – you are claimed – you are adopted into God’s family.  God’s kingdom.  It is THE place where we begin our new life in Christ.  

    Let me share with you a story.  It’s a story about Queen Victoria of Great Britain. On one occasion she went to visit a paper factory. The owner was pleased to show her through his workplace. He explained all of the features and diverse procedures of paper production. He took her into one large room packed with rags. Many of these rags had been carried in by beggars and were filthy. The rags were being organized by the workmen.

    “Are you using these dirty rags to make paper?” the Queen asked.

    “Yes my Queen,” the owner answered. “Our finest paper is made out of rags.”

    The Queen appeared to be in profound thought, but a while later she explained what was going through her mind.  “How could these filthy rags ever be transformed into spotless snowy paper?” she asked.

    The owner explained, “We have launderers who eliminate all the mud and dirt. We also have chemical procedures, my Queen, with which all of the tint is removed from even the colored rags.”

    After a couple of days, the Queen found a mysterious package on her counter. She was astonished to discover inside some of the most stunning, snowy white paper she had ever seen. On each and every piece of paper she found her name and a watermark of her resemblance. She also found a note from the owner of the paper mill.

    “Your Majesty, I hope you will accept a sample of my paper, with a declaration that each and every sheet was factory-made out of the rags which Your Majesty saw in the storeroom on her latest visit to my factory. I believe that the outcome is such as even the Queen may appreciate. Your Majesty, let me also say that I have had many upright sermons expounded to me in my factory. I have come to comprehend how the Lord Jesus can take an unfortunate outlaw, and the most dreadful of the dreadful and make them spotless. It doesn’t matter how dark their sins are, he can make them white as snow. I can also see how he can put his name upon them, and just as these rags, transformed, may go into a royal palace and be admired, so poor sinners can be received into the palace of the Great King Jesus.”  

    In the waters of baptism our old filthy rags are made new.  White as snow.  Our sin is exchanged for the righteousness that belongs to Christ.  This is sometimes called “The Great Exchange,” or “The Happy Exchange.”  In the waters of baptism, Christ takes our sins – these old filthy rags – takes them right away – and exchanges them for his goodness – his righteousness.  We are in effect clothed in Christ.  So since we are connected to Christ this way in baptism – do you see how it is that in baptism we have the forgiveness of sins – the washing away of sins if you will – and he in turn puts his name – his seal – on our foreheads.  
    And may I suggest that when you forget that – when the dark side of life tends to overwhelm – and it can and it does – may I suggest that in your heart and in your mind – you return to your baptism.  Just like Martin Luther would say when he was overwhelmed with the dark side of life “I have been baptized!”

    In the hymn Luther wrote, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” one of the verses ends with these words, “One little word shall fell him,” – the him referred to here is the devil.  Do you know what that one little word is?  Anybody?  Baptism.  It’s baptism.  I am – or I have been – baptized.

    Just like those dirty rags that filled that paper factory, your sins – my sins – though they are many, they have been removed, and we are made as white as snow.

    Okay.  SO now you have a grasp – I hope – of what baptism means, and why we baptize even tiny infants.  Here’s the challenge for us.  What I find is that most of us – hmmm probably all of us – spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what this all means.  
    Baptism is just a beginning.  IF we were old enough when we were baptized we made certain promises to live among God’s faithful people, and to live godly lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.  As infants, parents and sponsors make those promises for us – and if we stick around long enough – we’ll be asked to affirm those promises when we’re old enough to do it for ourselves.  We call that the rite of Confirmation.  

    SO IF baptism is just the beginning point – AND if Jesus' baptism serves as a model for our baptism – and remember that Jesus began his ministry immediately following his own baptism – then our baptism is the beginning of our ministry.  As we spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what all this means – let me state that your baptism is your call to serving and ministering – somehow, some way – to others.   So on the one hand – in baptism we are welcomed into the body of Christ.   But it is at the same time a promise that we will live with and work alongside the rest of Christ’s disciples in his body, the church.

    Some of you are familiar with Garrison Keillor.  You can catch his radio program on WNED after the 5:00 Saturday service, or after the 10:45 service on Sunday on WBUF.  Keillor is a humorist who likes to poke fun at Lutherans.  He himself is a Lutheran and likes to tell tales of the good Lutheran folk in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota.  He’s not “rolling on the floor” kind of funny – but a humor that can make you smile.  Listen as I tell you Keillor’s story of Larry the Sad Boy – in my best Garrison Keillor imitation.  Okay, well maybe I’ll skip the imitation.

    “Larry the Sad Boy was saved twelve times, which is an all-time record in the Lutheran Church. In the Lutheran Church there is no altar call, no organist playing ‘Just As I Am,’ and no minister with shiny hair manipulating the congregation. These are Lutherans, and they repent the same way that they sin –discreetly and tastefully.  Keillor writes, ‘Granted, we're born in original sin and are worthless and vile, but twelve conversions is too many. God didn't mean for us to feel guilty all our lives. There comes a point when you should dry your tears and join the building committee and start grappling with the problems of the church furnace and the church roof and make church coffee and be of use.”

    In these past few minutes I hope you have a better understanding of what your baptism means for you.  In baptism you were named – you were claimed – you were made a son – you were made a daughter of God.  That is your identity.  Then for the rest of our lives we live trying to make sense of what that means as disciples of Jesus Christ.  As Keillor puts it – it’s our job somehow someway “to be of use.”

    Just remember, one snow flake by itself is not much – but when you get enough snowflakes together in one spot – when those snowflakes work together – they can stop traffic.  Do you understand what I am saying?

    Well – let me conclude with these words from William H. Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas.  They tell the story of a pastor's words to a baby shortly after he had baptized her.  No doubt, the minister was speaking as much to the congregation as to the infant.

    “Little sister, by this act of baptism, we welcome you to a journey that will take your whole life. This isn't the end. It's the beginning of God's experiment with your life. What God will make of you, we know not. Where God will take you, surprise you, we cannot say.  This we do know and this we say God is with you.”         



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Monday, January 06 2014

John 1:1-18; Ephesians 1:3-14

    So what did you get for Christmas?  Kids?  What did you get?  How about you bigger kids – mom? Dad?  What did you get for Christmas?  You can talk to me.  

    Sometimes the gifts –the best gifts – that we got for Christmas didn’t come from a store, did they!  And maybe it seems just a little bit strange – just a little bit – that I should be asking you that question today – because Christmas was what – a week and a half ago?  And now we’re into a New Year – and shouldn’t I be talking about New Year’s resolutions?  Well, maybe.  Just so you know, we’re still in the season of Christmas.  You know those 12 Day of Christmas – “my true love gave to me” – yeah those 12 days – well today is day [11] [12].  January 5 is the twelfth day – followed by January 6 which is known as Epiphany.  Just thought I’d throw that in.  So it’s okay for me to be talking about Christmas since we are still in the season of Christmas.  

    SO what did you get?  Let me show you a short video that will tell you what we all got.  It moves kind of fast – so I hope you can read – fast.  (

    So God showed up.  He knew exactly what we needed. And did you catch that frame that said, “We didn’t need more stuff?”  Did you catch that?  I know – we’ve talked about stuff and having too much stuff – or at least more stuff than we need.  We talked a couple of times about that last year.  So yeah – since what we DON’T need is more stuff – God gave us exactly what we do need.  He gave us the gift of himself.  Jesus Christ – what our Gospel lesson calls the Word made flesh.  

    God’s rescue plan.  That’s what that video calls Jesus.  I like that.  Jesus is God’s rescue plan.  You see – God’s plan is to rescue you – rescue me – from the powers that separate us from God.  The big three.  Sin, death, and the power of the devil.  These are the things that separate us from God.  

    And you and I – we’re powerless to overcome the big three on our own.  So what we need is someone who IS able to do that for us.  The only One I know of is Jesus.  He is the One who overcame sin, death, and the devil for you.  For me.  

    SO the first thing I want to put on your plate today is that at Christmas God gave us exactly what we need.  What we got for Christmas is the gift of God Himself – to be our Savior.  That’s what we got for Christmas.

    But that’s not all!  Let me tell you what else we got for Christmas.  I like what our other reading from the Bible tells us – the reading from the book of Ephesians.  Ephesians tells us what else we got for Christmas.  Adoption as sons and daughters of God.   You know what that means?  In Jesus Christ we have a new life – a new birth – a new identity.  So it’s not just a new year that we are in – for Christmas we were given new life –new birth – new identity in Jesus Christ.  

    Look!  If you’re tired of life being the same old, same old – I’ve got good news for you.  God doesn’t want your life – doesn’t want my life – to be hum-drum, meaningless, depressing routines.  God wants something better for us than that.  

    So the second thing I want to put on your plate is that in Jesus Christ we have new life!  In Jesus Christ we have a new identity – sons and daughters of God.  You are a daughter – you are a son of God.  We get that from the adoption language – from the inheritance language – used in our Ephesians reading.  But also in our reading from John’s Gospel.  Listen again.  

    “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”  

    Did you hear that?  We were given power to be children of God.  But like any gift it seems to me that this gift needs to be received.  So what happens when we receive him – receive this gift?  When we believe in his name?  God gives us power to become children of God.  

    SO what that means is that our life is not limited to our human birth – or our heritage – our ethnicity—our national identity.  In Jesus Christ – we have a new identity.  We are now children of God.

    So in this New Year, God is doing a new thing.  That is the exciting thing about being a child of God. God loves doing a new thing.  
    Now I know that 2013 was not a good year for some of you.  And you’re saying, “Ring it on!  I want – I need – God to do a new thing in my life.”  For others, 2013 wasn’t too bad of a year.  Either way, I can’t promise that 2014 will be any better – any worse – or for that matter – even that much different.    

    But this much I can tell you.  God loves change, especially lives that are changed through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
    Sometimes when we come here to this house of worship, what we want and what we need is inspiration.  It’s a wonderful thing to find inspiration in God’s Word – to be inspired by the worship of God that we bring to this place – whether in the Word spoken – the music – the singing – the time spent together.  Inspiration is a wonderful thing.

    But I also believe that inspiration without transformation leads to stagnation.  Inspiration without transformation leads to stagnation.  

    In this New Year – I believe God wants to do a new thing in your life.  What that new thing is I cannot say.  That’s between you and God.  But that new thing that God wants to do in your life – it can happen.  When we open ourselves up to God – when we open ourselves up to receive the gift of His Son – when we open ourselves up to our new identity and the gift of new life that is ours in Jesus Christ – new things can happen.  Because God loves doing a new thing.

    So as we begin this New Year, let me remind you that God loves you.  God forgives you.  I mean, you can’t come to this church without leaving this place knowing that you are loved and forgiven.  In other words, God’s not mad at you.  No!  God’s not waiting around to catch you doing something wrong.  I think sometimes we get hung up on where we’ve been – the things we’ve said – the things we’ve done.  And we have a hard time forgiving ourselves.  And God says, “Stop that!  You stop that!”   
    A new year can be a new beginning – if that’s what you need.  A new chance.  A new start.    And let me remind you why.  Just in case you didn’t catch it all the first time – let’s watch that video one more time. (

    God has given us a gift.  The gift of Himself.  In the person of His Son Jesus Christ.  He has given us new life – a new birth – a new identity in Jesus Christ.  So let God take your failures and give you a future – a future with hope!  Go out from here knowing that God is giving you a new start in this New Year – go out and live your life as

                                                  adopted sons and daughters of God.                                                Amen


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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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