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Tuesday, February 11 2014

Matthew 5:13-20

    After shamelessly promoting the Denver Broncos for our Souper Bowl of Caring last week – for those of us who were interested in last Sunday’s game – I have to say I was surprised at the outcome.  Right from the first play when the center hiked the ball right over Peyton Manning’s head – I thought, “Man!  That looks like something the Bills would have done were they in this game.”  

    Well – needless to say – the Seahawks had their day.  And the Broncos – well the Broncos blew it big time.  And I couldn’t help thinking about Don Meredith – you remember Don Meredith from Monday Night Football from years ago – when it was clear that the losing team was going to lose.  And he would sing – sort of – “Turn out the lights.  The party’s over.”  I felt like singing that for the Broncos after that very first play from scrimmage.  Whew!  That ball went sailing right over Manning’s head.

    What makes me bring that into today’s sermon is Jesus’ message to us today in our Gospel reading.  Today’s lesson is a continuation from last week’s reading – a snippet of a longer reading from what is called the Sermon on the Mount.  And what we hear Jesus say to all of us today is that we are to be salt and light to a world that needs us to be salt and light.

    Of course, Jesus is talking in metaphors.  Salt is used as seasoning to flavor food.  It is used as a preservative.  If we push that metaphor it seems to me that as disciples of Jesus Christ – we will add a delicious flavor – if you will – to life.  We can and we will preserve that which is right and good and just.

    But it is as light that I would like to speak to you today.  When Jesus says that you and I are light – that we are the light of the world – just what is he talking about?  Because in John’s Gospel we hear Jesus saying about himself, “I am the light of the world.”

    So which is it?  Jesus or us?  Well let me tell you – it’s both.  It’s both.  Jesus is the light of the world – and we are the light of the world.  And to the extent that we are the light of the world – we are a reflection of the light of Christ.  Think of the moon.  The moon shines at night.  But the moon produces no light of its own, does it!  No.  What we see when we look up into the night sky at the moon is a reflection of the sun’s light bouncing off the surface of the moon generating a night light if you will when it’s dark.

    So what I am hearing from what Jesus is saying to us today is that we are to be the light of the world – a reflection of the light of Christ – a reflection of the love – and the grace – and the mercy of Christ.  The problem is – and this is why I mentioned the Denver Broncos at the start – the problem is is that sometimes when we try to be light in a world of darkness – the kind of light that we know Jesus wants us to be – the problem is that sometimes we stumble at the starting gate.  The ball goes sailing right over our heads. 

One botched play after another.  Or maybe we feel our efforts might look more like the Bills.  You know – win some – lose more.  OR maybe like the Sabres.  Worst team in the league right now.  And yet – and yet even those are among the best at what they do – football, hockey – you name it – sometimes those who are among the best at what they do don’t do so well at what they’re supposed to be good at.  

    If you’ve ever felt that way about your walk with Christ –if you sometimes stumble when it comes to your faith life – if there are times when you would rather hide your light under a basket instead of letting it shine – well let me tell you.  You’re not alone.  You’ve got plenty of company with all of the rest of us.  Myself included.  Sometimes we might think that we don’t do so well at shining the light of Christ for all the world to see.

    And yet – for those of us who are local sports fans – yet we still love the Bills, don’t we?  We still love the Sabres.  
    So when our salt has lost some of its flavor – or when the light of Christ just doesn’t shine as brightly as maybe it ought to – don’t you think that God still loves you anyway?  Don’t you think that Jesus still forgives you anyway?

    Jesus calls us today to be light.  And wouldn’t you agree that there are a lot of dark places in this world that need the light of Christ?  Wouldn’t you agree?  

    I suspect that every generation has looked at the generations that come after it and clucked their tongues – and shaken their heads in amazement.  I suspect every generation has done that and asked, “What is this world coming to?”  Yeah?  Maybe?

    If I had to diagnose a difference between what I see and experience now from, say, 40 years ago, it is that our culture has gotten ruder – and has grown more disrespectful – and some cases downright more violent.  That’s not to say those of us who lived 40 years ago lived in a golden age of love and respect.  You know – back in the days when I was a teenager.  We didn’t always say and do the right things either.  It didn’t happen overnight, but I think we are becoming ruder and less  respectful as a society.

    For instance.  You read about in the paper, or saw on TV about the family in Buffalo that came back from a dream vacation only to find their house trashed.  They had hired a friend of their daughter to look after their 7 cats.  (7cats.  Yikes!) Long story short – a friend of this friend invited other friends to a party at this home – and the teens trashed the house.  And these teens were from the some of the more respected private and public schools in Buffalo!  The cream of the crop!  Only goes to show that sometimes the cream turns sour.  

    Now – quite frankly – I don’t know these kids – and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m just shaking my head and clucking my tongue – but I want to believe that these were good kids for the most part who just made some very bad choices.  

    Now I know that none of the young folks who attend this church would ever do anything like that.  Well – at least I hope that would be true.  You see – something has happened.  Something is happening in our culture when more and more things like this happen.  Not to mention far worse things like school shootings and shopping mall shootings.

    More and more it seems to me the world – our culture – our neighborhoods – need us to be the light of Christ.  As followers of Jesus Christ we need to engage the darkness.  And that’s not going to happen simply because we shake our heads and cluck out tongues.  

    No.  It seems to me that as disciples of Jesus Christ we have a responsibility for the world we live in.  It begins with Jesus, and what Jesus has done for us.  And when we realize just how much Jesus has done for us – when you and I realize just how much we are loved – how much we have received Christ’s love, mercy, peace, pardon and forgiveness – then we’re ready to reflect all that good stuff on to others.  Just like the moon reflects the sun’s light – so too – if we’re to be the light of Christ – we need to reflect Christ’s love, mercy, peace, pardon and forgiveness to a world that desperately needs it.  I’m talking about your city – your town – your school – your place of work – your church – your neighborhood – your home.

    If we don’t engage the darkness – then the darkness wins.  Edmund Burke is alleged to have said, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”  

    And that’s why I want to hear again what Jesus has to say to all of us today.  Listen.  

    “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

    We hear those words at every baptism.  Those baptized as older children or adults can hear and understand those words.  The vast majority of the baptisms we preside over here at ZLC are infants.  Little Nolan Hardy will be baptized [tomorrow] [later today] in just a few moments.  And we will say to him, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven.”  We at this church will partner with his parents and sponsors and grandparents to teach him what those words mean as he grows up.

    We are reflections of the light of Christ – that’s what it means to let your light shine.  Not for our own benefit – not to receive the accolades of our adoring fans.  No.  We reflect the light of Christ – others will see what we are doing – with the effect that Christ will be honored.   That God will be glorified.

    A man named Albert Mehrabian’s once made a study on credibility in communication. In this study, which dealt with the question “what makes a person credible when they seek to communicate with others,” he concluded that when we are speaking to someone else our body language accounts for 55% of the message that the other person actually receives. Our tone of voice accounts for 38% of the message, and the actual words we use only account for 7% of the message the other person actually receives.  [Says something about preaching, doesn’t it!]

    In other words, in terms of credibility, Mehrabian finds concrete evidence that actions speak louder than words. It’s important that we talk about our faith, but it is much more important that we live that faith. It is more important that we walk the walk than that we talk the talk. That is how we shine our light to the world.

    Let me end with a story.  “Once there lived a man who wanted to determine which of his two children was more worthy of inheriting his property. And so he gave each a coin. ‘Buy something with this coin that will fill the house.’

    “The son tried to think of something he could buy with that coin that could fulfill his father’s wishes. He decided on a load of straw. But when he returned home, he didn’t even have enough straw to cover the floor.

    “The younger child, a daughter, chose a wiser course. She spent her coin on candles. As she lighted each candle, their light filled the house.

    “The happy father said to his daughter, ‘To you I give over my business. You have shown true wisdom.’”

    “There is not enough darkness in the entire world,” says Robert Alden, “to put out the light of even one small candle.”  

    Friends – will you join with me in engaging the darkness? Will you?  Will you say with me that the darkness cannot and will not win?  

    John’s Gospel says that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. You, my dear friends – YOU – are the salt of the earth – you are the light of the world.  A reflection of the light of Christ.  SO let your light shine!      Amen


Posted by: AT 12:13 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 04 2014

Matthew 5:1–12; 1 Corinthians 1:18–31; Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15

    This past Tuesday, the president brought up the issue of the minimum wage in his state of the union address.  Seems like the topic of the minimum wage is a hot topic in Washington these days.  What should the minimum be – and why is it needed – and so forth. I’m happy to stay out of that debate because I see merits to the arguments on both sides.

    But there is another minimum debate that I very much want to talk with you about today.  And it has to do with the Kingdom of God – and you thought I was going to talk politics when I started talking about the minimum wage didn’t you!  No, the minimum I want to talk about is the minimum needed to get into and be a part of the Kingdom of God.

    And when that subject comes up it usually sounds something like this.  “Pastor – what is the minimum I need to do – what are the minimum requirements I need to know – in order to get into heaven?”  The question really misunderstands – and quite frankly – misrepresents what the Christian faith is all about.    

    First of all – let me remind you – that you don’t NEED to do anything.  The thought that I need to do something – whatever that something is – suggests that if I’m going to go to heaven someday – then it’s up to me to do something about it.

    Well – let me say at the start that the only requirement – and if you want to call it a minimum requirement – I guess I’m okay with that.   But all you really need is to believe and have faith.  If you’ve already got the belief in God part nailed down – that’s one thing.  But it takes faith.  The minimum requirement is faith.  If you have faith – if you believe and you trust that your sins are forgiven – NOT because of anything you’ve said or done – BUT because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – then you don’t need anything more than that.  

    Your ticket into heaven has already been paid for by Jesus.  And he gives it to you as a gift.  For instance, I have free tickets to tonight’s Super Bowl game that I want to give you.  As many as you need.  Food, transportation, lodging are all included.  Will you take it?  There’s only one catch.  Your plane leaves in 45 minutes!

    Your ticket into heaven has been bought and paid for by Jesus Christ.  He give it to you as a gift.  That’s what the Bible tells us.  The Bible tells you that you are made right with God “not be works of the law, but through faith in Christ Jesus.”  You can find that promise to you in the Bible in the book of Galatians 2:16.  So if you want to talk about a minimum requirement, that’s it.  Believing and trusting – having faith – relying on him and him alone to be both your Lord and the One who saves you – or in other words – relying on Jesus to be your Savior.    
    It sounds too simple to be true, doesn’t it!  In fact it sounds downright foolish, doesn’t it!  But listen again to our reading from I Corinthians:  

18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. … 25For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.  

    You see, we’re so used to paying our own way.  We’re not used to somebody saying to us, “Take this.  It’s yours.  I’m giving it to you as a gift.”  And so, when God says to us, “I give you the gift of eternal life with me as a gift.  It’s been bought and paid for by my Son Jesus Christ,” we’re more apt to wonder what the catch is.  

    Well – the catch is – that there is no catch.  Just accept the fact that you are accepted.  And if you can accept the fact that you are accepted by God – that He loves you just the way you are – and there’s nothing more you need to do – then you will know that God has already accepted you into His Kingdom.

    Now – having said all that.  Let me complete the statement I just used.  Yes – it is true – that God loves you just the way you are – but He loves you too much to let you stay that way.  

    So let me suggest that we ask the right questions.  We’re more likely to get the right answers when we ask the right questions.  Listen!  It’s okay to ask, “What’s the minimum requirement I need to do to get into God’s Kingdom?”  And once you learn that all you need is faith in Jesus Christ – that that’s the minimum you need – then you can move on to the next question – which I think is what most Christians really are asking.  

    “Now that I know I am loved and accepted by God – and I accept the fact that I am accepted – how then shall I live?”  After all – I want to do what’s right.  I want my life to count for something.  AND I want to be happy.  

    Okay.  Fair enough.  And let me tell you that Jesus understands that.  We were not created to be miserable men and women.  I mean – who wants to hang around miserable people!  Not me.  

    I kind of like joy-filled people, don’t you?  So I try to be a joy-filled person myself.  And I think most people – at least I hope most people – would say that about themselves.   People want to be happy.

    But sometimes I think we go about trying to get there the wrong way.  You see,  

•    Happiness is not at all based upon what you have.  True happiness is based upon who you are.  Would you agree?
•    Happiness is not based upon the kind of house that you live in; it depends on the kind of people who live in the house.Would          you agree?
•    It is not the kind of clothes that you wear, but the person who wears the clothes.  Would you agree?

    And really – I hesitate even to use the word happy.  You know my definition of happiness.  My happiness depends on the things that happen to me – the things that happen in my life.  And I can never rely on things always happening in the right way to insure that I will be happy.  
    No, the word I think we’re really looking for to describe where we want to be in life is the word joyful.  And I know that I can learn to be joyful even when not so good things happen to me.  What I am about to say might sound like foolishness to some – but real joy comes in things like contentment.  Satisfaction.  Because these are more a state of mind – or an attitude.  Satisfaction leads to contentment which leads to joy.

    So let’s take a look at our Gospel reading for a moment today.  These sentences taken together are known as the Beatitudes.  And Jesus begins by saying:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”  Ever wonder what Jesus means by “poor in spirit”?

    Jesus is saying that the first step to personal joy – the first step we take after learning to trust God – and to put our faith in God – is to be poor in spirit.  And to be poor in spirit means to get rid of pride.  We need to let go of pride, because you see, pride gets in the way of true joy, peace, and contentment.  Why?  Because pride always puts me first.  And the me-firsters that I know are never happy.  They’re never happy.  There’s very little joy in their lives.  
    So if you’re asking, “How then shall I live,” let me suggest that the idea of being poor in spirit is the key.  It also happens to be the key to all that follows in the Beatitudes.  I like the note in the Life Application Bible that says:

•    Blessed are those who mourn.  Yet you cannot mourn without appreciating how insufficient you are to handle life in your own         strength.
•    Blessed are the meek. Yet you cannot be meek unless you know you have needed gentleness yourself.
•    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Yet you cannot hunger and thirst for righteousness if you proudly        think of yourself as already righteous.
•    Blessed are the merciful. Yet you cannot be merciful without recognizing your own need for mercy.
•    Blessed are the pure in heart.  Yet you cannot be pure in heart if your heart is full of pride.
•    Blessed are the peacemakers.  Yet you cannot be a peacemaker if you believe that you are always right.

    Do I need to repeat that last one?  You cannot be a peacemaker if you believe that you are always right.

    All of these beatitudes are rooted in humility, being poor in spirit.  It almost sounds – you know – counter intuitive.  But I am here to tell you today – true joy – or happiness if you will – comes – number one – when we realize that we are in need of a Savior – when we accept the fact that we are accepted.   And number two – when we put away pride and learn to say, “It’s not about me.”
    Again, it’s almost counter intuitive – but the happiest people I know – the most joy-filled people I know – are those who put the needs of others ahead of their own needs.  People who are content with what they have.  People who recognize their need for God.  Folks who recognize their need for a Savior.  People who are living lives of satisfaction which leads to contentment which leads to joy.  Or as the prophet Micah puts it in our Old Testament reading:  “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

    Justice – always doing what is right.
    Mercy – God shows you mercy – so learn what it means to be merciful.
    Walk humbly with God – put away pride and walk humbly with God.
    Let me share with you a story.  Maybe this will wrap up everything I’m saying here today.

    One Sunday as they drove home from church, a little girl turned to her mother and said, "Mommy, there’s something about the preacher’s message this morning that I don’t understand."  (I know.  Sometimes that happens)
    The mother said, "Oh? What is it?"

    The little girl replied, "Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. He said God is so big that He could hold the whole world in His hand. Is that true?"

    The mother replied, "Yes, that's true, honey."

     "But Mommy, he also said that God comes to live inside of us when we believe in Jesus as our Savior.  Is that true, too?"
    Again, the mother assured the little girl that what the pastor had said was true. With a puzzled look on her face the little girl then asked, "If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn't He show through?"

    Folks – IF you’re asking as a follower of Jesus Christ – “How then shall I live?” let me give you a quick answer.  It’s not about you.  It’s not about me, and it’s not about you.  It’s not about pride – but God showing through.                                                                                                                                                                                     Amen


Posted by: AT 08:00 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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