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 SERMON TEXT 
Monday, June 30 2014

Matthew 10:40-42

When writer Henry James was saying goodbye once to his young nephew Billy, his brother William’s son, James said something that the boy never forgot. “There are three things that are important in human life,” said Henry James.  “The first is to be kind.  The second is to be kind.  The third is to be kind.”  

I’m sure most of you my age or older remember Ann Landers.  For almost 50 years, Ann Landers gave advice and offered solutions to peoples’ problems all across the nation – and the rest of us were privileged to open up our newspapers and read her advice –and perhaps even learn something about ourselves in the process.   Go on vacation or on a business trip – buy a local newspaper – and chances were very good that Ann Landers would be there.            

In Ann Landers’ final column, her daughter, Margo Howard, had this to say about her famous mother, “...she was convinced that if any one thing could serve as a solution to all manner of problems, it was kindness.”

I think you can see where this sermon is going.

In our Gospel reading from Matthew today, we have a truly remarkable word from Jesus.  Listen again.  “...and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Has anyone ever done anything like that for you?  I can remember as a young teenager – before I had my own paper route – I was a paper boy for four and a half years for the Niagara Falls Gazette – I was a substitute paper carrier for someone else.  And on one particularly hot day, one of the customers offered me a glass of cold water.  And it wasn’t just the water that refreshed me – it was the idea that someone would care enough to offer such a simple gift.  I have never forgotten his act of kindness. 

Then there was the time when I was a freshman in college – my first week there in fact – I was buying books.  Back then you could buy all the books you needed for a semester for less than what one book will cost you today.  And wouldn’t you know it – I was $2 and some odd cents short of what I needed.  A senior in line behind me handed me what I needed.  When I asked her for her name so I could repay her – she told me not to worry about it.  [I never did learn her name.] The only thing she asked me to do was to do something like that for someone else if ever the opportunity arose.  Today we would call that “Paying if forward.”  But I have never forgotten her act of kindness.  

“‘A cup of cold water.’  Let me tell you a fascinating, true story.  During the course of the second and third centuries a series of plagues hit much of the world.  

“It was a time of great church growth.  People flocked to the Christian faith because they noted that Christians seemed to be surviving the plagues better than the general population.  The reason for this better survival rate was not that God was saving Christians and allowing the pagans to die. No.  The reason was that the Christians were taking seriously the command of Jesus to offer a cup of cold water.

“Christians didn’t know how to stop plagues any better than anybody else.  But while the pagans pulled away from the dying, the Christians ministered to the dying by giving them food and something to drink.  Many of these Christians caring for the sick died in this loving act, but the number of Christian care givers who died was dwarfed by the numbers of ill who recovered.  That little bit of food and drink they received from these saints was sometimes just enough to help these ill persons weather the storm.”

We’ve been hearing for many years now the phrase, “Practice random acts of kindness.”  I think we can all agree that it’s a good thing to put into practice.

But I would like to take that thought just one step further.  You see, when Jesus is talking about “giving a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple,” he’s not talking about acts of kindnesses as though they were practiced randomly here and there.  No.  Those early Christians during the plagues?  They were not offering random acts of kindness.  They were obeying our Lord’s command to “Love one another.”   They were offering acts of love and kindness to people they didn’t even know – or perhaps to folks who up until this time had rejected the Good News of Jesus Christ.  But the evidence is there.  The early church grew as a result of acts of love and kindness shown to others.  These early Christians took great risks in ministering to others.  And the church grew as a result.

Random acts of kindness are great.  But as Christians, random acts don’t go far enough.  Now I hope you know that as Christ followers – disciples of Jesus Christ – practicing kindness is not an option.  Practicing kindness is not something we do when we feel like it.  For us, it is a command.  To practice kindness – to have an attitude of kindness – 24/7.  I also want to say it is a learned attitude – a learned attitude of the heart – so much so that it becomes by nature something we do – something we are – for others – in the name of Jesus.  Showing kindness is a mark of discipleship.  In other words – showing kindness is part of what it means to be a servant.  By showing kindness we serve others.

So here’s what we can learn from those early Christians:
– When we live our lives in obedience to Christ’s command to love one another
– when our acts of kindness become more than just random occurrences
– when we are quite intentional about the kindnesses we show
do you know what we’re doing?

We are showing the world who Jesus is.  We are showing that Jesus makes possible a different way of relating to others.  Through acts of love and kindness.  

Imagine what that could do to some marriages!  Imagine what that might do for your marriage.  Or your family.  Imagine what it could do for your relationship with your kids – or if you’re a kid – with your parents.  You young kids – you teenagers – try it!  It’s not going to kill you!  Or what about the grouch who lives next door?  Or the person you work – or go to school with – or the person who cuts you off in traffic?  Simple acts of love and kindness.  Not random.  But practiced as a way of life.  

We live in what sometimes can be an uncaring world.  There are folks who know mostly abuse, or rebuke, and rejection.  Your acts – perhaps little – or unspectacular – but your acts of kindness – your acts of generosity – might be all it takes to make a difference in someone’s life.  As those early Christians modeled for us so well – your acts of kindness may be the only sign of the love of Christ that somebody else is going to know.  Put another way, you may be the only light in someone’s darkness.

Do you remember elsewhere where Jesus said, “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked and you clothed me; sick, and you visited me; ...Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”  The choice is ours.  

Sometimes it involves taking risks.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of attitude.  Let me share with you a story.  I’ve shared it with you a couple of times before.  Hey!  If it’s good once – it’s good two or three or more times.

Once there was a Roman soldier – a Christian named Martin of Tours.  One cold winter day as he was entering a city, a beggar stopped him and asked for alms.  Martin had no money, but the beggar was blue and shivering with the cold.  So Martin gave him what he had.  He took  off his soldier’s coat, worn and frayed as it was. He cut it
in two, and gave half of it to the beggar man.  

That night Martin had a dream.  In it he saw all of the heavenly places and all the angels and Jesus in the midst of them;  and Jesus was wearing half a Roman soldier’s cloak.  One of the angels said to him, “Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak?  Who gave it to you?”  And Jesus answered softly, “My servant Martin gave it to me.”   

Hospitality. A cup of cold water.  Half a Roman soldier’s coat.  Any act of kindness – done in the name of Jesus – as though it were done for Jesus himself. The early church understood this.  The early church took a risk, and practiced kindness to people who were dying of the plague.  And the church grew.   

I often point out to couples at their marriage ceremony that the love they share is a borrowed love that comes from God.  I say that because the Scriptures tell us that we love because God first loved us.  God has shown us – God has shown you – the greatest love – the greatest kindness that we could ever be shown through the life, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since we have been shown such mercy and love and kindness, it’s up to us – it’s up to you – it’s up to me – to show Christ’s mercy and love and kindness to others.  It’s not always easy.  I know that.  But let’s show them anyway.  Let’s show them who Jesus is by showing them what Jesus is like.                
Amen

Posted by: AT 09:28 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, June 25 2014

Matthew 10: 24-39

When did you first learn how to ride a bike?  I would guess that most of us learned how to ride a two-wheeler without training wheels before we were in First Grade, or at least shortly thereafter.  Think about it.  Learning to ride a bike is a major milestone in most people’s lives – at least it is in a kid’s life.

Now I don’t remember all the details of my own experience, but I do remember this brownish colored bike with chrome fenders – with lots of rust and dents – that rattled when I rode it.  The good thing was that it was a bike that was not too far off the ground.  I remember the training wheels, and how secure it felt to know that they were there.

Then came the big day when my Dad took one of those training wheels off.  And I was left with only one.  To be sure, that felt a little shaky.  But I quickly learned that if I felt myself tipping over, I could always lean the bike over to the side that had the one training wheel, and I felt secure once again.

Then came the day – the really big day – about a week later – when my Dad took off the other training wheel.  I knew – I absolutely knew – that I was not ready for this.  I was scared.

“Daddy, I can’t ride without my training wheels.”
“Don’t be afraid.  I won’t let you fall.”
“But Daddy.  I don’t know how to do this.”
“Don’t be afraid.  I’ll hold onto you.  I won’t let you fall.”    

Well, I got on.  My father held onto me just as he said he would.  Actually, he didn’t hold on to me, he held onto the back of the seat of the bike.  You know, kind of grabbed me kind of like this – and away we went.

“Daddy?  Daddy, are you there?”
“Yes.  Don’t be afraid.  I’ve got you.  Just keep peddling!”

Down the sidewalk we would go, over and over and over again.  Each time I would cry out, “Daddy?  Daddy are you there?”

“Yes.  Don’t be afraid.  I’ve got you.  Just keep peddling!”
 
And with each trip up and down the sidewalk, my confidence is growing, until – “Daddy?  Daddy are you there?  Daddy?  Daddy?”
“Whoopee!  Look at me!”

I was riding – I had learned how to ride – my bike.    

Although I had trusted my Dad to hold onto me, at some point, he needed to let go.  I needed to step out – or in this case – peddle on – in faith.  I lost my fear.  I was no longer afraid to ride my bike.  These days, I still love to ride.  And I guess you could say, I have been “out spoke-‘in” ever since.

Something like that is happening in our Good News reading from the book of Matthew today.  Jesus has called to himself twelve disciples – twelve men to come to him and follow him.  He has taught them.  He has been a mentor to them.  Like a father – or a mother – teaching a child how to ride a bike – he has held onto them – kept them close beside him – building up their faith and courage – until he lets go – and sends them off to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

Were they scared?  Scared to go and proclaim the Good News?  Well, maybe.  But listen to what Jesus tells them.  “Don’t be afraid.”  In fact three times – in a scant 6 verses – he tells them, “Do not be afraid.”

You see, in Jesus’ day – and certainly in the first few centuries of the history of the Christian church – it wasn’t easy to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  And that’s why these words that Jesus shares with his disciples seem somewhat alien to us in 21st Century America.  He warns followers and would be disciples that following him – in other words – being a Christian – is not going to be a cake walk.

Listen again to what He says: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword.....to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother...one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”  Huh?  Does that sound strange?  I submit to you that this is one of those difficult sayings of Jesus.

So just what is Jesus saying?  Jesus isn’t talking about the challenges of family life that we all experience once in awhile.  He isn’t talking about rebellious teenagers or Moms and Dads who just don’t understand what it’s like to be a teen these days.  He’s not talking about having in-law problems.  No.  

Jesus is talking about what life may be like for Christians when other members of the family either could not care less about God, or are vehemently opposed to the things of God.  And when the church was young, it often happened that when a person came to Christ, he or she may have been the only member who was a Christian within that family.  And sometimes – they were treated as outcasts – even in their own family.

Quite frankly there are some of us here who can relate to that.  We might not be seen as outcasts – but there are families today where not everyone is a Christian – or at least those who don’t care to practice their faith as a part of a worshiping community.

And lest we forget, the early church experienced periods of persecution.  Even death.  Being put to death because of one’s faith was a real problem in the life of the early church.  And that’s why Jesus says.  

“Don’t be afraid.  Don’t be afraid of what might happen to you just because you are a Christian.”

“Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.”

The words of Jesus are just as true for us today, even though, quite frankly, in 21st Century America, Christians have little to fear from others.  But it is not that way in every place in the world today.  

    Let me tell you a story.  Imagine that you’re a woman in Sudan.  Your Muslim father abandoned the family home when you were young.  Your Christian mother raised you.  Eventually you married a Christian man and gave birth to a boy.  Then, two years later, while you were pregnant with your second child, you get thrown into prison.  A Muslim judge convicts you of apostasy – in other words – for leaving Islam – which carries a death penalty.  In addition – you are charged with adultery – for marrying a Christian.  For that your punishment is to receive 100 lashes.  

    This is the nightmare of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag.  

    On May 15th of this year, the judge told her, “We gave you three days to recant, but you insist on not returning to Islam.”  And then he issued to her a death sentence.  To this Meriam boldy replied, “I am a Christian, and I never committed apostasy.”

    Meriam was eight and a half months pregnant at the time, and caring for a 20-month old son, Martin, inside the prison.  Having since given birth, she is now caring for two children under age 2 in prison.  Her husband, Daniel, has been able to visit his family but has been unable to get Meriam and their children freed.  Thankfully, because she is a new mother, Meriam has been given a two-year reprieve on her sentences.  There is an inter-faith group working to have Meriam’s death sentence overturned.  But it will take time, effort, and prayer.

    And you’ve seen in the news that in Nigeria – 200 girls – 200 Christian girls – were kidnapped from their school by Muslim extremists simply because they are Christians.  

    And in Iraq – again in the news – another radical Islamic named ISIS seeks a violent overthrow of the Iraqi government. 

Archbishop Amel Nona, the Chaldean bishop of Mosul, discussing attacks on churches in Mosul, reports, “…in the 11 years following the 2003 US-led overthrow of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein, Christians in Mosul had declined from 35,000 to 3,000 and that “now there is probably no one left…all the faithful have fled the city.  I wonder if they will ever return there.”  This same radical group ISIS has been linked to the murder and torture of Christians in Syria.   

    When I hear about and read about situations like these in other parts of the world, first, I am thankful that we live in this country, where these kinds of attacks against Christians just don’t occur.  Second, I wonder – and I can only wonder – what it must be like to suffer this kind of violence and persecution simply because one happens to be a Christian.  And third, I ask myself, what would I do if I were persecuted like Meriam – like the girls of Nigeria – like the Christians of Mosul and other parts of Iraq – what would I do?  Would I remain faithful to my faith?  Would I remain faithful to Jesus Christ?  Standing up here in front of you it’s safe to answer those questions.  I pray that I would have the strength and the courage of Meriam to hang on…, and to remember the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid,…I am with you.”

    I suppose in comparison the challenges – maybe even the fears we face – are nothing compared to those of Meriam, and Archbishop Nona, and other Christians in various places around the world.  And yet, our fears – our challenges – are still very real.  
    
    So no matter what kind of fears or challenges you may be facing today – maybe it’s your health – or that of a loved one.  Maybe it’s your job or your financial situation.  Maybe you’re in a family situation that isn’t what it ought to be.  For you high school graduates, it might be the challenge of leaving home for the first time.  And yes – maybe – just maybe – someone’s giving you a hard time because you go to church – in other words – because you’re a Christian.  

    Let me tell you something. In our moments of fear, it’s nice to know that we have a God who grabs us by the seat of our pants – who holds onto us and keeps us from falling.  Like learning how to ride a bike.  You will never learn how to ride a bike until you learn to let go of your fear.  Through it all, God hangs on

    And that’s Good News.  Good News – no matter what your situation – Good News from Jesus who says to you and to me today, “Do not be afraid.”

    Do not be afraid.  God is with us.  God is our strong salvation – our refuge and our strength.  Of what – or of whom – shall we be afraid?    Amen

[1] Eric Mataxas, Breakpoint, June 12 and 13, 2014.

Posted by: AT 08:45 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, June 16 2014

Matthew 28:16–20
    How many of you have ever taken dance lessons?  Anybody?  Yeah, I uh, I will admit that I took dance lessons once upon a time.  I was in my mid-20’s and disco dancing was all the rage.  I thought it would be – you know – a good way – maybe – to meet women.  And I did have a dance partner – but I think she might have been more interested in me than I was in her.  This of course was in the days before I met Nancy.

    Anyway – I learned a few dance steps.  Even learned to do the cha-cha, but I was there mainly to learn how to disco.  Wanna see?  Yeah!  I’ll just bet you would!

    Instead of me giving you a dance demonstration – or even a dance lesson – we’re going to talk about God today instead.  Just in case you missed it, today is Trinity Sunday (weekend) the one day out of the year that we focus specifically on the doctrine of the Trinity – in other words – God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   And you may be wondering what my dance lessons from 35 years ago have to do with the Trinity.  Glad you asked.  

    When two people are dancing – and by that I mean when they’re actually touching each other – and they know what they’re doing – I mean, you’ve seen them at wedding receptions.  Ultimately there’s always at least one couple out there who are really good. 

They know what they’re doing.  The man leads – and the woman follows (just like it ought to be in every area of life.  I’m sorry!  I just couldn’t resist saying that.  And for the record, I really don’t believe that’s the way it ought to be.  Well, at least most days.)  

    Anyway—when dancing – the man leads – and there are certain signals that the man gives his partner – a move of the hand – a subtle tilt of the head – and the partner knows that a different move is coming up.  I asked Nancy if she would be here with me today so that we could demonstrate.  But – alas – she is preaching at her own church today.  So – no demo.

    Anyway – when two people dance – it is the job of the man to lead – the woman to follow – AND – and this is so important – it is also the job of the man to make the woman look good – to give her the time of her life – so that she becomes the star of the show.  And it is a joy to watch.  When you see a couple who really know what they’re doing – it is as though the two are moving as one.
    Now, no one has ever been able to satisfactorily arrive at a description of the Trinity that is both accurate and understandable.  Early on in the history of the Christian church, someone came up with this idea that one way to think about the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is to think of them as involved in some kind of dance.  The fancy church word used for this is “perichoresis”.  Perichoresis.  Write it down, there will be a test.   

    It’s Greek.  Peri means around, and chorea – from which we get the word choreography – is to dance.  So the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are joined in this dance where the three are moving as one.

    Pastor Steve Wende puts it this way.  “The early Christians wanted to say that when you think about God – and we all think about God – even people who don’t believe in God think about God – when you think about God think of a glorious dance of love, joy and self-giving grace, a movement and energy in the very heart of God from which has come all creation and to which He would invite us through the Lord Jesus Christ.”

    I want you to know that we Christians believe in one God.  And that there is no other god.  And yet – it still gets a little confusing, I know.  We do indeed talk about God as Father – and as the Son, Jesus – and the Holy Spirit.  And that’s because that’s the way the Scriptures talk about God.  When the Scriptures talk about God – when they mention the Father – or the way Scripture talks about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we can only conclude that all three are talked about as if they are God.  Not three gods, but one God.  A one personed God in three persons.  Another word you might hear from time to time is the word Triune.  The Triune God.  Which simply means three in one.  

    Simply put – this is how God has revealed Himself to us.  So we Christians affirm the Trinity, not as an explanation of God, but simply as a way of describing what we know about God.

    And again, you will not find the word Trinity in the Bible, but the concept that it represents is there.  For instance – in our readings today, we get that Trinity formula.  In Genesis we read, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…and a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”  Now other translations say that the Spirit of God swept over the waters.  The Hebrew word is ruach – and it means, wind, breath or spirit.  

    So in creation we have God the Father as creator – the wind, breath or Spirit of God moves over the waters – and although not mentioned here – we know that Jesus plays a role in creation as well.  

•    John 1:3 says this – talking about Jesus – “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing cane into being,”  
•    Colossians 1:16 says – again talking about Jesus – “…all things have been created through him and for him.”
    So you see the Trinity joins – in the dance – of creation.  

    Then notice how our reading from 2 Corinthians ends.  “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”  Where have you heard that before?  Yeah.  At the beginning of our worship services.  We declare right up front why we are here – and in whose name we are welcomed – and in whose name we gather every weekend.  

    And then our Gospel reading from Matthew is that well known passage that we use at every baptism.  Fred – Ethel – Johnny – Suzie – you are baptized in the name – in the name – of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    In other words – you are invited.  You are invited to join in the dance.  Through your baptism you are invited to join in the dance of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – AND to join in the dance with all baptized Christians of every time and every place.

    Are you catching the connection?  We are caught up in the divine dance.  So while we’re here on earth, we need to learn a few dance steps.  Yes?  We need to learn a few dance steps if we’re going to be the people God wants us to be in order to do the things God wants us to do.  The dance steps God wants us to learn has not so much to do with the movement of our feet, but with the movement of our hearts.  

    So let me close with a story.  Up until now this has been something of an academic sermon – maybe even more of a lecture – which is why most pastors would rather be on vacation than show up to preach on Trinity Sunday (weekend).  So I guess you could say, what I have been saying is appealing more to you left-brained people. By the way – do you know what they say about left-brained people?  They’re not in their right minds!

    Anyway – this comes from the late Methodist Bishop Earl Hunt.  “A physician once told of a transforming experience he once had when he was young.  He was going to check on a patient who lived in a rather rundown apartment community.  He pulled the car up to the curb and got out.  A little boy was there bouncing a ball on the sidewalk.  The little boy said, ‘Man, that’s a nice car, Sir.  Where did you get that car?’

    “The doctor stumbled a bit in answering, because his older brother owned a car dealership.  They had worked out a deal in which the doctor would take care of the brother and his family for free, and the brother on a regular basis would give the doctor a car.  It worked for both of them.

    “The doctor started to explain, and said, ‘Well, my brother gave me this car…’ but before he could go on, the little boy said, ‘Your brother gave you that car?’  ‘Yes, you see, we have this arrangement…’  The little boy said again, ‘Your brother gave you that car?’ ‘Yes,’ and before the doctor could say more, the little boy said, ‘Would you wait right here?’ and the little boy went tearing off around the corner.

    “The doctor didn’t have much time.  He didn’t really want to wait, but there went that little boy, and the doctor didn’t know what to do.  When the boy came back, he was pulling a wagon, and in the wagon was another little boy, smaller than he, clearly younger than he.  The little boy in the wagon had legs withered from the waist down.

    “The older boy came pulling that wagon with the other boy with the withered legs right up next to the car and said, ‘Joey!  Do you see that car, that shiny nice car?  His brother gave him that car!  Joey, I promise you that when we get older, that’s the kind of brother I’m going to be for you.’

    “In telling that story, the doctor got very quiet for a moment, and then he said, ‘Years have passed since that happened, but I believe God has used that experience to keep me in His will and in His love.  Because every time I have a decision to make with my practice, my family, my friends, or with anything, I keep saying, ‘God – that little boy pulling the wagon – that’s the kind of brother I want to be.’”

    Folks – what kind of sister – what kind of brother – do you want to be?  

    There is a dance that has been going on since before time began.  You and I are invited to join in that dance.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit invite us to join in their dance.  It’s what it means to be church.  It’s what it means to love God.  To love neighbor.  Because nothing else matters.  And when we get that right – we’ll know that we’ve got the dance steps right.

    It’s a dance where it’s not a matter of getting the movement of our feet right, but getting the movement of our hearts right.  Amen

Posted by: AT 10:51 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, June 11 2014

John 17:1-19

A week from today we will be celebrating a birthday.  Bet you didn’t know that.  No – it’s not my birthday.  We’ll be celebrating the birthday of the church.  The official name for this birthday is Pentecost.  Every year we celebrate it 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

We call Pentecost the birthday of the church because it was on that day – nearly 2,000 years ago – that the Holy Spirit first came to the disciples.  And it changed them.  And they began to preach and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus – crucified and risen from the dead.

So we celebrate the birthday of the church next week.  And I want to invite you to join in the celebration by wearing red when you come here for worship next week. It’s okay if you forget – I promise not to single you out if you forget.

But I think it’s important that we talk about the church.  So that’s what we’re going to talk about today.  What it means to be the church –– what it means to be the church on purpose.  

So let me ask you.  Does church still matter? Anybody?  Yeah.  If it didn’t then I don’t think I would be here.  I don’t think any of us would be here today if the church didn’t matter.  

But the truth is that the church does matter.  And I think it is a joy and a privilege to be a part of Christ’s church on earth.  And quite frankly – I want you to know that I am particularly thankful to be here at this congregation – Zion Lutheran Church.  It’s hard for me to believe, but I have served among you as your pastor for 23 years now.  We have been partners in ministry for 23 years. Wow!  That’s how long some of you have put up with me.  That’s a long time.  I know this isn’t a Baptist church, but can I hear you say, “Amen” to that?   It’s okay.  I know, we’re Lutherans.   That wasn’t too hard now, was it?

So we’re all in agreement.  The church still matters.  Touching hearts.  Changing lives.  Making a difference.  All in the name of Jesus.  After all, we are his hands.  His feet.  His voice.  

One of the concerns I have is that in the United States, Canada, and Europe, there seems to be a decline in the number of people who still think church matters.  In places like China and Africa, the church is exploding – just growing like crazy.  But in our own country – attendance is down.  And it’s not just us Lutherans.  It’s across the country – across all denominations.  

And I find that phenomenon amazing.  I find the statistics amazing because we have a message to proclaim – we still have the same Good News message to proclaim that those first disciples of Jesus proclaimed following the day of Pentecost.  This almost sounds like a Pentecost sermon, doesn’t it!  But I want you to know that our message is the same.  God is love.  And God showed his love for us by sending His Son Jesus to live among us – to die on a cross – in our place – so that we might be reconciled to God.  

So through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – we are forgiven – and we have the hope and the promise of eternal life with God forever.  That’s Good News!  That’s THE Good News!  And though we may change how it is that we get that Good News message across – we will never mess with the message.

So – now that you’ve heard this Good News – what are you going to do with it?  What are we as a church going to do with it?  How can we be a church on purpose?

In our Scripture lesson from John’s Gospel, Jesus prays for the church. He prays that we might all be one – that we might be unified in the work to which we are called.
 
So first – being the church on purpose means that our leaders are people of faith.  Men and women who know Jesus Christ – not just know about him – but people who know him in a very real and personal way.

And what is true of our leaders is also true for all of us, wouldn’t you agree?  If we’re going to be a church on purpose, well we all need to be people of faith.  People of genuine faith. 24/7/365.  People who know Jesus in a very real and personal way.

Folks – the church still matters.  That statement is as true today as it ever was.  If we are going to be the church today – if we still believe that church still matters – then we need to be the church on purpose.   And remember – remember – the church is not a building.  Like that old Sunday School song tells us, “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.”

We don’t just go to church.  We are the church.  And quite frankly, that’s why I don’t like the phrase, “See you in church.”  People of God, hear me out.  You are the church.   And we need to be the church on purpose 24/7/365.

Eight years ago, I was in Los Angeles doing continuing education through the Beeson Institute.  I had the privilege of spending a day and a half at Saddelback Church with thousands of others listening to Pastor Rick Warren.  Some of you know that name.  He is the author of The Purpose Driven Life.  But before Warren wrote the Purpose Driven Life, he wrote another book called the The Purpose Driven Church.

  A lot of pastors have that book sitting on their bookshelves.  I’ve actually read it.  It’s been a while, but I’ve actually read it.  Rick Warren discovered in a variety of Bible passages – what he calls God’s five purposes for the church.   

Here at Zion, we like to talk about the six marks of discipleship.  Now I know that you know what those six marks of discipleship are.  I’m sure if I were to ask you – you could tell me at least three of them.  We print all six every weekend in our Mission Minutes, and every month in our newsletter.  

The six marks of discipleship overlap with the five purposes.  But the five purposes of the church are somewhat different.  So let me ask you – again, it’s okay to talk to me now – let me see if you can guess what any one of the five purposes of the church are.  Now, before you start shouting out answers, I know I may be asking for trouble, but I want to know what you think. (Worship; Ministry; Evangelism; Fellowship; Discipleship).

Okay.  Not too bad.  The five purposes of the church – again, according to Rick Warren – are:
1. Worship. This is also one of the six marks of discipleship. Worship weekly. That’s w-e-e-k-l-y not w-e-a-k-l-y.  Worship every week.
2. Ministry – or serving others. (This also is one of the six marks of discipleship.)
3. Evangelism – in other words, telling others about Jesus.
4. Fellowship – having fun together.  By the way – how many of you think that among everything else – the church ought to be a fun place to be?
5. Discipleship – teaching folks what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  

This fifth purpose is pretty broad, and I will suggest that it includes all of the marks of discipleship not yet mentioned, in other words, reading the Bible every day, praying daily, developing spiritual friends, and giving of time, talent, and treasure.  

Now there’s not enough time for me to unwrap each purpose in detail for you today.  But let it be enough for us to know today that it certainly is important for us to be a church on purpose.  It’s important for us to be Christians – disciples of Jesus Christ – on purpose. 

Remember what I’ve told you before?  Being a Christian is more than just going to church on Sunday/Saturday.  Being a Christian – a disciple of Jesus Christ – is something that you are – something that you practice –every day – again 24/7/365.  

So as we move through the season of Pentecost between now and the end of November – depending on the lessons for the day – I want to hi-light how it is that we can be the church – how it is we can be disciples of Jesus Christ – how it is that we can live out the Good News message of Jesus Christ on purpose.  

And before I say Amen, and finish this sermon, let me just bring you back to the prayer that Jesus is praying on behalf of his disciples in our Gospel reading today.  I hope you noticed by extension that Jesus is praying for you and me as well when he says, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,…” That’s you and me, folks. So Jesus is also praying for us.  For you and me.

So let’s listen for the five purposes in this prayer that Jesus prays.

In verse 4 he prays to the Father, “I have brought you GLORY on earth.”  That would be what?  Worship, right?  Worship is giving glory and praise to God.
Verse 6: “I REVEALED you to those whom you gave me out of this world.”  That’s evangelism.
 
Verse 8: “I GAVE THEM THE WORDS you gave me.”  That’s teaching or discipleship.
Verse 12: “While I was WITH them, I protected them, and kept them safe.”  That’s fellowship.  Being together for each other – and yes – having fun together at the same time.
And Verse 18: “As you sent me into the world, I HAVE SENT THEM into the world.”  That’s ministry.

Folks, Jesus prayed for us, the church, that we, the church, might learn the purposes of the church.  That we might be the church on purpose.  I want to learn more about what that means.  You with me?  I’m hoping this summer we can go deeper together in what it means to be the church.  

Why?  Because the church still matters.  Because the Good News message of Jesus Christ still matters.  So – let’s be the church.  Let’s be the church on purpose.  Let’s be the church together.  

                                        Amen!

Posted by: AT 12:17 pm   |  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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