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Monday, May 18 2015

Acts 1:15-17; John 17:6-19

    I have done a fair amount of traveling in my life.  I did a count.  Something like nine European countries, four in Asia, three in Africa, and one in South America.  Oh, and Canada.  Lots of times to Canada.  And what is the one question you always get asked when you come through customs back into the United States?  Yeah – that’s right.  “Do you have anything to declare?” Now, I’ve never had anything to declare, so I’ve always said no.  

    Today, I want to talk about the church.  And I want to ask you – as members of Christ’s church – do you have anything to declare?  The world is asking.  “You Christians.  Tell me about this Jesus of yours.  What do you have to say about him?  Do you have anything to declare?”

    I think – I hope – you’ll agree with me – that we do have a message to declare.  That we worship and serve the living God who makes Himself known to us in Jesus Christ.  And what we have to declare is the Good News of what it means to be loved and forgiven.  What we declare is that through Jesus Christ God has entered into our world and made life-changing transformations in who we are and how we look at life – how we live our lives.  And that that has made all the difference.

    Because a church with nothing to declare has lost its purpose.  A church with nothing to declare has lost its reason to exist.  The church – this church – needs to remember that we are in the business of declaring what it is that we believe – and in who it is in that we place our faith and our trust.  And just as important – why it is we believe what it is that we do believe.  

    So as far as I’m concerned – what we have to declare is a life changing message.  The question is, how far are we willing to go to share that message?  What risks are we willing to take?  Or do we play it safe – and keep it to ourselves?   I think it’s a lot like planting seeds.   

    Let me tell you a story.  “A young reporter wanted to get a feel for agriculture, so he called upon a farmer and said, ‘How’s your wheat coming along?’
“The farmer replied, ‘I didn’t plant any.’
“‘Really?” asked the reporter.  ‘I thought this was supposed to be wheat country.’
“‘Some say it is,’ came the reply.  ‘But I was afraid we might not see enough rain this year.’
“‘Well, what about your corn.  How is it doing?’ the young man inquired.
“‘Didn’t plant corn this year.’ the farmer said.  ‘I was afraid of corn blight.’
“‘Nope.  Afraid the price might drop.’
“‘Well then, what did you plant?’
“‘Nothin’,’ the farmer said.  ‘I just played it safe.’”

Yeah, well, farmers who play it safe by NOT planting crops are really not farmers at all, are they?     If you want to raise a crop, you’ve got to plant some seeds.  

    As disciples of Jesus Christ – we are seed planters.  When it comes to the Good News of Jesus Christ – what we are is seed planters.  But let me tell you – the moment you start planting seeds there are going to be some people are going to tell you, “No way.”  No way is what you’re telling me about God and Jesus Christ true.  No way.  

Here's the thing.  Jesus did some pretty amazing stuff.  And a lot of people told him, “No way.”  Like the time when he was in the synagogue, and a man possessed by a demon comes roaring into the place, and Jesus says, “Be silent, and come out of him.”  You can just hear the doubters in the crowd saying, “No way, Jesus.”  Say it with me, “No way, Jesus.”

Later on, the friends of a paralyzed man bring the man to Jesus, and Jesus says to him, “I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” But the doubters in the crowd say, “No way, Jesus.”  Okay, good, you’re catching on.

Still later on, in the house of a girl who has just died, Jesus takes her by the hand and calls out, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”  But the doubters in the crowd say, “No way, Jesus.”

And not only does Jesus do things that for others would have been impossible, but he says some things that sound impossible.  Like the time he said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who hurt you.”  But the people said, “No way, Jesus.”

Then there was the time he told his disciples “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  And the disciples said, “No way, Jesus.”

And then – after his resurrection – and just before he ascends into heaven, he says to his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  And the disciples said, “No way, Jesus.”

When Jesus was told, “no way,” he did it anyway.  When he was told it wasn’t going to happen, it happened anyway.   

What we have to declare is that Jesus did indeed drive out demons, he healed the sick, he taught us that God is a God of love, he taught us how to love each other – even when that's not so easy to do.  We declare that Christ died – and yes – he was raised from the dead back to life again.  We declare that the risen Christ revealed himself to his disciples and promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to them – and to all who would follow him.

Unfortunately, there are still folks today who hear this message – this Good News of Jesus Christ – and they say, “No way. No way that this is true!”   And yet, I declare that everything that I have said to you today about Jesus Christ is true.
So you see, we’ve got some work to do.  When Jesus says, “You shall be my witnesses,” he isn’t just talking to his original disciples.  He’s talking to us too.   

Now before you say, “Who me?  No way,” let me remind you that you do indeed have something to declare.  What you have heard.  What you have seen.  What you have experienced.  Just look at the changed lives of those around you – and I would hope – the change you have seen in yourself.  To the point where you can say, “It’s all about Jesus.  This change you see in me?  Jesus made the difference.”  It’s OK to declare that.

Now no one said it was going to be easy.  It’s not always.  We are not being asked to do the impossible.  In fact, I would like to suggest that it is more often in the little things that we do that we have the greatest impact on our families – among our friends – and in our communities.  A smile.  A word of kindness and encouragement.  A helping hand.  Prayer.  

It all starts when we learn to plant some seeds.  We will never raise a crop – we will never get results – unless and until we plant some seeds.  When we learn to take a risk.  Because you know that if you always play it safe, nothing is ever going to happen.    So – how far are you willing to go?  What risks are you willing to take?

Would your experience of Jesus Christ in this place be something you would be willing to share on Face Book?  Over the past few months, I have seen a couple of postings – two or three – from folks who got the word out before or just as they left this place.  That’s just one way – a new way that wasn’t available to us just a few years ago – for someone here to say, “I have something to declare.”  SO – I won’t mind if you keep your phones turned on when you come to worship.  Silence them, please – but if you feel you have something to declare – something you’ve heard – something you’ve experienced – here in this place – and you want your Face Book friends to know about it – well, I say go for it.  

But no matter where or how or when you feel you have something to declare – Face Book – whatever social media you use – they are one thing.  Some others just might push you to step outside of your comfort zone.
– to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with someone you know, or maybe even someone you don’t know.
    – to teach a child about Jesus
        – or simply to touch a life in order to make a difference for good.

Let me close by pointing out to you that through it all, Jesus is praying for you.  Take some time to reread our Gospel lesson today.  He’s praying for you.  Listen again to what Jesus says as he prays to the Father, “As you have sent me, so I have sent them.”  He's praying for you.  He's praying for me.  He prays for our protection – and he prays that we would remain faithful – especially as he sends us out into the world to declare the Good News of Jesus Christ.  

So let me ask you.  Do you have anything to declare?  Are you willing to take a risk declaring it?  I think it’s a risk worth taking.  So let’s take the risk.  In this church.  Together.  We can make a difference for Jesus Christ.  Together.


Posted by: AT 09:19 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 11 2015

John 15:9-17
    Let me share with you a story.  It’s something that happened a number of years ago to a college football player by the name of Trevor Wikre.  Trevor was an offensive lineman at Mesa State in Grand Junction, Colorado.  

    About midway through the 2008 season, Trevor was at practice when his pinky finger got caught in a linebacker’s jersey on a sweep play. When the whistle blew, Trevor looked down to find his finger bent at a horrific angle, the bone sticking out of the skin.  Trevor told the trainer to, “Just tape it up. We’ve got to finish practice.”

    But the trainer convinced Trevor to go to the hospital, where doctors told him that they’d need to insert pins, repair ligaments, and make his finger look like a finger again.  It would take four months to heal, and his football season would be over.
    “No way,” said Trevor. “This is my senior year. We’ve got to make this work.”

    “We can’t,” said the docs.  “We can,” insisted Trevor. “We can cut it off.”

And you know what?  That’s what they did.

    When asked why he gave up his finger, this is what Trevor had to say.  “To have somebody tell you that you’ve played your last game of football, I just wasn’t going to let that happen.  I couldn’t do that to my teammates. I’d take a bullet for those guys.”
    Trevor still missed one game, but was back on the field for the rest of the season.  

    So what do you think?  Bizarre? Crazy? Yeah, but it gets curiouser and curiouser. Trevor’s coach once did the same thing.  He slashed his finger in a high-school shop class and insisted the docs cut it off so he wouldn’t miss his senior season.  

    You can just picture this, right?  Trevor comes off the field, and he and his coach give each other a “high four.”

    So how did the people around Trevor feel about his sacrifice?  Most of his teammates were awestruck by his commitment.  Thought it was amazing.  On the other hand, some of his teammates, who were nursing their own injuries, weren’t so keen. “Thanks a lot for making us look like wusses,” said one.  His mom was supportive and his fiancée, Traci, looked at the bright side. “I feel kinda good about it,” she says, “I know that if he ever needs to sacrifice for our future, he’ll do it.”

    I can only hope that the wedding didn’t cost Trevor an arm and a leg!

    Folks, it would be very hard for me to sacrifice one of my fingers.  I am a musician.  And I love to sit at that organ and that piano – and well – even one pinky finger would be a big sacrifice.  However – however – it does beg the question, “How far would I go – how far would you go – to make a long-term sacrifice for someone that we love?  Or for something that you believe in strongly.  How far would you go?  What kind of sacrifice would you be willing to make?

    Would you – would I – be willing to lay down our lives for a friend?  For someone we love?  You’ve heard the stories of soldiers who threw themselves on a grenade or jumped in front of machine-gun fire to protect a buddy.  Many are the stories of the martyrs – especially the original disciples of Jesus Christ – and many other Christians throughout history – who gave up their lives for the sake of Jesus Christ.  A pinky is one thing.  Giving up one’s life is another.

    So let me ask you.  What kind of love does it take to make the ultimate sacrifice?  

    Listen again to what Jesus has to say in our Gospel reading today.  He says “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

    What he is really saying here is that his love for us – his love for you – is so great – that he was willing to lay his life down for you and for me.   Folks, you are loved by Jesus as a friend.  And to be a friend of Jesus, then, means that you are loved in a sacrificial way by Jesus.

    However – it also means following Jesus’ example.   Listen again to what he says.  “This is my commandment, that you love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.”  Jesus is not asking us – he’s telling us – that we also are to love each other sacrificially.  To be willing to lay down our own lives as Jesus did for us.

    Again, this is one of those “it’s not easy” parts about being a Christian.  Because – because there are some people who are not so easy to love.  AND I hope you’re not one of them.  But there are some who ARE easier to love than others.  And when it comes to our children, well, I don’t think there’s a one of us here who wouldn’t take a bullet for a son or a daughter.  

    For Jesus, laying down his life meant a painful physical sacrifice.  He gave up his life for us.  Now to be realistic about this, that’s probably not the kind of sacrifice any of us will ever be asked to make.  But there are lots of other ways.

•    We may need to lay aside our personal ambitions in order to do what’s best for our families.
•    We might be called to give sacrificially of our hard-earned money in order to feed the hungry or to help someone in need.
•    We might give up a week’s vacation time to go on mission where people are struggling – either here in this country or some other place somewhere in the world.
•    Would you be willing to donate a kidney to a loved one?  How about a complete stranger?

    There are a thousand ways we can lay down our lives for others on behalf of Jesus.  But first – it seems to me – we need to be willing.

    Listen!  Christianity is more than just a set of beliefs that sound good to us – and that we happen to agree with.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not just intellectual consent to what we hear.  But today what we do hear him say is that he asks that we obey when he says, “Love others as I have loved you.”

    Let me close with something from Max Lucado, from his book, A Love Worth Giving.  Now most of you are familiar with the love chapter from I Corinthians 13.  Let me just focus on verses 4 through 7 – really, one of my favorite passages in the Bible.  Listen to what it says,

    Love is patient, love is kind.  Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way.  It is not irritable or resentful.  It keeps no record of  wrongs.  Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.

    A few years ago, Lucado was challenged to insert his name where the word love appears.  And I said to myself, “I can do that.”  And you can too.  SO let’s see what this sounds like when I put my name in there:

    Randy is patient, Randy is kind.  He does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud.   He is not rude, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered…

    When Lucado got that far, he said, “stop.”  Those words are false.  And you know what?  When I put my name in there – I have to say the same thing.  I am not always patient.  I am not always kind.  Just ask my wife.  There are times when I can be a real jerk.  I know!  Hard to believe.  But it’s true.

    Do you see the problem with this love language here and what Jesus is saying to us in our gospel reading?   There’s a standard being set in what we’re hearing today that I cannot meet.  No one can meet.  No one, that is, except Jesus Christ.  And when you insert Jesus’ name in there, here is what you get:

    Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind.  Jesus is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  Jesus does not insist on his own way.  Jesus is not irritable or resentful.  Jesus keeps  no record of wrongs.  Jesus does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all  things, endures all things.  Jesus never fails.

    Folks, we talk an awful lot around here about what it means to be a modern day disciple of Jesus Christ.  And if a disciple is someone who wants to imitate the person they are following – then it seems to me that what we want to do is to imitate Jesus.  And  when Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you,” – well – we should take him seriously.  Loving each other is a lifestyle – a way of life – it is a choice that it seems to me we would want to embrace.  

    Okay – so we might not ever get it completely right – but Jesus got it right.  He gave up his life.  He took one for the team.  He did this because he loves us – because he loves you. Therefore – it seems to me – that today our prayer should be – and every day this week should be – “Lord, teach ME what it means to love others just as you have loved us.”

Posted by: AT 01:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 04 2015

John 15:1-8    

    I have in my pocket – as I know just about all of you have in your pocket – or your purse – a tiny, hand-held device that looks like this.  I mean, this little thing can do so many things.  It tells me the time; gives me the weather forecast; it’s a dictionary; it tells me how to get from one place to another, what the distance is, and how long it will take me to get there; allows me to play games – although I don’t use this for that; it’s wonderful for looking up just about any item of information I might have a question about; I can take pictures with it – still pictures as well as moving pictures; I can watch full-length movies on it; catch the news; read my email – use it as a social media device – AND – and this is so cool – I can also use it as a phone.  Who knew? This – as you know – is my smart phone.  My smart phone – it’s actually smarter than I am.  

    But with this device – I can stay connected.  I can stay connected by email – by text messaging – social media – AND – and I can be connected to someone by actually talking with them.

    There are so many ways we can stay connected with each other.  And electronics are great especially when friends and loved ones are separated by distance.  But they’re not so great when you’re sitting across the table from someone.  You know what I mean?  You’ve seen them.  In restaurants.  Everybody’s got their smart phones or their tablets out and they’re communicating with everyone else except – the people that they’re with.  Not so good.

    Of course, if you were to ask me – I prefer good old fashioned – one on one – face to face connections – in small intimate groups.  With all of the electronics we have available to keep in touch – nothing beats those one on one – face to face – connections.  

    So we’ve got all these tools – so for the most part – we know how to stay connected to each other.  When we CHOOSE to stay connected.  And that’s important.  Not only do we know how to stay connected – but staying connected is also a choice.  

    For instance – how many of you have ever been to high school?  Some of us are still in high school – for others  – well it’s been a long time.  How many of you have or had friends in high school?  Raise your hands – let me see them.  Yeah we all did.  How many of you still have at least one friend from high school with whom you are still connected?  You are still connected I assume because you are communicating, yes?  I have one friend with whom I stay in contact from high school.  We grew up together – two houses away from each other.  We knew each other before we went to Kindergarten together. Michael and I are still connected because we still communicate with each other – even though he now lives in Ecuador.

    It seems to me that if you are not communicating – you are not connected.  Would you agree with that?    If you are not communicating – then you are not connected.

    So staying connected – using the tools that we have to stay connected – and choosing to stay connected – all of these are essential if we are to be in relationship with friends and people we love.  So when it comes to Jesus – what tools do we have – AND do we choose to stay connected to Him?   

    In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus uses the illustration of a grape vine and its branches to show us just how important it is that disciples of Jesus Christ stay connected to Jesus.  
    Now in reading this to you just a few moments ago – you heard that the vine grower prunes the branches so that they might bear fruit.  I’ve never liked that imagery – you know – of being pruned.  It sounds painful.  And yet, there are those things that probably do need to be pruned or cut out of our lives.  May I suggest that what God is doing when He is doing that – is simply cutting away the bad so it doesn’t get in the way of the good.  Still – sounds painful, doesn’t it!  
    So imagine my delight when I came across in my preparation for this sermon this week, that the Greek phrase, “He prunes” can also mean “He cleans.”  

    Author Bruce Wilkinson tells about a time he had a conversation with a vineyard owner.  This man told Bruce that as a tender of grapes, he finds that new branches have a natural tendency to grow along the ground. But they don’t bear fruit down there. When branches grow along the ground, the leaves get coated in dust. When it rains, they get muddy and mildewed. The branch becomes sick and useless.
    Since the branches are too valuable to cut off and throw away, they go through the vineyard with a bucket of water looking for those branches growing along the ground.  They wash them off, and wrap them around the trellis or tie them up.  And before you know it, these branches are growing grapes.

    So this is the wonderful thing that Jesus does for us.  Sometimes we get covered with dirt.  Let’s call that dirt sin.  But let me tell you, it is a relief – it is a joy – to know that Jesus does not cut us off and throw us away.  No.  We are too valuable – you are too valuable to Him – for Him to do that.  So what does he do?  He washes us.  He forgives us.  He gives us another chance.  Always another chance.  Picks us up, washes us off, so that we can live our lives the way He wants us to live them once again.

    That’s what Jesus does.  And that is Good News!  So is it any wonder that Jesus wants us to stay connected!  As disciples, connected to Him.  And as a church, connected to each other.   Both are extremely important.

    Let me share with you a story that illustrates just how important it is that we stay connected.  “Dr. Mickey Anders tells about twin girls who had been born twelve weeks premature in the Medical Center Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts. They weighed in at about two pounds each, and had been placed in separate bassinets. One started to do just fine – the other began slowly to fade.  Her heart beat was rapid, she was visibly anxious, and nothing the nurses could do seemed to be able to stop what they saw as her inevitable death.

    “Then one nurse remembered something she had read about treatment of premature infants elsewhere in the world.  As a last resort the nurses put the weaker twin, Brielle, right into the bassinet with her sister.  In the words of one of the nurses on duty, the results were both immediate and dramatic.  Little Brielle snuggled up to her sister, and her heart rate immediately slowed to normal.  Her color came back.  The baby visibly relaxed, almost it seemed with a sigh of relief. She accepted nourishment.  The crisis was over.  She would survive.

    The importance of being connected.  It is a life-giving thing.   You see, it’s one thing to believe that there is a God – to believe that God does exist.  But what I hope you are hearing today is this.  This God – in the person of His Son Jesus Christ – wants to be in relationship – wants to be connected – with you. Wants us to be connected to Him.

    So let me tell you that there are tools to do just that.  But we also need to choose to use them.  So what do we have?  Well, there’s worship.  The coming together with others in a place like this.  When we worship what we are doing is telling God just how awesome He is – and really – it’s a way in which we say “Thank you,” for all the things God does for us.  Especially that washing and cleaning and forgiving that we need – that I know I so desperately need.  

    Then there is time spent in the word.  Reading Scripture.  That is the primary way in which we hear God speaking to us.  
    But I suspect that for most of us, the most available tool in the toolbox is prayer.  Prayer is how we communicate with God – and therefore a powerful way for us to stay connected.  

    The challenge for us is to have the right understanding of what prayer is.  We usually – myself included – we usually use prayer to get God to give us what we want.  A new job; better health; better finances.  We pray for our favorite sports teams to win.  (Which means that maybe we Bills and Sabres fans just need to pray a little harder!)   

    And it’s okay to pray for things that you need.  It’s okay to pray for people who are in need.  But please know that the primary purpose of prayer is for us to stay connected with God. Thanking.  Praising.  Just having a conversation with God.  Fortunately, you don’t need one of these electronic devices in order to do that.  

    Look it!  In some ways it’s like making tea.  When you put a teabag in a cup of hot water what happens?  The water begins to change color.  And the longer that tea bag stays in that water the more that water will take on the color and the taste of that tea.  The longer the teabag is in the water – the stronger the tea.  

    That is what happens to us – every day – when we stay connected to Jesus.  We begin to take on the color of His character and the flavor of His life.

    So here’s what I want you to do.  I want you to take the tea bag of your life.  Soak it in the hot water of God’s Word.  Let the Holy Spirit talk to you as you read and study the Bible.  Spend time with Jesus talking with Him in prayer.

    Do you know why this is so important?  You can’t relate to someone that you are not communicating with.  It’s as simple as that.  I’ve talked to you about the tools you can use – worship, Scripture reading, prayer – and one that I didn’t mention – and that is spending time with other disciples.  These are so important. And it’s why church matters.

    So get connected.  Stay connected.  The more you stay connected to Christ the more He will multiply His fruit through you.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  It’s a life-giving thing!  There are what the Holy Spirit gives to everyone who stays connected to Jesus Christ. It is a life-giving thing.  Amen

Posted by: AT 11:27 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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