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Monday, November 28 2016
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Ready? I don’t look like this when I wake up—just ask my husband Will! I have to spend some time, you know, getting myself together in the morning.
I know I’m not alone in this. We all have to get ourselves together when we wake up. We have to…hit the snooze alarm two or three times, roll out of bed, shower, pick out clothes, get dressed, eat breakfast, make our hair look presentable, maybe some make-up—and that doesn’t even include other things we do in the morning that has nothing to do with getting ourselves ready, like watching TV, walking the dog, getting kids ready.
If you had to guess, how much time do you think you spend on average, on just yourself, in order to get ready in the morning?.... In my very scientific poll that I took with a few people who were willing, the average seemed to be about 45 minutes to an hour. One person in my extended family, who shall remain nameless, actually spends about an hour and a half to 2 hours getting ready in the morning. It seems that most of us need some time before we can be out the door, looking presentable, and ready to start the day.
In the Gospel reading for today, being ready is a really big deal. Jesus tells the disciples to “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Song of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Jesus could be saying to be ready all the time, or he could be describing something like a quick change artist or superhero who changes at a moment’s notice in a phone booth. Either way, it sounds like we are to always be at the ready, for when Jesus comes again.
During the 4 weeks of the Advent season in the Church year, the four weeks before Christmas, we wait not only for Jesus to come to us when we celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas—we also talk about waiting for Jesus’ return to us, when we comes again. When the world will finally be as it should be, and the new heaven and the new earth are established, like it says in the book of Revelation. And in our Advent waiting, Jesus tell us to be ready for his return.
OK, you might say, I’ll be dressed and ready, I’ll leave the lights on. Just tell me when Jesus is coming, and I’ll make sure that I have what I need.
Well here’s the kicker. We don’t know when Jesus is coming back.
In fact, our whole Gospel reading is about how we have no idea when Jesus is returning to us. It starts with Jesus telling us: “But about that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So not even the angels or Jesus know when he’s coming back—just God the Father knows.
And then Jesus tells us in our reading how the people in Noah’s time didn’t know when the flood was coming— and then the flood came, just like that. Just like how we don’t know when Jesus is coming.
Later in the text, Jesus says his return will be like a thief breaking into a house—the owner didn’t know when it would happen, obviously, because if the time was known the owner would have stayed awake and not left the thief break in.
And in the middle of the text, Jesus talks about how there will be two people working in the field—one will be taken and one will be left. Or two women will be grinding meal together—one will be taken and one will be left.
Now, you may hear that and think—oh! It’s like the Left Behind thing. The Rapture and all that. It’s so pervasive in our culture, that we can’t help but jump to that. Anyone think of that…?
But, actually, to Jesus’ hearers, they heard it in an opposite way. You see, in their time, being taken was a bad thing. A very bad thing. If you were taken suddenly, it meant you were being sold into slavery in a foreign country. So, you WANTED to be left behind. You didn’t want to be taken.
Either way, we see the suddenness of Jesus’ return, in all of these examples that Jesus mentions. So Jesus is saying people are supposed to be at the ready, even though we have no idea when he’ll be back. HOLD THAT THOUGHT, I’LL BE BACK.
[For one minute, disappear into the Sacristy. Walk back out.]
So it what did feel like when I was gone? What did you do? What did you expect? I said I was coming back, so you knew I would be back eventually… but you didn’t know when I’d be back.
That’s a small example of what it’s like for us to live in expectation of Jesus’ return. Jesus promises us that he will be back (and no, I don’t think he sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back”). We don’t know when Jesus will show up, but we’re expected to be ready.
The problem is, we humans hate not knowing when things will happen. When something big happens, we want to know ahead of time, so we can be prepared. How many of us watch the Weather Channel or a local news station when bad weather is coming, so that we can stock up on food, snow shovels, head to the basement, etc??
But in this case we aren’t in control of the anticipation—we don’t know when Jesus is returning. And we hate not being in control. So, some people try to figure out when Jesus will return, so that they can make sure to be ready. People use numbers in the Bible and do a bunch of calculations to figure the exact date when they think believe Jesus will return. You know what I’m talking about!
And yet, Jesus tells us flat-out that we won’t know ahead of time. We are expected to be ready and prepared, despite the fact that we have no idea when Jesus will come again. And that can be really hard.
But in the midst of this uncertainty, there is good news. The prophet Isaiah describes the future world for us, as we read in our first reading a few moments ago. I’m going to read it again, and listen for how our world is described:
2 “In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!”
Doesn’t that sound amazing?? People from ALL nations coming to worship and learn about God! Not to mention everlasting peace, where weapons are turned into farming tools!
Isaiah shows us this perfect future world-- peace and joy and worship and all nations coming together to be with God. This is what our world will be like when Jesus returns. This is what we have to look forward to. Yes, it can be scary not to know when Jesus will come and begin this new world for us. But we can live with the uncertainty, knowing what waits for us, knowing that an amazing kingdom, of people from all over the world praising God together in peace, is coming.
But the news to celebrate about doesn’t stop there. This getting ready for Jesus’ return isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually a pretty awesome thing. Because we know that Jesus loves us and has promised to return and establish his kingdom on earth, we can serve others in his name, so that we can ready ourselves and get others ready for his return.
Lately, we have seen an upsurge in our country of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. In the lead story a few days ago on the CNN news app, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that according to FBI statistics in 2015, there was a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslim Americans, and hate crimes against African Americans, Jewish people, and LGBT people have also increased. The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported over 700 cases of hateful harassment or intimidation in the US since Election Day—and those are only the ones that are reported and documented.
It’s easy to think of events like this as something that happened in the past, that aren’t current anymore-- that we are a more open society that no longer judges people based on skin color or gender or religion. But hate crimes and intimidation and harassment based on gender and race and sexuality and nationality and religion are not only alive and well, they are increasing at alarming rates in our country.
But this isn’t what God wants for us. In the Bible, in Isaiah, we hear from God that the future of our world is incredibly diverse, and amazingly peaceful. God is showing us our future world, where people from all backgrounds and nations are come together to worship God, in peace and harmony. Diversity is our future.
And we are called to start that process, here, now, in our current world. God is calling us to love each other, no matter what. We are called to treat each other the way God wants us to treat each other—with peace, respect, and love. We are called to speak out in love when we see others speaking and acting out of prejudice and hate. We are called to—as we say at Zion all the time-- love God and love our neighbor, because NOTHING ELSE MATTERS. We are called to treat others the way God treats us, working for justice and peace in our world.
We are able to do this because God loves us first. God sent God’s own son Jesus to die for ALL PEOPLE, the whole world. John 3:16, that famous Bible verse, says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him may not die but have eternal life.”
God loves the world, and all the people in it. God loves the world and the people in it so much, that God sent God’s own son Jesus to die for us. Jesus died for YOU and loves YOU and forgives YOU. And because you have experienced this amazing grace— all the good stuff from God, love, mercy, forgiveness, peace, salvation, given to you freely with no strings attached—you are able to show that love to others, no matter who they love, what they look like, where they come from. YOU are an agent of God’s love, to ALL PEOPLE.
As we make ourselves ready for Jesus’ return someday, may we continue to work for justice and peace-- and show others the love God has already shown to us. Amen?
Monday, November 21 2016
Anyone remember when Prince William got married in 2011? His fiancée, Kate Middleton, had an 18-carat blue sapphire and diamond ring—a ring that was previously owned by Princess Diana herself. After eight years of dating, Prince William was finally ready to ask Kate to marry into the royal family. News of their engagement swept the media around the world.
And then, it was the wedding. Shown live on TV (and re-shown many times afterwards) people around the globe watched William and Kate say their vows and become the next British modern royal couple.
And then, it was news of William and Kate’s first born son that got everyone’s attention. Pictures of baby George were everywhere. Photo spreads of George’s baptism dominated magazines for weeks. And then they had their second child, Charlotte, who also got a lot of media attention.
Now, people are obsessed with Princess Kate’s shoes and feet. She is known for wearing heels while playing cricket, and on a trip to India earlier this year, the couple’s first trip overseas since their daughter Charlotte was born, media outlets exploded because—get this—when entering a museum at which visitors had to take off their shoes, Princess Kate DARED to bare her un-pedicured feet. News outlets went nuts because she didn’t make sure her feet were meticulously cared for, and some even speculated that she had a foot condition. You can’t make this stuff up.
It’s incredibly strange to me that Americans seem to be fascinated by England’s royal family. Most Americans would say that we are decidedly against having a monarchy (Revolutionary War, anyone?), and yet we want to read about the future king and queen of England and their offspring, and I guess even read about their feet.
Maybe we like hearing about the royal family because (although the current royal family doesn’t have this as much) we still think of a king or queen as having power to rule. And ruling over a place means that a ruler has the power to make things happen. Great things. Life-changing things.
In Psalm 46 [our Call to Worship/the Psalm we read responsively), God is a God of power. Of might. A refuge. A fortress. Even when everything is in chaos—the earth changing, waters roaring, mountains trembling, nations warring, kingdoms tottering-- God only needs to utter a word, and the earth melts. God is always present and has power over all. “Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth,” God tells us. The eternal king, God rules over all and acts to make great things to happen. Martin Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God” is based on this psalm.
Luther writes in the second verse of “A Mighty Fortress” how powerful the Evil One is, yet there is One even more powerful:
No strength of ours can match his might! We would be lost, rejected.
But now a champion comes to fight, whom God himself elected.
You ask who this may be? The Lord of hosts is he!
Christ Jesus mighty Lord, God’s only Son adored, He holds the field victorious.
Satan is powerful, but Jesus is the one who “holds the field victorious.” Jesus is the “mighty Lord,” adored as God’s only son. Jesus’ power and might is the main reason we celebrate the last Sunday of the church year as Christ the King Sunday. Jesus is King—ruler over all, powerful and mighty, able to vanquish the devil in the name of all that is good.
And yet, the Gospel reading in Luke today paints a different picture. Jesus, beaten and weak and abandoned by his disciples. Jesus, not saying a word in his defense or trying to escape from his death sentence. Jesus, crucified on a cross like a criminal and flanked by two other criminals. Jesus, mocked by almost everyone around him, telling him to save himself. Even the title over his head added to the mocking. The sign above him, “This is the King of the Jews” mocked rather than praised him. It basically said, “Ha! You’re a king, huh? Well, we’ll see about that! What kind of a king is put to death like a criminal, with no friends?”
And really, if we think about that, what kind of king is Jesus in this picture? What happened to the King Jesus, the Messiah, all-powerful Christ? What happened to King Jesus who, only a short time before, had ridden into Jerusalem with shouts from the people: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” But now Jesus isn’t a king ruling with power—Jesus is belittled, mocked, beaten and dying. Not much of a king, most would say.
And still today, we want our leaders to be powerful, mighty people. We want our leaders to be strong, to stand up to those who would try to bring them down. A good leader is one who knows what he or she wants and then goes for it. A good leader speaks up and is able to navigate through all of the political relationships necessary to stay in power. Wanting good, strong leaders is not necessarily a bad thing—we want people who will lead us well. But we tend to focus on the strength of our leaders so much—and because we do that, any weakness in our leaders means that we should feel nervous.
Every election cycle, in political campaigns we see lots of ads and media coverage preying on this fear—political candidates like to show the weaknesses in their opponents. And even when their weakness has nothing to do with the leader being able to serve in his/her role, our view of the leader goes down and the leader is no longer considered effective.
I don’t have to cite any examples from our most recent presidential campaign, because it’s still very fresh in our minds-- and I’m sure as I was speaking, you were remembering many examples of this. The message with these ads and the media coverage is clear-- any weakness in a leader means that he or she is less effective. Just as it was in Jesus’ time, we still today expect our leaders to be powerful and strong, with hardly a sign of weakness.
But-- in the Gospel reading for today, there was one single person who sees leadership in a different light. One of the criminals was like everyone else—he mocked Jesus and told him to save himself. The second criminal, though, says to the other. “Why aren’t you showing the proper respect to God? All three of us are going to die today. We got what we deserved, since we did what we’re being punished for, but Jesus is innocent and is being executed anyway.” Then, amazingly, the man asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus enters Jesus’ kingdom. This man sees Jesus as a king, while everyone else did not or could not.
So what made this man different? Why was he able to recognize Jesus as a king he is, when everyone else only saw Jesus as a weak and dying man who should be ridiculed? Maybe it was when Jesus asked his father to forgive those who were crucifying him and mocking him. Maybe it was then that he realized Jesus was different—how many of us would be able to do such a thing, to ask God to forgive the people who are killing us? Only Jesus, Messiah and God in human form, could do such a thing.
This unnamed man, this criminal, is ridden with guilt, and in desperate need of forgiveness. He knew he would be dying that day, and knew that he was dying because he was getting the punishment he deserved. And while the other criminal continued to mock Jesus as the others had done, this man realized instead that he needed Jesus’ love and forgiveness. So he asks Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And Jesus gives the man more than he even asked for. Jesus not only gives him the forgiveness the man craved, but eternal life with Jesus himself. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Even while dying, Jesus-- the true king-- is able to give the man more than he could ever ask for.
When Will and I were driving to Ohio recently, and when we stopped for gas in Pennsylvania, this was a sign we saw across from the gas station. I took the picture as we were filling up the tank. [Show picture of sign that reads: “TRUMP: Our Only Hope! Make America Great Again!”]
And as I looked at this sign, I got angry. And I wasn’t angry because it was a Trump sign. I wasn’t angry at Trump. I wasn’t angry at Clinton. I wasn’t even angry at the election in general, although I have to say that the whole election process this round really tapped into some deep-seated emotions I didn’t even know I had. I was angry because this sign was saying exactly what was wrong with how we viewed our candidates. Saying someone is “our only hope” is downright scary.
Because here’s the thing. One of the major reasons this election got so nasty and so awful is because we put ALL OUR HOPE in who would be president.
We put our hope in human beings, fallible humans, just like us, to save us, to save our country—and said that the opposition would ruin us, ruin the country. We believed that a certain person would usher in a uptopia and make our country the way it was supposed to be, and the other person would make our country hell on earth and run the U.S. into the ground and cause World War III.
Seriously. We all did it at some point. Even if we weren’t originally thrilled with the choices, we saw our chosen candidate as our last chance, our “ONLY HOPE.” It may have been because we wanted things to be better, wanted to believe that whoever became president could make a difference. It may have been because we feared for what would happen if the other candidate was elected. It may have been because the media tapped into our deepest fears and encouraged us to see one or the other candidate as our only hope.
My guess is that it was all of the above, a perfect storm where we truly believed that all our hope rested on one human being.
But I’ve got news for you. Our hope has been misplaced. Our only hope is NOT President-elect Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton, or Gary Johnson, or Jill Stein, or fill-in-the-blank-with-any-politican’s-name. NONE of these people are our only hope. NONE of these people can save us. Our elected officials can make a difference, of course, that’s why we have elections and elect them. But they are not our only hope, they cannot save us.
You know who is our only hope? You know who can save us, and HAS saved us? JESUS. Jesus, God in human form, who came down to earth to teach and heal and forgive, and speak and act against evil and to ultimately die for us so that we could live with him forever. ONLY JESUS does that. That’s who our only hope is—not any politician. Our hope is in JESUS.
In a world where we tend to misplace our hope and put our hope in our earthly leaders and expect them to be super strong and perfect and make our world perfect, we find out really quickly that they will always fall short. They are only human.
But Jesus, who is 100% God and 100% human, shows us a different way to be a leader, to be king. He is a completely different kind of king.
People expect a king with a crown and a throne. Jesus the king has a crown of thorns and dies on a cross, like a criminal.
People expect to provide for a king by paying taxes, so that the king can live in a palace, have entertainment, and eat lots of rich food. Jesus the king has nowhere to lay his head, travels to teach and share the Good News, and provides for us.
People expect a king to wage wars against other nations and have the people die for him in battle. Jesus the king wages war against evil and dies for us.
People expect a king to die honorably, in battle or otherwise. Jesus the king dies at the hand of an oppressive government, as a criminal.
But here’s the coolest thing ever-- the criminal execution of Jesus on the cross becomes the biggest victory for humanity! On the cross, where it seemed like Satan had won, God actually won. By sacrificing his life, Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross. The cross, this Roman execution device, is transformed. It is now the symbol of God’s victory over all.
We can proudly wear this symbol around our necks, display it in our homes, in our churches, because it symbolizes God’s amazing and transformative power over evil. Amazingly, Jesus’ kingly power, the power described in Psalm 46, is made obvious in the weakness of the cross.
It’s power in a way we don’t expect—the power to die, the power to sacrifice, the power to reign through weakness. Jesus is the surprising king, a king who died and rose from the dead and sent his Spirit to sustain his followers. He loves you so much that he was willing to do all that!
I saw a framed story on the wall of a colleague, and it told the story of a child who had a conversation with Jesus. The child asked Jesus one day “How much do you love me?” And Jesus stretched his arms out, replied “This much,” and died.
Jesus the king loves you and died for you so that you could be free to live for him, to live as princes and princesses in his kingdom. Because Jesus does that, for us, we can put our hope in Jesus Christ, who was and is and will always be OUR ONLY HOPE. Because it’s JESUS who rules over our country and our world, who saves us, who we worship as our king.
And that is the power of Christ the King. Amen?
Monday, November 14 2016
Luke 10:25-28; Psalm 96; 2 Corinthians 9:6-12; I Timothy 6:6-10,17-19
Man! Am I glad that this year’s political campaign is over! Anybody else feel the same way? Now – you might not be happy that your candidate didn’t win. And that’s okay. I’m thankful that the process works. And now what we need to do is to continue to pray – not just for the president elect – but for all of our elected leaders – and for our country. But this – unfortunately nasty campaign – is over. And I want to suggest that perhaps now – now the healing can begin. Yes?
But there is one campaign that is not over. And as I told you last week – it is a campaign for God. I am campaigning for God – and I hope all of you are too!
So let me cut to the chase. Today is our Consecration Weekend – and for those of you who are here for the first time today – or you are new to this church – Consecration Weekend is something we do here just once a year. This is a day that we consecrate ourselves to the church – we consecrate ourselves to Jesus Christ – the Lord of the church. We do this in a specific way by declaring what our financial commitment to the work of the Lord at Zion Lutheran Church will be for the coming year – in this case – 2017. Later on we will have an opportunity to do just that.
So if you are a guest with us today, you can relax. This is something we ask of those who are disciples here at this church only.
Last week I reminded you that followers of Jesus Christ are those who belong, believe and become. Belong, believe, become.
As disciples of Jesus Christ we belong to Him. We belong to Jesus Christ – and we are members of Christ’s body – the church. And as members of this church – this congregation – we live out that belonging in and through Zion Lutheran Church. We all have a stake in what happens here. We all have the great privilege of participating in and benefiting from the ministries that take place here. So disciples of Jesus Christ are people who belong.
But we are also people who believe. We believe in God. We believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in the person and the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is what we say we believe anyway when together we confess our faith in the words of one of the creeds that we use each week.
But after we say, “This I believe,” comes the process of becoming. As disciples of Jesus Christ – we become. It is a process. It is always a process – the process of becoming. Becoming everything God wants us to be. Doing what God wants us to do.
And it is precisely in this area of becoming that I want to talk to you today. We talk a lot around here about our lives as disciples as becoming more and more like Christ Jesus himself. The popular way of talking about this is “Christ-likeness. Christ-likeness.” And it is my firm conviction that we are never more like Christ than when we give.
We say that we are people of blessings – that we have been blessed by God. Well, if you believe that that is true for you – then your great privilege – our great privilege – as God’s people – as disciples of Jesus Christ – is to give gifts – to share our blessings with others.
And here’s what you are doing when you give. First, it is one of the best ways I know of showing gratitude to our Lord, the giver of gifts. It’s a gratitude that goes beyond just praying a prayer of thanksgiving –as important as that kind of prayer is – giving to the Lord’s work backs up our words of thanksgiving.
But this is also an issue of trust. You’ve received God’s blessings in whatever form that takes – and now you’re saying, “Lord – I’ve seen what you can do – and I am going to continue to trust you for blessings both now and in the future.
And of course, you hear me say this all the time – when you give – you are demonstrating that deep down inside – you have the need to give. To give to something that is beyond yourself. To give to something that is good. To give to something where you know you are going to make a difference.
In other words – what you are doing is investing in what it is that God is doing here in this place. Again – I said this last week. Just look around. Look at all the kids we have in worship – in Sunday School – in confirmation – in youth groups. We have a great staff to lead these ministries. Great music. Great musicians. Look at the variety of worship opportunities we have each weekend. Look at how the members of this church are cared for – and how we care for each other. Look at the outreach to the local community and internationally. Even as I speak we are sponsoring a mission team that is in Haiti right now. We’re dedicating shoeboxes today filled with all kinds of things for children in third-world countries around the world Your dollars are paying for these things. Your dollars are making a difference. You are investing in what God is doing. And I want you to know that. And – I want to tell you – thank you.
I hope you are seeing that your gifts do have an impact. You are investing in what God is doing here in this place. You make a difference! Touching hearts. Changing lives. Making a difference.
Having said all that – there’s something else I want you to think about. There are a variety of reasons why people attend a church for the first time – and then come back again – and keep on coming back. A Catholic priest once told me, “People are going to go where they are fed.”
So let me ask you. How have you been fed? Her in this place – how have you been fed? Why do you keep coming back? A popular phrase today is “value added.” What is the value added that you get in this place? How have you benefited from being a part of God’s Kingdom here in this place? How have you grown? How have you changed? What have you learned? Do you find yourself becoming more and more like Jesus Christ? What does this place mean to you?
Boy! That’s a lot of questions. Well, hopefully you’ve been thinking about this – and praying about what your financial commitment to the work of the Lord will be here in this place in 2017.
With that in mind, let me leave you with this thought. Let me ask you: What if every member of our church supported the church just as you do? Huh? What kind of church would we have? What if every single member served the church, attended the church, loved the church, shared the church, and gave to the church exactly as you do? What kind of church would we be?
You think about that. Because God has extended to you an invitation – an invitation to take part in what God is doing. He wants to fill that God-shaped hole in your heart with His Son Jesus Christ. So that we might become the people God wants us to be – to do the things that God wants us to do – in the places where God wants us to be.
After all, that’s what today is all about, isn’t it? In our own ways we can learn how and why we are to give. We can be impact disciples who make a difference – in some way – whether large or small. You can make a difference. You can be an impact person who makes an impact – perhaps even a huge impact – on someone else’s life. Simply because you give. Together we can do this. This is something we can do together.
We say that Love God, love your neighbor is our mission statement. It’s kind of a nifty slogan, wouldn’t you agree? The last reason that I can give you for making a financial commitment to the work of the Lord here in this place is this. I want you to do this for love of God and neighbor.
That’s why I chose the Gospel reading for today. Listen again to what it says. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all your strength, and all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Remember, the Bible talks about a tithe – the giving of 10% of one’s income to the Lord for the work of the Lord. Again – I will never lay this down as a law. But I would not be doing my job if I did not invite you to consider the tithe. Now I also realize that 10% is a stretch for many. I know that. But let me ask you to consider where you are at – as a percentage of your income – and to grow one step – one step towards a tithe.
I am at 15% of my income. It took me a number of years to get there – step by step. And let me tell you, it is one of the best things I have ever done. So let me encourage you for 2017 to grow one step. Just one step. That’s all it takes.
Even though this nation’s political campaigning is over for now – just remember that the campaign for God continues. I want you to cast your vote for God.
And as you do, just remember what that great theologian, Winston Churchill, once said, “We make a living by what we get. BUT – we make a life by what we give.” Folks – my life’s experience tells me that Mr. Churchill is absolutely correct. And since this is so, then let me encourage you to do what the Apostle Paul tells us to do in that reading we heard from 2 Timothy. “Grab hold of the life that really is life.” If I can put the two together we get something like this:
“We make a life by what we give – so grab hold of the life that really is life.”
Yeah. Grab hold! Grab hold my friends! Grab hold of the life that really is life – for love of God – and neighbor. Amen
Tuesday, November 08 2016
Luke 6: 20-31
Do you know any saints? Anybody? Do you know any? I sometimes think of my parents. They were saints. Not because they were perfect. They weren’t. And not because they had to put up with me when I was growing up as a child. My mother had stories she could tell. Could tell and did tell.
Well, both of my parents are gone now. But both of them are saints. And you know why I can say that? Because they were both people of faith.
Today we celebrate All Saints Day. This is a day that the church has celebrated for centuries. Now the actual date is November the 1st, but since this is the first weekend after that date, we celebrate it today.
On the one hand, it is a day in which we honor and remember the departed saints – those who have gone on before us. And in just a little while, during communion, we will project onto the front wall up here the names of all those among us who have departed this life in the last 12 months. Their names are printed in your Mission Minutes as well.
But I want to suggest to you that today is a good day to remember – not just those who have gone home to be with the Lord in the past 12 months – but also anyone who has been an impact Christian – an impact saint – in your life. And to that end, it is a day to celebrate the lives of all the saints who have impacted our lives – whether living or dead.
Now I know that some of you come from other faith traditions that hold that the saints are those who led exemplary, sacrificial Christian lives – and that a saint is someone whom the church has declared to be a saint. And that’s okay. That’s okay.
But just so you know – in the tradition of the Lutheran Church, we declare that all Christians – all the baptized – can rightly be called the saints of God. And our model for doing so is from the Scriptures themselves.
When the Apostle Paul wrote letters to various churches, he would often say, “To the saints who are at Philippi,” or “to the saints or at Colossae.” Or he would put it this, way, “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints…”
By the way – the word saint comes from the Latin word “Sanctus,” which means holy. At the beginning of our worship service – at the confession and forgiveness – you heard that your sins are forgiven. What happens to your sins when you are forgiven? They’re gone, right? They’re gone! And when are sins are gone we are – what? Holy, right? So how many holy people do we have in this room? And if you are holy, that makes you a – what? Saint! That’s right! So how many saints do we have in this room? Yeah – every hand ought to go up.
So you dear friend – are a saint. Whether you feel like one or not. And even though we use this to remember the saints among us and those who have gone before us – it really is a day that honors God because He is the One who declares that you are a saint. Because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – a life, death and resurrection into which you are baptized – you are a saint. You didn’t earn it. You aren’t a saint because you’re a really, really, really good person. No. You are a saint because of what Christ has done for you.
So today we remember the saints, but we honor and give thanks to God.
So my parents were saints. They impacted my life and shared their faith with me. And I could say the same thing about all four of my grandparents, aunts and uncles, Sunday School teachers, and pastors. They were all saints. They taught me. They shared their faith with me. They were saints who had an impact on my life.
In the book of Acts, we read about a disciple whose name was Joseph. But the disciples gave him the nickname of Barnabas which in the Hebrew language means “Son of Encouragement.” He was given this name because he was a man who was generous – he served others – and who – well – he encouraged others to remain faithful.
Now don’t let your minds wander away too far, but I just want you to think about this. Who is your Barnabas? Who are the saints who have made or are making a difference in your life? Who is that impact person – your impact saint – who told you about Jesus – who encouraged you in your walk with the Lord? I am sure that there is more than one. I hope and I trust and I pray that you will offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for those people in your lives, and if you still have the opportunity – to tell them thank you for impacting your life in the name of Jesus Christ.
And then, we also read in the Book of Acts about a young man named Timothy. Two books in the New Testament bear his name. I and II Timothy. Yeah, I know. Reall origina, right! Timothy was introduced to the Christian faith through the ministry of the Apostle Paul. And all through the Scriptures – as you read through the books of I and II Timothy – you find that Paul is mentoring young Timothy in the faith – and in the position of leadership in the church.
Let me ask you. Who is your Timothy? Who is it that you are mentoring? Who are you talking to about Jesus? Who are you encouraging?
We all have a Barnabas in our lives. And we all have a Timothy. If you are a person of faith – then you have had at least one Barnabas – and probably more. If you are a person of faith – it is my hope that you have at least one Timothy – and hopefully more.
You see – as a disciple of Jesus Christ – as one of God’s own saints – you cannot help but be a person of influence. You cannot not be a person of influence. One way or the other.
Next weekend is our Consecration Weekend celebration. You’re going to have an opportunity to show that you are a person of influence. For those of you who are new to the church, Consecration Weekend is a once-a-year event when we consecrate a portion of the financial resources that God has given to us – in the form of a pledge – for the work of the Lord here in this place for the coming year.
And we do this for a lot of reasons, but I’ll just mention three today. More than anything else, it is a way of saying “Thank you,” to the Lord for all that the Lord has done for you – and for the blessings that He has given you.
Number two is that – well – I firmly believe that the Christian just has a need to give. If you don’t feel this need – if you’re giving nothing – I’d like to check your pulse. One of the marks of discipleship that we practice around here – one of the marks of a saint – is that we give to the work of the Lord from our financial resources. We do this not because we have to, but because we want to. We are saints – and saints just feel this internal need to give to something good.
And that need to give leads to the third reason. When you fulfill that need to give – you become an impact person – an impact saint. As a person of impact you are making a difference in the Timothy’s in your life.
A number of years ago I said that a saint is a person who belongs, believes, and becomes. I thought it was time that I remind you of that. We not only belong to the church, but we believe in the Lord of the church. His name is Jesus Christ.
And then a saint is someone who is becoming. We are always becoming the person that God wants us to be. It is something that we are all called to be. You – are called – to be – a saint!
And that’s more than a title – like St. Paul or St. Ann – or even St. Randy! No. It is a way of life. It is a way of living.
So during the coming week, I want you to think about what your financial commitment to the work of the Lord here in this place in the year 2017 will be. If you’re a part of a family – talk about it – pray about it as a family – and then come here next weekend ready to make that commitment.
Because that’s what saints do. Remember the Barnabas’s in your life. And do this as a way of giving thanks to God for them. Think about the Timothy’s in your life. What kind of an impact will you make on them?
Last weekend nineteen 15 and 16 year olds were confirmed here. We have 150+ children between the ages of 3 and 18 registered in our Sunday School. Listen! Our Sunday school classes are full! We’ve got Spark! We’ve got Ignite! We’ve got Refuel! And if you don’t know what those are – they are weekly and monthly ministries to those same kids between ages 3 and 18. This weekend we celebrated with our 3rd graders the milestone of receiving their first Bibles. You contributions helped pay for those Bibles! Your gifts – your financial gifts – make these ministries to children and youth possible.
We have ministries to our retired folks, Pastor Becca is in process of starting a ministry targeting young adults. We have a men’s ministry and a newly formed women’s ministry called Women on Wednesday or WOW. Those are just some of the things happening here.
Then when you throw in mission support to Haiti – the food pantry at Resurrection Lutheran in the inner city of Buffalo – Lutheran Charities – World Hunger – Disaster Relief – the work of the broader church of the ELCA – the church body that we are a part of. And how could I forget Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center – LCLC – affectionately known as Zion South around here. We send a lot of our youth there every summer – and they come back and can’t wait to go back the next summer. LCLC is a faith building place. So when you give – what you’re doing – is investing in what God is doing in and through this place – right here – AND beyond our four walls.
Ultimately, it’s an issue of trust. Trusting God with your finances, and your church to use those gifts wisely.
We’ve learned a lot about trust issues through this presidential campaign, haven’t we! Can we trust this candidate or that candidate to be honest – to be a person of respect and integrity? Can we trust these candidates with our social programs – the economy – national defense – and all those other things that our president is responsible for? It’s a matter of trust, isn’t it! By the way – no matter what the results of Tuesday’s election turns out to be – we’re going to be all right.
Well, let me start a campaign today. No – not for me. I’m not running for anything. I am here today to campaign for God. I want you to vote for God. When you give financial gifts to the work of the Lord here at Zion – you’re casting a vote for God. You’re investing in what the Lord is doing in and through this place.
Again – ultimately it’s an issue of trust. I am asking you to trust God to provide for you even as you give to what God is doing in and through this place.
That’s what saints do. That’s who saints are. I firmly believe that you want to be a person of impact – acting as a Barnabas – making a difference in the lives of so many Timothy’s.
Hey! We’re all in this together. We are partners in this great ministry together. And that’s why you’ll never hear me get tired of saying – that we are, “Touching hearts. Changing lives. Making a difference. In the name of Jesus Christ.”