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Tuesday, May 30 2017
Question: What lies at the bottom of the ocean and twitches?
Answer: A nervous wreck.
We’ve all been there. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been a nervous wreck at any point in your life. OK, for those of you that didn’t raise your hand, if there was anybody… I guarantee that at some point in your life, it will happen. You will be incapacitated by the anxiety of something going on in your life. It will be terrible. It will be awful. And you will wish for it to end, but you can’t seem to get yourself out of it no matter how hard you try.
Well, that was uplifting. ‘Bye everyone! I’m gonna go home and eat four pints of Ben and Jerry’s and binge watch A Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. Peace out.
Just kidding! Well, maybe I’ll do that later today.
Here’s the thing, though. Worry and fear and anxiety can get the best of us. We worry about our family, our friends, our job, our health, our future. In fact, there is so much that could happen in our lives that we don’t know about and can’t control, it’s hard NOT to have anxiety and worry.
Anxiety is defined as: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome, or—the desire to do something, typically accompanied by unease. I don’t have to tell you that having anxiety is not fun. It can be uncomfortable at best, and be all-consuming and terrifying at worst.
I found this percentage break-down of what we have anxiety about in our lives. I found it on the internet, so it must be true.
An average person's anxiety is focused on:
40% -- things that will never happen
30% -- things about the past that can't be changed
12% -- things about criticism by others, mostly untrue
10% -- about health, which gets worse with stress
8% -- about real problems that will be faced
Now, there was no scientific study to back those percentages up, but I would guess these percentages are pretty accurate for most of us. 82% of what we have anxiety about are things that do not matter. At all. And only 8% are real problems that we will have to deal with.
Seems like we spend a whole lot of time worrying and being anxious over things that don’t warrant that type of time and stress. Can I get an amen on that???!!!
Anxiety is a huge deal. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are actually the most common mental illness in our country right now. An estimated 40 million adults suffer from anxiety disorders. That’s 18% of the population. But only about 1/3 of those suffering seek out and receive treatment.
My theory behind that, is that we have actually normalized anxiety in America. We are expected to be anxious and stressed, because if we are anxious and stressed, we are busy and important and have THINGS TO BE ANXIOUS AND STRESSED ABOUT. A work ethic and caring about our lives is a good thing—but not when we see anxiety as almost like a status symbol, and we think that suffering from extreme anxiety and worry is normal.
I’m here to tell you today that IT IS NOT NORMAL. Being worried or having anxiety periodically will happen. That is normal. But if you are consistently anxious and it is affecting your life on a regular basis, that is not normal. It is OK to seek help, and please know that if you are experiencing anxiety issues, getting treatment for an anxiety disorder will make your life infinitely better.
So why am I talking so much about anxiety and worry today? It’s because we read a very profound statement in 1 Peter today. It goes by pretty quickly in a long litany of helpful Christian life advice, so it’s easy to miss. It’s chapter 5, verse 7. Check this out: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”
I’m going to say that again. “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”
Who is the he and him in that statement…? Yeah, God. So, when said without previous statements before it, so we know who the pronouns are talking about, it’s “Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you.”
Now if you’re like me, and you have a tendency towards worry and anxiety, you probably hear the first part of that statement “Cast all your anxiety on God”, and your first reaction is something like: “Ummmmm…. Easier said than done!”
I know that when I hear that first part, I’m like, oh sure, I’ll get right on that. Easy as pie. Now let me go curl up into the fetal position in my Snuggy and pretend all my anxiety is gone because I gave it to God! Huzzah!
It’s so EASY to have that reaction!
But that reaction happens, because we only focus on the first half of the statement. If we only hear “Cast all your anxiety on God”, it sounds like it’s up to us to get rid of our anxiety. It almost sounds like if we are having issues with anxiety and worry, it’s our fault because we haven’t given the anxiety to God!
And, sometimes that can be true. But in the long run, hearing that is not helpful. Because it makes it all about us. It makes it all about what we do. And what we do will always fall short, because we can’t do it alone. We need the rest of that statement. We need the second half.
“Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you.”
Do you see how hearing the full statement changes it completely? We are only able to do the first part, because of the second part. BECAUSE GOD CARES FOR US, we are able to cast all our anxiety on God. We can’t do it ourselves. Only with God are we able to do that.
And only with God do we know that God lifts our heavy “worry burden” when we can’t do it ourselves. Nothing is too big for God! God can take our biggest and worst anxieties and worries!
There’s another Bible passage about this. Paul talks about anxiety in his letter to the Philippians:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
So Paul basically says, if you’re anxious, pray to God about it—and God will give you peace.
It’s pretty much an extended version of what our original Bible verse says: “Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you.” God promises to care for us and give us peace, so we are able to cast our anxieties on God through prayer.
My friend’s father wrote an article in a Christian publication about his anxiety. In his article, he talks about how he had prayerfully decided to retire. The problem was that he was overcome with anxiety about this major life change.
But while he was thinking about his anxiety and his fear about the future, he remembered another time in his life when he had been anxious.
It was many years before, when he was leaving his call serving as pastor of a congregation. He knew that it was time to leave that congregation, but he was living in the parsonage, the house owned by the congregation. He and his wife had a 2 very young kids, a 1 year old and a 4 year old, and they had nothing lined up—no jobs, no housing, no way to be financially stable, nothing-- and they had to leave the house within the month. It would be an understatement to say that they were paralyzed by the anxiety of it all. Still, they trusted that God would take care of them.
And right before they had to move, a new opportunity materialized for him, one that they did not see coming. And it wasn’t just any old opportunity, it was the right one—for him, and for his family. God took care of them!
So as he was dealing with this new life change of retiring, and the uncertainty of it, he looked back on that experience in this article and said, if I could trust then, I can trust now.
We all have things in our lives that we are anxious and worried about. It could be a major life change, like my friend’s dad. It could be a family situation, or the health of a friend, or the future in general.
But know that whatever you are anxious about, you can trust God to care for you. You can bring your worries and anxieties to God in prayer. You can know that God gives you peace and helps you through the uncertainty and fear. No matter what life throws at you, no matter what the future holds, God loves you and takes care of you and gives you peace.
“Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you.”
Whenever I am anxious about the future, I pray a specific prayer that is in the new Lutheran hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship. May I pray it with all of you today? Great! Let’s pray.
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Monday, May 22 2017
How many of you read the comics in the newspaper? How many of you turn to the comics first? I love the comics. And although they’re not the first thing I turn to, they do bring a moment of light-heartedness into my day.
My favorites are Pickles, Funky Winkerbean and Crankshaft – the new one called Spectickles – and anyone who has ever had a teenager in the house has to love Zits – the comic strip, not – you know – the things that pop up on your face. I really love Pearls Before Swine – anyone want to guess where the name comes from? Yeah, it’s from the Bible. Jesus warned us about casting our pearls before swine, but that’s a subject for another day. No, I love the comic strip Pearls Before Swine because of – well – even though it can often be a little – shall we say – irreverent – but the cartoonist comes up with some great puns. And anybody who loves puns is okay with me.
But there are a couple of comic strips I miss. Anyone here remember The Far Side? Bazaar humor, but it was always good for a laugh. And then there was Calvin and Hobbes. How many of you remember Calvin and Hobbes?
One day Calvin comes marching into the living room early one morning. His mother is seated there in her favorite chair, sipping her morning coffee. She looks up at young Calvin. She is amused and amazed at how he is dressed. Calvin’s head is encased in a large space helmet. A cape is draped around his neck, and is dragging on the floor. One hand is holding a flashlight and the other a baseball bat.
“What’s up today?” asks his mom.
“Nothing, so far,” answers Calvin.
“So far?” she asks.“Well, you never know,” Calvin says, “Something could happen today.” Then Calvin marches off, “And if anything does, by golly, I’m going to be ready for it!”
Calvin’s mom looks out at the reading audience and she says, “I need a suit like that!”
With all the kind of news – much of it not so good – that hear about or read about in the newspapers – I find that the comic strips offer a break from all the bad news that’s out there. But wouldn’t you like a suit like Calvin’s suit, so you would be able to say, “Whatever happens today, I’m going to be ready for it! Bring it on!”
Well, I don’t have a suit like Calvin’s to give you this morning, but I can give you something else. What I want to give you is from our Gospel reading today. What’s happening here is that Jesus is with his disciples just before his arrest, trial and execution. So, he is saying good bye to them. Now, what those disciples don’t know – or at least don’t understand yet – is that Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day following his crucifixion. He is raised from the dead – reveals himself to his disciples – and is with them for forty day before ascending into heaven.
But before all of that happens – Jesus leaves his disciples with certain promises. It is these promises I want to give to you today. There are at least five promises Jesus is making to his disciples – and by extension to us – right here in these 13 verses from our gospel reading in John today.
First Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of Truth…he abides in you, and he will be in you.” Just so we’re clear – the Advocate – the Spirit of Truth – are simply other names for the Holy Spirit. So the promise to send the Holy Spirit is the first promise.
A second promise is just like the first one. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”
What Jesus is saying to his disciples in these two promises – is that even though he will be going away, he will not leave them orphaned. In other words, he will not abandon them. Even after he has ascended into heaven, he will continue to be with them. Does this sound familiar to anybody? Where have we heard this before?
Well, I hope you’ve heard it right here in this place. One of the most well-known promises of Jesus can be found in the book of Matthew – Matthew chapter 28 – where we find Jesus just about to ascend into heaven – and what does he say to his disciples? Yes, that’s right. “Remember – I am with you –” what? – always.” Always.
SO we hear that promise in Matthew’s gospel, and we hear it here in John’s gospel. After Jesus is risen from the dead – and after he has ascended back into heaven – he promises to come back to them through – as I like to say – he will come back to them through the person and the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit. We’ll hear more about the coming of the Holy Spirit in two weeks when we celebrate the birthday of the church on Pentecost.
And as if to underscore his promise to be with us always – Jesus describes this promise to be with us in yet another way. Let’s call this the third promise. Jesus says that both he and the Father will come and make their home with us. In other words – not only does Jesus promise to be with us always – not only does he promise to send the Holy Spirit – but the promise includes God the Father setting up shop – to come and live with us too! Father – Son – Holy Spirit. Is that awesome, or what?
Let me tell you about another awesome promise. This fourth promise if one of my favorite promises. Listen to this one! “Because I live, you will live also.” I love to quote Jesus here in these simple seven words. In almost every funeral sermon I have ever given. It’s a wonderful promise – so simple – and so easy to understand. A promise from our Lord who say, “Because I live, you will live also.” Simple – and yet powerful. It is an awesome, powerful promise.
Because I live, you will live also!
Let’s look at one more promise. Promise number five in verse 27. “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
The word that Jesus would have used here for peace is the word “Shalom.” And as I’ve told you before, shalom means more than peace. It means, “May everything – absolutely everything – be well with you.”
Why am I spending so much time on these promises? Glad you asked. There are times when I need to hear these promises from our Lord, and I suspect there are times when you do too. And if you don’t – well – I want you to hear them anyway.
As wonderful as I think life is – there are times when life is hard. I have experienced loneliness. I have felt neglected and abandoned. I have experienced grief. I have been misunderstood. These things pop up from time to time – sometimes much more often than we would like. I know.
But when they occur, I want to be ready for them. And that’s why – those are the times – when I need to hear – when I need to be reminded of these promises form our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There’s not a one among us here today who hasn’t felt some of those same feelings that I have just acknowledged to you that I sometimes feel. Just that feeling of helplessness. Hopelessness. Fear. Anxiety. You know what I’m talking about.
Even Jesus himself knows what it feels like to be abandoned. Do you remember what he said – from the cross – just before he died? He cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Which in English is, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Even Jesus knows what it feels like. And because he knows – he knows what you are going through.
There is power in believing that you are not alone in this world. So I need to hear these words – these promises from our gospel reading today. And you need to hear them too! Let me tell you – that these words of Jesus that you are hearing today are words of comfort – and they are words of comfort for you. Especially when you’re feeling like – all hope is gone. Or you’re afraid. For yourself or for someone else.
Listen! In all of your anxious moments – when the Shalom of God – the peace of God – the presence of God seems so far away. And you feel empty – orphaned – abandoned. I want you to hear – and I want to remember these promises – the good news from Jesus today.
He promises to walk with you – and when necessary to carry you – and in all circumstances of your life to help you to rise above whatever it is that is dragging you down. I can’t give you a protective suit like Calvin’s in the comic strip. But what I can, I give to you. Listen to his promises one more time. These are the promises that overcome fear. So focus on these promises – not your fears. Listen!
- I send the Holy Spirit to be with you forever.
- I will not abandon you – I am coming to you.
- Because I live, you will live also.
- The Father and I will come to you and make our home with you.
- Peace – Shalom – I leave with you.
- Because we have these five promises – therefore – and always pay close attention when a preacher says therefore – therefore – Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
- Remember these words of Jesus, who says, I am with you always.
Monday, May 15 2017
When I was a kid, I watched movie musicals all the time. I would sing and dance along in my living room in front of the TV, dreaming of someday performing in a movie musical myself.
One of my favorite movies, that I used to watch over and over, was The Wizard of Oz. I would put on a dress, something that looked similar to the blue and white dress Dorothy wore, and I would pretend I was wearing the sparkly ruby slippers and sing along as Dorothy and her friends made their way down the yellow brick road.
There was something about Dorothy’s journey in Oz that was relatable to me—and it was obviously relatable for most of America too, through many generations. In 2008, the American Film Institute named the Wizard of Oz #10 in the top 100 movies ever made.
And just to show how popular The Wizard of Oz is, we are going to do a quick poll. Raise your hand if you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz. OK now, raise your hand if you’ve seen it more than once. Yeah, I would say this movie is pretty popular!
And since it’s so popular, I’m sure you could name your favorite scene from the movie…. Let’s try it—yell them out….
My favorite scene is probably just before Dorothy leaves the Land of Oz. So the Wizard has given each of their travel group a version of the gift they wanted. Dorothy just wanted to get home to the family farm in Kansas. So Glinda tells her that all she has to do is click the heels of the ruby slippers she’s wearing three times and say… does anyone remember what she is supposed to say…?.... “There’s no place like home.” And she says it as she clicks her heels, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”
And then next thing you know, she really is home in Kansas, with the farm workers and Auntie Em and Uncle Henry and her dog Toto. She’s made it home—and she realizes how happy she is to be home. Even if it is in Kansas on a farm!
Coming home. It’s something we’ve all felt at one time or another. Maybe you have traveled recently and you finally got home—I can relate to that this week! Maybe you work all day and come home to your comfy place. Maybe you just leave to go somewhere and come back to your home on a regular basis. No matter the reason we leave, we know that it feels good to be home.
And we all know that feeling of “home.” When we leave home and we return later, we know what that feels like. We know that sigh of relief, that comfort of being in your own place, that feeling of familiarity, that feeling of warmth, of sitting in your favorite chair or couch, eating your favorite foods, watching your favorite movie or TV show, being with your favorite people.
It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe--- but when you return home from a long day, or a long trip, you know exactly what it’s like. We’re going to take a brief moment—I’d like you to just sit here a minute and remember what it feels like to be at home after some time away….
Feels good, right? Feels…. right. Like you’re where you’re supposed to be.
In the Bible passage we read today from John, we hear Jesus talking about a home. God’s home. Jesus says: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
This Scripture text is used for funerals A LOT. And I think there’s a big reason for that—when we think of going home to God, we usually think of, well, heaven. We think of being at home and at peace with God, for good. Jesus says he will prepare a place for us, so we know that there will be a place in eternal life with him. Pretty cool.
Father Murphy walks into a pub, and says to the first man he meets, "Do you want to go to heaven?"
The man said, "I do Father."
The priest said, "Then stand over there against the wall."
Then the priest asked the second man, "Do you want to go to heaven?"
"Certainly, Father," was the man's reply.
"Then stand over there against the wall," said the priest.
Then Father Murphy walked up to a third man and said, "Do you want to go to heaven?"
The man said, "No, I don't Father."
The priest said, "I don't believe this. You mean to tell me that when you die you don't want to go to heaven?"
The man said, "Oh, when I die, yes. I thought you were getting a group together to go right now!"
You see, we like the idea of going home to God’s house in heaven—just not yet!! So usually, when we talk about going home to God, we see it as something in the future. We’ll go home to God—when our time comes, when we die.
But there’s another way to read this text. God’s house isn’t just in heaven. What else do we usually call God’s house…? Yeah, a church.
THIS is God’s house. And the Methodist church just down the street is God’s house. And the United Church of Christ congregation that meets down the road the opposite way is God’s house. And a Pentecostal church across the country is God’s house. And a Presbyterian church in Korea is God’s house. No matter what type of church, or where it is--- wherever people meet to worship God, that’s God’s house.
Jesus has also prepared a place for you in God’s house, the church. It’s no accident that you’re here, right now, listening to this sermon. Right now, we are having church! And you are part of that.
And you have a place prepared for you in your own congregation, as well. Jesus has guided you to Zion, so that you can share your gifts and love for others here and in the community surrounding Zion. Zion is God’s house, your home. And if you are a visitor today, if you are looking for a church to call home, maybe Jesus is calling you to your new home at Zion!
There is yet a third way to read this text. We’ve said that coming home to God could be going to heaven, and it could also be going to church. Well, coming home to God is also simply coming home to Jesus himself.
Because— let’s be honest—we wander away from Jesus on a daily basis. You may not be running away from Jesus actively (or maybe you are!) but we frequently take a few steps away when we do or say or think those things we know we shouldn’t, either on purpose or by accident. We all mess up, make mistakes, sin at one time or another.
The good news is, Jesus welcomes us back with open arms, no matter what. And because Jesus is our Lord and savior, coming back to him gives us that “home” feeling. Remember when we sat here and remembered what it felt like to come home when you’ve been away? Coming home to Jesus can feel just like that— like you’re where you belong.
Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” All that we have, all that we are, is from Jesus. Returning to Jesus really is coming home—because, in Jesus, we have all that we ever need.
There is a story of a young man who asked his father for his inheritance early. The father gives him the money, and the man travels to a distant country. He spends the money on food, on drink, on women. After a while, he realizes that he has no more money left. He begs for a job, any job—and is given one of the lowest and dirtiest jobs ever, taking care of pigs.
He’s hungry, and homesick, and finally decides to beg his father to take him back--- but only as a hired hand on his father’s land. The man knows that he no longer deserves to be treated as his father’s son because of his mistakes.
So the man makes his way back home—and when he gets there, he is surprised to see his father running to meet him. The man starts to beg his father to take him back, to let him just be a hired hand, but his father won’t hear of it. He hugs him and kisses him, brings him some new clothes and shoes and throws a party because he has returned. He is his father’s son once again. He has come home.
You may have recognized this story from the Bible, the story of the Prodigal Son. It’s been used countless times in TV shows, movies, and books.
It’s no wonder this particular Bible story is so famous, and so popular. It’s a story of coming home, of being welcomed back with open arms, even when many mistakes were made.
It’s the story of Jesus welcoming us home. Of Jesus running to meet us, hugging us close, clothing us in new clothes, and throwing a party in our honor. Of Jesus loving us so much that he was waiting for us that whole time, calling our name, itching to run and hug us.
And when we come home to Jesus, we feel that amazing feeling of being home, of being right where we belong. Jesus is calling your name, ready to welcome you home. No matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done—you can always come home to Jesus, where you are accepted and loved, no matter what. Jesus has that place prepared for you in our Father’s house. Come home.
Because-- as we know, with Jesus, there really is “no place like home.” Amen?
Monday, May 15 2017
Do you remember two weeks ago when we talked about the story of Doubting Thomas, how I wished that the crowds we had on Easter Sunday had hung around for one more week? Do you remember that? I wanted them to hang around for one more week just in case – just in case any of them had and doubts whatsoever – or were skeptical about Jesus and the resurrection. I wanted them to hear that all of us have our doubts from time to time – and that a solid faith can actually be fed by healthy doubt. That it’s okay to question faith – and the reality of God – and the resurrection. And then – to hear how to handle those doubts based on the overwhelming evidence for God and the resurrection.
Do you remember that? Now if you weren’t here two weeks ago – or if you want to hear that message again – you can find it on our website. And that’s not to say that the messages you hear every week from pastor Becca or me aren’t important. They are. But it’s just that some need to be heard by people who – well – by people who just aren’t here all that often. They are still our brothers and sisters in Christ – I just have this tremendous hope that we would see them more often.
And let me tell you why. Today’s message is one that – again – I wish that our Easter Sunday crowd had hung around just a little longer to hear. I’m going to talk about the church – and why we need the local church – and why the local church matters. And when I preach a sermon like this – sometimes I feel like I’m – well – like I’m preaching to the choir. Again – the people who probably need to hear this message the most – are those who are not here. For those of you who are here all the time – I want you to hear that I appreciate the fact that you already understand why the local church is important.
And yet – there just might be someone here today who needs to hear this. Maybe you’re new to church. Or maybe you once had a bad church experience. Or you found it boring or irrelevant. Ok yeah – I know. Smetimes that happens. But thanks for being here – and for giving us another chance.
Now you know that the church is more than just this place – this body of believers – gathered together as Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. We are part of a larger church body called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, otherwise known as the ELCA. And the ELCA is a part of the larger church – what we can call the universal church – which is made up of Christians – disciples of Jesus Christ – of every denomination – all around the world. So we are a part of this universal church precisely because we are a part of the local church here at the corner of Clarence Center Road and Elm in the heart of Clarence Center.
Now – I want you to consider for a moment – consider what your life might be like if this church – if Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church were not here. That it simply did not exist. That the Clarence Center United Methodist Church down the street did not exist. That Epiphany UCC church down the other way down the street did not exist. That none of the local churches that you know of – that you’ve ever been a part of – what if – what if they did not exist.
What if a whole generation of believers – from years and years ago – had suddenly decided that they could be believers – but who also believed that they did not need to be attached to a local church!
Now let’s take that thought all the way back to the beginning. What if those first disciples had felt that way? What if they thought, “We don’t need to write any Gospels. We don’t need to write any letters to churches – ‘cause there aren’t any local churches to write letters to. No – we’ll just sit around and wait until the Lord returns.”
Do you see? Do you see why the local church matters? Of course you do! It has always mattered. And why you matter. Why just the fact that you are here matters. To make sure that the Good News of Jesus Christ is passed on to the next generation. What if we weren’t here to do that?
You know that I am fond of saying – that the church is always just one generation from becoming extinct. If we were not here as a church for the next generation of believers – if we were not here as the local church – then how in the world is the next generation going to hear about and know about and experience the love of Christ? Because it is precisely in the local church that we learn about who God is as He has revealed Himself in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. It is precisely in and through the local church that we see Christ in action in the world.
Now – to be sure – I believe that this also happens in the home. In fact – it needs to happen in the home. I am convinced that faith is caught and taught most often in the home. But you need – I need – the local church to be partners with parents – with grandparents – whoever it is in the home who is responsible for passing on the faith to the next generation. And what that faith looks like – what the love of Christ looks like – when it is experienced first-hand in the home AND in the local church.
It’s kind of a worn out phrase by now – but when it comes to passing on our faith – it takes a village to raise a child – it takes a village called the local church to help family members pass on the Christian faith to the next generation.
Well – I love – I absolutely love our reading today from Acts chapter 2. These six verses from the end of the second chapter of Acts are THE best description of what the local church looks like that you will read anywhere. Churches that model themselves after these verses are what I like to call an Acts 2 church. In fact, I love to say that we are Romans 12 Christians living in an Acts 2 church. And the last time I preached on Romans 12 I asked you to make a copy of Romans 12 and tape it to your bathroom mirror. I won’t ask for a show of hands to see how many of you have done that, but if you’re not sure what it says, write it down now so you can look it up later. Romans 12. How are you going to remember that? First, you’re going to take a Roman holiday. Then, how many eggs in a dozen? Twelve. So you’re going to take a Roman holiday with a dozen eggs. Hey! That’s just how I remember things. And now you won’t forget either.
But see if these things form Acts 2 describe us here at Zion. See if you agree with me that we are an Acts 2 church.
The first thing you should see is that each week we gather for worship. It is here – in the local church – that the Lord is worshipped. One of the primary tasks of the local church is to provide opportunities for worship – to worship together as a body – to worship together as brothers and sisters in Christ – to worship the One Lord who is the God and Father and Savior of us all. Worship by the way is one of the six marks of discipleship that we hold up as being of primary importance for those who would call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ.
Then there is instruction. Verse 42 of Acts 2 tells us that the church – the worshipping community – “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” One of the pitfalls of do it yourself religion – or do it yourself Christianity – of what’s called the Lone Ranger approach to Christianity – is this. How do you know if what you believe is true? How do you know? When we participate in worship – or in a Bible study group – or a confirmation class – we are being instructed. We are learning what the Scriptures have to say about faith – about Jesus Christ – about the things that matter to God. And this is best done in and through the local church.
Then there is fellowship. Not only did those first Christians devote themselves to worship and the Apostles’ teaching, but they also joined in fellowship. Again – thank God for the local church. You know by now that I think that the church – the local church – needs to be a fun place to be. We need to laugh together. I think we Christians don’t spend enough time laughing with each other. Notice I didn’t say laughing at each other, but with each other. But in order to do that, we need to spend time together. Work with each other. Study with each other. Serve with each other. Just find ways to get to know each other. That’s what the local church is for.
And finally there is Evangelism. Read the book of Acts and just notice how many times it says that the church grew in numbers. Our job as the local church is to reach out with the Good News of Jesus Christ – through what we say – and quite frankly – how we say it – but perhaps more importantly – by how we live our lives. By what we do. Quite frankly – this is where Romans 12 comes in. And you’re going to have to look it up. But here in the local church is where we learn what it means to be sincere, authentic witnesses to the community for Jesus Christ. Showing what the church – the body of Christ looks like, and what it is really all about.
So there you have it. Why we need to local church. Worship. Instruction. Fellowship. Evangelism. If you take the first four letters of each word – it spells wife. Worship. Instruction. Fellowship. Evangelism.
Folks – there are too many people out there who want and need a place to call their church home. Whether here – or in some other local church. Even though I think this is a great church – I can’t and I won’t even begin to pretend that this is the only place where people are going to be fed. But people are going to go where they are fed. This is not the only place where people can find what they’re looking for in a local church. You know that I don’t care where people go as long as they go.
But it is my firm belief that churches that are modeled after the Acts 2 church model – churches where worship, instruction, fellowship, and evangelism are valued – where children are treasured – where our elders are respected – where all are welcome – these are the churches that make a difference. And that’s the kind of church that I want to be a part of.
If you’ve come here today wondering why you’re here. Or if you’ve ever contemplated going it alone – or perhaps you’re content with taking a seat on the sidelines – I hope if nothing else –I hope today I have given you reason to stop – and to think – and perhaps even to pray – about your life as a disciple of Jesus Christ within the body of Christ in the local church.
I hope you see why we need the local church – and why church matters. Without the local church – Christianity would have withered and died centuries ago. So thank you for being here today. Thank you for helping to make this church what it is. Amen
Monday, May 01 2017
On this third Sunday of Easter, we have another resurrection appearance by the risen Jesus. This time Jesus appears to two of his followers who are walking on a road to the town of Emmaus. But before I get to that story, let me tell you another story – this one told by one of my favorite story tellers – Paul Harvey. Listen!
His name was Walter Elias, a city boy by birth, the son of a building contractor. Before Walter was five, his parents moved from Chicago to a farm near Marceline, Missouri. And it was there on the farm that Walter would have his first encounter with death.
Walter was only seven that particular lazy summer afternoon not much different from other afternoons. Dad was tending to farm chores, Mother was in the house. It was the perfect day for a young fellow to go exploring.
Now just beyond a grove of graceful willows was an apple orchard. There Walter could make-believe to his heart's content: that he was lost, which he never was, or that he had captured a wild animal, which he never had. But today was different. Directly in front of him, about thirty feet away, perched in the low-drooping branch of an apple tree and apparently sound asleep -- was an owl. The boy froze.
He remembered his father telling him that owls rested during the day so they could hunt at night. What a wonderful pet that funny little bird would make. If only Walter could approach it without awakening it, and snatch it from the tree.
With each step, the lad winced to hear dry leaves and twigs crackle beneath his feet. The owl did not stir.
Closer ... and closer ... and at last young Walter was standing under the limb just within range of his quarry. Slowly he reached up with one hand and grabbed the bird by its legs. He had captured it!
But the owl, waking suddenly, came alive like no other animal Walter had ever seen! In a flurry of beating wings, wild eyes and frightened cries it struggled against the boy's grasp. Walter, stunned, held on.
Now it's difficult to imagine how what happened next, happened. Perhaps the response was sparked by gouging talons or by fear itself. But at some point the terrified boy, still clinging to the terrified bird, flung it to the ground -- and stomped it to death. When it was over, a disbelieving Walter gazed down at the broken heap of bronze feathers and blood. And he cried.
Walter ran from the orchard but later returned to bury the owl, the little pet he would never know. Each shovelful of earth from the shallow grave was moistened with tears of deep regret. And for months thereafter, the owl visited Walter's dreams. Ashamed, he would tell no one of the incident until many years later. By then, the world forgave him.
For that sad and lonely summer's day in the early spring of Walter Elias brought with it an awakening of the meaning of life. Walter never, ever again, killed a living creature. Although all the boyhood promises could not bring that one little owl back to life, through its death a whole world of animals came into being.
For it was then that a grieving seven-year-old boy attempting to atone for a thoughtless misdeed, first sought to possess the animals of the forest while allowing them to run free – by drawing them.
Now the boy too is gone, but his drawings live on in the incomparable, undying art of Walter Elias...Disney. Walt Disney. And now you know THE REST OF THE STORY. Man, do I miss Paul Harvey!
What I want to talk to you about today is this. Sometimes it takes a significant event in someone’s life to make a significant change in someone’s life, wouldn’t you agree? This, apparently, is what happened to Walt Disney. This is what happened to these two disciples in our Gospel reading today. They experienced a significant event that made a significant change in their lives.
This is an important story. And let me tell you why. I want you to pay attention to how the lives of these two followers – these disciples of Jesus – I want you to pay attention to how their encounter with the risen Christ changed their lives.
The day is Sunday, the same day that Jesus rose from the dead. These two disciples are walking along, dejected, saddened, disappointed. They are aware that the tomb of Jesus has been found empty by some of the women among them as well as by Peter and John. But they don’t know what to make of the empty tomb. And even though angels told the women that Jesus was alive, they just haven’t put two and two together yet. They haven’t figured out that the tomb is empty because Jesus has been raised from the dead. They don’t yet know – the rest of the story.
And that’s when Jesus comes along and joins them as they walk along. He asks them what they are talking about. And they are amazed! “Are you clueless? Don’t you know what’s been going on in Jerusalem these past few days?”
Jesus plays dumb. “What things?” And they tell him. It is then that Jesus explains the Scriptures to them – explained what the Scriptures had to say about himself – and that it was necessary for the Messiah to die. Why these two didn’t take notes and write it all down, I don’t know. I just wish they had.
But finally, they reach Emmaus, they invite Jesus to have dinner with them. And it is at dinner that Jesus reveals himself to them. And when they recognize him, he disappears. And now they understand. This is the moment when they get it! NOW they know the rest of the story. They are so excited, that they immediately make the trip back to Jerusalem – I can imagine they might even have run part of the way – although if you’ve ever tried running in sandals you know just how difficult that can be. But they get back to Jerusalem Just as fast as they can – back to the other disciples. They can’t wait to tell the others that Jesus is alive. Their encounter with the risen Christ changed them. Earlier in the day they had been sad and dejected and confused. Now they were filled with joy and excitement – and they couldn’t wait to tell someone about what they had seen and heard. Their encounter with Jesus was a life changing moment.
Don't miss the significance of this. Don’t miss the power of the resurrection to change lives – to change your life! If you will let it – the good news of Jesus and his resurrection can change you at the core of your being. This is what happens when a person has an encounter with the risen Christ.
Listen! We know how the two disciples’ on the road to Emmaus responded to this life-changing event. And the rest of the disciples? We know how they responded too. As we pointed out last week – they became bold proclaimers of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead. And they lost their lives because they would not stop telling others about all that they had heard and seen.
When it comes to the resurrection of Jesus – we have a choice to make. We have a choice – and this is it: We can deny the resurrection – or we can believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead – or we can say we’re still just not quite sure. Let’s call this the Easter choice. Either Jesus is risen from the dead – or he isn’t – OR we’re just not sure.
But let me tell you, the resurrection changes everything. This changes everything! The disciples were convicted by Jesus as he walked along the road with them. Listen to what verse 32 says again. “Were not our hearts burning within us,” – someone once called this holy heartburn – “were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” The disciples were convicted by everything that they had heard and seen.
I hope that what you have heard and seen here today may be convicting for you. If you acknowledge that the resurrection really happened – after examining all of the evidence – which by the way is quite overwhelming – and all efforts to explain away the resurrection fall flat on their faces – and you come to believe in the resurrection of Jesus – when you understand that the evidence tells us that something must have happened that day to cause this kind of change in the hearts and mind and lives of those first disciples – then it seems to me that you would want to let that same truth – that same conviction – take you to the next step. The step that takes you from belief to transformation.
And the transformation that I am talking about is real – and yes it is also a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. But through the person and the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead changes everything.
Listen! There are life changing moments in everyone’s life. You’ve had them – we’ve all had them – and there may still be more to come.
But I don’t want you to miss this one. This one is huge! I don’t want you to miss out on the life-changing transformation of the resurrection. Because this is the truth that changes everything. How we look at life – how we look at death – how we look at how we relate to God and to each other – how we choose to live our lives. Because of Easter – because Jesus is risen from the dead – the resurrection is a life-changing moment. It certainly was for Jesus!
And for you and me too!