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Wednesday, June 27 2018

Pastor Dan Hoffman

 Whenever we find ourselves in the midst of the storm all we see is the wind and the waves.   All we know is the Chaos, All we have is the FEAR that has hold of Us….

Rembrandt depicted this scene well in his 1633 painting, He depicts the disciples variously:  Desperately grasping the lines.  Fervently trimming the sails.  Holding to the mast for dear life.  Randomly Running about the deck.  And the artist shows himself as the 13th disciple, in the back of the boat, vomiting over the rail.

We all know the feeling, and the  reality because our lives have all weathered one storm or another…..When a loved one is dying.              When we hear the doctor’s diagnosis, CANCER, HEART DISEASE, PARKINSON’S, KIDNEY FAILURE….. When the chances of life bring forth UNEMPLOYMENT, FIRE, FLOOD, and  DEVSATATIONS of every kind….When we find ourselves RETIRED without a plan, unexpectantly WIDOWED , broke, homeless, ADRIFT, ALONE………

The storms we face in life are many and varied, but in every one we share a common experience…….OUR BOAT is SO SMALLL…….and the SEA is SO GREAT!

The thing about this story that we often miss, is that according to Mark’s Gospel, what the disciples are doing, is exactly what Jesus has called them to do……They are practicing their new vocation “FISHING FOR MEN” …… These are skilled sailors.  Their boats are well worn tools of their trade.  What is DIFFERENT is they have left their home waters and wandered across the sea of Galilee.  They are doing what they have done every day of their working lives, but today they are doing just that but in new waters, unfamiliar waters, strange territory……AND they have sailed into those unfamiliar waters BECAUSE of their faith in Jesus, the one who has called them to this new vocation…THE ONE WHO IS JUST NOW SLEEPING! Taking a nap in the back of the boat…

COME ON JESUS….DON’T YOU SEE, Don’t YOU CARE, WE ARE PERISHING, and YOU ARE SLEEPING!  The disciples are WRONG on both accounts…..THEY ARE NOT PERISHING………BECAUSE JESUS whether asleep or awake, is LORD of all!

When Jesus rouses from his nap, he asks the pointed question, WHY ARE YOU AFRAID?  For the disciples, the answer might be obvious, Waves, wind, water flooding into the boat, sails flapping, NO CONTROL, BOAT SINKING!      For JESUS, the chaos of a broken, death bound creation could and WOULD be reclaimed with a single WORD…… In the beginning when all there was, was chaos God SPOKE, and a wind swept over the face of the waters…..and the world came into being……..(Gen 1:1-2 para)   In the storm on lake Galilee, Jesus REBUKES the WIND and THE SEA……Jesus speaks the word, ……PEACE, …..BE STILL, ……. BE WHAT I YOUR LORD COMMAND YOU TO BE!     And they were filled with fear and awe, and they asked one another WHO IS THIS, that even wind and sea obey him?

In the midst of every storm we have ever, or ever will experience, THAT IS THE  QUESTION TO ASK……When the waves are tall, when the flames consume, when the WINDS tear down, when death draws near, when GRIEF overwhelms, when our lives are out of control, and chaos seems to reign……….

WHO IS THIS JESUS? That the wind and waves OBEY HIM……. THAT HIS WORD OF PEACE……COMMANDS and STANDS. We all know the RIGHT answers to that question.  This Jesus is the Son of God. This Jesus is the CHRIST.  This Jesus is BORN, CRUCIFIED, RISEN……FOR US. This Jesus is LORD…….of ALL.  This Jesus is ETERNAL KING OF ALL CREATION………………

The thing about the storm, is that it literally calls us, challenges us, forces us to take every one of those TRUTHS and move them from our heads and instead take them to heart……because in the end FAITH, is always a matter of the heart…….IN fact one of the better translations of our word BELIEF……should read……..HEART KNOWING as if we have ways of BRAIN knowing AND HEART knowing… Both necessary, helpful, and needed.  Yet TWO VERY DIFFERENT ways of knowing the world we inhabit,  and the life God gives us.

When Jesus has stilled the storm, he asks his disciples, two connected questions.  WHY are you afraid?  Have you no FAITH?  Those are the questions we all need to ask ourselves, not just once, but OFTEN.  Not just in the calm of the storm’s passing, but even in the midst of the storms furry.   WHY ARE WE AFRAID?  FEAR is the enemy, the undoer of faith? DOUBTS can and will strengthen faith!  Questions of uncertainty will DEEPEN our faith!  FEAR will destroy faith, BECAUSE FEAR gives the storm all the power, and GOD NONE!  FEAR  pushes God to the margins.  FEAR diminishes all HOPE,  FEAR dismisses GOOD NEWS and DENIES that chaos can ever know PEACE.

IF You are a living, breathing, thinking, experiencing, HUMAN BEING YOU KNOW FEAR, and the power it CAN EXERT OVER YOU………. AND YET    YOU can also know the PEACE, that God’s word in JESUS can and will bring to YOU!

 When Jesus asks “Have you STILL NO FAITH?”  He is not DECLARING that we have no faith. He is  challenging us to examine, take stock of the faith that we do have and if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, NEARLY INVISIBLE, ALMOST UNDETECTABLE………………….. YET WHEN THAT MINISCULE FAITH is set on JESUS!  The storm does not stand a chance……..The WINDS are done for…………The waves will calm.  THE CHAOS will give way to PEACE,  LASTING PEACE…… ETERNAL PEACE, …..LIFE GIVING PEACE, FAITH SUSTAINING PEACE……………

But let’s be honest if, not with each other, then at least with ourselves.  When the storm rages, and the FEAR rises up, the one thing our faith seems to wonder…. Is what the disciples ask when they find Jesus asleep…..”JESUS TEACHER, DON’T YOU CARE…..WE ARE PERISHING?”  In the panic of the moment we fail to see the reality as it is from Jesus perspective,  THE VERY PERSPECTIVE our faith invites us to INHABIT EVERY MOMENT and DAY of our lives.

IF you know anything about boats you would know that every boat, regardless of its size, shape or design has a place in the boat that is called the “PITCH POINT” or what a landlubber might call the “STILL POINT.”  It is simply that place on the boat where in the wind and waves, the ship will move the very least.  It has nothing to do with magic, it is simply a matter of naval architecture, meeting with the laws of gravity.  On cruise ships you can find the pitch point by locating the most expensive cabins…..or on a yacht it is where the owners cabin is located,…..On smaller boats it is near the rear where steering station is found……In this fishing boat on the lake of Galilee, the pitch point/STILL POINT is where Jesus is napping.  

IN THE MIDST OF THE STORMS that our FEARS tell us will DESTROY US, JESUS is already in the place of PEACE………..and what does he do in this storm?   He brings that very PEACE To BEAR on the whole storm, on the whole of creation……………

So there is Bad news and there is good news…….The bad news is that the storms will continue to rage……  God does not promise us a life free of fear, worry, dread, or grief……..


So in the end, after hearing the story and contemplating what it means for us as disciples, us as CHURCH, us as human people of faith in a fear filled world…..

We are left with a single question:  Are we still willing to go fishing with Jesus?  Fishing in unfamiliar territory, fishing for men and women, children and youth who know only fear, and know NO PEACE!

Are we willing to go Fishing for the sake of the Kingdom of God?





Posted by: Pastor Dan Hoffman AT 11:14 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, June 06 2018

Acts 2:41-47; Romans 12:9-21

    In April of 1977, I packed up my stuff and left my home in Niagara Falls to begin my first real job as a programmer-analyst in Dayton Ohio.  The adult Sunday School class at my church in Bergholz – a small town just outside of Niagara Falls – laid hands on me and prayed for me as I went on my way.

    In Dayton, I attended a church that welcomed me with open arms.  Oddly enough – the name of that church was Zion Lutheran.  But those folks became my family in a place where I was a stranger.  And even to this day, I am still in touch with people from that church.
    Some five years later, I packed up my stuff again, and moved back to Western NY, and joined a church in Elma, just south of here.  And those folks welcomed me with open arms too.  Of course they had to.  I had just married their pastor!  Actually, no, they didn’t have to.  They chose to.  

    Then, in 1991 – I joined another church – where I also was welcomed with open arms.  It was this church.  This congregation.  And the people who were here then didn’t have to.  They chose to.  We chose each other.  Fewer than 200 of those folks who were here when I started back then are left now.  But I will always think of them as my first church.  

    And yet – I have never served as an ordained pastor anywhere else.  Through these 27 years – we have said hello and goodbye to a lot of people.  But in all cases – we have been church together.  It has been a wonderful partnership.  

    I remember at my interview with the church council 27 years ago, I asked a question of everyone in the room, asking what each one in the room did at the church.  What ministries were they involved in.  And after we went around the room – I remember being amazed at how much involvement – how much ministry was being performed by everyone.  And then I said, “Keep on doing what you’re doing, because if you don’t do it, it won’t get done.”  I was so happy to learn that I would become pastor of a church where the pastor was not expected to do everything.  As I have reminded you over and over again – this is and always has been a partnership.  The Lord did not give all of the gifts to the pastor alone.  But each one of us has been gifted for some ministry – for some service – for the glory of God – for the benefit of others – and for our own good!

    And so, we grew.  We grew in numbers.  We grew in the depth of our faith.  We grew in the understanding of God’s Word.  We grew to love each other – and to consider each other true brothers and sisters in Christ.  

    And doesn’t that sound like what the church is about?  The head of the church is Jesus Christ.  And we – the church – are the body of Christ.  Christ followers.

    And of all the options I guess I could have preached on today, I wanted to remind you of something that I focus on from time to time.  And that is to remind you that we are Romans 12 Christians living in an Acts 2 church.  

    So – let me remind you one more time.  Being a Christian is more than just going to church on [Saturday] [Sunday].  It’s more than just hoping to go to heaven someday.  It’s a way of life.  I can’t think of a better way of life – or a better way of living.  
    Romans 12:9-21 is an excellent example of what that way of life looks like.  

Do not be conformed to this world.  Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another... serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering,...persevere in prayer...Extend hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you;...Live in harmony with one another;...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

That’s what I mean when I say that we are Romans 12 Christians.  What Paul is saying – and what Jesus is saying – is, “Be this.”  Be this.  If you want to be a disciple of Jesus – then learn to be this.  

Again – I don’t want you to get the idea that following Jesus is a system of do’s and don’ts – you know – this is what a Christian does – or this is what a Christian doesn’t do.  I want to move beyond that to say that being a follower of Jesus Christ – is a way of life – it’s a way of being – and sometimes that may take a lifetime to develop.

So the Romans 12 Christian gives us an idea of what our lives as individual Christians can look like.  The Acts 2 side of the equation?  Well the Acts 2 side of the equation shows what our life together as church looks like.   
Acts 2 says that those first Christians were devoted to the apostle’s teaching.  Since the New Testament had yet to be written, listening to the teaching of the apostles would be the equivalent of us reading our Bibles and getting involved in a Bible study.  

It says they joined in fellowship.  In other words, they spent time together developing friendships with other Christians.  

They spent time together in the temple.  And when it says that they broke bread together that’s a reference to the Lord’s Supper.  So spending time together in the temple and breaking bread together tells us that they worshipped God together.

It says they devoted themselves to the prayers.  This tells me that they were people of prayer.  

When it says that they shared things in common, and sell what they had to give to others in need, that tells me that they developed a healthy understanding of what it means to give from their financial resources.  

And when it says that they had the goodwill of all the people, that tells me that they were involved in works of ministry, including telling other the Good news of Jesus Christ.

Can anybody tell me what’s going on here?  What does it sound like these early Christians were practicing?  That’s right.  They were being church together – practicing what we call the Six Marks of Discipleship.    

  And doesn’t that sound like Zion?  We are a church that worships God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are a praying church.  A giving church.  A serving church.  We lift up God’s Word as the source and norm of our faith – as the tool by which we learn about all that God has done for us – and who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ.  And as I told you last week – the church ought to be a fun place to be.  And you agreed.  The churchy word for this is fellowship.  

One of the fun things that make this place so exciting is the growth we have experienced.  As we grew – you weren’t afraid to invest in what God is doing in this place.   Thank you for being generous stewards of what God has given you.    

Thank you for making the sacrifices – in other words – for giving something that you love for something that you love even greater still.  The gifts that you gave that made our building expansion – including the building of this sanctuary 17 years ago – that was so necessary.  And debt free after just a couple of years!

But it really wasn’t bricks and mortar and wooden arches that we were investing in.  What you have done – what you are really doing is investing in the lives of others.  People who are already here.  People who have yet to walk through our doors.  Infants.  Children.  Youth.  Young adults.  Families.  Older folks who are retired – or who are about to be retired.  Children who have yet to be born.  Thanks to you, together we’re touching hearts and changing lives – making a difference in the name of Jesus Christ.  And I don’t know about you, but that feels good.  Does it feel good to you?  

We’re loving God, and loving our neighbor because nothing else matters.  I just want to say, thank you to all of you who helped make this mission that we share – this ministry in which we are partners – so effective.  

Every day I have been here, I looked forward to being here.  Well, okay.  There was one day just a couple of years ago when I just didn’t feel like being here.  I think it was a Wednesday.  I’m serious!  Just that one day.  But hey!  One day in 27 years – I’d say that’s not too bad.  Listen!  When you love what you do – as I have loved what I do – you’ll never go to work a day in your life.  I don’t know about you – but I have been blessed simply because I have been a member of Christ’s church right here, for 27 years.  

Well – just as those first disciples understood what it means to be church – heck, they defined what it means to be church for all of the generations who followed – my hope and my prayer for you – is that you continue to do what you are doing – because if you don’t do it – it won’t get done.

Even Jesus couldn’t do it all by himself.  Our reading from Luke’s gospel says that Jesus sent out 70 disciples to do the work of ministry and proclaiming the Good News.  And you know what?  He sends each one of you too!  

 In fact – until the next pastor is called – there might just be a need for some of you to step and try to do something you might never have done before.  Are you ready, willing and able to continue the work that Jesus is calling you to do?  

Well.  Let me leave you with one more story.  Those of you who are opera buffs are familiar with the name Puccini.  He wrote “Madame Butterfly,” “La Boheme,” and “La Tosca.”

In 1922 Puccini was stricken with cancer.  He said, “I want to write one more opera.”  So he set down to write “Turandot.”  His students said, “But suppose you die?”

“Oh,” Puccini replied, “my disciples will finish it. Don’t worry.”

In 1924 he died, and his disciples did finish his music.  Its premiere was in Milan, Italy at the La Scala Opera House, under the baton of Puccini’s best student, Arturo Toscanini.  The performance proceeded and came to that point in the music where the composer had laid down his pen.  Tears streamed down Toscanini’s face.  He put down the baton and turned to the audience and said, “Thus far, the master wrote – and then the master died.”

Then picking up his baton, his face wreathed with smiles, Toscanini shouted out to the audience, “But his disciples finished the music.”

My dear, dear friends.  What Jesus started nearly 2000 years ago – we his disciples continue.  There is so much more that still needs to be done.  There is so much more music left to write.  So many songs to be sung.   Here in this place.  This is just the end of a chapter.  There is more – so much more – that the Lord is going to do here in this place.  With you.  For you.  Among you.  

So keep on moving forward.  Keep on growing.  Keep on keeping on.  And see what the Lord has yet to do!

As for me, well, it’s been a good run.  And we still have one more week left to go!

Thank you for letting me be your pastor.  


Posted by: AT 08:18 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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