Lent 2 – "John's Question For Jesus"- Matthew 11:2-6 – 3/1/15

Free Text after the suicide death of Danny Morren
Matthew 11:2-6

“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

I. The Question
John’s question is our question. “Are you the one or shall we look for another?”

This is not the question of a faithless man but a faithful man who wants some assurance that everything is going to be okay – appearances to the contrary.

John is the great preacher of Christ, of whom Jesus tells the crowds, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” (Mat.11:11)

But John’s in prison. And why is he in prison? Not because he was unfaithful. Not because he ran away from his calling like Jonah did. No. John’s in prison simply because he was faithful. Not exactly the way he expected things to go, I’m sure.

And that’s why I say that John’s question is our question. Because things have not gone the way that we expect them to go for the faithful either.

If a righteous and holy God were ruling the universe, things ought to go a lot differently than they do. And we’re not even talking about the ‘world’ here. This is not really about global unrest or the collapse of civilization.

We’re really only talking about one man, one family, one congregation, just doing our best to be faithful to our calling and vocation in life. Only to find ourselves in a dungeon of grief and despair and confusion and doubt.

“He sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Continue reading

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Mid-Week Lent 2 – "Blessed Are The Meek…" – Matthew 5:5 – 2/25/15

Last Wednesday on Ash Wednesday, we considered Beatitudes #1 and #2. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” And “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” Now today we add #3, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”

ALL FLOW FROM 1ST BEATITUDE
One of the things that becomes more and more clear as we continue down this list of blessings, is that it is the first Beatitude that sets the stage for the others. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Everything that follows is simply what life in the Kingdom of Heaven is all about.

It’s like, the 1st beatitude is the tree and the others are the branches that grow from it. Continue reading

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Lent 1 – "The Test Of Faith" – Genesis 22:1-18 – 2/22/15

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We’ve said it before but its worth repeating again, the life of faith is a hard life. Anyone who says that all their problems went away when they became a Christian is either lying or hasn’t got a clue what it means to live by faith in Jesus Christ.

Some people come to church with their great problems and troubles, but are often disappointed and don’t last long. They thought that Christianity was supposed to make everything better. But once they learn what it means to “take up your cross and follow Me,” they conclude that this is not at all what they thought it was and not something that they’re interested in.

So don’t ever tell someone that their troubles will all go away if they come to church and hear the gospel. No. FAITH comes by hearing the gospel, not SUCCESS or PROSPERITY or EASY STREET.

Just look at those whom the Epistle to the Hebrews holds up as the HEROES OF THE FAITH. “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, there were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:36-38) I wonder why I’ve never seen this verse in an evangelism brochure before?

And today we can add, “they were taken captive and beheaded, their homes were burned, their women raped, their daughters stolen – of whom this world IS NOT worthy.” Continue reading

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Ash Wednesday – "Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit / Those Who Mourn…" – Matthew 5:2-4 – 2/18/15

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“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them saying, blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

It is our intent during this season of Lent to consider the words of our Lord which He taught to His disciples in what we have come to call, ‘The Beatitudes.’ Nine statements that each begin with the word, ‘Blessed.’

What does it mean to be ‘blessed?’ When someone has a special gift or talent, we sometimes say that he is ‘blessed with musical talent,’ or ‘she is blessed with a great voice.’ When we say that someone is ‘blessed,’ we mean that there is something about their life that we admire because we count it as something ‘good.’

We would never think to say that someone is ‘blessed with cancer,’ or ‘blessed with blindness.’ The word ‘blessed’ doesn’t fit with either of these. Anyone who says that someone is ‘blessed with cancer’ or ‘blessed with blindness’ either doesn’t understand what it means to be ‘blessed’ or doesn’t understand what it means to have cancer or to be blind. Are they trying to say that these things are somehow really ‘good?’

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Transfiguration – "Literal or Figurative?" – Mark 9:2-9 – 2/15/15

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Properly distinguishing between what is ‘literal’ and what is ‘figurative’ is important if you’re going to understand the Scriptures correctly, as they are intended. Some people read what is mean to be taken ‘figuratively’ as though it were meant to be taken ‘literally’ and even though they say that they ‘believe in the Bible,’ they get it all wrong.

In the book of Revelation, John sees a “144,000” who have the name of the Son and the Father written on their foreheads. That’s mean to be understood ‘figuratively,’ but the Jehovah’s Witnesses take it ‘literally’ and figure that there’s only going to be 144,000 souls in heaven.

In the Gospels, Jesus breaks the bread and gives it to His disciples saying, ‘this is my body.’ And He passes the cup saying, ‘this is my blood,’ and many think that that’s ‘figurative,’ when it’s really meant to be taken ‘literally.’

If ever there was an episode in the gospels that was susceptible to a figurative interpretation it’s the Transfiguration of Jesus. Bright light emanating out from within a body and illuminating those in his presence; two men, long dead having a conversation with a third as if they’ve known each other for a long time. It’s too bizarre to be real. It’s got to be ‘fiction’ that has a lesson to teach us.

But it’s not. It really happened. Just the way it says, literally. It’s ‘non-fiction.’ Continue reading

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Epiphany 5 – "He Just Wants To Heal You" – Mark 1:29-39 – 2/8/15

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It was the Sabbath day and Jesus took Simon, Andrew, James and John, the four fishermen he had recruited, to be His disciples, to church with Him. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. For all the times that these four men had gone to church, they had never seen anything like what they saw on this Sabbath Day.

A man with an ‘unclean spirit’ stood up in the middle of the service, interrupting Jesus in the middle of His during his sermon, saying, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.”

We Lutherans are not so used to people interrupting the service like some churches are. For some other churches, it is perfectly normal to hear people shout, “Preach it brother” and “praise the Lord” and “Amen,” during the sermon. In fact, in those traditions, if the congregation is too quite and unresponsive, the preacher will ask for some feedback. “Can I get an ‘amen’? Such things would leave the typical Lutheran pastor in total confusion and render him paralyzed. Continue reading

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Epiphany 4 – "He Casts Out Unclean Spirits" – Mark 1:21-28 – 2/1/15

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“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.”

The four fishermen whom Jesus had just recruited when with Him to Capernaum. Capernaum was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee. As we’ll hear next Sunday, it’s where the brothers, Peter and Andrew lived. The village was large enough to be able to support a Synagogue.

The word “Synagogue” literally means, ‘to gather together.’ The Jews said that you needed at least 10 males to form an official synagogue. Jesus would reduce that to “wherever two or three synagogue together IN MY NAME.” (Mat.18:20) The point is, it’s not how many are in worship that matters but whether or not Jesus is present.

It was the Sabbath day, so Jesus went to Synagogue – of course. That’s what you do on the Sabbath day. Continue reading

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Epiphany 3 – "The Universal Grace of God" – Jonah 3:1-10

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“The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”

Of all of the prophets of the Old Testament, Jonah is definitely the bad boy in the group. Jeremiah may have complained that he wasn’t the right man for the job, but at least he didn’t try to skip town. When the call came to Jonah, Jonah hopped a boat headed in the exact opposite direction as the Lord told him to go.

But as Jonah would learn, it’s hard to hide from God. “The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea and there was a mighty tempest on the sea so that the ship threatened to break up.” The old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes applies to sailors too. But for sailors, instead of foxholes, it’s sinking ships. The sailors call out to their gods for help. Call it religion, call it superstition, but they conclude that God is hopping mad as someone onboard. They cast lots to see who the problem passenger might be. And sure enough, the lot fell to Jonah, who was asleep in his cabin.

To his credit, Jonah admits his guilt. He tells them that their only hope is to throw him into the sea. Strangely, Jonah seems to have a genuine concern for the wellbeing of the sailors, offering up his own life that they might not die but live. It’s those Ninevites that Jonah hates.

So, overboard goes Jonah and suddenly the sea is calm. Just listen to what happens next. “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly…” They were terrified that they were going to all drown in the stormy sea, and now they are even more terrified that the sea grew calm.

This, by the way, is the same reaction of the disciples who were in the boat on the stormy Sea of Galilee. While the storm threatened to sink them, Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat. They woke Him up and He commanded the waves and the wind to stand down, and immediately the sea was calm. And Mark writes, “they were exceedingly afraid.” Continue reading

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Funeral Sermon – Frank Holt – Isaiah 61:1-3 – Comfort For Those Who Mourn – 1/24/14

We first met Frank when Vesta brought him to church with her back in 2006. That’s when they began dating. Once things got ‘serious,’ Vesta made it perfectly clear that if this was going to go any further, he was going to come to church with her. That’s just the kind of gal Vesta is.

I suspect that initially, Frank came along just to please Vesta. He was a ‘regular’ in both Bible Study and Worship. Sometimes in Bible study, I had the feeling that I had lost him along the way. But then, after class, he’d ask a question, and it was like, ‘yea, he really gets it.’

It didn’t take very long at all before Frank became a member of the family here. Everyone liked him. Especially the children. It took me awhile to figure out why the children would come up to him after worship was over. Then one day I saw him slip a peace of candy to Callum, and I understood.

Frank was always ready for a game of Cribbage after worship during fellowship. He would always say that it was just a matter of the way the cards fell, but they seemed to consistently fall in his favor. Isn’t that right Don?

Many of you have known Frank much longer than we have, and after the service, downstairs in the Fellowship Hall, we’d love to hear your stories and share in your memories. Continue reading

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Epiphany 2 – "Jesus of Nazareth – Son of God" – John 1:43-51 – 1/18/15

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On Christmas, God came down from heaven and became man. Which doesn’t mean that He stopped being God. If there’s one thing that God CANNOT DO it’s to stop being God. There is no such thing as ‘retirement’ for God. He always was, is, and always will be God, ruling the universe down to the tiniest detail with His almighty power.

But on Christmas, God became man. “The Word became flesh.” And for 30 years, for all appearances, God was just like us, soiling his diapers, eating, drinking, playing with other children, going to school, learning a trade, going to work, and sometimes just hanging out with the guys.

And no one ever suspected that Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, was also the Son of God. No one would have ever thought to say what we just said about Him – He is “the only begotten Son of God, begotten by his Father before all worlds, God of God, light of light, true God of true God…” and so forth. He was just Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

For 30 years, God’s divine nature was hidden under the cover of His human nature. But when He turns 30, things begin to change. What had been carefully hidden for 30 years now begins to be revealed. Continue reading

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