Pentecost 8 – "A New Humanity" – Ephesians 2:11-22 – 7/19/15

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This morning we continue our summer journey through St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. As we said last Sunday, Paul’s evangelism strategy was to visit a place where he wanted to plant a new congregation and visit the local synagogue. Because he was a Jew and a Pharisee at that, he would always be asked to speak. When Paul spoke he testified as to why Jesus Christ, crucified for the sins of the world and raised from the dead on the 3rd day was the Messiah that the Jews were waiting for.

Eventually Paul would get kicked out of the Synagogue and those who believed his message would follow him and that would be the beginning of a new Christian congregation.

So, the congregation in Ephesus was made up of Jews who believed that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. But the message of the cross is that Jesus Christ died for the sins, not just of the Jews, but of the WHOLE WORLD, for ALL PEOPLE. And that message was well received among the Gentiles. And so especially in a city like Ephesus that is predominately Greek, the congregation is made up of both Jews and Gentiles, or as Paul refers to it, ‘the circumcised and uncircumcised.’

And there’s some HISTORY between the Jews and Gentiles, if you know what I mean. Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants may learn to live side by side but there’s a lot of ‘history’ there and that ‘history’ can cause problems. The Sunni and the Shia will have a hard time living together peacefully because there’s a ‘history’ between them and with that history comes a lot of RESENTMENT and HOSTILITY. Continue reading

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Pentecost 7 – "A Plan For The Fullness Of Time" – Ephesians 1:3-14 – 7/12/15

Today we begin an eight week reading through St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. It’s our intention to focus our attention on this marvelous epistle through the summer both in our preaching and home devotions through the week. My intention is to develop a guide to follow at home through the week based on the epistle reading from Sunday. We’ll post these on our web-site, but if you’d prefer to receive them by mail, let me know.

A little bit of background before we begin. Ephesus was a major city in Asia where the gospel of Jesus Christ had never been heard. Paul went there on his 2nd missionary journey, and as was his practice, he went to the Synagogues. Because he was Jewish and a Pharisee to boot, he was always given to opportunity to speak. He would preach Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of what the Jews were hoping for. Some would believe and others would not. Believers would separate themselves from the Synagogue (or be kicked out) and that would be the beginning of a new congregation.

Two of the converts at Ephesus were the husband and wife, Priscilla and Aquilla who become the leadership of the congregation. Paul returned to Ephesus on his 3rd missionary journey and stayed there for three years, longer than he stayed anywhere else.

Sometime after Paul left Ephesus is when things really start heating up for him. Understandably, the Jews are getting pretty fed up with his evangelism strategy, and want to put it to a stop. They try to kill him which fails. Then, they convince the Roman authorities that Paul is a danger to society and he’s arrested and imprisoned. I’m sure that the Jews think that now, finally, they have gotten rid of their problem, but from prison, Paul writes letters to the churches – and this one goes to the Ephesians.

Paul’s letters all have a common format to them. The first half of the letter deals with Christian doctrine and the second half deals with the Christian life that flows out of the doctrine. Some of the ‘Christian life’ topics that Paul zeroes in on in this letter is ‘family life’ – ‘wives and husbands,’ ‘children and parents,’ ‘servants and masters,’ topics that we too could certainly stand to hear about.

So, let’s begin the journey through Ephesians. Continue reading

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Pentecost 6 – Psalm 123 – "More Than Enough Contempt" – 7/5/15

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Would you take out your worship folder and turn to page 8 please. I’d like for us to recite our Psalm for today together once again.
To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
As the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
For we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease,
Of the contempt of the proud.

There’s a good chance that this Psalm was written in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah when Jews were returning to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon. Ezra was their priest and Nehemiah was their governor.

They were returning to Jerusalem, their old homes and neighborhoods, which were now populated by foreigners. Needless to say, there was no ‘homecoming parade’ in their honor. They were not welcome and their neighbors made that quite clear.

The task was to rebuild the wall around the city and the Temple. The book of Nehemiah records the history of the rebuilding of the wall and the book of Ezra is all about the rebuilding of the Temple. A nice distinction of the two kingdoms within the one kingdom of God. The civil realm working for the protection and safety of its citizens, the spiritual realm working to provide for the spiritual life of the people.

The common theme that runs through both books is the abuse and scorn that is heaped upon them by their neighbors. They are constantly having to stop work and go to the courts and establish their rights to do what they are doing.

They take a lot of verbal abuse, a lot of mocking and ridiculing from the locals. No one understands why they do what they do. Even the mayor of Jerusalem organizes multiple rallies to humiliate the Jews trying to make their life as miserable as possible. Continue reading

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Pentecost 5 – "Great Is Your Faithfulness" – Lamentations 3:22-33 – 6/28/15

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“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Sounds like someone is having a GOOD DAY. No, sounds like someone is having a GREAT DAY. Words like these come easily when everything is coming up roses. “The steadfast love of the Lord never cease; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

So, would you be surprised if I were to tell you that these words were written in a time of terrible upheaval and great loss, when things were going from bad to worse? The book of Lamentations is just that, a ‘lament.’ The prophet Jeremiah ‘laments’ the situation that Israel, the people of God, are in. A foreign nation named Babylon has captured the city of Jerusalem and ransacked the buildings and the Temple of the Lord, torn down its wall and taken its citizens into exile.

Think of it like this. The ‘Taliban’ or ‘Isis’ has invaded the U.S. and conquered it. And it is forcing everyone to either live under Shire law or be executed. The White House has been totally destroyed along with the Pentagon. And all U.S. citizens have been declared to be ‘slaves’ of the new government. As appalling as that sounds to our ears, this is a pretty good comparison to what things were actually like for Israel. They never thought that such a thing could ever actually happen to them. After all, they were the ‘people’ of God and the one, true God was the God of Israel. Continue reading

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Pentecost 4 – "Two Questions For Jesus" – Mark 4:35-41 – 6/21/15

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“On that day, when evening had come, he said to [His disciples], ‘Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.”

It had been another long day for Jesus, as so many of them were. And if they were long days for Jesus, they were also long for His disciples who traveled with Him. Two weeks ago at the District Convention, Synod President Harrison was present but just for Thursday evening. He had to leave at 4:30 Friday morning to catch a flight to the Nebraska District Convention. And it was the job of the ‘Assistant to the President,’ Rev. Jon Vieker to get him there. A long day for the Synod President is also a long day for those who travel with him.

“Let us go across to the other side.” There were people on the ‘other side’ of the Sea of Galilee that He needed to see; a man possessed by demons, Jairus’ 12 year old daughter who had died, a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. Their prayers to God were heard. And God was about to give His answer.

Oh, and there was a storm just over the horizon moving this way. He saw it. Today, we have a weather app that tells us about an approaching storm and predicted wind speed and wave heights. Experienced sailors would have refused to set sail. But this is before ‘weather.com.’ Continue reading

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Pentecost 3 – "The Mysteries of God in a Seed" – Mark 4:26-34 – 6/14/15

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“With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it.”

Parables are incredible things.
• Parables take something that is earthly and teach us something heavenly.

For example, take a very familiar parable, the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son.’ Jesus takes a very earthly example – a father’s love for his son and his broken heart at his son’s rebellion and his overwhelming joy at his son’s return home. That’s something earthly that every father can understand.

Then Jesus says, ‘okay, if you can understand that, if you know how that feels, then you can understand something about how your heavenly Father feels about you when you rebel against Him and repent and return.’ There’s a connection between the earthly and the heavenly.

• Parables take something that is earthly and teach us something heavenly. Continue reading

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Pentecost 2 – "Where Are You" – Genesis 3:8-15 – 6/7/15

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“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”

They wanted to hide from God. They wanted to be invisible to God. They wanted to live their life without the ‘all-seeing’ eye of God watching them.

Why?

Why would they suddenly want their ‘privacy’ when everything had always been ‘communion’ and ‘fellowship’ and ‘intimacy,’ and ‘you know everything about me and I am free to be myself with you’?

Why would they suddenly decide that they no longer wanted things to be so ‘open and ‘honest’ as they had been, both with God and with each other?

Why would they want to chuck all of that ‘nakedness without shame,’ for a life of ‘hiding’ like fugitives on the run, always moving from one tree another for fear that they might be recognized and found and exposed?

Why? Continue reading

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Trinity Sunday – "God-Talk" – 5/31/15

We are here this morning to talk about God. Not sure I really needed to say that, because after all, we are at church. And when we’re at church, we talk about God.

But of course, ‘church’ is not the only place where ‘God-talk’ happens, nor should it be. In fact, if you listen carefully, you’ll realize that there’s a lot of God-talk that happens not in church.

Here’s what I mean. You weren’t in church when you heard someone say:
• For God’s sake, for the love of God, God forbid, God only knows.
• Honest to God, thank God, O God.
• God willing and the creek don’t rise…
• An ‘act of God that put the fear of God in him.
• He thinks he’s God’s gift to women.
• As sure as God made green apples.
• There but for the grace of God go I.
• And the always popular ‘GD’ and ‘OMG.’

If you listen for it, you’ll hear God-talk happening all over God’s-green earth.

So here’s a challenge. This week, listen for the ‘God-talk’ that you hear. Become aware of how much God-talk you yourself engage in. And when you hear it, ask yourself, ‘what do they mean when they talk about God?” ‘What did I mean when I just used the word ‘God’?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you try to engage the “God-talker” in a discussion about the nature of God. Or that when someone says, “O my God,” you recite the Athanasian Creed and say, ‘is that the God that you were referring to when you said, “O my God”? Continue reading

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Pentecost – "Dry Faith Made Alive" – Ezekiel 7:1-14 – 5/24/15

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“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them. And behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.”

So what was this that the Spirit of the Lord swept His prophet off to see? Was it a graveyard? Strange graveyard. Cemeteries don’t leave the bodies on the surface. They bury them.

Was it a battlefield? Maybe. What a disastrous battle it must have been.

But this is neither graveyard nor battlefield. “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” These are the people of God. This is the holy, Christian Church all gathered together in one place.

Now that’s a surprise. I would have guessed that these were the bones of pagans who dance around idols, worship trees and sacrificed their children, whom the Lord stuck down.

But no, these are the people of God. And if you ran the DNA of those bones, it would be a perfect match to ours.

If we’re going to understand what’s going on here we’ve got to understand that this is a ‘VISION.’ That’s what Ezekiel means when he says, “the Lord brought me out in the SPIRIT OF THE LORD.” It’s the same language as we hear with John’s REVELATION. John writes, “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day…”

When a prophet has a VISION, he is given to see things the way God sees things. He sees things from the heavenly perspective rather than the earthly perspective. Continue reading

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Funeral Sermon – John Hilton – "Thou Wilt Keep Him In Perfect Peace" – Isaiah 26:3 – 5/14/15

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“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” (Isaiah 26:3).

Karen says that over the last several years, this had become John’s favorite scripture verse. It was his ‘theme’ verse if you will; one, concise verse described the goal of his life, and hopefully, after he was gone, the summary of his life.

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” (Isaiah 26:3). Not a bad goal and theme for one’s life.

Everyone has a ‘theme verse’ for their life, whether they realize it or not, whether we can recite it or not. All of us have a ‘favorite verse’ that describes the goal that we have for our life, and that the thing that, after we die, we hope that others will say, ‘that pretty well sums up who he was.’

‘Theme verses’ don’t always come from the holy scriptures. They come from a wide range of sources.

“Whoever dies with the most toys wins” is a pretty common one that describes a lot of people. “My only desire in life is to be happy,” is another. That one has lots of variations. Substitute “My only desire is to be wealthy” or “successful” or “comfortable” or “loved.” That’s the theme of their life and looking back, everyone concludes, ‘Yup, that describes him to a tee.’ Continue reading

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