Corrie ten Boom detailed her experience of this kind of peace in her book Don’t Wrestle, Just Nestle She writes of the peace she knew in God’s presence prison and in concentration camps from walking close to God.
Just a note,
many in our town have had some water in their basements after significant rains in the past week. Folks in other towns near by have faced even greater flooding and even greater challenges in the aftermath. Please keep those who have lost so much so quickly to this surprising fall flooding in your prayers.
God's known you everyday every breath even every hair on your head.
Your name matters to God.
Whether you're rich or poor you matter. Who you are to God isn't just a matter of what you can give or do; the truth is you matter each person in this room is of value enough for God to offer a son's life in exchange for your eternal soul.
There's an story told about a seasoned nursing prof who taught a class and at the end of the class was a question that was worth ¼ of the exam. The question was simple. Can you name the person who cleans the nursing department every night. An a student was absolutely incensed with the question. “This isn't a fair question” she turned to the professor on the way out. Why do I need to know her name. The professor replied, “It is because as a nurse there's never an insignificant person on your team.
God feels the same way about each of us.
You came to church today for a reason. The more you talk to people who come to church the more you will learn about all the different reasons people have for being here in this room
trouble in your life
hunger for a real encounter with God
a desire to give your kids something more
there are other reasons why people come some sinister and some glorious
You and I have a all kinds of reasons to be here.
And now that you're here, for whatever reason it is that you've come, open your ears and listen closely to Jesus' words. We have all kinds of reasons all kinds of agendas that might lead us here into this space today. And Jesus invited people to start looking around them and really seeing what happens in the world.
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,1
If you came today wanting to know what God is after, in your life, just to pay attention to Jesus' stories. Jesus made many of his strongest points not by lecturing people about what they were doing wrong; but by telling stories that challenged them to start seeing the world differently. Jesus wasn't vaguely telling people stories with easy happy endings. He was inviting people 2000 years ago, and people today, to see the complex reality of human life. Jesus was concerned with more than just the world in general Jesus was most concerned with the way his hearers cared for the people around them, most especially the ones they walked past on any given day.
Today we listen to Jesus and join him considering the lives of two men who lived and died in very close proximity to one another.. One of the two men has a name, Lazarus. The other man has no name.
Jesus is telling this story in no small part to emphasize the great difference between human society and the world as God would have it be. In our world having a name matters and we know all the big names. Just this past week there was a list of the billionaires in our nation published. We celebrate celebrities. There are whole tv channels and websites dedicated to gossip about the celebrated. But in this story Jesus invites us to consider the life of a man who celebrated while a man who lived just outside his door suffered.
who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.2
Lazarus the man with a name had no permanent address that he could call his own. He laid in front of of the unnamed man's gate. Lazarus had sores on his body that the dogs would like when the came near. The thing is Jesus tells us the story in the reverse of the way that our culture tells such stories.Lazarus watched the unnamed man live sumptuously just beyond inside the gate of his home. Human culture celebrates wealth. We have no trouble naming the billionaires. But God knows every name of every person.
God knows the people who have water in their basements tonight. He knows the names of those who have gone about their lives and the names of those who have sought out a way to help those in need.
There's real ministry happening in this world that you won't hear about on CNN, or FOXNews. There is real ministry happening, and much of it goes unnoticed and uncelebrated. Ministry happens when any of you bring Christ's great gifts, faith, hope, and love into the world.
In this life the rich man had it all. He'd be the guy with the best of everything. He'd have the biggest house, the best boat, the best cars, everything that he had would be the best. And His neighbor, Lazarus, knew suffering right outside his door. And Jesus says that God saw it all. God saw one man's luxury and one man's pain right next to each other. Jesus said that Abraham, the man who received God's ancient promises welcomed Lazarus home to eternal rest. Abraham, the one God said would become the father of a great nation, more numerous than the stars or the grains of sand on the sea shore, welcomed Lazarus with open arms to eternal life.
Across a great chasm from Lazarus and Abraham the rich man sat in the eternal fire just wishing that somebody would come to cool his tongue with one drop of water. Now he called for Lazarus, the poor man he ignored while they were neighbors, to come across that great chasm to serve him.
What catches me most is that the wealthy man would have walked over or arround the poor hurting Lazarus laying at his gates. Growing up in Minneapolis and going to good old South High just off Cedar Avenue and Lake Street we all figured out ways that made it possible to zip past the poorest places and the most hurting people. It was easy, we just hopped on the freeway and cruised right past the places where we'd see the homeless and the hurting. Now as a pastor in I can see the divisions and distance from other places can sometimes make it easy for us not to see the hurting people who are all around us.
Sometimes just looking left or right, instead of straight ahead, is all that it takes to see what God sees as we drive around the poorest places or through them with our eyes straight ahead like we are in a tunnel.
A few year ago Time magazine published excerpts from several of Mother Theresa's letters. Many of you know who she was, the Saint of Calcutta who spent years caring for the most basic needs of the poor and sick in India. Her private letters that she exchanged with people she sought spiritual counsel from reveal the deep wrestling with God that lay beneath her faith.
Most surprising in the letters that she exchanged with spiritual leaders who tried to help her wrestle with her faith was her description of God's absence. She devoted her life to rescuing the dying homeless people from the gutters of Calcutta in order that their last days might be spent in dignity. Hundred's joined her caring for the poor. And all along people assumed that she must have seen Christ's face day after day; but no, instead she didn't see it for years on end. She knew and shared God's love and yet she experience God as real for years on end.
Jesus invites us to join him in this world and in the next. He invites us to follow when we see him and when we don't. He invites us to walk with him when our faith is strong and when our faith is gone. Jesus cross is the reason we gather here week after week. His life given for each of you bridges every gap and gives every one a chance to start over and to re-prioritize like eternity matters; like there's so much more than just today.
God's vision for us is eternal. He sees beyond one stage of life to every part of our human experience. And his promise to be God for us, revealed in the cross and grave, is good no matter what we've done or where we've been. There are many chasms we can never cross, but for God nothing is impossible. He know's you very well and nothing not hell and not high water will keep him from you.
1The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version, ( Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Lk 16:19-20.
2The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version, ( Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Lk 16:21-23.
Grace and Peace from God our Father and Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Slide 1) John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
Jesus' friends often have a very different visions for the Church and for doing God's will in our world than Jesus has in mind. Jesus friend John met such a situation head on.
John told Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
Let's get the facts straight. Jesus friends saw a man casting out demons in Jesus name. The man they saw exorcising evil spirits was not one of the 12 apostles and he wasn't even “Following them”. This didn't add up in John's mind. This man, who they didn't know, could cast out daemons in Jesus' name. Jesus' friends told their teacher what they'd seen and that they tried to stop it.
Slide 2) Are we on God's side?
I like to assume individually that I'm always on God's side. But I know better. I know that I'm a sinner and that in my sin I have fought with full force against God and God's will. That's what it means to be sinner who is desperate need of a savior. I believe that most Christians want to be on God's side. I believe most of Jesus followers want their church to be faithful to God and God's Word. But we who try to be faithful are all sinners. We, both individually and collectively, fight against God and God's will.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran executed for his roll in a plot to kill Hitler, once said it something like this. If you board the wrong train that's heading in the wrong direction it does you no good to run down the corridor of the train in the opposite direction. At some point you've got to get off the train and start walking in the right direction. Jesus friends have been learning this one lesson over and over for years.
Slide 3) Who is on God's side.
John and the rest of Jesus' friends expected rewards for setting the situation straight. John expected Jesus, at the very least, to give him and the other disciples a pat on the back and maybe say, “That a boy, way to go.” They believed they had stopped someone from misusing Jesus' name. They thought it was worthy of praise. And Jesus told them to leave the man alone.
The differences, which are sometimes quite small and sometimes quite big, between God's plans and our plans come out at surprising times. We see it sometimes in our ministry in everyday lives when we think that we are following God's will and then realize later on, some times much later on, that we aren't following in God's way at all.
Slide 4) Can they do that?
Throughout Christian history there's been a drive, among Jesus' followers, to be the closest to God in every possible way. We want to be Jesus' best followers and to be recognized and acknowledged by God and other people as the very best. If you believe in Jesus and commit your life to following him why wouldn't you want to excel? Why wouldn't you want to excel in following God as no one else ever has before you or will ever do after you?
The drive to be the very best as Jesus' followers has been here from the earliest days of following Jesus. Even before the cross Jesus' friends all wanted to be the best and to be closest to God. Martin Luther King knew about this drive. He called it the “Drum major instinct” Dr. King said,
And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It's a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.
And so before we condemn them, let us see that we all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade.
I thought about just reading Dr. King's sermon today instead of writing my own; but it took him nearly 40 minutes to preach and I don't think that most people here today are used to that kind of preaching.
Slide 5) What does Jesus see us doing as his followers?
We as Jesus' followers try to out do one another as Jesus' super-disciples. 50 years back, in Neenah, Wisconsin, a union worker, in a paper-mill in town, always tried to out do the managers in giving to his church. I learned years later how disappointed he was when church offerings were no longer made public. He loved to point out all the union workers who out did management in their giving.
Christians always want to honor God; but somehow our desire to honor God can and does turn inside of us into a desire to be honored too. Instead of just trying to bring honor to God we think that we deserve to be honored by God. Dr. King said God really wants us to be first and that God really wants us to be great. God wants us to be first in service to one another and greatest in our love for Him and for the people of the whole world.
Slide 6) Who is on God's side?
Jesus’ power can't and won't be contained in the boundaries we humans make for God. Jesus love for God the Father and for all of us is so total it won't just exist in the walls of this congregation or in congregations that look, think, believe, or act exactly like us. Jesus was passionate about the whole world. He couldn’t stand by and watch his friends try and limit the use of his name against the forces of his real enemy and our real enemy.
Jesus called them together saying,
“Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
42“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.
There's an old story about a man who arrived in heaven after dying. As he was being shown around heaven by Saint Peter and some of the angels he noticed a huge hedge surrounding one part of heaven. The was a quiet please sign placed right along side of the hedge. The man turned to Peter and the Angels and asked, “What's with the big hedge?” Peter turned back to him and smiled, “That's where the Lutherans go, they think that they are all alone up here.” I've heard that old joke with so many other denominations from Baptist and Pentecostal to Missouri Synod and Catholic in the punch line.
You can change the punch line over the years and I still think it really makes the point. We like to assume we are on God's side. And that's a very dangerous assumption. It's dangerous when we are having debates with other believers over sensitive subjects that won't go away. It's dangerous to believe that one group, or one historic denomination alone is faithful to God in the world today.
John didn't get a pat on the back like he expected after telling the man to stop casting our daemons. So what about us. What do we expect God to say about our ministry and the ways we treat other believers; even the ones we disagree with over major issues. Many Christians are debating issues of human sexuality both in public and in private today. How we treat one another in this debate speaks volumes, especially to the vast majority of young people of our nation who are estranged from God's Word and church. They are learning what we believe about the cross, and sin, and redemption by what we do beyond these walls. We need humility today in church regardless of denomination or position on difficult and controversial issues. Coming to God takes humility; treating other people who call Jesus Lords as blood bought brothers and sisters, even when we vehemently disagree, takes humility. We treat God's saving death too casually if we have forgotten that Jesus died for others too.
Slide 7) It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:31 NRSV
The writer of Hebrews gives us a clue about what it's like to come face to face with God when he said, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:31 NRSV. The real God is often, as Martin Luther said, a hidden God. He is hidden from us in layers of mystery that we sinners can't comprehend. There are so many dimension to God's work that we shouldn't even pretend to understand. God's not a buddy who is always on our side.
This story about Jesus' friends reveals a dimension to Jesus' work in the world that is tough to accept if you are convinced your church and your church alone is the only right way straight to heaven.
We follow a God who will not be mocked; who sent a Son to die and rise in order that you and I might be saved. If you think that you are doing God a favor by serving him you have forgotten what he has already done for you. Jesus came to save the sick and not to be saved by all of us. When we think our particular church alone is worthy of being called Christian or faithful we have forgotten the Holy God who came to earth. He came as a man who died for us and the world.
500 years ago the pope and the Vatican told each believer in Western Europe what to think and what was true. War and threats of personal violence were used to enforce one particular version of truth. I grew up in a Roman Catholic Church and have chosen to be a Lutheran precisely because of Luther's great belief in the power of Jesus Christ alone to save. I believe that God's Word alone reveals Christ to us and that each individual Christian has a place before God as a member of the priesthood of all believers.
Today, thank God, we have no such institution with coercive power to tell us what to believe and do. Instead we individually are called to come together as the church of God in Christ. We each listen to Scripture and test the Spirit. Our Lutheran heritage only has a future if we as individuals are attentive to God's word. Our Heritage as the church that is built on God's Word is in greatest danger right now because our culture has stopped reading and only debates God's Word. God's Word challenges us, who disagree strongly with what others are saying or doing, to be faithful to God’s Word to be angry, but not to fall into sin in our anger. We are called to ready, sturdy and pray about the word and to give space for others to try and do the same.
Slide 8) Keep Jesus first in your mind and in your life
Us real sinners get overwhelmed by our sins. Our inability to save ourselves proves that we still fight against God and God’s will revealed in scripture. All our struggles to escape sin lead us further in to the mess. Jesus came not for those who have it all together. He came because we need a savior.
I have often wondered what Jesus would do if he walked in to a church (regardless of denomination) today in Minnesota and the rest of the United States.
Would he shake his head or silently weep while watching most congregations get older and most younger people walk away from church (except for a few notable exceptions like weddings and baptisms)? Would he cry over the crimes and sins of clergy and church leaders? Would he get in the face of today’s fathers and mothers who have not told their own children about God’s love for them and for the whole world?
Would Jesus rejoice when congregations send out teams to places like Mississippi or New Orleans to help people get their lives back together after hurricanes while serving in his name? Would he celebrate when families study his Word together and pray together in their homes? Would he come dressed as a pastor or a millionaire or as a homeless person looking for help?
We are a culture of lost sheep and we need to come back to the one true shepherd. We need Jesus today in our lives as moms and dads trying to raise our kids. We need Jesus as brothers and sisters redeemed through Christ's blood. We need to open up his word not to win arguments with other Christians but to come into his presence.
One of my great hopes for Grace and all congregations is that we not be distracted from our primary mission: preaching Jesus Christ crucified and risen for sinners. Our primary calling as Jesus followers has not and will not change. We are first to love God with all our hearts and second to love our neighbors as ourselves. No Christian is my enemy, even if I disagree with them, they are my blood bought brother or sister. The Devil would like it very much if we forgot that he is our enemy and that we were fighting against each other rather than him. Give thanks for Jesus who died that all who believe might live.
slide 1 ...make no room for the Devil.
I've been pondering this verse since Monday and I'd like you to think about this little snippet of scripture too today. This verse comes from a letter to the church in Ephesus. The origins of this letter have been debated by scholars for years; but the point of this letter is especially clear for me today.
This letter is full of directions for the young church in Ephesus about how to live together. I've been thinking this week this advice is good for all of us too. When you became part of a congregation like Grace as a church you became part of something bigger than anyone individual. At our very best the church is always greater than the sum of all our individual gifts. At our very best we see one another as sisters and brothers adopted sons and daughters of God the Father who are together seeking ways to love God and to go into the world to love our neighbors. But the Devil doesn't like that at all. The enemy wants to exploit every crack between us so that he can drive in wedges to separate us from one another.
Slide 2 Basilica in the trees
Much of the time we think that our spirituality is a private and personal matter. Maybe you think this way. Many people in our culture don't believe in the church. When asked most people say they believe in God and many of them pray; but many don't believe in the church. Couples who want to get married in a church come looking to use the facility here, but they have no intention of being part of the church. Many never have been part of the church or have been part of a church only on the periphery. To many people in our culture and to many of us as individuals how you and I connect with God is a private matter between you and me as individuals and with the gods of our own invention.
Slide 3 Chicago
We don't live in a spiritually neutral world and we aren't spiritually neutral either. We're sinners who live in a world with both good and evil forces present and active. As Christians we know that God is real and that he loves us enough to die for us. We learn the hard way about our enemy who is intent on doing as much damage as possible.
Our God loves us enough to die for us; but he has not made us into robots. Through Jesus' blood you are freed from sin. You are free to serve God or the Devil. Jesus cross took away sin but it did not take away your freedom. God wants us to love him freely and openly. And because God wants love that is freely given you and I can choose how we treat God and how we treat one another.
Slide 4 ...and make no room for the Devil
We have an enemy who will exploit our free will. He's looking for any opening he can find. He will drive enormous wedges between us to break up everything that matters by using our freedom against us. We're free to choose church or not. We are free to read scripture or not. We are free to pray or not. We are free to say a kind word to another person or not. We are free to help as sister or brother in need or not. We are free to participate in evil or not. What God wants is for us to seek him out in worship, scripture, service, and prayer. What God wants is for us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are free to live as God intends or to choose not to live as God intends.
Many people think connecting with God is easy if you just go on your own. That's what we sinners like to believe. We sinners like connecting with our own individual gods one on one without anyone or anything to challenge us. That's what the Devil wants. He wants us to be isolated, out on islands with gods of our own making, surrounded by our own self-righteousness. The devil's the expert at this. He's been at this for thousands of years.
Slide 5 How do you imagine the devil?
How we imagine the Devil often blinds us to all the ways that evil is at work in the world today.
Our cultures two most favorite decorating holidays, based on total sales of decorations and their effect on the retail economy, are Christmas and Halloween. This nation is infatuated by the polar opposites of good and evil, innocence and guilt that these two days represent. Keep in mind that the image that we have of the Devil at Halloween is only part of our enemy in the world today. The devil most likely wants us to imagine him as a beast with horns, fiery red flesh, a forked tail, and a pitchfork.
If we insist that the Devil incarnate has horns or breaths fire we won't recognize him when he's at work. But if you and I look around the world long enough you identify him in his work. Hell is real and there are people living in hell on earth today..The Devil is at work subtly trying to destroy everything good and true.
Slide 6 kkk robe
The devil needs no pitchfork. He uses our words and our hands. He uses our self-righteousness. When you refuse to forgive the enemy will use that choice to tear-down and destroy. He uses us to do his dirty work. He uses our ancient prejudices and deeply ingrained biases against both other people and against ourselves. He's been at work for thousands of years trying to undermine everything good and true.
In the movie Oh Brother Where art Thou one of the characters, Tommy sold his soul to the Devil. Another character in the movie Pete asked Tommy, “I've always wondered, what's the devil look like?”
The know it all of the group Everett piped in: “Well, there are all manner of lesser imps and demons, Pete, but the great Satan hisself is red and scaly with a bifurcated tail, and he carries a hay fork.”
Tommy, the one who sold his soul to learn how to play the guitar said: “Oh, no. No, sir. He's white, as white as you folks, with empty eyes and a big hollow voice.” We imagine evil incarnate looking one way. But the enemy has countless disguises. He can even come under the cover of an angle.
Slide 7: the enemy uses our...
The writer of this letter to the Ephesians knew the truth. The Devil will slither into any tiny fissure in our lives where he can find room. He knows our old weaknesses: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. In church conflict he uses our anger and pride against us every time he can. If one party feels they have been lied to or mistreated the devil cans use that anger.
Slide 8: and make no room for the Devil with list
It's critical to note that Paul warns against falsehood and calls for truth speaking; but he also asked the church to, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” (Ephesians 4:26)
In our families he uses our anger against another against us. The devil rejoices if a fight is separating you from a sister or brother.
In marriages he will try to twist any misplaced word or mistaken glance for something sinister. He will work to undermine fidelity, love, and affection.
He will try to come between friends. He will use all the old tricks. And we will by our free choice freely fall for them.
At work he will use jealousy and acrimony to rip us apart.
Slide 9 ...make no room for the devil
Last week I attended the 125th anniversary of my internship congregation. I was there as “Vicar John” from August 1997 to August 1998. It was good to see some old friends and hear stories from the church where I came as a student and left better prepared to be a pastor. I say thanks be to God for all that.
As I reminisced I realized how different that church is today then when I came as a seminary student. A few years after I left there was deep conflict. Many left who were once deeply committed to that church. Attendance fell by more than half. A few 20 somethings (who now live other towns) were there, but one of the young man's parents wouldn't come. It was tough to watch, for him, for me and probably for others who remembered the people who weren't there to celebrate.
Our old enemy rejoices when one Christian attacks another. We Lutherans sing about, “Our old satanic foe has sworn to work us woe” as part of A Mighty Fortress. If we will listen, Paul is boldly telling us the real power of the enemy to split and divide us. God's power is greater than the enemies; but we are often the Devil's unwitting accomplices in conflict.
Slide 10 and be kind...
The enemy uses and manipulates us in all kinds of places (not just the church) to try and pull down the good. Paul's challenge to Christians who are taking up sides against one another is real.
and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:31-5:2)
The old enemy wants us divided; but the Lord of Hosts can use us the most when we are united. We often mistakenly seek out ways to make others “just like us” assuming that uniformity is unity; and God instead makes us one in the Spirit, in the sacraments, and in his love.
For that Amazing Grace I give thanks. AMEN.
...it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all
flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream
dreams, your young men shall see visions. Joel 2:23
I'm not sure if I'm the young man or the old man any more. My kids tell me that I'm sort of old and the confirmation kids tell me that too. They don't use words to say that though; they just roll their eyes at my old music. But that's not the point. Tonight's about dreams and visions being made real in your lives.
I want ask you to to invite you to take a moment to stand up and stretch. Now if you aren't facing forward I'd encourage you to turn your chairs around so that you'll be more comfortable. Thanks you.
Father God we're here tonight to do something bold. We here to step out in faith. Guide us as followers of your son Jesus. Help us see your plan for our faith in action. Let your Spirit blow free and move boldly among us tonight. Open us up to the joy of giving and to the joy of following you in every part of our lives. AMEN.
Our faith in action, our faith in Jesus has always been be full of surprise. The first Easter there was a surprise waiting when some women who'd followed Jesus stepped inside His tomb. A mysterious man arrayed in white met them,
"Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him." Mark 16:6 NIV
This announcement was Good News then and it remains Good News today. It is our Christian story, and the mystery of faith as simple as it gets.Our faith in Christ, our salvation and everything that matters rests on this Good News. The women who heard it first were speechless. I've spoken with some women and men about the this speechless part of the story.
Most of the women I speak with can't imagine these 3 women, or any woman for that matter, being completely silent. I'll tread very carefully here. I live with 4 women and it's rarely quiet at our house. Something big happened that stunned these women and left them silent. They were ready for a dead body; not an empty tomb. They were silent and afraid; but they didn't stay silent and afraid for ever. At some point in time joy broke in and overcame their fear.
Fear is a basic involuntary emotional response. We can't prevent it or avoid it; it happens. Maybe you've experienced fear when you heard a dog's bark rapidly getting closer and closer to you as you were walking. Maybe you've winced in fear as you heard breaks and tires squealing behind you as you sat waiting for the light to change at an intersection. The unexpected grabs us. The 3 women at Jesus tomb were caught in a moment of great surprise. The great psycho-analyst Bill Cosby said that if you want to see people as there most true selves you have to see them when they loose their cool.
Resurrection defies easy explanation and comparison. We think that the change of winter into spring is a miracle. But a resurrection is even bigger. We might say wow as the first flowers pop up out of the dead leaves but we're here today because of something bigger. Maybe your a baseball fan and you think its pretty amazing to see your team come back when they've been trailing in a game. But a resurrection is even bigger than your team chewing up a 2 run deficit with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning. When that happens at timber rattlers game or at Miller Field or at the Metro-dome everybody jump up on their feet to cheer.
Resurrection is so much bigger than anything else in human experience. Resurrection is our reason to jump up and give in order to boldly help God grow the kingdom.We have news to share: Jesus came back and promises new life to all who believe. We have resources, talents, prayers, and strengths to offer up, to give away in order that we might know more fully the the joy of God the Father. We live in a time when sin, death, and the devil often look stronger than faith, hope, and love.
Fear held the women silent; but we know today that they didn't sit on the story. We know that the Joy of the Good News overcame their fear. That's God's work in our world: God's great gift of faith in action breaks through fear.
You all have heard and seen Jesus words, “...I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20b Tonight is about stepping out in faith. Tonight is not for talk but for commitment and faith in action.
3 out of the 4 Gospels tell the same story about Jesus' walking out to his friends on a boat out in the middle of Lake Galilee late at night. In all 3 versions of the story Jesus had just taught a huge crowd by the shore of the lake and then fed the thousands who'd come to hear him teach with only 5 small loaves and two fish.
Lets hone in on one account, in the Gospel of Matthew, of the events of that particular night. Matthew said that
Right away [after the crowd had eaten their fill], Jesus made his disciples get into a boat and start back across the lake. But he stayed until he had sent the crowds away. 23Then he went up on a mountain where he could be alone and pray. Later that evening, he was still there.
Jesus left his friends and went up to pray. He sent them out onto the water in the boat to head on to a new place. They'd just seen thousands come to hear him teach. They were there when He healed hurting souls and restored broken bodies. They were there when 5 little loaves and a couple pieces fish turn into a meal for thousands with baskets full to spare.
Sometimes we have what Cath Mode calls God moments. We have those experiences in our lives when we sense God at work. One of the joys I had in my time at Our Saviors was listening as people told me what God was doing in their live and in the lives of other people. We have moments when we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel God at work. We learn from the God moments, from following Jesus in the church that our lives are part of greater plan.
Jesus sent his friends out onto the water. He sends us out onto the sea. We do not know what's next. Neither did the 12 when they went out on the water. Jesus sent them out together. He sends us out together in the church. We aren't to go into the world alone. He sends us out with brothers and sisters. He sends us out as part of a greater body.
A couple years ago I was in Christus Victor Church in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. When Hurricane Katrina hit Ocean Springs was high ground on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And Christus Victor was at the highest point of the high ground; a whopping 26 feet about the gulf. And that church opened up everything they had for the people who needed help and for the people who came to help them rebuild in Mississippi.
They gave over their fellowship hall to the forklifts, pallet jacks, and pallets full of food, cleaning kits, and electric generators. The carpet was only 6 months old; but that didn't matter. They gave over their offices to the Red Cross, Church World Service, Luther Disaster Response, FEMA, and other agencies. They gave over their Sunday School Classrooms to the volunteers who came to stay and work. The church got a second name, Camp Victor. They would have opened up their sanctuary too; but that was too damaged by the storm to be of use.
The members of Christus Victor opened up their homes, shared their food, money, and resources because in that moment they were living out their faith as the body of Christ. They don't believe in consequence at Christus Victor anymore. They believe in God's providence. God gave them resources they never knew were there and they gave them away only to find even more coming in right behind. God is good and gracious. He's blessed us abundantly.
The apostle Paul wrote about our life as Christians understanding from the very earliest moments on that the church is, and has always been, a body. He understood that as a body that we need each other. Paul wrote boldly instructing the early church:
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts
are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized
by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were
all given the one Spirit to drink. 14Now the body is not made up of one part but
Paul's point is too important to loose. He's telling us something that we don't want to ever forget. If we think that faith is only a personal thing we're missing a great joy of living for Christ; for Paul faith started as a personal experience. And when that experience of faith in action moved into every part of his being it became transformative. Faith in action changed Paul. Every single believer has been touched by what God did with Paul's life after God so radically changed him. Paul knew it then and we know it now. We are in the church together with a purpose.
You as Our Saviors today have a purpose. You as Our Saviors together are out on the water. You are out there, just like Peter and Jesus' other friends were out on the water in the middle of Lake Galilee. It was late that night. Matthew wrote,
24By this time the boat was a long way from the shore. It was going against the
wind and was being tossed around by the waves.
There's a lot of wind and lot of waves today. There's a lot of uncertainty. The fear's real; and the kingdom of God is just as real.
One fellow told me that he and his wife were driving on the interstate in Montana and that they'd run out of gas. He could see an overpass aways on, up ahead in the distance, and he knew from the map that there was a town up ahead. He told his wife he was going to get some gas. His wife was in the middle of a good book and didn't seem too worried. So he started walking.
After walking for a while an old car pulled up along side. 3 young men were inside. They asked him if he needed a hand. He got in, unsure if it was the best idea. The car quickly got up to speed. It took a while longer than he expected to get the bridge. It turned out the bridge he saw ahead wasn't as close as it appeared. He was miles away. And there was no gas at that exit that he was going to walk to. The nearest filling station was a few miles further down the road. They pulled up to the filling station; but they had no gas cans. The two young the men in the car took him to a Wal-Mart still even further on down the road to get a gas can.
The young men brought him back to his car. He offered them some money explaining that he was grateful for the help. When he got back to the car his wife looked up from her book and said, “glad you're back.” She didn't realize how far he'd gone to get gas.
Every person has had this kind of experience. We've all found ourselves way out there. We've all had those moments where we have to step out in faith and take a risk.
God isn't inviting us to stay where we think its safe. He's asking us to follow him. Jesus told his friends to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” God calls you and me to follow in the way of the cross. His call comes at unexpected hours. You have a great moment at hand. For years Our Saviors has visited about building and remodeling. And today you're being asked to commit. Today you are being asked to discover the joy that comes from giving away from what God has already given to you.
I've spoken with people who thought they were ready for everything until the past year. One man told me last week that he'd lost $200,000 in a few days time. I didn't tell him; but I sure wish I that I had had that much to begin with. There's uncertainty and anxiety. And the enemy wants us to be paralyzed in fear. And God wants us to see faith in action. Out on the water of lake Galilee Jesus' friends were riding west in a boat. Matthew wrote,
25A little while before morning, Jesus came walking on the water toward his
disciples. 26When they saw him, they thought he was a ghost. They were terrified
and started screaming.
Fear is real. Doubt is real. The Devil wants fear to be the most real thing we know so that we'll sit paralyzed. The Good News is that Resurrection and are just as real. Jesus' transforming love is real and complete.
27At once, Jesus said to them, "Don't worry! I am Jesus. Don't be afraid."
28Peter replied, "Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you on the water."
29"Come on!" Jesus said. Peter then got out of the boat and started walking on the water toward
Stepping out in faith is risky. Jesus called “Come on [Pete].” Step out of the boat and live with your faith in action.
30But when Peter saw how strong the wind was, he was afraid and started sinking. "Save me, Lord!" he shouted. 31Right away, Jesus reached out his hand. He helped Peter up and said, "You surely don't have much faith. Why do you doubt?"
32When Jesus and Peter got into the boat, the wind died down. 33The men in the boat worshiped Jesus and said, "You really are the Son of God!"
Maybe you think you aren't ready. Or maybe you just have to be ready whether you think its the right time or not. You see today's been set aside by your friends in Christ, your brothers and sisters, to make pledges in support of a building plan. You're being asked to go beyond your regular giving. You being asked to grow by 50% percent a year what you give for the next 3 years. This is not a simple stewardship talk. You are being asked to make something wonderful happen by giving away more than you all ready do. You're being invited tonight to consider with prayer and hope a commitmnet not just to the current ministry of Our Saviors. Your being asked to move forward together being the very best stewards you can.
You're being asked to build an elevator and remove every barrier to people with disabilities who want to worship and celebrate what God is doing with you. You're being asked to be wise and responsible stewards who will upgrade your facility replacing old wiring and plumbing in the kitchen finally bringing it up to code. You're being asked to replace a tired roof and to even dream about growing your facility with a new nursery, new office space, and music space.
This exactly the moment not to talk about money and ministry but to go ahead in faith and act. Maybe you don't think you're prepared today. A church like Our Saviors is relevant today because the people who came before you who committed and put their faith into action. You have an opportunity now to be the very best stewards of your collective gifts. You have the opportunity to go forward together with grace and faith, hope and love.
There's real ministry happening in this congregation that you won't hear about on CNN, NPR, or FOXNews. There is real ministry happening, and much of it goes unnoticed and uncelebrated. Ministry happens when any of you bring Christ's greatest gifts, faith, hope, and love into the world. People who've been caught unprepared need to hear the Good News. Paul said it beautifully in
Philipians 4:5. “The Lord is near.”
Paul's advice isn't pie in the sky. It's an honest word for tonight. Jesus is close enough to hear your prayers. He's near enough to meet you in the Word of God. He's close enough to touch you in worship and to inspire you as you read the Word. Its a very good time to be the church.
The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philipians 4:5-7 NRSV
We are living in an anxious time. Young families with kids are balancing student debt, careers, mortgages, the responsibilities of parenthood, and lust for the things of this world. None of these struggles are new; but as so many have come to a new understanding about the world and money Our Saviors and many other churches have been given a new opportunity for ministry.
Tonight is about the future. Tonight is about a dream and a vision. Your ministries all at some level can grow as you put faith in action. It's time to preach Christ. It's time to be church together.