“Jesus and People on the Fringe” (Matthew 15:21-28)

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 17, 2014

“Jesus and People on the Fringe” (Matthew 15:21-28)

People on the fringe. That’s what you might call them. People on the fringe of respectable society. Sometimes beyond the fringe. These are not the good, upstanding people who have their act all together and are living their best life now. No, these are people with problems in their life. People who have gotten off track and maybe now are regretting the bad choices they have made. Perhaps they’re looking for a better way, but they don’t know where to find it. People on the fringe.

And guess what? Jesus specialized in dealing with people on the fringe. He hung around with them. He was not ashamed to get to know them. He was a friend to such people. And he showed them where to find the help they needed.

Now what does this say to the church today? That’s what we’re going to consider this morning, as we look at “Jesus and People on the Fringe.”

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Published in: on August 16, 2014 at 9:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 20. 2014

“The Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

Last week we heard the Parable of the Sower, from Matthew 13. Today it’s the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat, also from Matthew 13. In fact, Matthew 13 is a chapter full of parables, seven of them altogether. Some of these parables are shorter, some are longer. Some are explained by Jesus, some of them are left unexplained. Today’s parable is one of the longer ones, and Jesus does explain it. So now let’s consider this parable and what Jesus is saying to us in it, in “The Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat.”

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Published in: on July 21, 2014 at 12:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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“When Sowing the Seed Seems Useless” (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 13, 2014

“When Sowing the Seed Seems Useless” (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)

It can be very discouraging to be a Christian these days. It seems like our whole culture has turned against the Christian faith. It can be very discouraging to be a member of a congregation these days. It seems like every church all across the country is having to deal with lower attendance and financial difficulties. It can be very discouraging to be a pastor these days. It seems like all your work is falling on deaf ears, and you wonder where the zeal for the gospel is, even among your own members. Yes, it’s very discouraging, and we can feel deflated and defeated. What’s the use anymore? We’re tempted to give up.

That’s why the Gospel reading for today is so timely and so needed. In the Parable of the Sower, from Matthew 13, Jesus gives us a picture of what’s really going on. This parable helps explain why there can be so meager results in response to the ministry of the gospel. But at the same time, this parable also encourages us, in the midst of our discouragement. It encourages us to know that our work will not be in vain. And so this Parable of the Sower is a very fitting word for times like these, “When Sowing the Seed Seems Useless.”

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Published in: on July 12, 2014 at 10:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Rest for the Heavy Laden” (Matthew 11:25-30; Romans 7:14-25a)

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
July 6, 2014

“Rest for the Heavy Laden” (Matthew 11:25-30; Romans 7:14-25a)

In New York Harbor there stands a famous statue, the Statue of Liberty. In her one hand, Lady Liberty is holding a tablet bearing the date July 4, 1776, the day of America’s founding. In her other hand, she is holding aloft a torch, symbolizing liberty enlightening the world. In the harbor, the Statue of Liberty stands right next to Ellis Island, our nation’s largest immigration station for many years. Millions of immigrants made the long sea voyage from Europe in those days and came through Ellis Island, passing the Statue of Liberty as they arrived. They came seeking freedom. They came seeking opportunity. They came seeking better days. And so for those coming over on the boat–like my grandparents did, and I’m guessing some of your parents or grandparents did also–they would see the Statue of Liberty, and it served as a powerful symbol of hope and promise to them. And because it did, there is a plaque at the base of the statue, inscribed with a poem that reads in part:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Hope and promise for those weary travelers, that’s what the Statue of Liberty offered. But today I want to tell you about a greater hope and a greater promise, for all those loaded down with even greater burdens. That hope and that promise are found in the person of Jesus Christ, who says to us today, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Yes, “Rest for the Heavy Laden,” that is Jesus’ promise to you today.

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Published in: on July 5, 2014 at 2:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“St. Peter and St. Paul: Losing Their Lives for Jesus’ Sake” (Matthew 10:38-39)

Third Sunday after Pentecost/ St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles
June 29, 2014

“St. Peter and St. Paul: Losing Their Lives for Jesus’ Sake” (Matthew 10:38-39)

Today is the Third Sunday after Pentecost, but it is also June 29. And June 29 is the day in the church year for observing the Festival of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles. So that is what we are doing today. We just sang the hymn “By All Your Saints in Warfare” with the stanza for St. Peter and St. Paul. We heard lessons from Acts, 2 Timothy, and the Gospel of John that prominently feature Peter and Paul. We used those readings in place of the readings we normally would use on this Sunday.

However, it just so happens that one of the readings for the Third Sunday after Pentecost does tie in very nicely for our commemoration of St. Peter and St. Paul. It’s a couple of verses from Matthew 10, where our Lord Jesus Christ says: “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” That really is the story of our two apostles today, isn’t it? And so our theme this morning: “St. Peter and St. Paul: Losing Their Lives for Jesus’ Sake.”

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Published in: on June 28, 2014 at 11:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Have No Fear of Them” (Matthew 10:5a, 21-33)

Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 22, 2014

“Have No Fear of Them” (Matthew 10:5a, 21-33)

Today is the start of the long green season in the church year. The festival seasons have passed–Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter–those months when we tracked Jesus’ birth, his baptism, his transfiguration, his suffering, death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, and his pouring out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Now today we begin the non-festival half of the church year, with several months ahead of us of more general teaching, much of it dealing with the life of discipleship that we Christians are called to live.

This is not an easy life, this life of following Christ. For one thing, the world will be against us. And so, many of the Gospel readings from Matthew this summer will describe the opposition we will get from an unbelieving world. And that opposition can be brutal, even deadly. But the amazing thing is, even though Jesus knows people will treat us this way–indeed, he tells us they will treat us this way–still, he also tells us, “Have No Fear of Them.”

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Published in: on June 21, 2014 at 11:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Living Room of Peter’s Pentecost Sermon” (Acts 2:14a, 22-36)

The Holy Trinity
Sunday, June 15, 2014

“The Living Room of Peter’s Pentecost Sermon” (Acts 2:14a, 22-36)

Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity. On this day we sing hymns emphasizing the Trinitarian nature of the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. On this day we say that really long creed with the funny name, the Athanasian Creed, which goes into the most detail on the relationship of the three persons in the Trinity. Today we are celebrating, not some dry doctrine with no connection to life, no, rather we are celebrating a living reality–the reality of who God is, as he is, as he has acted to save us and give us life, as he has revealed himself to us in Holy Scripture. Today we are confessing the truth of the Holy Trinity, over against all heretics that have arisen in history, from the Arians of the fourth century to the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses of our day. The living reality of the triune God and the true and saving doctrine concerning the same–that’s what this Holy Trinity festival is all about.

Now there is much about the mystery of the Holy Trinity that is hard for us to understand. How can there be three persons and yet only one God? How can this triune God have always been, uncreated, from eternity? I suppose that if we could fully understand God, we would have to be God!

But while there is much that remains hidden to us mortal creatures, there is also much that has been revealed. God wants us to know him, in a living, vital relationship, and to know what we need to know about him in order to be saved. And that’s where our Scripture readings today come in.

Today I want us to focus on one of the readings, the one from Acts chapter 2. This reading picks up where our reading from last week left off. It’s Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Last week we heard the first part of his sermon, the introduction, what I called the “front porch” of his sermon. Today we continue with the main part of that sermon, what I’ll call “The Living Room of Peter’s Pentecost Sermon.”

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Published in: on June 14, 2014 at 2:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Front Porch of Peter’s Pentecost Sermon” (Acts 2:1-21)

The Day of Pentecost
June 8, 2014

“The Front Porch of Peter’s Pentecost Sermon” (Acts 2:1-21)

The purpose of a front porch is to get people into the house. The front porch may be small, the front porch may be large, but it does its job if it gets people into the building. The front porch is not the place where you want people to stay, but it should provide a good entryway into the house. And ideally, it should match, and be suitable for, the rest of the building.

That’s the way it is with the front porch of a house. That’s the way it is with the front porch of a sermon. The introduction of a sermon is like the front porch of a house. It should provide an entryway to get people into the main part of the sermon itself. The introduction is not where you want people to stay, but it should lead the people in, draw the people in. And ideally, it should match, and be appropriate for, the rest of the sermon.

Well, today we get to hear the first part of Peter’s sermon that he preached on the Day of Pentecost. This is the introduction to his sermon that we find here in Acts chapter 2. It’s not the whole thing; we’ll hear the main part next week. But it does serve as a fitting entry point to get us into what Peter is getting at. And so our theme this morning: “The Front Porch of Peter’s Pentecost Sermon.”

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Published in: on June 7, 2014 at 10:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Glorious Suffering” (1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11)

Seventh Sunday of Easter
June 1, 2014

“Glorious Suffering” (1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11)

Have you ever heard of the term “oxymoron”? An oxymoron is when you have two words placed next to each other in a phrase, but they really don’t belong together. For example, “jumbo shrimp.” “Jumbo” and “shrimp” would seem to be self-contradictory terms. Another oxymoron: “Rap music.” The two ideas don’t go together. Or this one, speaking as someone coming from Chicago: “St. Louis pizza.” Sorry, I couldn’t help it.

Well, a couple of our readings today seem to have an oxymoron going on, two self-contradictory ideas being placed right next to each other. In both the Epistle reading and the Holy Gospel, we find the idea of “glory” paired up with the idea of “suffering.” “Glory” and “suffering”? Those two don’t seem to go together. But in the Christian phrasebook, maybe they do. And so our theme this morning: “Glorious Suffering.”

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Published in: on June 1, 2014 at 2:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“All Things under His Feet” (Ephesians 1:15-23)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 29, 2014

“All Things under His Feet” (Ephesians 1:15-23)

Today is the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, always forty days after Easter, thus always on a Thursday. On Ascension Day we celebrate what Christ’s ascending into heaven means for us as the church. It means many things, certainly, and we could focus on many aspects of this great event: For instance, on how, after his resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the Scriptures, that they are fulfilled in his death and resurrection, and how he told them to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name. Or, to use another example, we could focus on how Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit upon the church, to empower our mission to the world. Or how, upon ascending, Jesus lifted up his hands to bless the church. Or how the angels announced that this same Jesus will come again. And so on. All these are legitimate Ascension Day themes.

But tonight I want to focus on another aspect related to Christ’s ascension. And that is, on what Christ is doing now, now that he has, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, “ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” And to do that, we’ll look at a portion of the Epistle reading for Ascension Day, from Ephesians 1, where St. Paul says that God the Father raised Christ from the dead and “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.”

Ascended into heaven, seated at God’s right hand, with “All Things under His Feet.” That gets at what Christ is doing right now, on behalf of us, his church.

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Published in: on May 29, 2014 at 4:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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