“Full of Good Works, Dearly Missed, in Resurrection Hope” (Acts 9:36-42)

Funeral Service
Friday, February 28, 2014

“Full of Good Works, Dearly Missed, in Resurrection Hope” (Acts 9:36-42)

Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. –Acts 9:36-42 (ESV)

She was a woman whose life was full of good works. She was a woman who, at her death, was dearly missed by all who knew her. And she was a woman who lived and died in resurrection hope.

Who is this woman I’m talking about? Was it the one we heard about in the reading from Acts, that woman named Dorcas? Or is it Elaine that I’m talking about? Answer: Yes. Both Elaine and Dorcas could be described as women “Full of Good Works, Dearly Missed, in Resurrection Hope.”

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Published in: on February 28, 2014 at 6:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“We Are Baptized for This Moment” (Acts 2:14a, 22-47)

The Holy Trinity
Sunday, May 26, 2013

“We Are Baptized for This Moment” (Acts 2:14a, 22-47)

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday, the day in the church year when we most give attention to the great biblical doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the truth that the one true God is the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For example, on this day we confess the Athanasian Creed–like the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene, a trinitarian creed and one we believe, teach, and confess all year round, but we speak the Athanasian Creed aloud on this day, since it goes into the most depth and detail on the doctrine of the Trinity.

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday. But really, every Sunday is a Holy Trinity Sunday, since we are gathered here, as we say at the start of the service, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, for the Christian, every day is a Holy Trinity Day, since each of us has been baptized in the name of the triune God, and we live in our baptism daily.

And that brings us to our message this morning, namely, “We Are Baptized for This Moment.” This is picking up on the theme of our synod’s national convention coming up in July, which is, “Baptized for This Moment.” And in that connection, we will be having a five-part Bible study by that title, starting this Wednesday. I hope many of you can come.

And so, for right now, we consider as our theme today: “We Are Baptized for this Moment.” Briefly now, I want us to focus on these three points: 1) We are baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. 2) We are baptized into a life of repentance and forgiveness. And 3) We are baptized for this moment–for witness, for mercy, and for life together.

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Published in: on May 25, 2013 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Parthians and Medes at Pentecost” (Acts 2:1-21)

The Day of Pentecost
Sunday, May 19, 2013

“Parthians and Medes at Pentecost” (Acts 2:1-21)

One of the ironic things about the readings for the Day of Pentecost is when the lector–that is, the person reading the lessons–when the lector comes to Acts 2, verse 9, and has to read the following list of persons and places: “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians.”

Now that is a mouthful! It is like the tower of Babel come to life: “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” For the lector may not even understand his own speech! All those funny words: “Parthians”; “Mesopotamia”; “Cappadocia”; “Phrygia and Pamphylia”; “Proselytes.” Huh? Instead of speaking in tongues, the lector will be busy untwisting his tongue! And so, “amazed and perplexed,” the person reading the lessons, as well as the people hearing them being read–we all may be saying to ourselves, “What does this mean?”

What does this mean? Why this long laundry list of persons and places? What’s up with all these “Parthians and Medes at Pentecost”? Let’s find out.

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Published in: on May 18, 2013 at 2:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Good Shepherd Cares for His Sheep” (John 10:14-15, 22-30; Acts 20:17-35; Revelation 7:9-17)

Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 21, 2013

“The Good Shepherd Cares for His Sheep” (John 10:14-15, 22-30; Acts 20:17-35; Revelation 7:9-17)

Today is what is usually called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Every year on this Sunday in the Easter season, the theme of all the parts of the service is Jesus as the Good Shepherd of the sheep, his flock, the church. He lays down his life for the sheep and takes it up again–that’s the Easter connection. On Good Shepherd Sunday, the Holy Gospel is always a portion of John 10, in which Jesus identifies himself as that shepherd several times. The other two readings also fit the theme of Christ as shepherd. The Introit and Collect of the Day, likewise. The appointed psalm, of course, is always Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.” And the Hymn of the Day is a musical setting of the 23rd Psalm, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is,” which we just sang. So we always have a very clear theme to work with on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, which is why we call it “Good Shepherd Sunday.”

Take, for example, our readings for today. In the first reading, from Acts 20, the Apostle Paul uses shepherding language when he instructs the elders of Ephesus on their task as pastors: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock,” Paul says. “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock,” and so on. In the reading from Revelation, we see the multitude arrayed in white, and we’re told that “the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water.” And in the Holy Gospel, from John 10, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” So we have shepherd imagery throughout.

Now what does this have to do with us? Well, “we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand,” as Psalm 95 says. We are those sheep for whom the Good Shepherd lays down his life and takes it up again. We are members of Christ’s flock, the church. We are being led to those heavenly springs of water. We hear our shepherd’s voice, and we follow him. All this by God’s grace, of course, since we sheep would be lost forever without our Good Shepherd.

Today I want you to see yourself, to see your identity, as part of Christ’s flock, his church, and to appreciate all the more all that your Good Shepherd does for you. For truly, “The Good Shepherd Cares for His Sheep.”

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Published in: on April 20, 2013 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Words of Life” (John 20:19-31; Acts 5:12-32; Revelation 1:4-18)

Second Sunday of Easter
April 7, 2013

“Words of Life” (John 20:19-31; Acts 5:12-32; Revelation 1:4-18)

To those sitting in prison, facing a death sentence, filled with fear at what awaits them, nothing is more welcome than someone coming with a message of pardon and release. Those words come as words of life in a world of fear and death.

“Words of Life.” That’s what we hear in our readings today–in all three of them: the First Reading, from Acts; the Epistle, from Revelation; and the Holy Gospel, from John. Words of life, to people sitting in prison, overcoming their fear and giving them the faith and the boldness and the final victory that they need. And the good news is, these words of life come not only to the people in our readings, they come also to us, sitting here today.

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Published in: on April 6, 2013 at 4:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Spirit, Breath, Wind: The Lord and Giver of Life” (Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15; Acts 2:1-21)

The Day of Pentecost
Sunday, May 27, 2012

“Spirit, Breath, Wind: The Lord and Giver of Life”
(Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15; Acts 2:1-21)

Today is the Day of Pentecost, a day when we call special attention to the person and work of the Holy Spirit. That is what I would like to do now, using as our theme a phrase we just spoke in the Nicene Creed, where we called the Holy Spirit “The Lord and Giver of Life.”

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Published in: on May 26, 2012 at 8:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“What to Preach and Where to Reach” (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 17, 2012

“What to Preach and Where to Reach” (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

Today is Ascension Day, that glorious day when our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, where he now sits at the right hand of the Father and from where he will come again on the last day. Ascension Day, which occurred forty days after Easter and thus on a Thursday, which is why we always have service on this day of the week at this time of the year. The Ascension of Our Lord is a major festival in the church year, because it marks such a momentous event.

Forty days after Easter. During those forty days, the risen Christ appeared to his disciples a number of times, speaking, as it says, about the kingdom of God. Christ was preparing his apostles for what he would be sending them out to do after he ascended. He had a mission for them to carry out. This is the church’s mission still to this day. And Jesus gives us everything we need to carry out this mission. What Jesus did to prepare and empower the apostles he does now for us. So what we hear Jesus saying in our readings today from Luke and Acts–this applies to our churches in our day. Our Lord’s marching orders, and the power to carry them out, are still the same.

St. Luke is the one who tells us much about this, both in the ending of his gospel and at the beginning of his second book, the Acts of the Apostles. In Luke 24 and in Acts chapter 1, we hear Jesus telling the church two things: “What to Preach and Where to Reach.”

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Published in: on May 17, 2012 at 10:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Acts of Witness, Mercy, Life Together” (Acts 4:32-35)

Second Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2012

“Acts of Witness, Mercy, Life Together” (Acts 4:32-35)

As many of you may know, for the last couple of years our Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has been organizing its work under the banner of “Witness, Mercy, Life Together.” You can see the symbol that is being used for this emphasis on your bulletin insert, encircled by those three terms. But this is more than a slogan in a marketing campaign. No, “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” really describes what the church does, whether on the national and international levels, as our synod operates, or on the local level, as, for instance, here at our own congregation.

“Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: I guess first we should define what we mean by these terms and how they’re being used. “Witness” means the testimony that is given, specifically, telling the good news about Jesus–bearing witness to Christ and the salvation that is found in him. “Mercy” is the term used to cover works of Christian love and service that benefit persons in need in a very practical way. And “Life Together” refers to the church’s common life as brothers and sisters in Christ, our unity as God’s family in the life that we share.

Now turn again to your bulletin insert, to the other side, and you’ll see a symbol for each one of these three terms, along with a corresponding Greek term from the New Testament. For “Witness” you see the Greek word “Martyria,” because “Witness” or “Testimony” is how that word is always translated. Next you see the word “Diakonia,” which is generally translated not as “Mercy” but as “Service.” However, “Diakonia” still is a good word to associate with the church’s works of mercy, since “diaconal” ministry is practical service done for the neighbor in need. Finally, you see the word “Koinonia,” “Fellowship,” the “Common Life,” the “Life Together” that the church shares. “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: “Martyria, Diakonia, Koinonia.” Whichever way you say it, these words describe what we do and how we live as Christ’s church.

But then this is nothing new. In the Book of Acts, we see a church that can be characterized by those very same words. You know, we refer to that particular book of the New Testament as “The Book of Acts” or “The Acts of the Apostles.” But what kind of “Acts” were they? As we look at our text today, I think we will see that these “Acts” are “Acts of Witness, Mercy, Life Together.”

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Published in: on April 15, 2012 at 6:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Witness, Mercy, Life Together: Our Life as Church” (Acts)

Seventh Sunday of Easter
June 5, 2011

“Witness, Mercy, Life Together: Our Life as Church” (Acts)

“Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: This is the threefold emphasis now being used for our national church body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” has also served well as the basis for our sermon series here at St. Matthew’s this Easter season. We have seen these themes emerge in our readings from the Book of Acts, for “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” can be said to characterize the life of the early church. But not only so, these aspects of the early church’s life are true for us as well. And so our series wrap-up today: “Witness, Mercy, Life Together: Our Life as Church.”

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Published in: on June 4, 2011 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Making Known the Unknown God: Paul at the Areopagus” (Acts 17:16-31)

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 29, 2011

“Making Known the Unknown God: Paul at the Areopagus” (Acts 17:16-31)

“Witness” has been a major theme running through the readings from the Book of Acts that we’ve had this Easter season. We’ve heard the church bearing witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world: Peter and the apostles speaking boldly before the Sanhedrin. Peter preaching Law and Gospel on the Day of Pentecost. Stephen bearing witness to Christ and becoming the first martyr of the church in the process. The church giving verbal testimony to the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, calling people to repentance and faith in his name–this is what we see in these readings from Acts.

But all of those examples that I just cited involved the early Christians bearing witness to their fellow Jews. We have not yet seen how the church bore witness when speaking to Gentiles, that is, to non-Jews, pagans. Today, we do. It is the story of Paul preaching in Athens, moving from the Jewish synagogue to the Gentile, pluralistic marketplace of ideas. And so this has great relevance for us today, for this is the world we live in. Thus our theme this morning: “Making Known the Unknown God: Paul at the Areopagus.”

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Published in: on May 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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