“Following Jesus with St. Matthew” (Matthew 9:9-13)

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
Sunday, September 21, 2014

“Following Jesus with St. Matthew” (Matthew 9:9-13)

On the church year calendar, September 21 is the day for commemorating St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. And since this year September 21 falls on a Sunday, today we are celebrating the Festival of St. Matthew.

Who exactly was this St. Matthew, you ask, and why should we remember him? Well, first of all, as to who he is, as I mentioned, we refer to him as St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. Each of those terms, apostle and evangelist, puts Matthew in pretty select company. St. Matthew is an apostle, and there were only twelve of them–Peter, James, John, Andrew, Matthew, and the rest. Twelve apostles, twelve disciples of Jesus, called and chosen by Christ and sent out by him to carry the good news into the world. Besides being one of the twelve apostles, St. Matthew also has the distinction of being one of the four evangelists, that is, the four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So being both an apostle and an evangelist makes Matthew a very significant person in the history of the church.

But we don’t honor St. Matthew simply for his own sake. No, and Matthew wouldn’t have it that way, either. Indeed, as an apostle and an evangelist, Matthew would not point people to himself. Rather, he would point us to his Master, his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And that, really, is why we are remembering St. Matthew today: for how he helps us to follow Christ. And so our theme this morning: “Following Jesus with St. Matthew.”

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Published in: on September 21, 2014 at 4:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“But We Preach Christ Crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

Holy Cross Day
Sunday, September 14, 2014

“But We Preach Christ Crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

You’ll notice that the color of our paraments today is red–in other words, something different from the ordinary green that we use in the non-festival half of the church year. This means that we’re observing a special festival today, one that happens to fall on a Sunday this year. And this festival is called Holy Cross Day. What is Holy Cross Day, you ask? Well, let me tell you the background of this observance.

Back in the early 300s, the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian. Then in the year 326, his mother, Helena, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and there she discovered what was believed to be the true cross of Christ. So they began to build a church on the site of that discovery, and, nine years later, it was dedicated–the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem. It’s still there, by the way; I’ve been there. So it came to be that on September 14, in the year 335, the holy cross itself was brought outside the church for the people to see. At least that’s how the story goes. And that seems to be the origin of Holy Cross Day. And this festival continues to be observed on this date among churches all around the world.

Now whether or not St. Helena discovered the actual cross of Christ is really beside the point. The main point of this festival, as it is observed among us now, is to emphasize the central importance of the cross of Jesus Christ for our salvation and in our preaching and teaching. That’s what we are doing here today on this Holy Cross Day. And so our theme this morning: “But We Preach Christ Crucified.”

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Published in: on September 13, 2014 at 11:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Love Is the Fulfilling of the Law” (Romans 13:1-10)

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 7, 2014

“Love Is the Fulfilling of the Law” (Romans 13:1-10)

Do you want to know what you should be doing this week? I can tell you with sure confidence what God’s will is for you this week. It’s pretty simple, actually. I can sum it up in one word: Love. That’s right. Love. In terms of how you deal with the people you encounter this week, that’s about the size of it: Love them. How can I be so sure of this? Because God’s Word tells me this is so, that this is God’s will for each one of us. It’s no mystery. It’s quite clear.

We heard it in the Epistle reading for today, from Romans 13, where St. Paul writes: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” And so our theme this morning: “Love Is the Fulfilling of the Law.”

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Published in: on September 7, 2014 at 1:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Peter Gets the ‘Who’ But Not the ‘How’” (Matthew 16:21-28)

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 31, 2014

“Peter Gets the ‘Who’ But Not the ‘How’” (Matthew 16:21-28)

Last week’s Gospel was Matthew 16:13-20. Today’s Gospel is the verses that follow, Matthew 16:21-28. Last week we heard Peter say something that brought a hearty commendation from Jesus, who told Peter that he was the rock on which he would build his church. This week Peter says something that brings a harsh rebuke from Jesus, with Jesus basically calling Peter “Satan” and telling him to get behind him. So in just a few verses, Peter goes from commendation to rebuke, from being called a rock to being called Satan. What gives? What’s going on here? Well, what we’ll discover this morning is this: It has to do with what Peter thinks about Jesus as the Messiah. In short: “Peter Gets the ‘Who’ But Not the ‘How.’”

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Published in: on August 31, 2014 at 7:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Jesus and the Church: Inseparable” (Matthew 16:13-20)

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 24, 2014

“Jesus and the Church: Inseparable” (Matthew 16:13-20)

“I love your Christ, but I dislike your Christianity.” That is a quote that has been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, the leading figure from India of the 20th century. Sometimes it’s quoted as “I like your Jesus. I don’t like your Christians.” Or something like that. Whether Gandhi actually said this or not, the point is the same: Some people want to have Jesus–or at least the Jesus of their imagination–they want to have Jesus, but without the church. They try to pit the two against each other, Jesus and the church.

Now Gandhi himself was not a Christian. But there are even people who consider themselves Christians who would say pretty much the same thing. They claim they can be Christians without any association with the church. They like to call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” “Oh, I believe in God,” they say, “but I don’t believe in organized religion.” Or, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” Again, they’re trying to pit Jesus against the church.

Well, I wonder what Jesus would think of statements like that. No, on second thought, I don’t wonder. I know what Jesus thinks of statements like that. I know, because Jesus himself has told us. And he’ll tell us now, under the theme, “Jesus and the Church: Inseparable.”

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Published in: on August 24, 2014 at 12:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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“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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