“Giving Thanks in–and for–2020” (Philippians 4:6-20)

Day of National Thanksgiving
Thursday, November 26, 2020

“Giving Thanks in–and for–2020” (Philippians 4:6-20)

We have come together today to celebrate America’s Day of National Thanksgiving. This is the time every year when we gather in our churches to give thanks to God for his blessings on our country. However, this year is 2020. And if you listen to most folks, you would think there is nothing to be thankful for this year. But is that really the case? Today I want to tell you that it is possible to have a happy Thanksgiving this year, under the theme, “Giving Thanks in–and for–2020.”

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Published in: on November 25, 2020 at 4:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The End Is Coming” (1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Matthew 25:31-46)

Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 22, 2020

“The End Is Coming” (1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Matthew 25:31-46)

The end is coming. The end of the church year, I mean. In fact, today is the Last Sunday of the Church Year. Next week we’ll begin a brand-new church year with the First Sunday in Advent. But the thing is, the church year mirrors the life of Christ and the course of history. That’s why, in these darkening days of November, our readings and hymns deal with the last things, the end times, and the return of Christ on the Last Day. Think of the hymns we’ve been singing this month: “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying”; “The Day Is Surely Drawing Near”: or the one we just sang, “The Clouds of Judgment Gather.” The point is, the end of the church year serves to focus our attention on the very biblical teaching that “The End Is Coming.”

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Published in: on November 21, 2020 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Living as Children of the Day” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30; Zephaniah 1:7-16)

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
November 15, 2020

“Living as Children of the Day” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30; Zephaniah 1:7-16)

“Christ has brought us out of darkness, made us children of the day.” The hymn we just sang was written to go with the three Scripture readings assigned for this day. Each stanza corresponds to one of the readings. The point of the lessons and of the hymn is this: The day of the Lord–that is, the return of Christ–the day of the Lord is drawing near, a day of both judgment and salvation. For us it will be a day of joy, because of what Christ has done for us. And our waiting for that day will not be a slothful, dreary time of inactivity. No, it will be an active waiting, using the talents God has given us, faithfully serving our Master. And we have a hope to sustain us as we look forward to that day. And so our theme this morning: “Living as Children of the Day.”

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Published in: on November 14, 2020 at 12:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Parable of the Ten Virgins” (Matthew 25:1-13)

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
November 8, 2020

“The Parable of the Ten Virgins” (Matthew 25:1-13)

Today we are entering the last three Sundays of the church year. And, appropriately enough, the readings these weeks all have to do with the end times and the second coming of Christ. You see, the church year mirrors the life of our Lord, culminating in his return on the Last Day. And so the last things of this age are emphasized in the last days of the church’s calendar. But while we know exactly when the church year will end, we do not know when our Lord Jesus Christ will return. “You know neither the day nor the hour,” Jesus says. Thus the need for the church, for us, to be ready for his coming. He may return tonight or tomorrow or next year or a hundred years from now. We don’t know when. But we do know that–that he is coming back to take his church home to himself. So we want to be ready whenever he comes. And that’s what our Gospel reading today is about: being ready, whenever Jesus comes again. Jesus urges this upon us, this need for readiness, in the story that he tells us today, “The Parable of the Ten Virgins.”

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Published in: on November 6, 2020 at 9:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“For All the Saints, With All the Saints” (Revelation 7:9-17)

All Saints’ Day
Sunday, November 1, 2020

“For All the Saints, With All the Saints” (Revelation 7:9-17)

Yesterday, October 31, was Reformation Day, when we remember how Martin Luther had to break with the Roman Catholic Church. Luther made it clear that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone and not in the slightest measure by our works. This teaching of justification is the central teaching of the Christian faith. It is the article by which the church stands or falls. And the Lutheran Church is still waiting for the Catholic Church to correct her errors, but she has yet to do so. So we Lutherans are certainly not about to go “home to Rome.”

Well, then, what do we do with a day like today? Because today, November 1, is All Saints’ Day. Today many churches around the world–including Catholic churches and Lutheran churches–are observing this ancient festival. Now what in the world is All Saints’ Day doing on the Lutheran church calendar? I thought “saints” were strictly for Catholics. What do we do with the saints? What we do with them is to thank God for them. What we do with them is to praise God with them. That’s what we do with the saints. And that’s what we’ll explore now this morning, under the theme, “For All the Saints, With All the Saints.”

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Published in: on November 1, 2020 at 12:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Inculcating the Reformation through Catechesis” (Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36)

“Inculcating the Reformation through Catechesis” (Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36)

First, let me tell you my title for this message. It’s “Inculcating the Reformation through Catechesis.” Now the next thing I want to tell you is this: Don’t let that title scare you off! Don’t worry, I’ll explain each of those terms: “Inculcating the Reformation through Catechesis.” So here we go.

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Published in: on October 24, 2020 at 9:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Jesus Answers a Gotcha Question” (Matthew 22:15-22)

“Jesus Answers a Gotcha Question” (Matthew 22:15-22)

If you’ve been following the news lately, and you watched the presidential debate, the vice-presidential debate, the Judiciary Committee hearings, or the dueling town halls, you heard a lot of “gotcha” questions. I’m guessing most of you have heard that term before, a “gotcha” question. But in case you haven’t, let me explain. A “gotcha” question is one in which the questioner asks someone a question designed to trap or embarrass the person being questioned. It’s designed to cast that person in a negative light, no matter how he might answer the question. The classic example of a gotcha question is this: “Have you stopped beating your wife? A yes or no answer, please.” You see, no matter how the guy answers, it sounds bad. If he says yes, it sounds like he was beating her before. If he says no, it sounds like he still is.

So you heard a bunch of gotcha questions over the past few weeks. The questions were constructed in such a way as to make the person look bad, no matter how he or she answered. “When will you denounce white supremacy?” As though he hasn’t already. “Why haven’t you denounced Q-Anon?” As though he even knows what Q-Anon is. “Judge, have you ever sexually assaulted anyone?” As though she might be likely to have done that. These are examples of gotcha questions. They’re designed to get the person in trouble, any way they answer.

But then this is nothing new. People have been asking people they don’t like gotcha questions for many centuries. We see it in the Gospel reading for today from Matthew 22. There the enemies of Jesus, the Pharisees and the Herodians, try to come up with a question that will get Jesus in trouble, no matter how he answers. But today we’ll see how he turns the tables on them, when “Jesus Answers a Gotcha Question.”

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Published in: on October 17, 2020 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Rejoice in the Lord Always–Even in 2020!” (Philippians 4:4-13)

“Rejoice in the Lord Always–Even in 2020!” (Philippians 4:4-13)

As you’ve probably noticed, many people have been saying that this year, 2020, is the worst year they can remember. Maybe you’ve said so yourself. I mean, think of it. The year 2020 has seen one disaster after another: The Coronavirus pandemic got everyone’s attention back in March. Then came the shutdown all across the country. The economy went south in a hurry. The whole thing stunk: People lost their lives. People lost their jobs. People lost their businesses. That was March and April. And then: “Who had murder hornets for May?” And starting at the end of May, riots broke out in many cities, burning and looting and mayhem. One thing on top of another. People were wondering what else would go wrong. What else? Hurricanes in the east. Wildfires in the west. We’re still dealing with Covid. Lots of places are still shut down. There are still more riots. And now we’re just a few weeks away from the election, and everybody’s uptight about that. It’s been reported that, whereas one year ago, 8% of Americans had symptoms of depression, now that number is up to 28%. All in all, then, 2020 has not been the most joyful year.

But now here today, St. Paul comes along and tells us: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Always? Are you kidding, Paul? Don’t you realize, Paul, this is 2020? How can anybody rejoice during this year, of all years? Easy for you to say. You lived all those years ago, all those centuries ago. You didn’t have to put up with all that we’ve had to put up with here in 2020.

Oh really? Well, actually, Paul and the folks back then did have to put up with quite a lot. They suffered a lot. Christians back in the first century encountered persecution from all sides. The Jews didn’t like them. And the Greeks and Romans didn’t, either. The persecution came in various forms: Physical violence; Christians were beaten or killed. They were economically marginalized. They were socially ostracized. So it wasn’t easy for them. Yet Paul tells the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And the message is still the same for us today: “Rejoice in the Lord Always–Even in 2020!”

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Published in: on October 10, 2020 at 4:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“From Rubbish to Righteousness to Resurrection” (Philippians 3:4b-14)

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 4, 2020

“From Rubbish to Righteousness to Resurrection” (Philippians 3:4b-14)

I’m sure many of you have heard of a “rags-to-riches story.” A rags-to-riches story is one in which the hero starts out poor and penniless, but then, through hard work and perseverance, overcomes all odds and hardships to become a great success. That’s a rags-to-riches story, and we all love to hear one.

Well, today in our reading from Philippians 3, we hear a different kind of story. It’s the story Paul tells about his own life. Only in this case, Paul himself is not the hero. And it’s not a matter of rags to riches. Rather, it’s a story of going from rubbish to righteousness. And then Paul takes it even to a third step: “From Rubbish to Righteousness to Resurrection.” So listen now, brothers and sisters, as Paul tells us his story, because–guess what–it’s your story too!

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Published in: on October 3, 2020 at 9:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Work Out Your Own Salvation?” (Philippians 2:1-18)

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 27, 2020

“Work Out Your Own Salvation?” (Philippians 2:1-18)

Last Sunday we began a series of four straight weeks with readings from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Last week our theme from chapter 1 was “For Your Progress and Joy in the Faith.” Paul said that he was writing to the Philippians to help them make progress and find joy in the Christian faith. This week, we move into chapter 2, where Paul continues along those same lines. And we’ll begin our message today by looking at the part of our text where Paul tells the Philippians: “Work out your own salvation.”

“Work Out Your Own Salvation?” Huh? Did I hear that right? What’s going on, Paul, have you lost your mind? How can you say, “Work out your own salvation”? I mean, after all, you’re the same Paul who told us in Romans, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” And in Galatians you told us, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.” Likewise in Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works.” But now here in Philippians, Paul, you’re telling us, “Work out your own salvation”? This does not compute.

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Published in: on September 26, 2020 at 9:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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