“Excuses, Excuses, Excuses!” (Luke 14:15-24; Isaiah 66:10-14)

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
July 7, 2019

“Excuses, Excuses, Excuses!” (Luke 14:15-24; Isaiah 66:10-14)

Recently I read this quote from an observer of the American church scene: “15 years ago, 40% of church members attended four times a month. In 2018, only 10% attended four times a month, a 37% drop in worship attendance. So you could have the exact same membership church, and on Sunday mornings it looks like you’ve lost over a third of your members.”

Now a certain amount of this can be attributed to aging. There are people still on membership rosters, but now they are homebound and no longer able to make it to church. And others who were in the pew fifteen years ago who since have graduated to the church triumphant. But at the same time, this big drop in attendance shows that we haven’t replaced those people. In our own congregation, attendance is down compared to what it was when I arrived here 13 years ago. And if you look across our synod–indeed, all across the American landscape–church attendance is down pretty much everywhere. Lots of empty pews, everywhere you look.

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Published in: on July 6, 2019 at 6:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“God’s Green New Deal: From Works of the Flesh to Fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:1, 13-25)

Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 30, 2019

“God’s Green New Deal: From Works of the Flesh to Fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:1, 13-25)

Last week we called our message “God’s Green New Deal: From Slaves to Sons.” We picked up on that phrase, “Green New Deal,” which has been buzzing around in political circles this year. Only God’s Green New Deal won’t cost trillions and trillions of dollars. Actually, it’s much costlier than that, for it cost the precious blood of Christ, God’s own Son, which is of absolutely infinite value. But for you, God’s new deal is absolutely free. A free gift, the new covenant in Christ’s blood.

And that is what has brought us into God’s new covenant, his new deal, so to speak, which changes our status radically. In Christ, we have gone from slaves to sons. We’ve gone from being slaves under the law, imprisoned, held captive under the law, thinking that we could work our way into God’s favor, which we cannot. Oh, we would be condemned to eternal death and hell under that arrangement. But now, in Christ, we have been redeemed from our imprisonment, set free from our slavery. We have been adopted as sons, brought into God’s household and family, because of Christ our brother. We have been joined to Jesus in Holy Baptism, and so now we are God’s sons also. All of us are sons and heirs, in line to receive a most marvelous inheritance: You and I will share in Christ’s resurrection and his eternal life. It doesn’t get any better than that!

So last week we emphasized the “new deal” aspect of God’s green new deal, that this is God’s new covenant, moving us from slaves to sons. Now today we’ll take up the “green” aspect of it, green signaling new life and growth for those in Christ. Being in Christ–this changes who we are. It changes the way we live. God has brought us out of darkness and into the light. Out of the darkness of this old world and into the light of God’s kingdom. Now we can see. Now we can walk in God’s good paths. No longer are we totally dominated by our old sinful nature–the “flesh,” as Paul calls it. Now we have new life in the Spirit, given to us in baptism. We are new people, and God will help us live this way. And so our theme this morning: “God’s Green New Deal: From Works of the Flesh to Fruit of the Spirit.”

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Published in: on June 29, 2019 at 11:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“God’s Green New Deal: From Slaves to Sons” (Galatians 3:23 – 4:7)

Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 23, 2019

“God’s Green New Deal: From Slaves to Sons” (Galatians 3:23 – 4:7)

Earlier this year a certain congressperson from New York proposed what she called a “Green New Deal.” She was picking up on the term “New Deal,” thus indicating a massive expansion of government programs. And she combined it with the word “Green,” because she thought this new deal would help the environment. Well, in one sense, it would have been a green new deal, because it would have taken a lot of green, as in trillions and trillions of tax dollars. Well, her Green New Deal came up for a vote in the Senate, and the Senate said, “No deal!” It got exactly zero votes, none even from her own party.

Today, though, I want to tell you about another “new deal,” only this one is a whole lot better. And it won’t even cost you a cent. It’s already paid for. This new deal is also “green,” in the sense that green stands for new life and abundant growth. And what’s more, it’s a new deal that changes our status, from a very bad situation to a very good one instead. So now let’s hear about “God’s Green New Deal: From Slaves to Sons.”

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Published in: on June 22, 2019 at 11:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Peace of Pentecost” (John 14:23-31)

The Day of Pentecost
Sunday, June 9, 2019

“The Peace of Pentecost” (John 14:23-31)

Jesus tells his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

How can you say that, Jesus? How can you tell your disciples to be at peace? You’ve just told them that you’re going away! And now they’re supposed to be OK with that? They’re just supposed to take it easy? Come on, Jesus, get real!

And how about us? Yeah, we here today. How are we supposed to be at peace? “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Yeah, right. You don’t know what I’m going through. And I’m supposed to have peace in all of this?

Well, yes. That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Even when Jesus tells his disciples that he’s going away, and even in the midst of all our troubles, Jesus promises us the peace we need to sustain us and carry us through. And so this morning, on this day full of grace, we will be blessed to hear how we have “The Peace of Pentecost.”

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Published in: on June 8, 2019 at 5:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Behold, I Am Coming Soon!” (Revelation 22:1-6, 12-20)

Seventh Sunday of Easter
June 2, 2019

“Behold, I Am Coming Soon!” (Revelation 22:1-6, 12-20)

This is now the third in a three-part sermon series on the readings from Revelation 21 and 22. We began two weeks ago when St. John was given a vision of a new heaven and a new earth, and he saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. And a voice from the throne announced: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne declared, “Behold, I Am Making All Things New!” Then last week John described more of what he saw, what the holy city looked like: beautiful and glorious, full of life and light. “Behold, the New Jerusalem!”

Now today, we come to the last chapter in the Bible, Revelation 22. Again we are given a glimpse of life in the new Jerusalem. This vision creates an eagerness in us for when these things will take place! When will we be able to be there, O Lord? When will you come again to bring this all about? How long, O Lord, how long? Today our Lord assures us and says, “Behold, I Am Coming Soon!”

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Published in: on June 1, 2019 at 7:40 pm  Comments (1)  
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“Ascension Joy” (Luke 24:44-53)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 30, 2019

“Ascension Joy” (Luke 24:44-53)

How did you feel about going to church this evening? Were you happy and excited? If you were happy, were you more excited about the service or the ice cream social afterward? C’mon, admit it! No, seriously, did coming to an Ascension service tonight spark joy for you? Or were you instead a little grumpy about having to go to church on a Thursday night? Did you focus on the joy of being able to be in the presence of God, to hear his Word and receive the blessed Sacrament? Or did you complain about one more thing being added to your schedule? You see, you can take the same event, and people can have different reactions to it.

Likewise, when people experience an event that’s similar to one they had just experienced a short time before, those same people can have two entirely different responses. Take, for example, the response of the disciples at the time of the Ascension and compare that to how they responded just a few weeks earlier. At the Ascension, when Jesus “parted from them and was carried up into heaven,” the disciples “worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”

But then contrast that with how they reacted just a few weeks earlier. Go back six weeks to Maundy Thursday. How did the disciples respond then? That was when Jesus told them he was about to leave, that he was going away. At that time, their hearts were filled with grief. They were sad. And then when Jesus was taken from them–in the arrest and trial, in the crucifixion and his death–they were completely downcast and crushed. And frightened, too. “If that’s what happened to Jesus, then what’s going to happen to us, we who are known to have been his followers?” Right after Jesus’ death, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem at that time, too. But there was no worship then, no great joy. They were not at the temple, praising God. No, they had locked themselves behind closed doors, for fear of the Jews.

Two similar situations, just six weeks apart. In both cases, Jesus was leaving them and going away. But these same disciples reacted totally differently. The one time, with fear and sadness. The next time, with great joy and praise. What made the difference? And what will make the difference for us, to move us from our ordinary grumpiness into “Ascension Joy”?

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Published in: on May 30, 2019 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Behold, the New Jerusalem!” (Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27)

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 26, 2019

“Behold, the New Jerusalem!” (Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27)

This Memorial Day weekend is kind of the unofficial start of the summer vacation season. If you’re like me, I always looked forward to summer vacation. Maybe go up north, get away from the heat and the stress, relax by a lake, enjoy life. And it’s nice to know some things about your vacation destination–where you’re going, the place. This gives you something to look forward to: the beauty, the scenery, the pleasant temperatures, enjoyable activities, time to relax and unwind with people you know and love. And even though you’re not there yet, just knowing that you are going and knowing what you have to look forward to–this can put a spring in your step and a smile on your face. It lifts your spirits.

Well, today I want to lift your spirits by lifting your sights. I want to lift your sights to a place where you will be going one day. It’s the new Jerusalem, a place we were introduced to a little bit last week, but today we’ll get to see more of it. St. John will show us around the holy city. We’ll get to see the wall, the gates, the foundations–the layout of the city. We’ll see what’s there–and what’s not there. And even though we’re not there yet, just knowing that we will be there, and to have some idea of what to expect–this will lift our spirits, in the midst of all the tribulation of this world. So let’s take a look now, shall we? “Behold, the New Jerusalem!”

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Published in: on May 25, 2019 at 9:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Behold, I Am Making All Things New!” (Revelation 21:1-7)

Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 19, 2019

“Behold, I Am Making All Things New!” (Revelation 21:1-7)

Today we’re starting a three-part sermon series I’m calling “Behold, the New Jerusalem!” These messages will be based on the readings from Revelation chapters 21 and 22, where St. John is given a vision of our eternal dwelling place, the new Jerusalem. What we will discover over these next couple of weeks is what you and I have to look forward to as the people of God. Brothers and sisters, it will be new and exciting and beyond our wildest imagination!

We begin today with the opening verses of Revelation 21. Here St. John is given a vision of a new heaven and a new earth, and he sees a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. In fact, the Lord God says–and this is our theme this morning for the first message in our series: “Behold, I Am Making All Things New!”

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Published in: on May 18, 2019 at 9:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“My Sheep Hear My Voice” (John 10:22-30)

Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 12, 2019

“My Sheep Hear My Voice” (John 10:22-30)

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus says to us: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” This is our text.

“My Sheep Hear My Voice.” I should certainly hope so! But how closely are we listening? And when we hear the voice of our Shepherd, do we follow where he is leading? Today we will hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us, and by God’s grace we will follow where he leads.

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Published in: on May 11, 2019 at 11:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Jesus Is in the Restoration Business” (John 21:1-19)

Third Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2019

“Jesus Is in the Restoration Business” (John 21:1-19)

So far this Easter season we’ve heard about Jesus appearing to his disciples two times, on Easter Day and then a week later. Today we hear about a third appearance to a group of his disciples. Why does Jesus do this? Why does he manifest himself to his disciples repeatedly during these forty days from his resurrection to his ascension? The most obvious answer is to show that he is indeed alive, risen from the dead, physically, bodily. Christ’s resurrection shows that he who died on the cross now is risen from the dead. These resurrection appearances demonstrate that the sacrifice for sin Jesus made on the cross was sufficient to remove the curse of death. Showing himself to his disciples, with the marks of his wounds in his risen body, makes the connection that the crucifixion was not a defeat but rather a victory. Christ’s death was God’s plan for solving the sin-and-death problem. These resurrection appearances underline the centrality of the death and resurrection of Christ in the good news the apostles are being sent out to preach.

So far, so good. But there’s also another dynamic at work in these resurrection appearances. And that is, in a word, restoration. Jesus has some restoration work to do, and it has to do with these disciples. But why? What had they done that they need restoring? All the disciples, really, needed to be restored. They all had deserted Jesus in his hour of need. They all had fled, fearing for their safety. Then they all failed to believe in Jesus’ promise that he would be raised on the third day. So they all were in need of restoration, forgiveness, absolution. And the good news is, for them and for us: “Jesus Is in the Restoration Business.”

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Published in: on May 4, 2019 at 10:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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