Tale as old as time

26168685_384909625292954_3414628934557062156_nWedding message for Kim and Daniel, January 12, 2018. Kim is a huge fan of Beauty and the Beast, hence the references to “tale as old as time.” 

Kim and Daniel, in some ways, it’s hard to believe we are actually here today, to witness you taking your vows and becoming husband and wife. I looked at my calendar and we met for our first premarital counseling session in February of last year. And I know that we had this day booked for your wedding several months before that.

But I guess it’s a good thing you had a lot of time to get ready. Kim, you told me last week that your to do list was still pretty long, even after a whole year to get things done! I’ll bet you were still checking things off your list this morning!

But today, I want to talk about someone who’s been getting for this day even longer than you have. The ultimate “tale as old as time” is the one we find in Genesis chapter 2: “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The idea of marriage is a part of God’s creation of this world. It was his plan from the very beginning. And today, you get to be a part of his plan, too.

I want to talk about that plan for a few moments today. First of all, God said, “It’s not good to be alone.” He created us to be in relationships. From birth we have a relationship with our parents. As families grow, brothers and sisters have relationships. And then the day comes when you leave your families to create a new family. And as your family grows, you will have a relationship with your children and grandchildren and even beyond. Never forget God’s gift of relationships in your life.

Second, you become one flesh. In marriage, God brings two together to become one. Everything you do affects the other. You share joys and sorrows, meals and a home, friends and family, and intimate moments together. Your language will change. Instead of “me” and “you,” you’ll say “we” and “us.” That’s exactly what God had in mind.

The third one is something we heard in the second reading today, from a letter written by a man named Paul. As he talked about husbands and wives, he called that relationship a model of just how much Christ loves his church. That love is even older than the creation of the world. Paul began that letter by writing that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that is, before creation itself (Eph. 1:4).

So you and I were on God’s to-do list from eternity. He always had us in mind. He knew that we would need someone like Jesus, and he was willing to give us his son. He was even willing to let his son die for us. That’s how much he loved you and me, the ultimate “tale as old as time.”

The animated Disney movie came out in 1991. Ha ha!  – tale as old as you! The original French story was published in 1740, a tale older than our nation. But the real “tale as old as time” is that of God’s love for us, his plans for us, and the future he has prepared for us. It’s so great to know that you’ve always been and always will be on God’s to-do list!

Pigeons!

My children’s sermon this morning came from the gospel, the account of Joseph and Mary coming to the temple with Jesus for their purification, where they met Simeon and Anna. Hmm. What would the kids connect with? I know – pigeons! The ancient law of Moses prescribed bringing two turtledoves or pigeons as an offering. I’ll just get a couple of pigeons. OK, not real ones, but a couple of cool stuffed ones.

SOTC - 2247 Childrens Sermon 12 31 17_preview

I was blessed to have my granddaughter Eden present in worship today to see the pigeons!

It was a hit. I know, because they wanted to take them home. Thank goodness we don’t have to bring pigeons anymore. Joseph and Mary brought a better sacrifice, the sacrifice, the Savior to the temple that day.

I had the pigeons out on the pulpit for the service. They’ll nest in my office until the next time I need them, a powerful reminder of God’s grace!

“To what has God called you?”

Transcription of Sunday, October 22, 2017 sermon based on 1 Peter 2:9-10. 

Oct 22 cover picI know that some of you have had the opportunity to take a river cruise in Europe. You’ve ridden on some beautiful boats and sailed down some magnificent rivers. You’ve seen the scenery, cities, cathedrals, and castles. What a great trip!

Others of you had the opportunity to travel to Germany and you’ve toured the places where Martin Luther lived and worked. I know there are a few people in our congregation who have gone to see the passion play in Oberammergau, put one once every ten years.

That’s why there is a buzz in the congregation today. You are really excited because you heard we were going to talk about Luther’s doctrine of vacation! Actually we are talking about Luther’s doctrine of vocation, one of the most important teachings that comes out of the time of the Reformation.

What is your vocation?

When I ask that question you translate it in your mind to, “What do you do for a living?” “What’s your job, profession, or career?” We expand the definition of vocation to include those who are full time parents, students and your side hustle which earns you a little extra money.

That question becomes a little harder to answer once you’ve retired from the workforce. It’s more challenging to answer once you no longer have a job or a profession or a career. Our identities are so tied up in what we do, that we easily lose our identity when we clean out our desk and hand over the keys. Now we don’t have to get up and go to work every day.

What is your vocation?

When the Bible speaks of this, it includes more than just your profession. It’s more than just being a carpenter, fisherman, farmer, shepherd, soldier, government official, or a grower of olive trees. When the Bible speaks of what you vocation is, it refers to your station in life at this time and in this place. This would include more than what you do to earn money. It has to do with relationships, like being a parent or grandparent. Or being a spouse. Part of the community. A citizen of your country.

When we speak about pastors and teachers and those in full time church work, we say they haven’t been “hired,” but “called.” Each one of you has also been called. God has “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Now you are God’s people.

To what has God called you?

Martin Luther wrote about this in reaction to monastic life in the early 16th century. Monastic life is what you take on when you take vows to be monks or nuns. You renounce worldly possessions, promise to remain celibate, spend your time fasting, praying, worshiping and working in your monasteries or cloisters, isolated from the rest of the world. This system developed to the point where people would look up to those who make these vows. They looked up to those who took on that lifestyle and considered them as those who merited God’s favor. It developed into a caste system within the church. Those who had taken these vows merited God’s favor more than other occupations. They were special; everyone else was common or lay people. They were so special they merit favor for ordinary people, too.

The thing is, as good as that sounds, there’s nothing in God’s Word commanding people to take these vows and live that way. There is nothing in God’s Word promising special blessings for those who do those things. These are man-made traditions that developed into very good works for God.

On the other hand God’s Word is filled with descriptions of what God had in mind for his people from the beginning of creation. God instituted things like marriage and family and government and jobs for his people. God’s Word is filled with promised blessing for husbands and wives, parents and children, and for government and citizens.

The whole idea of vocation isn’t a special niche of religious life. It’s not what you do for a living. It’s more about who you are at this point in time. This is not a coincidence or your choice. It’s what God has called you to.

God’s Word makes it very clear that there is nothing to merit his favor. Absolutely nothing. there is nothing you can do to make God happy with you, and there’s nothing you can do that will make God hate you. God’s Word says that clearly in Romans 3: “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” Being right in God’s sight is about the law. It comes through faith in Jesus Christ. We attain the righteousness of God through our faith. By his perfect life on this and his innocent suffering and death and his powerful resurrection from the dead, Jesus did everything necessary to merit God’s favor for you. He did everything required. He paid for every single sin. You have that relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Nothing else needs to be done. Nothing else can be done.

To illustrate this Luther used the story of the Christmas shepherds. There’s a story we all know. We all know that when Jesus was born n Bethlehem there were shepherds in the fields at night watching over their flocks. They were the first ones to hear the announcement that a Savior had been born. They were the first ones to go and see the Christ who was just a baby. And then they returned. Where? To their flocks. To their jobs. To their responsibilities. With joy in their hearts and a message on their lips, into the role to which God called them.

We do the same thing. We have heard that our Savior has come. We know that Jesus Christ was born, lived, and rose again. We come hear his voice and to see him. He comes to us in his word and in the sacrament, his body broken for us and his blood poured out for us at the altar. We gather together and we witness God’s grace and then we go. Where? We go back to where we came from. We go back to our lives, to our families, to our homes, our community, to our jobs. We go back and we live as citizens, employers, workers, students. We go right back where God has called us with joy in our hearts a message of good news on our lips.

This would be a really good time to clear up a misconception in the church. I know this is still out there. There is a feeling among Christians that pastors do merit God’s favor more than the ordinary person in the pew. We get a little better seat at the heavenly banquet. God likes us a little bit more. We have greater rewards waiting for us because of the work we do as pastors of churches.

I assure you this is not true. Every single called and ordained servant of the Word is a sinner who has no hope apart from God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

In fact, I would contend — and you can disagree with me if you want — that your vocation is more significant than mine. Let me ask you some questions. Do you believe we need Christians in the schools teaching our children? Do you believe we need Christians in government, making, enforcing and interpreting laws? Do you believe we need good Christian doctors operating on us in the hospital and taking care of us when we are recovering? Do we believe we need Christians in the military protecting our freedoms and in the local police department taking care of our communities? Do we need good Christians building houses, remodeling homes? Do we need Christians preparing and serving food and brewing coffee? Do we need Christians in every walk of life? Absolutely.

I’m not doing those things. You are! When God said let there be light, he meant his light would shine into every dark corner of this world. I’m not the one who’s out there. You are.

I’m going to end this morning with some song lyrics. it’s from Matthew West’s song “I sent you.”

 

I woke up this morning Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”

Solus Christus: Christ alone

Transcription of Sunday, October 8, 2017 sermon. 
Oct 8 cover pic

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Those words are as controversial now as they were when were first spoken. But when were those words first spoken?

Let’s go back and look at the whole story that begins in Acts 3 when Peter and John are going up to the temple at the hour of prayer. They come across a man who can’t walk. He’s got something wrong with his legs since his birth. He’s sitting there at the gates of the temple begging. Every day his friends bring him to the temple and they sit him there so he can beg for money. Peter and John approach the temple and see the man. He sees them. They know exactly what he wants. Peter says, “We don’t have any money, but we will give you what we have. I tell you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” He grabs him by the hand and immediately the man’s legs and ankles are strengthened, he’s up on his feet for the first time in his life. He walks into the temple praising God and worshiping him.

Everybody sees this man walking and they know him because he’s always been sitting outside the temple. A crowd gathers. They are just amazed. Peter stands up and says to them, “Don’t be amazed. Remember that Jesus you denied and asked to be killed? God brought him back to life. He is alive. He is active among us. That is why this man is walking.” Everyone is astounded at their message.

Everybody except the religious leaders. The religious leaders are annoyed at what they have to say. They are going around telling everybody that they killed Jesus, and now Jesus is alive again. They bring the apostles in and ask, “So how did you do this?”

Peter says, “We didn’t do anything. Remember that Jesus that you killed? God brought him back to life. He’s alive and active and among us. That’s why this happened here today. Nobody else could do this. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Nobody else can step into this world and do these things except our Lord alone.

What are the religious leaders going to do? They can’t deny that something happened. The healed guy is standing right there. They tell the disciples, “Alright, just keep this to yourselves. Don’t go walking around telling everybody what we did or that Jesus is alive.”

Of course, they didn’t. It just emboldens them to do even more.

We live in a world where many would like us to keep that message to ourselves as well. That whole idea of solus Christus or Christ alone doesn’t resonate very well in this world. Even in our country, we live in a nation where there is religious freedom, which demands tolerance of different religious thought and defends individual beliefs. The prevailing thought is, “You can do whatever you want, you can say whatever you want, you can believe whatever you want, just keep it within the walls of your church.” Don’t bring it out onto the streets.

The problem with that is that message of Christ alone doesn’t resonate well inside the church either. As soon as we say that, that we are saved through faith in Christ alone, we exclude people we know. It excludes people in our families who don’t believe. It excludes friends or people we work with who have other ways of believing or believe in different gods or have different systems of faith. It leaves out people who may never have heard of Jesus. What you’ll find is that inside the church when we talk about Christ alone we use our “inside” voices.

This is hard to do because throughout the pages of scripture the theme of Christ alone echoes from cover to cover.

The Lord says, “Besides me there is no other god, a righteous God and a Savior.  There is none beside me” (Isaiah 45:21).

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation” (Psalm 62:2).

“There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:9).

When Jesus has just lost a number in his congregation because his teachings are too hard to swallow, he turns to his disciples and says, “Are you going to leave too?” Peter says, “Where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6).

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Even though there is a negative side to that, when the Bible speaks of Christ alone, it is a positive message. It is a message that is good news for God’s people. There is somebody who can give life. There is somebody who is a ransom. There is somebody who has come to rescue us. The negative is not the main part of the message. The main part is that there is one who loves you and cares for you and is your Savior.

Let’s look at how Jesus alone, how Christ alone is a positive message. First of all, Christ alone is our ransom. Paul talked about that when writing to Timothy. After he says, “There is one mediator between God and men the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”

You know what a ransom is. A ransom is what you pay to a kidnapper to make them release the person they have taken prisoner. A ransom is what you pay because a virus locked up the data on your computer and you need to get that data back. Jesus is the ransom that pays for our freedom.

Freedom from what? I would contend that we are held captive by any number of things. For instance, fear. We are held captive by so many fears. We are afraid of where the next shootings will be. We are afraid of where the next disaster will hit. We are afraid of the possibility of war. We are afraid of where the next cancer will be. Or when the next heart attack will be. Or will the next death will occur. There are so many things we’re afraid of that it limits us and we don’t want to do things and we just want to stay in our homes and be safe with our families.

We are held captive by deep mistrust of so many. We don’t trust the government. We don’t trust the police. We don’t trust pastors. We don’t trust our neighbors. We don’t trust the teachers in our schools or the coaches of our athletic teams. We don’t trust anybody. So we keep to ourselves and we don’t believe what they say and that keeps us shut up in a small place.

We are held captive, we’ve been kidnapped by despair in our lives. There’s nothing we can do to fix things. Things are not going to get better. We aren’t in control. We don’t know what to do. So we turn off the TV and close the books and we try to pretend its not there.

But there is somebody whose perfect love casts our our fear. Jesus, who’s perfect love is seen on the cross. That’s what love is, that he would give his life for us.

There is somebody you can trust. Jesus is the faithful one. When he says, “I am going to die and come back to life again,” he does it. He keeps his word. He is somebody we can trust.

Jesus doesn’t let us sit there in despair. He gives us hope. There is a resurrection. There is much more to this life than what we see going on around us. God has so much more in store for you. Despair gives way to hope because of that one, Jesus Christ, who ransoms us with his own life to buy us that freedom to live and have hope and to trust and to enjoy the blessings God has given us.

Number two, Jesus has words of life. Sometimes he’s the only one who speaks of life. All we seem to hear about is death. All we see on the news is the latest shooting, or the latest explosion, or the latest disaster that has taken countless lives. Sometimes all we can think about is those who have died and left us behind. Sometimes we get to the point where we’re thinking about our own lives and what that is going to be like.

But Jesus is the one who doesn’t come to us to speak about death but life. He says, “There is somebody in this world who want to kill, steal, and destroy you. But I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. If you believe in me you’re going to live even if you die and if you live and believe in me, it’s as if you’re never going to die at all.” Jesus comes with words of life from the one who can give life to the dead. He comes back to life after his awful death on the cross to show us that his words are words of life.

Jesus is the one who comes to rescue us. Nobody else comes to rescue us. People teach us the way to find enlightenment. Or the way to see things in a positive way. People come and give us tasks to complete so that our lives will be happier or we will be more successful. People come and they remind us that it’s up to us to make the right choices and do the right things. There’s only one who steps into this world, to get a hold of our lives and says, “Let’s get you out of here. Stick with me and you’ll discover what this life is really all about.” Jesus is the only one who does that, who steps in and take us by the hand and brings us back to life.

Jesus is the only one. And that’s what solus Christus, Christ alone, is all about.

That message of Christ alone is the good news. Yes, there is a negative connotation to that. Whoever does not believe in him is condemned. But that’s not the main message. The main message is that we have a Savior and his name is Jesus. He has died for us and he is alive and active in this world.

The whole idea of Christ alone reminds the church that when we go out into the world, that’s what we bring: Christ alone. We don’t just food for people who are hungry. We don’t just bring clothes for people who need something to wear. We don’t just bring justice for those oppressed or find a place to live for those who have no homes. We bring Christ. We bring Jesus. As his hands and feet and voices we are the body of Christ and that’s what we bring.

That’s all we can bring. We don’t have the power, we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the knowhow, but we have Christ. We bring him in a very real way with our words and testimony, with our mercy and love, with our presence and our support.

There’s the real power of Christ alone.

Sola gratia: Grace alone

Transcription of Sunday, October 1, 2017 sermon. 

drowning

About a year and a half ago I took an evangelism class. Every once in a while I’ll take a class like that to learn a little bit more about having conversations with people and finding opportunities to talk about faith. In these classes they teach you a lot about listening to other people to find out what they believe, where they got their beliefs from, what their spiritual background is. Since a lot of people you’re talking with may not have a lot of church background – they may have no Christian background at all — it’s good to have some illustrations to help them understand what Jesus and salvation are all about.

One of the stories they offered went something like this. You’re like a person who’s out in the middle of the ocean who’s floundering, drowning and going down for the third time. We would certainly perish unless someone comes along and throws us a life preserver. All we have to do is grab on to it and we’ll be saved.

The analogy is pretty clear for us who are Christian and have church background. We are floundering in sin and we’re going to perish, but Jesus come and all we have to do is hang on to him and we’ll be saved. It’s a pretty good analogy and illustration to use. I offered to the class that I liked to talk about that in a slightly different way. Since the bible says that we’re dead in our sin and transgression, it’s more like I’m lying on the bottom of the pool. I’m gone. I don’t need a life preserver. I need a lifeguard. I need somebody who’s going to dive in the pool, swim down to the bottom, get a hold of me, get me out of the water onto the side of the pool, start doing compressions and breathe some life into me. Otherwise I’m gone. we can see that analogy, too. Dead in our sin and transgression, we can’t reach out to hold on to anything of God. We need somebody like Jesus who dives into this world, into this mess that sin has made and we have made of this world, and comes to seek and save those who are lost. He comes to seek and save us who are lost.

The message we proclaim is all that Christ has done for us. We proclaim the grace of God, a tremendous gift. The apostle Paul writes, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Everything  about us being saved is what Christ has done for us. We add nothing to that. You do bring something to the table. You have a part in it. You bring sin. That’s what you bring. You bring the thoughts that aren’t nice. You bring the words that cut people deeply. You bring the actions, the disobedience, the failures. That’s what we bring. Everything else about salvation Christ brings. Sola gratia. Grace alone.

If you really want to offend people. I’m not saying you like to offend people, but I know you. I know you like to stir the pot a little bit. I know you like to see if you can get a reaction from people. If you really want to see the hair go up on the back of someone’s neck, just start talking about grace alone. You don’t have to take a knee to get people going. Just start talking about God’s grace love saving us. You will get a reaction from people.

it won’t be agreement. It won’t be a positive reaction. If you’re talking to some who have been a part of the church, they’ll get all over you if you start getting all Lutheran with them. They’ve got their stories about how they got saved and how they asked Jesus into their lives. The whole notion of grace alone just doesn’t add up.

It is true that “to all who would receive him, who believed in his name, our Lord gave the right to become children of God” *(John 1:12). But it is also true that you cannot reach for, you cannot take hold of, you cannot grasp anything God has for you unless he has first taken a hold of you.

It is also very true that we have some issues. We’ve got some big problems to deal with. “The heart — your heart and my heart — is deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our hearts do not have the desire for good things, for God at all. Paul says that our hearts are hostile to God.

You know the words from Romans 3:11, “No one understands, no one seeks God.” We don’t go out looking for him. No one goes out looking for him. That’s what sin has done to us. It’s got us going in the opposite direction. We’re want things for ourselves. We don’t want the things of God.

In John chapter 8 Jesus said, “Anyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” If you are a slave, you’re stuck. you may not like your job as a slave, but you can’t retire, you can’t quite, you can’t transfer to a different job. You’re a slave. You have no say. That’s where you are. If you’re a slave to sin, you can’t walk away from that. There’s no way.

When Martin Luther was helping parents and adults teach children the truths of the faith, he gave a good explanation to the third article. You know the third article of the creed. It’s the part about the Holy Spirit. “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

What does this mean? “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.” I can’t do it. There is nothing I can do.

But, “the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me by his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” That is the message we proclaim, teach and embrace. It is God’s Holy Spirit, working through his word, that gets a hold of us. Now we can respond. Now we can love Now we can hold onto him. Now we can believe. His grace must initiate it.

“The gospel is the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). That’s what he uses to save us. That is our Lord coming into our lives to lift us up from our hopeless condition to give us life. The message we proclaim is so simple, that gospel is filled with power, it’s something that any of us can remember. It’s simply that Jesus died for us on the cross, was buried, and was raised on the third day. That message alone is the power to get a hold of you and give you life again. In our baptism we are united with the death of Christ and also with his resurrection. In a very real way he takes us right from the bottom of the font where we are dead in our sin and transgression and gives us new life with Christ.

One of the pictures in the bible that helps us understand this is from the Old Testament, from the prophet Ezekiel chapter 37. God takes the prophet Ezekiel to a valley in the middle of nowhere. Everywhere he looks he sees bones. Human bones. Skeletons, dead for a long time. The flesh has long been eaten off them. Everything’s decomposed. There is nothing but a valley littered with human bones.

God says to Ezekiel, “Speak to the bones.” “Speak my word to them.” He does, and the Spirit of God fills those bones and they come back to life. He speaks to them and they are covered with muscles and skin and suddenly God’s people are alive again. They were dead and had turned away from God and given up the life he gave them. But he didn’t give up on them. He came to seek and save them and give them life.

That’s what God does for us. He keeps telling us over and over again, “I’ve given you my Son to save you.” That’s what takes hold of your heart. That’s where you get that gift of faith. It is God’s grace alone that rescues us from something we couldn’t get out of ourselves.

Without the truth of grace alone, it’s all on you. You have to make the right decisions. You have to have faith. You have to hold on. If it’s all on you, it’s going to be too much for you. You’re going to feel like Peter. When he was with the disciples in a boat on the sea of Galilee. The wind is blowing and the rain is falling and the waves are crashing and they are bailing and they are rowing and they are trying to get to the other side. And here comes Jesus, walking across the water. Storms don’t bother him. But it can’t be Jesus. He can’t walk on water. It’s got to be a ghost. Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid. It’s me.” Peter says, “If it’s you, I want to walk on the water, too.” Jesus says, “Come on in, the water’s great.” Peter takes a couple steps out of the boat. So far so good. He sees the wind, he sees the waves, and he sinks. It’s Jesus who grabs him and saves his life.

It’s Jesus who saves us. He reaches out with his word to get a hold of our hearts, minds and souls, and helps us see we don’t have to do this ourselves. Christ has already done all of this for us.

We can’t handle it. But he can. Jesus has already shown that he can handle sin. He came into this world to live a perfectly obedient life, like us in every way but never sinned. He did everything God wanted him to do. So that when he suffered and died on the cross, he was punished for you and me. You don’t have to carry your guilt any more. it’s gone. No shame. No sin.

Jesus can also handle death. He came back from the dead. The grave couldn’t hold him. The bible says he first one of many who will come back from the dead. The grave cannot hold God’s people any more. He has a handle on life and death.

Jesus can handle Satan. Satan is the one who keeps lying to you, telling you that you have to do it and you’re not doing a good enough job. Jesus counters all that with the truth. The truth that he’s the way and the truth and the life, and that we are saved by grace through faith. And this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God. Sola gratia. Grace alone.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

kathy-hillacre-8240 (1)I’m often asked, “How do you preach without using a manuscript?” The answer is the same you’d give to the question, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice. Practice. Practice.”

My Sunday sermon is usually done sometime on Thursday. I run through it a few times, then set it aside till Saturday. On Saturday, I will practice it a few more times. Sometimes I practice at church, in front of an empty sanctuary. Other times I practice at home, in front of the dog. I might practice it while out for a walk. Or in front of a mirror. I practice one more time early Sunday morning, before anyone else arrives at church.

So by the time I preach for a worship service, I’ve already heard the sermon five or six times. Sometimes more. On the one hand, this is a good thing. Good speakers practice their talks. They practice their pace, silences, movement and gestures. On the other hand, I’ve already heard this sermon five or six times. It’s starting to get old. And sometimes I’m beginning to wish I didn’t have to preach it at all.

That’s when I need to remind myself that my audience hasn’t heard it yet. They haven’t thought about the text, the context, or the application. For them, it will be new. It will be something they will respond to. Maybe with a smile. Or a question. Or an argument. Perhaps with a prayer. Or with praise.

Over the past twenty years, some in the congregation have heard me preach over 1,000 times. And they keep coming. They keep listening. They keep learning. They keep growing.

Every Sunday morning, as I drive the three miles to church, I warm up my voice, I thank God for my voice, I thank him for the power of His word, and I thank Him for everyone who comes to hear. After all, you can’t be a preacher without a congregation.

Sola fide: Faith alone

Transcription of Sunday, September 24, 2017 sermon. 

Sept 24 cover pic

It sounded like a really good deal. I could get the first month for free. No other obligation. Why not give it a try? I gave them my name and mailing address. Then they wanted my credit card number. Why do they want my credit card number? I thought the first month was free. Well the product is free, but you have to pay for the shipping. They also want to change my credit card every month after that when I forget to call them and tell them that and tell them I don’t want to receive this every month. I can see by the looks on your faces that you have been through this process yourselves. Continue reading

Sola scriptura

Transcription of Sunday, September 17, 2017 sermon. 

Sept 17 cover pic

October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted 95 theses against indulgences in Wittenberg, at All Saints Church. That day is thought of as the beginning of the Reformation. As we get ready to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in just a few weeks, we’re going to look at some of the phrases that grew out of that moment, which started a movement. All of those phrases include the word alone, or the Latin word sola. Like scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, to God alone be the glory. Sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria. We’re going to start with scripture alone, or sola scriptura.

As we’re talking about the Reformation, I know you’re going to have a lot of questions. It’s impossible to go as deep as we need in this short time we have on a Sunday morning. There’s a lot of history involved, a lot of politics involved, it happened a long time ago so the world was much different than today. It involved theology as well as economics. It can be a challenge to understand. But there’s good news. We’re going to start a new class on October 1, on Sunday mornings. An adult bible class where we’re going to unpack, unwrap these things so you ask questions. So sign up for my class. I already signed up. I was the first one on the list. I have to get ready anyway because I’m the teacher. But you’re all invited to come to my class about a Man Named Martin.

A good place to begin is why Luther posted these things to be debated in the first place. the answer is: he was very concerned about poor pastoral care going on in the parishes and churches in Germany. By poor pastoral care I mean that parish pastors or priests were not only encouraging but were profiting from the sale of indulgences. This is a simplified definition of indulgences. Basically an indulgence was a certificate of forgiveness you could receive for a donation to your church. It evolved into something you could receive for yourself or a loved one or even for a loved one who had already died, to make it possible for God’s grace to be applied to them. Basically, what was happening was that the pastors were selling forgiveness for contributions. This was approved and encouraged by the church. From Luther’s point of view, he just couldn’t make that line up with what he found in the bible.

In hindsight, as we look back we understand exactly what issues Luther had. In Hebrews chapter 10 the writers quotes the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah and talks about the covenant God makes with his people, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”  God’s promises to his people that he won’t consider their sins, they’re off the table, they aren’t an issue any more.

John 19, Jesus is hanging from the cross, suffering and dying, and its dark, everyone has abandoned him. Jesus says, “It is finished.” Sin has been paid for. The work of salvation is complete. It’s done.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians about a righteousness that didn’t come from the law but came through faith in Christ, a righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3:19).

So all of these things in scripture make those indulgences unnecessary. But to say anything about that is to go up against the authority and hierarchy of the church which had tremendous power over people’s lives. The church had political, economic, and social power. To go up against that would take a lot of courage.

Eventually, Martin Luther finds himself standing before the emperor at the Diet of Worms in 1521, saying that his conscience was bound by scripture. What was in God’s Word had to be taken seriously and that every authority in the church was subject to what the scripture said. This would be the only rule faith and practice. Not traditions. Everything had to be measured against the scriptures. That’s where the phrase comes from. Scripture alone. Sola scriprura.

This is no shock for us, especially for those of you who grew up Lutheran or have been around the Lutheran church for a while. We’re familiar with the words of the epistle today where we read that “all scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the person of God may be complete, complete, equipped for every good work. Everything you need to know about God and to be God’s people can be found in the scriptures.

 

You can find out who God is and what he is like and how this world came to be. You can find out who Jesus is and where he was born and how he lived and how he is uniquely the son of a human mother and a divine father. You can find out what Christ did, what he suffered, why he did it. You find out how much God loves you and the future he’s prepared for you and what it means to believe. You faith can be complete just with the bible.

The important thing to remember is that at the time of Luther they didn’t have bibles. They weren’t walking around with bibles. The printing press had just been invented. Some churches didn’t even have a copy of the bible. All of their spiritual information came from their priests, who told them what they wanted them to know. No one could ask any questions, because no one knew any different. That’s why this is so revolutionary to actually have the scriptures and be able to measure everything against them.

From that idea we can ask ourselves the question: what’s your source of spiritual information? Where do you get the teachings that inform your faith?

The answer is amazing. You get spiritual information from me, your pastor, from other pastors you’ve know. From devotional books, bible study guides you use small groups. Maybe you’ve read commentaries, or used study bible, or listened to other preachers on the radio. You’ve watched them on TV. When you have a question you Google it. There are any number of religious information out there. All of this contributes to your faith.

Some have gotten spiritual truths from dreams or visions, or friends, or your family taught you things growing up. Some have consulted the occult, spiritualists or fortune tellers. All of this shapes our faith.

If that’s true, what does the idea of sola scriptura or scripture alone mean to us?

The best way to think about this is to picture all of the sources of information, all of those books, stacked one on top of another, with the bible on top. Everything must come under the authority of the scriptures. Everything is measured against what God’s word says. Scripture alone becomes the rule for our faith and practice. When I’m studying and preparing to preach or teach, I consult commentaries and what others have written. I had other teachers. I’ve had lot of sources of information, too. But they are all filtered through the word of God. Which we know is true. God doesn’t lie. He is faithful. His word informs our faith; it is the final authority.

As you measure everything against the scriptures, keep this in mind. First of all, the bible’s main message is to reveal to you God’s plan of salvation. To reveal to you who Jesus is, why he came, and what he did for you. it’s not just a book about how to live better, have a better life or prosper financially. The purpose is what John said, that you may know that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing in him, you will have eternal life.

As we read that sometimes we read Law, and sometimes we read Gospel. Sometimes God’s Word shows us very clearly we’re not on the right track. Then it shows us God’s grace and forgiveness to get us back on the right track. That’s the Law and the Gospel.

And as we read these words, remember that we don’t take them out of context. We don’t use them for an agenda. If there is something in scripture you don’t understand, you hold it up against something in the bible that does make sense. We let scripture interpret scripture. We don’t force our own meaning on it. It’s not for private interpretation. The Holy Spirit moved people who wrote the scriptures for us, so that we would know it was coming from God.

What would you do if the bible was all you had? You have no internet, no commentaries, you’re phone’s not working so you can’t call the pastor, you have no bible study guides, nothing else but the bible. What would you do? You would still have everything you need. Here’s what I would do. I certainly wouldn’t go to the parts of the bible I don’t understand. And there are parts of the bible I don’t understand. I would always go back to the places where I hear God speaking words of peace and calm and reassurance and strength. I would always go back to the passage where Jesus says to the storm, “Be still.” I would always go back to the place where Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me,” because I know I’m one of his kids. I would always go back to the place where Jesus teaches me how to pray, so if I don’t know what to say, at least I would have something to say. Where do you go, if this is all you have?

Trust him. He will always have something to say to you. God has revealed everything we need to be his people in the scriptures. Sola scriptura. Scripture alone.

Paths of Grace: Joy

Transcription of Sunday, September 10, 2017 sermon. Audio here.

September 10 cover picThis is the hurricane edition of the sermon for Sunday, September 10, 2017, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost.

This is our final week of exploring God’s paths of grace. Today’s the best one of all because we follow out Lord down the path of joy.

In this morning’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah spoke of this reality: “With joy you shall draw water from the wells of salvation.”

In the Psalm, Psalm 118, the psalmist invites us: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

In the epistle reading, Philippians 4, Paul commands it. He writes, “Rejoice in the Lord! Again, rejoice!”

In John chapter 16 verse 22, Jesus promises, “You will rejoice and no will will take your joy from you.”

My fear is that some of you have gotten lost. Continue reading