Sermon: June 28, 2009

1 07 2009

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?'” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:21-43

This morning the Gospel of Mark presents us with two stories.  In the first Jesus is on his way to the home of Jairus.  You see the daughter of Jairus, a well respected leader of the community and the leader of the local Jewish Synagogue, has become seriously ill.  Her dad, in desperation, seeks out Jesus in the hopes that He can heal her.  Now while they are on their way to the home of Jairus, a woman who has been dealing with hemorrhages for twelve years – a woman who has been to every doctor in town with no success, hears that a “Great Faith Healer” is coming to town.  She is desperate.  She seeks out Jesus.  She fights her way through the crowds.  She reaches out and touches Jesus and is instantly healed.

In the second story Jesus finally arrives at the home of Jairus only to be told that it is too late.  She has died.  Jesus goes into the house – into her bedroom.  Sends everybody out.  Takes the girl by the hand and raises her from the dead.  And then presents her to her father.

Now on the surface these stories seem pretty simple.  Jesus heals a woman with a hemorrhage.  Jesus heals a little girl who has died.  Jesus the Great Healer.  Jesus demonstrates His power as the Son of God by healing a woman and raising a dead girl.  I could then write a sermon on the power and the majesty of Jesus and how we too can tap into this power and this might.  That would be a great sermon.  And this Gospel Lesson certainly talks about that.  But I think that there is more here.

First the case of the woman with hemorrhages.   According to Jewish Custom a woman who was hemorrhaging was considered ritually unclean.  If you touched such a woman you would have to go through a whole series of ritual washings and cleanings before you would be considered clean once again and allowed to continue your activities or to be around other people.  In other words, once this woman touched Jesus, he should have immediately stopped what he was doing, entered into a time of cleansing and then be allowed to continue on His way.  He didn’t.  He continued doing what He was doing and continued on His way to the home of Jairus.

Second, Jairus’ daughter.  She had died.  Again, according to Jewish Custom if you touched a corpse you would once again be considered ritually unclean and you would have to enter into a time of cleansing and washing before you would be allowed to continue on your way or to be around other people.  Jesus should have stopped what He was doing and done just that.  He didn’t.

So what’s the point.  In Mark’s Gospel we see Jesus constantly confronting the customs of His day – from the time that He spends with Tax Collectors and Gentiles who were also considered unclean to be around.  Who also required a time of ritual cleansing after you had spent time with them.  To allowing women who are hemorrhaging to touch him to touching corpses.  Jesus was saying what God declares clean is clean.

Like Us.  Sometimes we too have a tendency to divide people into them and us.  Insiders and Outsiders.  We do it on the basis of religion.  We do it on the basis of cultures or languages.  We do it on the basis of sex – male and female.  We do it on the basis of skin color.  Or sometimes communities will do it on the basis of newcomers – those who have just recently moved into a town – and old-timers – those who have been around for several generations.  I have even seen churches do it – members – those we know – visitors – strangers – those we don’t know.

Jesus says there is only one community of faith – there is only one group in the Kingdom of God, and we call them all the children of God.  And so I think that the point Jesus is making to the people of His day in these stories and the point that He is making to the people of our day is that we are one in the eyes of God.  As Paul said in his letter to the Galatians:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

That’s the point He was making in His day.  It’s the point that He is making to us.  Treat one another the same way that you would like to be treated regardless of who they are or what they look like or how they sound.  Treat one another with Love.

By this shall all men know that you are my disciples in that

You love one another.

Amen!





Sermon: June 14th, 2009

15 06 2009

Also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Mark 4:26-34

You know, I’ve got a question for you this morning.  Let’s just suppose for a second that God commissioned you to write a parable for Him – a parable that was somehow to talk about the power and the might and the majesty of God.  And then let’s further suppose that you were to pick out of creation something – something that would stand for the power and the might and the majesty of God.  What would you use in your story.  I thought of a tree.  Trees can be pretty imposing.  Maybe I would use a Giant California Red Wood or a Sequoia.  You know, I have seen pictures of these giant trees that reach high in the sky – wide enough for a car to drive through them.  Yeah, but maybe that wouldn’t be such a good idea.  After all maybe not a lot of people here in Ohio haven’t been out to California so that wouldn’t mean a lot.  Perhaps a giant Oak Tree.  Most of us have seen mighty Oaks.  Majestic.  Tall.  Yeah, but this is Ohio.  Perhaps we should use the mighty Buckeye Tree.  We have all seen the mighty Buckeye.

Now the reason that I am mentioning this is because of one of the parables that Jesus tells.  He wants to show the power of faith that can unleash the majestic power and love of God.  And what does He use?  A mustard seed.  Yeah, but that is a great point.  The Mustard Seed is this tiny, teeny little seed, and yet when it is planted it becomes this huge shrub – big enough for birds to make their nests in it.  Yeah.  OK.  But it is still a shrub.  I mean, I don’t know about you, but shrubs don’t inspire awe in me.  I mean I have shrubs in front of my house.  I think they look nice.  They make my house look good.  But I don’t think that I have ever once stepped back when I was outside and said to myself, “Wow, just look at the shrub.  Isn’t that magnificent?”  It’s just a shrub.  Kind of ordinary looking.

But have you ever noticed how God takes the ordinary and makes it extra-ordinary.  I mean take a look at Gonxha Agnes.  She was born in 1910 in Skopje, Albania.  Not a very imposing girl.  Small in stature.  But a girl of tremendous faith and commitment to the Lord.  At the age of 18 she became a nun and took the name Mary Teresa.  Sister Mary committed her life to the poor of her adopted country.  And through her God did great things.  Oh, by the way, if you haven’t figured out who Sister Mary was, she did most of her work on the streets of Calcutta.  Eventually she dropped the name Mary and simply became known as Mother Teresa.  A tiny shrub who God turned into a mighty Redwood.

Of this tiny woman it was said:

Small of stature, rocklike in faith, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was entrusted with the mission of proclaiming God’s thirsting love for humanity, especially for the poorest of the poor. “God still loves the world and He sends you and me to be His love and His compassion to the poor,” she said. She was a soul filled with the light of Christ, on fire with love for Him and burning with one desire: “to quench His thirst for love and for souls.”

Or we could look at the life of Paul.  Not a very imposing man.  He describes himself as short and not a very pleasant person to look at.  He walked with a very noticeable limp.  And yet through this man the Gospel of Jesus Christ was taken from the Temple in Jerusalem to the courts of Rome.  And some even think that Paul travelled as far as to France and Spain.  Paul – this very unimposing man – took Christianity from being a sect within Judaism to being a world-wide faith.

Why do you think that God uses such shrubs as Mother Teresa or Paul?  Why doesn’t He go out and find a few Oak Trees or Giant Redwoods?  Why does He always seem to pick the shrubs?

Because I think that God is trying to make a point.  He is trying to say that great things happen not because the people are great.  Great things happen not because we are so charismatic.  Great things happen because He is so charismatic.  Great things happen because God is great.  Great things happen because His power is great.  Great things happen because He is a God of power and might.  Great things happen because He is a Redwood.  He is a mighty Oak.  Great things happen because He can take even shrubs like us and through us make great things happen.  The only question is, are we willing to become mighty shrubs in the Garden of God?  Are we willing to say, “Here I am Lord.  Send Me.  Send Me.”

Maybe you look at yourself and say, “There is nothing special about me.  There is nothing that I can do.”  Remember also the story of Moses in Exodus 17.  The people of Israel were in a pitched battle with the Amelkites.  God had told Moses to hold up his arm and stretch it out.  As long as his arm was stretched out the Israelites were winning.  When his arm became tired, they began to loose.  When Aaron and Hur saw what was happening, they came and stood next to Moses and held up his arms.

For every Moses the world receives from God, there are also Aarons and Hurs.  There are those shrubs who stand next to the Might Oaks and hold up their arms.  Maybe you aren’t a Moses.  But you can certainly be an Aaron or a Hur.  Through you God can do miracles.  Through you the power and the might of God can be seen.  Maybe you aren’t a mighty Oak or a Redwood, but with God you can be a mighty shrub.  What miracles are waiting inside of you?  What great things are there waiting to be born?

Amen!





Sermon: May 31, 2009

1 06 2009

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

 

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. but now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

 

                                                John 15:26-27; 16:4-15

 

 

 

            Today is known as The Feast of the Pentecost.  Or as most Christians call it, “Pentecost Sunday.”  Most of you knew that.  What most of you probably didn’t know is that Pentecost was original a Jewish Festival.  It was originally celebrated as Shavuot and then later had its named changed to Pentecost.  It occurred 50 days after the beginning of Passover and was originally an agricultural festival.  The purpose of Shavuot or Pentecost was to give thanks to God for the first harvest. 

            Now in Christian circles did you know that this was the first festival to be celebrated by Christians.  Long before there was an Easter celebration.  Long before there was a Christmas celebration.  There was Pentecost.  In fact Pentecost as a celebration of the church is first mentioned in the Book of Acts – Acts 20:16:

Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost

 

And then again in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:

 

But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost,

 

So this day seems to have been important to the early Christians.  But why?

            Well, I think that it was more than just remembering a day on which something special happened.  The Book of Acts tells us that on that first Pentecost the disciples were sitting in the upper room where they had last celebrated the Passover with Jesus before they had gone off to the Garden of Gethsemane.  They were there still trying to figure out what their next step should be.  When all of a sudden the room began to shake like they were in the middle of a violent earthquake.  And then flames began to appear over the heads of all the disciples.  And then they could speak in all kinds of different languages.  And then they felt compelled to go out of that room and meet the people who had gathered around the building where they were.  And suddenly these people who had been afraid to be seen in broad daylight for fear that they would be arrested for their association with the Jesus.  Suddenly there they were outside telling everyone they met about this Jesus.  From that moment they scattered to the four corners of the world telling everyone they met about this Jesus.

            Now that is a great story.  But you know I don’t think that that is why we celebrate Pentecost today.  It is often called the Birthday of the Church.  But again I don’t think that that is why we celebrate Pentecost today.  I think that we celebrate Pentecost today because it is a reminder to us all that God is with us – always – even until the end of time.

            We live in a world that is fraught with many dangers.  Living in these economic times if we still have a job, we wonder how secure it is.  If we were planning to retire, we wonder if we still can as we watch IRA’s and Pension Plans dry up and disappear.  If we were planning to send our kids to college, we wonder how much is still left in those funds that we had set aside.

            We live in a world where relationships are so hard to maintain.  Friendships seem so temporary and those that last a life time seem rarer.  Statistics tell us that 1 out every 2 marriages today will fail.

            It seems like every time we turn on the news that we hear about some new illness – some new disease that threatens our well being.  What is actually is Swine Flu?  Or maybe we don’t have to worry about Swine Flu what will global warming – what with so many crazy dictators getting a hold of  nuclear weapons or developing biological agents that can  silently kill millions.

            We live in a world that is filled with so much uncertainty.  Into this world comes Pentecost that tells us that we are not alone.  God is with His people.  Pentecost tells us that God Himself came down to this world.  He not only filled that room on the first Pentecost.  He not only filled those first disciples.  He fills our world also.  God is with His people.  God is with us.

            One writer put it this way:

In any case, what seems clear is that Pentecost represents God’s gracious, enabling presence actively at work among His people, calling and enabling them to live out in dynamic ways the witness of being His people.

 

Pentecost is God’s way of telling us that we are not alone.  As you face these terribly uncertain economic times, “Lo, I am with you always…”  As you see friendships and relationships fade away, “Lo, I am with you always…”  As you struggle with the uncertainty of what the future will bring, “Lo, I am with you always…”  As we struggle to live out our calling as God’s people – as we struggle to call the world to Jesus – as we struggle when we face a world that is increasingly become hostile to the Christian message – ridicules and makes fun of Christians who attempt to speak out and live out their faith, “Lo, I am with you always…”

Pentecost is God’s promise that He is with us.

 

 

 

Amen!





Sermon: May 24, 2009

24 05 2009

I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

 

 

John 17:6–19

 

            You I will never forget when I arrived at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Illinois.  It was a small congregation located in a small town, just outside of St. Louis.  And shortly after I arrived something interesting happened.  May Company decided to come out there, buy some land, and build the largest enclosed mall in the St. Louis area.  Eventually St. Clair Square had four anchor stores, two floors of shopping with about 125 stores.  Now because of that and all the other business that moved out with the emergence of Fairview Heights as the commercial center of St. Louis, the city of Fairview Heights literally exploded.  It grew from about seven thousand to about twenty thousand in just a few years.  With that, of course, the church grew.  And everything was going great – for a time.  And then little things began to happen.  Disagreements got out of hand.  Silly, little stuff became big stuff.

            About that time I sought out the council of another pastor.  I told him what was going on.  He looked at me and smiled, and said, “The devil doesn’t like it when things are going well in a church.  The devil doesn’t like it when the Gospel is being preached.  The devil doesn’t like it when the children of God are loving God and caring for each other.  Always remember Alan this kind of stuff is of the devil.”

            I never forgot those words.  And it seems to me that that is sort of what Jesus is talking about – praying about – in our Gospel Lesson for this morning.  He is praying that we may all be one.  That we may all be one so that we may do the Father’s Work.  And what is the Father’s Work – “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”  Or as we say it hear at Zion – Be Disciples – Make Disciples.

            OK.  We all agree to that.  But how do we do that?  Well, I am going to give you a few very practical things that I think that we ought to be doing as a church.  But you know I think that these things could well be applied to our personal life – our business life – to just about anything that we do with other people.  OK.  Get your pencil and paper out and let’s begin.

l. KEEP SILENT
Learn to think before you speak. Bite your tongue before that provocative remark comes out of your mouth and you find yourself embroiled in a fight.

Stop and think before you say anything.  Once words are spoken they can never be taken back.  And my experience has been that words that hurt stay for a long time.  How often hasn’t that happened to us?  Somebody says something.  They didn’t mean to hurt our feelings.  If we tell them that they hurt our feelings, they would be surprised.  How often haven’t we said something without thinking and hurt someone else.  We all need to learn to stop and think before we speak.

2. LISTEN,  DON’T DISPUTE.
Listen when someone expresses strong feelings. Rather than argue and try to insist that they shouldn’t be feeling what they’re feeling, understand that they ARE feeling that way and simply say, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Try to put yourself in their shoes and give them the empathy that you would want yourself. Arguing may only make a situation worse.

Listening to people and their feelings is something we all need to work out.  My experience has been that people aren’t good at listening to what others have to say.  Often times when somebody is speaking to us what we are doing is not paying any attention.  It is sort of like in the Peanuts Cartoon.  When adults are talking all that you hear is Wah, Wah Wah.  And what we are doing is simply waiting for them to stop talking so that we can start.  I cannot tell you how often I have had a couple in my office for counseling.  One of them will say something and then when they stop the other person will start talking.  I will interrupt them and ask them, “Did you hear with that person said?”  And I ask that question because it was pretty clear to me that they had not heard what the other person said.  Listen to what people have to say.  Even if you don’t like what they are saying.  Maybe the next time – when you have something to say that they don’t like, they will listen to you.

3. CORDIALITY AND FRIENDLINESS
Make every effort to be cordial and friendly. Ask people about how they are; notice changes in their appearance in a complimentary way; comment and compliment people upon the quality of what they do around this place we call Zion. Being popular can only make church life easier.

Make every effort to thank people for what they do – whatever it is at Zion.  Thank the band for their playing.  Thank the choir for all of the time that they give.  Seek out the Stephen Ministers and tell them how what they do is appreciated.  Tell you child’s SS Teacher how much you appreciate what they do for your child.  Tell the Pastor how much you enjoyed his sermon.

4. THOU SHALT NOT OVERREACT. EVER.
Overreactions cause all out wars. Don’t do it! Assess a dispute. Is it really worth fighting over? Repeat to your self, “They’re only words.  They’re only words.  They’re only words”

Remember why we are here.  It is not about us.  It is about Jesus.  It is about making disciples and being disciples.  It is about Jesus.  Repeat after me.  IT IS ABOUT JESUS.  IT IS ABOUT JESUS.  IT IS ABOUT JESUS.

5. SIT, WAIT, THINK AND ACT WHEN CORRECT.
Whenever you have issues in the church you’re better off thinking through your words before you voice complaints, thoughts or suggestions.

Ask yourself a very simple question?  What would Jesus want me to say?  What would Jesus want me to do in this situation?  If Jesus were standing next to me and listening to what I am saying – what I am doing – what would He say.  Would He be smiling or would my actions and my words bring a tear to his eye.

            The whole point of this prayer of Jesus that is in our Gospel Lesson is that we should be one.  Why?  Because Jesus like conformity?  No!  Because He wants us to remember what we are about.  We are about Being Disciples so that we might Make Disciples.





Sermon: May 17, 2009

18 05 2009

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away — and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

 

            John 10:11–18

 

            I would like to share one of my favorite poems.  It is entitled Love is…

 

 

Love is…

Love is
being happy for the other person
when they are happy
being sad for the other person 
when they are sad
being together in good times
and being together in bad times
Love is the source of strength

Love is
being honest with yourself 
at all times
being honest with the other person 
at all times
telling, listening, respecting the truth
and never pretending
Love is the source of reality

Love is
an understanding that is so complete 
that you feel as if you are a part 
of the other person
accepting the other person 
just the way they are
and not trying to change them 
to be something else
Love is the source of unity

Love is
the freedom to pursue your own desires
while sharing your experiences 
with the other person
the growth of one individual alongside of
and together with the growth 
of another individual
Love is the source of success

Love is
the excitement of planning things together
the excitement of doing things together
Love is the source of the future

 

Love is
the fury of the storm
the calm of the rainbow
Love is the source of passion

Love is
giving and taking in a daily situation
being patient with each 
other’s needs and desires
Love is the source of sharing

Love is
knowing that the other person
will always be with you regardless 
of what happens
missing the other person 
when they are away
but remaining near in heart at all times
Love is the source of security

Love is the
source of life
 

            What is love?  You know, that is a question that has inspired poets of all ages.  It has been the subject of studies by philosophers – the medical profession – psychologists – psychiatrists.  And no one seems to be able to get a handle on it.  That is except for Jesus.  Jesus says

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away — and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.

                                                                             

            You know, every time I read this Gospel Lesson I always think of my father-in-law.  In South Dakota he use to raise sheep.  And he would always tell me how dumb sheep were.  How a sheep could be within a few yards of water or grass and could starve to death or die of thirst because they weren’t smart enough to walk the few yards to the water or the grass.  They needed someone – a shepherd – to lead them to where they should go.

            He would tell me how defenseless a sheep was.  They didn’t have sharp teeth or claws with which to defend themselves.  They weren’t fast enough to run away from predators.  They were easy targets.  They needed a shepherd to protect them from wolves and other predators.

            Jesus says I am your good shepherd.  I provide you with everything that you need.  I have given to you this world as yours to take care of and to provide for your every need.  Every thing that you need is right here.  The land on which to grow the crops that you need to feed yourself.  The materials to build anything that you might need.  The water to quench your thirst.  And every time the quantity gets low, I will replenish the supply.  There is no need that you will have that I will not take care of.

            I will protect you.  When evil comes your way.  I will defend you.  I will lay down my life for my sheep.  We saw that on Easter.  Jesus who came and laid down His life on a cross for His sheep.  He gave up His life so that we could have the promise of the forgiveness of sins.  He gave up His life so that we could have the promise of new life in heaven with the Father.  He gave up His life so that we could have the promise of God’s eternal love.

            But now God asks us an interesting question.  Do you appreciate what I have done for you?  Do you appreciate the world that I have given you?  Do you appreciate the sacrifice that I have made for you?  Do you?  Well, then feed my sheep.

God’s call to us is that if we appreciate what He has done for us then we will love His sheep.  We will take care of this world so that future generations can enjoy the bounty of what God has given us.  We will strive for and pray for peace around the world so that we will stop looking for better and more efficient ways of killing each other.  We will look for the stranger in our midst and make them feel welcome.  We will see the person in our neighborhood who is hurting and console them with our love.  We will defend one another when people gossip or slander a friend.  We will pray for and work towards feeding the hungry – clothing the naked – visiting the sick and those in prison.  In short we will model our behavior after the Good Shepherd and we will become Good Shepherds to those sheep that God has place in our hands.  We will care about our children and see to it that they are safe and taken care of.  We will give respect knowing that respect is something that we give – not something that has to be earned.  We will love because we know that love is something we give and not something that has to be earned.  We will lift up those around us because that is what Good Shepherds do.

 

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

 

 

 

 

Amen





Sermon: May 10, 2009

11 05 2009

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

                                                             John 15:1–8

 

             You know, last Sunday after I finished with DZ@6 I went home.  While I was scanning TV – looking for something of interest to watch – I came across 60 Minutes.  They were doing a segment on the Antonio Family.  Now if you don’t know who the Antonio Family is, they are probably the most famous Wine making family in Italy.  What intrigue me about this family was the meticulous care and pride they took in producing their fine wines.  In what segment they talked about how in the Spring they would send workers out into their vineyards.  The job of these workers was to look for branches of the vines that were producing blossoms.  Without blossoms, of course, there would be no grapes.  Without grapes, there would be no wine.

            No I understood how important it was for the branches to have blossoms, because only those branches would have grapes.  But why was it necessary to send workers into the vineyards to physically remove those branches.  Seemed like a lot of work to go through simply to remove a branch that had no blossoms.  Why not just leave those branches on the vine.  After all they weren’t doing any harm, were they?  Well, actually they were doing harm.  That’s one of the things that I discovered in this segment of 60 Minutes.  You see these branches were drawing sustenance – life from the vine – but they were producing no fruit.  If you remove these useless branches, that means that the life giving energy of the vine can focus on the branches that will produce blossoms – which will produce grapes – which will produce wine.

            That’s what this story of Jesus is talking about.  Jesus is the vine.  He gives us life.  If we produce no fruit, then we are simply taking without giving anything back.  Jesus gives us life so that we can give back.  Back to God.  Back to this World.  Back to the Creatures that God loves.

            You know, last week – for those of you who were here – we heard from Kathy – the CEO and Founder of CAMO – Central American Medical Outreach.  She talked about how she came about founding CAMO – an organization that now touches 90,000 people a year in Honduras with necessary medical care.

            But, you know, that wasn’t what impressed me.  What impressed me was how deeply spiritual she was.  How she drew her strength and her inspiration from her relationship with Her Lord – with Jesus.  Without that she said that she wouldn’t have accomplished anything.  Every time there was a need.  Every time she reached a crisis.  Her Lord was there to supply her need and point her in the direction that she needed to go.

            That’s what this lesson is talking about.  We are connected to the Lord.  We draw our life from Him.  But what do we do with that life that God has given us?  One of my favorite quotes is the one that says – The life that we have is God’s Gift to us.  What we do with that Life is our Gift to God.

            What do we do with the life that God has given us?  What do we do with the time, the talents and the treasures that God has given us?  Over the course of my 40 years as a pastor I have seen countless people take the gifts that God has given them and produce fruit.

            One example of that is the Prayer Shawl Ministry.  There are ladies in this church who love to knit.  They will sit in front of the TV and knit.  They produce lovely shawls.  We take these shawls and give them away.  We give them to members of Zion or friends of members of Zion.  I take about five a week and give them to people at the hospital.  Last week I gave one away to a woman who is dying of cancer.  She probably only has weeks to live.  She has tried everything.  Surgery.  Chemotherapy.  Radiation.  Nothing has worked.  I could tell that she had given up when I entered the room.  After I prayed with her I went back to my office and got a prayer shawl and gave it to her.  I told her that this prayer shawl was to serve as a reminder that whatever tomorrow brought, she should always remember that it also brings God.  She smiled.  By the way this woman is 27 years old.  Soon she will be with her lord.  But for a brief moment those who sit in front of TV’s and knit brought some joy and some hope to a beautiful young girl.

            We have some other unsung heroes here.  We call them Deacons.  They go out and visit our elderly – the sick – the shut-ins.  They visit them at least once a month.  They take them communion.  But most important of all they help them remember that they have not been forgotten.

            We have ladies who gather here a couple of times a month.  We call them Project Day.  They make School Kits.  Health Kits.  They produce for Lutheran World Relief.  They come here and share their talents and touch lifes.

            What gifts do you have?  What lifes can you touch?  What people can you help to feel the love of Jesus?  Remember what Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples in that you love one another.”  Or as one of my personal heroes said, “Some people see the way things are and say WHY.  I dream dreams that never were and say why not.”  You are branches.  He is the vine.  Dream dreams that never were and say WHY NOT.

 

Amen!





Sermon: April 19, 2009

20 04 2009

Sermon

April 19, 2009

Zion Lutheran

Jeff Greathouse

 

Before we begin today’s message, I want you to take a few seconds and think of a time when you got hurt (physically, emotionally, spiritually, or otherwise).

 

What’s the most important thing you learned from that experience?


In the weeks leading up to Easter this year, sad news filled nearly every newspaper and broadcast. In just over a week, there were five mass murders in the U.S. alone, from Oakland, CA, to Binghamton, NY, killing nearly 40 people. In Italy, just as that predominantly Roman Catholic country was beginning to celebrate Holy Week, a massive earthquake killed at least 260 people. Violence continues in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in other war-torn corners of the globe. And all over the world, people continue to struggle with a devastated economy and our community has not gone untouched.

 

The week after Easter is an unmatched Sunday in the church. On most Sundays, the appointed readings are different each year, following a three-year cycle. But every year, on the week after Easter, we hear this story about Thomas, the disciple who asked for proof. That makes me wonder: What’s so important about this story that the church asks us to read it every year during this time?

It seems to me we could answer that question with two words: doubt and scars.

 

In the midst of danger and suffering, it’s normal for a little doubt to creep in. Thomas asked, and for good reason, to see the same proof that Jesus handed — literally — to the other disciples. For Thomas, as for most of the citizens of Jerusalem, the resurrection had not changed anything. Well, not anything they could see anyway. Life was still hard, and death was still at hand. So before Thomas took the message of “He is risen!” very far, he needed to be sure he wouldn’t just be telling a cruel joke to people who needed some real, meaningful hope.

 

(pause)

So, we look today at Doubting Thomas ……

Doubting Thomas is a term that is used to describe someone who will refuse to believe something without direct, physical, personal evidence; a skeptic.

The term is based on the Biblical account of Thomas the Apostle, who doubted the resurrection of Jesus and demanded to feel Jesus’ wounds before being convinced (John 20:24-29), although the Bible does not mention if actual contact took place. After seeing Jesus alive and being offered the opportunity to touch his wounds – Thomas professed his faith in Jesus; on this account he is also called Thomas the Believer.

Even though Thomas earned a negative label, he was not lacking in some very good qualities. He displayed great courage and loyalty. When the other disciples tried to keep Jesus from going to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead because of the danger from those in the area who had just earlier tried to stone Him (John 11:8), Thomas said to them, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). Thomas also asked Him one of the most famous questions. John 14:5-6 says, “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”

I think I have behaved similar to Thomas at times. I have gone through stages in my life when I questioned God. Have you ?

 

So, let us take a look at the story once again, with the focus on Thomas

Shock and Disbelief

On Saturday he is in shock. On Sunday he is so disillusioned that he doesn’t gather with his fellow disciples for an evening meal. Thomas is dazed, hurt, bitter — and lashing out. Monday morning, the disciples go looking for Thomas and tell him what has happened in his absence.

“Thomas, we were in that upper room where we’d been meeting. We lock the doors for protection. Yet, all of a sudden, Jesus appears. ‘Peace, Shalom,’ he says. Then he shows us his hands. There are jagged holes where the nails had been. He pulls back his tunic and shows us where the spear penetrated his chest. But he isn’t weak or sick or dying. He is alive, raised from the dead!”

Afraid to Believe

“I don’t believe it,” barks Thomas. “I don’t believe a word of it. You’re seeing what you want to see. Jesus is dead. I saw him die, and part of me died with him. But he’s dead, and the sooner you accept that fact, the better off you’ll be. Give it up!”

Peter pleads with him. “Thomas, I saw him myself, I tell you, and he was as real as you are!”

Thomas is cold, with an edge in his voice that cuts like ice. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

But Thomas’s anger cools, and by the next Sunday evening he is eating with his fellow disciples in the same locked room. Suddenly, Jesus stands among them once again and speaks — “Shalom, peace be with you.”

All the blood drains from Thomas’ face. Jesus turns to him and speaks plainly, without any hint of rancor or sarcasm, “Put your finger here, see my hands.” Jesus holds out his scarred hands for him to examine. Thomas recoils. Not out of fear, really, but from a mixture of amazement and revulsion.

Jesus begins to open his outer garment and says, “Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

My Lord and My God

Thomas is weeping now and then begins to sob out loud. Jesus reaches out and puts a hand on his shoulder. Then Thomas slips to his knees and says in awe, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas, “Doubting Thomas,” as he is sometimes called, is the first disciple to put into words the truth that Jesus is both Lord and God. “Doubting Thomas” utters the greatest confession of faith recorded anywhere in the Bible.

—————————————————————————-

I don’t see Thomas as a doubter at all.

I see Thomas as someone who is seeking the truth.

I see Thomas as an unusual someone

who does not just go along with the crowd,

but is willing to stand up and say,

Sorry, I just don’t buy this.

I need a little more evidence

 

Jesus knows and loves Thomas, too.

Jesus understands the depth of Thomas’ love for him.

Jesus returns when Thomas IS there with the other disciples,

and the very first thing Jesus says is,

Peace be with you.

 

A small side note ….

 

Peace be with you.

 

Imagine how our relationships would change if we began our conversations—especially our conversations with those who question us, with those we disagree–if the first thing we said to them was, Peace be with you

 

Now, back to Thomas ….

 

Thomas seeks the truth.

Because he knows it is only the truth that will give him freedom.

Freedom to be whom God has created him to be.

Freedom to do God’s work in the world.

Freedom to face himself in the mirror.

 

Easter is not one day in our church.

Easter is a season.

Easter is the season of resurrection, of transformation

 

Not just the transformation of Jesus, but the opportunity for our own transformation, our own resurrection. Easter is the season when we are invited to seek the truth:

Put your finger here and see my hands

Reach out your hand and put it in my side.

 

Easter is the season we are invited to celebrate the truth, to leave the dark realm of secrets and shames and to stand in the light of Christ.

The joy of the resurrection is, understandably, mixed with paralyzing fear, and the gospel of John portrays the ongoing struggle among Jesus’ followers to understand exactly what happened and what it meant for this community of believers. Doubt, confusion, and disbelief raised more questions than answers, which is why John focuses on the physical details of Jesus’ resurrected body. Jesus was not a disembodied spirit floating among them, but a tangible being whose wounds were still present: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (John 20:27). Without believing in the resurrection, the disciples could not live it, and if they could not live the resurrection, neither could they “reach out” and bear the new life of Christ to the world.

But they did believe. In the following months, the community’s faith in the resurrection was so strong that, in Acts, Luke testifies that it bore the truest mark of the new reign of God, for “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32). To be Christian was to participate in a unique community in which all were of “one heart and soul,” sharing both social and material equality.

Theologian María Pilar Aquino insists that the liberation wrought from the resurrection means that we who believe in it are called to “reach out” and touch the wounds of Jesus in the world. There we must repair inequalities in every aspect of human relationships, building community and healing where oppression and exclusion exist.

We, too, live this Easter faith in a dead and dying world. Thanks be to God, Jesus lives and breathes in the midst of our doubts, bearing the scars, and yet overflowing with life.

Jesus, you lived and died and live again, feeling in your own body how hard life can be. Help me see your love and grace in the midst of the entire world’s, and my own scars. Be patient with me, and accept my doubts even as you give me faith. Amen.