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Sermon: “Rejoice!”

Lectionary Series C; The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 15, 2019 – Proper 19

Gospel Reading: Luke 15:1-10


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

What causes you to rejoice? Do you rejoice when it is time to leave the office for the weekend? Do you rejoice when you are about to depart on vacation? Do you rejoice when a child or grandchild is born? Do you rejoice when you graduate from high school or college? Do you rejoice when the kids go back to school? Do you rejoice when you catch the big one or shoot the big buck? Do you rejoice when your team wins a long volley on the volleyball court? Do you rejoice when your team scores a touchdown? And on that note, do you rejoice when the Vikings beat the Packers?

We do all sorts of rejoicing in this life. But what about in the life of the church? What causes us to rejoice? Do we rejoice when a child is baptized into the kingdom of God? Do we rejoice when the Lord’s Supper is offered to us week after week? Do we rejoice when children receive their Bibles, Catechisms, and Little Lambs with blessings? Do we rejoice when youth get up in front of us and boldly share their Confession of Faith essays? Do we rejoice when the Almighty God speaks to us in His Word? Do we rejoice when someone who has been away from the church for awhile returns? Do we rejoice when sinners repent and are forgiven?

Rejoice! As we think about what causes us to rejoice, do we find ourselves rejoicing more in the things of this world, or in the things that pertain to the kingdom of God?

Our text for today includes two parables. The parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. In each instance, there was rejoicing when what was once lost was found. The shepherd rejoiced when he found his lost sheep while carrying it upon his shoulders. He rejoiced with friends and neighbors as he brought back that sheep into the fold. The woman rejoiced when she found her lost coin. She rejoiced with friends and neighbors as she put that coin back where it belonged. But as each parable has its meaning, so do these. Each connect us to what we as the Church are invited to rejoice about: Rejoicing over sinners who repent.

You see, these parables were told in the hearing of a diverse group of people. Pharisees, tax collectors, and sinners all gathered around Jesus as he told them these parables. But the Pharisees were not rejoicing. They were grumbling.

Grumbling reminds us of the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness. They grumbled when there was no food. Then they grumbled when the food was the same thing over and over. They grumbled when there was no water. They were a grumbling group.

We can relate to grumbling. We do it all the time. We grumble when the boss gives us a project we don’t want to do. We grumble when we don’t get our way. We grumble when the teacher gives us homework. We grumble when our mom makes something we don’t like for supper. We too, can be a grumbling group.

When it comes to the worship service, one thing we grumble about is time. In our American minds, we have so compartmentalized our lives that we think the Divine Service ought to never go over an hour. And because we think that way, we may be inclined to grumble. Because when there is a baptism, the Lord’s Supper every week, blessings for those receiving Bibles, Catechisms, and Little Lambs, and youth delivering Confession of Faith Essays, there is a good chance that the service is going to go a bit longer than what we think it should be.

Grumbling steals from our opportunity to rejoice. The Pharisees missed out on a fantastic opportunity to rejoice. Instead of seeing, recognizing, and rejoicing that they were welcomed into the presence of Jesus, they chose instead to grumble about the other people who were welcomed into His presence. How could He welcome sinners and eat with them too?

To dine with someone in the first century meant more than just association, it meant welcome and recognition. A Pharisee would in no way associate with a tax collector or sinner, let alone welcome or recognize them. They would become unclean, and it might hurt their reputation.

Is there someone in your life that you are avoiding because things might get a little messy and difficult? Is there someone you are avoiding because to spend time with them might hurt your reputation? Do you find it easier to just grumble about them, rather than welcome them and recognize them as those for whom Christ died?

You see, when we choose to grumble, we miss out on all of the opportunities God places before us to rejoice. Jesus rejoiced in the opportunity to dine with sinners and tax collectors because they recognized that they were sinners in need of a Savior. They saw that they were nothing without Jesus.

I asked last week, “can we ever get enough Jesus?” For these tax collectors and sinners, they concluded that they could not. They couldn’t get enough of Him. The text says that they “drew near to hear Him.” “They drew near to hear Him.”

How are you drawing near to hear God’s Word, and is there a way you could get more of Him? Today starts another year of Sunday School and Bible Class. Have you considered joining those classes? If not, what is keeping you from attending? Is it a good reason, or is it because it just hasn’t been your practice in the past? What is keeping us from starting a new trend? And not just for ourselves, but for the children of our congregation as well. After all, they will mimic what we do, not necessarily what we say. And can any of us ever get enough Jesus?

That is some challenging stuff for us to consider. But when we look at a text like today, it challenges us. It challenges us to consider how we have become too comfortable with the ways in which we have always done things. The Pharisees had been acting as if they had no need of the Messiah, and it was instead those tax collectors and sinners who did. But it was really the other way around. The tax collectors and sinners saw their need and they saw their Savior. The Pharisees didn’t want anything to do with Jesus.

And that became very clear not long down the road. By this time, Jesus face was set on Jerusalem. And breathing down his neck were these Pharisees and other religious authorities. Jesus was challenging everything they held dear, and their power among the people was being reduced. Enough was enough. He had to go. And go He did. All the way to the night He was betrayed where He was hauled away by men with clubs and swords into an unruly mob of a courtroom. All the way to Pilate’s praetorium where He was riddled with shouts calling for His own crucifixion. All the way through the streets of Jerusalem to a cross where they nailed Him. But all of this, He did with joy because it is what it took in order to save you.

You see, for all the times, we have thought we have had enough Jesus, He has never had enough of you. He leaves the ninety-nine sheep, and goes searching for you. Like the lost coin, He searches diligently until He finds you to bring you back. And then He, and all of heaven rejoices when you are found.

You see, there is not-a-one of us here that doesn’t need Jesus. Like the lamb that was carried upon the shoulders of the Shepherd, so has He carried you and your sins. He has carried them, and He has buried them. They are no more. And now He invites you to His table to rejoice with Him. Rejoice that He invites you to draw near to Him again and again.

But, I have news for you brothers and sisters. We live in a growing and changing community. There are countless people right here in our community who also need to draw near to hear the words of Jesus. But it is going to be a challenge for us. It is going to take us out of our comfort zone, and we are going to be tempted to grumble.

As I said last week, we are going to need to pay off our deficit and our debt. We need to add more volunteers to the fold. And that might cause us to grumble as we consider the sacrifice to our pocketbooks and our calendars, but consider for a moment what we are being invited to rejoice about.

We are being invited to rejoice about welcoming people into the kingdom of God. What an opportunity! I talk to pastors who are living in towns that are stagnant or shrinking. There is great discouragement, and no doubt it is hard for them not to grumble. Zion is not in that position. Mayer is growing, Zion is growing. These are good things for us to rejoice about.

But that means we need to be equipped. And that starts with drawing near to hear Jesus. It starts with God’s Word. From that gift of the Word and God’s forgiveness given to us in Jesus, we give from what He has given us.

Did you know that if we were to maintain our giving from last week, we would be ever so close to eliminating our deficit in the course of a year? And if we maintained it for two years, we would be close to paying off our debt. And if we continued it from there, we could actually discuss the options that are there for us in the future, ministry expansion, mission endeavors, building projects. Just something to think about.

Another thing to think about is ways that we can serve. We are about ready to welcome an Associate Pastor into our midst. No, we don’t know the timetable, but we want to be ready. Fiscally ready, and ready with willing volunteers. We have had youth leaders step up and Sunday School volunteers step up. But, our Board for Family Ministry has only two members on a board of six, and this position is both Associate Pastor and Director of Family Ministry. What if we filled that board? And our Vacation Bible School Action Team has served for several years, and they have asked for a break, a much needed break. But that means that a ministry that reaches out to over 100 kids nearly every summer with the Gospel of Jesus Christ needs an action team of 3-4 people to help get things ready for VBS 2020.

Now as you know from last week at Rally Sunday, there are countless other ways we can serve. And I invite, encourage, and implore you to take advantage of those opportunities. But in the midst of it all, I don’t want us to lose sight of what is of utmost importance. Sharing Hope and Teaching Christ. And for what we need to do that, we look at the One who is in the center of our text welcoming sinners and tax collectors. The One who invites us to rejoice in the salvation He gives us with His very own body and blood He gave on Calvary. It’s Jesus! And when it comes to rejoicing, it’s all about Jesus. And can we ever get enough Jesus? In His name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Counting the Cost of Discipleship

Sermon: “Counting the Cost of Discipleship”

Lectionary Series C; The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 8, 2019 – Proper 18 – Rally Sunday

Gospel Reading: Luke 14:25-35


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever stopped to count of the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ? This is what Jesus was getting to in our text for today as He journeyed to Jerusalem to die on the cross. A large crowd had been following Him, and they were amazed at Jesus’ miracles, His teaching, the way He addressed the religious authorities. Like kids in a candy store, they couldn’t get enough. But, as the trek carried them closer to the final destination of Calvary, Jesus turned around and addressed them about what it meant to be following in His footsteps.

Listen to what Jesus says: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).

Hate is such a strong word. We hesitate to use it even if it is how we feel. For those of us here who have been instructed in the fifth commandment, we know that ‘to hate’ is synonymous with ‘to kill’. So is Jesus saying that we should hate or even kill our family? No. But He is making a very stark and unsettling demand of His followers here. Family does not come before Him. No matter the circumstances, family does not come first. He does. Always. Without question. No, ifs, ands, or buts about it.

A couple of chapters later in the book of Luke, it stretches us possibly even more: No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (Luke 16:13).

You see, there is no division of allegiances here whatsoever in following Jesus. You shall have no other gods, the first commandment commands. We shall fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. God comes before family, before self, before money, before everything.

The cost of discipleship is high. Counting the cost of discipleship includes reorienting our priorities. We are called to organize our lives around God and His love for us.

Think of it this way. Picture a bicycle wheel with a hub and a bunch of spokes going out from that hub. The hub of that wheel is the primary priority for yourself and/or your family. Every spoke then is impacted by what goes on at that hub. Now if you grew up in the 1950s, what was probably in that hub was the Church. Families and individuals oriented their lives around the life of the Church. It was where they gathered on Sundays. And it was where they gathered throughout the week, be it for Bible Study, social functions, youth groups, etc. It was known as the heyday of the Church.

Gradually, that hub has shifted away from the Church. Now instead of a hub, the image that might better suit our lives is a revolving door. More and more, families and individuals do not see that the Church is the center of their lives to guide their priorities. Now it is often whatever current priority of the family or individual might be. It could be making money at whatever cost, so jobs are the priority. It could be family and friends, where the sole goal is to socialize as much as possible. It could be sports and extracurriculars. It could be sleep. It could be the next new thing for the garage or the house or the cabin. But, more often than not, it isn’t the Church anymore.

This is seen all throughout the U.S. as regular worship is sadly being redefined from weekly to monthly or even less frequent. No longer is the Sabbath day seen as holy. Now, what is becoming more prevalent is that families and individuals choose to view church as optional, and only if it fits into the busy schedule, instead of it being the top priority that redirects all other activities of life. It’s no longer the hub. Instead, it’s part of the revolving door.

But it goes beyond church attendance. Churches are seeing giving decrease year after year. Here at Zion, we have carried a six figure deficit for nearly my entire twelve year ministry. Ministry efforts have been minimized and shaved down to the point that we rarely take time to dream what we could do in our growing community. Instead, we have become comfortable with deficit and debt. Perhaps it’s because we see how the national and state governments operate and think it’s acceptable. Perhaps it’s because we argue that if we don’t have debt, no one will see a need to give. No matter the argument, it would not seem to be a wise way to handle money.

We have also seen a constant decline in volunteerism. We have some people who are flat out burnt out. They have served on numerous boards for numerous years. They are tired, but they see a need and they jump on the opportunity. But more help is needed. This is a large parish with a large school and it takes a lot to keep it going. But how much more could we accomplish for the sake of the kingdom of God if all pitched in?

Growing up, whenever I would be so bold as to ask why I was supposed to help out around the house, my parents would graciously respond, because we are a family. And that’s what families do. They pitch in and help out.

Here at Zion, we may not all be blood relatives, but in the blood of Jesus, we are indeed family. And now is the time we all need to ask ourselves, what are our priorities in life? Are we centering our lives around Christ, His Church, and furthering the kingdom of God to share hope and teach Christ, or are we living life for ourselves and our own priorities?

As I wrote in the article in the recent newsletter: What would it be like if we were deficit and debt free? Let me take it a step further. What would it be like if we had so many people volunteering that we had to come up with more for the church to do simply because we didn’t have enough spots for people to serve? What if…

          “What ifs” are fun because they bring about a creative dreaming in us? To think of all that a congregation could do is exciting. Because we aren’t just thinking about living for today. We are thinking about the next generation and the next generation. Imagine how thankful the next generations would be if we set a new tone on what was of utmost priority. If we went away from living like the world that allows activities and money and stuff to orient priorities and returned to what is most important. A life centered on the work of the Church where we receive Jesus. Where we no longer take for granted that we can get Jesus any other Sunday and say to our kids and ourselves, “No, we go to Church above all else, because we are sinners in need of a Savior. Because this is where Jesus is located for us.”

          And who of us ever has enough Jesus? I just asked that very question in one of my meetings for Catechesis. Can we ever get enough Jesus? I asked that in conjunction with laying out the priorities for families in the Catechesis ministry; attending worship, Bible Class, Sunday School, youth group. Can we ever get enough Jesus?

          Let’s take a look at our priorities in life. Can we ever get enough Jesus? And where can we reorient our priorities to make sure He is number one in everything?

When Jesus looked back on that crowd, no doubt, they had been hoping for an easy road to follow Him upon. They had been hoping that to follow Jesus they would get to keep watching miracles, keep listening to His teaching, keep watching Him put the Pharisees in their place. But instead, it was like Jesus turned around and said, “Look, this road ain’t easy. If you are going to keep following me, the road is going to get really difficult. Deadly difficult.”

          Jesus doesn’t take the easy road, and where He leads won’t be easy for us either. There is a death that has to take place. And it’s a death to self. That’s right, we have to die. Our old sinful self that is caught up in everything of this world has to be done away with. And that’s what happened in our baptism, and that’s what we remember every time we gather here and are invited to make that sign of the cross.

          Baptized into the name of the Triune God, we have been joined to Jesus. The One who was obedient to the will of His Father and went all in for you and for me. He went because of His great love for His Father and His great love for us. For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son… and He did just that in order to save us. And He carries us with Him through the cross and all the way to the empty tomb.

          Jesus counted the cost, and in love for His Father and for us, He paid the price. Not with gold or silver, but with His holy and precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death. The cost that should have been ours, He paid in full. And I know you have heard that before. You have heard it time and again. But this is where our hope in life is located, in the payment of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

          As today is Rally Sunday and we kick off another Sunday School year, I want you to think about those kids hearing that good news of Jesus for the first time. Think about future generations who will hear of Jesus. Think about how exciting it is to know that God has called you and I to have an eternal impact in their lives.

Because, as we all know, and as hard as it is to admit, their lives will be far more difficult than ours. Remaining faithful to the point of death will be that much more challenging in a world that is truly post-Christian. Which is why now more than ever, as we count the cost of discipleship, we need to follow Jesus by making the sacrifice of ourselves with our giving and our volunteering so that future generations will continue to share hope and teach Christ in this place and beyond.

          Yes, the cost is high, but the good news is that Jesus’ priority was always to pay that price for you and for me. Because He breathed His last breath in our place, a breath of fresh air has been breathed into our lives. We are free from a life of keeping up with the Jones’ or trying to see if the grass is greener on the other side. We are free from the realities of sin and death. They no longer hold us back.

Now our eyes have been fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith. Now we are set to follow Jesus who died our death so that we are guaranteed to that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Now we can dedicate our lives in love and service to Him and others because He is alive and well within us. Baptized into His death and resurrection, we rejoice that He has given us much to do in this congregation and community for years and years to come. Thanks be to God! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Table Etiquette

Sermon: “Table Etiquette”

Lectionary Series C; The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 1, 2019 – Proper 17

Gospel Reading: Luke 14:1-14


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

What was the table etiquette at your home when you grew up? Did people have assigned seats that they sat at for every meal? Did people move around every day without a care about where they sat? Did people jockey for seats to sit nearest to a parent or sibling that they wanted to be closest to? What was the table etiquette at your home?

It may seem odd that we would discuss table etiquette during a sermon, but that is the location of our sermon text for today. It was the Sabbath, and Jesus had entered into the home of a ruler of the Pharisees. After healing a man of dropsy, he told them a parable about none other than table etiquette.

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Can you imagine walking into a wedding and seeing a bunch of adults jockeying for position at a table? It’s a hard thing to picture, what, with how civilized we are nowadays. We never jockey for position in life, now do we? Or do we?

Truth is, we jockey for position all of the time. We go to great lengths to draw attention to ourselves. We try to make a name for ourselves. We do whatever we can to be noticed. If someone of greater status is around, those popular people of high repute and celebrity status, we get closer in hopes that some of their fame will rub off on us.

Do you ever find yourself in competition with someone at work? Are you putting all your efforts into trying to get noticed so you can get that raise, or that promotion? But in doing so, at what expense has it come to your fellow co-workers? Are you exalting yourself while putting someone else down?

Students, are you consumed with popularity, so much so that you will start rumors or put others down in order to climb the proverbial social ladder? Are you trying to make yourself feel good while making a classmate feel bad?

Brothers and sisters, siblings, are you ever caught up in trying to jockey for position and status before dad and mom? You think that your sibling gets better treatment, so are you going to great lengths to get noticed and get your way?

Athletes, what lengths are you going to so the coach will notice you and you can get more playing time? Is it coming at the expense of another teammate? Are you focusing on bringing them down to elevate yourself?

I have no doubt there are ample amounts of other examples. The thing is that what we find is that a parable on table etiquette is about far more than table manners. In fact, such a lesson, doesn’t even have to have a table to gather around. Such jockeying for position and status is found all over. And in no way is this lesson bound to just the first century church. That’s because we each have our battles with exalting ourselves instead of taking the more humble road. And that’s what this lesson ultimately boils down to…humility.

Jesus looked at these Pharisees and he loved them. He loved them enough to tell them the truth. They were called to serve the church and to lead the people to Him as the coming of the Messiah. But their self-centered focus and drive to elevate themselves had not only clouded their minds from what their mission in life was, but it had also hardened their hearts.

Our text began with a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked if he should heal him on the Sabbath. The Pharisees would have no doubt just ignored the man because of his lowly, unclean status. Jesus, however, takes notice of the man, and makes very clear that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. He then healed the man and sent him on his way with His blessing.

Jesus made very clear for all to see that He was not like the Pharisees. He had no interest in establishing himself into a high ranking position. That is not why he came. So when He entered a house like He did in today’s text, He had no plans of taking the best seat. That was already reserved for Him in heaven by His heavenly Father. But while here, His was a humble road.

Consider that Jesus’ first place that he sat, or better yet, laid down, was a manger. A manger was a trough for animals. Feed, hay, slobber and all, this is where the Son of God came first to serve us. When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5).

Jesus left the halls of heaven where He was seated at the finest banquet and humbled Himself by becoming one of us. He who knew no sin became sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2nd Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus positioned Himself in the lowliest of places and counted Himself among sinners. In fact, He so took on that identity that where the Pharisees often found Him was dining with tax collectors and prostitutes. Much to their disgust.

When Jesus went to call Levi (Matthew) to be one of his disciples, the Pharisees and their scribes ‘grumbled’ at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:30-31).

You see, the way we jockey for position to elevate ourselves in this life puts us right in line with those Pharisees who failed to see what was right in front of their face. They were sinners in need of a Savior, and the Savior was standing right in front of them.

Today, as you come into the house of the Lord, you are invited once again to His table. Are you in any position to jockey for a good seat at this table, or should you be cast out because of what you have thought, said, or done?

When we examine ourselves according to the Ten Commandments, and really take to heart our position before the Almighty God, how can we not say we deserve to be cast out like those Pharisees who no doubt would have done that with any tax collector or sinner who tried to dine at their table?

But I have good news for you, my brothers and sisters. Though we are sinners…though we are just like those tax collectors and prostitutes, Jesus chooses to dine with us. He welcomes us here, lowly as we may be. And when we come, He exalts us to sit right next to Him. After all, that’s what this meal is all about. Jesus wants us close to Him now and for all eternity. And what better way than to give us His body and blood, to allow Himself to coarse through our very veins?

That same body and blood that is given to us here, is the same body and blood that was given and shed for us on Calvary. When last He sat down at the table with His disciples to institute this holy meal on the night He was betrayed, the next place He sat was the very place those Pharisees nailed Him to. It was a cross. Our cross. No more humble way to die. But that’s what He did for us. That was the sacrifice that He made. And it was a sacrifice the Father accepted wholeheartedly when He raised Him from death and exalted back to where He belongs.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:8-10).

You see, our road as Christians is not one of self-exaltation. Our road is one of humility as we bow in servitude toward the One who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). We are those ‘many’ that He came to humbly serve, and now He calls us into a life of humble service as we journey through life.

Along the way, as we gather around the tables in our lives, our text invites us to consider who we welcome to our tables. Do we welcome those who will be in position to have us back over and return the kindness, or do we welcome those of lower estate? The vision statement of our congregation as well as this text directs us to “be disciples by following Jesus Christ to the poor, the meek, the destitute, the lonely, the burdened, the sick, to sinners, to the cross, and to the empty tomb.”

As Jesus dines with us and offers us Himself, may we be emboldened in our table etiquette or wherever we gather, to humble ourselves so that others may know what we know: that we are in fact, sinners. Sinners in need of Savior. And thanks be to God that he graciously welcomes us sinners to His table here in His house again and again. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Entering Through the Narrow Door

Sermon: “Entering Through The Narrow Door”

Lectionary Series C; The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, August 25, 2019 – Proper 16

Gospel Reading: Luke 13:22-30


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

When I was growing up, I was part of a youth ministry called Ongoing Ambassadors for Christ (or OAFC as it is most commonly called). OAFC focuses its efforts on training and equipping youth to live their faith and share their faith. One of the ways this is done is by canvassing the community. In groups of two or three, the youth head out into the community of a local congregation and address residents in the form of a survey. The survey asks people various questions about their church background as well as their current church affiliation. Once the survey is complete, the youth then asks, “Where do you believe you will go when you die?” Most people answer, “heaven”. Then the youth asks, “Why do you believe you are going to go to heaven?” This is where a myriad of answers is given. Some say “Because I am a good person,” some say, “because I am a member at my church,” some don’t answer at all and quickly shut the door, and then some say, “Because Jesus is my Savior.”

As a youth, I found it striking how few people answered that Jesus was the reason for why they were going to heaven. As a teen, I think I made the assumption that most everybody believed that. Oh, how quickly I found how naïve I was. Which brings us to the question of the day in our text.

He [Jesus] went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:22-23).

Will those who are saved be few? We want Jesus to answer with an affirmative, “No, everyone is going to be saved.” In fact, we often comfort ourselves with this thought more often than we might like to admit. We think that if a person has been baptized or baptized and confirmed, then that person must be saved even though they have abandoned the church since.

Or we comfort ourselves with the false teaching of universalism – the lie that teaches that everyone will be saved. Now that would sure make outreach and evangelism much easier for the church. In fact, it would render it pointless. One might even question the point of the Church altogether if everyone were going to be saved.

But that is just not the case, as Jesus’ answer makes clear. And he [Jesus] said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

Jesus says that the door is narrow. Yet in our sinfulness, we want to believe that those pearly gates of heaven swing wide open for all people. And that’s the hard reality for us to accept. Jesus’ death and resurrection was for all people. It is called the universal atonement. The forgiveness, life, and salvation that Jesus won, He did for all. But the unfortunate reality that we all need to grapple with is that not all believe in Jesus as their Savior. Not all will be going to heaven. Unfortunately, many will go to hell where there is the anguish of eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth.

We look around the world and we see that the fastest growing religion is Islam. We also know there are millions upon millions who follow the religions of Buddha and Hinduism. We know there are the cults of Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses as they come knocking at our doors trying to spread their twisted lies about Jesus. But here in America, do you know what the fastest growing religion is? The nons. N-O-N-S. These are those that hold to the belief that they are spiritual, but not religious. Perhaps they may believe that God exists or that Jesus exists, but they want no part in organized religion which rightly orders our lives around hearing God’s Word and receiving His Sacrament. The ‘nons’ want ‘none’ of that. Pun intended.

Unfortunately, as the text makes clear, all of these people, along with all others who don’t believe and confess Jesus as Lord and Savior are those, who will knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer them, ‘I do not know where you come from.’

This current religious climate that we live in ought to increase our own life of discipleship and heighten our awareness and our efforts in raising up the next generation of Christians. Knowing that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12), now more than ever is a time to seize the opportunity to train up children in the way they should go so that when they are old they will not turn from it (Proverbs 22:6).

In our teacher workshop at the school last week, we all worked on establishing both professional and personal goals that had eschatological significance. “Eschatology is the study that describes the Christian’s life as having one foot planted in the temporary soil of this world’s kingdoms, while the other foot is anchored in the permanent and eternal security of God’s heavenly kingdom” (Embracing Godly Character, p. 117). So instead of just looking at a child and seeing them as a six or ten year old, we took time to set goals to consider them as eighty or ninety year olds. We challenged ourselves to think about what we could teach now in our school that would have eternal, eschatological, everlasting significance. And when we thought about it that way, it all came down to Jesus.

Jesus is the very One who was journeying toward Jerusalem in our text for today. Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). Jesus is the narrow door by which we enter into heaven.

In His teaching on His being the Good Shepherd, Jesus says, I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:9-11).

We are those sheep in the Good Shepherd’s flock. In our baptism, He has called each of us by name to be His own. And in the greatest act of love for us, He set His face toward Jerusalem and laid down His life, dying the death that should have been ours. Dying on the cross of Calvary. Covering us in His blood, because it is only in the shed blood of Jesus that we are saved.

We aren’t saved by our works, no matter how good we may think we are. We aren’t saved because we had a relationship with Jesus years ago, but we have had nothing to do with Him since. We aren’t saved because of our church membership. We aren’t saved because of Grandpa’s or Grandma’s faithfulness to the church. We are only saved by Jesus who did all the work necessary for salvation and calls upon us to strive to enter through the narrow door.

That word “strive” is not a call to be saved by works, but rather to continually exercise our faith. Jesus calls us into an active life of faith, confessing our sins, hearing His Word, and receiving His Sacrament. This is where He comes to us to give us Himself. This is where even though the door may be narrow, it swings wide open for us because Jesus’ arms were spread wide on Calvary so that we may enter into the kingdom of God.

That’s why week after week, He gathers us here at His table. This is that foretaste of the feast to come, when Jesus will welcome people from east and west, and from north and south, and we will all recline at His table in His kingdom forever. This is where our sins are forgiven and we are strengthened against the attacks of those spiritual forces of the evil one. This is where we are protected from the forces of hell itself and we are guaranteed that our lives won’t end in an eternity of weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is where we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again. (Pause)

As our teachers are dedicated today, and the school year begins tomorrow, I would like close with our theme verse for this year because it fits so well with our text for today. It is from Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

You see, it is the goodness and mercy of Jesus given in His Word and Sacrament that ensures that we will enter through the narrow door into heaven. And as He comes to us, we are guaranteed again and again that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

No Need To Worry

Sermon: “No Need To Worry”

Lectionary Series C; The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, August 11, 2019 – Proper 14

Gospel Reading: Luke 12:22-34


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Are any of you ever anxious? Ever afraid? Do any of you ever...worry? If so, now that Disney has recently released a new version of the Lion King, I have some comforting words from my friends Timon and Pumba: “Hakuna Matata!” What does that mean, you might ask? Well, let me tell you. Or better yet, let me sing it for you:

Hakuna matata! What a wonderful phrase.

Hakuna matata! Ain’t no passing craze.

It means no worries; For the rest of your days.

It’s our problem free; philosophy; Hakuna matata!

If only it were as simple as singing a silly song and adopting a Hakuna Matata philosophy, and poof, all anxieties and worries were gone. But it just isn’t that simple, is it?

We worry about all sorts of things? What do you worry about? Last weekend our nation was gripped with worry as two mass shootings took place in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Lives were lost, people were wounded. Thinking about all of those victims might have given us a moment of pause or filled us with worry about going out in public ourselves.

What do you worry about? Do you worry about storms? Do you worry about finances? Do you worry about your kids? Do you worry about the future? Do you worry about all of those unknowns that arise in life? What do you worry about?

In one way or another, it would seem that none of us are immune to worrying. Which means that none of us are immune to the sin of failing to trust in the almighty God. That is, after all, what worry and anxiety are all about. A lack of trust. But it goes deeper than that.

In a word study done on the Greek word for worry, it reveals that the best translation would not be “worry,” but rather “lifting yourself up.” Worrying lifts us up above God, in place of God, rather than taking our place under God’s generous hand; we are exalting ourselves to be our own gods when we think our provision is all up to us.

So, worry is a sin against the first commandment where we are called to not have any other gods, where we are to fear, love, and ‘trust’ in God above all things.

Unfortunately, we put a lot of things above God. Consider last week’s Gospel reading where Jesus told the parable of the rich fool. The man’s land produced plentifully, and he wondered what he should do because he had so much grain. His conclusion was to tear down his barns, build bigger ones to store his grain and goods, and relax, eat, drink, and be merry. God’s response was to call such a man a “Fool” and take his life from him.

And so it will be for those who place their trust in themselves or the things of this world. This should be a wakeup call to us Americans who have more things than we will ever need in this life. If we place our trust in ourselves or prioritize the things of this world to provide us all that we need, we put our eternal salvation in jeopardy…which is why God calls upon us to trust in Him above all things. Stop worrying about the worldly stuff, and trust in God. Easier said than done. (Pause)

But have you ever had one of those moments in life where you worry about something, and no matter how hard you seem to try, you just can’t get it off your mind. It just keeps swirling around and around. You might look back now and think what a small, petty thing it was to worry about. But back then, it was like this massive mountain you couldn’t see past, go around, or climb over. Ever had those moments? I know I have. And I hate them.

It’s no wonder that Jesus says, And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Luke 12:24). How true is that?! Worrying never adds anything to our lives. It only takes away. It takes away time. It takes away sleep. It takes away appetite. It takes away energy. Worrying is so ridiculous, when you think about it. It’s an absolute waste of time and energy. … So, why do we do it? Why?

We worry because we are weak in faith. Like the disciples who were listening to Jesus, we too can have such little faith. Trust does not come easy for us. And Jesus knows that all too well. So, He gives us a couple of object lessons to help us in our weak faith.

First, he tells us to Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them (Luke 12:24). Looking out at my garden, we have these birds that are constantly in there. I can attest, not-a-one of them seems to be struggling for food. The point is, they are cared for and provided for. So it is that we are cared for and provided for, for we are of much more value than birds.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Jesus gives a second object lesson. Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! (Luke 12:27-28). (Pause)

Even though we are surrounded with infinite evidence of the Father’s care and provision, we still think it is not enough. We never think we have enough. The grass is always greener elsewhere. The Jones’ always have more. It is a relentless onslaught of discontentment that fills our hearts and our minds with worry.

And what Jesus makes clear is that the reason we worry is that are hearts and minds are set on the wrong things…worldly things…which is why our text for today redirects us to what truly matters…the kingdom of God.

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you (Luke 12:29-31).

The Father knows what we need, even better than we do. It’s like when I was growing up. I would constantly ask my parents, “What’s for supper?” Their response was, “Food.” I would follow up, “What food?” And their response would be: “Have we ever let you go without a meal? Now get out of the kitchen.” It used to drive me nuts to not know what we were having for supper. But now I find myself using a similar response with my kids when they ask the same question I used to ask.

Perhaps a better example is that of the prophet Elijah. It was a time of famine. There was no food, and yet God directed him to travel anyway. While on those travels, God nourished him with water from a brook and He commanded the ravens to bring him bread and meat. Elijah then journeyed on in the strength of the Lord.

The point is that whether it be Elijah, or like when I was a kid, or those birds, or the lilies, we have no need to worry about being provided for because our Father up in heaven knows exactly what we need, and He will be faithful to provide it. Now it may not be what we want or what we like. It may mean we may have to endure hardship, or suffering, but we have no need to worry.

Our Good Shepherd is always looking out for what is best for us according to His will and in His time. Our text says, Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).

May we find comfort in the fact that there is nothing the Father wants more than to have you and me with Him for all eternity. In fact, we are of such great value to Him that He sent His one and only Son to die for us to secure our salvation. That was the price He willingly paid for us…we who are of so much more value than the birds.

And if He is willing to lay down His life for us so that we can have eternal life with Him, then what reason do we have to worry about the things of this temporal life? None. None at all. Death has been defeated. Just imagine how much worrying there would be to do if we didn’t have salvation to look forward to. Imagine if we had to earn our way into heaven with our works. Now that would be something worry about.

But as Christians, we confess our worries and anxieties. We confess the ways we have lifted ourselves up above God. And we place our trust in the One who went all the way to Jerusalem trusting that His Father would raise Him from death.

For it was Jesus who came to this earth to give us the kingdom. It was Jesus who gave up the food of this earth to fast in the wilderness for forty days and defeat the devil’s temptations. It was Jesus who was stripped of His clothing, and left for dead on the cross of Calvary. It was Jesus who cried out in thirst before He breathed His last breath on our behalf. It was Jesus who gave up all the things of this world to ensure the kingdom would be ours.

And it most certainly is. So there is no need to worry. Jesus is right here, right now, feeding your faith, strengthening your faith, sustaining your faith, for the journey ahead with His Word and Sacrament. And should those worldly worries creep back in, Jesus is right here to give you the daily bread you need to continue on in the faith according to His will and in His way and in His time. Hakuna Matata! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

One Thing is Necessary

Sermon: “One Thing Is Necessary”

Lectionary Series C; The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, July 21, 2019 – Proper 11

Gospel Reading: Luke 10:38-42


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever had an unexpected guest at your home? Someone knocks on the door and says, “Surprise!” What immediately goes through your mind? Oh my goodness! The house is a mess. I have nothing planned for supper. What am I going to do? Immediately, your mind just starts racing, trying to figure out what on earth you are going to serve them for supper. You frantically start running around the house, trying to put together a meal. And not just hot dogs and mac and cheese. Something that makes it look like you had something nice in mind for that night’s meal. As you scurry about, every once in awhile, you might bend down to pick up something on the floor to tidy things up. Anything you can do to make it look like you were ready for this surprise guest. Have you ever had an unexpected guest at your home?

Our text gives every indication that Martha had an unexpected guest arrive at her home, and it was none other than the Son of God. No pressure there. And most likely, it wasn’t just him, twelve disciples strolled into the house with Him. Just imagine how stressed out she must have been. To have thirteen unexpected guests arrive. We can totally visualize Martha just freaking out. Oh my goodness! What am I going to do? What am I going to serve them? This is the Son of God. Hot dogs (kosher, of course) and mac and cheese are not going to cut it.

Have you ever had an unexpected guest arrive at your home? Abraham did as well in our Old Testament lesson. He had three unexpected guests arrive as well. Most believe it was the Son of God and two angels. And what does he do? “Quick, Sarah, please make bread, kill the calf. We have guests, and not just any guests, but God is here.”

Have you ever had an unexpected guest arrive at your home? And have you ever forgotten what is most important when a guest arrives? For Martha, what was most important was to make sure that she was a good host to her guests. In no way, did she want them to go hungry, and in no way did she want them to think that she was not a good host.

But is that what was most important? I am reminded of talking to a man in Kenya. There we were, sitting at breakfast, chatting away. And he was telling about how in Africa, what is most important is relationship. He looked at me and said, “I am sure that throughout this conversation, you have been focused on the time, and what is next on your schedule.” And he was right. He said, “That is not the way we think in Africa.” He continued, “No one will judge you if you are late in Africa because of a conversation you were having with someone else, because what is most important is not time, but relationship.” I must confess that I was both humbled and convicted at that very moment.

We put so much stock into our schedules, our to-do lists, and what we are able to get done in a day. We think that if we are not busy, we are lazy. If we don’t get things done, then we are failures. But how often in the shuffle of life do we fail to recognize the importance of relationship.

There Martha was busily and frantically trying to get things done for her guests so that they would have meal to eat. And it wasn’t that what she was doing was wrong. It was just that she was missing the more important thing to do.

Martha’s sister, Mary, on the other hand, knew exactly what to do. She sat at Jesus’ feet and listened. Can’t you just see her, with legs in criss-cross applesauce position (as they say in preschool), head cocked back, intently looking up at her Lord and Savior, soaking in every word that He was saying? Soaking it in as if every word He said was necessary for her survival.

Is that how we listen to our Lord? Do we listen so intently that we just can’t wait to hear what is next Word is for us? Or are we just too busy to stop and listen?

We live in such a busy world. Ever looked around a restaurant and seen a couple sitting there across from each other? But instead of talking to each other and listening to each other, they are both on their smartphones. Ever been in a conversation with someone, and all of a sudden their phone dings or vibrates or makes whatever noise it makes, and their attention is immediately drawn away from the conversation they were having with you? Or have you ever been that person who got distracted?

We don’t seem to have the ability to focus anymore on what is most important. Sure we can argue that we are communicating more than ever, but how can we say we are improving our communication if we rarely communicate without distractions? How can we say our communication is improving if we don’t stop and listen? And I mean, really listen, so intently that we can repeat back what the other person is saying.

Mary was on the floor listening to Jesus. And there was Martha, no doubt stamping her foot on the floor, glaring at her sister, with hands on her hips. And she even had the audacity to demand of Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”

Now any of us who have siblings know what this is like. There we are working our tails off, and in our mind, our sibling is doing nothing. Nothing. Help a brother out here. In this case, “Help a sister out here.”

But, no-o-o, Mary just sat there. She just sat there, and in Martha’s mind, she did nothing. Oh, how Martha must have been just fuming. Again, anyone who has siblings can relate to this feeling Martha had. We have all said at one time or another to ourselves or even outloud: “But I’m doing everything, and my sister or brother, they aren’t doing anything.”

Jesus, however, just blows the whole situation up when he replies to Martha’s demands. Listen to this. But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken from her.”

What?! What did He just say? Martha must have lost her mind at that point. And how many of us busy-bodies would have done the same, at least internally? You see, our minds, our American, can-do, must-do, always-do, minds can’t equate that somehow sitting and listening and growing in relationship is somehow more important than doing something. Because if you aren’t doing something, then what are you doing? Nothing. And ‘nothing’ in our minds is not an option.

But Mary wasn’t doing ‘nothing’. She was listening to Jesus. Just like the Father said at the Transfiguration back in Luke, chapter nine: This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him! And this is what we have come here today to do as well. We have come here to listen and to grow in relationship with Jesus. And that, my friends, is the good portion, and it will not be taken from us.

Jesus says that one thing is necessary. And when He says that, picture Him pointing to Himself as He says it. Because He is the One thing that is necessary. When He is in the room, nothing else matters. It is as our Psalm for today said: One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.

Jesus would have been just fine with a simple meal. He wasn’t looking for an extravagant meal. He was on His way to Jerusalem, and He was gracious enough to stop in at Martha’s house and talk to them while He was on His way…on His way to die on Calvary.

In the busyness of life, we can so often lose sight of the bigger picture. I confess that happened to me on so many occasions at the National Youth Gathering. There I was serving as Communion Coordinator trying to figure out every angle of U.S. Bank Stadium to commune 22,000 people in 28 minutes at 132 communion stations. It was no small task. But, in the evenings, during the mass events surrounded by all of those youth and chaperones, I couldn’t get my mind to just slow down and focus on listening to the presenters and sing the songs. I found my mind racing, occasionally jotting notes on my phone or in my binder. Now the good thing is that everyone was communed in the allotted time, but I look back and regret how much I missed.

I wonder if that entered Martha’s mind as Jesus told her that one thing is necessary. Here she had been frantically moving about her house trying to prep a meal, but she had missed the one thing necessary: Jesus.

How often do we fall prey to the same thing? How often do our busy schedules keep us from the one thing necessary? So, I challenge you; the next time a Sunday rolls around and your schedule is so busy, think about this story. Or the next time you are tempted to skip your prayer time or devotion time. Think about the fact that one thing is necessary. One thing. It’s Jesus.

Oh, how easy it is to take for granted that Jesus comes to us. As a culture we flock to see musicians and celebrities, but what about Jesus? What about the Son of the Almighty God? He comes to us here in His house. He invites us to listen to His Word, to receive His body and blood. He gives us Himself. (Pause)

There we were at the National Youth Gathering, and what an honor it was to jump in line and receive our Real. Present. God. (point to banner) in, with, and under bread and wine in the largest service in our synod. 22,000 people communing together. 22,000 people present to listen to Jesus, to touch him, to taste, to feel him. It was simply remarkable.

And so it is as we gather here at Zion, week after week. Where else are our sins forgiven? Where else are our eyes directed to His cross that He bore for us? Where else are we given the hope of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting? Where else are given the one thing that is necessary? Where else do we receive Jesus? In His name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Christian Community

Sermon: “The Christian Community”

Lectionary Series C; The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Epistle Reading: Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

When Emily and I first came to Zion twelve years ago, it was easy to notice that we were not from around here. We didn’t know how to navigate Carver County. We didn’t know much about farming. And our last name wasn’t ‘Hoese’.

However, after the course of twelve years, we, along with our children have been welcomed into this community. We may still be learning to navigate Carver County, we still don’t know that much about farming (though we are learning, especially after our privilege of attending Breakfast on the Farm), and we still are trying to figure out how all the Hoeses’ connect. That all being said, we rejoice in being part of this community.

A community can be those gathered in a same town or zip code like we have here in the town of Mayer. And a community can also be those who have something in common with one another like a fraternity or a sorority at a college or a group of employees at an organization or institution. Communities come in all shapes and sizes.

As Christians, we are brought into community with one another. Though we come from different towns and zip codes throughout the area, we most certainly have something in common, which Paul refers to in our Epistle reading for today:

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).

Having just heard those words of Scripture, take a good look at the cross before us. Take a good look. What was a symbol of defeat and humiliation to the Romans who crucified Jesus on the cross, is a symbol of complete and total victory for the Christian community. The crucifixion of Christ changes everything. It shapes. It molds. It directs. It saves.

Each time we gather together here in the house of God, our eyes are directed to the cross. And as our eyes are directed toward the cross, we fix our eyes upon Jesus, the One who died on that cross in order to save us from sin, death, and the devil.

For Paul, Jesus’ death on the cross shaped, molded, and directed his interactions with others in many communities. With his eyes firmly fixed on Christ, his focus was not on himself. He only wanted what was best for the community. And that was that they received Christ as Savior and Lord.

Is that the focus of our Christian community here? This congregation has been blessed to be here in the town of Mayer for over 100 years. But there have been a lot of changes in the course of those 100+ years. It will not be long and the new census will be taken and a new sign will be posted stating the population. It said 554 when I came here in 2007. It says 1749 after the census in 2010. What will it say in 2020? Perhaps 2500? (Pause)

One thing we pastors have noticed is that it is becoming quite rare that people are looking for a church anymore when they move to a new community. Here in our community, we were once almost solely tied to agriculture. Now, that is not the case. Now we are most certainly a bedroom community to the Twin Cities. Now, people have no problem traveling for their jobs, for their groceries, and even their church. So, what will make people consider Zion as a community that people desire to be a part of?

Now, there is certainly no silver bullet answer here. But Paul’s words in our text give us pause about how a Christian community ought to interact with one another. That, in and of itself, ought to prove helpful if we desire others to come be a part of our Christian community.

Listen again: Brothers [and sisters], if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone things he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load (Galatians 6:1-5).

Our community is a community of sinners. Let’s not mince any words about it. We are sinners. We mess up, big time. There is not-a-one of us here that has not fallen prey to the work of the evil foe. There is not-a-one of us here not wrestling with sin even now. The church has all too often been pegged as a place for people who have it ‘all together’. Let’s not kid ourselves. We don’t. We don’t have it all together. We are sinners in need of a Savior.

And what’s more, we are responsible for caring for one another in the love of Christ. We aren’t called to gossip about people’s sins or hit them over the head with whatever they are struggling with. Instead, Paul encourages us to be bold in our witness by restoring sinners with a spirit of gentleness. If someone is caught in sin, we are called upon to care for them. If they remain in their sin, they are at  risk of severing themselves from Christ and eternal salvation. This should concern us…concern us to the point to go and talk to them about it.

All too often, however, fear takes hold of us though. We don’t want to rock the proverbial boat. What if they reject me? What if they tell me off? And though that may be a possibility, what happens if no one from the Christian community goes and talks to them? Nothing. Nothing will change, and the person will most likely remain in their sins. And it’s not that we will be held accountable for their sins. Their sins are their sins. But shouldn’t we out of love and concern go and care for them by telling them the truth? Sin kills…eternally. Jesus knows it. We know it. Let us not remain silent, and let us speak in a spirit of gentleness.

Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit at work in us, given to us in our Baptism. We don’t have to manufacture gentleness, it is a gift of God to us so that we may share it with others. Plus, have we also considered the alternative? What if the person we spoke to repented, turned from their sinful ways, and returned to the faith? Have we considered that?

Imagine the impact that approach would have on our community of faith here at Zion. Imagine the impact that would have upon us each individually. Imagine the impact that it could have in our community of Mayer. It’s as one song says: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Love for Christ and love for each other.

So often the reason that people don’t want to be a part of a Christian community and a congregation is because they think it is a place full of hypocrites. Well, that’s true. We are hypocrites. We say things and don’t follow through all of the time. We think far too much of ourselves when we profess that everything is supposed to be about Christ and His work. Paul warns against this, because far too often with the work we do in the church, we seek credit, and a pat on the back rather than letting God have all the glory. Far too often we think it is our church, not Christ’s church.

And that’s where we need to once again be redirected back to that cross. As I said, the cross changes everything. Jesus’ cross was for Paul a place to come and die. It was a place where he ended, and Christ began. It was a place where sins were removed, and new life began.

It is the same for us. We come into God’s house and into this Christian community, not to offer God something from ourselves. We are nothing without Christ. We are nothing without His crucifixion. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. Sinners need to confess. And that’s why we come here. That’s what binds us together. We are sinners in need of a Savior. As the hymn goes: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”

The only way we are able to love one another in this Christian community with a Spirit of gentleness without it going to our head is because of Christ. His saving work in us is what shapes and molds our interactions with others. We don’t love others in order to get something in return. We love because Christ first loved us. His shed blood is lavished upon us. His love is alive and well within us. ‘He’ is alive and well within us, and so we can’t help but love others.

Our text says, the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap to eternal life (Galatians 6:8). Like a farmer who plants in the spring, they do so with the hope of reaping a harvest in the fall. So it is with us as we love others. Whether they are sick with disease, discouraged with depression, reeling from a broken relationship, or steeped in sin, we reach out in Christian love toward them because we care for them.

But like that harvest, it takes time before we see any fruit from the labor. In fact, we may never see the fruit from the labor. It may come long after we are gone. Only God knows. I have come to that realization again and again with my loved ones who have wandered from the faith. I may have been called to plant a seed, but it is God who does the watering. Only He knows when their will be fruit for the harvest.

So Paul encourages us with these words: And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:9-10).

It can most certainly be a weary road to love others as Christ loved us. Days, weeks, months, maybe even years of rejection can wear on us. But, Paul says not to give up. And how could he say that? Paul was not relying on his own strength. Rather by the Spirit of God given to him in his baptism, Christ was at work in him.

Christ did not give up as He went to the cross of Calvary. Though He most certainly grew weary, His love for His Father and for us, compelled him to press forward through the streets of Jerusalem and all the way to where they nailed him to the cross. There as He bled and died our death, He did good to everyone, and most especially to those of the household of faith. For we who believe and confess Him and Savior and Lord, we shall be saved.

This is the message He has given to our Christian community as we look to Him and His cross. And this is the message He gives to us as we interact with others within our community here at Zion and those who are yet to join with us in Mayer and beyond. (Pause)

So once again, take a good look at that cross. Let us see here before us that all of our strength, everything we need in this life as a Christian community comes from Christ Himself who never gave up and bore that cross to save us for all eternity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.