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Monthly Archives: April 2015

One Flock, One Shepherd, One Voice (John 10:11-18)

(This sermon was preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska, on the occasion of their celebrating 50 years of ministry)

50 years? Really?  Congratulations on 50 years of revealing Jesus. 50 years of the voice of the good shepherd being proclaimed through this congregation. 50 years. No one ever said following Jesus, the good shepherd, was going to be easy. If they did, they lied. It’s not easy. Listening to the voice of Jesus and following is extremely difficult. Yet, this congregation has been serious about that for 50 years. It’s astonishing. But it’s being done. Because you are a flock that knows the shepherd.

For the first time, I noticed in this text that Jesus doesn’t say anything about individual sheep. He loves the flock, cares for the flock, lays down his life for the flock, will gather all the sheep into one flock. It’s not so much about individual sheep, but more about the flock as a whole. “Sheep” is plural throughout this chapter.

Of course Jesus loves each individual sheep, but the emphasis here is that he lays down his life for the flock. And he will bring in the other sheep too so there will be one flock, one shepherd. One flock, for whom he lays down his life.

This changes everything in this text for me. We’re not just individual sheep, each of us trying to discern the voice of the shepherd. We are first a flock for whom the Good Shepherd lays down his life. It’s not “you’re a sheep” and “I’m a sheep,” so let’s get together and create a flock. No, it’s “we are already a flock!” and we belong to the Good Shepherd. We are part of something bigger than just us. That’s who we are. Our identity comes not from being an individual sheep who chooses a shepherd’s voice, and then seeks out other individual sheep who agree on that voice, and call ourselves a flock. No, our identity comes from already being part of the flock for whom the shepherd lays down his life. We are already included. It’s already done.

Now, if that isn’t cool enough, there are implications as to what this means about our life together as a flock.

Most importantly, Jesus the Good Shepherd is enough. As a flock, the Good Shepherd is all we need. We are enough right now. Faith Lutheran Church has enough, you are enough, right now. Because, as a flock, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for you.You have been called, gathered, and cared for by the Good Shepherd who sees the wolf yet will always stay with you. The shepherd saves you. Saves us. The whole flock. He knows you and lays down his life for you—as a flock.

He says there are other sheep who do not belong to this fold but who he will bring into the flock. Sometimes we can get frantic about that, and think our primary purpose is in seeking them out, thinking that we have to get them in our doors. So we sometimes put a lot of energy into calling them.

But Jesus says they will listen to his voice, not ours. It’s his voice they will follow, not our individual baaaing and bleating. So when we speak to sheep who may be outside the fold, we do so as part of his flock, taking care to use his voice, his words, doing so in his character—that of the Good Shepherd, which has already embraced us, loved us, forgiven us.

We know the sound of his voice. His voice is always that of love, forgiveness, grace, compassion, a willingness to lay down our lives, our agendas for them. That’s the voice they hear; that’s the voice they will follow.

So as a flock belonging to the good shepherd, we love other sheep, whether we consider them inside or outside the flock–because that ultimately not our concern. It is the concern of the shepherd. So we love all sheep, without strings and without conditions. They will listen to that voice. We show them compassion and mercy—even if they haven’t deserved it. They will follow that voice. We forgive those who offend us. That’s the voice of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the flock.

Nobody can ever say that listening to the voice of the shepherd is easy. No one can tell you that following the good shepherd is comfortable. And yet, Faith Lutheran Church has been doing exactly that for 50 years. That is impressive.

I hope you can take this opportunity, as you celebrate these 50 years of faithfulness, to begin to look to the next 50. The good shepherd knows you, and knows you are listening to his voice. Amen.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2015 in Sermon

 

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A Community Filled with Resurrection Life Passes on the Faith (Acts 3:12-19)

This early, fledgling church in Jerusalem is trying to find its way. Resurrection life matters, but they’re trying to figure out exactly how it matters.

Right before this text, Peter and John had healed a lame man in the name of Jesus, who then began jumping around, dancing, and praising God for this miracle.

Everyone around heard the commotion and came running to see what was going on. As they came, they recognized the walking man as the one who was formerly lame. And they were, obviously, amazed and curious. They see a man jumping around who couldn’t walk, and they hear him praising God for it. Obviously some kind of unexplainable event, and obviously this man, and probably many others, believe that God is responsible for it.

So the text today begins with words that bring fear and trembling to many. Today’s text starts with “When Peter saw it, he addressed the people.”

Oh, dear. Peter is going to talk. What is going to come out of his mouth this time? What mess will he create that we’ll have to clean up later? Often that’s the case with Peter, who apparently never has an unexpressed thought.

But Peter, although kind of crass and maybe even rude, does OK here. What he’s doing is sharing with those who now see a man dancing around who couldn’t move before that this is why resurrection life is important. He’s making sure he’s connecting this man’s healing with the resurrected Jesus.

This isn’t just a generic God thing. This man who is made whole right in front of you was healed specifically in the name of Jesus, whom you also know. Remember Jesus, he says? The one crucified by Pilate just a few weeks ago? Well, guess what? God raised him from the dead–we have seen him–and he is the cause of this man’s healing!

You may not have known this about Jesus, Peter continues. But he is the suffering Messiah you’ve heard about all your lives. He’s the one. Yes, Jesus. And this shows you what a difference the resurrection life has.

Resurrection life is different than anything you know. It helps us start anew. It brings forgiveness. It wipes out sins, it restores and renews. And it comes through Jesus.

All Peter is doing is sharing what he has experienced. The resurrection of Jesus brings new life. It is drastic. Peter is passing on insights gained from his resurrection experience. He is passing on his faith.

Notice he doesn’t say anything about doctrine, or about the correct things we have to believe. He’s simply passing along his own experience of the resurrected Jesus. He doesn’t pit Lutherans against Presbyterians, or Jews against Gentiles. He has some experience of the reality of resurrection life, and is passing it on. Those who saw this sign of resurrection and may be wondering about it now have the experience of Peter to go along with it. Jesus, crucified, risen, brings life, healing, newness. That’s what Peter has experienced, so that is what he passes on to the crowds.

That’s what passing on the faith is. It’s not teaching doctrine or memorizing the catechism (though those aren’t in-and-of-themselves bad things). But passing on the faith is experiencing resurrection life and sharing that experience.

“Here’s what I know about Jesus,” we can say. “Here’s where I’ve been given a new beginning, a new life, a new chance, a new hope. And it’s because of the resurrection of Jesus that I recognize these things.”

A community filled with resurrection life passes on the faith any time we share our experiences of resurrection. Made new in Christ, we can’t help it. We are filled with resurrection life! We share our experiences.

Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2015 in Sermon

 

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A Community Filled with Resurrection Life Reveals Generosity

Easter 2
Acts 4:32-35

The first generation of the Christian Church was entering completely new territory. They had walked with Jesus and were witnesses of the resurrected Christ, but without Jesus right here with us, who are they as his followers now?
They knew the resurrection of Jesus made everything different, but weren’t sure exactly what that meant for them and for the world around them. There was no precedent here, no previous group to pattern their community life after. They were making this up as they went along. Jesus was raised from the dead, yes. He reveals what God is like, yes. There is life and forgiveness in him, yes. But what does that mean for them as a community? What do they do without Jesus physically present to lead them? What does their life together as disciples look like now?
Their world was certainly different than ours, but these early Christian disciples can give us some glimpses into what a community filled with resurrection life looks like. They don’t give us a prescription or steps to follow. Just glimpses of their journey as a resurrection community and how it changed the way they lived and worked together in Jesus’ name. Resurrection life is different. This first generation church was shaped by that and lived it. Through the New Testament book of Acts, they allow us to peek into how the resurrection of Jesus changed them as a community, how it filled them, gave them purpose, and united them in this resurrection life.
We’re going to spend the remaining six weeks of this Easter Season catching some glimpses of their life and ministry together. We’re going to discover some clues about the difference resurrection makes in the life of a Christian community.
This small piece of the fourth chapter of the book of Acts sets the tone. Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Whatever they were going to do, they were going to do it together. They shared a common purpose that defined them as a community.
It goes on to explain that purpose, with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. That’s what they did. They existed as a community to be a witness in Jerusalem of the resurrection of Jesus. Every decision they made, every movement, every prayer, every conversation as a community revolved around being a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. They were a community filled with resurrection life. And the first glimpse we get in this text of that community life is generosity.
There was not a needy person among them. As a community filled with new, resurrection life, they shared and gave and provided extravagantly. People selling their property and donating all the money to this church? This kind of generosity as a community is certainly a different way to live. You think this didn’t attract attention?
A community filled with resurrection life reveals generosity. Everyone participates. With one heart and soul, everyone gives extravagantly; and in so doing, this new resurrection community testifies, by its very life, to the resurrection of Jesus.
Not being dictated by money or possessions, this resurrection community lived differently because they were filled with new priorities, new life, new motivations. Filled with resurrection life, they gave. They took care of one another. Made new by resurrection life, they gathered all their individual finances together in order to be able to be a generous community.
Generosity testifies to the resurrection of Jesus because it is a new way to live. Generosity is, by definition, for the sake of others. Being filled with resurrection life is the opposite of selfishness, of personal agendas, of mistrust. Generosity is what happens when a whole group who believes are of one heart and soul in order to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Generosity is the first glimpse of resurrection life in a faith community.
As a Christian congregation, our purpose is to testify, to be witnesses in our neighborhood to the resurrection of Jesus. We are a church filled with resurrection life. Which is why we do some pretty outrageously generous things that few others would do. For example:
We let lots of different neighborhood groups use this building and we don’t charge them for it.
We give away 11% of each Sunday’s offering.
As a congregation, out of our funds, we matched the $565.69 from our “noisy offering” for Denver Fisher House. Which means we are donating $1131.38 from last week.
As a congregational community, we really do show this sign of resurrection life. We are resurrection people, and our generosity testifies to something different. Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and has given us new life.
If you’re not participating in this congregation’s resurrection generosity, let me encourage you to do so. It’s a different life. It testifies to resurrection. It’s why we are here.
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul . . . everything they owned was held in common. . . there was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold . . . and it was distributed to each as any had need.
A community filled with resurrection life reveals generosity. Thanks be to God, LCM is filled with resurrection life!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Life Can’t Be Contained (Mark 16:1-8)

Of the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection in the Bible, this one in Mark is my favorite. Most scholars agree that the text we read today is the original ending of this gospel, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The end.

There are no resurrection appearances, no putting away doubts, no assurances. Just an empty grave and some frightened women, who, even though they were the only ones who stayed at the cross while Jesus died, now they run away in terror. It’s simply stated that Jesus isn’t here, he’s raised from the dead, and that he will meet them in Galilee. So, go tell his disciples and then get on the road to Galilee if you want to see him.

As faithful and courageous disciples, these women came to the cemetery early in the morning expecting Jesus to be there–at least his body to be there. They are ready for that encounter. They brought all the appropriate spices for anointing. They are on a mission of love and compassion. They aren’t hiding, they aren’t playing it safe, they aren’t giving up. They are expressing their love for Jesus by coming to the cemetery where they expect to find him and where they can perform this act of service for him.

The only problem is that he isn’t where they expect. He’s not contained in the grave. He’s gone on ahead of them. If they want to see him, they need to go where he is, not just where they think he ought to be. If they want to perform acts of love and service for him, they need to follow him back to Galilee, not stick around a cemetery.

So Mark’s point isn’t that we had better believe this account of resurrection. This gospel’s point is that Jesus isn’t to be found in a cemetery just because we think he ought to be there. He isn’t safely tucked away in a convenient place back where we left him. No, Jesus is raised and goes out ahead of us, to Galilee—the place where our lives are.

Too often, I think, we come to a church on a Sunday morning looking to find Jesus. Because, we think, that’s where he ought to be! Don’t you expect to find Jesus in a church? So we put on our piety and our best behavior to show Jesus we love him and believe in him. Even though we may be nervous about entering a church building, we do so. It’s brave, it’s showing respect and love, and it’s where we think Jesus ought to be found.

That’s wonderful! But Mark’s gospel will tell us that Jesus can’t be contained in a church building on a Sunday morning. He’s not just where we expect him to be. He’s risen, he’s gone ahead of us to our homes, our schools, our neighborhoods, our workplaces. He’s gone ahead of us to Galillee. There we will see him. In our homes we will see his unconditional love. In our workplaces we will see his grace and compassion. In our schools we will see his forgiveness that defies explanation. In our neighborhoods we will see his unexplainable generosity. There we will see him.

And what’ more, there we will join him in loving the world. We get to reveal new life in Galilee. There, too, we get to live out the forgiveness he gives. There, too, we get to see his new life in loving others, in forgiving others, in being generous to others.

Whether we believe a particular view of resurrection or not isn’t Mark’s main thing. This gospel’s point is that nothing can contain this risen Christ. Not a building, not a church, not a belief system, not a doctrine, not a religion. Wherever we go, Jesus has arrived there ahead of us. When we leave here today, Jesus leads the way. Are you going to brunch from here? Jesus is there waiting for you! Gathering with family today? Jesus is part of it. Heading out for a quiet afternoon in the mountains? Enjoy your time with Jesus, who’s there already. He’s already gone to Galilee. There, too, you will see him.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in Sermon

 

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