Pearl of Great Price

Here is the sermon I gave at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church last Sunday. Outline of theological emphasis comes from Dr. Gibb’s Concordia Commentary series Matthew 11:2-20:34.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all he had and bought it.”  Such beautiful words, but what do they mean?  Why did Jesus tell this parable and the parable of the treasure hidden in a field on the occasion that he did?

We know that Jesus used parables as a teaching tool about the mysteries of God’s kingdom and heaven.  Some have called parables Earthly stories with heavenly meanings.  But parables are more than a bunch of stories that make understanding God’s kingdom easier.

They are intended to encourage and build up faith.  Jesus recognized how difficult it is to live in God’s kingdom in the fallen world we live in.  The parable of the treasure in the field and the Pearl of Great Price contain elements of hiddenness. The treasure is buried, the pearl needed to be discovered.

Jesus knows the difficulty we face, He knew the temptation the disciples had of falling away.  In response to the difficulty, in response to the hiddenness of God’s kingdom he tells parables of comfort to believers describing how precious we are to him.  Parables describing his great love for us where he paid all to obtain us.

The parable of treasure and the parable of the great pearl start with the memorable formula: “The kingdom of heaven is like… In every instance in the gospel of Matthew where Jesus begins a parable with “The kingdom of heaven is like” the main character or central thing described in the parable is always Jesus.  The parables all describe the how Jesus brings the kingdom of God to the world.  The parable of the pearl of great value is no different.

In the past the church often assumed that the pearl of great value represents Jesus, and we as believers give up everything we have in order to obtain Him. Recognizing that He is worth more than anything else in the world.  In a basic sense it is true that God’s kingdom is worth more than anything else we could have or desire.

But nowhere else in the scripture is it the case that people can make a financial transaction to possess God. God is not our possession. We are God’s beloved possession.  Instead the rest of scripture indicates that Jesus sold all he had to buy us. He paid for us with his precious blood. Jesus did not hesitate, out of love for us, the pearl of great price he gave up his life on the cross.

We as the church are the treasure that is buried in the field and purchased with eager marvelous joy.  We are hidden among the world, we are the wheat hidden among the weeds.

As a child I like to collect things. Baseball cards, comic books, action figures. A common wishful thinking daydream of mine was that I would some day find an old crate or lock box in a dusty attic somewhere, maybe left behind from a previous owner of a home, maybe somewhere else. In my daydream that box would contain old baseball cards from say the 1920s or 30s, and maybe some old valuable comic books.

Now as an adult I realize that finding such a treasure would only be of limited value to me, and would only bring temporary joy.  Now I know the real treasures of this world are not what we can find, but instead true treasure is God finding us and showing us His perfect love.

God knows how precious we are.  Because of God’s love we have become a treasure, beloved for eternity.

The small daughter of a famous artist was once asked which child was her mother’s favorite.  The little girl replied: “She loves Jimmy the best because he’s the oldest, and she loves Johnny the best because he’s the youngest. And she loves me best because I am the only girl.”

Parents have their own imperfect way of loving each child best. Even more so, God loves us personally, no matter what our life experience is or what we have accomplished in life.  Jesus wants us to recognize that we are all precious in His sight, all the pearl of great worth.

When you know someone loves you, it makes you feel your worth so much more. Even more so we feel our worth knowing that we have such worth in God’s eyes.

If young men and women in our churches could understand what great worth they have, how different might the decisions be that our youth make. If youth were properly taught what a treasure they are to Jesus, how much less would be the temptations of the treasures of popularity with peers, material pursuits and pursuits of vanity.

If parents understood the worth they are to God, how much more confidently and joyfully might they raise their children in the faith!  How sad that the joy of God’s kingdom is so often hidden among us.

We considered earlier how parables bring to light truths that are hidden. How unlikely and improbable that the kingdom of our living God should be hidden. God made the world and yet His kingdom is hidden in the very world He made. The hiddenness is because of the reign of sin.

Because of sin some people do not see it, some people go on about their lives completely content to be without God’s kingdom. Right before our gospel reading for today is the parable of the weeds- which describes how the wheat is hidden among the weeds. True believers are hidden among the weeds of unbelievers, and all will be harvested at the last day.

Even we as God’s people also experience the hiddenness of His kingdom. Sure we see the glory of God in worship and in the gifts of forgiveness.  But also so many disappointments and deep hurts within our lives and within the church. One theologian noted that the church is the only army that goes after its own wounded.

Just where is this glorious kingdom of people worshiping the Lord in joy and thanksgiving?  Too often it is hidden.

In our Old Testament reading we hear how the people of Israel are not more numerous than other people. In other words they are not stronger, or more powerful. There is nothing about them that makes them better than any other peoples of the world.  By outward appearance they are just like anyone else, maybe even less noteworthy.  What is special about them is hidden.

Yet because God has chosen them as a people of his own possession. What is hidden among them is the great treasure of God’s love.  This treasure is what makes them so special.  “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”

The treasure of being God’s people is what makes us blessed.

Though God’s kingdom may feel to us as if it is hidden. God’s Word makes clear that we are a people of His own possession. Bought by Jesus, there is nothing hidden or secret about the inheritance we have.  In fact nothing can take us away from this heritage.

From the beginning God planned for us to be his treasured possession: We heard from our reading in Romans the details of how God gave spiritual birth to us and preserved us.

“because God foreknew us he also predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son… those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

We are God’s treasured possession, We confessed earlier in the service these words of Psalm 125 “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.   As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermoreThe Lord surrounds and protects his treasured possession.  How beautiful those words are.

 

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God’s Treasured Possession

Here is the sermon I gave at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Brownstown, IN on June 18th for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Privileges and responsibilities. Part of life as an adult is a greater scope of freedom and privilege.  You can do so much more as an adult than you could as a child.  Along with the privileges of adulthood comes much more responsibility.   Some would see this as a trap, or a catch in life.  You can picture an adult warning a child, careful for what you wish for, all those things you want bring with them a lot of responsibility.

But whoever said responsibility is such a bad thing?  To the person who desires to never grow up, in the manner of Peter Pan, responsibility may seem like a bad thing.  But to those who desire to live in Christ like service of others- responsibility is an opportunity for blessing.   Responsibility brings fulfillment and purpose to life.

In our reading from Exodus we have a picture of privileges and responsibilities.  God describes the circumstances by which the people of Israel have been rescued and brought to be a people of the Lord’s own prized possession.

“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on Eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.”

As if escorted on Eagle’s wings Israel was brought from slavery to the highest pinnacle of creation, communion with God.   To be escorted on Eagle’s wings is to be carried completely by God, a free gift- nothing that Israel did themselves brought them to God.  It was without doubt a great privilege.

Israel was made God’s own possession.  Of all the peoples all over the earth created by God, Israel alone was set apart to be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.  As Israel obeyed the laws of God and worshiped God as they were instructed, they would show to the world how just and perfect God’s laws were.  What a responsibility!

If Israel acted no different than the other nations and worshiped the gods of other nations, they would fail in showing themselves as God’s possession.  Their responsibility was simply to be the people of God.

As a priestly nation. Israel had the special role of obtaining God’s blessing, and mediating God’s blessing to the rest of the world.  We don’t often think of Israel in the Old Testament this way, but through sacrificial offerings and priestly responsibilities they were acting as intermediators between God and all people of the world.

Even though Israel did not chose to become God’s people, she could choose whether or not to carry out His mission or not.  If Israel listened to the voice of God and kept the liturgical and ethical commandments given to her by God, then God would be able to use Israel to fulfill His purpose for Israel.   Then God would with joy call Israel His treasured possession.

It is interesting to look at these details of exactly what role Israel played in the ancient world.  But you might also wonder, what does that have to do with us?  Israel’s treasured role as God’s possession connects with us because we are the direct spiritual descendants of Israel.  We are God’s own treasured possession, the church.

In this privileged role we receive God’s blessings abundantly and have the role of sharing this blessing to the world. We have the privilege of being called a treasure possession by God, and we also have the responsibility to distribute God’s blessing to the world.

Part of our faith is making a choice, in light of the privilege we have as God’s people, do we embrace the responsibility or do we minimize our responsibility whenever we have the chance?

Both as a church and as individuals we have choices to make on a daily basis.  Every day presents many small choices about how we spend our time.  Should I spend my spare time with media consumption, following the ebb and flow of the 24 hour news cycle worrying about what implications the news has for our world?

Or should I spend my time treasuring God’s presence with me in the form of quiet prayer, hearing God’s Word, practicing love and forgiveness to others whenever I have the chance?

One series of choices leads a person to worry about the same things everyone in our culture worries about.  Certain choices lead as to think just like our culture thinks.  And even to covet material goods, or certain experiences.

In contrast the series of choices that we make in Christ lead us to a quiet enduring peace and joy.  In Christ we see the world through God’s perspective.

It sounds like such simple choices we have in life, yet one of the great temptations of this time is the belief that you can learn the basics of God’s Word at one point in life, and then go your own way, living life to the full without too much thought to spending time sitting through Church or hearing God’s Word.

But if faith should become something in the background of your life, then how open can you really be to be used by God to bless others?  We carry little responsibility as God’s treasured possession if faith is way in the background in life.

Today our nation celebrates Father’s day.  It is certainly a good thing and pleasing to God to acknowledge and give thanks for the role of Fathers in our families and in our congregation.

We know that responsibility is an essential part of God’s design for fathers.  Research shows that when Fathers play an active role in a congregation, there is a 90% chance his children will follow in dad’s steps.

When a Father stays home, only 50% of children have been shown to continue in church as adults, even if mom attends regularly.  What power fathers have to bless the church!  What a privilege to have such an influence. What a responsibility!

Just like Israel could choose whether or not to carry out God’s mission, we too have this choice today.  Today is a good day to give thanks for fathers, and it is an especially good day to be thankful for the spiritual leadership fathers play in our church.

Whether a father or any other role in life we can all ask ‘What are the blessings that we show to the world when we accept the mission God puts before us as the church?’

Most importantly and most directly we share the blessing of knowledge of salvation when we proclaim the gospel to the world.  When people hear the word with gladness, they have received the same blessing God first gave to us.  Essentially we have passed on the blessing we have received to others when we share the gospel.

Whether we have opportunity to share the gospel with others or not, many in the world may receive God’s blessing through us when we act in a priestly manner by praying for those in the world.  Just think about it, nothing is holding you back from praying for others in the world.  And when you pray for others, you are standing as one of God’s treasured possessions speaking before God on their behalf.

Even if people reject the teachings of God’s Word, the extent to which we follow God’s Word in our lives and in our families, will provide people with unseen blessings, and a living testimony of a blessed way of life that otherwise would become forgotten.  This is the blessing of the responsibility God gives his people.

Sometimes we might resist any idea of responsibility to bless others with our faith- the thinking being, what do I have to offer to others?  But it is not ourselves that we offer, instead we offer them Jesus. We don’t have anything else to offer than Jesus.

With Jesus, our choice as to whether to carry out God’s mission is clear. Abiding in Christ we gladly make the choice to listen to God’s Word and be shaped by it for the blessing of the world.

In Christ it is simply unthinkable that we would starve ourselves of God’s Word.  It is unthinkable that we would take little or no interest in how our faith may serve as a blessing to the world.

President Matthew Harrison notes that whatever flaws we have as a synod, for that matter whatever flaws an individual congregation may have, We are still here! We are still confessing Christ, even 500 years after the Reformation.  In the case of St. Peter’s even over a hundred years since its founding.

As a synod and as a congregation you are part of a bigger picture.  Lutheran Heritage Foundation has translated Luther’s Small Catechism in 50 languages.  The LCMS has full time missionaries serving all throughout the world.  Lutheran Hour Ministries broadcast in country after country.

KFUO the radio station of the LCMS broadcast on the internet all over the world. One program Issues Etc. applies Lutheran theology to contemporary issues with a passion and quality that stands out not just in our church body but for all Christian church bodies.

In light of what we have, the many privileges that belong to us as part of God’s treasured possession, it is a great time to dare boldly to be God’s people to the world.  The time is ripe to show mercy to those who are in need.  To extend blessings to those who most desperately need the good news of Jesus.  It is a great time to embrace the responsibility we have as God’s treasured possession.

Beyond limits

Here is the sermon I gave at Zion Lutheran New Palestine on Saturday evening, and St. Peter’s Brownstown Sunday morning for the festival of Pentecost

Have you ever wished there were not so many limitations to your life? A few years back there was a movie called Limitless.  The basic plot of the movie was that the main character gets a hold of a pill that unlocks the full potential of his brain.

Through being able to access 100% of his brain he is able to live life as if it is moving in slow motion, several step ahead of everyone else to the point where he has seemingly limitless power in society.  If you are honest, you may admit that such a premise sounds attractive.

In recent months I have probably become more aware of limitations in my life than ever before.  With two young children, limitations are self evident to begin with.  You can only stay out so late in the evening, you can only get so much house or yard work done in a day when you are also seeing to the needs of your children.

But what has really made me feel my limits is serving as a vacancy pastor here at St. Peter’s.  I know what you are thinking, yes the long drive from Greenfield, and the challenge of bringing leadership to people who aren’t always so eager to change- I bet that is a little challenging.

But actually, the particular way my role as vacancy pastor has been humbling to me is the nearly limitless possibilities of how to approach ministry.  It is natural for me as a vacancy pastor to pay attention to what other pastors in the area are doing.

I might like one evangelism idea from one church, and another idea about care and hospitality from another church, and still one more approach to teaching faith in the home from another church.

So many good ideas, it is simply not possible to carry out even a fraction of the ministry approaches that are observed in various churches in our synod.  The more aware I am of opportunities for pastoral leadership, the more aware I am of the limits of our human nature.

Perhaps you can relate to the feeling of limitations.  Maybe you feel your life has more limitations than others. One family you know has a vacation cabin on a lake, where your family is lucky if you even manage one weekend a year to travel somewhere different than your usual life activities.

Maybe you know some people who do so much through the course of a year that they seem to have energy to spare, where you feel you are lucky if you have enough energy to keep the house in reasonable condition and bills and deadlines caught up with.

The fact is that limitations are a characteristic of all of our lives.  Our human nature presents us with limitations about how much sleep we need, and a list of countless  things we need in place to be healthy.   Our society presents many limitations in the form of how much money we are willing or able to spend.

The ultimate limitation of our lives is sin.  Sin limits how healthy and rewarding our relationships are.  Sin limits how big our hopes and dreams are.  Sin limits every good impulse we might have.

If only we could take some magic pill to remove those limiting effects of sin! But the truth is that no movie fantasy can overcome the effects of the Fall into sin.

But there is one real life character who can overcome the effects of the Fall.  Our Lord Jesus Christ has come to us to remove the limits from our lives. No not the limits that keep us from being wealthy beyond our wildest dreams- as some televangelists would have us believe.

Nor has Jesus come to remove the limitations of our bodies and daily schedules that humble us on a daily basis.  Jesus has not come to give us an ultimate freedom to do whatever we desire or attain whatever we covet in life.

Instead Jesus has come to make us perfectly free to have a relationship with our living God!  On the day of Pentecost Jesus sent His Spirit to His church so that his kingdom would come on the earth without limits.

Pentecost was the day in history where the Holy Spirit was given without limit to the church.  The day of Pentecost was seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus- 50 days by the Jewish counting of days.

We hear in Acts chapter 2 that when the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. How is it that the disciples and countless others knew to be together in one place?

Pentecost was already a day in it’s own right, the feast of Weeks  which marked 50 days after the Passover, the end of the Passover season- sort of like how today we think of Labor day as the end of the summer calendar.

During the Feast of weeks or Pentecost, God’s people were to bring the first fruits of their harvest as an acknowledgement of God’s blessing to them.

People might journey to Jerusalem for Passover and stay through Pentecost.  It makes sense why God would chose this day to give the church the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Beginning with Pentecost the Holy Spirit sends the church out to proclaim the message of Christ crucified and glorified.   Before the events of Christ’s passion the full story could not yet be told.

Now that Jesus has ascended into heaven, the Spirit strengthened the church to tell the whole story.  The day of Pentecost was the first of many fruits of the harvest of Christ’s Passion.

Following Pentecost the Holy Spirit now was available to the church anywhere and at any time. No limits to the Spirit’s work of proclaiming Christ crucified.

Part of our sin is that we put limits on the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We may limit the Holy Spirit in our own minds through unbelief or doubt.  We may have doubt as to what power the Holy Spirit has in our and in the church.

We look at the church and see limits in terms of what the church is as an imperfect human institution. We might even resent the church for such limits- as if it is keeping us from God’s love.

One particular limit our society may put on the Holy Spirit is casting doubt on the clarity of the Holy Spirit to us.  Does the Bible really say what the church claims it is saying about how God’s kingdom works? Or even the question of, does the Bible really say what God intended for it to say, or has it been changed by human intervention?

It is no mystery what is the agenda behind such questioning of the clarity of the Holy Spirit.  The more we question the clarity of the Holy Spirit, the less likely we are to follow the truth of God’s Word.  And the more likely we are to accept the beliefs that many in society want to impose on us.

Still others today may overlook the clarity of the Holy Spirit’s communication on Pentecost to the point where we are encouraged to look for signs all around us for what God might be trying to communicate to us as far as how to live our lives.

But the clarity of the message of Pentecost is undeniable: Jesus is our risen and ascended Lord.  The Holy Spirit has been given to proclaim the good news of Jesus throughout the world, as a preparation for the Last day.

When I was a child, I remember being confused about exactly what Pentecost was.  It is not an event like Christmas or Easter that teaches about the two most important aspects of Jesus His birth and his death/ resurrection.  No elaborate celebrations in our culture attached to this event like Christmas and Easter.

Since Pentecost happens in the beginning of summer, you might even find yourself traveling on the weekend of Pentecost and not even be aware that it is Pentecost Sunday until you pick up the bulletin at whatever church you visit.

But what is important is not that the day the church celebrates Pentecost is a big splash, but that every day in the long season of Pentecost and even everyday throughout the calendar year is a day of sure and steady growth.

The legacy of Pentecost to us is that even though are lives are full of limits in every aspect- there is through the in dwelling of the Holy Spirit in us, no limit to our ability to access the grace of God in our lives!

Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we now have a relationship with God that knows no limits.  When we pray, the Father hears us.  When we hear and receive God’s Word with joy, our faith grows- it’s a guarantee and promise of our Lord! With the Holy Spirit we pray:  Alleluia. Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.

Living Stones

Here is the sermon I gave on May 14th at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church for the fifth Sunday of Easter.  At this stage in the season of Easter the Lectionary Readings and Propers have transitioned from the resurrection appearances of Jesus to themes of building up the body of Christ- as the church draws closer to celebrating the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost.

We find in our Epistle reading for today the theme for our worship, as we reflect on the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” A Cornerstone is a carefully shaped rock designed to lay the foundation for the levelness and structural integrity of the rest of the building.

If the building’s cornerstone is off, the rest of the building cannot be straight.  It is essential that the cornerstone be smooth and true to provide a foundation for all remaining stones in the building.

If Christ is the cornerstone of the spiritual house of the church- we know with certainty that this is a building that will last and endure.

But our reading from 1Peter doesn’t just describe Christ, the cornerstone- it also describes us as building stones ourselves. 4As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

We are called living stones who are built into a spiritual house, part of a holy priesthood. This is no humble description of God’s people, this is a regal, glorious picture of the church. A picture that may seem hard to swallow.  Living stones?  Is this really talking about us?

We may look out at our church and see anything but this beautiful spiritual house that 1Peter describes.  We may instead see an imperfect spiritual house, characterized by an imperfect building- perhaps in need of some updates or repairs. We may look and see a church with a reputation in the community of people who often do not get along with each other.

We may see in St. Peter’s that it is like any church, composed of imperfect sinners.  Instead of living stones that build a spiritual house, we may have an easier time picturing ourselves as rolling stones.

But the truth is, we aren’t members of a holy priesthood because of how we look or what we say.  We are who the Father says we are! The Father gave His Son to die on the cross for us.  And that is what makes us who we are.  We find our identity in Christ. We are living stones in Him. Not just individually, but all together, a spiritual building in Him.

How amazing that we are part of God’s perfectly designed building! How amazing that we get to be living stones who continue to build on the foundation of Christ.

One rainy Sunday afternoon a father was babysitting his children and had the task of keeping them entertained.  He assigned specific tasks to each child. To keep his ten year old son busy, he had torn a full page map of the United States out of a magazine, cut it into small pieces, and told his son to reassemble it as a jigsaw puzzle.

To the father’s amazement, his son presented him with the completed puzzle in just a few minutes.  “How did you do it son? He asked.  It was easy the boy replied. At first when I tried to fit together all those little lines and dots and the small print on the map, it looked like an impossible job. Then I saw part of a man’s face on the back of one of the pieces. So I turned the pieces over, and when I got the man together, the United States took care of itself.”

The jigsaw of life makes sense, and we get it all together- when we live our life against the background of Christ.  Faith in Christ as our Savior makes all the pieces fit.  The pieces fit together in our lives as individuals as well as our lives as a group.  All the stones fir together, giving the building everything it needs to take shape.

People rejected Christ as the cornerstone, so they will also reject us if we follow from His foundation. But if we are built on the cornerstone of Christ we will not be put to shame.  We will not labor in vain, even if people persecute us for our confession of faith.

In our reading from Acts Stephen confessed Jesus as Lord boldly.  Once he began to tell the full story of how Israel rejected Jesus (just as they had all the prophets before him) they stoned him.  But Stephen was not put to shame.  Even as his life was taken from him he saw Jesus at the right hand of God, he was not put to shame, but instead glorified by God- honored as the first martyr of the church.

Many have observed that the one constant in life is that there is always change.  Whether it is a season or a stage in life, things never stay the same as long as we want them to.  Change happens within our lives and our families, as well as in our culture.  You may be particularly aware of change on Mother’s Day today if your mother is now with the Lord.

But change is not the only true constant in life.  Instead the one great constant in life is God’s love for us.  We prayed in our Collect Prayer that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found.

God’s love and favor to us lasts throughout our lifetime, where everything else changes.  We can’t count on anything else staying the same.  But through Christ’s changeless love for us- we find true joy.

Even the foundation of a building can fall over time.  But the church is a building built of living stones based on the foundation of Christ.  “See I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” Built on the foundation of Christ, the church will never fall.

To outward appearances it may appear as if the church will fall at any moment.  Built upon imperfection.  But because the cornerstone is perfect, the rest of the building is indeed a spiritual house of living stones.

This means here at St. Peter’s this congregation will certainly bear much good fruit because we are built on the cornerstone of Christ.  No matter what decisions the congregation makes about building projects or pastoral calls God’s Word will continue to work in this congregation wonderful things.  There is joy in knowing that God’s Word works regardless of what ministry goals we may or may not have as a congregation.

We are living stones.  As we live our lives upon the foundation of Christ we continue to build upon the spiritual house of the church. We follow the example of those who have gone before us proclaiming Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection- and we lay a solid foundation for future generations to build upon.  There is joy knowing that our faith is part of God’s plan, part of a bigger picture than ourselves.

In our gospel reading we hear of upcoming change as Jesus warns the disciples of his departure to take place shortly after the Last Supper.  Thomas protested to Jesus, “Lord we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?”  The disciples were not ready for the change of losing their Lord.  How could they know which way to go on their own?  They were not seeing themselves as living stones.

Jesus answers them: “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”  Although they will experience a change as the events of Holy week unfold, they will still know God’s constant love through Jesus- they will know the Father through him.  Through the call to discipleship they will show others Jesus- they will be living stones who show the glory of the Father.

The change of Jesus’ departure will not keep them from the joy of knowing Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.

In our reading of Psalm 30 we heard the psalmist declare, ‘I cried to you for help and you have healed me.”  We face many challenges and changes in life, but have constant that our God hears us when we cry out in need.  We even face death, the greatest change of all with the assurance of deliverance:

“O Lord you have brought up my soul from Sheol, you restored me to life from among those who go down into the pit.”

Not even death can keep us from knowing Jesus as the Way the Truth and the Life- our Cornerstone of life and salvation.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

Voices Overlooked by the Media

The Federalist posted an article with an often overlooked aspect of the Pro life -Abortion debate: the exploitation and deception of women for political agendas. Here is the text of the article.  http://thefederalist.com/2017/05/01/10-reasons-congress-defund-planned-parenthood-women/

10 Reasons Congress Should Defund Planned Parenthood, From Women Who Have Been There

While the abortion giant claims to have women’s best interests at heart, countless numbers of us who have suffered the adverse effects of abortion know that’s anything but true.
Theresa Bonopartis

By

On April 29, protesters took to the streets across the country to call for Congress to finally fulfill Republican leaders’ promises to end taxpayers’ sponsorship of Planned Parenthood, our nation’s largest abortion provider.

Sadly, in the debate between pro-lifers and pro-aborts, certain voices are often ignored. This includes the women who have experienced abortion and were deceived by organizations like Planned Parenthood, which have a vested interest in downplaying or denying the effects abortion can have on women’s lives.

While the abortion giant claims to have women’s best interests at heart, countless numbers of us who have suffered the adverse effects of abortion know that’s anything but true. While the organization’s brass promote themselves as health-care providers and advocates of poor women, a little research reveals the people running the show aren’t the champions they claim to be.

In fact, they’re doing quite well for themselves as taxpayers watch their hard-earned dollars support their organization, which delivers more than 300,000 abortions each year. In 2014, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards earned $957,952, according to Internal Revenue Service records, while the organization received $528 million in government funding the same year.

It’s no wonder the organization is keen to cling to its carefully constructed public image as a women’s health-care provider despite disturbing revelations over the past few years, including allegations that Planned Parenthood harvests the organs of aborted babies, or the fact that the organization does not provide mammograms. Deception has served Planned Parenthood well. Styling itself as a one-stop shop for women’s health care, the organization enjoys the support of countless donors who remain unaware of what goes on behind the nonprofit’s closed doors.

It is hard to listen to all the rhetoric surrounding Planned Parenthood when you have been a statistic of abortion’s damage and the organization’s leaders downplay or deny the very real experiences of millions of women. Most women don’t feel comfortable speaking about their abortion experiences, but as more and more of us reach healing, that’s changing. On behalf of those women, here are 10 reasons why Planned Parenthood should be defunded.

10. Planned Parenthood Doesn’t Care for Post-Abortive Women

Because it denies the reality of abortion’s effects on mental health, Planned Parenthood does not provide follow-up care for women who have had abortions.

“Planned Parenthood doesn’t provide any after abortion counseling [and] they don’t provide real choices,” says Nancy, from New York.

9. Planned Parenthood Overlooks Statutory Rape

As investigations over the years have revealed, Planned Parenthood’s de facto policy is to ignore statutory rape laws when admitting underage patients.

“The fact is that they cover up the abuse of minors by abetting the sex trafficking of minor girls,” says Clarissa, from Ohio.

8. Planned Parenthood Uses Women

“For me, Planned Parenthood was the clinic where my pregnancy was confirmed in July of 1972 as there were no home pregnancy tests at the time. It was there that I was told the first of many lies… [Such as identifying the developing baby as a] ‘Glob of cell and tissue.’ (I was 12 weeks pregnant.) Second, I was told it would be a simple surgical procedure. It was not…there would be no after effects and there was no discussion of any other alternative, [including] having the baby or adoption.”

“They also told me to lie as I was only just 17 and the law was 18 in New York. It was later on that I came to find out that they were in an intentional partnership with the clinics in New York to deceive young women into having abortions as a safe and easy solution to the ‘problem of a pregnancy.’ This was part of the agenda to push for legalization on a national level…These abortions were not back alley. They were being done in hospitals and of course clinics like CRASH.”

“There was not only deceit…but we were being used on so many levels for the purpose of an agenda…as we believed the lies and then had to deal with the aftermath of the death of our children. We were also left with no support or follow up…only birth control pills which became another way we could be used. I continued to go to the Planned Parenthood clinic to get my pills. No one ever even asked me about my abortion and how I was doing,” says Mary, in New Jersey.

7. Employees Speak of Pregnancy as a ‘Problem’ to ‘Fix’

“They are not very helpful in planning happy parenthood. Just the painful. I am the mother of deceased children.”

“Further, as I volunteered recently at a pregnancy center I talked to women who came to us for an ultrasound after they visited Planned Parenthood. They were shocked when they saw their babies’ development. They reported that workers at Planned Parenthood said: ‘You should take care of this soon before it turns into something.’ In other words, they are still lying to women about fetal development, which is a truth of medical science! Why should my tax dollars pay for that? Real doctors don’t have to lie so they can profit from the services they provide,” says Eileen, in Michigan.

6. Planned Parenthood Ignores Women’s Testimony of Post-Abortive Suffering

Because admitting abortion can cause emotional and mental trauma would damage the narrative that abortion is simply a minor procedure, Planned Parenthood ignores the stories of women who have suffered after their abortions.

“After my two abortions by 1982, I was emotionally spent and quit my ‘dream TV career’ to go back home to the D.C. area to be near family. I desperately needed security. How many young women QUIT their own TV show? [It] proves I was broken and didn’t know just how much those abortions affected me. I just didn’t understand why I was so depressed, [why I engaged in] drug and alcohol abuse, major promiscuity, etc…I was a textbook case of self-sabotaging and destructive behaviors. Anything to dull the pain…but [I] didn’t connect the dots.”

“They never once told me about the aftermath of what I’d feel or how the abortions would affect me mentally, spiritually, and physically,” says Leslie in Virginia.

5. Planned Parenthood Preys on Women’s Defensiveness About Abortion

Planned Parenthood deceives women encouraging their support, knowing that they need to justify their abortion decisions.

“For years in the 1990’s while raising my kids up to their high school years, I was a militant pro choicer and major advocate for PP (to validate MY poor choices), I was an angry voice for a woman’s right to choose… ‘my body, my choice.’ I lobbied lawmakers to get out of my bedroom. I was a misguided, angry woman, like so many I see today.

“Planned Parenthood lies, and cheats women, families, and our tax dollars. They buy politicians to do their bidding. (Look at the DNC National platform!!!) I’ve studied their propaganda and deception, the history of Margaret Sanger, Nathanson, NARAL, NOW, etc.,” writes LB.

4. Planned Parenthood Ignores Abortion Coercion

Planned Parenthood ignores the fact that many women and teenage girls are coerced into having abortions by their parents, husbands, boyfriends, and others who have power over women.

“I was a seventeen year old kid when I had my abortion which was coerced by my father. I was in my 4th month of pregnancy because I had hidden it for so long. No one told me the development of my baby or anything about the procedure I was about to undergo. “

“For countless women abortion is not a free choice or between them and their doctor, it happens because of coercion by parents, boyfriends and husbands, but Planned Parenthood does nothing to stop that, all they care about is the money,” says Theresa in New York.

3. To Planned Parenthood, ‘Choice’ Means Abortion

“The entire premise of the Planned Parenthood organization is that they stand behind ‘a woman’s right to choose.’ This is a complete lie. From the moment I walked into PP prior to my abortion, it was as if it was already understood that abortion was the ONLY choice and actually, the best way to handle my ‘situation.’ My ‘situation’ was a precious life growing inside of me and I was scared to death. At no point was I counseled in terms of future emotional, mental and psychological affects this abortion would have on my life. It was simply put to me that ‘more women than you could imagine have abortions’ – I never wanted to be in that category.”

“I take full responsibility for my abortion; however being read off statistics of the prevalence of abortion in our culture was in no way comforting to me at this time. The term counseling usually comes with a positive, healing connotation. This was the complete opposite. Never once did the counselor or doctor broach the discussion of ‘would you like to keep your baby?’ It was as if it were just understood that this abortion was happening,” writes BT from New York.

2. Planned Parenthood Fights Oversight and Informed Consent

Planned Parenthood fights every attempt at regulations, protection, and the informed consent of women, leaving them uninformed and in danger.

It opposes Women’s Right to Know legislation, which would provide information on all the dangers of abortion and fetal development. Planned Parenthood is against parent consent to medical procedures done on minors. Your child cannot get an aspirin at school without parental consent, but in many states can go for a life-altering procedure like abortion without parental consent.

Planned Parenthood fights regulations on abortion clinics, leaving their safety requirements far less than those on any other surgical clinics.

1. Women Have Died Because of Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood would like everyone to believe that ending federal funding to them would place women’s lives at risk. Yet we know women’s lives are already at risk in their clinics, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.

Some deaths of women at Planned Parenthood include: Tanya Reaves, a 24-year old woman, who died from three major complications during a botched second-trimester abortion suffered at a Chicago Planned Parenthood; Cree Erwin, who died from complications of a botched abortion performed at an Planned Parenthood facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan; Holly Paterson, who died in an emergency room after having been given RU-486 at Planned Parenthood in San Francisco; and Diane Lopez, who went to the Los Angeles Planned Parenthood for an abortion when she was 18 weeks pregnant. Her cervix was punctured during the abortion and she later bled to death at a nearby hospital.

Recent emergencies at Planned Parenthood include: The Virginia Beach Planned Parenthood hospitalized two women in the month of April 2017; On April 1, 2017, a patient was loaded into the ambulance at Tempe, Arizona, Planned Parenthood; and on April 1, 2017, a woman was medically transported out of the Planned Parenthood facility in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Then of course there are the countless numbers of women who suffer emotionally after abortion, and even those who have committed suicide.

Planned Parenthood is quick to tell us they provide women “quality health care.” I think the families of the women mentioned would disagree. We’ve been there. We know. It’s time for Congress to defund Planned Parenthood and give our tax money to real medical providers who truly care for women’s health and safety.

From Sorrow to Joy

Here is the sermon I gave for Easter Sunday, based on the Resurrection account from the gospel of Matthew.

In trying times some people try to offer consolation through the phrase, “things could be worse.”  As in ‘It could be worse, you could have lost your job completely.’ But for the disciples and all those who hoped and believed in the salvation Jesus promised it truly was on Good Friday the worst possible scenario.  In a matter of hours Jesus was betrayed, publicly condemned, humiliated and then crucified.

The disciples were all together with Jesus during the Last Supper and before they knew it, he was asking them to pray with him at Gethsemane, asking them to stay up with him and keep watch.   As they were falling in and out of sleep Judas, one of their own betrayed Jesus.

He was seized by a small army as if he were a criminal.  The trial was a mockery of justice and filled with deceit.  An unlikely alliance of various factions who conspired in the darkness against Jesus.  His own people soon called for his crucifixion out of fear of the authorities and hardness of heart.

And through it all they failed their Lord! Peter denied him three times for fear of the same cup of suffering Jesus was given to drink.  One disciple fled so hastily that he was in only his under garments.  How could things go so wrongly- how could evil prevail so completely?  How could Satan prevail?

The women who were on their way to anoint Jesus shared in this same sorrow. They had brought costly oils and spices to Jesus as the last gesture of love they could do for Jesus.

And then in a moment it all changed.  Christ is risen!  Death did not have the last word after all, evil did not triumph.  An earthquake announces the shattering change.  An angel descends from heaven to roll back the large stone covering the tomb so as to allow the women to get inside.  The angel shone in splendid dazzling white in the same manner of how Jesus shone in His Transfiguration.

The unbelieving guards are overwhelmed with fear, but the two women who came to see Jesus hear the message of assurance from the angel: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay”

The announcement was made, sorrow turned to boundless joy.  And it was just as God planned all along.  What seemed like Satan’s triumph, what seemed like the most bitter defeat, was all according to God’s plan, Jesus has risen just as he told them.  It was not the worst possible scenario- but actually the best!

Surely they must have began to feel how needless their doubt was- everything went according to what Jesus had told them.  Jesus taught about his death and resurrection to the disciples all along, with parables and illustrations from nature.  Now they could put all the pieces together as they saw for themselves what it meant for Jesus to willingly lay down his life and to rise again.

How wonderful to fully grasp for the first time that what seemed like tragedy, was actually an amazing demonstration of God’s great love for us.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

If their sorrow and defeat made disciples question everything about the past- every blessing from God they received, every moment of fulfillment and hope, then the news of the resurrection would now give them every assurance about the future.  Just as he promised, he has risen from the dead, just as he promised he will go before them to Galilee.

2 Corinthians puts it well: But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—

After the angel spoke Jesus himself appeared to the two women, and offered greetings.  It kept getting better.  Jesus told them to go and tell His brothers.  Because of the cross those who abandoned him, those who deserted him were now forgiven and cleansed of their sins so that he called them “brothers”.   Jesus considers us brothers, and sisters because we also have been cleansed of our sin by His death on the cross.

We heard in our short Epistle reading from Colossians how we ourselves through our baptism have died with Christ and have risen with Him.  We have been connected to His death and Resurrection because we have been joined with Him.  Like the disciples we have experienced the sorrow and bitter pain of this fallen world.  But no trials of this world can bring us down- because we already have died with Christ.  And since we have died with Christ we have the joy of Christ always hidden in us.

In this month’s Lutheran Witness magazine President Matthew Harrison wrote an article referencing Luther’s writings about the resurrection entitled: “Only the Christian’s left foot remains in the grave.”

Unbelievers are like those who are running backwards, they fall into the grave and death takes them suddenly and unawares.  But as Christians we have already experienced our death in baptism.

-And because of this death, our resurrection in Christ has already happened.  We enjoy the advantage of already having the right leg out of the grave.-

Luther writes that “when Christ was born from the dead (as in his resurrection) it was like a child’s birth, the hard part is the head, the rest comes shortly afterward easily – just a little travail remains and we too shall see the resurrection.”

1Corinthians chapter 15 declares: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

As His brothers and sisters we confess with joy that because Jesus has overcome death we too shall rise with Him.  Our risen Lord has united us with him through the cross.  Together we confess that he has given us a hope that cannot be taken away.  We are now as his brothers and sisters equal heirs with Him.

As His heirs we alone have a correct knowledge of God in which to share with others.  Every year as Holy Week comes around you will see specials on the History channel, an occasional magazine cover article in Time or Newsweek that shares a secular perspective about Jesus.

Often the Biblical accounts about Jesus are described as part myth as compared to a secular viewpoint of who Jesus is.  Other times a view of Jesus is described that gives privileged attention to ancient writings about Jesus as far removed from the actual events as one or two centuries after the New Testament was written.

Tragically these media outlets are blind from seeing that the Bible itself is firmly grounded in the category of a historical writing- filled with countless references to geographical locations and people such as kings and governors that all are verified by Archeology and secular histories of the time.

In contrast, writing of other religions and heretical writing about Jesus that occurred many generations later, such as the gospel of Thomas, contains virtually no references to places and dates and known figures in history.  There is no comparison.

The only logical explanation for the folly of University religious studies departments and secular scholars that question the accuracy of the Bible or whether Jesus really was seen as the Son of God by the earliest Christians-  is the influence of Satan. The evidence itself gives no indication of what so many public university scholars teach.

We can see Satan’s influence in all those voices in our culture that imply that what Jesus really originally taught was different than what the early church recorded in the New testament about who He is as the Son of God.

But as heirs of Christ we testify to the truth of what the scripture teaches of who Jesus is and what his death on the cross and resurrection means to our world. A detail of fact that makes all the difference in the world to those who are on the fence questioning in their faith.

As heirs of Christ and brothers and sisters in Christ we do not proclaim the resurrection as islands unto ourselves, we do not live our faith in isolation.  We feast together in the marriage feast of the lamb.    The prophet Isaiah foretold how Christ would conquer the power of death with language of feasting together. We hear from Isaiah chapter 26

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.”

In just a short while we will feast together as the body of Christ.  We will receive the Lord’s Supper together, as fellow heirs of Christ’s resurrection.  Often we think of taking the Lord’s Supper as that which is important business between me and God.

But we also receive the Lord’s Supper together, a meal that unites us in the forgiveness and love of Jesus.  All the more reason why Christ has desired that we seek Him often in this meal.

Together we encourage one another, together we face the persecution of this world- the darkness of this world that despise the truth that Christ brings.  Together we live in the joy of the resurrection.   Together we press on with one leg already out of the grave, awaiting Christ’s return.

True glory in the cross

Blessed is he who comes in the Lord, Hosanna in the highest!  With great excitement people welcomes Jesus into Jerusalem.  It was already an exciting week no matter what, the week of the Passover, with hundreds of thousands of people flocking into Jerusalem from throughout the countryside for the highest holiday of the year.  The Passover was the remembrance of how God delivered Israel from death through the blood of the Passover lamb.

This year excitement was at a fever pitch as word spread of how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead just a few miles from Jerusalem.  Jesus had already provided a taste of the deliverance from death He had come to bring to Israel.  People wondered if he would now institute God’s kingdom among them. As Jesus entered Jerusalem on that lowly donkey, it was a glorious time in the sight of the people.

But the true glory of Jesus entering Jerusalem was not what people anticipated. The glory of Jesus was not the acclamation of the people, not the cheers in Jerusalem with palm branches waving and colorful cloaks spread along his path that brought glory to Jesus, but instead the true glory of his entrance into Jerusalem was his fixed determination to continue on the path toward the cross.

The glory of Jesus is that he willingly undertook this journey: We hear in Isaiah chapter 50 “I gave my back to those who strike and gave my cheeks to those who pull out the beard.”  He did not let the suffering along the way deter him, but instead continued on His path out of faith in the Father’s purpose or him. Again we hear from Isaiah chapter 50: “But the Lord God helps me, therefore I have not been disgraced. Therefore I have set my face like a flint and I know I shall not be put to shame.”

Jesus’ sacrificial entrance into Jerusalem changes our perspective of what is glory. So often we become wrapped up in human standards of greatness.  We entertain thoughts about how good we look to others.  It seems to be human nature to either elevate ourselves to a kingly status or to venerate others, world leaders, movie stars, sports stars or our favorite sports teams who we hope for championship victories.

In Fall of 1898 another person made a famous entrance into Jerusalem.  Kaiser Wilhelm, the last emperor of Germany and King of Prussia made a plan to visit the holy city.  He visited the city under the pretense of dedicating a Lutheran Church on the reformation observance of that year.  He hoped the visit would forge ties with the Ottoman Empire against England, France and Russia.

In preparation for the visit the Sultan had buildings demolished near the Jaffa gate and parts of the gate itself taken down just to allow for the one time passage of the expected large entourage of Calvary traveling with the king.  In the days immediately preceding the visit barking dogs in the city and beggars were relocated to nearby villages for the duration of the visit.

As for Wilhelm himself:  A large, luxurious tent encampment was built for him and his large delegation just outside the city walls. It had 75 residential tents, six lavishly furnished hospitality tents provided by the sultan, and six fully equipped kitchen tents.
All tents were comfortably appointed with furniture and carpets borrowed from wealthy Jerusalem families.

At last Kaiser and his wife entered Jerusalem amid countless photographers and journalist from around the world, cheering crowds and a 21 gun salute.  His entrance was so different than that of Jesus, so worldly in its purpose that it is laughable and shameful to our ears.

Instead of seeking glory for ourselves or delighting in the glory of those we elevate in our culture, Jesus calls us to change our mindset toward the mindset of a servant- seeking to serve others with no attention to human accolades.

“Have this mind among yourself which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing…”

It is a sad irony that he professed reason for such an extravagant visit by Wilhelm was to attend a church opening dedication.  We ourselves need Jesus to enable us to live humbly. By our nature it is hard to humble ourselves, to willingly acknowledge that we are not always right, we do not always have the best approach to a decision in our family, our workplace, or even in the church.  It is hard to accept what we want may not be what others want.

However, when we find ourselves right in the midst of the worship themes of Holy Week, when we meditate on and listen to the events of our Lord’s Passion we can’t help but see ourselves differently.  As we see the selfless sacrifice Jesus made for us, wanting to have things our way in life all the time, no matter what, feels like foolishness.

Humility comes in our awareness that we are forgiven not for what we have done ourselves, but because of Christ’s perfect love for us.

We want to be able to witness our faith from a mindset of humility.  Our pride about ourselves is not going to communicate the love of Christ to people.  What is the most common perception unbelievers have about Christians?

People who ‘think of themselves as better because they dress up and go to church every week.’

If the only message I give to an unbeliever is that my faith and attending church is important to me, then I may come off as boastful about my devotion and discipline to live out my faith.  Instead from the position of true humility we may tell people, I am a Christian only by the grace of God, only because of what Jesus has done for me.

And we may demonstrate the sincerity of our faith, not by describing how often we go to church or how much of our time we spend at church in board meetings- but through serving and helping others.  Through putting God’s love into action.

Before God, the time we spend in church is important and valuable- even if it is not something we want to boast to unbelievers about.   This week we will have the opportunity to glorify God with our voice and hear his love for us in the context of his passion.

In addition to this morning, we have the opportunity to gather in worship on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  And next Sunday we will join with the church around the world in celebrating our Lord’s resurrection from the dead.   The highest festival of the church year, and nothing that we boast about ourselves.

Have you ever heard the phrase “We must be out of our minds!”  I’ve heard it a lot in advertising, as in, this sale is so great that we are practically giving away our new 2017 model cars.  We must be out of our minds, take advantage while you can!

In a way we as Christians should strive toward this position, to be out of our minds.  I don’t mean that we should be pushing an advertising slogan, or that we should be reckless with our decisions.  Instead we should think with a different mind than what we once had.  We should think with the mind of Christ.

We have begun holy week.  We are going to listen to the account of our Lord’s suffering for our sake.  Let the hearing of God’s Word change your hearts, and prepare your minds for the good news of Christ crucified for us and risen for us. Amen.