Welcome

Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Office and Office Holder, Two Distinct Things

In his commentary on Isaiah, Isaiah 40-55, R. Reed Lessing (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 2011 (p. 286)), commenting on the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, Reed Lessing makes the following observation in a footnote about the office of the servant, in particular speaking of the office of the Holy Ministry.
Luther notes that though the occupant of the office of servant is blind, the office is still to be respected as a divine institution:
“Thus here God does not condemn the office but the blind persons. Similarly we do not rebuke the office, of bishop but the blind bishops and leaders of the blind. In this way we must admonish the evil incumbents of government and correct the office, while preserving the government and the office. This requires real skill.” (AE 17:79)
Interestingly enough, this same note can be make concerning our public servants, or those holding public office, because, after all, do we not refer to those holding public office as “public servants.” And so the same applies, we do not speak critically of the office, but of the incumbents in the office, speaking critically of their policies without demeaning the office they hold. And yes, this continues to require real skill in our world today.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Giving of the Helper - May 27, 2012 - The Day of Pentecost - Text: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Today we take the time to celebrate the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, as we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost day. Yes, we are going to talk about that person of the Trinity of which it seems we Lutherans are most afraid. Personally, I think it is a healthy fear that we have, because we do not want to err in our understanding of the Holy Spirit, His power and His work. I say that, because we have seen too many TV evangelists and others abuse and misguide many people, even may faithful Christians, concerning the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes and does His work as He was sent to do by the Father and the Son. And He does His work the way He pleases according to His good and gracious will. For us to impose anything else on Him, namely our ideas of what He should do and how He should be is, simply put, silly.
 
Let us get into our text. Our text begins with Jesus announcing that He is going away and then we have the disciples reaction. We begin at verse five, “5But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. ” (v.5-7). The reaction of the disciples to Jesus’ announcement is grief, sadness, and sorrow. The disciples are sad for themselves, theirs is a selfish sadness. They will miss Jesus. They have not taken the time to think things through. They do not want to understand the importance of Jesus’ going away, the importance of His sending the Holy Spirit.
 
Jesus, patient as He always is with His disciples, reassures them that this is for their own good that He is going away. Again, Jesus reminds them that unless He goes away, He cannot send the Holy Spirit to them, but when He goes away He will send the Holy Spirit who will be a Helper and even, as some translations call Him, a Counselor for them.
 
The second part of our text outlines the work of the Holy Spirit. We pick up at verse eight, “8And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer” (v.8-10). The work of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and the judgment of the devil. Now let us take a moment to look at these three.
 
The Holy Spirit comes to convict the world of sin, the sin of unbelief in particular. Please understand that Jesus is not just speaking with His disciples, His “faithful,” strong in the faith, disciples. He is speaking to us here today in the year 2012. The Holy Spirit still comes to us today to convict us of our sin of unbelief. Sure, we come to church, we say we believe, but do we not have doubts, at times? Do we not, along with the disciples, misunderstand what Jesus is doing for us, becoming sad, even angry when we believe that Jesus has left us, because things are not going the way we think they should? Yes, even in our faith we have times of doubt and unbelief. We may even think to ourselves, was Jesus work on the cross enough, and was it for me?
 
The Holy Spirit comes to convict the world of righteousness, that is of self righteousness or work righteousness. Again, Jesus’ words are meant for us today. How often do we catch ourselves expressing our faith in terms of all the wonderful things we have done or are doing for the Lord. I am not saying that we should not be glad about our work for the Lord, but how often does what we are doing get in the way of what God does for and through us? We talk so much about what we have done and what we are doing that what God does is no longer important. You know, the devil is very subtle. He does not come to you and say, “All your good works are so good that you deserve to go to heaven.” Rather, he slowly gets you talking about all your good works so that your concentration shifts from your dependency on Jesus, and His death and resurrection, to your being dependent on yourself, and Jesus being dependent on you and what you are doing. He gets you to thinking that you can be a champion for the Lord. Of course, he does this so subtly that you do not notice until it is too late.
 
And the Holy Spirit comes to convict the world of the judgment of the devil and to remind us that salvation belongs to the believers. This is where the Holy Spirit gently nudges us to say, “hey, don’t you think you’re depending on yourself a little too much?” “Don’t forget that it was Jesus’ life and death on the cross that saved you, it was all that Jesus did for you, living a perfect life for you in your place that saved you, it was Jesus suffering, death and resurrection for you personally that saved you, you did not save yourself.”
 
The Holy Spirit is alive and well in our world today. He is at work in our world and in us today. And we must understand the He works the way He wants to work, or as we say, when and where He pleases, giving the gifts He comes to give and giving them the way He wants to give them. Today He works through means, He works mediately, which is not to say that He cannot work immediately. Let me explain. The usual way the Holy Spirit has of working with us today is not to speak directly to us, not to come to us and show Himself to us; not to move in us to speak in tongues, or to babble. His usual way is to work through means, namely through the means of grace; the Word, that is the Bible, Confession and Absolution and the sacraments, that is Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit comes through these ordinary means, the Word, the Bible as you read it and as your hear it read. He comes through confession and absolution as we confess our sins and as we hear His word of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven.” He comes through the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He comes through simple water and the Word, and through the bread and wine, His body and blood, and the Word, to do His work, to show us Jesus’ life, His suffering and death, to show us Jesus’ resurrection, to give us the gifts that He has to give, namely the gifts of faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
 
Today the Holy Spirit delivers His gifts through the means of grace as they are given by our pastor. Our God is a God of good order. He knows that it would be rather chaotic for Him to just throw His gifts out at us or to us and beside, we would probably not believe it anyway. If Jesus appeared to us and then left, we would have a hard time believing it. So, God gives us the Holy Spirit and His gifts in a more orderly way, through the means of grace, delivered to us by our pastor.
 
And these gifts are delivered for us to use, not for us to take for granted, nor for us to hoard, nor for us to waste. The best illustration I can give you is the one I used a couple weeks ago and several times before, and one I am sure I will continue to use because it is a fitting illustration, it is the illustration of a pitcher of water. Please remember, as all illustrations are, do not push the point too far or you lose any meaning that might be there. God’s gifts are like water in a pitcher. We come here every week to have Him fill our glasses with the gifts that He has to give, through our hearing the Word, through our confessing our sins and hearing His words of absolution, our remembering our Baptism and our being given the Lord’s Supper. As we are filled with His gifts we get to the point that we overflow and those gifts spill over to others, and we are so excited that we share our faith with others, so they too will come to the Lord’s house, with their cups, to be given the Lord’s gifts as well. Those who do not come to be given the gifts are like the cup that stays away from the pitcher, and even what water it did have will evaporate so that it no longer has any, and that person loses their faith. Thus we see the importance of coming to the Lord’s house to be given His gifts. We come to the Lord’s house, we are filled with the Word and the Sacraments and then, excitedly we go out and tell others. Jesus’ life, Jesus’ work on the cross was enough. Jesus’ died for me and for you.
 
Last week marked our tenth anniversary as congregation and pastor. This morning as we begin another ten years together, as the Lord wills, I want to reiterate my commitment to you, the same commitment I made ten years ago. First, I commit to you that I will continue to pray for you, individually and personally. My usual habit is to begin my morning in prayer and scripture reading. Each morning I pray for a portion of the members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church personally, by name. I will also continue to pray for any special prayer requests you have made, including all those listed in our bulletin each week.
 
Second, I promise to continue to deliver the goods to you, that is, to continue to proclaim the good news to you, and to administer the sacraments to you, to speak God’s word of forgiveness to you, to visit the sick and shut-in. As you come here each Sunday, and on other days of worship and as you have need at other times, I promise to continue to share God’s Word of comfort and hope with you.
 
Finally, I promise to continue to be an example to you, though a sinful example and I will be an example by keeping my priorities straight. My priorities are first, my own personal relationship with God, second, my family, namely my wife, and then my children, and third, my work as your pastor. I continually pray that the Lord will give me the strength and ability to demonstrate these priorities in my life and as I demonstrate them, I pray that you will make them yours.
 
And now, as I did ten years ago, and as I am recommitting myself, I will ask you to recommit yourself. I ask two simple things from you. First, I ask that you will continue to pray for me. Pray that the Lord will continue working through me to reach you as well as others. Pray that the Lord will continue work in me to keep me faithful, and to preach faithfully even to the point of death.
 
Second, I ask that you will continue to come to be given the gifts that God has to give to you through me, making regular and diligent use of the Lord’s gifts. Come to divine service and Bible Class, come often to be given the gifts the Lord has to give to you through me.
 
Today is Pentecost Sunday. Next week we will celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday and the fact that God shows Himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the following Sunday we will begin the Pentecost Season, the Non-festival portion of our church year as we call it. The color on the altar will be green, the color of growth. Summer will be beginning meaning that many will be on vacation. Unfortunately, too often too many people have a tendency to be tempted to skip church during the Summer, because they are on vacation and away and so forth. This tendency is one of Satan’s ways of tempting you out of your usual habit to be in divine service hoping to break that habit. May I encourage you, as we have heard God’s Word, as we are given His gifts here today, as we have recommitted ourselves to one another and to Christ, that with His help we also recommit ourselves to Summer divine service attendance. God loves you so much and He has so much He wants to give to you. Come and be given the gifts, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ten Signs of a Culture’s End

There are ten signs that depict the end of a culture. Great civilizations of the past were destroyed when people saw these signs but failed to act. Each of these indicators is with us today.
  1. The first sign of the end of a culture is that of a society which no longer worships or acknowledges God.
  2. A second indicator of the end of a culture is the decline of the family.
  3. A third important indicator of cultural demise is a society's low view of life.
  4. Another sign of the end of the civilization is the prevalence of base and immoral entertainment.
  5. Still another troublesome indicator of society's demise is the increase of violent crime among young people.
  6. Another key cultural indicator is the declining middle class.
  7. Yet another sign of cultural demise is that of an insolvent Government.
  8. Related to this, a government that lives off of society's moral decay is another sign of the end of a civilization.
  9. One obvious indicator that a culture is in decline is when the ruling class loses its will.
  10. The final indicator of the demise of a civilization is the failure of its people to see what is happening.
(Taken from http://www.clintonmemoriallibrary.com/clint_change.html.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jesus Prays for Us - May 20, 2012 - Seventh Sunday of Easter - Text: John 17:11b-19

Last week in our Gospel reading, Jesus reminded us of what it means to be the ultimate friend. He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And that is exactly what He did. He laid down His life for us, for you and for me. He did this, because, as Paul tells us, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a). The price for our sins is death and that does not mean simply physical death, that means eternal spiritual death, hell. Jesus shows His great love for us in this, that He took all our sins upon Himself and suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty for us, in our place. He died so that we might live.

Our text for this morning is sometimes referred to as Jesus “high priestly” prayer. Jesus is praying for His disciples and He is praying for us, His close friends. Jesus is praying especially that we would be protected in times of temptation. And we must admit that temptations to do evil abound in this world. We are constantly being tempted by the devil. And although we are tempted by the devil, we cannot blame our sins on the devil. He does not have that much control over us. Yes, he can tempt us, but he cannot force us to do anything. The devil tempts us in many ways. He knows our weaknesses and that is where he attacks. Usually his attacks come in the most subtle of ways. The devil does not tempt us to do the things he knows we would not normally do. He does not say, “bow down to idols,” “lust after other people,” “steal this item or that item,” “murder that person,” “don’t go to church,” because he knows that those temptations will not work. Instead, he uses more subtle ways of tempting us, such as putting other things into our life which become our gods such as money, drugs, alcohol, power, greed and the like. He tells us that “window shopping is okay” in other words, “it is okay to look lustfully at another person, just don’t touch.” He tells us “it is okay to work slow and to ‘borrow’ things from the company without worrying about returning them, especially because we are not being paid as we should.” He fills our time and our lives with so many other things to do other than go to church, so that we do not have time for church. Yes, the devil does tempt us.

But, not only does the devil tempt us, we are also tempted by the things of this world. Friends, or rather, those who seem to be friends often tempt us. You know how it is, they say something like, “come on, everyone else is doing it . . .” At times we want to blame our spiritual life on our parents, “they always ‘made’ me go to church, so now I am rebelling against that and not going,” or “my parents let me choose if I want to go to church or which church I want to go to, so now I am looking for a church which conforms to my human nature and urgings.” And one of my favorite temptations comes all the from the beginning when we hear the questions asked, “Did God really mean . . . ?” and you can fill in the blank, in other words when we are tempted to question God and His Word. God in His Word tells us the truth. The world and our culture tell us that truth is relative, which really means there is no truth. The temptations of the world are great indeed.

We are tempted by the devil; we are tempted by the world; and we are also tempted by our own sinful human nature. Our minds are constantly in battle against sins of thought, envy, lust, greed, hatred, and the list goes on. Sin comes natural to us. Although we might deny it later and have regret, we like to sin. It is easy. It does not take any practice. And usually, at least at the time, we probably think it is fun.

And yet, here in our text we are told that our best friend, our true best friend, is praying for us. Jesus is praying that we might be protected and kept safe from temptation and sin. Very much like a loving parent or guardian wants protection and safety for their child, so our best friend Jesus wants only the best for us. And more often than not, while we are in the midst of sinning, we do not ever realize what we are doing, not that that is an excuses, at least not before God.

Yet, Jesus is realistic. He knows that we will undergo temptation and that we will sin. He does not pray that we will be taken out of this world, which He knows it the only way in which we would never suffer temptation and sin, rather He prays that through the trials we may face that we will be made better. Which reminds us of the possibility of what might happen as a result of the trials and temptations we face in this life, that is that through our trials and temptations we might be strengthened in our faith. You know, when we face trials there are really only two ways to turn. Either we get mad at and turn away from God or we are drawn closer to Him knowing that He is, really, the only one who can help us. It is this being drawn closer to Him which gives us the strength to face what is ahead and this is Jesus’ prayer.

Another result of trials and temptation is that we might be moved beyond ourselves to depending on Jesus alone. Trials and temptations are intended to strengthen us in our faith, to move us to depend on Jesus alone and to give us hope (Rom. 5:1-5). It is through Jesus alone that we have deliverance from sin, death and the power of the devil. It is through Jesus alone that we can resist and overcome the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful human nature.

Yes, we will have temptations while we are in this world, but we do not have to face these temptations alone. God’s promise is that with temptation He will also give us the help we need and that help comes in one of three ways. One way the Lord helps us in time of temptation, when we come to Him, is that He will remove the temptation, especially if He knows that we will not be able to handle it, that we will sin.

If the Lord does not remove the temptation from us, another way He has of helping us to overcome is by giving us a way out. He opens a door so that we might escape the temptation. Instead of going along with the crowd and doing something wrong, maybe God gives you a different choice, a way out of the sin. God gives us the courage to walk away from the temptation to steal, to hurt or harm someone, to join in speaking evil against someone, to covet, and even to misuse His name.

Finally, if He does not remove the temptation and if He does not open a door out, He will give us the strength to bear up under the temptation so that through this temptation we are drawn closer to Him and strengthened in our faith. This is probably the hardest of the three ways in which God helps us in times of trial and temptation, however, we are reminded by Jesus that God knows what we can handle and He promises never to give us more than we can handle. So, if you are going through some trial or temptation and you do not think you are able to handle it, evidently God knows you better than you and He knows you can handle it and He will be there to help you.

Today, Jesus continues to be our best friend. Along with His being with us every day, He is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven where He is watching over us, interceding for us, that is He is praying for us, and He is ruling over us. Everything we do, everything we say, everything we think, He knows. He knows everything there is to know about us and He loves us anyway.

Jesus is our best friend and He has shown that He is our best friend in the most profound way, by giving His life for ours. He is the one who is true God. As true God He was enjoying all of the glory that was His in heaven. He gave up the glory that was His in heaven in order to take on human flesh and blood, to be born as one of us except without sin. He lived for us, perfectly. What we could not do, live perfectly, He did. Everything we are supposed to do he did for us in our place. He took all our sins upon Himself, freely of His own choosing. He suffered and died the eternal spiritual death penalty of hell for us, in our place so that we might not have to die, but so that we might live and have life eternal with Him in heaven. He has made us right with God. He most certainly is our best friend.

And Jesus continues to be our best friend. He sends His Holy Spirit to help us “work out” our sanctification, that is, to do the good works which He would have us to do. Any work we do that is a good work in God’s eyes are only those good works that are motivated by God, done in and through us by the Holy Spirit, and are done to give glory to God. Which simply means that more often than not we do not actually know when we are doing a good work.
You may have noticed the ink blob above. Sometimes in this life we have a hard time seeing things, at least seeing things clearly. Sometimes we are too caught up in and involved in any given situation or relationship and we cannot see straight. True love, true friendship is something that is not blind, as some would suggest, but true love sees perfectly. We have one best friend and yet, too often, we are so involved in this world and our life in this world that we miss Him. Sometimes we need to stop and with His help take a closer look and then we can see Him. Now, take a moment to look at the ink blob above. Stare at the four dots in the middle of the ink blot for 30 seconds. Now, close your eyes and look. Jesus’ words to doubting Thomas were, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Blessed are we when we have not physically seen Jesus, yet we have seen Him in faith through eyes that can see

God never promised that life would be easy, however He has and continues to promise that He will be with us always. He has called us to faith, through His means of grace. He has put faith in our hearts through His means of grace. He has put His name on us at Holy Baptism. He continues to strengthen and keep us in faith through His means of grace. He has promised and continues to be with us always, even to the end of the world. My prayer for each one of you is that the Lord will continue His work so that when the final hour arrives we might all together stand before the Lord’s throne and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Vacation

Sorry there is really no post except to post that I am on vacation. With that said, a wise college counselor once said, "The word "vacation" has the word "vacate" in it. So, when you are on vacation you should vacate." Wise words. Too often when I am on vacation and fail to vacate there seems to be no reason why to not call, I am in town after all. So, although I have been in town for a few days, mostly to complete some overdue chores, we will be vacating for the weekend. All this means is that there will be no sermon for Sunday. Perhaps, as I am vacation, some other words of wisdom, or simply some other rambling might come to mind and I will share!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Celebrating in the Vineyard - May 6, 2012 - Fifth Sunday of Easter - Text: John 15:1-8

This year, as we did last year, our family planted a small garden in our back yard and on the side of the house. Last year the garden did not do so well as we had a lack of rain to help. But this year our garden seems to be doing pretty well. We planted some corn and beans and squash as well as some tomatoes, pumpkins, cantaloupe and watermelons. Some of the things we planted are growing really well but are not yet producing much fruit. On the other hand, some of the plants are not very big, but are blooming a lot. I must admit, I do not understand all the why’s and how too’s of gardening, but it sure is great when all the hard work pays off and you get to sample the “fruits of your labor” and sometimes it is even more fun when you can share that fruit with others.
 
One thing you will notice about gardens, especially as you till the soil, is that it has a lot of roots. As human beings, we also have roots, or what we call our roots. We can usually trace our family tree back down the roots a few generations. However, we do not like to talk about the horse thief in the family. We would much rather talk about the Doctor or Scientist or sometimes even the pastor or church worker. We want to talk about the “good” roots. When you plant a garden you want to make sure that the soil is loose, that there is fertilizer in the ground, that you water the plants, and so forth. You want the roots to take root and run deep. You want the plants to have good roots. Likewise, in our own Christian lives we want to make sure we have good roots. We do not want our roots to be planted in heresies or incorrect Bible teachings. We do not want our roots planted in some cult. No, we want good roots. We want our roots to be firmly planted in Christ who alone is the good soil.
 
Once in a while you need to weed the garden. You get down on your knees and pull out the weeds. Sometimes you come across a plant which has already died and you usually just pull it out and throw it away. It is important that these weeds and dead plants do not take up space or precious nourishment which the other, healthy plants need. Sometimes you might come across a plant that just needs little extra help so it will make it. Maybe you need to dig it up and put it in a pot by itself, or maybe you just need to dig around it and add a little fertilizer. Likewise, from time to time we have to do a little weeding and pruning in our congregation. This is not that we are doing something out of meanness. This is something we try to do in love. There are some members on our list who have moved away and have not taken the time to transfer. There are some members who want to stay on the role just in case they might need a baptism or a confirmation or a wedding or even a funeral. There are some who have died spiritually and have just not yet been weeded out. What is being done is that we are taking care of what has already taken place, the person has absented themselves from our fellowship. Others just need a little prompting. And this is not simply the “pastor’s job.” Yes, most pastors tend to know who sits where and when they are absent, but so do you. Look around on Sunday morning. If someone who sits near you is absent, give them a call and ask how they are doing. You do not need to be mean, “why weren’t you in church today.” Maybe they are sick. Maybe they could use someone to bring them a pot of soup. Maybe they just need a word of encouragement. It is the privilege of each one of us to care for each other as members of the body of Christ and that is how we build up the body of Christ, by caring for one another.
 
When you have taken care to cultivate the garden ground well, add fertilizer, and water your plants, they begin to grow. As they get to the size of maturity they begin to bloom. With the bloom comes the fruit and when the fruit is ripe it is delicious to eat. You can then, literally, enjoy the fruit of your labor. Likewise, as Christians, having roots that are nourished by the Word of God, by confession and absolution, by our remembering our Baptism, by our being given the Lord’s gifts through His Holy Supper, then, being a part of the vine is a joy, a privilege, and it elicits from us a response of commitment. Quite frankly, unless we are filled with the Word of God and His Spirit we never will share our faith with anyone else, in other words we will never bear fruit. In order to bear fruit we must first be filled. I like to use the illustration of a pitcher and a glass and you have heard me use this illustration before. God is like a pitcher. We are like a glass. Every Sunday, and whenever we read and hear His Word, we are filled from His pitcher, which never runs out. Now, if we absent ourselves from His Word, then even what we have in our glass will evaporate. Likewise, if we come back every Sunday and then bring a bigger glass the next week we will never fill up. However, the goal is that we come and fill our glass so that it is overflowing and that is when our faith spills out on others and we share that faith with others.
 
You can tell what is planted in a garden by looking at the fruit which is growing and maturing. The same is true for Christians. We like to talk about what is important in our lives, but do we live what is important? A lot of people tell me what are their priorities, and I always answer, “you do not have to tell me, because you show me.” Too often, and I believe this might be some of the devil’s doing, we say church is our priority, that our relationship with Jesus is most important, but we live otherwise. One of the devil’s greatest victories today is our busy-ness. The devil does not tempt you to not go to church, he knows that will not work, instead he tempts you with so many things that you do not have time for divine service. “Sorry we missed divine service, after all there was our sons soccer game, our daughters piano recital, dad’s softball game, mom’s Bunko club,” and the list goes on. Which begs the question, “what is important?” That which is truly most important to you is what you will make the time to do.
 
When we plant a garden, most of us do not plant it just for the fun of planting it. We plant a garden in order to enjoy the flowers, or to enjoy the fruits and vegetables. We Lutherans like to talk about Eph. 2:8,9, but we do not like to talk about verse ten. We are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith in Jesus alone, that is through faith in His death and resurrection. We are saved by grace through faith which is a gift from God. Yet, we are not saved for nothing. We are saved for a purpose. Certainly, as you have heard me say before, God created us for a purpose, to love us. God saved us because He loves us. It all starts with God, He is the prime mover. And now, here in our text, Jesus is talking about verse ten of Ephesians, that He works and stirs in us a response of faith, to do the good works which He has for us to do, “that we bear much fruit and so prove to be His disciples.” We are justified, we are made right in God’s eyes by grace through faith so He might also work in and through us what we call sanctification, that is that we might live lives of faith bearing fruit of faith.
 
We sing the old song, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Will they? If we were accused of being a Christian would there be enough evidence against us to convict us. Do we exercise our grace, or do we sit on it? If we were a Christian plant, would our fruit be the fruits of the spirit? “But, pastor,” you say, “this is hard.” Yes, but with God all things are possible. Every Sunday we come here to hear our pastor say the most beautiful words of all, “your sins are forgiven.” And with those words, along with the Word of God which is read and preached, we go forward with another chance to start over and with His help to do what He would have us to do.
 
This is the St. Matthew Lutheran Church Vineyard. This is a vineyard whose main vine is Jesus and whose vinedresser is God the Father. This is a growing vineyard. I believe that most gardeners would tell you that if you want a healthy vineyard you will want a good deep root system. Deep roots help the plant, especially in time of little water and drought, because the roots are deep enough to have access to the deep water. Here at St. Matthew we might say that we have deep roots. We have over 110 years of roots in faith in Jesus and in the Word and Sacraments.
 
Traditions and celebrations tend to come and go and they can be wonderful things. It is great to celebrate. I spoke earlier of the garden our family has planted. We planted several types of vegetables in our garden. What a celebration we look forward to as we watch it sprout, mature and ripen and as we look forward to eating the vegetables. Every other day or so we can look out and look at our garden grow. As it grows we will celebrate. Finally, the day will come when we will celebrate the fruit on the vine and eat our vegetables. Celebrations are a good thing. Yes, some seed falls by the wayside. Some plants do not make it. Some weeds kill off some of the plants. God never promised an easy life. But we have the advantage. We are connected to the Vine. We are connected to Jesus Himself. Each day is a celebration, because each day is a gift from our Lord.
 
St. Matthew Lutheran is a church which bears fruit. Fruit that is a response of faith. We cannot help but show the faith that is in our hearts. If there is faith, it shows. James reminds us, faith without works is dead. Now, do not get me wrong, I am not preaching work righteousness, I am preaching Ephesians 2:10 which we talked about earlier. Let me put it this way, if someone gave you an unexpect gift, would you take out your wallet and offer to pay them? Certainly not, that would be an insult. Neither would we take out our wallets and try to pay God for His gift of forgiveness and eternal life, which actually costs a high price, the price of the life of His Son. We would not offer to our friend to pay for the gift, but we would offer words of thanks as well as have an attitude of response to that person. Likewise, we do not offer to God to help pay the price for our sins, instead we thank God for His good gifts and blessings and we respond with lives of thankful living.
 
God’s will is that all people are saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. God works through us imperfect vessels to show His love to others. As the moon reflects that light of the sun, so we reflect the light of the Son of God. May the Lord continue to bless your growing here in this place so that when our last hour arrives we may all together stand before the Lord’s throne and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Wonder of the Small Congregation

The so-called “Church Growth” movement of the late 1980s and 90s suggested that pastors would desire to have large congregations. One author, tongue in cheek, suggests that we be ranchers instead of shepherds. The question that was never asked was, “Is this a good thing?”

Interestingly enough, this so-called “Church Growth” movement also encouraged pastors to think of themselves as CEOs or Chief Executive Officers of their congregations. Although that might be a good corporate model, this model fails theological and doctrinal discernment. Not only are pastors not educated to be CEOs, their members are not educated to be ministers. So, in essence this model fails because pastors are working outside their calling and members are working outside their vocations as well.

From a personal career perspective, I began serving as an associate pastor in a large congregation, a congregation of over 1200 members in a small town of just over 2000 people. My second call was to a congregation of about 450 members in a larger city, and finally, my third call was to a congregation of just over 300 members in a suburban area. As I have moved to smaller congregations, I have notice that I am better able to know and shepherd the smaller congregation much better. A larger congregation is simply too much to handle.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point (p. 179) made note that once a company reaches 150 workers the productivity declines. Our abilities are limited to about 150 relationships at any given time. To translate this information into the church perhaps we would do well to begin new smaller congregations rather than desire larger congregations which are truly unmanageable.

Certainly there is the draw of being a member of a large congregation because of the offering of programs and many times because of the offering of anonymity, but perhaps we need to ask the question, “Is church about programs and anonymity?” And from the perspective of some men, there is the draw of power and prestige in leading a larger congregation, but is that what the office of Holy Ministry is about, power and prestige, or is it about service?

Perhaps we would do well to instruct and encourage young people in the joy of service, i.e., as in the days of the Peace Corps, in the draw of careers such as nursing, the medical field, and the like, including the service fields of being pastors and teachers.

Perhaps we would do well to think in terms of having smaller congregations in which pastor and members might actually know each other and then have circuits of congregations work together for larger programming. Perhaps we would do well to let pastors do what they have been trained and called to do, i.e., preach the Gospel, administer the sacraments, forgive and retain sins, visit the sick and shut-in. And perhaps we would do well to encourage the parishioners to do what they have been called to do, live lives as priests, that is live lives in their vocations offering their lives as living sacrifices, as examples so that when they are asked, they will be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in them. Perhaps this small, individualistic idea might work best for making disciples of all nations.