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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.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Love One Another - May 9, 2021 - Sixth Sunday of Easter/Mother’s Day - Text: John 15:9-17

Today we continue to celebrate Easter. Remember, as Christians, we worship on Sunday because for us each and every Sunday is a miniature Easter celebration. Each and every Sunday we are reminded of God’s great love for us. Each and every Sunday we have the opportunity to come to divine service in order to be given to, in order to be lavished with all the good gifts and blessings our Lord has to give to us. Why would we want to be anyplace else?
 

Today we also celebrate the social holiday of Mother’s Day. Indeed, the highest calling of God to a woman is motherhood because as was His promise, the Savior of the world was born through a mother, the Virgin Mary. So, to all our Mother’s we are glad you are here, that you brought your family and we say to you, “Happy Mother’s Day.”
 

Our text for today is a fitting Mother’s Day text as our text talks about relationships. Indeed, for each one of us our first relationship was with our mother as she was probably the one who feed us, changed our diaper and comforted us.
 

Relationships are a big thing. Usually when we hear the word “relationship,” a couple of different images come to mind, at least to my mind. One image might be that of relatives, or as we say here in Texas, “kin folks.” Another image might be of young people in love and talking about their relationship with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Too often we do not give much thought to “relationships” unless there is a strain in such relationship. To twist a phrase, “relationships happen.”
 

A friend and I were discussing relationships when he made, what I thought was, a most profound observation. He said, “What is the difference between a man and a woman who are friends and a man and a woman who are dating? At five o’clock they are “just friends,” but at six o’clock they decide they are ‘going together.’ What is the difference?” And this is the profound part, “We all have relationships with each other, it is just that our relationships are all at different levels, and our relationships with each other will grow and deepen as far and as deep as we will let them. They will grow and deepen only as far as each person in the relationship will allow. In other words, if one person in the relationship only wants to have an acquaintance relationship, then that is as deep as that relationship will go.”
 

Our text for this morning addresses this issue of relationships. There are several relationships going on in our text. I want to begin with Jesus’ relationship with His Father, God the Father. Their relationship is that they are one God, one Lord. Here we must admit that we may not completely understand this relationship, but we do know that the Father is God and that Jesus is God, that the Father is not Jesus and Jesus is not the Father, and that there is only one God. These are the facts, even if we do not completely understand them. However, there is an intimate relationship between Jesus and the Father.
 

About Jesus, we also know that along with being God, He is truly human. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, making Him truly God. He was born of the human woman, the virgin Mary, making Him truly human. Jesus knows what it means to be God and He knows what it means to be human. As a human He understands everything there is to understand about us and what is happening in our lives.
 

Jesus and the Father have perfect love for each other. Their love is so perfect that Jesus obeys the Father in all things, even, and especially, to the point of death. Yes, God the Father sent His only Son, Jesus, to come to this earth as a human in order to put all our sins on Him, so that He might suffer the eternal death penalty, the price for our sins, hell for us in our place, so that we might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. So that we might be brought back into a right relationship with Himself, a relationship that was broken by disobedience and sin in the Garden of Eden.
 

Jesus has a perfect relationship with His Father in heaven. He also has a relationship with us. His relationship with us is one which starts with the fact that He loves us. He initiates the love. He chose us. At our conception He created us. At our Baptism He put His name on us. He put faith in our hearts. He gave us forgiveness of sins. He wrote His name on us and put our names in the book of life.
 

Jesus loves us. He loves us to the point of death. His love for us is so great and so deep that He gave up the glory that was His, as God, in heaven in order to take on human flesh and blood and to do for us what we could not do, perfectly obey all God’s laws and commands. He came to live the perfect life demanded of us, for us, in our place. After living for us, He then, took all our sins upon Himself and suffered and died for us. He suffered the eternal death penalty, hell, the consequences of our sin, for us in our place. He died so that we might live.
 

Jesus loves us. His love brings perfect joy. He gives us faith and forgiveness. With faith and forgiveness we have joy, peace and life. Jesus’ love for us is so great that we cannot help but share that love with others.
 

Jesus and God the Father have a relationship. We have a relationship with Jesus. And we have a relationship with each other. Immediately following the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden, our relationship with God the Father was broken and so was our relationships with one another. Through Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, we were brought back into a right relationship with God the Father. This reconciliation happened, not because of anything on our part, but purely by God’s grace we were brought back into a right relationship with God the Father. Yes, we are still sinners and we continue to put a strain on this relationship, but it is God who continues to come to us through His means of grace, His Word and sacraments in order to initiate a continued deepening of our relationship with Himself. And as I said earlier, this relationship, like all relationships, will grow and deepen only so far as we will allow it to grow and deepen. If we keep God at an arms length, if we visit Him only for an hour or two on Sundays, that will be as deep as our relationship goes. God would certainly rather have an intimate relationship with us. He would have us come to Him on a daily basis. He would have us allow Him to speak to us, as He does through His Word, on a daily basis. Again, He would like to have an intimate relationship with us.
 

We have been brought back into a right relationship with God the Father and we have been brought back into a right relationship with Jesus Himself, again through His life, suffering and death. Jesus shows His love for us in this, that He gave His life for ours. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for His friends” (John 15:13). Jesus laid down His life for us and He expects nothing in return from us and unfortunately, that is often what He gets from us, nothing. I believe there is a lot of truth in the statement which is usually addressed of young couples who are dating and are absent from one another for a period of time. The statement is also true for our relationship with Jesus whom we do not physically see. The statement is, “out of sight, out of mind.” We do not physically see Jesus and thus, unfortunately, we do not very often think about Him, or about the fact that He always sees us in everything we do, everywhere we go, He knows everything we say and everything we are thinking. Yet, He is the one who has brought us back into a right relationship with God the Father and with Himself, through His suffering and death.
 

We have a relationship with each other, whether that be a relationship of acquaintance, friendship, mother/daughter or mother/son, or a deeper more intimate relationship. Sin broke our relationship with God and with that relationship broken, so are our relationships with one another. Have you ever wondered why children fight with one another, why teenagers fight with their parents, why husbands and wives have difficulties with each other? It is because of our broken relationship with God and with each other. Jesus’ death and resurrection mended our relationship with Himself and with that relationship mended, we were also brought back into a right relationship with each other. Our relationships are not yet perfect as we can see in the fact that we still have fights among ourselves, and we will never have a perfect relationship until we reach heaven. Yet our relationships are such that with Jesus’ help, we imperfectly reflect His love for us to each other.
 

This morning Jesus reminds us. He reminds us that He created us and I would add, as I have said before, that He created us in order to love us, which He does. He reminds us that we did not choose Him, rather He chose us. He reminds us that we did not give our lives for Him, rather He gave His life for ours. He is the prime motivator. He is the one who initiates. He also reminds us that we do nothing of our own initiative. We do not love from our own desire, rather He moves us to reflect His love to each other. The question we might ask ourselves this morning is, “what is our relationship with Jesus?” Is Jesus just an acquaintance? Is He a family friend? Is He an intimate friend?
 

There is an old story about a pig and chicken. They we discussing the financial situation of the farmer and how things did not look to good at this time. They were discussing how each of them could contribute and help out. Both wanted to believe that they were the most committed to the farmer. And both wanted to help. The chicken suggested that they provide the farmer with breakfast. She would provide the eggs and the pig could provide the bacon. At which the pig pointed out the difference in their level of commitment. The chickens commitment was merely giving of some of the “fruit of her labor,” if you will pardon the pun, but the pigs gift demanded total commitment, the giving of his life. What is our relationship with Jesus? Do we merely give Him some of the fruit of our labors, or are we totally committed, giving Him our life?
 

As we continue to celebrate the Easter Resurrection, our forgiveness and salvation, and as we once again celebrate our first earthly relationship that of our mother’s love, may we be moved to rejoice in God’s great love for us. I cannot say it any better than Jesus says it in the Gospel lesson for this morning and so I would like to leave you with Jesus’ words from the Gospel lesson. “9As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Celebrating in the Vineyard - May 2, 2021 - Fifth Sunday of Easter - Text: John 15:1-8

This year, as we did last year, and as I attempt to do every year, our family, myself and my encouraging any of my children to help, we planted a small garden in our back yard. Last year the garden did not do so well, perhaps from a lack of rain, or that I am not the best gardener. But this year what we have planted so far seems to be doing pretty well. We planted some beans, peas, tomatoes and squash. Some of the things we planted are growing really well but some, not so well. 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. These days it may be that they still have some concerns about the COVID pandemic. It does not matter the reason. 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 son’s soccer game, our daughter’s 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 120 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.