Wednesday, September 28, 2011

“Taming the Tongue” (James 3:1-12)--Sermon for Christ Our Savior Lutheran High School, Sept. 27th, 2011

“Taming the Tongue” (James 3:1-12)
1.                  Please pray with me.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.  In the message from God’s Word we’re going to be looking at what James the apostle writes in James 3:1-12.  We’ll see that we as sinful human beings are guilty of using our tongues in ways that hurt God, our neighbor and even ourselves.  But, Christ Jesus our Lord used His speech perfectly on our behalf so that through His words and actions we’re saved!  When we are Created New in Christ, which is your theme for this school year, even our speech changes.  The message is entitled, “Taming the Tongue,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.                  He walks confidently into the cage.  Nervous lions and tigers are on stools watching him, now and then roaring or moving their paws at him.  Then when the lion tamer seems to lose control, he cracks his whip and the beasts settle back or perform tricks on command.  One of the most important things we need to learn as Christians is to recognize situations in which you and I need to crack the whip, and keep that untamed tongue of ours under control.  Take these illustrations into consideration.  One of your friends comes up and says out of breath, “Did you hear about Sally Price?  I understand she…”  You open your mouth, about to tell what you’ve heard—and it’s whip-cracking time!  Gossip is a definite no-no.  Or what about this?  You and your lab partner in the science classroom are working on a project.  You ask your lab partner to do something for you.  You know he’s trying to help, but this is the umpteenth time he’s gotten it wrong.  You feel yourself getting angry and open your mouth—when you realize it’s whip-cracking time.  You smile, glad that you’ve got a fellow classmate who’s willing to at least try and help you out, even though he may not be as good at chemistry or biology as you are. 
3.                  These are just a few of the situations where that untamed tongue is likely to carry us away before we even think!  Learning to tame our tongue is vital for our growth toward Christian maturity.  That’s why James the apostle writes in James 3:1-8, 1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
4.                  James was a great teacher of the faith.  He teaches us that we need to respect the mighty power of the words that we speak.  “Talk is cheap,” people say.  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Not so, says James.  Although the tongue is just a three inch muscle and only partially visible, it’s very powerful.  Like a tail that wags the dog, the tongue drives our lives.  James gives the following examples of little things that have big effects.  For example, a bit in a horse’s mouth is a little piece of steel, but when used properly it can control a 2 thousand pound animal.  A rudder on a ship is a little shaped plank that’s mostly invisible below the water, but it enables the captain of a ship to control the course of an immense ship.  Finally, a spark in a forest.  Under control, a spark can make a small fire to warm cold travelers and cook their food.  But, out of control, a spark can cause an inferno that can reduce thousands of acres of mighty trees to smoldering stumps. 
5.                  James thinks that it’s urgent that people learn to control their mouths.  Not only to avoid hurting other people.  But, an uncontrolled tongue can also turn on the uncontrolled talker, corrupting the whole person, poisoning his mind and plunging the body into the dangers of the fires of hell.  James reminds us that the tongue doesn’t operate itself.  It’s our brain that controls the tongue.  Here’s another example of living out our Christian faith—people who claim to be believers must not let their mouths get out of control.  Faith in our Savior Jesus welcomes the power of the Holy Spirit to bite back lies, sarcasm, ridicule, gossip and praise for evil deeds.  Faith uses the Spirits power to build up other people, speak the truth, forgive and comfort.  Faith also knows when to command the tongue to be silent. 
6.                  James teaches us that talk isn’t cheap and that words do wound.  Words can build up or destroy a person’s self confidence.  Words can turn someone’s’ proud achievement into humiliation.  Words can create and destroy a relationship.  Words can spread hate or love.  Words can spread truth or plant lies.
7.                  That’s why James continues in James 3:9-12, 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”  Again the apostle teaches us that words are also God’s means to rescue people from hell.  A sermon, a Bible study, a catechism lesson or an evangelism visit over coffee all look tame and useless.  But, God’s power to save people, to create and sustain saving faith, takes place with the power of words. 
8.                  That’s why it’s vitally important for all Christians, and especially for those who speak in the church’s name, to let God’s Word control their words. People hate hypocrisy.  Double minded Christians with forked tongues, praising God cursing one another, drive people away from Jesus as their Savior.  James won’t let Christians get comfortable with that.  Christ like minds and Christ like hearts direct the mouth to utter Christ like words!
9.                  Who can save us from the poisonous words that we use to hurt our neighbor, our God and ourselves?  Have no fear, Jesus is here to do just that!  Let no one ever tell you that words are insignificant.  Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” mentions Satan where Luther writes, “Rage we can endure, For lo! His doom is sure, One little Word shall fell him.”  And one Word has done just that.  For it was through One Word that the course of human history was changed.  When Jesus spoke the words, “It is finished” from the cross we were freed from the tyranny of the devil, the world and our sinful nature.  And those words, “It is finished” were one word in the Greek.  The word “tetelestai.” 
10.              James makes clear to us that we as human beings have no way of taming our tongues.  It’s for this reason that no matter how hard we try we can’t save ourselves.  That’s why only Jesus Christ our Lord spoke no evil.  The charges of blasphemy were false when Jesus stood on trial before the Sanhedrin in Matthew 27.  There was no guile in Him as 1 Peter 2 tells us.  And finally, Jesus was hanged on a tree for our sins.  The truth of the matter is that we as human beings would destroy ourselves were it not for the grace and forgiveness we’re given in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Only the cross on which Christ suffered and died permits us to tame our tongues.  Knowing that God for Jesus’ sake forgives penitent sinners gives us comfort since we know God will forgive us when we come to Him in repentance for the troubles our tongues have caused.
11.              So what does James teach us here in James 3?  That there are only two ways to live by, the wisdom of the world or by God’s wisdom.  James condemns the worldly pattern of selfishness, deception and hurtful words.  We as Christians struggle with such sins and are even tempted to present ourselves as holier than others.  But how different is the wisdom of God.  He’s purified us in Jesus and freed us from the stain of the world.  We now walk in the works He has prepared for us to do.  Please pray with me:  O Lord, purify me so that my words may uplift, strengthen, bring peace where there is strife and bring sincerity where there is falsehood.  Use my lips to speak your glory, to tell of Your wonderful deeds and to proclaim Your salvation in Jesus.  Amen.

Sermon for Sunday Sept. 25th, 2011--“Using What You’ve Got” (1 Peter 4:10-11)

“Using What You’ve Got” (1 Peter 4:10-11) Sermon:  2nd week for Stewardship Emphasis ‘11
1.                  May the grace, mercy, and peace of God be multiplied to each one of you through the hearing of His Word.  Amen.  The text is from 1 Peter 4:10-11: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.  If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory and the power forever and ever.  Amen.”  The message is entitled, “Using What You’ve Got,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.                  This sermon is the second in a series on Bearing Fruit for Jesus.  Last week we talked about the use of our time.  Today we will talk about the use of our talents.  We all know someone who is more talented or who has more skills and abilities than we do.  Helen Traubel was a concert soprano, and she also wrote two mystery novels.  Thomas Jefferson was a lawyer, scientific farmer, politician, and statesman.  Martin Luther was a theologian, linguist, and hymn writer.  Sarah Palin was a governor and is an author and speaker.  It seems as if some people have dozens of talents, and we have only a few.
3.                  Every single person has been given talents, abilities, and gifts.  God gives us the ones we can use the best and with which we can accomplish the most.  He doesn’t overload us, nor does He overlook us.  The talents that we receive are unique in each one of us because of our personality and our character.  To one person He gives many, to another a few.  I myself have learned what I am good at and what I’m not good at.  My wife Roxanne can tell you that I’m not a great handyman.  That’s why I thank the Lord that she often knows more about repairing things than I do. And that we have so many talented people here in our congregation who have the knowhow to work with their hands in making and repairing things.  I saw that first hand yesterday at our trustee workday!  I learned that I’m not so gifted in using a jackhammer.  My hands are still vibrating; I think I’d better hold onto the pulpit a little harder this morning.  And thank the Lord for the many women of our congregation who are gifted in cooking.  The food was wonderful yesterday.   Whatever we are and whatever we have, these are all gifts from God.  St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive?”
4.                  In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus commended those who used their talents for Him.  He says of them, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  (Matthew 25:23).  To the person who failed to use his talents, the Lord said, “You wicked, lazy servant.”  The talents God gives are of many different kinds: leadership, creativity, mechanical ability, housekeeping, encouragement, caring, etc.  Maybe you can’t sing solos, but you can sing to the glory of God in worship.  Maybe you can’t teach, but you can write encouraging letters or notes or send a card or make a telephone call to someone who needs to be lifted up.
5.                  When we look at our own God-given gifts we often approach the use of them in the same way Moses did.  He had lots of excuses for not using the gifts that had been given to him.  “Who am I?  I am a nobody.  You want me to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?  I can’t lead.  I could never do that.  I can’t talk in front of a group.  I don’t have any experience.  The people won’t believe me.  I’m too young.  Ask somebody else who’s more capable and more qualified.”  Do any of these sound familiar?  In spite of all of his excuses, God had plans for Moses.  He turned Moses “NO” into a “YES”.  God used him mightily to accomplish His purpose.
6.                  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ God blesses us and gives us talents for a reason: to equip us to serve Him and His people.  God has given us eyes and ears, hands and feet so that our bodies function effectively.  In the same way God has given us talents and skills and abilities as members of the body of Christ, for the good of our church and our community.  Peter makes it very clear that every single individual should use his gifts to serve God and others.
7.                  In Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25, each person received at least one talent from God.  It belonged to God, and it was to be managed and taken care of for Him.  Each person was responsible for what was given to him and was expected to give an account of what he did with his gift.  The one who refused to use the talents he had had them taken away and was thrown into the darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Scripture is full of examples where God used ordinary people like us to accomplish great things for the Lord and the Church.  He chose a stuttering, stammering, tongue-tied Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery.  Peter was very impulsive; yet God used his great faith to help to build the Church.
8.                  From the very beginning, God has poured His life out for each one of us.  He created us in His image to be like Him in every way.  He had a plan to redeem us from sin and to secure our eternal life.  His love for us was so great that He gave up His one and only Son Jesus on the cross for us.  He has done everything He could so that we would know His love for us in this life and for our eternal life.  He invested Himself in us and He expects a return on His investment.  He gave us talents, skills, gifts, and abilities, and He expects us to use them to serve Him and others.
9.                  God uses imperfect people to do great things for Him and to extend His kingdom.  St. Thomas often doubted Jesus, but he learned to follow with commitment and dedication.  St. Paul, who resented Christians and was determined to destroy them, became one of the greatest missionaries of the Christian Church.  They used their talents and abilities to proclaim that God is Lord of all and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior of the world.  When you think that you’re unimportant and that you’re really insignificant, then it’s time for you to hear the Gospel again – the Good News of just how much God thinks about you and how much He cares for you.  He considered you so important that He sent His Son Jesus to lay down His very life for you.  He redeemed you from the power of sin with His own precious blood.  He will love you forever.  One day He will come back to take you home with Him forever.
10.              All of our talents and abilities are to be used so that God is praised and so that His purpose is accomplished.  With the Lord there’s no such thing as unemployment or retirement.  There is no time to be bored and lazy.  Each of you has received at least one gift to be part of God’s purpose in touching lives with His Gospel.  If you have the gift of mercy, then use it to help the hurting and comfort the grieving.  If you have the gift of leadership, use it to carry out plans and accomplish great things for God and the Church.  If you have the gift of giving, then use it to support the Church and other special needs and causes.
11.              What interests, skills, and abilities has God given you to use or develop in your role as member of the body of Christ here in this congregation?  Do you have the gift of hospitality?  Are you good at visiting new people or shut-ins?  Perhaps you are good at plumbing, electrical work, painting, ushering, praying, and helping.  Maybe you are good at listening, organizing, teaching, singing, and writing.  Perhaps you have good office skills and enjoy doing computer work or administration.  Some of you may feel tired and burned out.  Peter reminds us that God will provide the strength for us to serve.
12.              Jesus came to serve you through His life, death, and resurrection from the dead.  He came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life for a ransom for all of our sins (Matthew 20:28).  He gave His life for His enemies and for His friends.  He gave Himself for the sins of every man, woman, and child of the past, present, and future.  He gave of Himself for you so that you may have eternal life with Him.  As we hear the Word of God in worship, Bible class, and in our devotions, we are encouraged and strengthened for the work of service in the Lord’s church by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are like trees planted next to streams of water (Psalm 1:3).  We produce fruit.  Whatever we do prospers because we do it to the glory of God, and He uses and blesses all of our efforts.  Use all of the talents that you’ve got, whether two or half a dozen or more.  You will be a blessing to God, to the Church, to the community, and to your family.  God loves you with all that He has.  Serve Him and one another with your talents and with all that you have.  Prayer:  O Lord, help me discover my talents and give me the willingness to use them for You and for others.  Amen.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sermon for Sunday Sept. 18th, 2011--“Begin With the End in Mind: Living as Fruitful Stewards in Time” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

“Begin With the End in Mind: Living as Fruitful Stewards in Time” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

1.                  Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  Today, we begin our stewardship program Bearing Fruit for Jesus: His Grace and Power at Work Within You.   For this week, our focus is on being fruitful with our time.  The text is from Ecclesiastes 3:1: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…”  The message is entitled, “Begin With the End in Mind: Living as Fruitful Stewards in Time,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.                  Come with me for a little adventure.  Listen carefully.  Imagine you see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one.  You arrive at the church and walk in.  You see friends and family and you feel the sense of grief that fills their hearts.  You walk up to the casket at the rear of the sanctuary and come face-to-face with yourself.  This is your funeral.  All these people have come to honor you, and you hear them expressing feelings of love and appreciation for your life.  As you take a seat and wait for the service to begin, you look at the service folder in your hand.  There are four speakers.  The first is from your family, the second is a friend, the third is a co-work or neighbor, and the fourth is your pastor.
3.                  Now think deeply.  What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life?  What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother would you like their words to reflect?  What kind of son or daughter or cousin were you?  What kind of friend have you been?  What kind of worker or neighbor were you?  How would your pastor describe your Christian life?  How would those who know you best remember your relationship to them?  Bottom line: how would you like to be remembered when you die?  You will be thought of in definite terms.  (To say, “I don’t care; I’ll be dead anyway;” is not an option.)  If you participated seriously in this exercise, you revealed some of your deep, fundamental values, principles, and beliefs.  (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey).
4.                  Time is a gift from God, and, if Christians would begin each day with the end in mind, it could change lives.  Every day we live under God’s grace.  We live with the saving faith in Jesus Christ Who died and rose victoriously that we might live the abundant life as fruitful stewards of time.  Let me put it this way: To begin with the end in mind isn’t to be focused on “What will others think of me when I’m dead and gone?”  Rather, how differently would I use the time God has given to bear witness of His grace at work in my life?  When we consider how we will be remembered upon our death, it awakens our sense of urgency for living what I call a Christfilled, fruitful life.
5.                  It means, I’m connected to Christ as the true vine; I am one of the branches, so connected as to take my life from Him, and to bear fruit.  "I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:5).  Jesus is telling us that as branches we will bear fruit as long as we stay connected to Jesus, the Vine.  In order for us to be fruitful with the time God gives us, we need to stay connected to Jesus.  My time and life has meaning from beginning to end.  And even then, the end is only the beginning of all eternity.  In Christ, you will be fruitful stewards of time.
6.                  When people in their eighties were asked, “What would you do differently if you had life to live over?”  Their response was threefold: Risk more, reflect more, and leave a legacy (something that would last beyond their time here).  What did they mean by “risk more?”  Gamble?  Invest more money in the Stock Market?  Live with reckless abandon?  Drive like there were no tomorrow?  (Some are doing this already!)  Rather, for the Christian doesn’t it mean using our time to boldly, confidently, and openly share the love of Christ, risking ridicule and rejection for the reward of eternal life for all who believe?  Doesn’t it mean using my time with a non-Christian to share Christ with him?  How about risking a relationship by using your limited time to share your faith.   Colossians 1:6 says, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth.”  It was because the early Christians were willing to risk it all for the sake of Christ that the church grew in the power of the Holy Spirit.
7.                  Reflect more.  What does this mean?  It has a two-fold or dual meaning here.  To pause and think; to retrace the past; to stop and smell the roses; ponder; or reflect as the moon reflects the sun in the night sky, or a mirror reflects the image before it.  By the use of our time, we should reflect such a life filled with fruit that others would know decisively that we are Christians.  (“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Matthew 3:8).
8.                  We need to use our time to reflect on the richness of God’s grace revealed in His Word.  We need to use our time to reflect on the power and benefits of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and for living for all time and eternity.  AND, we need to be closer to Him Who is the Light of the world that we might more brilliantly reflect His light and love to the world, to others.  “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  Jesus doesn’t want us to hide our lights.  He wants the world to see His light shine through us.
9.                  Leave a lasting legacy.  “Begin with the end in mind.”  Your use of time (how you prioritize and live your life) each day sends a powerful message to others regarding what you value the most. Toward the end of the 19th century, Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local newspaper.  It read:  “Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before, and he died a very rich man.”  Actually, it was Alfred’s older brother who had died; a newspaper reporter had bungled the epitaph.  But the account had a profound effect on Nobel.  He decided he wanted to be known for something other than developing the means to kill people efficiently and for amassing a fortune in the process.
10.              So he initiated the Nobel Prize, the award for scientists and writers who foster peace.  Nobel said, “Every man ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph in midstream and write a new one.”  Few things will change us as much as looking at our life as though it is finished.  (Is It Real When It Doesn’t Work?  Doug Murren and Barb Shurin; quoted in Leadership by Rex Bonar, Summer, 1991)
11.              There is a time for everything under heaven.  This is your time, a gift from God.  It is your appointed time.  For such a time as this the Lord has appointed you to live as a fruitful steward of the days and years He will give.  The Holy Spirit is our powerful source of strength for living as fruitful stewards of time.  Begin with the end in mind, because the end is the beginning of forever with Jesus! Amen.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

“Teaching our Children to Never Forget”--Sermon for Rally Day/Sept. 11th Remembrance, Sept. 11, 2011

“Teaching our Children to Never Forget” (1 John 4:16, 18; Psalm 103:1–12) Pentecost 13 Series A, September 11, 2011

1.                   Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word this Rally Day Sunday and this day in which we remember the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th, 2001 that shocked our nation to its core is taken from selected verses of Psalm 103 and 1 John 4.  It’s entitled, “Teaching our Children to Never Forget,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.           Dr. Carl Fickenscher, of our Fort Wayne Seminary, has written that on this 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001, hundreds of people will stand on the sidewalks near Ground Zero, once the site of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center. Just as we do, they’ll remember those chilling videos of planes crashing into buildings and towers crumbling to earth. In the same way, visitors to Washington DC will be easily reminded of the crash of a third plane into the Pentagon.
3.                   But also today the National Park Service is to dedicate a memorial at another 9/11 site. This one, according to families of the victims, sometimes seems to be forgotten. This memorial is to the heroes of United Flight 93, also hijacked by Islamic terrorists, in the field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where it crashed. And they were heroes. Flight 93 is the only one of the 4 hijacked airliners that didn’t reach its target. Some 40 minutes out of Newark, New Jersey, headed for San Francisco, the plane was overtaken, and the terrorists turned it back toward Washington. Realizing what was happening after cell phone conversations with family, the passengers decided to fight back. You probably remember passenger Todd Beamer’s famous last words, “Let’s roll.” The passengers rammed the cockpit, causing the terrorists to crash the plane into the field, only about 20 minutes flying time from Washington. Later investigation found that the terrorists’ target was likely either the Capitol building or the White House. The 9/11 Commission concluded that Air Force fighters probably wouldn’t have been able to stop them. Let us not forget the lives these forty passengers and crew saved.
4.                   Sometimes in the excitement and stress and even tragedies of life we may forget the blessings of body and soul that God has given us through Jesus ChristSo the psalmist calls upon us to remember the Lord this day“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life” (Ps 103:1–4).
5.                   The Psalmist continues to tell us in verses 5-12 of Psalm 103, 5The Lord satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. 7He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. 8The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 
6.                   The words of the Psalmist from Psalm 103 remind us today that we don’t simply remember the evil at work in this world. More than the evil we remember our God, that even as we can’t forget the significance of this day, so also we “forget not” the benefits of a God who’s always been in the business of freeing his people from the terror of sin and a sinful world!  This is the message of the cross of our Lord Jesus and His empty tomb that we teach our children as we remember this Rally Day, the message of Christ who has overcome this world full of sin, death and the devil’s temptations for you.
7.                   The Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 103 how God freed Israel from the terror of sin and slavery.  The Lord called Moses to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt.  Yet, even though God had freed the Israelites, they still sinned greatly against Him by worshiping a golden calf.  But, God is compassionate with His people.  He’s merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in love for you as well.  He doesn’t treat His people as their sins deserve, but forgives and removes transgressions from His people in and through His Son Jesus Christ.
8.                   Did you catch how the Psalmist says that the Lord is merciful and gracious to us?  On this day of the anniversary of Sept. 11th, there’s a temptation to become fatalistic as we see great evils in the world around us. We see and feel ourselves oppressed.  At those moments, in our sin, we sometimes forget God’s blessings and give in to despair.  But, it’s at the moment of despair that we remember that our God redeems our lives from misery and crowns us with love and compassion.
9.                   9 years ago, on the first anniversary of 9/11, there was a presentation aired by PBS titled “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.” It asked the question “Where was God on September 11?” The question is an ancient one and has been asked by many people in moments of crisis. In the Old Testament, men of faith from Jacob to Joseph and from Job to Jonah asked it. And God always responds the same way“I am where and who I have always been, and always will be. I am almighty, and I shall show that power ultimately at the Last Day. In the meantime, because this world is filled with sinful people, there will be wars and bloodshed and terrorists and hurt and grief and pain. But never think that I’ve lost control of the world I have created and judged and redeemed through my Son, Jesus Christ. If you think, even for a second, that I have left you or forsaken you, then take another, closer look at the cross and the empty tomb.”
10.               Here’s the Christian’s perspective of faith, the power of loveIf we’re to be restored in our faith after a tragedy like the Sept. 11th attacks, it will be by looking to the cross of Christ. For, in deed and in truth, we Christians see all events through a picture of Calvary, where Christ died for your sins and for the sins of all humanity. I repeat, all humanity! How awesome is the power of God’s love for us all!
11.               The Psalmist goes onto say in Psalm 103:13, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”  And yet, in a post 9-11 society do we see the compassion and love of God around us?  Are we teaching our children to love, as God in Christ Jesus has shown love to each and every one of us?  Even when we were still enemies of God, Christ died for you and me.  The popular singing groupThe Black Eyed Peas, has that same question for us, “Where is the Love?”  Part of the song goes like this:  I feel the weight of the world on my shoulderAs I'm getting older y'all people get colderMost of us only care about money makinSelfishness got us followin the wrong directionWrong information always shown by the mediaNegative images is the main criteriaInfecting their young minds faster than bacteriaKids wanna act like what the see in the cinemaWhatever happened to the values of humanityWhatever happened to the fairness and equalityInstead of spreading love, we're spreading animosityLack of understanding, leading us away from unity, People killing people dyingChildren hurtin you hear them cryingCan you practice what you preachWould you turn the other cheek? Father Father Father help usSend some guidance from aboveCause people got me got me questioningWhere is the love?” 
12.               On this 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th maybe you’re asking that same question, “Where is the Love?”  Are we teaching our children here in our congregation to love, instead of hate, to forgive, instead of holding a grudge?  As Christians we know where true love may be found.  The truest form of love is found in the work of our Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross to save you from your sins.  From even the work of terrorists, and the devil, that thief, who only comes to steal, and kill, and destroy.  The Apostle John writes in 1 John 4:16 & 18God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him. . . . There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
13.               God’s perfect love casts out fearfear of more terrorist attacks, fear of flying, fear of the enemies of our country, fear of nuclear holocaust. God’s perfect love casts out the fear of our own mortality, of sickness and disease and— closer to the context of 1 John 4—fear of the righteous and eternal judgment of God.  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, because we live in the forgiveness of our Lord Jesus; we live in grace; we live in love. And “whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16 NIV).  Amen.
14.               Please pray with me:  O Lord of grace and glory, Thanks and praise to you for the gifts you give to us as a nation, including freedom to worship and to pursue dreams and hopes.  Forgive us for sins of greed and abuse of power and intolerance of others unlike us.  We commend to you our elected leaders of government, and we pray that you give to them wisdom, humility, discernment, morality, and faith.  We also lift up those who protect us, including police, fire, and military personnel. Keep them safe from all harm and protect them from all evil.  Heavenly Father, Ruler of all nations, we pray for peace throughout the world, especially in areas of the Middle East. Throw off tyrannical and cruel leaders, and embrace their lowly subjects with your protective power.  We bring these prayers of thanksgiving, confession, and intercession to you in the bold name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sermon for 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Sept. 4th, 2011: “The Power of Forgiveness” (Matthew 18:1-20)

“The Power of Forgiveness” (Matthew 18:1-20)
1.                  Sanctify us in the truth, O Lord, Your Word is truth.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word this 12th Sunday after Pentecost is taken from Matthew 18, specifically from verses 15-20, it’s entitled, “The Power of Forgiveness,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.                  Ravi Zacharias, a famous Christian preacher and defender of the faith in our day, tells a story of a woman named Edith Taylor from Waltham, MA. This is a story that was originally published in Guideposts magazine in March of 1959 about the power of forgiveness.  Edith Taylor was married to a man and started a family with him and then her husband went over to Japan.  And when her husband was over in Japan letters would come over regularly and she would correspond with him.  Edith and the children would look forward to the letters and then all the sudden the letters stopped coming.  Several weeks went by when all of the sudden she received a letter in the mail from her husband.  In the letter he told Edith that she wouldn’t believe what he was going to tell her, the news would crush her heart, but that he had fallen in love with a girl in Japan.  Edith’s husband wouldn’t be coming back home.  The heart of this woman was broken, for many days she didn’t break the news to the children.  One of the children asked if something was wrong, why daddy wasn’t writing anymore.  One of the children said, “Is daddy not coming back home.”  Edith then told them what had happened.  And then one of the little boys said, “Mommy, just because daddy doesn’t love us anymore doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to love him anymore.”  Edith said, “No I guess we can continue to love him.”  The little boy said, “Would you please tell daddy to continue to write, we want to love him and we want to continue to keep hearing from him.” 
3.                  Edith’s ex-husband did continue to write even after he married a 15 year old servant girl from Japan.  And the letters kept coming, and with every letter Edith might as well should have had a steam roller go over her heart with the pain of hearing that her divorced husband now had a new wife and children over in Japan.  Each letter was crushing her more and more, when finally a letter came telling her that her ex-husband was stricken with cancer and that he didn’t have very long to live.  In that letter he was asking Edith if she would be able to send money to support his wife and children in Japan.  Edith wrote back to her ex-husband saying that she hardly had enough money to support her own family in the United States, but that if her ex-husband would send his family over to her home she would provide for them and teach them English, help them stand on their own feet etc…  When her ex-husband’s family arrives in the United States she can hardly contain herself.  She sees the children from a betrayed love and can hardly contain it, but loved them as Christ would have loved them and raised them up.  She culminates her testimony in saying that in that dark dreary, hellish situation; I thank God for the ray of light and hope to share the love of Christ in this very dismal setting.  Jesus Christ enables you to take a disadvantage and turn it into an advantage for the glory of God.       
4.                  Wow what a story!  Edith Wharton’s story reminds us about the power that God gives to us as Christians through His Holy Spirit to forgive our neighbor.  And this power to forgive doesn’t come from our own power or might.  No, instead we must become like children in order to forgive, like Edith’s little boy who said to her, “Mommy, just because daddy doesn’t love us anymore doesn’t mean we can’t stop loving him.  Isn’t that amazing?  Out of the mouths of children and infants God’s amazing grace and wisdom can still come through to shame our sinful pride and lust for power and dominance
5.                  Recently I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Gregory Seltz, the new Lutheran Hour Speaker who had this quote to say,The church is where you learn to love those who you don’t like.”  Those words are so true aren’t they?  They remind us of Paul’s words to the Corinthians where He reminds us that, “Christ has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.”  We are to reconcile the world to Christ Jesus by the preaching and teaching of the Gospel.  And yet, the power to forgive flies in the face of our sinful lusts and passions.  The world says to us don’t get mad, get even when someone sins against you, but God says to us overcome evil with good, just as we learned in our epistle lesson last week from Rom. 12.
6.                  In Matthew 18:15-20 our Lord Jesus tells us, 15“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
7.                  Now I know what you’re probably thinking, “Pastor this word from Jesus is all fine and good, and this story about Edith Wharton is wonderful, but Pastor you just don’t know who I have to deal with on a regular basis…”  I understand what you may be trying to say here.  Some people are difficult to live with.  They are unlovable, quarrelsome, unkind and spiteful, always having a negative remark.  They’re the glass is half empty people.  You know who I’m talking about.  And these people can get on our nerves.  What can we do to live successfully with such people?  Well, our Lord gives us an answer; in fact, Jesus commands us on how we as Christians should forgive one another, just as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven us through His death on the cross.  Jesus tells us two things.  First, go and tell your neighbor what he has done against you.  Don’t hold in your feelings of anger.  Talk to him about his offending conduct—but do so in Christian love.  Be sure to pray about the efforts you’re making, and ask others to pray with you.  Be sympathetic.  Second, forgive 70 times 70, in other words, forgive unceasingly.  Overcome evil with a forgiving spirit.  Some souls are sensitive, so why dwell on the unpleasant past and yesterday’s quarrels with them?  Some people like to pick a fight, but always remember that it takes two to quarrel.  Be forgiving.
8.                  But Pastor you may say, “This person has offended me so often!”  Well then, consider this, How often have we offended God?  And yet he daily forgives you.  As God forgives you through His Son Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, shedding His blood to cover over your sins, so should we also forgive our neighbor when she sins against us.  Coming from the throne of God, where we have been forgiven we must be kind and compassionate to one another as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven us.  Because the Lord has been so gracious to us, we can’t demand an eye for an eye, can we?
9.                  Here in Matthew 18 our Savior Jesus teaches us that our lives as Christians are not lived in isolation from one another.  In fact He says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.”  More than that, on the 6th day when God was creating man, He said that it wasn’t good for man to be alone.  Brothers and sisters in Christ we are created for community, just as there is a community within the Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so too we have a community in which we are called to here in the church where we are to love one another and bear each other’s burdens.
10.              So as much as we might seek to be alone on occasion, the fact remains that we live in community and daily interact with people God puts into our lives.  Therefore, human relationships are a concern for the child of God.  Because we communicate with and live among both believers and nonbelievers, our personal associations give us opportunity not only to show our Christianity but also to share our Christianity. 
11.              It’s important that this section of Matthew’s Gospel isn’t merely considered a “how to” guide to relationships with a law oriented approach regarding what we must do and not do.  Instead, it’s a vivid description of the way life works when the Gospel of our Lord Jesus is the operating principle.  Our Savior Jesus, who came to this world to be among us, not apart from us, brings us peace between God and us.  A natural result of this reconciliation is that we live in peace with one another.  Amen.