We are Called to Be Cross-Carrying Followers of Christ
9/16/2018Pastor Wagner Mark 8:27-35
About a year ago, after studying the Scriptures together and discussing the work God has given us to do, our congregation adopted this mission statement: "Rooted in Christ’s love, we are devoted to growing together in God’s Word and to proclaiming Christ in our community and world." Our God-given mission drives everything we do as a congregation. Jesus never promised that our work would be easy. Following him involves self-denial and sacrifice. But, because Jesus carried out his saving mission perfectly for us, we willingly bear whatever crosses may come as we follow him in faith and love.
There are certain human feats and accomplishments that simply amaze us. But, in time, they lose their luster, and we aren't so amazed. Imagine how amazed you would have been 300 years ago, if you saw a room light up with the flip of a little switch, but how easily we take this amazing thing for granted today. Do the amazing things that our God does ever stop being amazing for us? Do we praise him less because we've seen it all before? Come, stand in awe of the great things our God has done and continues to do, and sing a new song of praise to him!
We live in a world that seems to be changing more quickly than ever before. Our communities, our schools, our workplaces, our homes, and even our churches are changing. We might welcome some of these changes, and we might cringe at others. The Pharisees of Jesus' day saw changes happening, and they didn't like it. How dare Jesus and his followers go against tradition! Jesus' response to them helps us to rethink the way we live and the decisions we make and to help us wisely judge where change is wrong, foolish, wise, or necessary in our lives.
It is one of the saddest verses in the Bible: "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him" (John 6:66). Some were confused by what Jesus was teaching. Others were offended. Still others simply didn't believe it was the truth. Jesus asked the Twelve, "You do not want to leave too, do you?" (John 6:67). It is a question we all have to answer every day. When God's Word doesn't seem to make sense, when what God says offends us as it uncovers our sin, when God's ways are so contrary to the ways of the world, will you leave Jesus or will you follow him? God give us strength to follow in faith the the only one who has the words of eternal life.
At this moment, students are moving in to dorms and apartments on and around college campuses across our nation. If you could give advice to the young Christians you know on those campuses, what would you say? Would it be something like this: "Eat right. Study hard. Stay out of trouble. Read your Bible"? A college campus is similar in many ways to the world into which we all venture day after day. And God gives us all advice and encouragement for our life in that world, words of wisdom to guide us and lead us to the blessings he wants us and those around us to have.
Are you on a certain diet right now? We live in a time when there are dozens of different plans that claim to offer the best approach to healthy eating - Paleo, Gluten-free, Atkins, Keto, South Beach, and on and on. All of them have people who have found success using them. And that really seems to be the key: find a diet that meets your needs and use it. God wants us to be spiritually healthy and vibrant too. He wants to bless each of us with a faith that is strong and active and growing. In his Word, he both gives us both a spiritual health checkup and reveals his diet plan for good spiritual health.
When God blesses us in our lives, the devil so often sets up the traps of temptations right alongside those blessings. We may be tempted to lose sight of the source of our blessings, to get greedy for more, to let our physical blessings distract us from the far greater spiritual gifts God wants to give us, and so on. We are not alone in facing and falling into these and other temptations. In God's Word, we not only see the gracious and generous blessings God gives us, but we also see how he encourages and equips us in the face of every temptation.
When you are hungry, what do you do? When you are hurting, where do you turn? When you are struggling, how do you cope? Since this is an email from a church, maybe you know that "God" should be the answer. But would you say God is the first answer or the backup plan in your life? This week, God teaches us to trust him. The overwhelming evidence of his love for us and power to help leaves no reason for us to look anywhere else. Come, you who are worn and weary and needy, and be fed by your Savior.
We live in a world in which the cacophony seems to be growing every day. So many competing voices want our attention and claim to have the answers to our problems. It can leave us feeling alone, afraid, confused, and overwhelmed. Whom do we trust? Where is God? What is the truth? God in love seeks to silence the noise and steps in to save us, as only he can. Come and listen to his voice.
"I'm not qualified." Look through the Bible, and you will find that attitude in many whom God called to share his Word and lead his people. And often, their opponents agreed that they no right or authority to speak as they did. Amos was like that. He had no special training. He was unqualified and unworthy. But he was sent, and he went. His story inspires and encourages us unworthy witnesses to whom the Lord says, "Go."
Have you ever felt like an outsider because of your Christian faith? You don't have to look too deep into the biblical record to realize that you aren't alone. Noah, Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and Jesus are just a few of those who were opposed for what they believed and spoke. But they didn't give up. They didn't turn their backs on God. They were faithful in the face of immense pressure because they were fed by the powerful proclamations and promises of God's Word. With that same Word, God wants to feed and strengthen you for the life he's called you to live as his child in the world.
Does it ever seem like God isn't listening? Do you ever think that God is too slow in responding to your needs and your prayers? You struggle sometimes, wondering why God allows you to suffer, why God doesn't take away the pain, why he doesn't come more quickly to rescue you from the ugliness that sin brings on our world. Come, find peace, find hope, find love in God's Word.
Are you a gardener? Do you plant seeds or transplant small plants into pots or beds around your house to feed yourself and your family? Jesus compares how his Word works in our hearts and in the world to a garden or a field. Understanding what he means gives us humility, patience, trust, and peace, as we think about our faith in God and our work in his kingdom.
Are you feeling worn out and in need of rest? Rest for your body? Rest for your mind? Rest for your soul? God wants to give us rest. That's why he commanded his Old Testament people to observe a Sabbath Day. That's why he encourages us to regularly hear his Word and receive his Sacrament. Whether you are feeling refreshed or ragged, come this Sunday to receive the rest God wants you to have, as he fills you up with the precious message of hope, peace, and eternal rest through Jesus.
We ponder the mystery of the Holy Trinity. We worship one God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can't comprehend the greatness of our God; we should tremble in awe and fear before him. But this awesome, incomprehensible God chooses us to go for him into the world to let others see and know the God we know. What an awesome and terrifying privilege! How can we do it?
"Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord!" (Ezekiel 37:4). When God breathes his Spirit into the nostrils, hearts, and graves of dead people, life begins anew. Jesus promised to pour out the Holy Spirit on his Church. As the Spirit works through the Word, people believe and speak words of truth in every language and in every tongue, giving witness to the work of Christ and to the peace and new life they have in him.
Every spring, students graduate from Martin Luther College after completing degrees in education, staff ministry, or preseminary studies. And men graduate from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary after completing their training for pastoral ministry. Many graduates from MLC and WLS receive divine calls to serve in the congregations and classrooms of our synod. We thank God for these gifts to his Church. They will serve us and our children with God's Word and carry the gospel to places where we cannot go. This Sunday, we thank God for those who have shared God's Word with us (including our mothers!), and we see how he answers our prayers that he would continue to provide for his Church until he comes again.
Fruit doesn't last. Maybe you've discovered that peach with the fuzz that isn't supposed to be there, that forgotten apple that has turned to mush in your refrigerator. All you can do it throw it away and clean up the mess. But Jesus says that he has chosen us to bear fruit that will last (John 15:16). How do we produce such lasting fruit, and what does it look like?
Do you feel connected to your church? We want you to. That connected-ness is one of the goals of our worship, bible studies, and fellowship events. But even more important than being connected to the congregation is being connected to Jesus by faith. Without that connection, you are spiritually dead. But with that connection that is strengthened and nourished by Word and Sacrament, you are alive and bear fruit that is pleasing to God, including growing in knowledge of God's Word, encouraging fellow Christians, and supporting Christian ministry.
Many of us may not be very familiar with sheep, but, when Jesus calls himself our Good Shepherd, we have an idea of what that means. Sheep need a shepherd to protect them from danger and provide for their needs. We are the sheep. Jesus laid down his life to save ours. Jesus leads and feeds, guards and guides us through his Word. And, in love, he provides shepherds (“pastor” means “shepherd”) in his Church to use that Word to care for his sheep.
Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay was home to a maximum security federal penitentiary for 29 years. Its location and security measures made escape virtually impossible. Such facilities are usually reserved for the most notorious and dangerous criminals. Imagine being imprisoned under maximum security for telling others about Jesus. That's what happened to the apostle Peter. We learn how he and his fellow believers handled this test of their faith and find strength and confidence in the face of obstacles to our faith and our mission.
As we tell others about our risen Savior, we may often be met with doubt and skepticism. We may even face ridicule and persecution for sharing the Savior we know and trust. But, like the apostles and Paul, the peace that Jesus' resurrection gives us moves us in love to take risks and keep sharing the hope that we have.
How exciting it can be to watch the last-second buzzer beater or walk-off home run, to be surprised by the plot twist in the last scene of the movie or last chapter of the book. If you saw the game or the movie or read the book before, it's not quite as exciting. The devil wants Easter to be that way for us. We know Jesus rose from the dead. It's no surprise. So what? But the truth is, the true (and familiar) story of Easter is your story. It's about your life every day and about your life forever. It gives every day meaning, purpose, hope, and joy, no matter what else we may be dealing with.
This Sunday, we watch a man ride into Jerusalem in triumphal procession. Who is he? He is Jesus, the King of kings most lowly, the King of kings who unlike any other king has come to save us. Welcome him and follow him. Throw the robes of your own righteousness under his feet, so that he may dress you with the robe of his righteousness. Wave the palm branches God made and gives, those symbols of eternal life, in salute. Blessed is he, for he will finish what he has begun!
You've seen the scene. You have probably even been part of it. One person stretches out their arms, inviting another person to come closer to receive a hug. It could be a parent inviting a young child to take their first steps, a family member meeting someone at the airport, or a caring friend who sees their friend hurting. Jesus stretched out his arms to draw us to himself too, but it was for much more than a hug. As he stretches out his arms to die on the cross, we see him for who he really is.
Because He Knew...He Promised Salvation through Faith
3/11/2018Pastor Wagner John 3:14-21
Are you longing to feel loved? Are you aching for acceptance? It is natural for us, whom God created as social beings, to want others to like us, to approved of who we are and what we do. Since God created us for a relationship with him, it is natural for us to seek his love and approval as well. Incredibly, that love and acceptance happens not because of what we are or do, but because of what he is and does for us.
So many things want to get in the way of the work and worship of God's church. So many obstacles want to interfere with the blessings God desires to give us through his Word and Sacraments. Because Jesus loves us deeply, he wants to remove whatever would interrupt the work he came to do and the gifts he wants to give to us.
Because He Knew...He Prepared His Disciples for the Cross
2/25/2018Pastor Wagner Mark 8:31-38
The season of Lent is counter-cultural. How little our world wants to hear about sin and repentance. How quickly they want to tune out talk of suffering and a cross. And yet, the cross always comes before the crown - for Jesus and for us. Jesus prepares us for life under the cross as we wait for the crown of heaven.