Bloodshed...violence...natural disasters...disease...political turmoil. What is this world coming to? When will it end? The end of the world and Jesus' return to judge is the focus of our worship this Sunday. Though the thought of judgment should terrify the unbeliever (and my own sinful heart), God's Word gives us confidence in the face of death and judgment. We look forward to the day on which we will stand before God to hear the “Not guilty!” verdict which brought us to faith in the first place. There is no better preparation for death and judgment than a firm clinging to that gracious verdict. There is no better life than the one that has that verdict as its center and the motivation for everything in it.
Many Lutherans think of Luther's words, "Here I stand," as the motto of the Lutheran Reformation. But the symbol pictured here represents what was adopted by the church of the reformation as a better motto and confession. It is based on a Latin phrase, Verbum Dei Manet in Aeternum, which means "The Word of God remains forever."
The unchanging Word of God is what the Lutheran Reformation and our Christian faith is all about. To be a confessional Lutheran is to one who takes God's Word seriously and takes God at his Word.
We believe what God says, even when the whole world and our own experiences and ideas disagree. We cling to God's promise to forgive our sins and give us eternal life as a free gift of his grace apart from our works. We trust Jesus, when he predicts that things will get worse, especially for his Church, before the end of the world, but that he will use his unchanging Word in our hearts and on our lips to preserve his Church until he comes again. Those are truths worth standing for and truths worth celebrating.
In addition to major festivals (like Christmas and Easter) and seasons (like Advent and Lent), our Christian church calendar assigns specific calendar days to other “minor” festivals. The Lutheran reformers understood that there was great benefit in remembering the saints whom God has given to his church and in remembering their faith-filled deeds and words. The Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession (Article XXI) gives three reasons to do so: (1) We thank God for giving faithful servants to his church and showing examples of his mercy. (2) Through such remembrance our faith is strengthened. When we see Peter’s denial of Christ forgiven, it teaches us that, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. (3) The saints are examples whose lives of faith we imitate in our own callings. October 28 is designated as the Festival of St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles. The biblical record gives us little information about these two men, but in them, we see ourselves, saints in relative obscurity striving for the truth in the face of error and opposition.
Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This commission is reflected in the mission of our Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which “exists to make disciples throughout the world for time and for eternity” and in the mission of our congregation, "...proclaiming Christ in our community and world." Mission and Ministry Sunday is a time to refocus ourselves on the mission Jesus has given us.
Are you ready for the barrage of ads leading up to Christmas? "Black Friday" is right around the corner, and we will be inundated with advertisements, trying to convince us that we need more to make our lives complete and happy. Of course, we don't need those ads to get us to think that way. It's easy to want "more" (and not just when it comes to material possessions) and to let "more" consume our attention, our priorities, our lives! This Sunday, we find peace in the promises and providence of God to calm the chaos from the selfish race for more. The riches God has prepared for us give us contentment and joy, even in the most difficult circumstances.
The closest we can get to a mirror of the love of God for us is the mirror of the love that he wants us to have for one another in the family. The goal of family members is to reflect the love of God for us in self giving love for one another in the family. How tragic that in our society such a mirror is clouded indeed! There is much to repent of and much to strive toward.
The gifts of God are so rich and varied that the devil uses that very generosity in God to stir up jealousy and envy. We see it in others. More importantly, we see its ugliness in our own hearts. The devil wants to use God's blessings to divide us and distract us from God's mission. The message that is at the heart of that mission - the message of Christ crucified - is the very message we most need to hear for all of the times we have let the devil win. Through the cross of Christ, we have hope and peace in the face of our own weaknesses and failures. In the cross of Christ, we receive the strength to come together to carry out God's mission.
The competition is fierce in our world today. We fight to get ahead, to finish first, to come out on top. Yes, God wants us to do our best, to make the best use of the gifts he has entrusted to us, but our world and our sinful nature just don't understand what true greatness is or where it comes from. So often, true greatness goes unnoticed, just as the greatest things our God is and has done go unnoticed. It is just such hidden or ignored greatness that matters makes all the difference with our God.
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.