"God is love." Both Christians and non-Christians quote these words from 1 John 4:8. And the temptation is to stop there. It's easier if I just ignore what comes before or after those words and let those words, "God is love," mean what I want them to mean. Then, I can use those words to convince myself and others that God loves me all the ways I want him to love me, approving of my efforts, granting my every wish, doing only what brings happiness to my life. In this sermon, we look at those words in their context and find a far more beautiful understanding of how we are loved and called to love.
Would the world know that you are a Christian by the way you live your life? We rightly confess that our actions don't make us Christians. Our connection to Christ, who died and rose again for the sins of the world, makes us Christians and heirs of heaven. But the evidence of that connection is not merely in what we say or in the faith that's hidden in our hearts. The one who is connected to Christ "will bear much fruit," Jesus says. Celebrate your connection to Christ and the difference that connection makes in your life.
Day after day, police officers, fire fighters, and military personnel willingly put their lives on the line for the people of their communities and their nation. But this Good Shepherd Sunday, we celebrate One who is even greater. Our Good Shepherd laid down his life for us sheep, who love to wander, and then he took it up again. The Good Shepherd cares perfectly for us sheep and lives again to bless and keep us forever.
Uncertain and afraid, they hid behind locked doors. And after they had seen Jesus alive, what did they do? They still hid. You've felt like that, haven't you? You have the greatest message in the world to share, and yet you hide in fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of persecution. Fear of _________. How can we overcome our fears? What made Peter, the frightened follower of Jesus, into Peter, the bold witness?
If you've ever stood beside the grave of a loved one to say "goodbye" one last time before the casket is lowered into the ground... if you've ever wept at Easter or Christmas or a birthday or any other time of year when memories of cherished moments with someone who has died come flooding back... if the thought of your own death makes you a little uncomfortable or downright terrified, this Sunday is for you! Following the darkness of Good Friday and a Saturday filled with uncertainty, the sun comes upon on Easter morning to reveal glorious and unexpected good news!
The "madness" has begun. The anticipation builds with each game. With each win, there are cheers and excitement, as a team of basketball players moves one step closer to a championship. But, with each round, there is another opponent to overcome, another battle to fight, another team trying to stand in the way of the march to the ultimate victory. This Palm Sunday, the excitement is building as well. Jesus rides into Jerusalem, hailed as the hero. But many of his fans will flee, when the opposition gets fierce. Let's not turn back this week. Let's watch intently, for he enters Jerusalem for us.
Lent is for sinners. Nothing that Jesus suffers in his Passion is because of his own guilt. God gave Israel and Judah everything, and they threw it all away. So what does God do? He establishes a new covenant--a covenant by which he judges and condemns his own innocent Son just for sinners, just for you and me. It's a beautiful covenant straight from the heart of God, signed in the blood of his own Son. Let's follow after him and embrace him in this new covenant in these remaining days of Lent!
The Fourth Sunday in Lent was traditionally called Laetare Sunday, from the Latin word for "rejoice." Even in the midst of Lent, we have so many blessings over which to rejoice. Tremendous blessings that are ours purely because of God's grace (What a blessing that is!). Awesome blessings that are ours only through faith (This too is a great blessing!). Rejoice with us!
What are you looking for in a God? What kind of Savior do you want? That's a question that the world has all kinds of answers to, and those answers will never describe the true God who saved the world. Even within the Church, we see evidence that the world's idea of God has influenced the sinful hearts of Christians. Why is that? And how can we live God-pleasing lives in a world that rejects everything about our God?
Lent has to last a while and Lent has to come around every year, because it is so hard for us to get the points made so strikingly in Lent. This Sunday we see God's seriousness in Lent in this: Salvation and suffering go hand in hand, for Jesus and for us too!
"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." This petition resonates on the lips of God's people in the Lord's Prayer. It is God who guards us from the devil's cunning deception. Jesus himself rallied against Satan in the wilderness. He intimately knows the perils of facing temptation. Knowing that the Lord provides the greatest sacrifice in the death of his only Son, fortified by the Word of truth, let us also remain steadfast.
It's the event many people wait all year to see--the culmination of a professional season, the game in which the champion will be crowned. Some will say you don't want to miss it. You want to tune in to see the game, the guts, the glory! But we have something even more momentous to see on Sunday. With Peter, James, and John, and the see the glory of the Son of God--veiled in humility during much of his time on earth, revealed to us through Word and Sacraments. You don't want to miss it!
Life in this world can take everything out of you and leave you feeling worn out and worthless. The challenges and struggles of life in a sinful world can make it hard to see your blessings. But God assures us that we have something that makes us blessed, no matter what is going on in our lives.
You can change the world forever. It doesn't take great wealth or mighty armies. All it takes is time with the child who sits on your lap or next to you at church. All it takes is a moment in prayer and a word of encouragement. All it takes is using the gifts you have to serve the One who gave them to you.
When you see something incredible, you just have to share it. But sometimes those you tell won't believe it unless they see it for themselves. In this Epiphany season, we have something incredible to share.
Your identity is so important. Just ask anyone who has ever had theirs "stolen" or who is often mistaken for someone else. There was a lot of confusion about Jesus' identity, but at his baptism, God himself clears up the confusion once and for all. In the same way, our God gives us a precious identity in our baptism.
He was not what the world expected. His true identity was hidden from plain sight, as he lay humble and lowly in a manger. But there was much more there than met the eye. And there's a lesson there for us: only the Word of God reveals who our Savior truly is and all that he has accomplished for us.
Imagine being Simeon or Anna, those to whom God had revealed the true identity of the baby whom Mary and Joseph brought into the temple that day. What a blessing to see their salvation with their own eyes! You and I have that same blessing, as we also know who that child was. We praise God for the privilege of seeing our Savior and find perfect Christmas peace in him.
An angel appears to a teenage girl named Mary. She's going to have a baby. Biologically, it's impossible. "How can this be?" she wonders aloud. But a pregnant virgin is not even the most unlikely part of this true story. This Sunday, we witness the impossible, and we ourselves are part of the story.
Christmas is a season of lights. The lights we see bring a smile to our faces and warmth to our hearts. The twinkling of Christmas tree lights and the glitter of tinsel reminds us of Light of the world who came to dispel the darkness of unbelief with the light of the gospel. Seeing his light brings unfading light and lasting joy to our hearts.
The things that are most important in our lives tend to be the things that we spend the most time and energy preparing for. Because God knows how important it is for his people to be ready for Christ's coming, he sends messengers to help them prepare.
As we begin a new church year, it's a great time for a fresh start, a great time for renewed zeal for our Lord and his Word, a great time for remembering the unique and important calling we have received from our Lord. Advent prepares us for Jesus' comings. And because each coming has eternal significance, we want to be ready.
On New Year's Eve, it is common to look back at the year that is coming to a close and look ahead to the year just beginning. This Sunday is the final Sunday of our Christian Church Year. We'll take time to look back at what Christ has done for us in the past. We'll think about what he's doing for us now. We'll look ahead to what he promises to do in the future. And we'll celebrate the truth the Christ is our King from beginning to end! What an awesome and comforting truth that is!
Over the last several years, there has been a resurgence of interest in life after death. Books and movies have been made about those who claim to have seen heaven and returned. But we don't have to count on those kinds of experiences to know what awaits us after death. God has given us some vivid, beautiful descriptions in his Word. When life is hard or our hearts are troubled by doubt, uncertainty, fear, and guilt, how comforting it is to see what lies ahead through the eyes of the God who is already there.