If you are doing any traveling this summer, imagine hitting the road with nothing but the clothes on your back. It would seem pretty foolish, right? But that's exactly how Jesus sent out his apostles the first time, as they got some practical experience in gospel ministry. While their hands held nothing but a staff, they did not go empty-handed, and neither do we, as we carry out the mission Jesus has given to us.
The flags will fly. The parades will roll. The fireworks will light up the sky. All celebrating the freedom that is our as citizens of the United States. Yet, how easily we sometimes give up that freedom. Threatened by the persecution of the world, we don't always use our freedom to speak about Christ. Tempted by worldly freedom and pleasure, we sometimes give up our freedom to gather for worship and hear God's Word. Praise God that he sent his Son to set us free even from our abuse of the awesome freedom we have!
In the storms of life, we struggle to understand the balance between the known and unknown, the seen and unseen, the sorrowful and the joyful, the poor and wealthy, the temporal and eternal. In the midst of the fear and confusion, Christ speaks: "Peace! Be still!" Through his command, creation is tamed and hearts are stilled.
The Bible says the Word of God is "living and active" (Hebrews 4:12). It promises that the gospel is the "power of God for salvation" (Romans 1:16). In the waters of Baptism, in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, in the carefully prepared words of a pastor, and in the spontaneous witness of a child, God's Word is at work. Its work is evident in your homes in central Ohio and in homes and houses of worship and wherever Christians live and work and play around the world. For its beautiful fruit, we praise our God who gives his Word such awesome power.
There is nothing the devil wants more than to divide the house of God-the Church. If it is divided, he knows it is weakened and he is in a much better position to attack. The house of God is divided in so many ways: sinful attitudes and behaviors, false teachings, misunderstandings, and more. In this week's worship, we see the devil at work to divide God's house and Jesus' work to overcome the devil.
Are you going to get some rest this weekend? Are you going to take advantage of the holiday weekend to recharge your batteries? It is good for us emotionally, mentally, and physically to get rest from our labors. But God has also designed us to need spiritual rest. He gives us rest for sin-weary souls in his Word. And he encourages us to come together, so that we can share that Word and that rest with each other.
It is one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith. We worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God. All three persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - are God, yet there is only one God. It is a truth we accept by faith, because it is a truth clearly taught in the Scriptures. And it is a truth that we celebrate, because only through the work of our Triune God are we blessed to be children of God and heirs of heaven!
We may not always talk or think a lot about the Holy Spirit, but he is worthy of the same honor and praise as God the Father and Jesus our Savior! Without his work, the work of the Father and the Son would be meaningless for us. By his work in our hearts, we have peace to face each day, hope for eternity, and gifts to use to give glory to our gracious God! We celebrate the Holy Spirit's often unsung, but vitally important, work in our lives.
Saying goodbye is difficult. Funerals bring tears to our eyes, as we know that we won't see our loved one for a while. It was hard for those close friends of Jesus, too. He ascended, and a cloud hid him from their sight. But his ascension was good news, not bad news. It meant the perfect culmination of his work as our priest on earth and the beginning of his continual work as our priest in heaven. We find comfort, encouragement, and joy in Jesus' perfect priesthood.
"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.