Monday, September 12, 2011

Sermon Thoughts for 9/11

For the members of St. Paul's Lutheran, Troy, IL, here is the sermon that was presented as Sermon "B" instead of Sermon "A." God's blessings as you read it.

Psalm 18 – The Rock
September 11, 2011

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 – a time of remembrance and mourning for the tragedy our nation suffered at the hands of terrorists, people who hate America and all it stands for and will what they can to hurt, harm and destroy the way of life.

We remember the shock of the day as we watched as not one but two hijacked planes plowed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
  • We couldn’t believe it as we heard of the 3rd plane crashing into the Pentagon.
  • We remember the horror we felt as first one and then the tower collapsed with a roar and a huge cloud of dust and ash.

We remember the numbness we felt as the day came to a close. How could this happen? How was it possible? How could…and we couldn’t think any more after a day that started so beautiful and clear and ended with such uncertainty, fear and death. Nothing seemed safe. Nothing seemed sure. There was no place that we could turn for comfort.

But wait, that wasn’t true. Suddenly a nation that was too busy for God, found time to worship. A people that refused to allow prayer in our schools found itself on its knees, praying to God for so many different things – hope, peace, comfort, assurance, healing.

Yes it was a tragedy but it also was a wake up call to all of us – not just to be more vigilant, to be aware that there are those who hate America and will attack us, but to be more vigilant in our faith lives. To trust in the Lord – at all times!

We found God, who is the Rock. Psalm 18:2, “The Lord is my Rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” We saw in God the hope that we needed. Indeed as a people we did as Psalm 18:6 says, “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.” And He was there!

He brought comfort.
  • He brought peace.
  • He brought hope, to our lives and to our nation as we reeled from a day that presented such surreal images that we could not have even imagined.

Only in movies were there such images. Only in pretend or on the back lots of the production studios could such images have been created. But they weren’t there. Those dreadful images were right in front us – surreal, impossible.

And yet, is not that how we feel at other times of our lives? At the doctor’s report of cancer. At the request for a divorce. At the finding out the company is closing and jobs are lost. As the spouse admits adultery. As the child is arrested for drug use. As the police call with word of a death due to an accident.

We are filled with shock, disbelief, terror, numbness. The nation felt it on 9/11. We feel it day after day, in situation after situation. And we cry out! We cry to God! And He hears us! We need a Rock. And He is that Rock!

But…how soon we begin to forget. How soon the numbness wears off. The world continues on. And we forget the pain.

Oh, it is still there, hurting, tearing at our lives, but it soon begins to fade. Those families who lost loved ones at 9/11 live with the pain (much as each of us live with it as we face the death of a loved one) but for the rest of us – real life comes back. We have to go on with life.

So…the planes fly again.
…the people go back to work or school.

…lives begin to return to “normal.”

…and we begin to forget or drift.

What? How could we forget? How could this happen? The Rock, the Fortress, the One who pulled us through the crisis of our times is soon forgotten. We let Him slip to the background again, waiting for another time when we need to use Him in our lives.

My friends, it should not be so. God is not meant to be relegated to the one who is needed only in times of trouble. He is to be at the center of our lives, the One who guides us each day, who leads us through the mundane events of our daily lives.

Our Rock is our Rock each day. He is what protects us as we grow through our days, our shield that wards off the flaming arrows of the evil one that attacks us even on the calm days when no calamity befalls our nation or befuddles our minds.

America needs to remember this day that it is not our might (army, navy, air force, marines) that gives us true security. For the enemy of the nation showed us that on 9/11. No, true security is found as we live in the palm of His hand

  • True peace is with God through Christ.
  • True hope is found not at Ground Zero but at the Empty Tomb.
  • True life is given not at the price of the ones who perished on Flight 93 or in the collapse of the towers but at the price of the One who died upon the cross.

America, proclaim your pride. Proclaim how we will not forget that day 10 years ago. But as you proclaim that pride and that memory, put your words in to real time – found in Jesus Christ not in a mere man who will let you down.

9/11 was a wake-up call to America. Not to be more vigilant or more prepared for an act of terrorism (though that is true too!). It is to be more vigilant in our faith life, to be prepared in Christ for that which will happen in our lives.

Will a terrorist attack America again? They will try – and perhaps they will achieve that goal.

Will men and women die on the battlefields of the world protecting the freedoms of the U.S. and other nations? Yes they will.

Will it ever end? Will sickness end?

                                    Will turmoil end?

                                                Will pain end?

                                                            Will frustration end?

                                                                        Will death end?

YES! But not through the ways that we think. It is not going to come in this world, as governments work together.

Instead it is the future that we hold firmly to – a future found in Christ, in His return. While in this world there will be struggles and pain, there will be tragedy and death. But fear not, Christ has overcome this world! He is the Lord of all. As He saw us through the tragedy of 9/11, as He sees us through the tragedies of our lives, He does so with victory firmly in hand, a victory won upon the cross, sealed in the Resurrection.

We will be free one day – when Christ shall come again. Until that day, we stand firm on the Rock of our salvation – Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the One who was there in times of trouble, who is here with us today and who will be with us until the final day when he shall come again and bring all this suffering to an end.

America, Jesus is your Rock.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why I support Lutheran education!

I have been reading in 2 Kings and the Psalms lately. Am amazed once again as to how relevant the Word of God is to our lives today. Josiah is working to rebuild the Temple which was in said shape due ot the fact that Mannaseh was a king that chased after all the false gods and let the Temple fall apart. He led the people of Israel into a very bad place - which would finally lead to the destruction of Judah at the hand sof the Babylonians. If you forgot that, then you need to read it again. (And if you have never read it, then perhaps you should read on because that is where my thoughts are falling today.)

We don't know God's Word. There are exceptions. There are members of St. Paul's who know the Word better than I do (which may not be too hard as I find that the more I read the Bible the less I really know). But for the most part, I think that families are much like they were in the days of Josiah, they don't know what God's Word says to them. Why? Because they don't have much to do with Him and His Word.

Confirmation started up again. And as I am each year, I am amazed at how little some of the students know. We don't know the Bible. We don't know the basics of our faith. I feel kinda like Luther before he wrote the Small and Large Catechisms in 1529. He was appalled at how little people knew of their faith. I talked of the Law last night, and one of the students commented that she didn't know how she could have broken the Law because she didn't know what it was. When asked if she knew any of the commandments, she replied that she didn't.

Was I upset? Yes. Not with her. It wasn't her fault. It was the fault of her parents. They don't bring her to church and Sunday School. When she was baptized they said they would be certain to raise her in the faith, teaching it to her in her life - but they haven't. How many parents are there like that? How many families don't know what God's Word says? How many "despise preaching and His word"? (Hopefully you know where that comes from. If not, get out your catechism and look up the 3rd Commandment and its meaning.) But we don't despise the Word of God, we just don't have anything to do with it.

This generation of children are being robbed of their faith. And who is it that is robbing them of that faith? Their parents. That's right, their parents are robbing their children of the faith that they were given in the waters of their baptism. Their parents are not teaching them God's Word. They are not bringing them to worship. Why? Because they themselves don't see the importance of it. Why do we need the Word? We have a job. We have money. We have a house. We have a good life. Everything is going well for us. We don't need God and His Word to mess things up for us. So we just avoid it.

And in the process, we steal eternal life from our children. We wonder why our children get in trouble. We are amazed when they show a lack of respect. We are overwhelmed with how terrible the world has become. We wonder why the Church doesn't do more to help people. And then we avoid the Church. We avoid worship. We despise the Word of God by not wanting it to be a part of my life. (Have you ever looked at your Bible? Yes, when I moved it from one place to another. Have you opened it? No. Do you know that there are 66 books in the Bible? How can there be that many books in this one? Actual conversation with a student.)

I read in Psalm 102:12, "But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations." And I asked myself, "Really? Is that really the way it is?" Yes the Lord is enthroned forever. But is He remember throughout the generations. Has my generation taught our children the Word of God? Have we taught them the wonders of the Lord? Is the next generation teaching about the wonders of the Lord?

And you wonder why I support the Lutheran school? At least for the 11 years that we have children in our school (yes 11! Count them, 2 years of preschool, kindergarten and 8 years of numbered classes = 11) we have the opportunity to tell our children of teh wonders of the Lord. We have the chance to open their eyes to that which Satan would have us avoid tell them. We can help them to know and remember our Lord, His law, His Good News and the wonders of what it means to be a Child of God.

The next time you feel like complaining about the cost of Lutheran education, stop and think about the souls that would be lost to damnation if we did not have the doors of our school open. Think about how little our children and grandchildren would know of the Lord without it. Can families teach the same things at home? Of course.

But will they?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fruits of the Spirit - introduction

The following was an introductory paper given to the St. Paul's Lutheran School teachers as we began the 2011-12 school year. The theme verse is Galatians 5:22-23, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." This was meant to help the teachers get a grasp on these verses. Each month we will select a student of the month that exhibits the fruit of that month. I will also begin to post those monthly papers about each fruit as they become available through out the year.

Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22-23


 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (ESV)

 The theme verse for the 2011-2012 academic school year at St. Paul’s is a familiar verse for many of us. We have heard often of the “Fruit of the Spirit.” These “fruit” will be what is used to find our “Student of the Month.” Each month we will be looking at one of the “fruit” and will be considering the student that best fits that “fruit.” In order for us to be prepared to make this decision, it would be good for us to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest these words for ourselves.

 For us to have a good understanding of the fruit of the Spirit, we need to look beyond just these two verses to see the context of what Paul writes. We will be looking at Galatians 5:16-26. Listen as we read these verses:

Through out this section, we see the contrast between life in the Spirit and life in the flesh. It begins with: “But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV)

 Paul gives us this contrast in other letters. In Romans 8:9 we read, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (ESV) Again in Ephesians 2:5, “…even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ.” (ESV)

The old (also known as the Old Adam, the old man) = the sinful nature that is opposed to God and the life one has in Christ.

The new (also known as the new man) = the life that is filled with Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit.

 This beginning verses from Galatians 5:16-17 are a challenge to the Christian life. To walk by the Spirit is a challenge. The desire of the heart is to walk according to the sinful flesh. The reason is because of the original sin within each of us. Born sinful, our very nature is sinful. To walk by the Spirit means to not follow the depth of the depravity of our souls.

 This is not something that we do on our own. To say to the children, you must try harder to bear the fruit of the Spirit is not what we need to be saying to them. Once again, it comes down to the very fact that we are sinful by nature and cannot by our own power walk by the Spirit. We recall the explanation to the 3rd Article of the Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” (Small Catechism, 3rd Article) It is only as we are made new by the Spirit that we walk by the Spirit. He leads us. He guides us. He is the One that empowers us to follow the way of the Lord. This is important to remember because it is so easy to say to one another, “Try harder. Be a better Christian. You must really work hard to bear the fruit of the Spirit.” That puts the pressure on us, which means that we will only fail the test. In and of ourselves we will not and cannot walk by the Spirit.

So how does this happen? How is it that we walk by the Spirit? It is as we are guided by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace. He empowers us in the very way that He has told us that He will work – through the Word of God, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Calling us by the Gospel – in the waters of Baptism and through the Word as it is read and proclaimed. Each of our children has been called by the Gospel. The reason that we celebrate the Baptism birthdays of each of the children is because of the importance of their Baptism. It isn’t just a “nice” thing to do. We recall our Baptismal birthdays in order to remind us of the importance of this day when we have been called by the Gospel. We continue to study the Word as He enlightens us daily – leading our children in devotions, religion class and in various other ways that we bring that Word into our lessons.

 Back to Galatians. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” (Galatians 5:19-20 ESV)  Paul gives us the works of the flesh which is not comprehensive. It isn’t that we look at this list and say, “Those are not things that I do so I am all right.” We can find ourselves in this list at some point in time. In fact, as we look at the fullness of the Law, we see that we are definitely struggling with the works of the flesh. That is something that we are led to help our children to understand about themselves.

 The works of the flesh are against the commandments of the Lord. We teach these to the children, even having them memorize them through the yeas. The works are evident – other things take the place of the Lord in the heart and life, language is not as the Lord would have it to be (in the classroom as there is disrespectful language against one another, on the playground when no teacher is around, at home), the heart is not worshiping the Lord in the classroom, at home or in the church, respect is not given to parents, teachers or others in authority, etc. Yes, it is evident to see the works of the flesh. It is a struggle between walking by the Spirit and walking in the flesh.

Our task as teachers is to guide the children from the works of the flesh to the life in the Spirit. As we do that, we find that we must first be guided by the Spirit in our lives. It is easy for us to focus on the children and forget that we must begin in our own hearts and lives in order to then be able to guide the children in their lives.

 Turning to the Fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” The fruit that is born by the Christian is the fruit that comes from being connected to Christ. Jesus tells us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he is it that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 ESV) Connected to Christ in Word and Sacrament, we grow in our lives of faith and in growing, we bear much fruit. It is much like the crops planted in the field. We cannot enjoy sweet corn without it first being planted, nurtured, watered and harvested. The ear does not come by itself. It cannot grow on the ground without any connection to the corn stalk. Nor can it grow without being watered by rain or irrigation. So the Christian cannot bear fruit without being connected to Christ Himself (the very word “Christian” shows us that Christ is the center of who we are and without whom we would not be “Christian”). Nor can we bear such fruit without being watered by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace. Connected to Christ, we are to bear fruit.

Is it an option, this bearing fruit? No it isn’t. We will bear fruit one way or another. Paul writes, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to one another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”  (Romans 7:4 ESV) Bearing fruit for God, bearing fruit in our lives, is what we are to do. We do not believe and that is the end of it for our lives here on earth. No, we are called to bear fruit. What type of fruit we bear shows where our heart and life is as Jesus says, “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit…Thus you will recognize them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:17-18, 20 ESV) Bearing good fruit is what we as Christians are to be about.

And what is the fruit? It is what the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and lives. It is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Each month we will be emphasizing one of these fruit. At the same time, we will need to remind our students that it isn’t just for that month that we are to bear the fruit of the Spirit. It is to be that which we do day after day, week after week, month after month, long after we have finished the 2011-12 school year, the fruit of the Spirit is still to be part of our daily lives.

We can divide these fruit up into 3 categories (for our benefit): Love, joy and peace are inner qualities that reflect our Christian relationship with God. Patience, kindness and goodness show themselves in our attitude and actions toward one another. Faithfulness, gentleness and self-control reflect how the new man conducts himself in view of the duties, opportunities and obligations that come to him because of his Christian calling.

For our students, we will begin by looking at those fruit that reflect their life in Christ and their relationship with their heavenly Father. Love is that which begins in God’s heart and is poured into ours as we love one another as Christ has loved us (which includes the attitude of forgiveness towards one another). Love is the foundation of all else that comes in our lives. If we do not love God, we cannot love one another. It is as John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know god, because God is love…Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:7-8,11 ESV) So we begin our year with love – love for God and love for one another.

Each month, I will bring forward at the staff meeting the next fruit so that we will have a fresh look at what each fruit means for us and for our students.

August/September – Love

October – Joy

November – Peace

December – Patience

January – Kindness

February – Goodness

March – Faithfulness

April – Gentleness

May – Self-control

May the Lord bless our school year as we, as teachers, bear the fruit of the Spirit in our classrooms and lives and as our children bear the fruit of the Spirit each day.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Further thoughts part 2

There are few more things I want to comment on from Romans 12:9-21, this last Sunday's epistle reading. Then I will let it go and move on. I was reading Psalm 90 today and felt like there was much to be said from it but I need to finish these thoughts before moving on to something else.

"If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." (Romans 12:18) I am not sure that we adhere to this in our lives. Just the opposite is true. If we think we have been wronged or we don't like someone or we just don't want to get along with someone, we don't. We figure it is there problem if they don't like it. Wrong! It is our problem.

We are told as much as it is possible, live at peace with one another. You cannot change how a person thinks or acts. That isn't your job. Nor is it your job to sit around and wait for the other person to change to try to live at peace with one another. The fact is, you are to do everything in your power, to live at peace with those around you. You are not to hold onto to grudges. You are not to say, "I don't like that person, therefore I am going to make life tough for him." I heard the other day that someone said the church is the place where we go to get along with those people that we don't like. When that was quoted to a church member, the response was, "If I don't like them, I won't have anything to do with them. I won't talk to them. Etc." What? How is that a Christian attitude? In as much as in your lies, as much as it is in your power, live peaceably with others.

But I don't want to! I don't want to be kind and compassionate to the person that I don't like. I shouldn't have to! After all, I don't like them and I have my reasons. But are they really valid reasons/ Or are they selfish, sinful reasons that you hold onto and keep in front of you so that you don't have to get along with at person?

Putting it another way, are you really that good of a person that people would want to get along with you? Or are you one of those people that others avoid because of your attitude and actions? In as much as in you lies - change yourself! That's right, you are the problem, not them. Your attitude is the one that makes you the person that you are - not theirs. You chose to act the way you act. You chose to be the person you are. You don't have to be angry or bitter or mean or nasty or self-centered. That is not the way that Christ would have you live. Did you ever see that in His life? Of course not. Why not? Because it is sinful.

As much as in you lies - live peaceably with others. That means that today, you begin to pray to the Spirit to change your heart and mind. It means that you begin to let the life of Christ guide you instead of the life of sin. Is it easy? Of course not. There is no way to do that by yourself. And even as the Spirit is transforming you and your mind, you will fight it. Your sinful nature will not want you to change.

That, my blog reading friends, is the challenge of living the life of a Christian.