August 6, 2017 Sermon

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Aug 072017
 

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Colossians 3:2

Dear Friends in Christ,

As Christians we all are citizens of two kingdoms. By birth we are citizens of the earth, and whatever country in which we were born. Depending on the country in which you were born, that citizenship may entitle you to more or less freedom. But, no matter how much freedom your earthly citizenship grants to you, one day it will come to an end. When you die, your earthly citizenship ends.

By virtue of our re-birth by water and the spirit we are also citizens of heaven. God has written our name in His book of life, the citizenship role of heaven. He has made us heirs with Jesus of all he has. Our heavenly citizenship never ends. In fact, we don’t get to enjoy it fully until we die, or Jesus returns in glory.

You can see why Paul encourages us to seek, to set our minds on the things that are above, not on earthly things.

This encouragement runs through the whole Bible. The Preacher drove home the point in Ecclesiastes. He says that if you set your mind on earthly things you will soon come to the conclusion that everything is meaningless. You will work hard all your life to accumulate as much stuff as you can. You may enjoy it for a while, but sooner or later you get old and you have to downsize and you don’t have room for all that stuff you worked so hard to get for yourself. You make out your will, and you decide who is going to get all the stuff you worked so hard for once you are gone. You might be happy to bless them with these things, but then, you might also think like the Preacher. Who knows whether he (your heir) will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun.

Jesus warned the man who wanted him to tell his brother to share his inheritance with him that he was setting his mind on earthly things. He said, watch out and be on guard against all greed, because a man’s life is not measured by how many possessions he has. And he illustrated the seriousness of his warning with the parable of the rich fool. He had set his mind on earthly things to the point that he completely ignored the things above. As a result, he was not ready for the day of his death. His barns full of grain didn’t grant him citizenship in heaven. His full barns stayed behind on earth and everything he had was divided among his heirs.


Set your minds on things above, on Jesus and the eternal life he has won for you, on the eternal mansion he is preparing for you. Set your minds on those things, not on earthly things.

Why? Because earthly things don’t last. How many cars have you owned in your life? They wear out. They don’t last. If they did last you would only ever need one. How many times have you had to paint, or put a new roof on your house? Earthly things don’t last, and you can’t take any of them with you when you die.

But, an even better answer to the question “why” is, because earthly things can distract you from what is really important. They can become a god, an idol. Luther defines what your god is as whatever you put your trust in and run to for help in time of need. The rich fool trusted that he could take it easy, eat, drink and be merry for many years because he had so much stored in his barns. Still today, we are tempted to think that if we have lots of money saved in our retirement funds, or the doctor says we are in good health, we don’t really have to think about God yet. We get distracted with the things of this earth. And that’s really dangerous because, as the rich fool found out, we never know how long we have to live on this earth. We need to live each day as if it were our last day on earth. We need to keep our minds focused on the things above, on Jesus who is sitting at the right hand of God; on the forgiveness he has won for us; on the mansion he is preparing for us.

This difficult for us because we can’t see the things that are above. We see all the earthly stuff every day. We see ad after ad, and commercial after commercial telling us how much we need to be focused on earthly things. But we can’t see Jesus, or the mansion he is preparing for us. That’s why we need to be in God’s word every day. It is through the word that we see Jesus and all the blessings he has for us. It is through the word that the Holy Spirit helps us fix our eyes, not on the seen, but on the unseen and realize that what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal. It is through the word that the Holy Spirit strengthens faith which is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don’t see. When we find ourselves struggling to set our minds on things above we need to put down the ads and turn off the TV and spend some time in God’s word and prayer.

The most important reason to make sure we are setting our minds on things above and not on earthly things is so that we are ready for the day when God will say, tonight your soul is demanded from you. But Paul also points out that setting our minds on things above has a benefit for our lives here on earth as well.

Knowing, and being constantly reminded that in Christ you are a citizen of heaven, so that, when he comes again in glory you will be right there with him, moves you to live like a citizen of heaven already here on earth. It reminds you to put to death whatever is worldly in you: sexual immorality, uncleanness, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. It reminds you to rid yourselves of all of these: wrath, anger, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. As you set your mind on things above you realize that such things are not fitting for God’s holy people, for citizens of Heaven.

When, because of what God has done for us in Jesus, we set our minds on things above, we learn to ask ourselves different questions than when our minds are focused on earthly things. Instead of asking, “What’s in it for me? What will I get out of this? How will this help me get more earthly stuff?” We ask ourselves, “What’s in this for God? What will God get out of this, will it bring him glory? How will this serve my neighbor? How might it help my neighbor see that Jesus is his savior too?”

As more and more people focus on earthly things; things like color and class, beauty, ability and health, the more divided the world becomes. How wonderful, that when we set our minds on things above we realize that there is no Greek or Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free in Jesus. We are all sons of God through faith in Jesus. In him we are all equally sinners and all equally saved. The Lord doesn’t look at the outward appearance, he looks at the heart. And if we are focused on things above we won’t be bothered by people’s outward appearance, their color, their language, their ability or disability. We aren’t God. We can’t look at the heart, but if they confess that Jesus is their savior from sin and that they are looking forward to living with him in heaven because of what he has done for them, we rejoice and call them brother or sister.

If you followed the Synod convention at all this week you probably noticed an international flavor. A representative from our sister church in Germany was there. And we were blessed to declare fellowship with churches in Ethiopia, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia, all who had representatives in attendance. Later this month I hope to be able to attend the dedication of the church building of Grace Hmong Lutheran in Kansas City. What a wonderful witness it is to the world that in Christ there is no Greek or Jew, no black or white or Asian or Hispanic; that we can all stand together and worship together because we are all citizens of heaven through faith in Jesus.

By birth you are a citizen of earth. But don’t set you mind on earthly things. They don’t last. One day you will leave them all behind for someone else. Through your baptism you were united with Jesus in his death and resurrection. You were reborn as a citizen of heaven. Set your mind on the things above, on Jesus and the mansion he is preparing for you. Your heavenly citizenship is the one that counts. It lasts for all eternity.

July 30, 2017 Sermon

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Jul 312017
 

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Genesis 18:23-32

Dear Friends in Christ,

What is your attitude when you stand before the Lord, when you come before him in prayer? Some would say that you need an attitude of humility and respect; consider who you are and to whom you are speaking. And they have a point. Others would say that you need to come before the Lord with boldness and confidence because, after all, God has invited us to pray and promised to hear us. And they too have a point. Abraham is an excellent example for us of the fact that when we come before the Lord in prayer we are to come in humble boldness.

Let’s review the situation from last week. Abraham showed hospitality to three strangers and found out that they were really two angels and the Lord. The Lord repeated his promise that Abraham and Sarah would have the long-promised child within the year. He would not allow his promise of a Savior to fail, even if it took a miracle birth to preserve it. As the three were leaving, the Lord indicated to Abraham that they would be going to Sodom and Gomorrah because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know. He says that he shared His plans with Abraham because he knew that Abraham would pass on the truth about the Lord, and about what would happen to Sodom and Gomorrah, to future generations. And, he was giving Abraham an opportunity to put his newly strengthened faith into action.

The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah came from the unsuspecting people who wandered into the city square, as the two angels did, and became victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the people of those cities. Just as Abel’s blood pleaded for vengeance against Cain, their abuse pleaded for vengeance. The outcry came from the few righteous people who were left and were still offended at the perversion which the majority practiced. The angels of God witnessed that the outcry against these cities, the call for God’s judgment on them, was indeed justified. But, no matter how much it might be said that Sodom and Gomorrah deserved their fate, Abraham still approached the Lord in intercessory prayer. He prayed not on behalf of the wicked in the cities, but on behalf of the righteous, the believers who might still remain there.

He stood before the Lord, he interceded with God, in humility. His humble attitude was displayed earlier, when he first met the three strangers, bowed before them, served them and showed them hospitality. He was a rich and powerful man, but he was not too proud to serve others. In his prayer he expressed his humble attitude with these words: Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes. . . and, May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. Abraham knew his place. He knew that he was a mere mortal, dust and ashes, daring to speak with the Almighty, the eternal God, the judge over all the earth. He knew that the Lord had ample reason to be angry, not just with Sodom and Gomorrah, but with him, because he too was sinful. He acknowledged that God was his Lord and master and that he didn’t have to hear or answer him, or even give him the opportunity to speak. Abraham had a humble attitude in prayer.

We need that same humble attitude. And we will have a humble attitude in prayer when we have a clear picture from the Word of who we are, and of who God is. God’s word tells us very clearly who we are. DUST. Dust of the ground formed into a body by God and into which he breathed life. We inhabit the earth, he is the ruler of all the earth, in fact, the whole universe. We are the creature, he is the creator. And we are sinful creatures who have rebelled against him. Paul clearly points that out in Romans 3 as he hammers home the point, repeating the words “all” and “not even one”, as he declares that all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God; that there is no one righteous, not even one.

 

We will have a humble attitude in prayer when God’s law works in our hearts daily and convicts us of our sin. Seeing our sinfulness will keep us from thinking that we deserve anything from God, or that we can demand that he do anything for us. And we will have a humble attitude in prayer when we recognize who God is. He is perfect, holy, eternal, almighty, the one with whom nothing is impossible. He is greater by far than the greatest men on earth. He deserves our utmost honor and respect as we stand before him in prayer.

Having a humble attitude in prayer is important, but so is boldness, confidence. James writes: When a Christian prays, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord.

Abraham demonstrated boldness in his prayer. He said: Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing– to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right? That’s a pretty bold way to speak with the Lord, wouldn’t you say? But notice that Abraham’s boldness in prayer was not based on his own power or goodness. The boldness that Abraham expressed was based on what he knew to be true about God, that God is righteous and will always do only what is truly right and just.

When we come to the Lord in prayer we don’t come with boldness or confidence that rests in ourselves. We cannot come to God thinking, “God you have to answer this prayer because I’ve been your faithful servant all my life.” We dare not have our confidence rest in anything that we have done, or in the fact that we may not have committed as many sins as others. We dare not have our confidence rest in any thought that we deserve to have God do something for us. We deserve only punishment from God. But, when we have a word of God, a promise that he has given us in the Bible, then we can and should be bold and confident as we come to the Lord in prayer.

For example; we can be absolutely confident that God will do what we ask when we come to him seeking forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, because that request is based on a promise of God. If we come seeking forgiveness because we promise not to do it again, or because it was an accident, we didn’t really mean it, or even because God is love, we ought to have no confidence at all. His promise is that he forgives all our sins because of what Jesus has done for us. We can be absolutely sure that God has forgiven us when we pray on the basis of that promise and say “Lord, forgive me for Jesus’s sake; because of what he has done for me, and what you have promised.”

Or, as we gather to read and study the Scripture, either here at church or at home, and we pray that God will increase and strengthen our faith, we can have absolute confidence that he will do it, because he has promised.

In areas where God has not made a promise, for example in the area of healing– contrary to what the faith healers say, God has not promised to heal every illness and disease. He has told us that one day, something will catch up with us and we will return to the dust from which we came. In areas where God has not made a promise, we can still be confident that he will hear our prayer for Jesus’ sake, but we leave the answer up to him.

Abraham prayed boldly on the basis of the fact that God is righteous and just. But Abraham knew that God had not made a promise that he would spare the wicked. Abraham’s plea was for the righteous, and God answered his prayer, not only by saying he would spare the city for as few as 10 believers, but by sending his angels to warn Lot and his family to escape. Abraham stopped at 10 and left the details of the answer up to God. He trusted from his discussion with the Lord that the Lord would indeed do what was just and right.

 

How often don’t we fail to pray in humble boldness! Too often we forget what a gracious privilege is it to be able to talk with God; we forget how great and holy he is, and how lowly and sinful we are. Too often we are bold for the wrong reasons. Too often we want to instruct God and tell him how he should do things. Thankfully Jesus served as our substitute. He always prayed with the proper attitude of humble confidence. He went to the cross and paid for all the times we have failed to be humble or have been bold for the wrong reasons. He has risen and ascended to the right hand of the Father where he intercedes for us so that our prayers in his name are always heard, and answered in the best possible way.

What a wonderful and gracious God we have that he would not only allow, but even invite and encourage us, miserable sinners that we are, to come to him, anytime, anywhere, and stand before him in prayer. What a wonderful and gracious God we have that he would give us so many wonderful promises, so that on the basis of those promises we can come to him with boldness and confidence, knowing that he will do what we asked, or something even better.

The hymn writer puts it well– “You are coming to a King” Implied, give him the proper honor and respect, humble yourself before him, he is the king of the universe. “You are coming to a King,” a king with whom nothing is impossible, “large petitions with you bring.” Learn from Abraham’s example to pray with humble boldness.

July 23, 2017 Sermon

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Jul 242017
 

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Genesis 18:3-10a

Dear Friends in Christ,

When I was in late grade school our pastor’s father, also a pastor, retired and came to live in our town to be near his son. My parents got to know him and would have him over for supper on occasion. He would bring a little notebook with him in which he had recorded interesting stories from his ministry and he would share some of those stories with us as we sat and talked after supper. Since I didn’t grow up in a parsonage or have any close living relatives who were pastors, his stories were very helpful as I thought about studying to become a pastor. My parent’s hospitality provided some unexpected blessings.

We see something similar happening with Abraham and Sarah; and with Mary, Martha. Abraham showed hospitality to three strangers and ended up entertaining angels without knowing it, and was strengthened in faith by a wonderful promise of God.

God had repeatedly told Abraham that he would have a son; that he would have descendants as numerous and the stars in the sky and the sand on the sea shore; and that all nations would be blessed through him. But it seemed that God was taking his time in keeping his promise. Abraham and Sarah continued to be childless. As the years passed, and they discussed God’s promise, they became impatient and decided that maybe God meant that he would provide Abraham a son through Sarah’s maid, Hagar. God appeared to Abraham again and made it clear that this was not his plan. Even though he was 99 and Sarah was 90 and it would take a miracle for them to have children, they would have a son. As a sign confirming his promise, God had Abraham and all the men in his household undergo circumcision.

It wasn’t long after this, within the year, that Abraham was resting at the entrance of his tent. Suddenly there were three men standing in front of him. He had not noticed them approaching, but there they were. He didn’t know them. There were strangers, but he eagerly and willingly showed them hospitality. He invited them to rest under the trees from the heat of the day. He offered to wash their feet and to give them something to eat. When they accepted his invitation, he hurried to take care of everything. He hurried to ask Sarah to make the quick bread, a lot of it. He ran to his shepherd and picked out the best calf to slaughter, a choice one. And when everything was ready he didn’t sit down to eat with them, but stood nearby to serve as a host and quickly get these men anything they might want or need.

We know that Abraham was a man of faith. We are told that when God promised him seemingly impossible things, he believed. He trusted God to do what he said, and God credited righteousness to him by faith. Abraham’s faith was a living faith. When God asked him to do something he did it. When he had this opportunity to show hospitality he doesn’t seem to be just going through the motions of what his culture required. He shows eager and unselfish service to these strangers even before it becomes obvious who they really are. His hospitality was a fruit of faith.

Faith, as it grows and matures, produces fruit. The Bible suggests that one fruit that faith produces is hospitality. The writer to the Hebrews, who seems to be thinking of Abraham’s example, says Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers. Paul tells the Romans, Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. And Peter says, Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Our culture today is a lot different than it was in Abraham’s day. It wouldn’t be a wise, or safe practice to just invite strangers passing by your house to come in for a meal. But what about people we do know; what about our neighbors we don’t know maybe as well as we should; what about members of traveling choirs from our schools; or international students? What about taking time to get to know your fellow members after church, or inviting a new member to your home so that you can get to know each other? I know it takes extra time and effort, but look at the example of Abraham. He eagerly and unselfishly offered his time and his possessions to show hospitality to these three strangers.

As Abraham showed hospitality he received unexpected blessings. It wasn’t that his good deed earned him respect from these men, or a good reputation in the community. It soon became evident that these three strangers were not ordinary men. It soon became evident that two were angels who would leave Abraham’s tent and go on to Sodom and Gomorrah, and one was the Lord himself, all appearing to Abraham in human form.

Just being in their presence would have been blessing enough, but they had come to Abraham’s tent to repeat and confirm God’s promise of a son, especially for Sarah. It all started when these men did something unheard of in that culture. They asked about his wife and even called her by name, Sarah. That was something a stranger would never do. Abraham must have thought, “How do these strangers know my wife’s name?” And when Abraham assures them that she is nearby, in the tent, within earshot, one of them, from verse 13 we know that it is the Lord himself, graciously repeats the promise he had given to Abraham so that Sarah might also hear it directly from him. The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

At first Sarah laughed to herself. But when the Lord demonstrated his omniscience and called her on it, she began to trust his promise and, when the child that was promised was born, she was happy to name him Isaac, or laughter, so that she was reminded to trust the Lord and give him thanks every time she said his name.

The most important part of this incident isn’t that Abraham showed hospitality. The most important part of this incident is that God graciously chose to appear to Abraham again, and to do it in a way that Sarah could hear his promise, not just from Abraham, but from his own mouth. What a gracious, loving, condescending God we have! And even more important for us is that we get to see that God kept his promise. Not only was Isaac born when God said he would be, a miraculous thing considering the age of Abraham and Sarah, but we know that God continued to keep his promise from generation to generation until the one through whom all people are blessed was born; Jesus our savior.

Showing hospitality brought an unexpected blessing to Abraham and Sarah. Showing hospitality brought blessings to Mary and Martha as well. Mary realized it first. She realized that showing hospitality to Jesus and his disciples gave her the opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn God’s word from him. Martha learned to receive that blessing too, for when Jesus returned after Lazarus died, she was the first to speak with him and to beautifully confess her faith in Jesus and in the resurrection of the dead.

What unexpected blessings might showing hospitality bring to you? The greatest blessing would be that you have the opportunity to discuss God’s word with each other. Those to whom you show hospitality may be able to encourage and build you up with something from God’s word that you might not have thought of or remembered, or you may be able to encourage them and build them up by sharing a promise of God with them. You might discover and encourage each other to use a spiritual gift that God has given you. Such hospitality might happen in a discussion after church, or over coffee at your favorite coffee house. It doesn’t have to be as formal or elaborate as it was for Abraham or Mary. But the point is that as we share time with others and, during that time, share something from God’s word with each other, we will receive unexpected blessings. God’s word does not return empty.

One thing that Satan loves to do is to isolate us. He wants us to think that we can do everything by ourselves. He wants us to withdraw from everyone else so that, when we realize that we can’t do everything by ourselves there is no one there to help and encourage us, and we despair. Satan has been very successful in isolating us. People don’t know their neighbors. People don’t greet strangers. People don’t encourage each other with the word outside of seeing each other at church.
People get up, go to work, play on their phones at break, only talk to those they have to talk to, go home, lock the door and turn on the TV. Satan loves it when we are isolated so that he can keep us from talking to others about God’s wonderful promises.

As you hear and read God’s promises, as you are assured that Jesus came to pay for your selfishness and the times that you have not shown hospitality and ignored your neighbor, may you be strengthened in faith and thankfulness. May a fruit of your faith be that, like Abraham, and Mary and Martha, you are looking for opportunities to connect with others. As you do, may you find the unexpected blessing of hearing God’s promises from and sharing them with others. Then, as Paul told the Colossians, people will rejoice in your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all the saints that springs from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven.

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