But What Belongs to God?

Pastor Scott Adkins
10/19/2014
Isaiah 45:1-7, Matthew 22:15-22

Good Morning Everyone! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ!

Well, Jesus was certainly in a pickle for this one. Jesus’ old debating “buddies,” the Pharisees, came back to him to ask him yet another question intended to trap him up and get him into trouble. However, this time, the Pharisees brought along some friends of their own. They brought along a different group of Jews, called the Herodians. The Herodians were Jews that were supporters of the reign of Herod, the Roman puppet-king of Judea. The Pharisees, if you remember, were Jews that emphasized obedience to the Law of Moses found in the books Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They also did not care for Roman rule. Jesus was in a no win situation here. If he said yes, pay your taxes, he would anger the Pharisees and those who opposed Roman rule. If he said no, don’t pay taxes, he would anger the Romans and their supporters. In the famous words of Star Wars’ Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!”

Jesus has quite the answer to get out of their trap, though. He asks for a coin and simply asks whose image is on it. When they reply that it has Caesar’s image, Jesus says to give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to give to God what belongs to God.

The trouble is, the Caesars of the world were not and still aren’t always stand up guys. Tiberius Caesar was by no means a God-fearing man. He claimed himself to be a god, like the other Roman emperors. The inscription on the coin that Jesus held probably said “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus,” with a Roman god or goddess on the reverse. Looking at the coin itself was a reminder of Roman idolatry to the observant Jews. How can they give their allegiance to a man who consistently and unapologetically does what is contrary to our faith and breaks God’s law?

Well, our first lesson for the day talks about this. In our reading from Isaiah, God calls King Cyrus of Persia his “anointed.” If you remember what I said in my other sermons, guess what Hebrew word “anointed” is? You guessed it, it is “messiah!” In the Greek Old Testament Bibles that the early Christians of St. Paul’s time used, the word used here is “kristos,” or Christ!

Don’t get me wrong, I am not comparing King Cyrus to Jesus. All I am saying is that God chose Cyrus to be the king, that he was “anointed” by God to do that. God does say in verse four that He summoned Cyrus by name and gave him honor and strength, even though he did not acknowledge God. In our reading, God says that he is choosing Cyrus “for the sake of Jacob my servant.” He did this for the benefit of his people, Israel. King Cyrus liberated the Jews from their exile in Babylon and gave the order to rebuild the God’s temple in Jerusalem. The idea here is that even though the ruler may not be a Christian, he is chosen by God for the benefit of His people, as long as the ruler does not forbid what God commands us to do. In such cases, St. Peter said in Acts chapter five verse 29 “We must obey God rather than any human authority!” (NLT).

Caesar’s reign was similar to Cyrus in some ways. While definitely not Jewish at all, Caesar’s Roman Empire provided the relative peace, common languages and infrastructure of that enabled Christianity to flourish from Jerusalem to all over the Roman Empire and beyond. This is why in Romans chapter thirteen St. Paul says to submit to the authorities and pay taxes, because they provide order and justice to society and therefore are servants of God.

It’s because of this that Jesus tells us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Even though the government may not be Christian, we still need to obey the authorities, because, as God said to Jeremiah the prophet in Jeremiah chapter twenty-nine verse seven, “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” It is clear that we need to submit to the authorities and seek the common good for the country and community, but there are two questions that I see from what Jesus said. What belongs to Caesar, and what belongs to God?

Well, let’s talk about Caesar first. St. Paul tells us in Romans thirteen verse six to pay our taxes, and in our Gospel reading Jesus told us to pay taxes because the money has his image on it. But is there anything else that is Caesar’s? We know that we need to seek the good of the country, and to obey the authorities. I think in order to do this, we need to be responsible citizens, especially since here in America we choose who our “Caesars” are. Only by being involved citizens who vote, pay taxes, and take our part in the common good and defense of our country can we really “seek the peace and prosperity of our city.” Being an apathetic citizen and not voting or participating in civic life is not “giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

With the discussion over the denarius, Jesus shared what belonged to Caesar. But he never specifically explained the second part of his answer to his opponents. All He said was “Give to God what belongs to God.” Well what in the blazes does this even mean?

Jesus doesn’t tell us specifically here, so we’ll take a look at what he said about the denarius. Why did Jesus say that the denarius belonged to Caesar? Remember, he pointed out two things. The image on the coin was Caesar’s, and so was the inscription. What do we have that has a similar image and inscription of God on it?

The answer is: us. Remember from the beginning of the Bible at creation in Genesis chapter one verse 27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them. Male and female he created them.” We are each created by God in His image. We also have God’s inscription on us. St. Paul said in Romans chapter two verse 15 that all people, believers or not, have God’s Law written on their hearts. This is God’s inscription.

Unlike our Caesars, who want our money, time, and possibly our military service, God wants all of us. Jesus quoted parts of the Law of Moses found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy when he summed up the Ten Commandments right after he spoke with the Pharisees and the Herodians in our Gospel reading for today starting in verse 37. He said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

This is definitely a tall order. God demands all of us completely; heart, soul, and mind. Since we bear his image, God wants what belongs to him, just like Caesar. The problem is, none of us can completely give everything we are over to God nor can we love our neighbors perfectly. Even if we seem to be and try to be sincere, we always hold something back. “Ok God, you win! I believe in you and trust in Jesus! I give it all to you! Except this little piece of my life. That I keep for myself.” Maybe that little piece is your job, your family, certain relationships, a hobby, your secular reputation, a “favorite sin” that you seem to do over and over, or yes, even your money. Try as we might, we can never “give to God what belongs to God.”

Well folks, this sounds rather depressing. We have a debt to God that we can never pay because of our sinful nature. However, there is a bright spot. Has anyone here ever had to owe the IRS any money? Don’t raise your hands! If you have, you know that Uncle Sam always gets his due. Just like Uncle Sam, God is just as tenacious at pursuing us, but for a different reason than the IRS. While the IRS goes after what you have, God goes after what you are. Unsatisfied with what you are, God wants to change you with the Holy Spirit, to make you into something new and good through Jesus. He looks at that debt that you can never pay up, and marks it “paid in full” through the blood of Jesus. Nothing you can do, think, or choose can make that happen, only trust in Jesus can pay that debt off. Because of that gift, we are able to belong fully to God as His most precious possessions, ones that He will cling to. Remember that. You are precious to God.

Jesus told the Jews that tried to corner him to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to give to God what is God’s. We may not like or agree with our Caesars, but we still need to give them their due, even if our Caesar doesn’t believe. However, it is that second part of what Jesus said that is much more difficult to do. “Give to God what is God’s” God created us in His image, so we ourselves belong to Him, but we can never give God His due on our own. Only through the price paid by Jesus are we able to fully belong to God in the Holy Spirit, and He will hold on to us as His precious possessions.

Let us pray. Lord, thank you for setting up worldly authorities to keep order in the world. They are not perfect, but they carry out your will. Lord give them your guidance and wisdom to govern justly. Lord thank you for sending your Holy Spirit after us so we can be your people, and for giving us faith in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross and paid the price for us to fully belong to you. Amen.

In Christ Alone

Intern Pastor Scott Adkins
Holy Cross Day A, 9/14/14
1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 3:13-18, Numbers 21: 7-9

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Hello everyone! It is great to be here with all of you on this Holy Cross Sunday, a day where we take a break from the Pentecost Season to reflect on the cross, and what it has meant for us and what it cost for Jesus.

In our first reading for the day, St. Paul said that the message of cross was “foolishness” to those that are “perishing.” That is, those that do not have life in Christ. To human understanding, what Christ did makes absolutely no sense. So I ask you instead. Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?

While we think about that, I heard a story about our predicament from Peanuts, when Charlie Brown went to see Lucy for her “psychiatric advice” for five cents.

Lucy said to Charlie Brown, “Discouraged again, eh, Charlie Brown?” “You know what your whole trouble is? The whole trouble with you is that you’re you!” Charlie asks, “Well, what in the world can I do about that?” Lucy answers, “I don’t pretend to be able to give advice…I merely point out the trouble!” Lucy speaks up, “You know what the whole trouble with you is, Charlie Brown?” Charlie answers, “No, and I don’t want to know! Leave me alone!” He walks away. Lucy shouts after him, “The whole trouble with you is you won’t listen to what the whole trouble with you is!”

As funny as Charlie Brown and Lucy can be, however, it is true for us. The problem is not what our sin is; how much we lie, cheat, lust, or steal. The problem is us. The problem is the sin itself that is ingrained within us at the deepest levels. In order for us to understand the work of the cross we have to understand ourselves and our sinful nature.

In his letter to the Church in Rome St. Paul reminded us (Romans 3:12) that in multiple places in Scripture (Psalm 14:3, 53:3, Ecclesiastes 7:20) we are told that everyone is a sinner. Everyone is guilty; there is no one who is good on their own. It’s a huge problem that all people have. The question is, how do we solve it?

The problem with us human beings is, that we want to solve our problems ourselves. The prideful streak in our sinful human nature says to us that we need to take care of all of our problems. After all, a real responsible adult cleans up their messes and fulfills their responsibilities. We can’t take away our sins, so what do we do instead? We try to make sure that the scale of good deeds vs bad deeds stays in our favor. How often have you heard something like that? “I suppose I’m a good person. I give to charity and I haven’t killed anyone.” We hope that will be enough for God when we stand before him one day. This is the “wisdom of the world” that St. Paul is talking about.

However, that doesn’t work with God. In the Old Testament the Prophet Isaiah says that our good deeds are like “filthy rags” before God. The good deeds that we are trying to rely on, our own human acts, mean nothing, and our sins are still there. There is no way for us to handle it on our own. The “wisdom of this world,” our determination that we must take care of the problem of sin on our own, does nothing for us. Heck, we can’t even choose to believe in God or Jesus! He even has to send the Holy Spirit to take care of that for us!

Like St. Paul said, no one is exempt from this. From the youngest baby to the Mother Theresa’s of the world, all of us are sinful enough to

warrant God’s judgment and both the heavenly and earthly consequences for our actions. Don’t believe me? Look at the baby? Has any parent here seen a young child, the most innocent of human life, throw a temper tantrum or not listen to the rules that Mom or Dad has set for them? Yeah, even babies are sinful too.

Thankfully for us, however, God does not leave high and dry. Jesus tells Nicodemus, the high ranking Jewish Pharisee that he is talking to in our Gospel lesson for today what God’s plan is. He says Jesus brings up a familiar story to Nicodemus, a rabbi who studied the Old Testament. He brings up a story about Moses, about how God saved the Israelites during their disobedience and sinfulness.

The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. (Numbers 21:7-9)

This was the story that Jesus was referring to. Yes, it, may seem a little weird, but it’s Israel’s history. In fact, it is because of this story that the symbol of the medical profession is a snake wrapped around a pole. In this story though,  Jesus is comparing himself to the snake and the Israelites to the people of his day. The Israelites, like the Jews ad Romans of the first century A.D., were disobedient to God. Even the Pharisees, those that were most devoted to following God’s Law, were only interested in the letter of the Law, not what God really wanted.

What happened in this story is what Jesus is really interested in. He tells Nicodemus that he, like the snake, must be lifted up for all to see. The result is that all who see the Lamb of God on the cross and believe will live, just like all of the Israelites who saw the snake being lifted up on Moses’s pole.

This is God’s solution to our problem. In the scale that we were thinking about earlier, this is God tipping it in our favor when we never could. This solution is that God sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

If you think about it, God’s solution to the problem of sin makes absolutely no sense to our human understanding. Think about it. In a world preoccupied with selfish gain, whose ultimate desire is for each person to save themselves, what sense does it make to save someone else at the cost of their own lives? It doesn’t make sense at all. We admire it. That is why when people risk their lives to save others we honor them with awards and medals. But when God does it for us? That sounds like foolishness to our human wisdom.

The irony is that it is not foolish. It works. That is how God destroyed the “wisdom of the wise.” He destroyed it on the cross. That what St. Paul means by “we preach Christ crucified.” We preach to the world that you cannot make up for your evil on your own. We preach Jesus Christ died for your sins. And when that seems like a laughable prospect, we show that it worked. That Jesus did create us into something new. Even though we are still sinners, Just like Pastor Ed told us a few weeks ago, we are “Simul Iustus et Peccator” Simultaneously a saint and a sinner. Even though we have life in Christ, we still are sinners. Because of that, in the words of Martin Luther, our namesake Reformer, “we have to drown the Old Adam, that is, our sinful selves, in the waters of our baptism daily.” The problem is, as one of my seminary professors once told me, that Old Adam is a heck of a swimmer!

This reality, of Jesus Christ being crucified and lifted up on a cross for all to see to put that Old Adam to death really seems like something foolish of Jesus to do. But however, the fact that it worked according to God’s will proves what St. Paul said, that the foolishness of God surpasses the wisdom of man. This fact is a stumbling block to all of those who don’t yet believe. As St. Paul said, it is a “stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.” The Jews couldn’t accept that God would save us on a cross personally like the snake that their ancestors saw, and the Gentiles could not believe God’s logic, so they called it foolishness. But to those who believe, both Jew and Gentile, we recognize it as the power of God which saves us from all sin and evil in the world and in ourselves.

The lifting of Jesus Christ on the pole of the cross is what saved us. In that act of sacrifice for us, God proved His love for us and took up all of the sin, all of the evil in the world that we can never erase on our own into himself and destroyed it forever. God did all of this without us even asking him to or expecting anything in return. None of it had anything to do with us and what we did or what we chose or what we decided. It was all up to Christ, who chose to love us by choosing the cross. Praise be to God for that Holy Cross that Christ chose for us. Amen.

Who Do You Say I Am?

Who Do You Say I Am?
11th Sunday After Pentecost A 8/24/2014
Matthew 16:13-20, Romans 12:1-8

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

So, I have a question for you. Who is Jesus? Who was he? Who is he now? What did he do? Was he God, was he the King, or was he just some rabble-rouser? These are all questions that the followers of Jesus had to face in our Gospel reading for today, and they are questions that we have to face as followers of Jesus today.

So when Jesus is walking around with his disciples in the Greco-Roman city of Caesarea, he asks the disciples who people say the “son of man” is. Notice that he doesn’t say “I.” He says the Son of Man. Jesus wants to hear what the people think about the Son of Man, not Jesus as he is.

You can kind of predict the results. Everyone realizes that Jesus is some sort of important religious guy, but no one is quite sure and everyone has their own idea of who this Jesus is. And none of them are right.

It kind of sounds like our culture, right? The saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same” comes to mind. Instead of John the Baptist or Elijah, however, now people say that he was just a great moral teacher, or a prophet of Allah in the Islamic faith, or maybe he was just some hippie that got on Rome’s bad side one day and paid the price.

I think that Jesus was just trying to get Peter to think about who Jesus is. Because as soon as Peter answered the first question, Jesus asked him another one. This question was similar, yet it was much more personal than the first. This time he asked what Peterthought he was.

Pause right there for a moment. Here they were, in a pagan city filled with Romans, the foreigners that had taken over their country.  Peter, ever the impulsive disciple, shouts out that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God! Or, more literally, the Son of the God of Life. Remember, Messiah, or Xristos  in Greek, where we get our word “Christ”, literally means, “anointed one.” In the Old Testament, whenever a king had been chosen for Israel, the prophets would pour oil over his head. This happened with Jesus’ earthly ancestor David in 1 Samuel 16:1-13, when the prophet Samuel was instructed by God to pass by David’s older brothers to anoint David, the youngest and least significant of Jesse’s sons to be the future King of Israel. The disciples and many other people were focused on this idea. Even after Jesus rose from the grave the disciples asked him if Israel was going to get a king to rule over them now.

So with this in mind Peter, in Caesaria Philippi, a center of Roman power, pretty much shouts to the world that Jesus is the king of Israel. You have to give Peter credit! He definitely has some guts. Saying that he is the king and the Son of God was a direct show of disloyalty to Rome, since Caesar was often called the “son of god.” Maybe this was why Jesus told the disciples at the end of the passage to keep it down a bit.

Has confessing Christ ever been a difficult or awkward thing to do? I know often that admitting you are a follower of Christ leads to awkward moments at best ore maybe even outright hostility. Jesus asked Peter what he thought while they were in an awkward and hostile place, not while they were safely behind closed doors or in the countryside somewhere. Remember, Jesus cares a lot about whether or not we confess him as Lord, even when it doesn’t seem like a good time for us.

After this bold reply by Peter, Jesus gives him a rather interesting response. The first thing that he does is give Peter a pat on the back. You can kind of just see Jesus thinking “Yay, you finally got one right! Good job!” But Jesus does tell us some important things about the faith that Peter showed.

First, Jesus told Peter that his confession was “not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”  Peter’s faith to make his confession did not come from anywhere within him. Peter’s faith was given to him by God. It is the same way with us. At our baptisms we are given the Holy Spirit, who shows us the way and gives us the courage to confess Jesus as Lord.

Second, Jesus works a little word play. He tells Peter, Petros in Greek, that he is the “rock,” petra, upon which the church will be built upon, and that the “gates of Hades” will not overcome it. This bold faith that Peter has will be the foundation for the church when Jesus is gone. And this was true, just look at the first few chapters of Acts. Jesus also says that “the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Some translations will say “Hell” rather than “Hades,” but there is an important distinction to be made here. “Hades” is the old Greek word for the underworld, or the place of the dead. Used here, rather than Hell, the place of eternal punishment, I think Hades more refers to the “powers of death.” I think the best translation would be: “You are Peter the Rock, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death will not overcome it.”

Once before, Jesus told a story about a builder who built a house upon a foundation of strong rock, and the house was able to stand through the storm. The foolish builder built his house on a weak foundation of sand, and the house was blown away. My friends, we want, we need to have a firm foundation of solid rock, not on weak sand.

The  only good foundation of the church  that strong, bold faith that Peter exhibited that day. A church built on that kind of God-given faith in Christ will stand up to the powers of death because we believe and place our trust in Christ, the Son of the God of life that has conquered death. Because of that faith, the reality of death that we see and face every day in this sin-broken and imperfect world we can stand against, because our faith in Christ.

The third thing that Jesus told Peter was his gift of the Office of the Keys, or the “Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is why often art of Peter will include him holding keys, and one of the symbols of the Roman Catholic Church is a pair of crossed keys. In any case, The Office of the Keys is the power that Jesus gave to the Church to forgive the sins of repentant people on Christ’s behalf or to bind the sins of unrepentant sinners to them. That is why we confess our sins at the beginning of every service. Jesus gave the Church the ability to bind and loose sins because he knew that there would be a time when he would not be around his followers in the flesh like he was at that moment. He knew that future generations of Christians would need to hear that healing word of forgiveness and know that it was true and from God. That’s why Jesus gave Peter the keys.

Jesus asked Peter “Who do you say I am?” The same question should be asked to each of us. Who do you say Jesus is. Is Jesus just simply some relic of a distant past that we stop to think about once a week or so? Or is he something more? Is Jesus the anointed Son of the Living God of Life that conquered death and gives us a firm rock-like faith to build our lives on that will withstand the powers of death? I can’t answer that for you. I can tell you that I want the foundation of faith. I pray that the Holy Spirit grants all of us that foundation of stone that Peter showed that day. Amen.

Getting Fed by Jesus

Pastor Intern Scott
Delivered to U.S. Army troops in the field
August 4, 2014
Matthew 14:13-21

 

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Have you ever felt like you were inadequate, that you were not up for the task? Or that people were placing demands on you that you could never meet? I know that wouldnever ever happen in the Army right, especially at AT (annual training, a 14 day time of active duty training for the national guard)? Well, if your time in the Army has been like mine, you know that is not the case.

Our Scripture story for today has something to speak about that kind of feeling, so let’s take a closer look. Ok, so the story goes that Jesus tries to get to a quiet space because he is sad. In the passage right before this, John the Baptist had just been executed, so Jesus was pretty upset about that and wanted to be alone. But people followed him. Maybe these folks were upset about John too? We don’t know. What it does say is that Jesus had compassion on the crowd and healed their sick.

However, the day wore on and the people got hungry, but there was no DFAC (dining facility) or MRE’s (meals, ready to eat) for them. So Jesus tells his disciples to feed them. Jesus would not send them away.

This poor disciple in charge of this task, though, this poor mess Sergeant had only planned for a few people, and now there was a large crowd. How is he going to work? He couldn’t do this task on his own.

You see, we have these two things at work within this passage. The first is Jesus’ compassion. Think for a moment that you are a part of that crowd. When Jesus didn’t have to, he had compassion for us and would not leave us. He could have sent us away. He had every right to get rid of us. Some people even told him to. But what did Jesus do instead? He chose to heal us and feed us.

Second, think that you are that disciple tasked with feeding this crowd. How are you going to do this? Alright (pick a sergeant or officer) We need 10,000 meals now. What would you do? There is absolutely no way any of us could do such a task on our own.

             What does this disciple do? He is honest about it. He comes to the Lord Jesus and just says, “I can’t do this on my own. This is all I have.” When he did this, Jesus took that and fed thousands. Think about that.

When you have a seemingly insurmountable task, freely admit to God that you can’t do it on your own. Just like that disciple, you do have to put some work in- those five loaves and two fish came from somewhere- but just maybe God has a plan to do something more with it.

At any rate however, God will be with you. Jesus didn’t send that crowd away sick and hungry. He healed them and fed them. He told us that he will always be with us and the Holy Spirit is inside of us, even now!

Jesus even gave us a visible sign of that healing and feeding. In a few minutes we are going to have Holy Communion, and it is in this sign, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, that Jesus heals and feeds us, even now. Even when we have those things that we can never do on our own. Amen.

Scarcity Mentality

Pastor Mary Ellen
Sunday August 3, 2014
Psalms 145:18-19, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

Last week we saw Jesus teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven. We noticed that He used many similes and “liken” the kingdom to many things. These things than give us a feeling for and a seed of an idea of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

One of the examples Jesus uses is that the Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven or yeast that multiplies rapidly under the right conditions. A small amount can be added to a large amount of flour and it can significantly change the nature of that flour. That is it is not just flour anymore but flour that can multiply and become more than just flour it can become the basis for bread. This bread if leavened flour is used can feed more people than bread made from unleavened flour.

That is the principle at work here when Jesus feeds the 5,000 men plus all the women and children with them. He blesses the 2 fish and 5 loaves and they become more than just a meal for 1 family. They become meals for 5000 families.

Many of us try to make it on our own. When we need or think we need something we will depend on our own abilities and skills to earn the money we need in order to obtain the object of our desire. Many of us don’t even want to wait until we earn the money but use credit cards or loans to obtain things. We are becoming a nation of people who are in debt because of our ever increasing standard of living and our appetite for more and more things – An appetite that can never be satisfied with the things of this world. We think that new car, TV, computer or other device, clothing, etc. will bring us to happiness and contentment but we only achieve that temporarily at best when we try to satisfy ourselves with the things of this world.

I know you have all heard this before. This is not new for you. It is called living within a “scarcity mentality”. It is based on the fear that we will not be able to provide for ourselves the basic necessities of life. When we insulate ourselves by buying more and more things above and beyond the basic needs of food, water, clothing and shelter we think we are safe and secure. Not only that we think we are better and more powerful than others. Our belongings become a source of pride.

So we have pride and fear at work here two things that separate us from one another and from God. When we are motivated by these 2 things, we are using what I have come to call “bad fuel”. Fuel is what gives us the energy to get things accomplished. For example, good fuel comes from eating the right food or putting the correct gasoline in your car. If you are running your car on fuel that is not made for your car it does not perform correctly or doesn’t work at all. Same with food – if you are not eating the right foods you won’t work correctly and you may end up not being able to function at all.

Jesus knows this. He not only teaches about this, He brings it into reality here in the feeding of the 5,000 families. A good teacher uses a variety of techniques to teach. I remember as I was going through the required courses in college for teaching high school, that when we engage the students by using at least 2 of their senses they will retain the lesson better. The more senses we as teachers engage in the learning process the more the lessons are solidified into the students’ beings and the more likely what we are teaching will be retained and put into practice. The lesson literally will become who the student is as a person.

Here is the point of all this – we were made with the desire for the infinite. Our desire will not and cannot be satisfied with anything on this earth. It is only satisfied through faith and our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. When we use fear and pride to fuel or motivate us that is not what Jesus teaches us. We are not following Jesus when we do this. Love is the motivation and eternal life with Jesus is the goal – object of our desire.

Jesus wants us to be able to live and love. He says that we will be provided for. That there is life beyond this life in which our needs will be all be met. He tells us not to worry about accumulating goods and that God the Father knows what we need and he will provide.

Nothing on this earth belongs to us. It all belongs to God. He is the one who blesses and multiplies. When we are in His will He will provide in abundance. Do we really believe that? We don’t have to live within a scarcity mentality with fear and pride as the fuel. We can live within the Kingdom of Heaven where love is fueling everything that we do.

I believe that God has a plan for St John’s. I believe that we need to catch His vision for us and when we do we will be blessed and provided for so that God can bless and provide for others through us.

This Fall, we as a church will be engaging in listening prayer for what God’s plan is for us. All groups and committees will be asking God for His vision for the group of people we call the church of St John Lutheran LCMC in Stacy, MN.

There are 2 questions we will consider during this process:
1. What is breaking God’s heart and yours in the communities you find yourself in?
2. What does God want you to do about it?

Mission Statement:

The mission of St John’s Lutheran Church is to believe, serve and worship in a way that makes Jesus Christ’s grace and love known to the communities we serve.

In other words, we are to be Jesus with skin on to our family, neighbors, and co-workers. We are to go out from St John’s equipped to be disciples and make disciples wherever we find ourselves.

If we are in God’s will we will be blessed and our efforts will be multiplied just as the 2 fish and 5 loaves. Let’s truly rely on God to give us the provision we need to be able to do this.

I know this takes a leap of faith that is to trust in Jesus and give Him our time and talents. It is nonsense to do so in this world. However just as Jesus teaches us we bring our good talents to Him for His purposes and He will multiply them and they will bring many people to realize that the true satisfaction for their needs is not found in this world. It is to return to the infinite and loving God who created them. He will provide all that we need to be able to sow these seeds to those in our everyday lives if we give Jesus a chance. If we give him our best He will honor it and you will be uniquely qualified to be able to influence those within your lives. Those you see everyday in all the communities you are involved in.

Let us pray:

Thank God our Father for the provision you give us every day.

Jesus we bring you our gifts and talents. Please multiply them as only you can do so that we are blessed and in turn can be a blessing to others so that all people are given the chance to come to you.

Holy Spirit stir in our hearts the righteous desires to seek you out for our every need. Dispel the fear and pride in our hearts and let Jesus’ love be the good fuel that motivates us to be Jesus with skin on to everyone we meet.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Living in the Kingdom of Heaven

Pastor Mary Ellen
Sunday July 27, 2014
Psalms 119:130, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

 

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

In the Old Testament reading for today, just after Solomon becomes king and David’s successor – the LORD appears to Solomon in a dream and says to him “Ask me for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon asks for an understanding mind and the LORD gives him a wise and discerning mind.

In the Lay Shepherd lesson read today Psalm 119:130 “ The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”

Paul says in the Epistle reading for today in Romans 8: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Jesus in the Gospel today says to the disciples, “Have you understood these things?” after Jesus tells them the parables about the kingdom of heaven.

All of these suggest that we as followers of Jesus Christ are not to put our minds on the back burner. We are to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to give us discernment and the wisdom and words that we need when we need them. Total reliance on God is what living in the kingdom of heaven is all about.

“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”― Martin Luther

Paul tells us in the reading from Romans that we have within us the very Spirit of God. Our Lutheran tradition confirms this as we receive God’s Holy Spirit in baptism and we reaffirm it at our confirmation.

Paul also says Holy Spirit intercedes for us and Jesus intercedes for us. With these two people speaking for us how can we not draw on their wisdom in living our lives from day-to-day in every situation and place we find ourselves.

Paul also says that nothing can separate us from the love of God as witnessed to us by Jesus Christ. So, we are loved and enlightened by the Creator of the universe everyday. This is living in the kingdom of heaven if we choose to do so. We can choose to have ears that hear, eyes that see and minds that understand all that God has given us by choosing to rely on God.

Whether we realize it or not, we are intimately connected to God. To illustrate how closely we are bound to God I have used this example in children’s sermons. When we are baptized we are linked with God so closely that it is impossible for us to separate ourselves from him. It is like mixing a package of powdered lemonade into a pitcher of water. After it has been mixed there is no way to separate out the water from the powder.

Even though we are so closely linked to God we can ignore it. Every day we can be lulled away from the kingdom of heaven by what we see, hear and take into our minds from the world around us. Yes we do live in two worlds at once here on this earth. We can choose to live in the kingdom of the world or the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus teaches us about the kingdom of heaven in today’s Gospel. He tells us what it is like:

• A grain of mustard seed sown into a farmer’s field that although it is the smallest of seeds grows into the largest of plants – a tree!
• Leaven that a woman took and hid in flour until the leaven spread into all the flour.
• A treasure found and then covered and hidden in a field. He sells all that he has to buy that field.
• A merchant in search of fine pearls when he finds one of great value sells all he has and buys it.
• A net that was thrown into the sea and gathered all kinds of fish. The fish were then sorted – the good ones kept and the bad ones thrown out.

Then Jesus asks – Have you understood these things? Will our answer be yes? I am not sure mine will be.

My mind can only grasp a small portion of what Jesus is saying here about the kingdom of heaven. But maybe that is the point. My understanding is like that of a small mustard seed. Choosing to rely on the wisdom of God is my only recourse here.

So I thought and prayed about these words of Jesus. I asked Him to help me understand what He means by likening the kingdom of heaven to such things as a mustard seed, leaven, treasure, merchant and net. The answer came in a multi-faceted form like a multi-faceted diamond with many faces.

You see the kingdom of heaven is not just the after-life with Jesus it is wherever. Jesus’ rule and reign are respected and honored. So, we can live in the kingdom of heaven right here and now. In a study of the Bible called Eschatology – a study of the end times – this kind of thinking is called “The Already and Not Yet”.

So -We already can start our eternal life right this moment and every moment we choose to follow Jesus. So, our eternal life starts right now. We being who we are kind of waiver in and out of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this world – as Pastor Ed has pointed out several times in his sermons lately Martin Luther calls us both sinners and saints here on earth. Simul Iustus et Peccator = “A Christian is simul (at the same time) iustus (just or righteous) and peccator (a sinner).”

So, the mustard seed could be seen as the amount of faith one could have to follow Jesus here on earth. In fact, Jesus says to the disciples after they were unable to cast demon out of a boy in Matthew 17:

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

The power to move the mountain is not ours. It is God’s power given to us through our faith. Faith links us to God. Faith exercised on our part is the realization that we are so closely linked with God that when we ask anything He will make it happen according to His will. Through faith we want to do what is pleasing to God.

When we are resurrected we will then be able to experience life as a saint and that life will be hugely different than this one. As different as a mustard seed is from the large tree it produces in Jesus’ parable. So, that is only one aspect or facet of this diamond called the kingdom of heaven.

As I reflected about the leaven it came to me that now we are both sinner and saint. The leaven is the sanctification process that we go through here on earth which transforms us into new creations. As Jesus deals with our sinfulness and as we confess it we are actually becoming holy. That is the saint part. That leaven works in us until it is fully realized within us as we step into our eternal life after our death – where we will be righteous. I can’t wait for that. I won’t hurt anyone and no one will hurt me. Everything will be as God first intended it. There it is another facet of the kingdom.

The treasure is that this experience of the kingdom is worth all that we have. When we die we will take nothing with us. We will have given it all up whether we want to or not. Realizing that we can live in the kingdom right now we can give up living by the dictates of this world as we choose another way – Jesus’ way of loving both God and neighbor. We don’t do this all the time here on earth but we can at least see its value in our lives. It is absolutely priceless to see the reaction to our kindness as we choose to help our neighbors in need. Yet another aspect of living in the kingdom.

Among all the treasures of this world living in the kingdom of God is the most precious. It is not just life it is the only life worth living! Appreciation for the life Jesus died to give us can only grow. I can hardly imagine how precious the new and eternal life will be as we all become saints and who we truly were created to be. Another aspect of the diamond called the kingdom.

Last but not least Jesus describes the kingdom like a net that catches all kinds of fish. God desires all people to come to Him and the net catches them all. We all have a chance to live in the kingdom, but God cannot allow sinfulness into heaven. We who are followers of Jesus have imputed righteousness. That is we rely on Jesus and His death on the cross for the forgiveness of all our sins. As we follow Him in this life we live in the kingdom as much as we are able to and desire to based on our faith.

As Scott said a couple weeks ago we are to sow the word of God to others regardless of how it is received. A farmer ceases to be a farmer if he does not plant seed – Likewise, we cease to be a follower of Jesus when we cease to live by the word and tell others about Jesus. God can work with those seeds and make them grow in the most unlikely of places. God desires all the fish to come to Him. Yet another aspect of God’s character and the kingdom of heaven.

A multi-faceted diamond is so precious and so is the kingdom of heaven. Even though we can only understand it a little we can live in the kingdom based on what faith we now have. Jesus honors every step taken toward follow His reign and rule and considers this love. John 14:15 says “If you love me you will obey my commandments.

We do not know how wonderful the life to come is but the seed of that life has been planted in us. It can grow here while we are still on earth as we walk in love, obedience and faith. We are to share that love with everyone we come into contact with so that we can in turn plant the seeds of eternal life in them.

Maybe the next time you have a choice about how you will go about dealing with the people in your life…. Stop and choose life – eternal life. Do things that Jesus would do not what comes naturally to you. Confess your resentment toward one another and live life without the burden of that heavy load. Give it to Jesus. Now that is living in the kingdom of heaven already.

Pastor Ed is teaching Scott and I in a vessel training class. That is one of the first things he teaches. To recognize that holding a resentment is a sin. It does not matter what hurt caused that resentment but confessing it will change not only you but plant a seed in someone else’s heart.

Living with resentment builds a barrier between you and another person. Let Jesus protect you by confessing it as sin regardless of how the other person receives it. This practice will change your life. It will give you part of the authentic kingdom living that we will all experience fully one day.

Let’s pray

Heavenly Father – we love and want to honor you always.

Jesus – we want to follow you and live the life you came to give us right here and now. Help us to confess our sins and grow in holiness. We look forward to becoming the saints you created us to be.

Holy Spirit – advise us along the way. Show us when we stray and live outside the kingdom. Give us wisdom and discernment as we live and love God and others in this world.

Thank Lord for being God with us here on earth. Amen

Sower or the Seed

Intern Pastor Scott
5th Sunday After Pentecost A, July 13, 2014
Isaiah 55:8-13, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

Where I grew up in North Dakota was pretty similar to here in Stacy. Do we have any farmers here or anyone that grew up on a farm? (wait for responses) Well, I grew up outside of Minot, North Dakota. At the time, before the oil in North Dakota was found, it was a farming community. Everyone there made a living either by farming or by working in a business that supported farmers or their families. Add to that, we lived far out of town in the country, so there were farm fields in every direction from my childhood home. I remember every summer from May to September the farmers would be out in the fields working to get the wheat or canola or whatever they were growing in so that there was enough time for the seed to grow before the harvest. My dad would be out there too, making his deliveries for the agricultural chemical company that he worked for after he retired from the fire department. Everything just revolved around farming.

It was this sort of agrarian mindset that Jesus worked with in our Gospel reading for today. In our reading, Jesus tells us a story about farming, since that was something that the people of Galilee understood. Like most of his stories, though, this story has a meaning to it other than simply farming.

This parable is different from some of the others that Jesus tells us in the Gospels because Jesus comes out and tells his disciples the parable’s meaning. Granted, he tells only his disciples the meaning, rather than the crowd that came to see him. In each instance though, Jesus implores his listeners to listen to him, whether they were his disciples or the Galilean crowds.

I think there are two ways to look at this parable. The first is the way that Jesus outlines, where the seeds represent us, hearers of the Word. In this way of understanding the parable, the sower plants the seeds, but they fall on different types of ground. In the end, only one of the four seeds sown produces fruit. This seed produces not just the seven or eight times that Judean farmers of the era could expect, but the seed produced a hundred times more!

That sounds great if you happen to be the seed that falls on the good soil. But what if you are a seed that falls on the rocky ground, or on the path, or there just happened to be a couple of thorns around you? I mean, it doesn’t seem fair, does it? The seed was thrown! You didn’t get a choice where you landed! Why is it that this seed over here lands on the nice plowed piece of good soil seems to have everything going for him. Why is it that I landed here on this rocky ground? It just doesn’t seem fair.

Yes, some of the circumstances in life are not our choices. Like the seed scattered around the field, you have no choice in what happens. The seed that fell around the rocky ground didn’t choose to be planted among rocks. The seed that fell on the path didn’t ask to be eaten by birds. It seems like there is no good end for these seeds that didn’t just happen to fall on the good soil. Or is there?

Has anyone seen some of the plants that grow through the rocks in our parking lot? These seeds definitely landed on rocky soil, however, they persevered. When we look at the seed that fell on the path and was eaten by birds, I think about the different fruits that spread their seed by being eaten and passing through the various animals that the plants feed. The point is, even though these plants went through some tough times that would choke the life out of others, they persevered and are able to produce fruit too. It is the same way with people. Even though the Word planted in them may fade away for a time due to circumstances in their lives, don’t give up on them quite yet. You never know what God will be able to do.

But what if we look at this whole story that Jesus tells from a different perspective? Instead of the seed, think of yourself as the sower. You are given a bag of seeds and you want to get the greatest yield possible. Of course, you want to spread the seeds on the good soil, that’s where most of the yield will happen, but what about the other plots of your field? We have this area with thorns and weeds, a patch with lots of rocks, and we have the path that we are walking on. Don’t we want these parts of the soil to be productive too?

One solution is to simply scatter the seeds around and let what happens happen. Some folks will do this when they try to evangelize. They will simply hand out Bibles or say “Jesus loves you” or the like. Sometimes you get good soil and the Word sprouts in their hearts, but more often than not it withers and dies there.

A better solution, like any gardener could tell you, would be to put some work into these plots to make them good soil. Weed the ground, plow it, pick out the rocks. Do what you need to do to make this patch of soil productive again. Doesn’t this work with people too? Most of the time people will need some living evidence of Christ in you before they will accept what you have to say about Jesus. This means living life with others as “little Christs,” as Luther would say. Help those who need it. Be there for those in tough times. Laugh with them in the joyful times. St. Francis of Assisi once said: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” This means that your words will be meaningless without the work behind it.

However, the sower won’t get any fruit at all without sowing any seeds. Too often Christians don’t like talking about spiritual matters. They are afraid of being looked down on or of being rejected. Remember though, the sower is expected to sow, just as the seed is expected to produce a fruit. A farmer that doesn’t plant crops probably will not be a farmer for long. It may seem daunting, but really what it takes is people seeing Christ at work within you. Once they see that, you may get an opening to explain why you are the way you are. If you help someone, you could explain that you did it because Jesus wants you too.

It can be frustrating being a sower. You put all of this time and effort into scattering the Word. We want to do our part to make the Word grow into people’s hearts, so that we can produce our hundredfold crop that Jesus wants us to make for him. Even with all of this effort though, sometimes the seeds wither and die in bad ground. Sometimes the parable works out the exact same way that Jesus says. Sometimes people will not believe for whatever reason, and we may be tempted to get discouraged. Remember what the Apostle Paul said to the Christians in Corinthians: “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow (1 Corinthians 3:6, New Living Translation).”

We may be the sowers, even the waterers, but God is the one who makes the Word grow in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the one who takes care of that. It is not our job to try to force it to grow. If we do that we would be trying to be God. Just like God said in our Old Testament reading for today, “my thoughts are not your thoughts.” Just because things don’t work out the way we think it should, it does not mean that it failed. God also said in our first reading that he sends His Word out from his mouth, and it will not return to Him empty. It will accomplish what God wants it to do.

Remember to do what Jesus told us to do in our Gospel reading though. Jesus told us to listen. Listen to his message behind the parable. Be a seed that produces good fruit in good times and perseveres in the bad. Be a sower that does his or her best to create good soil to sow the seeds in, but leave the growing to God. God will do with His Word what he wills. And just like he said to Isaiah, when we do, we will “go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” Amen.