Repent and Believe the Good News!

“Repent and Believe the Good News!”
1st Sunday in Lent, Year B, 2/22/2015
1st Communion Sunday
Mark 1:9-15, 1 Corinthians 11:23-29

 

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

Well, welcome to Lent everyone. Some of you may be wondering what Lent even is, if you aren’t familiar with the Church year. Things seemed to be going pretty well. Christmas is over and we got to celebrate the story behind our frescoes, but then we had a funny service last Wednesday where we put ashes on people and everyone was all serious. What the heck is going on?

Well, this is what Lent is. Lent is the 40 days before Easter in which we remember Jesus on His way to the cross. During this time we take a moment to remember why we need Jesus and the cross, like we did with Ash Wednesday with the ashes. It’s also the reason that during Lent we don’t sing or say the joyful word Alleluia, which is Hebrew for “Praise the LORD.” Lent is a time of somberness and repentance.

In today’s Gospel reading however, we are looking at the start of Jesus’ journey to the cross. In our reading from Mark, Jesus comes out of the backwater town in Judea called Nazareth to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist, who was sent to prepare the way for Jesus.

Jesus gets baptized, and the Holy Spirit comes down from heaven like a dove, and the Father tells Jesus that He is pleased with Him. The Bible says though that immediately after this Jesus was sent out into the wilderness. Jesus didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to His mother Mary or His brother James. He was sent out right now!

The Bible here says that he was out in the wilderness for 40 days, the same amount of time that Lent lasts! But this wasn’t like a long trip to the Boundary Waters though. In Judea, going into the wilderness meant going out into the desert. Out in the desert there isn’t much of anything. It’s hot, it’s dry, and there isn’t much water, and Jesus doesn’t have any food either.. And Jesus was out there for 40 days straight with no one but Satan and wild animals to keep him company. The entire time he was out there he was getting more tired, more thirsty, and Satan’s temptations are looking more and more appealing. Not exactly the most fun camping trip ever!

The time that Jesus spent fasting and praying in the wilderness is the reason why many Christians will “give something up for Lent.” If you want to do that, that’s great! Fasting, even from things you like that aren’t “food,” like Facebook or video games, is a great way to remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Alternatively, instead of giving something up, some Christians will add something, like prayer, Bible reading, or giving to the poor. If you decide to do anything, however, make sure you do it for God, not to brag about it or do it so others will see you. If you brag about it, Jesus tells us three times in Matthew chapter 6 that the people that brag about it or do it just to be seen are hypocrites that have “received their reward in full” (Matthew 6: 2, 5, 16).

But why was he sent out into the wilderness though? He had just been baptized! And now Jesus is going out into the wilderness! But look at what happens when Jesus comes back. Jesus comes back from the wilderness more committed than ever to fulfilling His task that He knew that he had to do. Jesus comes back and finds that John is in prison, but as the Scriptures said, the time had come for him to start His ministry that would one day lead him to the cross.

Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of His work and ministry in the world. That’s why Mark’s Gospel starts with the baptism of Jesus unlike Matthew and Luke that start with the Christmas story or John’s Gospel that begins with creation.

Our baptisms are the same way. St. Paul says that in our baptisms we are crucified with Christ to belong to Him (Romans 6:6) and St. Peter says that we are all priests chosen to declare God’s work in us (1 Peter 2:9). So just like Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on Earth, our own baptisms, whether they happened last week or a week after we were born, they are the beginning of our own ministries as well.

Already in our lives we have been doing ministry to spread the Good News, even since our baptisms. However, like I mentioned earlier Lent is a time of remembering Jesus’ journey to the cross. Later in Lent we will come to Maundy Thursday, when the first Holy Communion happened. It makes sense then that during Lent we are celebrating the faith milestone of First Communion for some of our children.

Some of our kids have been working over the last few weeks with Pastor Ed, learning about Holy Communion. Because of that, I think it’s a good idea for all of us to take a look at what Communion means, especially since us as a church, especially those of us that are parents, are the ones that are responsible for showing the children the way they should go, as our Lay Shepherd reading from Proverbs today said (Proverbs 6:22). And to show anyone the way to go, we need to know ourselves.

St. Paul in our first reading today talks a lot about the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  The first part sounds pretty familiar. Those are what we call the Words of Institution, the words that Jesus said on that night. We also see them in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In these words Jesus Himself tells us what this Sacrament means. In it Jesus says that the bread is His body; that the cup of wine is his blood. An internet meme that I saw once, called “Things Jesus Never Said” talked about this. In it Jesus was holding the bread and said “This is sort of like my body.” The point is that Jesus tells us that this really is His body and blood, and because of that Communion is really big deal that deserves our reverence and respect.

In those words Jesus also said that His body and blood are “given for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Martin Luther wrote about this in his Small Catechism that these words of Jesus along with eating and drinking really do work the forgiveness of sins just as Jesus said if you believe what Jesus said.

Like I said a moment ago, Holy Communion really is Jesus’ body and blood. Because of that, St. Paul in the second half of our first reading sets down some rules. First, he says that everyone needs to receive Communion in a worthy manner. What does a “worthy manner” mean though? We certainly don’t have anything that we can bring before God that could make us worthy. The only thing that we can bring to God is a repentant heart that forgives others and believes in what Jesus said, “given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.”

The second thing that St. Paul says is that those that receive Holy Communion need to examine themselves before they receive it. That’s why we do Confession and Forgiveness during the service every time we have Communion. It’s also the reason that we give First Communion classes to the kids before they can have Communion, so that they can do this discerning and examining that St. Paul talks about. They actually have it pretty good; I had to wait until after I was confirmed when I was 15 before I could receive Communion.

It is important to do both of these things, receiving Communion worthily and examining yourself before Communion. St. Paul said it was so important that he left a warning to those who don’t. To those who receive Communion without examining yourself and discerning the Body and Blood he says that they “eat and drink judgment on themselves.”

The last thing that Jesus said in the Words of Institution was “do this in remembrance of me.” The last thing that Jesus does for us in Communion is to help us remember him, that is to strengthen our faith. And like I’ve been saying all along, remembering Jesus to strengthen our faith is what Lent is all about anyways. That’s why I am so glad that we get to celebrate First Communion with our children here.

St. Paul said in our reading too that “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:26). As you take Communion today, whether it is for the first time or for the thousandth time, remember that by taking Communion, you are taking part of something that God’s people have been doing for centuries- participating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. You are doing something in which Christ does something amazing for us, strengthening our faith and forgiving our sins so that we can go out and be God’s people in the world that proclaim the same thing that Jesus did when he came out of the wilderness: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Let us pray. Lord, on this first Sunday in Lent help us to remember the sacrifice that you gave for us on the cross. Help us to always remember what you have done for us and send your Holy Spirit to us so that we can proclaim the good news of your death and resurrection to those around us and to show them that the Kingdom of God truly is near. Be with all of us as we take part in your Body and Blood today, and help us show the way of faith for the children of our congregation who will be taking Communion for the first time today. Amen.

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.

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.

Shepherd Like Jesus

Intern Pastor Scott Adkins
Shepherd Like Jesus
3rd Sunday After Pentecost A, June 29 2014
Ezekiel 34:11-16, John 21:15-19

Good Morning everyone, and happy senior Sunday! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

When I was a little boy, I loved being with my Grandfather. When I was little, like 3 or 4 years old, we would visit him at his home in Michigan a couple of times a year. When I was there, I loved going on walks with my Grandpa, I would pull a little toy airplane around with me. This little toy airplane had a boarding stairway that would pop open, and it would do so when I pulled it across every crack in the sidewalk. Of course, a toy airplane can’t pretend fly with the boarding ramp open, so I would stop to close it on every. Single. Crack. My grandpa didn’t mind, however, even though that me closing the ramp meant that he had to bend down as well since he was holding me other hand. All I thought about then was how much I loved walks with grandpa. What I see now though, was just how much my grandfather loved me and how he led me around in a safe place, even though I had my own agenda.

I’d kinda like to use that as the launching point for our sermon today. My Grandpa led me around with love, even though I wasn’t particularly paying attention, and he didn’t let me go, much like a shepherd does.

Both of our readings deal with sheep and shepherds. In our first reading, from the book of Ezekiel, we see God as the good shepherd. It is a great passage; Israel or the people of God, represented by sheep, are lost and scattered across the land. God says that he himself will search after the lost sheep from the darkness. Once God finds the lost sheep, he pledges to take care of them himself. He takes them to the lush pastures on the mountains of Israel where they will be well-provided for and at home– the place where they belong in a world where they are scattered all over. God pledges to heal the injured and to implement justice among his sheep.

Sounds great? Doesn’t it? It makes me think of Jesus the good shepherd from John 10 or the parables of Matthew 18 or Luke 15. In fact, this passage of Ezekiel would pair very well with that passage. However, we have a different passage, one from the conclusion of the Gospel of John.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus is risen from the dead, but he has not yet ascended into heaven. In it, Peter and John were fishing, and Jesus appeared to them one day. After catching a ridiculous amount of fish and eating some food, Jesus started talking with Peter. Their conversation I think is very understandable. Although Jesus was talking to the Apostle Peter, he may well have been saying these words to you or me. Because of that, I’d like you to imagine for a moment that Jesus is saying this to you.

After their breakfast of fresh fish, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, Scott, son of James, do you truly love me more than these?” Now, what are “these?” It could be the fish and tackle, which was Peter’s profession. Do you love Jesus more than you career? How about those around him, like his friend John? Do you love Jesus more than the relationships in your life? The 1st Commandment says you should love God above all things, and if you believe Jesus is Lord, then you know what that means.

In any case, Peter answered yes, he does love Jesus more than anything. What Jesus replies with is really unusual when you think about it. Jesus says to Peter: “Feed my sheep.” Peter is a little confused, so Jesus says it to him 3 times just to make sure it sinks in! Remember, these sheep are not literal sheep- they are the people that God cares about. They are everyone, all of God’s human creation. Jesus then tells Peter some details about his death, but then he finishes by telling Peter follow me

We are told to feed God’s sheep. If we want to follow Jesus, we have to take care of God’s people. Jesus is requiring us to take care of each other. Jesus wants us to follow him, but in order to do that we must take care of each other. We must be each other’s shepherds, our brother’s keepers. Jesus wants us to feed his sheep. For some, that may mean literally feeding them, taking care of bodily needs. For others, it may need walking alongside them in times of sorrow or need. Whatever it is, Jesus wants us to take care of all of God’s children, because each one is someone for whom the Son of God died to redeem.

This rings true in our Old Testament reading. While our reading seems all great and good, which it is, there is a little detail left out in the lectionary. Immediately preceeding our Old Testament reading for today, in Ezekiel 34:1-10 is a scathing criticism of the shepherds of Israel. That is why God’s sheep are scattered. It is because the people of Israel failed in shepherding each other and instead took advantage of one another. God says here that they, the sheep, were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. No one at all even bothered or cared that the sheep were missing. In contrast, Christ the Good Shepherd left the 99 in the flock to search out the one lost sheep and rejoiced .

God does look after the lost sheep, those that are scattered, lost, and in danger. However, Christ calls us to feed the sheep that we encounter. Don’t be like the shepherds in Ezekiel who abandoned their sheep and took advantage of them. When Christ calls to you and asks you, “Do you love me?” and if you say yes, be prepared to feed Jesus’ sheep. It doesn’t take much to follow Jesus. You don’t have to be a genius, or an athlete. What it does take is a heart that responds like Peter did when that question was asked. Peter said yes, and fed the sheep when Christ called: “Follow me!” Jesus Christ takes care of us, and we need to take care of each other. Amen.