Sunday, August 27, 2006

Lutheran Carnival at WDJD

Lutheran Carnival XXXI came out earlier today at What Did Jesus Do. Stop by to check out a fine sample of confessional Lutheran blogging. Including an article written by yours truley, "United... in Howard "

Friday, August 25, 2006

John.6.41-51 Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 27, 2006

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 27, 2006
St. John's Lutheran Church, Howard, SD
So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:41-51, ESV )

(Outline from Rev. Francis C. Rossow, professor emeritus, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, Concordia Pulpit Resources, 16, 3)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Bread, it's everywhere in the text this morning. Jesus calls the salvation he provides "bread" and He calls himself, bread from heaven. What's it all about? Why does he use bread? We could ask that age old "Lutheran" question, "What does this mean?"
I like bread. It's very common. In fact, on Thursday I stopped in the bakery to get some bread. I wanted Pumpernickle. They don't have it. I had to settle for Rye instead. Now, don't get me wrong I like Rye bread, but I was really looking forward to Pumpernickle. I have to buy these small loaves because my family doesn't share my enthusiasm for dark breads. They like the white stuff. Now I can eat it but it's pretty common. I prefer something a little heavier. It's not really the issue with Jesus metaphor though. It's a very heavy teaching. It's full of meaning and depth.
The really interesting thing about what Jesus is saying here is that it touches our lives in two different ways. Like the bread that I ordered from the bakery, Jesus is talking about physical bread for a physical life. We are fully aware of this gift of God. We know exactly what Jesus means when he says that he gives bread that sustains this bodily life. We gather around our dining room tables and eat meals. Almost always those meals include bread of some kind. We eat to continue living the life that God gave us through our parents. We are born into a physical life. We breath, we laugh, we communicate, we cry. St. Paul quoted one of the Greek poets when he said to the people listening to his sermon in the Areopagus, "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28 ) We are live, living beings that need daily bread to live. And God provides it for us. In a sense it is bread from heaven, even though God uses farmers, bakers, truckers, and grocery store clerks to bring it to us. We ask God to continue giving us what we need every time we pray the Lord's Prayer. Martin Luther's words in the Small Catechism say it like this:
Give us this day our daily bread.
What does this mean?
God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
What is meant by daily bread?
Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
Now we all know all too clearly that this physical life doesn't last forever. I was reacently told that death is something that we all have to face. And that's true. The physical life that God gives us is going to come to an end.
That's the first part of what Jesus is talking about here in this text. But he's talking about another kind of life that God give, too. He gives a spiritual life. We are born into this life also. Jesus says that this life begins when we are born again. In fact, he says that begin born again is necessary for beginning this spiritual life.
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5, ESV)
When we come to faith either through the water pour on our heads in Holy Baptism, or when we hear and believe the Good News about Jesus life death and resurrection for us, we are born again, that is we have a new spiritual life. Just like the our physical life, our spiritual life has attributes
too. In it we live in holiness and love for all people. We embrace God's commandments and keep them. Spiritual life needs nourishment too. That's the second type of bread that Jesus says he gives. It's the "bread come down from heaven." It's Jesus. He says of himself that he has come to bring life "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10, ESV) The food that he gives is food for eternal life. In fact the spiritual life that God gives lasts forever.
Now it's interesting that Jesus talks about this bread being His flesh. "the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." Right after Jesus says this you get a very logical question from the people standing there and listening. "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" And the logical answer is "He can't!" "It's impossible!" "It's even disgusting!" But Surprise, Surprise! That is exactly what Jesus does. He says "This is my body, this is my blood." "Take and eat it for the forgiveness of your sins." In other words, take the bread of his body and the wine of his blood for your spiritual benefit. Take it and your spiritual life will grow. In the very special supper that Jesus gives us he does indeed give us his flesh to eat. Just like he says in John, the text for next Sunday's Gospel reading, "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink." (John 6:55, ESV)
This discussion of a "different kind of bread" show us that there is a different kind of life that has been given to us that needs to be sustained. Our spiritual life needs spiritual bread.
Just as God provides us with our "daily bread" for our physical life, he gives us spiritual bread for our spiritual lives. There is one important thing to know about that spiritual bread. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows that we are physical people and don't always see the reality of our spiritual lives. So he connects our "daily spiritual bread" with something physical. In our Lutheran understanding we call this, the Means of Grace. In other words, the ways and things God uses to bring us spiritual life and cause it to grow.
The Means of Grace do more than just tell us of God's great love for us in Jesus, they actually feed us, too. To be sure they do give us information, Baptism and The Lord's Supper are great object lessons. We understand exactly what it means that God washes away our sins when we see a baby's head drenched in water. In the Lord's supper we have the makings of a meal. Ingredients of food and drink. We know what it means that his body and blood give us what we need to live because every day we have to eat to live. And even the spoken Word is like food for us. Physically as the mouth produces sound it travels through the air on sound waves and strikes our eardrums and brings us life. These great gifts are more like bread than a book. They are much more like sliding up to the table than walking in the library.
The words that Our Lord uses in this text for today really make a strong connection to how God causes our faith to grow through the Means of Grace. He uses words like bread, flesh, ate, eat and life.
And there's another thing that Jesus does by talking about bread for Spiritual life. He makes it clear what faith is. You see, while Christian faith surley includes knowing certain things, like who Jesus is and what he did. Christian faith is more than just something that resides in your head. Christian faith is a life! It lives, it breaths, it involves our whole being; our emotions and our intellect. Just look at how Jesus puts together the idea of believing an eating. “He who believes has everlasting life,” and “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” Next week Jesus will go even further and say "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
So we eat the bread come down from heaven and live. The Holy Spirit uses Jesus words about Bread to cause our faith, our Spiritual Life to grow. You can't say it any better than Isaiah: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” (Isa 55:2-3, ESV) Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; Ex 24:3-8; Ex 32:1-4; Aug 13, 2006

Ex.24.3-8; Ex.32.1-4
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, 2006
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:3-8, ESV)
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:1-4, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I’m sure the Israelites didn’t just wake up that morning and say to themselves, “Today seems like a good day to break the first commandment.” After all the commandments were only 12 chapters old. (We just read about them in chapter 20!) Moses was on the mountain for forty days… up there with all that rumbling and lighting. It was a constant reminder of all that God had done. And yet… it was also a reminder of all that was fearful about God himself. They were afraid… afraid of their future, and afraid of God, afraid of a future without God, or at least without someone who could keep God at a distance… someone who could talk to God for them… someone who could bear the lightning and thunder and the anger of God. After all just look at what God did to the Egyptians!
It’s easy for us to look at these folks, who God brought through the desert, and wonder, “How could they doubt God? After all they had seen… flies, locust, darkness, blood, hail, and all the other plagues and water from rocks and manna from heaven. Not to mention the pillar of cloud and fire, and the walls of water at the red sea and the dead Egyptian soldiers floating in the water.  These people, who wanted a new god, had a virtual catalog of the power and protection of their own God, YHWH… “I AM who I AM” He gave them His personal name.  How could they doubt Him? How could they fall so easily into the breaking of the very first commandment, when the ink wasn’t even dry yet? How could they while God was literally carving the words in stone with his very own hand; even when they had the signs and promises of God? How could they after all that God had done for them?”
I think the question we should really as is how could we?  Because we do the very same things that they did. “Oh but, Pastor, we don’t have the same signs that they did. God doesn’t appear in a miraculous pillar of fire to protect us from our enemies like He did them. We don’t see water walled up on either side of us as we walk through the red sea, we don’t have Pharaoh’s dead armies as proof of God’s work. It just isn’t the same for us.
Well, I think it is the same. We have the same issues as the Israelites.  It isn’t that they doubt in the face of miracles, miracles don’t change anyone’s mind about God. What they really wanted was a god that was like the other gods they knew about, the gods of the nations around them. Look at what they tell Aaron.  “Make us gods that will go before us! Make us a god like the gods of the other nations, ones we can see, ones who won’t strike us dead because of our sin, one who will indulge us and bend to our will, ones we can manipulate to make our lives what we want them to be; ones who will be happy with our offerings, and our works.”  They wanted a god of their own making.
And there we are standing right in the middle of the crowd around the golden calf.  Even in the face of some pretty miraculous and visible signs. God is doing great things among us all the time, things that show us who He is and how He loves us. That’s exactly why God gave us this soon to be 100 year old building. We just forget that it’s really God’s building, because we have to spend, what we think is our money to keep it up. But what a gift, right here in this place God does miracles. Baptism is one. It’s our Red Sea. Right through these waters we come into the promised land of God. We go from slavery in sin to freedom in Christ. We are washed clean. We are made a new person. It’s a perfectly visible miracle. It’s one you can put your hands in and get wet. And in a few moments we’ll have another real tangible miracle. In this 100 year old building we’ll receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Right here He offers you forgiveness of your sins. You come forward open your hands and hearts and mouths and receive God’s promise for you. It’s the blood of the new covenant shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  It’s real. You can see it. You can touch it. You can taste it. The blood of the Passover Lamb saved the Israelites from death. The blood of Jesus saves you from eternal death. There’s that old Baptist hymn that goes
There is power, power, wonder working power In the blood of the Lamb;
It’s true. There is power in Jesus blood because, Jesus purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. We come into contact with the power of God’s saving blood here at this rail. What a miracle! No less physical that those that happened in the desert, no less bold.
There is another thing to see in this old building; your brothers and sisters in faith. Think about how you have seen the faith at work here. You have friends who have suffered illness, death and tragedy. How has God shown himself in those times? “I’m not asking God to take away my problem, only that His will be done.” “I could never have lived through it if God hadn’t given me the strength.” “Yes, I’ve had it tough, but what about you, how are you?” You’ve heard statements like these. Maybe you’ve heard them from your own mouth and wondered where it came from. But, you see, God is at work here in His people, even as they suffer. God is at work here among His people even as they die. If you take a moment and think about it, you’ll be able to recall how God is active in the lives of those around you now.
But still, in the face of signs like these, no less powerful than the signs God gave in Egypt. We, too, are guilty of forming a golden calf of our own. And it’s made of our own Gold. We want what they wanted; a god of our own making; a god of our own imagination; a god we can be in control of and that’ll stay inside this building and not cross north of highway 34.
  • “I understand that divorce is wrong. But for me it’s right.”

  • “Living together isn’t as bad as we thought it was. Times have changed. The church better get with the program.”

  • “I’ll do anything you want, but I won’t teach Sunday school.”

  • “I’ll keep my money, until we have a Pastor that I like.”

  • “Don’t ask me to get involved with God’s plans here; I’ve got too many other plans of my own. I’m already over committed.”

  • “Whatever you do don’t schedule a church function on a basketball night or during harvest.”
The children of Israel said, “make us a gods that will go before us. Make a god we can control.” Are there times when we say, “Pastor make a god for us that isn’t so demanding…. make one that will allow me to control my own future, one that won’t make me uncomfortable by showing me my sin. Make one that won’t be so demanding about my time and money, one that I can go to in times of trouble but ignore when things are going fine.  Make us a god that will let me do whatever I want without asking me to change my life.” And there we are throwing our earrings into the fire. Pretty soon out pops a golden calf and we dance to the music because we’ve made a god in the place of the God who shed His own blood to save us.
We should be shaking with fear. We should be hiding under the pew in terror. But, God doesn’t strike us dead as we deserve. He doesn’t give us a plague to bear… or even worse turn away from us and leave us on our own, as we so often ask him to do. He doesn’t do that because of what He has already done for us. He has made for us a covenant, a promise, just like he did with His straying children in the desert. He has made with us a covenant of blood.
It is just like the promises He made to the Children of Israel when He had Moses sprinkle blood on them, just like when he promised the Angel of Death would pass over them when blood was placed on their doorposts. Even though the people’s faithless promise still hung in the air as the golden calf was being made, God still honored his promises. They were given the Promised Land, they became a great nation and all the world has indeed been blessed through them. God kept his promises to them.
Our covenant in blood is made with God’s own Son, Jesus Christ hanging and bleeding and dying on a cross. Just like the blood that is sprinkled on the people by Moses, Jesus sheds his own to be sprinkled on us. There’s power in the blood.  It seals the promise of forgiveness that is given to us by God himself.
We didn’t get up today and say, “Today seems like a good day to break the first commandment.” It just happens in the course of our busy lives. We let other things become more important. We just want God fit into our lives just the way they are. But, God has plans for us. He has promises for us. He has a promised land in mind for us, too. It’s a promised land that begins right here and now. He gives us signs and wonders to strengthen our faith. Water poured over our heads that makes us his children, his body and blood given and shed, eaten and drank; forgiveness of sins, even when the sin is making a god for ourselves.
Dear Christian friends; Today is a good day to keep the first commandment. We keep it every time we realize our own sin, our own fault, and turn to God through Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for forgiveness. He offers it free to us. There’s nothing to be done. Just open our hands and receive it.  He gives it freely. That’s His promise. And God always keeps His promises.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Aardvark Alley Blog Roll (BBOV)

Other Blogs Aggregators, Directories, and Related Sites Recommended Lutheran Sites Source: Aardvark Alley

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Funeral Sermon for Rudy Rentschler

Funeral Sermon for Rudy Rentschler, Tuesday, August 08, 2006
The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15:2, ESV)
The Lord is my strength.  We all need strength.  Especially at times like this when we have to face death.  It wasn’t easy watching this strong man die last Saturday.  We sang and prayed and talked, Rudy struggled and fought for breath.  He was a very strong man, but not strong enough to over come death.  I leaned over and whispered in his ear, “Rudy, you can fight this as long as you like, your family is here with you, they’ll all be fine, when you’re done you can go and be with Jesus.”  You see, I see no problem with Christians fighting death.  God hates it.  So can we.  Rudy struggled for awhile, then he relaxed and when to be with Jesus.  It’s ok to be angry.  It’s ok to be sad.  It’s ok to grieve.  We’ve lost someone very dear and very special and very strong.  Even though God rejoices in the salvation of His people, God grieves over death, too.  It’s ok, you don’t have to be strong today.  The passage from Exodus says it “The Lord is my strength.”  God is strong; you can rely and depend on Him, especially in the face of death.
Talking to people the most common thing they said about Rudy is that he was strong.  I knew he was because you could see the strength that used to be in his hands and arms.  The tell-tail signs were there even these last years; big hands, and the like.  Everyone told me about Rudy taking the bathroom scale and squeezing it until the needle was pegged out.  I tried it… but I’m not strong.  I won’t even tell you where the needle was for me.  Suffice it to say, I didn’t peg it out.  I can see Rudy doing that with a smile on his face, kind of like the smile that smile in the picture in the folder.  And at least a dozen people told me how he could bend the handles of a pair of pliers flat together.  As many times as I was told about that I’m thinking there’s a great big pile of ruined pliers out there somewhere on the Rentschler farm.  Now although it was great testament to Rudy’s strength, at least now that Rudy’s with the Jesus, I know now that my pliers are all safe.  I never saw Rudy in his pickup, either.  When I came to town he was running around Good Sam in his wheel chair.  Maybe he would have been a little more comfortable there if they would have dropped a Zane Gray on his lap, or painted the chair the color of his pickup.  We’ll that’s the way life is.  Rudy was strong; he loved to be outside on the farm and working hard.  Even with all that happened to him, he was blessed by God.  He was a strong man, from a strong family, strong in faith.
Rudy was a man of faith.  I have no reason to doubt that.  He came to worship over at Good Sam whenever I had them.  The last few months he wasn’t himself.  He wouldn’t take Holy Communion any more.  He was a faithful member of St. John’s, born, baptized, confirmed and married and now buried here.  (BTW: Walter and Judy, and Ruth, They were married in the parsonage living room).  He enjoyed his family and his farm.  But again I don’t look to the things that Rudy did to show me weather he had faith or not.  I look to God’s promise.  Because as strong as Rudy was, as good a person as he was, he wasn’t strong enough to save himself from hell, he wasn’t good enough to earn a place with Jesus in eternity either.  You see, you know and I know about sin in the world.  We see the bombs dropping.  We see buildings falling.  We see the ugliness of human beings every day.  You and I are no different from any of them.  Neither was Rudy.  Sin lived in his heart, too.  Sin that leads us to do what we want to do instead of what God would have us do.  And no matter how strong you are you’re not strong enough to save yourself from the sin that in here.  And so we have death; the punishment for sin.  It’s never more clear than at a funeral.  We pretend that it’s not the reason we are here but we know it is.
So today, to overcome this big problem that forces itself into our lives, we don’t look to our own strength we look to the strength of the One who is stronger than me, stronger than you, and stronger than Rudy, that’s Jesus Christ.  The text says The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.  God has become our salvation in Jesus Christ.  His strength didn’t fail him even in the face of death.  He didn’t have to suffer and die on the cross for you and me and Rudy.  He chose to do it.  He chose to do it because He had you and me and Rudy in His heart.  He knows how we hate death.  He knows how we fear it.  He knows what sin does to us.  So there on the cross He took our death for sin, our punishment.  And what’s most important to remember today, that even though Jesus was strong on the cross, He showed us strength we really need to see today.  Jesus, crucified, dead and buried… on the third day He rose again from the dead.  You see, Jesus is really the strong one.  He is stronger than death.  He can die and rise again.  He can even die, rise again, and raise you and I, and Rudy from death, too!  And that’s just what he promises to do.  At the beginning of the service we put this cloth over Rudy’s casket.  We are saying this very thing.  Jesus promises in Holy Baptism to do just that for this dead strong man.  He was united with Jesus in his Baptism.  He held on to that faith throughout his life.  He died in that faith last Saturday, and now he standing with Jesus waiting for the resurrection of his body out of the grave.  Jesus was Rudy’s strong man who saved him.  That’s the difference Jesus makes for you and me, too.  We can’t avoid it.  We still face death, but through faith in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins, we face Jesus on the other side instead of eternal separation from God.  
So today, we miss Rudy.  It’s ok to miss him.  God didn’t make us to be separated by death.  What we look forward to today is joining Rudy and all the saints of God that have gone before us on the day when Christ will raise us all from the dead.  That’s when we’ll really do what the verse from Exodus says.  I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Eph 2:13-22, Aug 6, 2006

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:13-22, ESV)
(from an outline by Rev. Mark D. Boxman, pastor, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Arkansas City, Kansas)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Things just aren’t the way they should be.  You know what I mean.  Things just don’t work out like we’d like them to work out.  People just don’t get along like we think they should.  We even see it here in the church.  Old scars never seem to heal.  New, unexpected hostility pops up and former friends get set against each other.  Weather its money, or time, or authority people get divided.  People put up walls of hostility.  We know how it should be, and life just isn’t the way it should be.
St. Paul says it like this, there is a dividing wall of hostility, between Jews and Gentiles.  He knew it shouldn’t be that way.  The Jews and Gentiles knew it wasn’t supposed to be that way. (Illustration Jonah) God loves all people.  He created us to live in relationship to each other.  The Jews and Gentiles had a long history of hating each other.  There were lots of things that separated them, culture, language, art, race, and religion.  It was the same kind of relationship we see being played out with missile exchanges today.  The dividing wall of hostility is played out in the daily news in blood.
That’s exactly why Jesus came to earth.  He actually tore down the dividing wall of hostility.  He has already made things the way they are suppose to be.  God has reconciled old enemies.  God had healed old scars.  God has brought together Jew and Gentile.  He has done it all Himself in Jesus Christ.  Jesus blood shed on the cross has put an end to all sin between them.  Through Jesus, God has united Jews and Gentiles into His Church, the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church.  We have one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one Spirit and one Holy Word of God.  God has already done it all and we, you and I, right now, have it.  Jesus Christ has made things the way they are suppose to be.
How that? You ask, as you look across the aisle at the person you can’t seem to get along with.  How has Jesus torn down the wall that separates me from the people I enjoy fighting with?  He’s done it with His Holy and precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.
Look around you.  You know things aren’t the way they should be here at St. John’s.  We know how they are supposed to be.  We should enjoy being together.  We should be able to come to worship without feeling hostile to someone (we should be able to sit anywhere without causing a stir).  We should be caring for one another.   We should be taking Jesus to this community in a way that shows.  We should be able to get along at meetings.  We should have unity and harmony and peace in this place.
But we don’t.  Sin is a work.  Sin builds a very tall dividing wall between us.  It prevents us from doing what we should be doing.  It makes things other than the way they should be.
Jackie couldn’t bear to go to church.  Jean was there.  They worked at the same place and used to be best friends.  But something happened, a conflict at work.  Words were spoken.  Feelings were hurt.  Anger flared up.  The anger spilt over into church activities and meetings.  Sins a work cause things to change from the way they should be to the way they shouldn’t be, at work and at church.  Jackie hasn’t been to church for years.
The marriage was breaking.  Matt and Jill just couldn’t take the pressure anymore.  Sin had crept in between them.  The dividing wall was built up slowly, but when it got to a certain point everything else in their lives came crashing down.  The sin of a broken marriage and divorce made things the way they shouldn’t be.  The trouble made a mess of the family.  Parents and children struggled to make the best of the situation but it was painful.  And the pain spilled over into the church.  Members seemed to be forced to pick sides.
Ray thought that some people just don’t belong in his church.  He shouldn’t have to stand next to people who don’t even care to dress up for church.  He shouldn’t have to put extra money in the collection plate because others don’t manager their money properly.  He shouldn’t have to help people who don’t understand the value of a dollar.  He shouldn’t have to take communion with them either.  He was never so glad the church got rid of the common cup.  He wasn’t afraid to tell them so either.  “You don’t belong in this church.”  He told one woman.  And it worked.  He didn’t have to see her any more.
Satan is hard at work in the Church.  He’s hard at work in our church.  He uses the dividing wall of hostility to divide and conquer.  He uses the dividing wall of hostility to sap our energy so we aren’t doing the things we should be doing.  He wants to separate you and I from each other.  He wants to separate you and I from God.
Jesus makes things the way they should be.  He came to tear down the dividing walls that we build up with Satan’s prodding.  St. Paul says as much, that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. (2 Corinthians 5:19a, ESV) Jesus removes the sin that separates all people from God.  
Think about the Ten Commandments.  The first three are about our relationship to God.  Commandments four through ten are about our relationship to other people.  Sin that lives in our hearts breaks the first three first, and separates us from God.  When we aren’t connected to God we can’t be connected to other people and we break the other seven.  Jesus restores our relationship to God by keeping all the commandments for us.  He restores us to God and to each other.  (Fifth petition “forgive us our trespasses”, Paul pleads with Philemon for him to be reconciled with his servant Onesimus)
Jackie went to her pastor.  She wanted to know what could be done.  Her Pastor shared what God had done in Jesus about her sin and Jean’s too.  He talked about how Jesus blood was shed for the forgiveness of their sin, especially the sin that creeps up between friends.  Jackie suggested that maybe she should visit her old friend.  After several discussions they were reconciled and became friends again.  Jackie returned to church, in fact, every Sunday she sits right next to Jean.  
Ray’s story too has turned out the way things are suppose to be.  Jesus changes hearts.  God’s Word showed Ray that Jesus died for everyone.  He now heads the social ministry of the church.  He’s found new ways for the church to care for folks who aren’t socially acceptable.  
What about Matt and Jill?  What that’s still a work in progress.  Things just aren’t the way they should be… yet.  Jesus never gives up.  The Spirit works through God’s Word and Sacraments to soften people’s hearts to see that the dividing walls of hostility are really gone.  
So what about you?  Do you see that the dividing walls of hostility between you and God, and you and your fellow Christians are gone?  Or are you hiding behind them?  Jesus has torn them down.  There’s nothing to them anymore.  
Your relationship with God is everything it should be.  Jesus has assured that with the shedding of His blood on the cross for you.  He’s given you some precious gifts to use to melt away the pain and fear in your heart.  In fact, He pours His Holy Blood right into you to do it.  What better way is there to be sure of God’s forgiveness for you than to be connected directly to Him in His Supper?  Jesus promises that His forgiveness is yours.  That means that you too can forgive.  The wall of hostility is torn down.  Things are the way they should be. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

This is Howard...

This is Howard...

I was out walking tonight and took this picture of the new Howard sign. They put it in for Howard's 125th anniversary. Nice. It is a nice place to be. They tell me Howard is typical South Dakota. Well, I am a born and bred Nebraska boy, so I'm not sure exactly what that means. If it means the people are warm and friendly to a fault, well that's Howard. It's a place where it's not unusual for the local businesses to make special arrangements for their customers. "It's part of what we do so we can live in a place like this." I was told by one of them. "It's what makes Howard... well Howard." He said. I guess that's small town middle america talking.

And yet, there are many folks here who just need to hear the Gospel again. Lots of us around here grew up with the faith and it's easy to take it for granted. It's easy to let it be a small part of your whole life and kind of forget that it's most important thing in your whole life...a little like breathing. What Jesus did for us is so much a part of who we are, so much a part of everything we do, that we can't really imagine life any other way. What we forget is that there are people around us who don't know about Jesus. We forget that there are people around us who haven't heard about Jesus in a long time. We forget that the privilege of hearing about the forgiveness of sins in Jesus isn't a common thing. Everyone needs to hear about their sin and Jesus death on the cross to take it away. Even those who firmly hold on to God's promise in Jesus to do just that. We forget that lot's of our friends and neighbors don't hear about that, even on Sundays. Well, that's why God puts His people in small towns, too. What a privilege it is to live in a place where we can really get to know people. God puts us next door to someone we get to know better than they do in big cities. We share common community meals together. We sit by each other at High School football games. We find ourselves together at the post office and the grocery store. If we could just remember to share the thing that is more important to us than anything else. Hey, it really doesn't matter if they know Jesus already. God puts us across the table in the coffee shop to speak forgiveness in Jesus over a coffee cup, especially to a neighbor we know very well.

So I thank God for living in a small town. A place where neighbors still care about each other, and even occasionally go out of their way to help. Is Howard perfect? No. People are people. Sin is sin. Bad news travels fast in small groups. Jesus is there, too, because we are there. He puts us there to speak about Him. This is Howard...

Pastor Watt

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