Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Pentecost; May 27, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa, 50801;

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:1-14, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Life if full of tragic events. Hard events that seem to come at you without warning. Events that leave you feeling alone, gasping for breath, and wondering what happened. Events that drain away hope, and leave your future desolate, like standing in a great desert, with nothing but miles of dry sand and dry bones in every direction. And there’s nowhere to go but through it… the hot dry wind only pushes the sand around and the sun even dries the sweat off of your forehead.

You’ve been there. Dragging your way through the hot sand, breathless… staring down death; standing in the rubble of broken lives; facing emergency surgery; watching a neighbor suffer with cancer; gathered together to wait for word about and accident; standing in the waiting room while your whole reason for living is in surgery; struggling with financial decisions that don’t seem to have any solution; watching helplessly as the crops dry up under the unforgiving Iowa summer sun; fretting over empty pews in church. It’s enough to get you to ask the question “Why?” Screaming out to God, who feels like he is a thousand miles away… unwilling and unable to help… uncaring… while your hopes and dreams for the future dry up and blow away like sand.

But it isn’t only life events, like disasters, disease and accidents that leave us panting for breath and wondering where God is. We’ve driven ourselves out in the desert, too, pushing God’s life giving breath away. We do this every time we let sin rule our lives, inviting it to live with us, drying out our faith and our desire to be with God in His house. When we pretend that our priorities for the church are God’s priorities. We let our selfishness destroy our relationships with each other; letting anger destroy a longstanding friendship; thinking of personal gain instead of helping others; thinking first of the survival of the congregation instead of how God would have us serve the community. Sin and time away from God’s Word make it feel natural to be alone in the desert. The long trip back seems impossible. The desert is too hot and dry to cross. It’s easier to sit down and be alone, separated from God and His refreshment.

the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.

Ezekiel writes this about his vision.

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.

Just like those bones God’s people, Israel, were like bones dried up and lying in a desert valley. They were breathless and dry, without hope and alone. From the time Joshua led them over the Jordan river to the time that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the beautiful irreplaceable temple of Solomon they were warned about the results of unfaithfulness. They were told the land they lived in was a gift from God, and would remain theirs as long as they remained faithful, as long as they trusted in Him alone, as long as they remembered that the land was really his. But for hundreds of years they ignored the warnings of prophet after prophet. When Jerusalem was laid waste by the enemy, when the temple was destroyed, when the best and the brightest of the survivors were hauled off into imprisonment and slavery in lands far from home; Israel was left sitting alone, unable to breath.

‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’

Can bones like these, dry and lifeless, ever live again? Can flesh come upon them and blood once again course through their veins? Can dried out ribs ever inhale moist oxygen rich air and breathe again?

“O Lord God, you know.” And only you!

“Speak my word to them and they will live,” promises God. “Breath will come to breathless dry bones and they will breathe again. In spite of their unfaithfulness, in spite of there aloneness, my breath, my Spirit, will fill them again with breath and life.”

In a few short days we’ll celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord. During the Easter season we’ll hear again and again about breath and life returning to Jesus lifeless breathless body. We’ll rejoice that God breathed life into Jesus and He lived again. Death can not hold God in the grave. On the third day He broke out of death, alive and full of the breath of life.

So when God says that dry, lifeless, breathless bones can live again we know it is true. When He tells Ezekiel that the dry bones of Israel will take on flesh and breath we know it is true. When He promises that when we are dry and breathless, apart from Him, we too can live again we believe it is true. That is, after all the work of God, through the Holy Spirit. He is the Breath and Spirit sent by Jesus at Pentecost to raise the house of Israel from its grave of despair. It is that Spirit that breaths life into His church to make it alive in the power of Jesus’ own resurrection.

The work of God in the Holy Spirit isn’t anything new. The Spirit’s work has always been bringing life. Like a potter God formed Adam out of the dry, breathless, dust of the earth. He carefully formed him, bone to bone, tendon, flesh and skin. And then the Spirit of God gave him the breath of life, it was ‘puffed’ into his lifeless body. Adam then breathed and lived.

Ezekiel was talking about this work of the Holy Spirit. He was also talking about the restoration of the Promised Land to God’s people. They would return to the land, but the glory of David’s kingdom as they knew it was gone forever. They would never again be a free nation. They would always be under the control of others, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. God’s promise was fulfilled anyway. There would be a new better king than David. There would be a new Israel. The new kingdom wouldn’t be based on bloodlines but on the blood that ran from the veins of Jesus’ pierced body. The new kingdom, the new Israel would be created by the Holy Spirit through faith in God’s promises in Jesus Christ.

It isn’t just a nice metaphor to call the Spirit of God, the Breath of Life, or to call Him the wind. The biblical words that describe Him are the same words for wind and breath. When Ezekiel heard the wind come and fill lifeless bodies with breath, and the disciples heard the wind come at Pentecost, they all knew the Spirit of God, the one that hovered over the waters at the creation, was at work again creating life, bringing breath and life to breathless human beings.

For the children of Israel in exile in Babylon far from their homeland, separated from their homes their families and their land, without any hope of returning, without any hope of being a people again, they asked, “Can these breathless, dry bones live?” God’s answer is, “Yes!” I will breathe new life into you. You will once again be my people and I will be your God. You will no longer be dead, breathless, dry bones lying about in a valley of death, but a people of hope and life.

And for you and me, God’s people today, standing together in the quiet dark of the hospital room, wondering if the next hours bring life or death, when we stand at the open grave peering in facing the very real prospect of our own death, when we see our relationships crumbling like dust, and our worship dry and lifeless, we ask, “Can these bones live? Can God bring life and breath to me? Can God breathe breath into my relationships and my church? God answers “Yes!” to you too. Yes, because you were brought from your grave of sin through the death of Jesus. Yes, because new life was breathed into your dry dead bones and flesh. The Holy Spirit breathed faith into you and refreshed you through the water of Holy Baptism.

There will still be times when we gasp for breath, when the struggle with sin will dry you out and leave you thirsty. There will be times when you wonder if God is a thousand miles away. There will still be events in your life that will leave you breathless. Automobile accidents, family struggles, dissolving friendships, loss of a job, failing church attendance, shrinking communities… When these times come remember the Breath of God. Remember the Breath of God in a valley of dry bones that brought life to lifeless bones and flesh. That same breath has already brought new life to you. That life comes from the promises of God in Jesus Christ. The promise of forgiveness and new life, signed and sealed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and yours though the gift of faith. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Revelation.5; The Ascension of Our Lord; May 20, 2012;

Grace and peace to you from our Ascended Lord Jesus Christ;

There is an old "blessing" that goes, "May you live in interesting times." Well, this is us. These live in interesting times. And, if I may say, I'm not too enthralled with a lot of the things that are going on in our interesting times. If you're like me, you find yourself on the "wrong" side of issues that are flying all over the place. Arguments for what's going on out there seem to be targeted right toward my gut.

  • "Get out of the 50s and into the current century."
  • "That's just your interpretation of the bible."
  • "Paul was a bigoted, misogynistic, homophobe. Jesus says 'don't judge' 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' You can't tell me what I'm doing is wrong."
  • "God's doing a new thing."
  • "The Spirit spoke to my heart, you can't tell me what I feel is wrong."
  • "Don't be on the wrong side of history on this one."

I feel it right in here. A little hard knot. A dread. A doubt. An "uh-oh." The future becomes a blur. I wonder what's going to happen as the culture heads toward the cliff at break neck speed and I get dragged along mostly against my will.

But I want you to make no mistake about it. It's easy to blame people out there for our cultural woes. But the truth is, and you know it. This is our culture. This is our sin. This is our future. We are to blame. And specifically I mean me and you. You love material things way too much. Cell phones, new cars, new gadgets, new everything. You love your busy lifestyle that leaves precious little time for the really important things. You know what I mean. Any excuse gets you away from church and bible class. The family table is covered with everything but food for eating. You greet each other coming and going. You are way to me centered. You don't want to hear about your sin from your pastor. You'd rather he tell you how good God is rather than his anger over your sin. You cower in the corner for fear of harsh words when someone mentions gay marriage, abortion, or their plans to move in together and check each other out before the thinking of marriage. And that's just in you own family. The fear is overwhelming when it comes to work, or school or the public square. You just don't want to be seen as old fashioned. You don't want to be a bigoted, misogynistic, homophobe.

And there you go. Doing exactly what St. Paul says to not do. Living in sin. You can expect what you earn here. There's no mistake about this either. People who are self centered are people who should go to hell. God doesn't tolerate his people not making a God difference in society. So besides the culture heading on a collision course with God's law, you deserve the pit of hell and God's eternal wrath. When destruction and judgment comes, and God promises it will, will you be on the right side of history?

Well, the question is a good one and one of the most important you will ever hear or answer. And it seems as if the answer is "no." And that is the case, except for Jesus. We say that we believe he has won the victory. But it just doesn't look like a victory to us. After all he ascended into heaven and left us here to struggle.

Those disciples standing up there on that mountain looking up into the clouds were wondering "now what?" It looked like Jesus was gone. An angel had to kick them in the rear to get them to move, and do what Jesus said, and remind them that he would be coming again. The ascension seems like an end but it is really only the beginning. It is the coronation of the King. St. John got to see the other side of the ascension. He actually wrote for us what it was like. It was a vision given to him, a Revelation. We have it in Revelation Chapter 5. This chapter in this book really sets out to show us what this part of the bible is about. It isn't here to tell you bit by bit what's going to happen at the end of time. It isn't there to predict the future so you can sit down with the newspaper and tell what's going to happen next. It is given to the church by the Holy Spirit for the comfort of the sinner, that is found in the victory of Jesus Christ alone. It is given to remind us that no matter how bad it looks, Jesus is in control. He is the Lamb of God who rules the whole world and all events unfold according to the plan of salvation laid out before the foundation of the world. In other words, Jesus wins. His people those who are called to faith, those who bear the mark of the cross, "both upon your forehead and upon your heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified" will be with him standing victorious in the end. So imagine yourself standing with the disciples looking up at the clouds where Jesus disappeared and then being transported into heaven at that very moment.

1 Then I [John] saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” 11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Rev 5, ESV)

The scroll that God the Father is holding is the destiny of mankind. It is the future prophetic vision, what's going to happen in the world. No one can take it and open it and read it. John weeps because it means that all is lost. None of what is written in the scroll can happen unless someone is found to read it and make it so. And only perfection, only one who has earned the right to control the destiny of people can be it's king. John isn't worthy, he knows his sin. Even the angels in their perfection are not worthy. And Jesus appears. "Weep no more!" the angel proclaims. Jesus Christ the victor over sin, death and hell is worthy. He alone can take the scroll and lead God's future, God's people to the end of time. The Lamb who was slain has begun his reign, Alleluia! And the victory that he has won by his life, death and resurrection is claimed at the Ascension. This victory is yours and mine. Victory won for us. It is the victory that determines our Christian life on earth. It is the victory that guarantees our life forever with God! It is forgiveness of sins. Our sins placed on Christ on the cross. Our sin and guilt paid for. Our living in this culture instead of God's culture. Our self-centeredness. Our inability to speak when we should. Our doubt about God's future for the world. Our thinking more about how people see us than how God sees us. Jesus, takes these your sins away through his cross. He guarantees your forgiveness for them. He has complete power and authority over all the earth, past, present and future. In Holy Baptism he promises that your sin won't keep you from his future where sin, and death and pain, and trouble, and selfishness, and greed, and hate will be done away with forever.

What's written on the scroll? It is a message about the future. It tells us that Jesus Christ our savior is in control of all things. He directs the world, and his church. He has given us a mission in midst of all this agony and death and destruction. It is the message of Jesus Christ crucified for human sin. It is the message that God wins through Jesus. It is the message of comfort because of Jesus. It is the message that he directs and controls all things and they are for the good of his people in spite of how they look to us. The message of the Ascension and the Revelation is this very comfort and encouragement to remain faithful even in the midst of what seems like failure; even in the midst of destruction; even in the midst of persecution. What does it mean to be faithful? It means pointing all people to Christ's victory in the midst of the rubble of their broken lives; when everything is lost; when life is scattered by foul weather; when dark clouds of death threaten; when everyone is running toward the cliff; when itching ears listen to Satan instead of God. Jesus is Savior of the world. His life, death, resurrection and ascension are the victory over it all.

So it is just as it is written in the scroll, from the time of Jesus victory and his ascension until the end of time. This is the feast of victory for our God. He doesn't leave us in the ascension he is with us in Word and Water, Bread and Wine. I mean really with us directing us as we teach and learn and care for the community around us. He is the resurrected one. The Lamb who was slain has begun his reign. Blessing and honor and glory and might be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Acts 10:34-48; Sixth Sunday after Easter; May 13, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.” (Acts 10:34–48, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

One thing I've learned the last couple of weeks working at the Distribution Center for tornado victims, is that Creston loves ink. I mean, skin ink, tats, trap stamps, guns, you know, tattoos. You know there was a day when they were strictly forbidden by "upstanding folks." And it is true that most folks who get them are of a certain stripe in society. But I saw them on all kinds. Although most of the folks effected by the tornado were low income, that wasn't the case with all of them. And I saw ink everywhere. If you want to get into a conversation with just about anyone, of any social class, ask them about their ink. Now for me and you, we may have a hard time not associating tattoos with the seedy side of town, drug users, wife abusers, and so on (there may be good reason for some that). But here in this text Peter is quick to point out that "God shows no partiality." He means that God treats and loves everyone the same. He doesn't count class status or income as important. He doesn't count tattooed over not tattooed. But that's not us, is it? The tattooed folks are just one example. There's also, homosexuals and immigrant workers, and small town white trash. I see it over and over, in myself and others, even you! You know what I'm talking about. The yards in town with the rundown houses always have a chained up dog in the yard. Why do people who can't afford to keep up their house have the extra expense of a pet to care for? Those tattooed parents whose kids run around in bare feet and tattered clothing. Those tattoos aren't cheap, why don't they buy decent cloths for their kids? Why do the poorest people standing in line at the Quick Shop for lottery tickets always smell of stale cigarette smoke? Well, God may not show partiality, but we do. We can't help it. We look at people and judge them by their appearances.

We might just have a bit of a problem if about a dozen tattooed, cigarette smoking folks showed up here this morning with their unruly kids in tow. Our poor sound system wouldn't over come the kid noise for you folks in the back row. We'd want to be happy they were here but I think we'd still have some issues. And how many of you were upset to find that furniture in the fellowship hall? and all those cloths and more? You see, we need to be reminded, just as St. Peter was the "God show no partiality" He sent Jesus to the cross for all people. And that " everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

That is the reason why the Holy Spirit gives us this text. You have this problem. I have this problem, too. The early Jewish Christians struggled with this same issue. Even Peter had to have a vision from God to accept Cornelius the gentile, Roman soldier as a believer. It happens in the book of Acts right before this reading. Peter was praying on the roof. God showed him a sheet with animals he was not suppose to eat. God said, "Kill and eat!" Peter refused. "What God has made clean, do not call unclean." God replied. It took three times for Peter to take the hint, then Cornelius came knocking at the door telling Peter God sent him to hear about Jesus. Peter got the picture. God shows no partiality. He loves Jews and gentiles the same. In fact, the gentiles were to be saved by Jesus, too!

But don't you know that Peter still had a difficult time with the idea. Listen to St. Paul in Galatians 2 in an incident that happened sometime later.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”” (Galatians 2:11–14, ESV)

Paul had to set Peter straight. Peter was living a lie, pretending to accept the gentiles when he was alone with them. But when the Jewish Christians showed up he ignored them.

Behind this all is our sin. We like people who are like us. In fact, those Church Growth principals say that if you want a successful church you need to set up in a place where the people can all look the same. It's what WE would prefer. That's preaching what itching ears want to hear. We mistrust people who look and act different. We mistrust people who seem to have their values all backwards. We want them to see Christ as Savior but maybe they could do it in their own church, or one of the other churches in town.

This isn't God's idea of the church. It took some doing but the early church finally came around to God's way of thinking. Peter came around. St. Paul built his whole ministry on the idea. God shows no partiality. That's another way of saying, we are all in the same boat. We are all sinners. Young and old, newly confirmed, or old hand; rich or poor; tattoos or none. Sin is our common denominator. Don't think that the same sin is not at play when we don't want those people here as they don't want to come to church with those people. But the sin is not loving others the way that God does. How does he love? He dies for the sake of people who were quite different from him. They want him dead. They work him over with a cat of nine tales. They drive nails through his hands and feet. They push the cross into its deadly position and stand by watch until he dies. They mock him and laugh at his suffering. Jesus says, Father forgive them. They wear tattoos and mistreat their children. They buy lottery tickets they can't afford. They use drugs and drink too much. They work the system to be able to stay unemployed. They lie and cheat and steal. And Jesus says, Father forgive them. We ignore their needs. We make it especially difficult for them to hear the Word of God in the place where he brings it. We make them uncomfortable, so that they won't return. We look down at their sin as if we have none. Jesus says, Father forgive you. You see we all have the same need. Forgiveness. It comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. It comes only at the cross where he suffers and dies for the sake of all sin. It comes to you and me the same as the Roman soldier, the Pharisee, the drug addict, the homosexual, the deadbeat dad, the gossip, and the tramp. It is forgiveness given to the undeserving. Forgiveness given for the sake of Christ. Forgiveness give in spite of our sin. Forgiveness given as we stand at the cross with nothing good and only our sin to give. It is the work of the Holy Spirit poured out through the preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ and Holy Baptism, and the Lord's Supper for you and me, and for them.

Lord, help us to let nothing stand in the way of the preaching of the Good News to every creature.

If you want to be a better witness, if you want to be a more loving servant of the poor and the lonely and the disenfranchised, and every Christian wants to be these things, don't look to who they are and what they do. Look to yourself, see your own need for forgiveness. See Jesus on the cross for you. See him pour water on your head and proclaim you forgiven in Jesus Christ. See him preach this Good News gift right into your ears. Open your mouth and see Jesus in the bread and wine given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin. See your need and see your Savior. His love and forgiveness for you will overflow freely; even to those who are different; even to those you have trouble loving. You will see their need clearly in yours. You will see their forgiveness clearly in yours. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

John 15:9-17; Confirmation Sunday; May 6, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:9–17, ESV)

(From a sermon by Glen Neilson.)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus calls us his friends. Right in the middle of this reading we hear him say to us, “you are my friends. Right there in the middle of all that talk about doing what I command, obeying the Father, bearing fruit, Jesus says we are his friends. He says that he has a relationship with us, actually being our friend.

We all know how precious and rare a good friend is. We all need someone to be friends with. There are times when we need a friend to discuss the troubles in our life. We all needs someone to sit with for a cup of coffee, shop with, and even commiserate about life, kids, work and school. We know how important is it to have a good friend to do all those kind of things with, and yet, we also know how really rare good friendships are.

Today, friendships seem to be extra hard to build. They take time, and time is a luxury we seem to have so little of these days. Everyone is so busy, with school, work, family there’s little time left to develop a good friendship. And even when there’s time we often lack the energy. Life today is full…

There’s another problem too. Lot’s of people really don’t know how to be a good friend. All too often people use relationships for their own benefit, and their own purposes. People want you around and call you a friend when you can do something for them. They want you to be there when you can make them feel good, but as soon as a little trouble starts or as soon as you’re not useful anymore they split. Friendship is difficult when you get used, in the process.

Friendship makes you vulnerable. That’s just the nature of the beast. Friends see us for who we are, with our masks removed. We let our guard down and tell them things we don’t tell anyone else. When the true you comes out you put yourself in a position to be hurt easily. That’s another reason why friendship is rare.

Friendship is so rare that maybe it makes Jesus’ offer of friendship a little difficult to accept. We do what him to be with us, after all we gather together here Sunday after Sunday to come into contact with him. We want him to listen to our problems and he promises to do just that. He promises that nothing is to small a matter for him, and we can confide in him anytime. He always has time for us. He always treats us right. He promises to give us whatever we ask in his name. He actually was the friend who gave his very life for his friends. Jesus loves us, in spite of who we are. He promises to fill us with joy. He knows us for who we are and never turns us away. Jesus is the kind of friend we really want. What a precious gift it is to be chosen as a friend of Jesus. “You are my friends” Jesus says.

Unfortunately we aren’t good friends in return. We don’t spend the time and energy necessary for this friendship. We know what the pressures are. It’s difficult to get everyone up and around in the morning, just in time to catch the bus, or off to work. Who has time for adding an extra half hour, or even fifteen minuets for devotions? Sunday is a day to rest and catch up. No wonder our minds wander from the task at hand in worship. There’s so much to do today, especially on a confirmation Sunday! And meals are all too often around the TV instead of the table. Family devotions don’t fit very well during commercials. And it’s our friendship with Jesus that suffers. Not time. No energy. No will to do it.

Maybe his friendship with us isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Does he really treat me right? Does he really hear my prayers? All of them? Being chosen as a friend of Jesus hasn’t made my life any easier. Where’s that joy that he promises anyway? I’ve got pain in my life, and lots of it. And Jesus, “my friend” seems a long way away. My friendship with Jesus is filled with doubt.

Jesus, our friend, shows us all our weaknesses. Especially when we compare ourselves to him. He is perfect. We are not. He does everything right, we constantly fail. He loves perfectly. We give our love with conditions. He is a good friend. We are simply friendly. Who wants to hang around someone who is always opening those wounds? It’s easier to avoid Jesus, and let that friendship with Jesus die.

And we’d let it die. But Jesus is too good a friend for that. Jesus considers his friendship with us so precious that he won’t let it die. He didn’t choose for friends so that we’d wither up and die, like dead branches on the vine. He wants us to bear fruit. He promises joy and that’s what he gives with his friendship.

Jesus is a true friend. He gives his time to us fully. As a matter of fact he lived his whole life only for us, his friends. He obeyed his father’s command, that was, to give his very life for us, even when it meant death and execution. He did what was best for us even when it meant his own death, even when it meant sacrificing himself. That’s true friendship, to lay down your life for your friends. Jesus laid down his life for you, his friends, on the cross. His friendship takes him to the darkness and pain of death. He has that “greater love” that he was talking about. But that love doesn’t stop in death. He takes his life up again. That’s where the joy is. It’s Easter joy! Jesus friendship for us didn’t die in the tomb. He rose again, and came alive. He isn’t a dead friend who gave up everything for us. He alive. He is our friend forever. He will never leave us or forsake us. He knows who we truly are and he is still our friend. He knew us before he died. He knew us on the cross, and he still died for us. He knows us now and still calls us his friends.

What a friend we have in Jesus! Do we need a friend to talk to? Take it to the lord in prayer. Do we need a friend to walk with? He is with us through his Word, we simply need to open it up and read. Do we need a friend to accept us? We can go to his table and eat and drink with his blessings. He welcomes us there just as he welcomed tax collectors and sinners. Do we need a friend to love us? We can go to Jesus and remain in his love always.

Do we need a friend? Yes we do. We need Jesus. He is our true friend. He has chosen us to be his friends. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Come to Trinity Lutheran Church and participate in a community event focusing on the effects of Trauma in a community.

Trauma! How are you dealing with the aftermath of the Creston Tornado?

Come to Trinity Lutheran Church and participate in a community event focusing on the effects of Trauma in a community.

Date: Saturday, May 5, 2010 10:00am-12:00pm 
Where: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fellowship Hall
800 N. Sumner Ave
Creston, IA 50801

Trauma, such as the tornado that hit Creston, creates emotional, psychological, and spiritual responses in the people they impact. Others have gone through similar events, and learned how to best cope with their aftermath. On Saturday, May 5, (10am-12pm) Trinity Lutheran Church is hosting a community event designed to provide education and information about trauma. Come to hear about:
•    The impact of trauma on a community
•    Typical reactions of children to trauma, and how to know when extra attention is needed
•    Ways to help children talk about and cope effectively with trauma
•    Typical responses of adults to trauma, and signs of post-traumatic stress disorder that indicate need additional attention is needed
•    What helps – and what doesn’t help - to resolve unsettled feelings after a traumatic event

Come to help yourself or someone you love by learning more about typical reactions to trauma and ways to heal.
Presenter: Wanda Pritzel, LISW is the Acting Executive Director of Lutheran Family Service, a statewide family support organization of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod congregations in Iowa. She brings over 25 years of experience working with families.

This event is presented free of charge, sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church.

A light salad lunch will be served. 
Please RSVP if possible.  (641) 782-5095 x 4 - Pastor Watt.