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Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost–“Fellowship” (Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30)

A-78 Proper 20 (Mt 20.1-16)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Christian fellowship is important in the work of the Church. When I say Christian fellowship, I don’t mean sitting around eating cookies and drinking coffee, though that is nice. When I speak of Christian fellowship, I mean the times when the Church is centered around what makes the Church the Church – namely the Word and the Sacraments.

As Paul writes to the Church at Philippi, he is ready, if necessary, to face death, for he knows that because he has been faithful in the declaration of the Gospel, that should this be the end of his life, that Christ would be magnified. It was his concern and his desire that the brothers and sisters at Philippi would also remain faithful to the fellowship that they have in Jesus Christ.

One has to ask themself why Paul would be writing to the Philippians to remain in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. The reason is simple: there were those within the Church who were withdrawing or who had left that fellowship. For some, they left the fellowship of Christ because of suffering they were enduring. If there was anyone who knew suffering, it was Paul. Paul suffered from being imprisoned three different times in his life. Paul suffered from being shipwrecked on the island of Malta for three months on his way from Caesarea to Rome. Needless to say, Paul suffered during his life; this was just the suffering that he faced once he became a Christian following his Damascus Road conversion.

Suffering for the Christian is nothing new. It’s not something that the Christian looks forward to, yet it is something that the Christian will face during their life. Not only is it something that we face, it is nothing short of a gift from God. We know that faith is a gift from God, for Paul says that faith is a gift, “granted” to us “for the sake of Christ.” As hard as it may be to understand, suffering for the sake of Christ is indeed a gift.

Like faith, we see that suffering is a gift, though not a gift like you and I would think of. Faith is something given to us for our benefit; no one would deny that fact. But can we say the same about suffering? Is suffering given to us for our benefit? The answer is yes. It is granted to us, as Paul says.

Most would not consider suffering a gift. When one thinks of a gift, they think of money, jewelry, a new car, but not suffering. If you had the choice between a gift of one-million dollars or suffering, your choice would be a no-brainer: you would take the money.

Following his conversion, Paul suffered many a thing. However, he did not count it as a curse, but rather as a blessing. This conversion left Paul with one simple message: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul’s suffering, while it was difficult at times, furthered the work of the Gospel. Early in our text, Paul makes mention of his imprisonment. It was not punishment for disobeying God, but a result of faithfully speaking the Word of God. That suffering for speaking the Gospel was bearing fruit. The imperial guard and all the rest had heard of Christ as a result of Paul’s suffering. Because of the message of Christ which Paul was preaching, others were becoming confident in speaking of Christ because of Paul’s suffering. Suffering like Paul talks about here is echoed throughout his epistles. We see Paul’s suffering instrumental in the founding, the upbringing, the doctrine, and the chastisement of congregations in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae.

Our text today is Paul’s encouragement to them all of the importance and blessing of remaining in that fellowship. Staying faithful to that fellowship of Jesus Christ may mean good times and it may mean bad times. It may mean a life that is worry free and it may mean a life of suffering. Regardless, more than anything in this life is to be faithful to fellowship that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

We are called to “preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season.” We are called to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” We are called to live out our lives as “little Christs,” that is, a reflection of the love that has been shown to us by God our heavenly Father. Listen again to the words of St. Paul: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…” Whether Paul lives or dies, he wants the Philippians to stand fast in the Gospel. His concern also is the fellowship as it stands before the adversary. The adversary, Satan himself, desires to sift the fellowship as wheat. And God has promised that not even the gates of hell can prevail against the fellowship that is in Christ Jesus. That being said, the fellowship of Christ, that is, the Church on earth, the Church Militant, will indeed suffer for the sake of Christ.

Suffering for the sake of the Gospel leads us to one thing and one thing only: trust in Christ and Christ alone. Christ has suffered our same sufferings, as well as sufferings that we can never suffer. He became man and suffered what you and I were meant to suffer. Because of your sins and mine, He was harassed, humiliated, abandoned by friends, and excluded by Jewish leadership. He was arrested, imprisoned, beaten and killed, all for the sins of the world. He was damned, rejected by His Father, and suffered the torments of hell; not for His behalf, but on behalf of you, the people whom God was making His own by the work of His Son. It is by His life, suffering, death, and resurrection that you and I have received a prize: that prize is everlasting life. That is exactly what we hear from the Gospel of John: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Christ has laid down His life so that we would have fellowship in Him and the blessings that He gives – forgiveness, life, and salvation. We do as Paul says, lead a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ, for it is Christ and Christ alone who gives us the greatest gift – the gift of Himself. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

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Posted by on September 18, 2011 in Sermons

 

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Remembrance of 9/11–“In Memory”

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.

There are those dates that are forever etched in our minds. We remember where we were and what we were doing. Some may remember where they were on December 7, 1941, the bombing of Pearl Harbor. That day sparked for our nation our entry into World War II and our declaring war upon Japan. Most of you remember November 22, 1963 – the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. July 20, 1969, famous words were uttered: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” For those of the younger generation, that is the day that the first American landed and stepped foot on the moon.

As we gather together this morning, we remember the tragic events of September 11, 2001. On that day, we experienced an attack on American soil that we have never experienced before. That day and its events will forever be etched in the minds of Americans for as long as we live. We all remember where we were and what we were doing when our lives came to a screeching halt. For myself, it was the second day of classes at Concordia Theological Seminary. As we left the classroom buildings and made our way to the Chapel hearing of the events for the first time, we were speechless, as was the entire nation. Details were sketchy. All that we knew was a plane had flown into one of the world Trade Center towers. Shortly thereafter, a second plane flew into the other tower. As the morning’s events continued to unfold, we saw two more planes crash into the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field and the collapse of both towers.

In the midst of this tragic event, we ask ourselves, “How can this be? How can this happen in our own land?” The events of that day, of all of those tragic events that happen in this world are because we live in a sinful world. This tragedy shows the brokenness of this world, and how this world is truly a culture of death. This was not the way God had intended His creation to be. When God created the world and all that is in it, He created it to be perfect and without sin. Unfortunately, through the work of Satan, the perfection that God had created became infected with sin. Sin brings with it death, sin’s ultimate result.

One thing that we must always remember is that God does not cause evil to occur, He only allows it. The evil that occurs in this world is not by God’s doing, but it is the work of sin, brought into this world by Satan. He is the one who causes such tragedies to occur. He is the one who brings devastation. He is the one who brought death into this world.

Nearly 3000 men, women, and children died as a result of that day. I suspect the images of that day have somewhat faded but certainly have not been lost ten years later. That day, those images wrenched our hearts and subdued our lips and stirred our souls. We were brought to our knees at the days’ events.

Many people asked then and continue to ask today, “Where was God on September 11?” The question itself is age-old and has been asked many a time in moments of crisis. In the Old Testament, great men of faith from Jacob to Joseph and from Job to Jonah asked it. God is where He has always been – the Lord and Giver of Life, who reigns from His heavenly throne. He was with those in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon as they were being rescued; He was with those who perished; He is here with you. He is here this morning with us, gathered around His Word. He is there on the cross – giving His life in order to forgive and redeem His people.

The writer of the book of Hebrews says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” But man can indeed do a lot to us in our earthly lives. All one has to do is read the newspaper to see the wickedness of man: theft, murder, war, and the list goes on. But the Scriptures remind us of the love that God has for us, a love that goes beyond our human understanding. It is the love that God has for us that gives us something to look forward to; looking beyond this veil of tears that we live in and look to the eternal glory that God has prepared for us through Christ Jesus, our Lord.

During our earthly lives, we are called to follow Jesus. The call to follow Jesus is especially meaningful for us today as we remember those events that occurred ten years ago. We know that Satan is at work, doing all that he can to separate us from God, to silence God’s Word to His people. He is working evil in this world to confuse and mislead all people, even the people of God. His goal is to get us to take our eyes off of Jesus, to turn to the world or to turn to anything but God, for Satan knows that through God and His means, we receive forgiveness, life and salvation. He knows that our redemption is made only by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Satan is ever at work because he knows that God is the One who has and who will prevail.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 28, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Our Lord invites us to come to Him. He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The Scriptures are filled with passages such as these, passages filled with words of comfort that remind us of the presence and power of our Lord at all times, and especially when we face difficult and perilous times like we did as a nation on September 11, 2001.

Today, as we remember the tragedy and the horror of September 11, we are reminded of Paul’s words to the Romans: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God our heavenly Father does indeed love us and cares for us, providing for all of our earthly needs, as well as sending His Son Jesus Christ, to provide for our heavenly needs.

God’s perfect love for us is just that, it is perfect. It desires the salvation of all of mankind. It desires to have that saving relationship between God and His creation. The power of God’s love sustains us, strengthens us, and supports us, surely as it did throughout the weeks and months following 9/11, and even today. May the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord be with you all. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2011 in 9-11, Sermons

 

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Flash Mob–Ravel’s “Bolero”

You have to love a good flash mob, especially when they play great music.
HT: The RAsburry Patch
http://pl-mgroup-akamai.powerlineblog.com/admin/ed-assets/jw-player-plugin-for-wordpress/player/player.swf

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2011 in Music, Video

 

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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost–“Greatness” (Matthew 18:1-20)

A-75 Proper 18 (LHP) (Mt 18.1-20)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

If you had a choice of either being the greatest at something or the least at something, which would you choose? Would you want to know everything there is to know about something or know nothing at all? Obviously if you could choose to be either the greatest or the worst at something, you would choose to be the greatest, right?

The Gospel that we just read from Matthew 18 is very rich in a wide variety of topics: the serious nature of sin, the generosity of God’s forgiveness, the love God has for His little ones, and the serious consequences of leading His little ones astray. Of all these topics, the one topic that seems to underlie most of the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 18 is the topic of Christ’s little ones.

Matthew 18 begins with one of those teachable moments in which the disciples plant their feet firmly in their mouths and ask Jesus a question.  At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” This question tells us that the disciples don’t get it. They are still trying to figure out which post they will have in Jesus’ cabinet once He takes over.

We might think that the question that the disciples ask is a rather strange question, because if you really stop and think about it, what does it matter if you are the greatest in the kingdom since you will be in heaven! However, for the disciples, they didn’t see it that way. They knew that someone would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven and they wanted to know who; specifically, would it be them.

Jesus’ teaching defuses the thoughts of the disciples. He doesn’t answer, “It will be ‘insert disciple name here.’” He doesn’t come out and say a particular disciple’s name. Instead, he calls a child to Him. Now if you’re a disciple, you’ve got to be on pins and needles wondering what Jesus’ answer is and then out of nowhere, He calls for a child to come to Him. One has to wonder if Jesus is trying to dodge the question. Then, Jesus answers the question: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself likes this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

How can a child be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? If there was going to be anyone who is the greatest in heaven, it would be one of the disciples at the very least. They were the ones who followed Jesus, who did the work of Jesus. How is it that their greatness would be usurped by that of a child?

Yet again, the disciples miss what Jesus says. Look at a child for a moment. Children are often seen as signs of hope for the future and gifts of God. In themselves, however, children are ignorant, unfit to rule, cannot choose between good and evil, are not able to count, cannot defend themselves and are readily deceived. They are needy. They require someone to provide for them. Left to themselves, they will not be able to care for themselves. If you are a disciple, you have to be scratching your head at Jesus’ answer. But if you look deeper into Jesus’ words, then you will see what He means by child.

Regardless of how old you are, you are still a child. That’s right; I said you are a child. I don’t mean because of your attitude or your behavior. You are a child because God has made you a child; a child of God. Why is this so important? Left to our own sinful self, we will never be able to provide for our redemption. There is nothing that we can do to earn our salvation and so it must be earned for us. In your Baptism, you received God’s name. At that moment, you became His redeemed child and all that God has to offer you became yours.

If you want to know who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, all you have to do is look in the mirror, for you are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. It might be hard to believe that you are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, that surely there must be someone who is greater than you. But you are wrong. You are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, because God the Father has created you, God the Son has redeemed you and God the Holy Spirit has sanctified you. You are God’s beloved creation and God has sent Jesus for you, so that you would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

For the disciples, and unfortunately, for all too many, greatness is something which they think they have earned or accomplished for themselves. In this world, you can achieve greatness; greatness in the eyes of the world. You can be the greatest athlete. You can be the greatest musician. You can be the greatest in your line of work. You can even be the greatest parent and earn the coffee mug that proves it. But all of this is measured in the eyes of the world’s standards. Greatness in the eyes of the world can come and go. You might be remembered after your death for something of greatness that you did during your life, but again that greatness is measured by worldly standards.

Ironically, greatness in God’s eyes is not because you’ve done anything special, because you haven’t. It’s not because you’ve done anything great, because you haven’t. Your greatness is because it is Christ-earned greatness. Jesus Christ, through His atoning death and sacrifice, gave to you what made you great in the eyes of God the Father. He gave you His holiness. He gave you His righteousness. He gave you forgiveness of all of your sins. He gave you everlasting life. He gave all of this to you, and because of Christ and Christ alone, you have been made the greatest in the kingdom of heaven because God has made you His beloved child. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Sermons

 

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A Divine Call

Trinity Lutheran, Gillette, WyomingFor the last 6 years, I have served as Assistant Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, Gillette, Wyoming. In April, the Senior Pastor received and accepted a Call to another congregation within the District. From mid-April until now, we have been operating with a single pastor. During these last few months, we have looked at and evaluated our needs to see if we wanted to call a second pastor or remain a single-pastor congregation. On August 7, it was decided to be a single-pastor congregation. A special Voter’s Meeting was set up for August 21 to determine who the congregation wanted to extend that Call to.

On the evening of August 21, I received and accepted the Call to serve as Sole Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, Gillette, Wyoming, where I have been serving the last 6 years. I am privileged to continue God’s work in this place and minister to His people that He has entrusted to me.

 
 

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Wesley’s First Day of Preschool

Monday was Wesley’s first day of preschool. We spied on him a little when it started and a little before it ended and he seemed to be doing really well there.

Here are a couple of pictures from his first day.

Say "Cheese"

All smiles!

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Tucher, Wesley

 

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost “Deny Yourself” (Matthew 16:21-28)

A-74 Proper 17 (Mt 16.21-28)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

It was in last week’s Gospel lesson that Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”, and it was Peter who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” By the grace and knowledge of God, Peter was right. Before him stood Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh. Imagine the thoughts and reactions of the disciples: their Teacher has gotten off to a humble start, what with this walking from town-to-town and teaching. Nevertheless, He’s the long-awaited Christ. Things are going to get better, aren’t they? He’s only going to grow in popularity and power, and gather the love of the many, right? It’s only a matter of time until He sits on a throne and begins to rule…isn’t it? And how wonderful for the disciples, to be in this on the ground floor and going along for the ride. All of this must appeal greatly to the disciples’ human minds and thoughts.

But then all of a sudden, the mood changes: “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Jesus is going to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed? How can that be? How could the Son of God allow Himself to die? Why would He? This doesn’t fit in with the disciples’ preconceived notions.

Ever the spokesman, it’s Peter who pulls Jesus aside. “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” How could Peter have said this, given his great confession of who Jesus was just a few verses earlier? Peter’s intentions were good. He could not bear to think of such terrible things happening to his Lord. He spoke without considering what he was saying. The man who had just acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, now presumed to contradict Jesus’ very plain words. Christ came to save lives by losing His.

Christ has come into a dying and broken world with a single goal and purpose: to save it, but our idea of saving lives is usually quite different from what Jesus had in mind. The people of Jesus’ day were looking to Jesus to be a great earthly king who would save them from oppression and restore Jerusalem to glory days of old. Their salvation was merely focused on the here and now.

But no matter whom Peter or anyone else wants Jesus to be, Jesus is Jesus. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God who has become flesh to die on the cross. Peter and everybody else shouldn’t expect any different.

Jesus’ salvation was not focused on the here and now, but it was focused on the people’s eternal salvation. He has something completely different in mind than Peter and the rest of the people. He issues a stern warning to Peter, and in essence, all who would oppose His saving work: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

What does this mean for us? If you’re going to follow Jesus, deny yourselves. Reject who you think Jesus is supposed to be, and submit to His Word. If you think that following Jesus is all about glory and power and an exalted life on earth, you’re not going to follow Jesus. You’re going to abandon Him with the crowds who don’t like His teaching, or you’re going to run away when you see Him arrested, suffering and crucified. If you run away from Jesus to save your life, you’ll lose it. Deny yourself, confess your sin and be His forgiven people, and you’ll live forever. Never forget the reason that Jesus is going to that cross – He is going for you; that’s why He’s going to exchange His holy, precious blood for it, that you might have grace and life forever.

If your primary concern is to save this life, to get the most out of this life in pleasure and satisfaction and enjoyment, you will end up losing everything. But if you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, if you dedicate all to Him, follow His Word, you will live a meaningful life and God-pleasing life in this world and enjoy all the blessings of everlasting life in heaven. That is what Jesus desires for you – life everlasting with Him and the Father.

Jesus had to bear His cross, and all who follow Him have their crosses to bear too. The crosses Christians bear are the hardships and sufferings and persecutions they endure as a consequence of faithfully following Christ. These crosses vary from person to person, but every Christian must expect to bear a cross.

Today, Jesus redefines your life with His own cross. Since you have been redeemed by Jesus’ great sacrifice, you bear His mark. The cross inscribed on your head and heart in Baptism has become the very signature of your life. It marks you as “one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” It places the very name of God on you and says that you belong to Him, that His Son has paid for you with His very body and blood, that wonderful gift that Christ Himself gives to us at His Table.

Because Jesus has made His cross your own, therefore you are forgiven. And you are forgiven for all of your sins. Thus, when you doubt His faithfulness to you in your sufferings, He declares, “Remember how I delivered people from sickness and grief on My way to the cross. As I healed and delivered them, I will also heal and deliver you from all your afflictions. It will be in My time, which is best for you; and in the meantime, you can be certain of My faithfulness because I have already delivered you from sin and death and hell by My own death on the cross.”

Though you will still fall far short of making your life a perfect, living sacrifice to your Lord, you are not forsaken. The living God declares to you this day, “My Son has died your death and made His cross to be yours. Because He has taken your sin away, I do not hold your sin against you. For His sake, I see you wholly acceptable before Me, because all of your sin is taken away.” What joy you have to deny yourself and confess your sins daily, knowing that the Lord sees you perfect and righteous for the sake of His Son.

And so you have joy and glad confidence in this world of suffering and death. By the grace of God, you daily deny yourself and confess your sins before the Lord. Daily, you live with the sure comfort that Jesus has borne His cross for you to take away your sin, and that He makes His cross, your cross. In Him, your life is found, because He has exchanged His own lifeblood to gain your soul for eternity. Because He has done it, you bear His cross: and you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Sermons

 

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