St. John's Lutheran - Morgan

Thanksgiving - 1992

Text: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 and topical comments.

Subject: The need to give thanks

Predicate: is proportionally related to generosity of the giver, thus to God we owe inexpressible thanks for the inexpressible gifts he's given us.

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Somewhere deep inside of me, I've always had a vague discomfort with Thanksgiving.

Oh I enjoy the turkey dinner and the time with family and friends and the parades and the football games and all of that.

But the whole idea of setting aside just ONE day in the fall to give thanks for everything we have and every way in which we've been blessed has never seemed quite right to me.

So this past week as I prepared my sermon for tonight I made a list of some of the things that bother me about Thanksgiving as we celebrate it in our culture today.

1) The first thing on my list is the fact that Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, but a national holiday!

As you may remember from your school days, the roots of Thanksgiving go all the way back to the first people who migrated from Europe to the North American continent. As the story goes, these migrants faced enormous hardships as they tried to establish themselves over here. And upon surviving the first year they set aside a day to give thanks for simply making it that far.

Over the next 200 years, national days of thanksgiving were occasionally proclaimed by the presidents. George Washington proclaimed one after the constitution was adopted. President Madison did the same after the war of 1812.

But it wasn't until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of thanksgiving that would be celebrated every year on the 4th Thursday of November.

Now personally I think that it is good for the citizens of the nation to give thanks for their blessings.

But, since this is a nation whose constitution forbids the establishment of any religion as a national religion, this means that thanksgiving is essentially a meaningless holiday for many people.

I remember a seeing a movie a few years ago that included a scene of a family gathering for Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone was "oohing" and "aahing" as the feast was set out on the dinner table. They were just about to attack the food when the father said, "I suppose we should give thanks or something before we eat."

But no one knew what to say, nor whom to direct their prayers of thanks to. And so, there was only a few seconds of awkward silence, and then, with dad leading the way, everyone began heaping piles of food on their plates.

Unfortunately, even those of us who are members of the Christian church are vulnerable to the ways of our culture. There is a temptation for us to lose the focus of our faith and end up giving wishy washy, undirected thanks to who knows what god.

I remember a member of a Lutheran church in the Fox Valley who once described their family prayers of thanks giving as being directed to a "higher power."

Probably without even realizing what happened, this person forgot that as Christians our thanks are not spoken aimlessly to an un-named god. But rather, our prayers are directed straight to the true God, whose name we know, and to who we can personally approach in prayer because Jesus Christ, his only son, said we can and should. //

2) Next on my list of things that bother me about Thanksgiving, is the fact that we have set aside a SINGLE day as our day of thanksgiving.

The fact that we have to set aside a special day for giving thanks reminds me of the run around I have with my children after they receive gifts. Many of you have no doubt experienced the same thing with your children.

And, if you are honest with yourself, you probably behaved the same way when you were young. I know that I did!

You see, it is often like pulling teeth to get people to offer thanks for the gifts that they receive.

When I was growing up, I can't tell you how many times I received something and my parents had to whisper in my ear, "Did you forget to say something?"

And only THEN would I remember, and I'd quickly mumble something like, "Thanks for the present Grandma and Grandpa."

For a lot of people, something that is dreaded even more than saying thanks verbally is the "Thank you note."

After birthdays, and confirmation, and even graduation from high school, my parents had to say, "Now you sit down right this minute, and don't leave that desk until the last 'thank you note' has been written."

Today, the fact that our nation has proclaimed a day of thanksgiving, and the fact that our church supports this day with a special thanksgiving worship, makes me feel a little bit like I did when my parents had to remind me to give thanks.

It is as if the church is whispering in to our ear, "Did you forget to say something?"

And there is a strong danger that our response is nothing more than a hurriedly mumbled, "Thanks for the gift God."

Or it may be as if the church is saying, "Now you sit down in that pew, and don't you dare get up until you've given thanks." //

It shouldn't have to be like that. To set aside a single day for thanksgiving is way too little. And it's way too much like a parent reminding us to say thanks or prodding us to write those thank you notes.

The truth is that God has blessed us with so much, that our thanks should be ongoing and continuous.

Because God's blessings continue to come to us each and every day, to say thanks once a year (while better than nothing) is simply not enough.

The problem with a single day of thanksgiving is that it can seduce us into thinking that we've fulfilled our obligation for giving thanks, when in fact we have been grossly ungrateful.

To improve in our gratitude, the first challenge for us is to see and appreciate ALL the many ways in which we've been blessed, -- and to remember the ONE gift that is above all else.

Our New Testament lesson this evening ended with a wonderful line. When St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians he said, "Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!"

Now the gift that Paul was referring to was the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Salvation is a wonderful gift , but, back in Paul's time, as well as today, a lot of people are tempted to take the gift of Jesus Christ and eternal salvation for granted.

But stop and think about it. Why did God bother to save us?

We certainly do nothing to deserve it. As we live, we fail to keep God's commandments. We neglect to thank God for the gift of life and the bounties of this earth. We treat each other with contempt and hate. We selfishly hoard riches for ourselves while others go homeless and hungry.

And yet, God gave his son to die for all of us that all of our sins might be forgiven, and that we might all live eternally with God in heaven.

We call it God's grace.

It is an undeserved favor.

We've done nothing to deserve it, but God does it for us anyway.

And the ONLY proper response to grace is gratitude.

The only proper response is our continuous, and on going thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving that is not limited to a single day and a single worship service, but thanksgiving that is offered every day, and every time we worship, and every time we pray. //

Now you may have wondered if something was wrong with me when I started the sermon this evening by telling you that I am bothered by Thanksgiving Day.

But by now I hope you understand what it is that bothers me about Thanksgiving. And, I hope that you too are uneasy with the ways in which our thanksgiving is often misdirected, and way too insignificant for the magnitude of the blessings God has showered upon us.

God's gift to us is so great that Paul calls it, "Inexpressible."

We cannot really give adequate thanks to God for this "inexpressible" gift, but we can, and should try. AMEN!


St. John's Lutheran - Morgan

The Funeral Of Jacki Giese

October 10, 1993

Text: Joshua 1:9

hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

 

Dear Sherry, Ken, Jill, Marie, Kate, Family and Friends,

This is not going to be easy.

Tears will flow. Emotions will be intense.

Even from the pulpit.

Because during the course of our ministries, we who are pastors are fortunate to get to know many of our flock quite well.

Such is the case with Jacki.

She was one of the 1st 25 (or so) people that I met here at Morgan. The Wednesday before my installation I took over the confirmation class and Jacki was there, a bright, creative, and somewhat introspective young 7th grader, quick with the answers, and equally quick with a probing or challenging question.

And from that first meeting in confirmation class, I came to appreciate Jacki more and more with each passing year.

She was always around St. John's. Always doing what she could for her church, and as an expression of her faith.

We could count on her to usher whenever she was needed. She taught Sunday school and vacation Bible school. She participated in Luther League meetings and events. And through it all she gave evidence of a solid and mature faith, beyond what you might normally expect of someone in their teen-aged years.

Our family also got to know Jacki very well over the three or four years that she regularly helped us by baby-sitting for our children.

This past Wednesday evening as I shared the final prayers and blessing for those who are dying, with Jacki, I told her that not everyone got to baby-sit my kids. One of the advantages of being a pastor is the chance to get to know who is trustworthy, responsible and mature.

There was no doubt in my mind that Jacki was that kind of person, so much so in fact that Nancy and I drove many extra miles to get Jacki to baby-sit, passing by many others who probably would have liked to have the job too.

Now these are just a few of my recollections of Jacki over the last 6 years since I met her. As I look out from the pulpit today, I see hundreds of you, each with your own experiences and memories of Jacki.

After the service today, and in the weeks and months ahead, share those stories with each other.

Jacki was a significant person in the lives of many people. Not only here at the church, but also at school, in the community, at the places where she worked, and of, course, within her family.

We must never forget her. www

Now I'd like to switch gears a little bit and tell you about a tradition that we follow here in the Lutheran church.

Whenever a young person completes their catechetical studies and confirms their faith in this congregation, we give them a certificate with a special, personal Bible Verse printed on it.

At Morgan I select the verses for each of the students. . . and I don't just pull them out of a hat. I try to fit them to the personality and faith of each young person. I also record them in the permanent records of the parish.

On Wednesday Morning this past week, when I began think about what to say today, I dug into the church records and looked up Jacki's confirmation verse.

It is Joshua 1:9. Let me share it with you.

". . .Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9)

That's a good verse, but as we hear it read, it raises some questions, some BIG questions for God.

Questions like, "God, Where were you last Sunday night?"

"Did you let Jacki drive down that road all alone? You promised to be with her every where she went. Did you abandon her?"

And based on what happened, "How can we trust you? Is this book we call the Bible just a bunch of nice sounding but otherwise empty words?" Or even worse, "Are they lies?"

Well, this afternoon, even though our vision is clouded by a veil of tears and grief, and even though we may be tempted to doubt the reality and power of God, I want to proclaim, in the most certain, and powerful way that I can, that God NEVER abandons his children.

There is NOTHING that can separate us from the Love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing in this world, and nothing from beyond this world. Nothing present, and nothing to come. Nothing in Life. AND YES, NOT EVEN DEATH, CAN SEPARATE US FROM OUR LORD.

The problem is that we try to understand God from our incomplete, feeble, and even selfish, human point of view.

But in truth, our God is an awesome God, a God who brings us a peace and salvation that is beyond human understanding.

You see, all to often when we start thinking about God and what God might or might not do for us, we put our own interests first. We ask God to do this, or that, because that is what WE want.

After the accident, we all prayed that Jacki might not die. I am not ashamed to say that I certainly did. But, when we prayed that prayer, we were actually praying, "Let my will be done," instead of "Let THY will be done." We were putting our desires first.

But let me say, this DOES NOT mean that God "took" Jacki from us. If God is a God that snatches away beautiful young people in the prime of life, then I'm working for the wrong God, and we all might as well just lock up the church doors and never come back.

The truth is God's vision for us is beyond what any of us can imagine for ourselves.

We can only see the here and now. We can only feel the pain of today.

But God's plans for us extend beyond the ends of the universe and for all eternity.

We want God to be interventional, reaching down to stop accidents from happening, and to mend broken bodies, and keep everything the same, all of the time.

But instead God gives us something that is even better. And that is God's presence and support and love, through every moment of every day, through everything we experience, be it happy or sad, wonderful or painful, be it our living, or our dying.

So, go back to our BIG question. "Where was God Sunday night?"

I'll tell you where God was.

God was enjoying an evening out with two of his very own children, Jacki and Becky.

Then suddenly, God screamed with horror as the impending impact became inevitable.

And then God did something that only God can do, God held Jacki in his loving arms while paramedics freed her from the wreck, and while the ambulance sped toward Green Bay, and while surgeons operated, and while she lay on the hospital bed, and most importantly of all, when she breathed her last breath.

And that wasn't the only place God was. God was with you Ken and Sherry as you got the phone call that every parent hopes they never have to face. And God listened and cried with you as the doctors informed you of Jacki's condition. God embraced you tightly as Jacki slipped from this world to the next. And God continues to embrace you in his eternal care at this very moment as you continue to live one of the hardest days of your lives.

In the same way God is with each and every one of us, helping us to deal with the pain and loss that we feel so intensely, and helping us to minister with each other and to support each other the best that we can. www

There's one more thing that I'd like to share with you.

This morning, at our worship service, we did something a bit unusual for the 10th of October.

We celebrated Easter!

We heard the story of Jesus suffering and death, and how on the third day he was resurrected to new life by the awesome power of God.

We celebrated Easter this morning because when we come face to face with death as we did this week, we need to be reminded of the final, and most glorious way that God will be there for us.

For just as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, all of us who die in faith shall also be raised to life eternal on the Day of the Lord.

This great and wonderful promise is the power that transforms a day like today from a day of despair into a day of hope, and from a day of sorrow into a day of celebration.

It just happens that Jacki has gone on before us, but we'll catch up with her before too long. For the day WILL come when WE ALL shall be resurrected to meet our Lord face to face, and to live with Jacki, and all of our loved ones, and all of brothers and sisters in Christ - FOREVER!

This my friends is the gospel of our Lord. Praise be to God. May it be our strength and hope today, and every day. AMEN!


St. John's - Morgan

Good Friday - B

 

Subject: The Body of Christ

Predicate: Is broken by pain, suffering and death in the process of crucifixion.

 

 

Good Friday used to be different.

You've probably got to be over 40 to remember how it used to be. But if you are, I'm sure you'll recall how the whole community took Good Friday very seriously in days gone by.

Stores closed down. Factories suspended production. Construction work came to a halt.

From noon until three on Good Friday afternoon, normal daily routines were temporarily put on hold in reverence for and in remembrance of the events that happened to Jesus in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago.

Many people went to church during that time. Some for the whole three hours! Since three hour long services with seven meditations on the seven last words of Christ used to be a common way of worshipping on Good Friday.

But even if you didn't go to church, the hours of 12-3 were a time of subdued activity and reflection.

I remember neighbors who had to stay in the house and were not allowed to play or have any kind of fun for those three hours.

Even though my family was not so rigidly pious as that, my brother and sister and I clearly got the message that it was inappropriate to be too rambunctious from 12-3. Even though we could play outside, being too loud and too active was frowned upon.

If the weather was nice I can recall spending the three hours outside, quietly playing in the sandbox or gently swinging on our swingset, all the while experiencing a gnawing feeling inside, as if the crucifixion of Jesus was actually happening, at that very moment, somewhere on the other side of the world.

Occasionally a thick cloud would suddenly cover the sun and it would seem like the world was turning dark, just like Mark described it in the Bible.

Today though, for most people, and unfortunately even for most Christians, Good Friday is just another day.

For the most part, business goes on as usual. It is a rare storekeeper who closes down from 12-3, especially since people now EXPECT everything to be open, and by golly if that store is closed, then they'll just go shopping and spend their money someplace else.

I don't know of a single factory that suspends production from 12 -3, unless because of over production or slow sales some executive decides that the holiday weekend might be a good time for a plant shut down.

And of the businesses that were closed all day today, most closed down to give their people a three day weekend -- and not out of reverence for Christ's suffering and death. //

Over the last couple of decades, the struggle to get people to devote personal time to reflecting on the events of Good Friday, AND to come to worship on Good Friday, has increased every year.

In part this is due to the culture we live in; the culture I've just described -- where collectively we've abandoned old modes of piety and faith under pressure from the secular world.

But another reason why Good Friday has become the most ignored Holy Day of the Christian Year is that it is not a pleasant day commemorating a happy event.

Good Friday is about the suffering and death of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The emotional tenor of the day is pain and grief.

In many of my Good Friday messages over the last seven years I've tried to help people recapture the horror and the agony of Jesus crucifixion experience in their mind's eye.

Because unfortunately, in much of our art and media, the violence done to Jesus is toned down and even romanticized.

I've seen photo's and movies depicting the crucifixion where Jesus only had a few trickles of blood and sweat rolling down the side of his face and the nail holes in his hands and feet were done with the neatness and precision of pierced ears.

The reality is that his scalp was punctured and lacerated by the thorns. And as anyone who has had or seen a serious cut on the scalp -- the blood doesn't trickle, it flows profusely.

We must also remember that Jesus was whipped prior to his crucifixion. Technically the whipping was call scourging. The whip or scourge itself was made of a wooden handle, to which between one and 12 leather strips or cords were attached. Pieces of metal or bone were usually affixed to the ends of the cord to aggravate the torture.

One third of the strokes were laid to the victims chest and two thirds to his back. A maximum of 40 strokes were allowed by the law -- since to whip a person more than that was virtually 100% fatal. Even at 40 strokes, or less, a substantial number of scourgings resulted in death -- if not from the violence of the blows, or the loss of blood from the deep lacerations, then from the infections that were likely to occur in the days following the punishment.

After all of this, then Jesus was nailed to the cross. The nails were not neat, round, slender and sharp like our manufactured nails today -- back then they were hand forged out of iron, so they were blunt, thick, and ragged.

And the cross itself was not carefully sawed and sanded. It was rough hewn so all the imperfections and splinters constantly irritated the scourge wounds on Jesus back.

On top of all this, Jesus couldn't breath. For ultimately, death by crucifixion was a death of slow suffocation that occurred as a result of the hanging posture and the muscle spasms and cramps from enduring hour after hour of torturous pain.

Now in light of all this, I hope you can see why most people would want to pole vault right over Holy Week, leaping straight from the happy procession of Palm Sunday to the glorious resurrection of Easter.

But to make that kind of leap is to do serious damage to the our understanding of the meaning of the Gospel.

We are being lazy Christians if we only want to experience the joy of the good times.

Christmas is a neat holiday with all of it's presents and decorations and parties and pageants.

But if Jesus had not suffered and died on Good Friday in preparation for his Easter resurrection then his birth would mean absolutely nothing.

And Easter IS the crowning event of our faith. Easter IS the ultimate source of our hope. It is what shows us that God does indeed have an eternal future planned for us.

But in order for Jesus to defeat death and rise to new life it is ESSENTIAL that he really and truly dies the same kind of agonizing and permanent death that all people do.

Now it is understandable that when given a choice we will try to avoid facing suffering and death.

No one in their right mind would deliberately choose to experience pain over pleasure, or sickness over health, or death over life.

But the fact of life is that sooner or later we will have to deal with illness, injury, suffering, pain, and even death.

Though the onset of such trials cannot be predicted in terms of time and person, such trials WILL come. The day is coming when our loved ones will be so afflicted. AND the day IS come when we will be too!

No matter how hard we try to avoid it or deny it, we will suffer. And we MUST die.

Or to put it a bit more theologically, WE MUST LIVE THROUGH OUR OWN GOOD FRIDAY on our way to Easter.

Before the body of Christ could be raised to new life it had to be utterly broken and destroyed in agony and death.

In the same way we who live in union with Christ during this life, we who are the body of Christ by virtue of our baptisms, must travel the same route to be united with Christ for all eternity.

No matter how much we might like to, we CANNOT leapfrog over Good Friday directly to Easter Sunday.

To do so would leave us unprepared for what WILL happen to us in the future course of our living.

Because before our bodies can be raised to new life, we too must be utterly broken and destroyed in agony and death. We must, each and every one of us, live through our personal Good Friday on the way to our Easter resurrection.

Good Friday us God's way of reminding us where the road to Easter will take us, -- that suffering and death is the way to eternal life.

And Easter is God's way of telling us that we WILL be resurrected, just like Jesus was.

For Jesus is the pioneer of our salvation, having traveled this road, successful and paving the way for us to follow. AMEN!


St. John's - Morgan

Easter 1994 - B

Text: Mark 16:1-8

Subject: The Resurrected Jesus

Predicate: will be encountered by us in the "Galilee" (ordinary living) of our lives.

 

Here are a few songs that you probably remember. . .

At Christmas, the kids always sing, "Go Tell It on the Mountain! Over the hills and everywhere!"

At Vacation Bible School a few years ago we learned, "I'm Gonna Go, Go Tell About Jesus!"

Another song that has been popular among young and old for many years has us singing, "This Little Gospel Light of Mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, all the time, let it shine."

And from our hymnal, you'll all recall the hymn, "I Love to Tell the Story!"

Now songs and hymns like these are an important part of our Christian education and growth because they impress upon us, from a very early age, the importance of evangelism. Or in other words, the importance of going to others to tell them about Jesus Christ and what he has done for all people.

Unfortunately, going, and telling, is not as easy for most of us as the songs make it seem.

Despite the fact that we have been commanded to do so by Christ himself, and despite the fact that intellectually we know we should do what he says we should, when the time comes for us to do it, fear grips us and we fail to "go tell" the message.

Instead of, "Go Tell!" all too often its, "No Tell!"

Now this is not a modern phenomenon.

As you listened to the Gospel lesson this morning you heard how the very first people to hear that Jesus was raised from the dead, failed to "go tell" the news to the rest of Jesus' followers.

Early on Sunday Morning, after the Sabbath rest was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, went to the tomb to finish giving Jesus a proper burial according to the customs of their faith and culture.

On the way to the tomb they worried about an immediate and practical problem facing them. How would they roll the stone back to get inside the grave? After all it weighed hundreds of pounds.

But it turns out they didn't have to worry. When they got to the grave they looked up and saw that the stone had already been rolled back.

Now I'm sure that when they saw the stone rolled back, their adrenaline started flowing and their heart rates picked up. Though as they approached the grave they did not know exactly WHAT was going on, it was obvious that SOMETHING weird had happened.

Their suspicions were confirmed when they stepped inside the tomb itself.

Instead of seeing the body of Jesus where it was laid to rest on Friday, they saw a strange young man, dressed in white, sitting on the right side of the tomb.

According to Mark, "The women were alarmed."

Personally I think Mark understated it. I think the women were actually scared out of their wits. One thing is for sure -- they were scared speechless.

The young man, who was in fact and angel, told the women not to be alarmed.

But that's easy for an angel to say. It is what angels always say when they suddenly appear to bring a message to someone.

Though the angel's admonition to "Not be alarmed," didn't totally allay the fear the women were experiencing, at least they lingered long enough to hear the rest of what he had to say.

The angel told them that Jesus was no longer in the tomb because he had risen from the dead! "Look! See where they laid him! He is not here! He has risen!"

And then, the angel assigned a special task to the women. He told them that they should, "Go, and tell the rest of the disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you into Galilee and there you will see him, just as he told you."

By the time the angel finished saying this, their fear had overwhelmed them, and the women fled from the tomb, shaking and in shock.

And they said nothing about this!

To anyone!

Because they were afraid!

Mark's version of the Easter story is hard to figure out.

It starts out like the rest of the gospels. But it turns out that its NOT a resurrection story at all.

We never get to see the resurrection. We never get to see the resurrected Christ. The most important event in the history of the world is not shown, nor are we given any real evidence that it actually happened.

The empty tomb is surprising, but it is not proof of the resurrection. Anyone could have snatched the body of Christ and hid it someplace else.

And the message of the angel is legally "hearsay." It may be the truth, but without corroborating evidence it proves nothing.

Given all this, I can see why the women were frightened to the core of their being.

And I can see why they failed to fulfill their assignment.

But why would Mark leave the story hanging like this? Easter is supposed to be the story of a great victory. It is supposed to tell us how God defeated death and the devil and thus made eternal life possible for all of us.

Why has Mark written a "Go tell - but - no tell" version of the events on Easter morning. Is this a story about the failure of the women to go and spread the good news?

Though it may seem so at first, if all we focus on is the women and their immediate failure to go tell the good news, then we've missed the point.

Two things: First of all, the women eventually overcame their fear and shared the message as the angel told them to. That has to be true, or else Mark wouldn't have been able to tell the story up to this point.

But secondly, and most importantly, WHO is it that Mark, the gospel writer, really wants to hear the message?

Is it the disciples?

Or it is us? The readers. The people who hear the story as he wrote it.

My friends, WE are the ones Mark is writing to.

Remember that Mark wrote the story of Jesus' life and teaching and death and resurrection at least 30 years after it actually happened. The reason the Holy Spirit inspired him to write was to reach those who might read it or hear it read to them -- as far as 2000 years or more into the future -- that means as we hear it read TODAY!

And the truth of the matter is, that when we hear the gospel in its entirety, the message gets through.

We hear what Jesus has taught us -- for example: how we are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and how we are also to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We hear what Jesus has done for us too -- how he suffered and died to pay the price for our sins and there-by reconcile us to God and open the gates to eternal life for all.

Mark was inspired to end his telling of the story so abruptly (and with questions about what is going to happen next) because he wants US to fill in the blanks.

He wants us to be confronted by the empty tomb and message of the angel in the same way that the women were.

And he wants us to wrestle with what we are going to do with this information, the same way that the women did.

Ultimately, the unexpected and abrupt ending of Mark's gospel is an open invitation to faith and to discipleship.

NO ONE is compelled to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

And NO ONE is compelled to become a Christian and follow Jesus.

But WE ARE INVITED to believe the message of the angel, to commit our lives to Jesus, and to follow in his footsteps as disciples and evangelists, serving in the name of Christ and sharing the good news with people who need to hear it.

Those who accept this invitation WILL encounter the resurrected Christ.

We'll come face to face with him as we live and minister in his name. Jesus said that when people feed the hungry, clothe the naked and show compassion to the suffering, it is actually as if we are doing these acts of mercy to Christ himself.

And ultimately, for those who accept the invitation and are united to Christ by virtue of their baptism and faith, the day of resurrection is coming soon.

And when it does we will stand face to face with Christ in all his splendor and power and love. Together with him and our brothers and sisters in faith, we will live forever.

This is not just good news. This IS great news! The is the MOST IMPORTANT news anyone could possible hear.

May the grace of God enable all of us to believe -- and to GO TELL it on the mountain, over the hills and EVERYWHERE -- TO EVERYONE! AMEN!


St. John's Lutheran - Morgan

The Sunday of the Passion

Text: Matthew 26:1-27:66

Subject: People of the passion

Predicate: Run away, deny, condemn, fall asleep etc. but the shadow of the cross (the grace of God) falls upon them where ever they may be.

 

The Passion Story, the story of Jesus' suffering and death which we just heard, contains a vast array of characters.

And most of them are failures!

Crowds of people hailed Jesus as the Son of David, come to save them, when he entered Jerusalem.

But their enthusiasm quickly waned. Soon they joined with the religious leaders in crying, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

Judas Iscariot was once one of the zealous of Jesus disciples. But during the last week in Jerusalem when Jesus failed to live up to Judas' expectations, Judas betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver.

James and John, the sons of thunder during the good times, fell asleep in the garden instead of praying and keeping watch as Jesus asked them to.

Peter, who swore his total and uncompromising allegiance to Jesus one minute, fled to the shadows of the courtyard, and then denied that he even knew the man three times before the dawn of the morning.

And so it went. One by one, all of Jesus disciples fled in fear, until Jesus hung on the cross, abandoned and alone.

That everyone behaved like this was no surprise to Jesus. As the day began Jesus said, "You will all fall away from me this night. For it is written, ' I will strike the Shepherd and the sheep of the flock will all be scattered.'"

Today, we need to consider that we are not unlike the disciples and others who fled.

We too find the cross to be an embarrassment or an outrage. We too doubt the power of the one who allowed himself to die as a failure.

But as the disciples fled, and even as we flee, the shadow of the cross falls over us and we find ourselves in the embrace of a love that will not let us go.

The arms of Christ, outstretched on the cross, encourage us to return and assure us that no matter how we've sinned, and no matter how we've doubted, we can be forgiven, welcomed and restored.

For even though the disciples ran away, and even though we do to at times, the shadow of the cross, the grace of God, reaches out in all directions, finding us, healing us and calling us home. AMEN!


St. John's Lutheran - Morgan

Maundy Thursday - A

Text: John 13:1-17 & 34

Subject: Foot Washing

Predicate: is a sign of the selfless life of service that Christ led and that we are to try our best to do as well.

 

Do you remember the definition of a sacrament that you learned when you were a student in confirmation class?

I hope you do!

But this is not a test! So just in case your memory is a little fuzzy, or in case you didn't attend a Lutheran church when you were confirmed, and for the benefit of you students who haven't begun your confirmation studies with me yet. . . let me share the "classic" Lutheran definition of a sacrament with you tonight.

According to the Lutheran Church, a sacrament can only originate from the teachings of Holy Scripture, and even then three things must be present.

First, there must be an earthly element for there to be a sacrament.

Such as the water that we baptize with, and the bread and wine that we eat when we commune. Religious rites with no earthly element, such as confession and confirmation, are therefore not sacraments.

Second, the sacramental elements must be used by Jesus Christ's direct command.

Such as when Jesus said, "Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the of Holy Spirit." And at the Last Supper when Jesus broke the bread and took the cup and said "Take and eat, this is my body, and take and drink, this is my blood."

Thirdly, the sacrament must also contain a promise directly from the lips of our Lord.

When he commanded that we baptize, Jesus also promised that he would be with us until the end of the age. And when he instituted communion Jesus said that it was for the forgiveness of our sins.

Now given this definition of a sacrament -- that an earthly element is used by Christ's command to bestow God's blessings upon the recipients -- the Lutheran church has historically practiced just two sacraments, namely baptism and communion.

But given this definition, if we wanted to, I wonder if we should add a third sacrament?

For tonight's gospel lesson according to St. John tells us about a ritual that seems to have ALL three of the requirements to be considered sacramental.

The ritual is "foot washing."

When Jesus met to eat his final Passover celebration with his disciples, he got up from dinner, took off his outer garments, girded himself with a towel, poured a basin full of water, and began to wash his disciple's feet.

Although foot washing was a common practice in those days, at first the disciples could not understand why Jesus was doing it. For normally it was the job of the lowest of slaves or servants, and not something that the master of the household would even consider doing.

But Jesus did consider it, and one by one he washed his disciples dusty, dirty, and maybe even smelly feet.

When Jesus reached Peter, Peter refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet. Peter knew it wasn't normal for a master to do this. Peter probably felt awkward and guilty. Perhaps he realized that he or one of the other disciples should have known enough to have offered to wash Jesus' feet since Jesus was their rabbi and master.

However, Jesus insisted, and not only did he wash Peter's feet, but he also instructed the disciples concerning what it was that he had done.

And it is in these instructions that foot washing begins to sound very sacramental.

For there is an earthly element in the water that is used to cleanse the feet.

And there is the command of Christ when he says, "If I then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet."

Finally, there is a promise when Jesus concludes his command to wash each other's feet by saying, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them!"

So, how come we aren't doing what Jesus said?

Why isn't a foot washing ritual a part of tonight's worship?

And I 'm not talking about a demonstration washing or chancel drama where we act out the Gospel story. I'm talking about everyone of us washing someone else's feet, and then letting someone else wash our feet too!

It would be just as easy for us to wash each other's feet tonight as it is for us to eat and drink communion. I'm sure the altar guild could have prepared a basin of warm soapy water with less effort than it took to fill a hundred little cups with wine. Cleaning up certainly would be quicker!

So again, how come we aren't doing what Jesus said we should do?

I think the main reason is that washing the feet of another person, especially a stranger, really sounds like a disgusting thing to do.

I'd prefer not to gross you out tonight, but to really understand what this lesson is all about I think I have to. So, I want you to think about some of the feet you've seen. And think about some of the feet you've smelled.

Several times in my ministry I have visited people in the hospital who were suffering from foot problems that ranged from minor infections to gangrene to the amputation of several toes. And in every case, it was not a pretty sight.

And I think of an elderly man I met when serving as a chaplain. He could no longer bend down far enough to tend to the hygiene of his feet, and he had no one to do it for him. Routine matters such as clipping his toenails was impossible and the mere appearance of his feet spoke volumes about his neglected and lonely life.

Now if you are thinking "ucghk," as I give these examples and as you think of some of your own, then the point of Jesus' command to wash each other's feet is beginning to sink in.

Because what Jesus is really talking about in his command to wash feet, is not the actual washing of feet in itself, but ALL the forms of ministry and ALL the forms of service that we offer to those who are in need.

And especially, the ministry that is offered to those whose needs are SO great that they are considered disgusting, or even "untouchable" by the majority of the population.

About three years ago, when the ELCA began it's MISSION90 program, a professor of religion from Luther College spoke at our kick-off banquet. One of his themes was that we should actually be going out into the world in search of "smelly feet" to wash.

Or to but it more broadly, there is no form of ministry or service that is "beneath" a Christian because there was none that was too low for Jesus.

And there is no person who is too disgusting or untouchable to minister to because there was no one whom Jesus was afraid to help.

Jesus took time to minister to lepers, and to a woman suffering from a flow of blood, and to a man possessed with demons, and to a boy suffering from epileptic seizures, and to a blind beggar, and to hundreds of others who were afflicted in similar ways.

And finally, in the end, Jesus was willing to suffer and die so that his blood might cleanse ALL sinners.

By all sinners I really mean ALL SINNERS!

Not only those who are like you and I who are only guilty of what we'd call "small sins," and who probably will never commit a crime. But also those who have murdered and raped and tortured and robbed and sinned in ways that no decent person would ever even consider.

Jesus "served" us all, Jesus washed us all, Jesus cleansed us all, in his suffering and death on the cross.

And now, since we are cleaned by the blood of Christ, Jesus want us to share the cleansing gospel with others through our words and our deeds.

This evening, as we reflect on the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, and his command that his disciples do like wise, and the professor's speech exhorting us to actively search for smelly feet to minister too, may the Holy Spirit motivate us to participate in this sacred mission.

Let us each, in our own way, wash the feet of someone who needs to experience the cleansing love of Christ.

We may feed the hungry, or clothe the naked, or hold the hand of the dying, or provide respite care for someone burdened down by a sick dependent, or any one of a 1000 other worth while ministries.

And when we do we are giving testimony to God's righteous rule and mercy and made incarnate in his son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

And now, in order to be empowered to go forth in Christ's name to serve in the world, I invite you to listen closely to the Maundy Thursday instruction concerning Holy Communion, and then, later in the service, to partake of this life giving, spirit refreshing, service motivating sacrament. AMEN!


St. John's Lutheran - Morgan

Good Friday

Text: John: the end of the passion story.

Subject: The end of the journey

Predicate: would seem to be the cross, but it is really just the beginning.

 

For the past 6 weeks, In our Lenten series entitled, "The Journey to Jerusalem," we've tried to capture a glimpse of what it might have been like to journey with Jesus as he drew closer and closer to Jerusalem and the climactic events of Holy Week.

Of course I'm a little prejudiced since I wrote and preached all the sermons - but I think we DID get a taste of actually being there.

We heard Jesus declare that he MUST turn and head toward Jerusalem and his death.

We heard Jesus preach and teach to people like Zachaeus as he walked along the road to his destiny.

We experienced the joy of Jesus' Palm Sunday entry to the holy city.

We felt the tension rise between him and the religious leaders as Jesus overturned the tables of the temple vendors and as he told parables against the Jewish authorities.

But out of all the feelings I attempted to capture in this year's Lenten series, one of the most important ones, was the disciple's expectation that Jesus was going to Jerusalem to become the king of Israel.

They really thought that Jesus was leading them on a revolutionary adventure that would result in the over-throw of the Roman government and the re-establishment of an independent nation similar to David's kingdom 1000 years earlier. The disciples looked forward to becoming powerful leaders in the nation. The even vied among themselves to see who might sit at the left and right hand side of Jesus in this new kingdom.

The disciples hope for establishing a new nation is also one of the hardest ones for us to empathize with. Because no matter how hard we try, we can't force the rest of the story out of our mind.

We know how it all ends. We know that Jesus was ushering in God's heavenly kingdom and not an earthly one. We know that Jesus suffered to save us for all eternity and not just for this life. We know that Easter morning was just around the corner.

But on Good Friday, nearly 2000 years ago, the disciples and other followers of Jesus did not have such a knowledge.

Oh, there were promises and prophecies that Jesus would return and establish a heavenly kingdom - but even back then everyone know that politicians made promises they could never keep. And as for prophecy - there were so many kooks making predictions about the end of the world that most people ignored them.

So on Good Friday, all that the disciples and other followers of Jesus could see and react to were the events that actually took place.

And the events taking place gave NO reason for them to hope.

Jesus was arrested by a mob of self-appointed vigilantes. He was tried by the priests and found guilty of blasphemy on the basis of false testimony.

He was handed over to Pilate, who in turn was manipulated by an unruly mob to have Jesus executed even though Jesus was obviously innocent of a capital offense.

Finally Jesus was tortured by the governors soldiers, then led out to Calvary where he was nailed to a cross. After three hours in the hot desert sun, Jesus said, "It is finished," and breathed his last.

And as Jesus died, so did the hopes and dreams of ALL his followers.

As far as they could tell, their journey was over. As far as they could tell they had wasted three years of their lives chasing after an illusion.

According to St. Luke, when Jesus died, the multitude of followers who gathered around the cross to witness the execution, sadly returned to their homes beating their breasts in grief.

But for the moment, the disciples were simply unable to see that Jesus had in fact departed on the next leg of his journey.

In our Apostle's creed we confess that we believe that Jesus suffered, died and was buried, AND that "he descended into Hell," or if you prefer the alternate wording, that "he descended to the dead."

Now out of all the parts of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, none is more important than this last leg, his journey into death.

For ultimately, this is the whole point of Jesus' ministry.

In order for him to defeat the power of death and to free us from the bondage of sin and death that we are subject to, it was necessary that Jesus actually, personally go there, and then return again.

Or in other words, the only way to defeat death is for Jesus to die a real and normally permanent death, and then to rise up from the dead to live again.

And that is exactly what Jesus did.

But on God Friday no one realized that this is what was happening.

Sorrow and grief gripped the emotions of everyone who loved Jesus as they began their journey home from Calvary.

As far as the could tell their journey with Jesus had ended with his last breath.

Little did they know it was really just beginning! AMEN!


St. John's - Morgan

The 2nd Sunday of Easter

Text John 20:19-31

Subject: The power of the Spirit

Predicate: comes to us and enables us to believe in the Resurrection just as Jesus came to Thomas to help him in his faith.

 

I don't know about all of you, but I always find the Sunday after Easter to be somewhat depressing.

Partly this is because last week I was pumped up for everything that was going on..

The discipline of Holy Week and Easter is physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually demanding.

At no other time of the year do we have a schedule where we gather for one worship after another. And at no other time to the year does the mood swing from joy to despair and back to joy like it does during Holy Week and Easter.

Because of this, it is challenging to prepare for and preside at all the worship services of the week.

But it is also the apex of our faith and worship for the whole year. Were it not for the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus, we would not be here. We'd have no purpose in our living. And we'd have no hope for the future.

We who serve as preachers recognize the importance of Holy Week and Easter worship and sermons, and so we focus on the task we've been called to, and with God's help we put all we can into making each worship service a significant spiritual event for everyone who comes to church.

Yet after every peak experience on the mountain top, you must come back down to regular, everyday life. For preachers, the Sunday after Easter is the experience of descending the mountain back to a normal, weekly routine. As such, it is always a bit depressing. But you just can't stay on the peak forever.

The other reason why I find the Sunday after Easter to be kind of depressing is that worship itself is usually small and empty compared to Easter Sunday.

In fact, one of the traditional names for the Sunday after Easter is "Low Sunday."

It seems to be an appropriate name given the fact that where ever you go, the big attendance of Easter Sunday always drops off significantly a week later. Here at Morgan, on the average, our worship attendance on the Sunday after Easter is about 1/2 of what it was on Easter Sunday.

We talked a little bit about this at our church council meeting last Wednesday. A number of council members expressed how they and their families enjoyed both the festive atmosphere of Easter, and the large attendance at each service.

But we also came to the conclusion, that even after you adjust for the larger than average number of guests who were present last week, (and for a number of people who worshipped at both the early and late services), there is NO reason why we shouldn't see well over 200 people here at worship every week.

Now I'll grant that there are all kinds of reasons why people are not here today, or any given Sunday. Some of these reasons are even quite legitimate -- hospitalizations and illnesses are two reasonable excuses that immediately come to mind.

But I suspect there may also be a parallel between the story from our gospel for today and the reason why some people didn't bother to return to church this week.

For there ARE some people (maybe even a lot of them) who attended worship last week, who were not convinced that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

Even though they heard the gospel story where the angel said, "He IS risen!," and even though they heard the same message in the sermon and the hymns, no DEFINITIVE proof of the resurrection was offered.

We may trust that the people who saw Jesus after his resurrection were all telling the truth, but the skeptic can very easily dismiss their encounters with Jesus AND the faith of the church as "wishful thinking."

In other words, after hearing the good news, it is possible to have doubts about the truth of it.

Or even if you concede that Jesus DID rise from the dead, one can fail to see how Jesus' resurrection has any meaning for them, or any impact on them and the way that they should live and relate to God through worship and service.

Actually, to say, "I believe that the resurrection really happened -- BUT -- I don't believe it means any thing for me or that it changes my life in any way," is just another form of doubt.

Now to doubt the reality of the resurrection, or to doubt that it has any meaning in our daily living, or to doubt that the resurrection is a demonstration of the promise and power of God to raise us all to eternal life at the end of time, IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM.

But, it IS NOT an insurmountable problem.

For the God who is loving and powerful enough to raise the dead to life can ALSO deal with our doubts.

That is why EVERY YEAR, the assigned Gospel for the Sunday after Easter is the story of the disciple Thomas and his encounter with the risen Christ..

Usually he's called DOUBTING THOMAS. On the one hand it is an accurate name for him because he does have his doubts.

For some reason Thomas was not with the disciples on Easter Night when Jesus first appeared to them while they were hiding in the locked room somewhere in Jerusalem.

When the disciples told Thomas that, "We have seen the Lord," Thomas expressed his doubts by replying, "Unless I SEE the nail marks in his hands, and unless I PUT MY finger in the holes, and unless I PUT MY hand into his side, I WILL NOT BELIEVE IT."

From the moment that he said that, poor Thomas has been the victim of bad press for the last 2000 years. He has been labeled the "Doubter." He has been held up as a negative example and "Those have not seen and yet believe," are exalted as "better Christians," or as being more "pure in their faith."

But we MUST be careful about denigrating Thomas for his doubts.

After all, his doubts have their roots in a very realistic understanding of the world.

When is the last time you've heard of anyone being raised from the dead? And by that I mean REALLY raised from the dead -- not just revived from a "near death experience." Have we ever seen or heard of someone coming up out of their grave several days after their burial?

The truth is, in what we'd all call "real life," things like that just don't happen. So Thomas had every reason to be skeptical.

Then too, you must remember that Thomas was not the only disciple who had doubts about the resurrection.

According to Mark, when the women first learned of the resurrection, "They said nothing to anyone for they were afraid." In other words they thought they were going crazy and didn't want anyone else to think that they had lost their marbles!

Later, according to Luke, when the women had finally shared the news with the disciples, the "words seemed to the disciple to be nothing more than nonsense or a foolish story, and they DID NOT BELIEVE the women!"

You can even look to the weeks and months and years to come for other examples. St. Paul immediately comes to my mind. His doubts about the resurrection were so strong that he was making a living by persecuting Christians, having them arrested, thrown in jail, and on at least one occasion, killed for their faith.

Given all this. . . that Thomas' doubts were both logical, understandable, and ultimately no worse than the doubts of most of the rest of the early leaders of the church, I think we need to rename him and look at his story in a more positive light.

I've entitled my sermon today, "Helping Thomas" because Thomas' doubts help us to see how doubts are laid to rest and where faith comes from.

The most important thing for us to learn from Thomas (and all the rest of the disciples too) is that he did not overcome his doubts by any kind of personal effort or understanding.

The only way for Thomas to stop doubting and believe was for God to take the initiative and come to him.

The same thing happened for all the rest of Jesus' followers.

Jesus came to the women in the garden. Jesus came to the disciples in the locked room. Jesus joined Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus. Jesus blinded Paul as he traveled to Damascus.

In every case it was only after Jesus took the initiative to come to them that they believed.

So Thomas becomes our helper in that his story reminds us where faith really comes from -- that it is ultimately a gift from God.

Now this is a neat story, and hopefully it will help some people come to faith. But a lot of us are still going to wrestle with doubt. Many of us will wonder how come we don't get to see Jesus today like the disciples did back then?

Well, for one thing, God has given us a different portion of his person and power to be our helper.

As Jesus' has promised, the Holy Spirit of God is present and active among us at all times. When the Word is preached and faith takes root, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us that we believe.

Martin Luther summed it up best in the Small Catechism when he wrote that we "cannot by our own understanding or effort believe in Jesus and God, but the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us into one group of believers which is called the church.

But then again, maybe we shouldn't be so quick to say that no one ever sees Jesus anymore.

Patrick Keifert, once a pastor in Chicago and now a professor at one of our seminaries tells of the hot July afternoon when he stopped at Mac Donald's for a cool drink and a light snack.

He has just finished a funeral, which hadn't gone so well. Among other things the procession went to the wrong cemetery! He wore a tired, discouraged look on his face.

Suddenly, a very large black man approached and sat down in the booth across the table from Pastor Keifert. Since he was still wearing his pastor's garb, he expected the man to hit him up for some food or money.

Instead, the man said, "Pastor, you look like you've had a hard day -- would you like to talk about it?"

Pastor Keifert told him about the funeral and how frustrated he was.

Then the man reached across the table, poked his finger right into the center of Keifert's chest and asked, "Do you believe all that stuff about Jesus raising from the dead? And do you believe its true about you?"

Though anything can happen on the streets of a large city, Pastor Keifert never expected anything like this. So he responded, "I guess I believe it, at least on my good days I believe it, other days I don't even pay any attention to it, and there I times when I have trouble believing it even though I want to."

The black man looked satisfied, said, "I thought so," then got up and walked away, never to be seen again.

AMEN!