Friday, May 27, 2016

A Love Par Excellence

This is the message I preached Sunday, 5/22 at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran Churches. The scripture text was  John 16:12-15.

Today’s gospel text made me scratch my head. Today, we celebrate the Holy Trinity, but this passage’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit sounds more like Pentecost. After digging a bit deeper, my light bulb came on.

Jesus taught his disciples about the role of the Holy Spirit in relationship to the Father and to himself. Just as the Christian life is all about relationship to God, relationship to each other and relationship to our community, so the Holy Trinity lives and works in relationship and community.

In the final verses of today’s gospel, we get a clearer picture of this text’s bearing on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Jesus taught his disciples that the Holy Spirit does not act independently of the Father or the Son. The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ and only reveals what comes from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is not a lone ranger.

What qualities go into making a relationship successful and healthy? What does it take to make it work?  Any ideas? Just go ahead and shout out your thoughts on thisHere are five synonyms that describe the nature of a good relationship. They are collaboration, communication, mutuality, cooperation and accord. Let’s look at the definitions of each of these words. 

Collaboration is to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor. Communication is a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. Mutuality is a sharing of common sentiments or beliefs Cooperation is an act or instance of working together for a common purpose or benefit and accord is to be in agreement or harmony with one or more individuals.

In the Holy Trinity, there is the mutuality of God within the three persons of the Trinity and God invites us into this communion through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. The mutuality of the Holy Trinity models the accord God desires us to have with each other.

Our lives demonstrate this by guiding, speaking and declaring to one another the glory of God our Father and Creator, the love of Jesus the Son and Redeemer and the teaching of the Holy Spirit our Sanctifier.

Over the centuries, people have tried to understand the trinity using many different illustrations. However, our understanding of the mystery of the trinity is limited by our finite humanity. Any attempt to explain infinite mystery always falls short.

In todays gospel, Jesus taught his disciples that the Holy Spirit would help them interpret and apply his teachings to future situations they would encounter in life. Jesus could have spelled out in very great detail what his teaching was for each and every situation. However, like us, Jesusdisciples could only handle so much information at one time. The disciples would have exactly what they needed when they needed it and not a moment before.

This reminds me of a conversation Corrie Ten Boom had with her father, related in her book, The Hiding Place. Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who along with her family hid Jews in their home during World War II and subsequently spent time in a German concentration camp. Corrie relates the story this way:

Corrie,[my father] began gently. When you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?” “Why, just before we get on the train.” “Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we're going to need things, too. Don't run out ahead of him, Corrie. When the time will look into your heart and find the strength you need just in time.(Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place)  

Jesus also taught his disciples that the Holy Spirit would “guide [them] into all truth” and “declare to [them] the things that are to come” (v. 13). Does that mean the disciples would know the future? Hardly.

We have seen all kinds of people doing strange things because God supposedly told them to. All we have to do is look at the news.

Yet in spite of misunderstanding by some and abuse by others; dare we abandon the conviction that God’s Holy Spirit continues to guide and enlighten the church? The present time we live in is every bit as much God’s time as it was when Jesus walked on this earth.

We speak about not putting God in a box. Jesus’ teachings are not locked up in the past for his disciples. God’s word is living and active and speaks to us TODAY in our world too. Otherwise, what would be the point of gathering together for worship, prayer, receiving the sacraments, and reading scripture?

Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year: Year C
Lucy Lind Hogan,

Brian Stoffregen,

Please forgive the text that's underlined. It will not let me change it.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Come, Holy Spirit

This is the sermon I preached this past Sunday, which was Pentecost Sunday, 5/15/16 at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran Churches. The text was Acts 2:1-21.

Did you hear that wind yesterday? Do you think that's what the apostles heard when the Spirit appeared or do you think it was bigger and stronger than the wind that blew yesterday? In the book of Acts, Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of wind and fire. We often describe the Holy Spirit as being like the wind. You can't see the wind, but you can see the effects of the wind when it blows through.  The same can be said for the Holy Spirit. You can't see him, but you know when he's made his presence known.

What comes to mind when you hear the word Pentecost? Do you think the apostles were  bewildered by the sound of the wind? Do you picture all the apostles with little tongues of flame dancing on their heads? Do you think of the apostles addressing the crowd and each person hearing them speak in his or her native language? Do you think of Peter standing up and having the courage to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah instead of denying him as he did on Good Friday?

In today's reading from Acts, The Holy Spirit  is the principle actor. The first action of the Holy Spirit was to make an overwhelming entrance. It filled the whole place where the apostles were gathered. Luke describes the Holy Spirit like the sound of a rushing, violent wind. In this way, the Holy Spirit manifested its tremendous power.

The second action of the Holy Spirit was to touch everyone gathered together in that place. People of all backgrounds, nationalities and languages experienced the Holy Spirit's presence in a personal, powerful, life changing way.

At such times, the presence and power of God's Holy Spirit is palpable. People are blessed with a sense of forgiveness, new hope, new life, healing and reconciliation.

The third action of  the Holy Spirit caused fiery tongues to appear among those gathered. This was nothing new in Israel's history. The Holy Spirit of God appeared on Mt. Sinai in flames of fire. Moses experienced God in fire at the burning bush. God led the people through the wilderness with a pillar of fire. Seraphim are fire-spirits, extensions of the divine. Fire is also a sign of judgment. In the Garden of Eden, the tree of life is hidden from humanity with a sword of fire.

The fourth action of the Holy Spirit was to break down the language barriers that separated those gathered, which enabled those present to speak different languages so that others could understand the message. The Holy Spirit's work frees the gospel from a particular first century Galilean rabbi to a universal message of hope and salvation for all.

The fifth action of the Holy Spirit was to enable Peter to preach. God's word, God's love, God's mercy, God's grace is for all people. Peter is the first to get it, so he jumped up and announced the Word of God with gusto.

Luke demonstrates through Peter the continuation from the Old Testament to the New Testament, saying, "...this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel" (v. 16). This was not some new-fangled theology cooked up by Jesus and his followers. Joel's prophecy declares in these words, "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh"

The sixth action of the Holy Spirit was to create a transformed community of prophets. No longer were the people at the first Pentecost individual nations unto themselves, but instead, a prophetic community. They became messengers of God's word, messengers of the good news of Jesus. 

How did the people react to this demonstrative work of God's Spirit? The devout questioned how they could hear and understand the foreign languages being spoken. They were amazed and perplexed asking each other, "What does this mean?" (V. 12). The unbelievers sneered and accused the apostles of being drunk, although they were not. Rather, they were seeing the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy.

What does this mean for today's church and for us? How do we react when we witness the manifestation of the Holy Spirit? Are we amazed by God demonstrating his power? Or do we dismiss it as superstition?

In Christian theology, the Spirit we experience is that of the risen, ascended Christ. It is a Spirit of service, a Spirit of love and a Spirit of resurrection beyond death.

As Lutheran Christians, we believe in the Holy Spirit. We confess this each week in the Creed, but do we understand what we confess? Can we keep God and His Spirit in a box? No way! The Spirit of God is on the loose and will speak to whoever it wishes.

What would happen if we completely gave over our lives to the Holy Spirit? God does not force upon us that which is contrary to the nature he has given us. God created introverts and extroverts. Those with quieter, more reflective natures may not be called by God to minister in very public ways. Rather their mission may be to do the important behind the scenes work.

Those of us who are extroverts, are more likely to be called to more public ministry. We just have to be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit.

My point is this, do not be afraid of letting yourself go when it comes to the Holy Spirit because we are not on our own in this journey of faith. We are not the body of Christ individually, but together. We have the witness of the Word of God to guide and inspire us.

I wonder who might need a prophetic, gospel word spoken in their lives. Is it my neighbor? Is it the person who sits across the lunch table from me? Is it a sister or brother or grandmother who has lost interest in being part of the church? Is it those struggling with substance abuse? Is it the unemployed or the homeless?

For those of us here today, God's restoring work is happening now in us and through us. God's work continues as we listen to one another from oldest to youngest, as we worship together, take part in the holy meal and are sent from this place to share the good news into our world. Ask God what part you are to play in the lives of those around you. You may be surprised at the answer you get.

In response to the addiction problem in our area, the work of the Addiction Response Ministry was born by God. It is an inter-denominational approach to the troubles of our community. On the steering committee a number of denominations are represented along with a deputy sheriff and someone from the Mental Health Association. Please pray for this ministry as they look for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them.

Just like the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, God's Spirit speaks to us so that we can speak to others.


N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone, Part One

Friday, May 13, 2016

Tag! You're It!

 This is the message I shared with St. Timothy Lutheran Church and St. Mark Lutheran Church on Ascension Sunday, 5/8/16. The scripture text is Luke 24:44-53.

Tag--you're it!  Luke's closing section of the gospel is like a holy game of tag in which Jesus tags followers, saying, "You're it. Now you're me in the world."  These are words we gather in worship to wait for, and we don't have long to wait. We're a part of Christ's family. When we meet at the table, we taste promises. We become Christ's body. 
Today we are celebrating Jesus' Ascension. Jesus leaves his disciples with instruction, a commission, and a promise of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus' time of instruction with his disciples serves to bring closure by recapping major themes of the gospel and to set the stage for the coming of the Sprit and the work of the disciples as witnesses in the months and years following his Ascension. Jesus' training consisted of teaching the necessity of the things that have come to pass. Initially, Jesus  reviews the key events in Luke's gospel and shows them to be a necessary fulfillment of scripture. He reminds the disciples that "everything written about [him] in the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled (v. 44).
The gospel is in continuity with what God has been doing and planning in the Jewish scriptures. This is repeatedly underscored by Luke. This was no long, dry history lesson of the Jewish people. Instead, Jesus "opened their minds to understand the scriptures" (v. 45). There in a nutshell, is how Jesus interprets his death, resurrection and their significance as the fulfillment of scripture. It was this understanding of Jewish  scriptures, that the disciples bore witness to Jesus, which constituted the heart of the earliest preaching.
When God calls his children to do something, he gives them the means to do it. Jesus calls his first followers to be witnesses. Jesus does not dwell on the past, but turns his focus upon his followers, calling them to be "witnesses of these things"  (v. 48). This will not be a mere spectator sport. It is not simply about what they had seen in the past, but the disciples are being given a comprehensive call to testify about Jesus to "the ends of the earth" (v. 48).
But the disciples are not left on their own to figure out how to accomplish this task.  Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would come and help them to understand all Jesus taught. They were to be "clothed wIth power  from on high" (v. 49).  The gist of this promise is Jesus' followers will have the capacity to be Jesus' witnesses in every way that is called for. We see this illustrated throughout Luke's second volume, the book of Acts.
Jesus gave his followers the promise of the Holy Spirit.  We need to understand that God is not through with his church, with the gatherings of Christ's people--with us.  As we get to the end of Luke's gospel, it is not the end of Jesus' ministry. In Luke's second book, Acts, we see a Jesus still engaged with the world by healing (9:34), associating with his followers (9:4; 22:7; 26:14), and working through those who act in his name (3:6,16; 4:10, 30; 16:18). After Jesus' Ascension, Jesus works in ways that are more hands-off.
What Jesus' Ascension signifies has less to do with geography (where Jesus went) than with his exaltation (who Jesus is). Jesus' ascension establishes him as the Lord and Messiah, exalted at God's right hand in ways that go beyond the physical (Acts 2:22-35; 3:26; etc).The Ascension  of Jesus speaks volumes about who Jesus is without limiting him to any particular time or space.
As he ascends, Jesus blesses his followers. The disciples did what Jesus told them to do--to go back to Jerusalem. There, they were continually in the temple blessing God (v. 53). The ending of Luke' gospel implies how Jesus' followers are to live: worshipping God, waiting for Jesus' promises, and do this "with great joy"  (v. 52).
What does this mean for us? Today's gospel is a powerful message for those of us who recognize that not all is right with the world, but who live in a holy hope that God's purposes will be fulfilled. Our God is on the loose, desiring to use us to proclaim the good news to the whole world.  When we get to the tomorrows of our lives, God is already there, and God's grace is sufficient.
As we come to know Him and the hope to which he has called us, may we have open minds, enlightened hearts, and be clothed with power from on high!


R. Alan Culpepper, The New Interpretes Bible, Volume IX, Luke
Troy Trufgruben,

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Holy Spirit's Work

This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was John 14:23-29.

Today's gospel lesson is rich in words of encouragement for the frightened disciples of Jesus. At this point, in spite of all of Jesus' teaching, the disciples still were unable to put together two and two. It was only later, after Pentecost that they experienced their "Aha" moment. Even then, they still had a lot of growing to do. They made their mistakes even though they were the God-appointed leaders of the church. These words of Jesus are words of encouragement for all of us as well. We too have trouble living the Christian life. Today's gospel is part of the farewell discourse of Jesus. I can imagine that the disciples were still unconvinced that Jesus' leaving them could be a good thing.

There are three parts to today's gospel: the love relationship that results in keeping God's word, the promise of the Holy Spirit and God's gift of peace to worried disciples. Today we'll be concentrating on the Holy Spirit.

We Lutherans don't emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit as much as some churches. In fact, I have even heard people say that Lutherans don't believe in the Holy Spirit. But we don't often speak of the third person of the Holy Trinity, who is indeed God himself.

Martin Luther saw and experienced the integral work of the Holy Spirit in his life.  Listen to his explanation of the third article of the Apostles' Creed, concerning the Holy Spirit. 

I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins--mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and to all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.

It seems we Lutherans do believe in the Holy Spirit!

In the gospel of John, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Counselor, Comforter and Helper. The Holy Spirit is an Advocate sent by God for God's people. "The whole of John's gospel manifests the fruits of the Spirit's work among the disciples after Jesus' death and resurrection in deepening their understanding of Jesus' identity and mission" (Elisabeth Johnson).

The Holy Spirit is sent in Jesus' name. Experiences of the the Spirit do not permit disregard or rejection of the historical Jesus. The Holy Spirit will teach the church. Jesus had not yet fully said all that the church needs to understand. He did not speak to each and every situation Christians may find themselves in, however, in such situations, they would experience the Holy Spirit's leading. Jesus did not leave a list of regulations to follow. It is much like what pastors experience after seminary. Professors and the practical field education cannot teach you every single bit of information for each circumstance encountered in parish life. One of my friends from seminar can attest to this. She had been pastor for one week at a church in Rothsville, PA when the church building was struck by lightening and burnt to the ground. They don't teach how to handle that in Property 101.                          

The Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance the words of Jesus. Have you ever had that happen? When you need to share a word with someone, from somewhere, a passage of scripture or a helpful phrase comes to mind. It is the Holy Spirit at work.

The disciples of the early church did not have it easy. They may have walked with Jesus, eaten with him and spent time in prayer with him, but persecutions were a part of their future. In John's writings, he repeats his claim that believers can live in peace, without fear, despite persecution. Because the Holy Spirit is present with the early church and with us, there is no need to be anxious.

Sometimes God's presence can seem very close and other times we don't feel a thing. Our feelings do not determine the reality of God's presence in our lives, but they do affect our perception of reality, which is what we believe to be true.

Jesus' promises are not mere words spoken in the past that belong in the past. Jesus' words are accompanied by his presence with his people through the Holy Spirit. Above all else, it is the profound love of God that Jesus has made known to his disciples and that the Holy Spirit continues to make  known to us.  The Spirit assures us that we are never abandoned, even in the midst of the loss, pain and sorrow that are part of life in this broken world. Because of our relationship with God, the Holy Spirit teaches, guides and empowers us to share God's love with everyone we meet.



Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year C.
Elisabeth Johnson,

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Breakfast on the Beach

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 4/10/16 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church and St. Mark Lutheran Church--two very flexible congregations which I have the privilege of serving. The text is John 21:1-19.

Something that continues to puzzle scholars-- and the rest of us --is just how dense Jesus' disciples could really be. How is it that they never recognize Jesus in his post-resurrection appearances?  In today’s gospel, this is the THIRD encounter the disciples have had with Jesus since his resurrection—and they still did not realize it was Jesus talking to them.
Peter and the others who had left their nets to follow Jesus, have now returned to fishing, but without success. We don’t know if they were trying to go back to business as usual. Some scholars suggest that.
The men had been fishing all night with no results. Now Jesus comes along and tells them to fish on the right side of the boat. They were probably wondering, what difference does it make what side of the boat we fish on.We’ve been doing this all night! Suddenly, their nets were filled to the breaking point.
Now that the task has been completed, Jesus issues an invitation to breakfast on the beach...but not UNTIL the disciples acknowledged that it was the Lord directing them.
Have you ever noticed how much eating happens when Jesus is around? Throughout the gospels, Jesus not only eats with, but feeds people—and something exciting always happens—whether it’s teaching, feeding the multitudes or preparing his disciples for a future without him.
Jesus never did things in a small way. He was not stingy. He always provided more than what people needed to get by--whether it was healing the sick, feeding the hungry, or the giving of his very life for our salvation.
In the setting of having breakfast on the beach with Jesus, true to form interesting things happen. Jesus has the fire ready and has already started cooking breakfast. Jesus invites his disciples to participate along with him by contributing some of the fish they caught. In joining what they have to what Jesus provides, the disciples are brought back into the fellowship of those who not only see, but also believe.
The only one who had not denied Jesus was John. Everyone else needed to have their relationships with Jesus restored so they could be recommissioned to reach others with the good news of the gospel.
Jesus even spent some one on one time with Peter, who was still stinging with the shame of having denied his Lord three times. Three times Jesus asks Peter to confess his love for him and recommissions him to service.The three confessions in effect wipe away the three denials.
What does this mean for us today at St. Timothy & St. Mark? Our Christian lives follow much the same pattern as that of Jesus' first followers. At baptism, we are commissioned to let our light shine so that others may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. We fall short and lose sight of God’s calling for us. God picks us up, forgives us and recommissions us.
We may become discouraged after trying and trying to witness to others about Jesus. Like the disciples, we have to get back into the boat and follow Jesus’ directions and calling. Following the call of Jesus means putting our nets back into the water even when we have previously had no success.
Jesus not only calls us to try again, but invites us to share what we have with others and gives us meaningful work to do.
We don’t have to be great evangelistic powerhouses. Our lights may be small, but together with the light of Christ, there is more than enough light to dispel the deepest darkness of this world. We show others who Jesus is by letting him live his life through us and we invite people who we meet to share a meal with us.
Jesus showed himself to his disciples by abundantly providing for their needs. In the case of the disciples, it was successful fishing followed by Jesus feeding them.
How can we reach out and feed those in our world? One thing God is calling us all to do is to share the love of Jesus with everyone.When someone shares a need or concern, tell them you’ll be praying for them--and then do it!
We all have gifts that God has blessed us with so that we can be a blessing to others. For the grieving, provide comfort and a listening ear. For those lacking mobility, provide a ride or go shopping for them. For the hungry, contribute food for the community food pantry and maybe even work there. Wherever we see a need, God is pointing the way for us to get involved!
In the early church, “eating together was an occasion for experiencing the presence of Christ” (Fred B. Craddock). The communal aspect of faith strengthened them--and It strengthens us.
We are fed wth the bread and wine of the Eucharist and we are fed as we eat and drink together at fellowship after the service.
Jesus reveals himself to us, nourishes us by Word and sacrament and equips us to be God’s hands and feet. We just have to listen when he points out which side of the boat to fish from.

David Lose,
Brian   Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes at
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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Jesus Breathed on Them

Image result for John 20:19-31

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 4/3 at St.Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran Churches. The gospel is John 20:19-31.

What comes to mind when you hear today’s gospel? Doubting Thomas, right? After all, it is a story about Thomas and he has a hard time believing, doesn’t he?
One of the greatest lessons I learned in seminary is that in scripture God is always the One who is acting. Look at Jesus’ interaction with Thomas: Is Thomas and his lack of faith the center of the story? 
Or is Jesus and his gracious offer of himself to Thomas the center of the story?

Let’s look at what God is up to in today’s gospel. The gist of today’s text can be boiled down to these three words: breathe, receive and reveal. Jesus BREATHED on his disciples for them to RECEIVE the Holy Spirit so that he could continue to REVEAL himself.

However, before Jesus can breathe on his disciples, he needs to calm them down. They are scared and locked themselves behind closed doors. The disciples were not in any shape to receive Jesus’ breath, so he gives them the promised gift of his peace.

“Peace be with you” means “Peace is yours.” This is more than a mere greeting. It is an impartation of divine peace. Such peace is not a feeling as much as a description of a relationship between people.

This gift of peace was not just to give the disciples the warm fuzzies about their connection with Jesus.It was so they could participate in God’s mission on earth.

Jesus comes to people who are locked in fear, locked in grief and locked in darkness—people like the disciples, people like us, and people in this broken world.

Jesus breathed on his disciples. God’s breath is creative: In the beginning, God’s breath brought life to creation. In the book of Ezekiel, God’s breath brought life to dry bones. Jesus breathes on his disciples so that they receive the Holy Spirit. This is a new kind of creation. Like God’s peace, the gift of the Holy Spirit was not the private possession of Jesus’ first followers.

The purpose of the giving of the Holy Spirit was so that Jesus would be revealed. Have you ever noticed during children's time, that when a group of children is asked who did something in scripture, the answer is always, “Jesus.” ? It doesn’t matter if the story is from the Old Testament or the New—whether it’s related to the ark, the 10 commandments, or who gave us the Lord’s prayer. The answer is always, “Jesus.” At least they know they’ll be right some of the time.

Like the children, we need to remember that the answer is always Jesus—and his revelation in our world. We have an amazing message to share— the good news of God revealed in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, is able to break through locked doors of fear AND through the limits of time and space.

Like Thomas, we were not among the disciples who first saw Jesus after his resurrection, but that doesn’t matter. We have God’s word that is written so that we may believe. We are to bear witness to that word of God’s identity revealed in Jesus Christ.

Another way to describe the church’s mission is: by loving one another as Jesus loves—God’s people reveal God to the world. By revealing God to the world—the church makes it possible for the world to enter into relationship with our God of limitless love. Our mission is to bear unceasing witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ for which the Holy Spirit has empowered us.

There is a pattern that exists throughout the gospel of John. God sends Jesus. Jesus sends his disciples. Just as Jesus’ commission extends to the disciples, it extends to us as well. God BREATHES on us and we RECEIVE the Holy Spirit so that we may REVEAL Christ to the world.

The revelation of Jesus is ever present, ever new, and ever available because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

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