Salvation Seperation

 

This sermon was preached at St. Mark's Lutheran Church on Sunday July 24, 2011

Last Sunday as I was starting to take my usual afternoon Pastoral nap there was a knock at the door.  I got up answered the door to find two of my neighbors standing there.  These neighbors happen to be Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They’ve stopped by a number of times to introduce themselves and to talk with me about who they are and what they believe.  They know that I’m a pastor  but they still come, they are not deterred from sharing with me their beliefs.  Perhaps it’s because I’m a Pastor they feel like they have more of an audience to talk about their beliefs, I don’t know.

They were sharing with me articles from their latest magazine surrounding the Kingdom of God.  I said that’s great, next week we are reading parables about the kingdom of God you could come to church.  They politely declined.   But I told them that Jesus says in Matthew  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.   45  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;   46  on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Isn’t that crazy!!
My neighbor Jeff looked around for a second.  “Is what crazy?” he said.  “The kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field.  This man finds the treasure and then sells all that he has in order to buy the land that the treasure is on!”  That seems like madness. I am not sure if my friend Jeff agreed.  But when I read this parable I see that there is this man who finds the gospel — which is the treasure.  When he finds this treasure he sells all that he has in order to obtain it.  This is an awesome thing!  

When we find the Gospel in our lives, how much are we willing to give up for it?  

Because when we hear the Gospel, the God finds us there are some costs involved.  There are things that God calls us to do in our lives.  We are to gather as a community, to recieve the sacraments, to pray, read the Bible, tithe our money and our time. But we are not perfect and God knows that.  Which is where my conversation turned with my neighbors.  

Our conversation turned from the Kingdom of God to salvation.  

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Seperation From God

This past Sunday I was starting my usual afternoon Pastoral nap when there was a knock at the door.  I got up to answer the door and I find it is two of my neighbors.  These neighbors happen to be Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They have stopped by a number of times to introduce themselves and to talk with me about who they are and what they believe.  Even though they know that I am a pastor they are not deterred from sharing their beliefs with me.  Perhaps it is because I am a Pastor they have feel like they have an audience to talk about their beliefs because I do have a strong understanding of my faith and the Bible.

They were sharing with me articles from their latest magazine surrounding the Kingdom of God.  However, our conversation quickly turned into thoughts about salvation.  They were telling me all the things I needed to be doing to ensure my salvation.  Now, I am not afraid to talk with someone about the end times and what that means to me as a Lutheran Christian but in my mind there is a set time and a place for that.  When I encounter someone and we start to talk about God, especially when it is someone who I do not know; I am not warning them about their potential to go to hell, I am talking with them about a God who loves them, who cares for them and who will do anything for them. I tell them about Jesus – the one who preached God’s kingdom and embodied God’s love, the one who suffered and died on the cross and was raised again all because of his love for them and all humankind.  But Alice and Geoff have a different approach and that was quite clear.

After they shared with me I told them about my sermon earlier that day, I preached about Jacob seeing God for the first time and how we are called to see God as well, not only in the church but in the world as well.  I preached about how God comes to us to help us like according to the spirit instead of according to the flesh.  I said that this is all about a God who loves us, who cares for us.  They said that they do believe in the love of God, but it was also important to point out to people that if they do something wrong, then Jehovah is going to punish them.

This is where we do not agree.

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Seeing God in the World

This sermon was preached at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Baldwinsville, NY on July 17, 2011

When I was 18 years old — just before I left for college my pastor took me out to lunch.  He told me that he had seen a change in me throughout high school.  I grew up, I matured quite a bit, especially after a few summers at Camp.  He said I really believe that you are going to be a pastor one day.

Now this was not the first time I heard this.  I was told a number of times that I was going to be a pastor.  But I did not want to hear it.  I did not want to accept that. I had other plans. I was going to be a world famous tuba player!!
But sometimes, God pushes into our lives and surprises us by being present. What I learned over the next several years is that if we are open to listen and look for God, we can make a discovery that will lead us into a new way of life.
Jacob had an experience like that.  In our OT reading we learn that Jacob the grandson of Abraham was being called by God.  Abraham if you remember was the one with whom God had made a covenant, saying that his descendants were promised to make a great nation. Surely, Jacob must have heard the stories of his grandfather Abraham.
That would of been a lot of pressure growing up.  We are not sure if Jacob felt this pressure or not.  The Bible doesn’t tell us of any encounters between Jacob and God before the one today’s scripture lesson.
Instead, the Bible tells us that Jacob lived a selfish life, depending only on himself, looking out only for himself, and using everyone around him to get what he wanted.
He had made an enemy of his brother Esau and taken advantage of his father so without any more options he had to leave home. He was on a lonely journey into an uncertain future when he camped out that night on the way to Haran. Jacob, up to this point had been living as if there were no God.
We understand too well what it means to live as if we can’t see God, don’t we? Most of us have been trained to live lives shaped by the values and expectations of the world instead of the Spirit. The Apostle Paul called that “living according to the flesh.” He contrasted it with another way of life that he called “living by the Spirit.” Paul said that people who live by the flesh are very likely to fall into a life-shaping fear which doesn’t allow us to fully experience the world around us.
Jacob must have been experiencing life in that way when he pitched camp that night on the road to Haran. But during the night, something happened that surprised him. He had a dream in which he saw angels going up and down to the heavens. And there was God. And God spoke to Jacob and initiated a real and personal interaction with him.  Jacob was able to see and to experience God first hand.
This is something that I believe that the Bible is in our lives…… the Bible gives us the ability to experience God first hand. Throughout the Bible we read about times that the author had seen God and felt compelled to share that with others.  Each story offers us a glimpse of what it looks like when God gets involved.

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Google+ and Ministry

I am sure this will be one of many Google+ posts but since I got my invitation (thanks Mark) I have been playing around on Google + and I have been trying to figure out what impact it will have on my future.  I have been thinking about how Google+ fits in my life and in my ministry?

I have to admit, I am an early adopter of any social media. When I find out about a new social media source and I sign up right away, I like the freshness of it, I like the “new car smell” of it. However, it takes a lot to keep me coming back. Currently I have about 10 or so active social media accounts and maybe twice that sitting in the internet wasteland.

I have realize that in order for a product or new social media outlet to enter its way to our daily routines it needs to improve something that we are already doing or it needs to create some sort of addiction. To be successful a social media individual one needs to offer an experience that is so much better than the competition that millions of people want to make a switch.

For example, when I take pictures on my phone I would either directly post it to Facebook, or I would wait to download all my pictures on my computer, do some edits and then post my pictures. However, lately I have been using an app called Instagram to share my pictures. Not only do I think it is simple to use but it makes my pictures look so much cooler.

So where does Google+ fit in? What kind of future do I see for Google+ for myself and my ministry?

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The Story of James and Tony

There are two men standing at the gates of heaven to get in.

The first man James grew up in a tough neighborhood, his father left him when he was young and his mother worked three jobs just to get by.  Eventually he got caught up in the wrong crowd.  Instead of playing basketball, or football, instead of going to the library to study he was on the street corner with his “buddies.”  This led to many nights away from home, and his mother was constantly worried about him and his safety.  However, there was little that she could do, she felt like she already lost him and she was right.  On his 18th birthday he was told that had to pull a robbery with some of the new recruits.  This would solidify his membership in the gang.  This was the night that changed his life.  The robbery turned bad and he got caught.  He was brought to trial as an adult and sentenced to six years in jail.

_____

The other man standing at the gates of heaven was Tony.  Now Tony grew up on the other side of town.  He had anything and everything he could ever ask for. However, he yearned for his family.  His father was an executive who worked all the time and his mother was a successful photographer who traveled a lot.  He knew his nanny better than his parents.

Christmas was a special time for Tony because his parents made sure they were home.  They hosted lots of parties so they could see all of their friends.  But they also had family time.  They went to church Christmas Eve and at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church then they went home and opened up presents while drinking hot chocolate.  Tony loved going to church because it was there that he experienced the kind of family that he always wanted.  He saw people who cared for one another, he had strangers come up to him with smiles on their face wishing him a Merry Christmas.  During church he watched as the children did a Christmas play about the birth of Jesus, he heard the words from the pastor that night telling him the wonders of Jesus’ birth and how that birth was important in the world because that child would grow up to change the world.  Each year Tony left church uplifted and hopeful and happy.  When Tony left church that Christmas night after he turned 18 his life was changed.  He knew he was going to college soon and he might not experience this feeling again.  So Tony left that night determined to change the world and to learn more about Jesus and his love.

Who would you consider a child of the wheat a child of the weeds? James or Tony?

James spent the first 4 years in prison trying to be the tough guy, he was in a lot of fights, spent a lot of time in “the hole” for his behavior.  At the start of his fifth year he was sitting in the dark of his cell and he started thinking about his life.  He was 23 years old and he had nothing to show for himself.  He had no friends, he had no family, he had nothing.  He cried to himself to sleep that night.  When he woke he was a changed man — still trying to figure things out he did not talk or look at anyone for the next week.  He started to reevaluate his life; how he acted and how he treated others.  Then he sat down and he wrote a letter to his mother.  He had not talked with her for  the last five years and he prayed that the letter would make it to her.  He requested a Bible from the prison chaplain and he started to read it.  James’ mother received his letter and she wrote back.  They exchanged letters for the next year and eventually she started to visit him.  She eventually moved to North Carolina where the prison was and she started to build a life for her and her son upon his release.  Six years after he walked into the prison he walked out a free man.  His mother was there to greet him and as soon as he walked out he saw her and they embraced.

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