One Flock, One Shepherd
I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…Our baby boy Noah is going on 26 years of age, and I don’t know what his favorite song is. But when he was a little over 3 years old, his favorite song was “Mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird / if that mockingbird don’t sing / Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring/ and if that diamond ring turns brass / Mamas’s gonna buy you a looking glass / If that looking glass gets broke/ Mama’s gonna get you a billy goat / If that billy goat gets bony/ Mama’s gonna buy you a Shetland pony / and if that Shetland pony runs away /Mama’s gonna buy you another someday.”
Virtually every day of his first three or four years of life, Debi sang him that song, and almost always he would fall asleep in her arms listening, listening to her tender and full of affection voice. At nighttime she would sing a different song that started out “all night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord.” On at least one occasion he stopped her from singing the evening lullaby and said, “No, mom, don’t sing lullaby, sing mockingbird, and then he held up ten fingers and said, sing it this many times.” Woe be to anybody else who would try to lullaby Noah Lee to sleep.
So also on this Good Shepherd Sunday, woe be to any other voices which would try to lead the flock of Jesus Christ into the green pastures or near the still waters. Earlier in John 10, we hear the voice of Jesus speaking of himself in the second person “After He has gathered His own flock, He walks ahead of them, and they follow Him because they know His voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from Him because they don’t know His voice.” Our sermon theme today is “One Flock, One Shepherd.” I invite you to think with all of your mind /heart/soul about whose voices you are listening to these days and which paths you are traveling. Two lessons the Spirit of God would teach us today.
The first is (Sheep) Always straying, (Good Shepherd) always nearby. The prophet Isaiah said it this way, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Sheep experts tell us that sheep generally stick together in a flock for protection, but that when they do not feel threatened, they are likely to stray. In other words straying is not necessarily a sign of rebelliousness. So also do Church experts tell us that many who have grown up in the Christian faith may have wandered away from the visible church but they are not necessarily in open rebellion against Christ. They just may not feel the need for what He is offering. Which is pretty comforting, if you think about it. To know that not only does our Lord not give up on us when we stray, His eye is on us wherever we go and no matter what kind of trouble we are getting ourselves into. And even more than that – He’s not just watching us from a distance, He’s following us around. He is actively and equally focused on each one of us. As a grandpa would follow around his 4 year old grandson at a church function, trying to keep him out of trouble, so does our God pursue us in all the circumstances of life, trying to keep us out of trouble!
What a privilege it is to remind you today that whether or not you have been following in a close way your Savior, He has been following you around with goodness and mercy. He pursued us even as we (crucified Him), and He pursues us today even as we (close our hearts) to our neighbors in need. In Acts 4, Peter is explaining that they had healed the crippled beggar in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – the one you folks crucified! The stone you rejected, you who were supposed to be building the church, this stone has become the cornerstone! Even as those early Pharisees and Sadducees and ruling elders chased down and arrested and trumped charges against and beat Jesus to a bloody pulp, until He was dead and buried, even then He was in fact chasing them down and laying down His life on their behalf.
To this very day, He is pursuing this little flock in this little town, even when and especially when we stray. Even on those days we live for ourselves and close our hearts to our neighbors in need. John writes to the early Christians in our Epistle lesson for today that “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” It seems to me that we do a pretty good job in this place of loving those who are easy to love, but the Bible says that even the pagans can do that. It’s easy to be kind to those who are grateful for our kindness and it’s easy to be patient with those who are not testing our patience. But what is our attitude towards those who keep on digging their own holes and making their own beds with bad decisions and horrible habits and lousy attitudes? Oh how often and how seriously we stray by the way that we think and speak and live!
Thanks be to God that He keeps on pursuing us in the preaching and teaching and remembering of His Word in this place. Thanks be to God that He keeps on pursuing us in the waters of Holy Baptism and in the bread and the wine of the Holy Supper in this place! Thanks be to God that His desire to show mercy is so much stronger than our desire to go our own ways and do our own thing! His rod and His staff, they keep on comforting us. His table keeps on getting prepared for us in the presence of our enemies. Our heads keep on getting anointed. Our cups keep on overflowing. Our souls keep on getting restored. We keep on straying and He keeps on staying close. More than that, He somehow finds a way to lead us in the paths of righteousness.
He leads us as often as we (listen to His Voice), and He follows us around as often as we insist on following the (wrong leaders) Sheep have a reputation for being not that bright. A few years ago, a true story came out of eastern Turkey, where hundreds of sheep followed their leader off a cliff. They plunged to their deaths while their shepherds looked on in dismay. The newspaper reported that four hundred sheep fell 15 meters to their deaths in a ravine in Van province near Iran. The good news was that the four hundred sheep that died actually broke the fall of another 1,100 animals who survived. The report also includes the footnote that “Shepherds from Ikizler village neglected the flock while eating breakfast, leaving the sheep to roam free… The loss to local farmers was estimated at $74,000.”
In Old Testament days and in Jesus’ day, the shepherds, the religious leaders had a reputation with God of being not at all faithful. They were the hired hands who every time they saw the wolf coming they would leave the sheep and flee. They saw their work as a job to do and they cared little or nothing for the sheep. They fed their own fat stomachs instead of the sheep under their care. They slumbered and they slept on the job in contrast to the one true God who never slumbers and never sleeps. The One Who stays awake and speaks truth with a sure and a steady voice. The One Who frequently whispers and once in a while He shouts not what we want but what we need to hear. The One Who promises in simple fashion, “blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.”
Dear friends, by nature we listen to the wrong voices and we are drawn to follow the wrong leaders. You know who I am talking about. The ones who say that there are many different roads that lead to heaven and that in the end pretty much everybody will be saved. The ones who say that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere in what you believe. The ones who say that God is love and that He really could never stay mad at you for any length of time and why can’t we all just get along. The ones who say that the church ought to follow popular opinion on issues like the sanctity of life and definition of marriage. Even worse than those who would not preach the Law in all of its severity are those who would not proclaim the good news with every bit of its sweetness. The ones who say that certain sins are so serious they cannot be forgiven. And that some sinners have wandered so far from the faith that they are a lost cause.
To which Jesus would reply, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Our second and final truth to remember this morning is Apparently divided, in reality united. The Holy Christian Church is in fact divided and united at the same time. Although the church is divided in terms of how the Bible is to be interpreted and applied to life (Lutherans call that concord), she is united in terms of being called to one hope, belonging to one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Unity). Although we are divided in terms of how we practice what we preach in this place (harmony), we are united in terms of what we believe, what we confess, and what we preach.
Apparently divided, in reality united. With that in mind, we keep on trusting / keep on doing what we have been called to do / keep on preaching. As we do so, we should remember that The preaching of the Risen Christ greatly annoyed the (hired hands) of Jesus’ day, and still does so today. The scribes and the Pharisees and the ruling elders were hoping they could be done with this Jesus of Nazareth, but it wasn’t meant to be. They weren’t all that interested in making room for new people in the fold of God’s love, but God was and is and ever shall be wanting it to be known there still is room. Church people are inclined to go only so far in terms of laying our lives down for brothers and sisters in the faith, but Christ knew and knows no such boundaries. And so we keep on trusting, we keep on doing what we have been called to do, we keep on staying close to a shepherd in a class all by Himself. And to the extent that we stay close to that one and good shepherd, His Spirit helps us to be a flock where people are loved not just not just with pious words and polite conversation, but with actions and habits that see all the way into eternity. A flock where hospitality is deep, forgiveness is real, and to which strangers are drawn. Drawn to a path that seems really easy some days and almost unbearably difficult other days, where two paths are regularly cautioned against.
Two paths to avoid. The first is the one where we are content with our (differences). This is the path where we fall prey to the idea that the church should just tolerate pretty much every new idea that comes along. The path where sinful behavior is ok and God is love and therefore we should not judge. A pastor named Erick Anderson said it this way, “tolerance and narcissism are very closely related. After all, we expect others to treat us as we treat them. Tolerance these days is rarely about sticking up for the marginalized. It’s a self-serving, quid pro quo arrangement. If we refrain from judging the behavior of others, what right do they have to judge ours? “Live and let live” is about securing for ourselves the right to live however we please, judgment-free……Absolute tolerance is a myth. The unforgivable sin of postmodernism is to tell someone they’re wrong…..The rhetoric of tolerance is appealing, but it’s often just narcissism in disguise.
A second path to avoid is the one where we forget what we have (in common). This is the path where we magnify our differences and do not remember the unity we have been given in Holy Baptism. The unity we express in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed. The unity we celebrate at our Lord’s Supper. The unity we are to guard with every fiber of our being and enjoy in every moment of every day. To guard with every fiber of our being and enjoy As our Good Shepherd guards this flock with every fiber of His being and enjoys in every moment of every day, and into the evening. As a good mother would guard her baby boy with every fiber of her being and enjoy in every moment of every day, and into the evening.
All night, all day – that’s the song Debi would sing to Noah at night –as often as he was too sleepy to ask her to sing the song he preferred (Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird)…..All night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord. All night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord. Now I lay me down to sleep, angels watching over me, O Lord. Pray the Lord my soul to keep, angels watching over me, O Lord. All night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord, all night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord.
The kingdom of God is like a little child feeling safe in his mother’s arms and listening to her sweet and familiar voice. The weather outside if frightful, but you couldn’t tell by looking at this picture. All night, and all day, all is well with his soul. His mother is doing all the worrying for him, and he doesn’t have a care in the world.
Focus: God chooses us.
Function: that the hearers receive gratefully God’s good gifts.
We are beggars; this is true.
These are the last writing of Martin Luther. They were found in his pocket in 1546 as his heart burst. At age 62, he was on his way back from his family home where he had been mediating, of all things, a land dispute. Can believe that? The man who rocked the Catholic Church like a hurricane, who through the Spirit’s power singlehandedly challenged the pope, the emperor, the most powerful men of the known world, who had the ear of princes, this man spent his last months talking to little counts in his little home county of Mansfeld in his little hometown Eisleben.
At the end of the negotiations, he complained of chest pains, and at 2:45am on February 18 1546, he had a massive heart attack, and he died.
The full writing on the scrap of paper in his pocket read like this: “No one can understand Virgil's Poems unless he has been a shepherd for five years. No one can understand Cicero's Letters, unless he has busied himself in the affairs of some prominent state for twenty years. Know that no one can have indulged in the Holy Scriptures sufficiently, unless he has governed churches for a hundred years … We are beggars: this is true.”
Today we meditate upon three characters within our story – the lame beggar, Peter and John, and the Sanhedrin. This story is one of a beggar who clung to Peter and John. Peter and John were going to the temple when they saw him. He asked for some change and Peter looked at him with that peculiar sort of a look and said, “Gold and silver I have not, but what I have I give to you.” And he healed him.
First, the beggar was, in fact, a beggar. This is true. He wasn’t particularly kind or just. The text doesn’t say if he lived a good life or a bad life. It only says that he was lame and he was begging. I would suppose after they had seen the risen Christ, as Peter and John went up to the temple to pray, they saw many beggars. They probably went up past this man and hundreds others time after time. So, you have to ask, why this time? Why this man?
That’s the same question that many Christians ask, with a guilty conscience. Through no merit of my own, I’ve had a tradition of Christianity in my life. It was passed down by my father, by my father’s father, and by my father’s father’s father, all the way back to our roots in Germany. Why would I be born into a family like mine? Why am I chosen? Now, the first answer of a faithful theologian has to be, “I don’t know.” We don’t know the “Why’s” of God. He has reasons and we only have reality. But that only scratches the surface.
Suffice to say, there is a longer and more satisfying answer for any who want to hear it (and please talk to me later if this is your struggle), but our text moves on and so should we.
Do you see what the beggar does after that? After they restore his life, the beggar clings to Peter and John. He cannot get away. It’s like the first time you said “I Love You” to that girl in high school, in college. You can’t get away. You cling to each other. There’s nothing better than just simply being. What if we thought this way about all the gifts that God gives? What if we had that wonder about everything that God did for us? We would cling to him for the glory of the sunlight every morning. We would cling to him for the songs of birds, for the mystery of electricity, for the use of our bodies.
I think of this when I see a young child playing in the waters. It’s fantastic and new and mesmerizing as they slap the water and watch ripples go out. You set him down and he’s entertained for hours. The temptation we have as we pass through life is not to savor but to guzzle, not to taste but to shovel that down. It’s to slap the water so many times that we care not for the beauty it makes. In fact, as Christians, our life as we pass our 60th year, our 80th year, our 100th, should do the opposite. It should instead teach us to savor, more and more, each little aspect, each detail of this gift.
But seeing this extraordinary thing happen to an ordinary man, the people flock around Peter, and Peter has to address them. He says, “Your God did this. I was just a conduit. Your God did this, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of your fathers did this, yes, the same one that you crucified. He blotted out the ripple effects of sin – because that’s what that lameness was, that’s what all blindness and health concerns and cancer is – the brokenness of sin in the world.” Then, Peter did something even more amazing. He turns and proclaims that this stuff, this physical healing, is small potatoes. Or, I looked it up this morning, fingerling potatoes. He’s not looking to share small potatoes, he’s looking for the Real Deal, the Yukon Gold.
The real deal is in fact that the effects of sin aren’t just dealt with. Jesus deals with the root. He digs it out. He pulls it out. This beggar, he had a spectacular miracle happen to him, but the greater thing was the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins.
The ledger of that beggar’s sins was long, just like ours is. You look at your ledger and you can see debt after debt and interest piling on. But Jesus doesn’t nit-pick with a few details up at the top. He doesn’t look at one budget line here or one bank note there. No, he goes to the bottom line. He goes down to the amount that we owe, and he blots it out.
Stephanie, our treasurer, will tell us, that’s not good accounting practice. Debts don’t just go away because you scratch it out from your checkbook. We sometimes wish we could do that, but we can’t.
And, she would be right. It wasn’t free. It wasn’t arbitrary. Jesus paid for our debt out of his own account. He spent his life, the life of the Son of God, to pay for the sins of the world, so that he could blot out our sin, blot it out so dark that it can never come back.
If we first look at the healed beggar, then second, we look at Peter and John to realize that all of us in the church are beggars. We are beggars. This is true. Before we were saved, we were beggars. After we are saved, we are still beggars. Long life isn’t assured. Love isn’t assured to us. White picket fences aren’t assured. 2.5 kids aren’t assured. Health isn’t assured. You could die slipping out of your bathtub this evening. Your whole life is a gift. In our Lord’s Prayer, as we ask in just a little bit, we beg for our daily bread. We beg for God’s kingdom to come. We beg for the crops to grow and the rain to fall, and even the best of farmers cannot make the seed to grow into a row of corn, and only the best of us can only wonder when something as magical as life slips into our hands before it slips away.
This is in fact the beauty of our theology, that when it comes to salvation, you bring nothing to the table. My salvation isn’t contingent on how interesting the sermon is on any given night (thank goodness), nor does it hang on your response to the Jehovah’s Witness that comes to the door. It does not even hang on your deathbed confession of faith. No, the same thing that saves the tall, the handsome, the well-spoken and the strong is that which saves the voiceless, the weak, the doubting, and the tortured.
It’s God’s grace. This is a reason to be a Lutheran. Luther says it like this: I by my own reason or strength cannot come to him,” and so he comes to me. In the waters of holy Baptism, the water combined with God’s Word and included in God’s command, God picks you up into your arms, treasuring you before you know what you are. And his grace carries you through all your abilities, expanding and growing as you become an adult person, until you hit your peak, when you slide down that bell curve settle down, and you lose all that you have. God’s baptismal grace holds you even after you’ve lost all that you are, when you cannot hold that hand that holds yours as you draw your final breaths. God’s grace carries you from before you knew how to speak until after you’ve forgotten. Just look at Martin Luther’s life.
And that’s all because God decided he would.
Thirdly, we turn to the Sanhedrin and we find that it is an offense to preach the Gospel. You’ll make enemies. Notice that Peter’s speech here doesn’t do the same thing that it did on Pentecost. In chapter 2, he gains 3,000 from preaching the Gospel. In chapter 4 the disciples are hauled in front of the Sanhedrin and chewed out for the first time. The second time, they’ll be beaten with rods, and the third time Stephen will be killed. If you look at the start of chapter 4, you find that there are some people who oppose the Gospel and some who listen. It wasn’t the Apostles’ job to make anyone believe the Gospel. It was their first job to preach it clearly.
And they also had a further responsibility. The Gospel makes enemies, and do you know what Christians are to do with their enemies? Jesus says this, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you.” What do you do with enemies of the Gospel? You make a special effort to heap upon them love and grace and charity. You make a special effort to mourn with them in times of mourning. To give cups of cool water. You don’t tone down the severity of the Law, but you go to them and say, “The same law that cuts your heart is the same one cutting mine as well. Let me take you to the place where I let that burden down.” You go to them, like one beggar to another beggar, showing them from where you received bread.
How would this change the way we keep our grudges? How would it change our daily interactions with difficult people if we prayed that God would give them every good thing? How would we look upon those who wish us hurt and destroy us if we prayed every night that their souls would be bought by the blood of Christ and that we would have a seat right next to them at the banqueting table?
We are beggars. This is true. We do not even deserve the bread given to us. And for that, thanks be to God. Amen and amen.
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Tonight we focus on verse 33 in particular on the phrase “Great Grace.” It seems as though more grace, fresh grace, greater grace, rested on the early church after the imprisonment and deliverance of their leaders. We are to understand that the holy fervor manifested by them at this time at this time was not accounted for by such things as the incoming of wealthy members or the multiplying of their numbers, but by the increase and enlargement of the grace that rested on them. Great grace is the one secret of great spiritual power.
This was not the first bestowment of grace on this early church / Pentecost/ miraculous gifts. This outpouring of the Spirit was well received and used. Because it was well received and used, more grace was given. The further grace enabled them to suffer nobly and well; to testify for Christ even before governors and kings, and to pray together and live together and work together, in loving union and mutual forbearance, and charity. The Bible says that "To him that hath shall more be given;" God's grace is indeed "free," absolutely free, but God has added this promise to it, that if we use it wisely and well, more grace will be added. One author in the Pulpit Commentary writes, “ To those who are faithful in using grace the promise applies, "He giveth more grace." Then, if we feel the need of and long for "great grace," let us see that we deal rightly in response to the leadings and movings of the grace we have. Empty the vessel in service for others, and God will be sure to refill it. Trim the lamp, and let its light shine brightly all around, and God will be sure to replenish it with abundance of fresh oil. - R.T.”
LCMS emphasis: “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”:
“Witness” means the testimony that is given, specifically, telling the good news about Jesus--bearing witness to Christ and the salvation that is found in him. For “Witness” you see the Greek word “Martyria,” because “Witness” or “Testimony” is how that word is always translated.
“Mercy” is the term used to cover works of Christian love and service that benefit persons in need in a very practical way. Next you see the word “Diakonia,” which is generally translated not as “Mercy” but as “Service.” However, “Diakonia” still is a good word to associate with the church’s works of mercy, since “diaconal” ministry is practical service done for the neighbor in need.
And “Life Together” refers to the church’s common life as brothers and sisters in Christ, our unity as God’s family in the life that we share. “Koinonia,” “Fellowship,” the “Common Life,” the “Life Together” that the church shares. “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: “Martyria, Diakonia, Koinonia.” Whichever way you say it, these words describe what we do and how we live as Christ’s church.
Trinity Lutheran / Annual Voters’ Meeting / 26 baptisms / 15 weddings / 16 deaths / 24 junior confirmations /11 adult confirmations /1726 baptized members / 1289 confirmed members / 534 average attendance / 79 gained by transfer, profession of faith, baptism and 77 lost to death or transfer or release / $1,249,905 budget. Numbers / part of the story.
First, “Witness,” “Martyria.” We find this emphasis in verse 33 of our text: “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” The apostles were giving their “testimony.” That’s how the “martyria” word is translated in this verse, as “testimony.” The apostles were giving their “testimony” or “witness” to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” That’s why this text has been selected for use during this Easter season, because it shows the apostles bearing witness to the resurrection. You will see this in just about all the readings from Acts that are used in the Easter season--they all have to do with the church’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus.
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the heart of the Christian message. That Jesus died and rose again and what that means for us--this is the gospel itself. This gospel is what makes Christians. It’s what forms and gives life to and expands the church--the witness or testimony to the resurrection of Christ. You would not be a Christian and saved and going to heaven if it were not for this preaching of the Lord’s resurrection. There would not be a TLC/TLS were not for the apostolic witness to the resurrection.
Jesus had to die for you if you were going to live. It is Jesus Christ, dying on the cross for you, as your substitute . . . it is the holy Son of God, dying for all the sins and all the sinners of the world, in our place, taking the punishment we deserve, the righteous for the unrighteous . . . it is this sacrificial death of Christ that is the only way any of us has redemption from the fallen sinful nature we share, forgiveness for the countless sins we commit, and righteousness to enter into God’s heaven. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus by definition means that Jesus rose from the dead. He died, and the reason he died was this: to save us from our sins and eternal death. The message of Christ’s resurrection is tied to the meaning of his death. But now has Christ arisen, and we rise with him! We rise to newness of life, and when that happens to a whole bunch of us, there is the church! “Witness,” then, “Martyria,” is essential to the formation and the expansion of the church.
Now this word “Witness” literally has to do with eyewitnesses, people giving testimony to things they themselves have seen and heard. Notice, it is the apostles who are giving their witness, because those men had literally seen the Lord Jesus risen from the dead. Thomas and the rest of the apostles actually saw and heard Jesus in person standing there in their midst. The apostle John starts his letter by speaking of that “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands”--John is talking about Jesus himself, in the flesh--“we have seen it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life.” The apostles were literal eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Christ.
We have the apostles’ own testimony in the pages of the New Testament. And we have seen and heard, too, in a sense. We see Christ with the eyes of faith that the Holy Spirit has given us. We hear the saving message that is still proclaimed to this day. Remember what Jesus said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The church today still gives witness, testimony, “martyria,” to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Every day we witness to Christ as individuals / church. Some days we fall short, other days way short. Other days, we witness well, and other days better yet. Some days our bad habits are really bad, and other days worst yet. Other days our good habits seem to be ruling reasonably well, other days even better yet. Debi and story of bad angels / good angels. At end of day, pray, Lord forgive any bad I have done or good I have failed to do. Bless anything good I may have accomplished.
Let’s go next to “Mercy.” “Diakonia” is the word used, “Service,” but in the sense of diaconal service, that is, works of mercy. It’s right here in our text. Verses 34 and 35: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
Now what’s the first thing you think of when you hear these verses? Be honest. That the early Christians were Communists? And that this was some sort of “failed experiment” that didn’t last? Wrong on both counts. The Christians were not Communists, or even Socialists. The difference is this: Communism or Socialism or forced governmental redistribution of wealth, taking people’s money away from them, against their will, and giving it to others: that is wrong, that is immoral, that is a form of stealing--it’s a form of involuntary servitude, really. But that is not what was going on here. No, the Christians’ helping of those in need was entirely voluntary. It was done out of love, the mercy engendered in Christians’ hearts by the mercy God has showered upon us. So this type of “redistribution of wealth” is very good, it is highly commendable, and it is true to the church’s character. (Good stewardship message – we are managers instead of owners / Dan and Kendra Hoehn benefit coming up)
When there are people in need here in our own community, especially in our own congregation, we help them out in whatever ways we can. Look around you. Do you see people with needs? Whom can you help? How can you help? Look also at the people who are not here tonight. What are their needs? Illness, loneliness, financial need? These are your opportunities, this week, this month--these are our opportunities as church--for putting into action acts of mercy done in Christ’s name. Food Shelf / Caring Fund / story of lost dog Tucker / At end of every day, pray, Lord forgive all the bad I have done and all the good I have failed to do, bless anything I may have done right.
“Witness.” “Mercy.” Finally, “Life Together.” “Koinonia” is the Greek term. It means “having things in common.” And that’s what we see in the Book of Acts. Verse 32: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”
Now we’ve already said that the church “had everything in common,” in the sense of their willingness to give to those who were in need. But their Life Together, their Koinonia, was more than just shared wealth. The things that those Christians had in common, the things that we have in common, start with the things of God. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” This is what we have in common. One bread, one cup, the body and blood of Christ--this Holy Communion, this Koinonia, is what makes us the communion of saints. These are the things we have in common--God’s gifts, the things of the gospel--that form us into a united community. And then the love and the mercy and the life together flow from that. “Those who believed were of one heart and soul.” That’s us, because our heart and soul are being knit together with cords of love, the love of God we all have received and believe.
“Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: It’s not just a slogan. It’s the banner under which we live and move and have our being. “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: “Martyria, Diakonia, Koinonia.” The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town that falls short of God’s glory in every one of their days, but their Savior has gone before them. He has gone the distance and has done it in a perfect way. Some days their witness is winsome and other days it is awful. Some days they show mercy in a way that is beautiful to see, and other days you just want to cringe and back away. Once in awhile their life together is smooth and pleasant and full of great grace, and other days the Lord sees fit to discipline them in a painful way. In every one of their days, they have developed a habit of praying before they go to sleep, Lord forgive what we have done wrong and the good we have failed to do. Bless anything we may have done right today. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Processing the Good News
John 20:19-31 ‘ Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this boo, but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ
Dear Friends in Christ,
* The Summer of 1973 and Jennie-O Turkey – The summer of ’73 was the longest summer of my life. No other summers come close. My two college friends Mike and Rodney and I spent our days processing turkeys at Jennie-O in Willmar. We made $1.90 an hour, watched the clock continuously, and concluded that conjugating Greek verbs was preferable to Mike used a fork lift to deliver big tanks of turkeys to the line. I spent my days lifting turkeys out of the tank and shoving them over to Frieda who cut their tails off and shoved them over to Liz who weighed them three at a time who passed them along to a man who hung them on a schackle to be sent down the line. Rodney worked at the end of the line with about 10 little old ladies who would package the odds and ends into loaf. More about that later.
1. The process isn't pretty, but the end result is (worthy). That’s true with turkeys, and it is true of us in terms of sanctification, which is the process by which the Holy Spirit makes us holy. Four lessons I learned that summer about turkeys.
1) The dirty work gets done (first). By the time we touched the turkeys, they had been slaughtered and cleaned up. In another place and at an earlier time, blood had been shed, and the processing could now begin. So also for Thomas and those early disciples. As they huddled behind locked doors on that first Easter Sunday evening, their Master had already been crucified, dead, and buried. On a little hill not far away, divine blood had been shed. The once and for all sacrifice had been made completed, debt had been paid, salvation had been accomplished. The processing of the Best News ever could now begin.
A second memory I have of turkey processing is that it happens over and over (and over again). Each employee does the same thing minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week. Freida keeps on cutting off tails, one after the other. Liz keeps weighing and recording three turkeys at a time, in endless fashion. The same creepy young man with beady eyes stands in back of us sharpening the same knives, at the same pace, with the same back and forth rhythm. So also does Jesus appear again and again to His disciples – first to the women at the empty tomb, then to Mary Magdalene, then to Peter, then to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and still on the first day of the week to the disciples without Thomas and a week later to the disciples including Thomas. 40 days Jesus takes to appear to individuals, to small groups, and at least once to a group of 500 plus.
To this very day, the Holy Spirit keeps on calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying sinners like you and me, even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps her in the one true faith. The words of absolution keep on getting delivered in congregation after congregation, Sunday after Sunday. Baptismal waters, full of grace and mercy, keep on flowing. The written Word of God keeps on getting read and sermons keep on getting preached and doubting sinners keep on hearing and Christian faith keeps on growing. Over and over and over again, our Lord Jesus comes to us with true body and real blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine to forgive our sins. For this one purpose, that we might believe and not doubt that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
The best parts part come off (early). As the turkeys began the slow but sure carousel, the legs would first be sliced and soon after that the breast would be cut. Without reservation, I can tell you that you shouldn’t be afraid to eat turkey legs and breasts. So also with the good news of the Gospel. Good News came early to most of us in life, in the Sacrament of Baptism. Good News comes to us the first day of the week, in Divine Service. Good News comes to many growing Christians first thing in the morning as they spend time delighting in the Word of God.
The people at the end of the line won't eat the (loaf). The end of the line at Jennie-O didn’t look good. It didn’t smell good. I can’t imagine that it tasted good. I don’t know if my friend Rodney ever got the smell of that turkey loaf out of his hands! So also does the process of growing up into Jesus Christ include all kinds of trouble.
Secular historians tell us that everyone of those first 11disciples, including Thomas, died a martyr’s death. Even though it took Thomas an extra week to process the Good News, even though he had to see and touch and feel Jesus for Himself, the Holy Spirit did move Thomas from doubt to sure confidence. By God’s grace, he moved from confusion to clarity, from immaturity to maturity, and from believing only what he could see with his own eyes to seeing with the eyes of faith. Tradition tells us that Thomas went down preaching the Gospel. That a Brahmin priest who was upset at Thomas’ success in preaching the Gospel, ran a spear through Thomas while he was kneeling in prayer.
Our second and final point today is simply to remember that we're so much more valuable than (turkeys!) The vision of a turkey processing plant is to get turkeys ready to eat and to turn a profit while doing so. The vision of this Church is so much more than that – it is to mature as disciples for Jesus Christ. It is not only that we would believe that Christ is risen, but that our joy in the Lord would be absolutely contagious in every circumstance of life.
James wrote about this joy producing process when he wrote, “Count it pure joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.”
Paul echoed James when he wrote to the persecuted saints in Rome, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” In our text for today, Jesus displays great patience in nurturing his doubting and frightened disciples towards a point in life where they would believe what they could not see or feel or touch. Even though he had told them plainly that he would die and rise up again on the third day, even though they had seen Him raise up Lazarus, and even though they had watched him raise up the son of the widow of Nain and even though they had seen Jesus raise up the daughter of Jairus from the dead and even though Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which were not written down for us, they hesitated.
And instead of crying out “he who hesitates is lost” Jesus appears in their midst. He speaks peace to their troubled hearts. He invites them to look into His eyes and to touch Him in the flesh and put their hands into His wounds. He is not put off by their questions and their doubts, just the opposite. He meets them exactly where they are. He gives them every reason to believe. And He sends them out, as His Father sent Him.
As Jesus looked Thomas in the eyes, invited him to listen, to touch, to see, and to believe, so does He invite us to let the Good News of resurrection settle into our souls, and to let His peace rule in our hearts. In John 17, Jesus prays to His Father,” Sanctify them in the truth; your Word is truth. As you sent me in the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Thomas engaged in God’s work of sanctification by wanting to see for himself, by wanting to touch and to feel and to spend time with the Son of God. To the extent that we engage with the written and spoken Word of God, and as often as we eat and drink at His Supper, that often we will be sanctified. Luther suggested three rules set forth in Psalm119 as a way of studying theology.
Oratio is prayer that is grounded in the Word of the Lord. It is the voice of faith. Bonhoeffer wrote that “the richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.” A theologian named Koeberele said it this way, Prayer escapes the danger of disorder and confusion only when it is enkindled by the Words of Scripture. A prayer that does not stick to Scripture will soon become poor in ideas, poor in faith, poor in love, and will finally die.
Meditatio is the continual study of the Scriptures. It is to delight in the Word of the Lord day and night. Luther compared meditation to a cow chewing its cud. He wrote, “To chew the cud is to take up the Word with delight and meditate with supreme diligence, so that one does not permit it to go into one ear and out the other, but holds it firmly in the heart, swallows it, and absorbs it into the intestines.”
Tentatio is be tested and tried. It happens within the context of a person’s vocation. One author (Pfieffer) wrote that Tentatio is testing, temptation, and trial which occurs when God and His Word intersect with us and our world.” Another pastor (Hein) commented that “Peace with God brings conflict and adversity with the world, the flesh, and the devil.” God uses adversity to draw us away from our own abilities to the gifts He gives in the Gospel and the Sacraments.
The kingdom of God is like a man who believes with all of his heart that Jesus rose up from the dead, and at the same time he cries out, “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief.” He finds the evidence for resurrection to be compelling and at the same time he has serious questions he wishes to ask. He has learned from experience that whereas the world offers promises full of emptiness, Easter offers emptiness full of promise. On his off days, he will believe only that which he can touch and feel, but on his better days He is able to believe even that which he cannot see. Some days he just sort of survives the day and you can hear him muttering, “It’s hard to soar like an eagle around here when you have to work with a bunch of turkeys.” And other days, especially on the days when he has found time to be quiet with the Lord, you just might be able to watch him take off and fly. In Jesus Name. Amen.
Of First Importance
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
We are habitual forgetters.
• Friend’s story of scheduling test and then forgetting to do it
• Clair Sauer’s story of forgetting to turn in the driveway of client
• Easter Monday 6 a.m. story of forgetting to lock doors
• Paul wrote to a church he had helped to plan and disciple. A church he had preached the Gospel to. He writes to remind them of the Gospel he already shared. Urges them to remember, receive, take stand in Gospel.
• We know how uncomfortable we feel when we eat too much, and then we forget. We know how stupid we get when we drink too much and then we forget. We know the damage we do when we lose our temper and then we forget. We know the blessings of quiet time with the Lord and then we forget. We know the beauty of our Lord’s Supper and then we forget. We know the value of confessing our sins and then we forget. We know the death and resurrection of Jesus is of first importance, and then we forget.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
Sin is the elevation of anything other than God, to ultimate.
• God is creator of all and knower of all. He knows where every star is. He knows the orbits around the solar system that planets travel. Every cell, every atom, every thought, every event, he knows. He knows every event at every level of happening and how those events play into other events and lad into other events and other events at every level of those events happening and how it flows throughout all eternity. And He never has a headache over any of it.
• Just think about what gives us headaches. 8 grandchildren spending 6 hours at my house, eating candy and drinking juice and crumbling crackers and sticky fingers and doing dishes and eating too much and worried about picking stuff up and is the house clean and is everybody having a good time and when can I take my Advil and go to bed.
• Dave Ramsey’s point that you can buy fun but not happiness. Matt Chandler writes, “So in the end, sin is when I say, “Money is what I’m after. It’s what I’m all about. It’s what I’m going to get. It’s what my life’s about. It’s the air I breathe, it’s what I want. It’s the sole purpose of my existence.” Monday is not evil, but by making money ultimate, you’ve fallen into sin. We can do the same thing with sex, we can do the same thing with family, we can do the same thing with marriage. Those things are not of first importance. They are secondary.
• We belittle God when we make secondary stuff primary. In a book, “Death by Suburb”, the author writes, “Soccer is dumb when your wife is dying of cancer.” How perpetually ignorant do we look when death is coming for us, but we’re spending every hour of every day accumulating our trinkets and then organizing our trinkets and putting up shelving to store more of our trinkets and then sifting through and sorting out and selling some of those trinkets so we can buy even more of our trinkets and eventually passing along our trinkets to children and grandchildren who already have more trinkets than they want? Nothing against trinkets, or sports or success or entertainment or any of that, but as often as it gets to be ultimate, it’s sin.
God’s reaction to our sin is to see to it that His Son is crucified, dead and buried.
• He creates hell as a just and right response to our sin, but that’s not sufficient. God’s is to have mercy, and so he sets into order the Levitical system, the Day of Atonement, two lambs. The one gets stabbed in the throat and drained of its blood. And then this other one gets prayed over and all the sins of Israel go on this goat and they release it into the wilderness and call it the scapegoat.
• Then God shows up in the flesh. He orders history in such a way that Jesus gets His blood drained and carries away the sins of the world. So, what is of first importance? The sacrificial, ransoming, expiating, propitiating cross of Jesus Christ. That’s what.
The resurrection of Christ changes everything
• It proves:
1) That all of Scripture is true
2) That Jesus is Who He says He is
3) That the Father has accepted the sacrifice of His Son once and for all
4) That because He lives, so also does Jason Crouch/ Larry Oelke/ Bonita Flemming live.
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
• The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ changed Peter from a champion forgetter to a servant could not forget and therefore spending his days thanking and praising, serving and obeying.
1) Peter was a champion forgetter. One minute he was correctly confessing that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. The next Jesus was calling him Satan and telling him to get out of his way.
2) One minute he was drawing his sword / cutting off a guy’s ear / talking big about how he would stand with Jesus and never ever ever deny His Master. The next he was swearing like a drunken sailor that He never even met this Jesus. What could have possibly happened that turns this frightened, arrogant man into the father of the church, who in the end is no longer afraid but allows himself to be crucified upside down? The resurrection of Jesus Christ changed Peter. That’s what happened.
• The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus changed James. What’s amazing about James is that he was the brother of Jesus and at one point he thought Jesus was crazy and wanted nothing to do with him. Post-resurrection, we find James worshiping Jesus as God, leading the church in Jerusalem and willing to be martyred.
• The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has the potential to change every one of your days / conversations / chapters of life for the better.
1) As often as you remember who God is and how majestic is His Name, that often your lousy attitudes will give way to praise and exaltation.
2) As often as you remember all that He has done for you in the person and work of Jesus Christ, that often your misplaced and wrong priorities will give way to that which is of first importance.
3) As often as you search the Holy Scriptures and use your ears to hear what God is wanting to say, that often the forgiveness of sins will be able to sweep over your soul and make you stand up straight and tall in the glory of the empty tomb.
4) As often as you admit that you have fallen short, believe that Jesus is your Savior and dine at your Lord’s Table with a desire to get life right, that often you will be proclaiming the death and the resurrection of Christ until He comes again. That often your faith will be strengthened. That often your neighbors will be blessed. That often all will be well with your soul.
Worship Sermons & Letters