Fourth in a Series of Seven Sermons
Acts 10: 44 – While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the message.
Acts 11 – vs. 1 – The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the Word of God…vs.15 - As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them as he had come on us at the beginning….v. 18 So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
When we think about growing and healthy congregations, our thoughts may first go to numbers. Numbers of baptisms, numbers of people filling the pews, numbers of cars in the overflowing parking lots, numbers that indicate budgets getting balanced and debt getting retired. But we are seeing in these weeks of Easter, that numbers are only the effects of something deeper. They are the effects of the Holy Spirit working in hearts and minds, one at a time. At times in the Book of Acts and in church history, the Holy Spirit falls on and changes lives in dramatic fashion, as in the case of Saul and in today’s lesson, in the case of Peter and Cornelius, but most often watching Lutheran Christians grow in their faith is like watching corn grow. Slowly and surely, and only occasionally fast and flashy. In today’s sermon, I offer you seven scenes which will help us think about our Shared Vision in this place, which is to mature as disciples for Jesus Christ. Three questions we want to ask in each one of these seven scenes. Question #1 – How was the Holy Spirit changing lives? Question #2 – What did those changed lives look like? And #3 – For what purpose was He changing those lives?
Scene #1 The Holy Spirit falls on a few God-fearing women at their (monthly meeting). Today we are celebrating 100 years of our local Ladies Aid being alive and well, 100 years of meeting in a monthly kind of a way to receive God’s Word, 100 years of terrific fellowship, 100 years of giving their mites to support missions near and far. With that in mind, Scene #1 takes place in about 1958 and 1959 when I started attending Ladies’ Aid meetings with my mom. My mom would pile me in our Four door Mercury and we’d pick up Betty Cink / Myrtle Strege /Freida Krause (who I thought was about 100 years old) and off to little Peace Lutheran Church basement we’d go.
Every month, these sweet little old ladies would try to give a quarter for gas, every month Mom would say no, every month they would insist, and every month Mom would say, “ok, put it in the mite box.” What matters most about those Wednesday afternoons is that lives were changing slowly, but surely. Slowly but surely the Holy Spirit was drawing these ladies close and closer to their Savior, slowly but surely, these Gentiles were receiving the Word of God, slowly but surely the blood of Jesus Christ was cleansing their souls, slowly but surely, they were going back into their homes living out in faithful fashion their vocations as wives, mothers, sisters, neighbors, and friends. Why was the Holy Spirit showing up at their monthly meetings? So that sins could be forgiven, so that souls could be saved, so that marriages could be strengthened, so that one more generation could be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, so that the good gifts of God could be given, so that God could grant Gentiles the kind of repentance that leads to eternal life. That’s why!
Scene #2 The Holy Spirit falls on a grieving family as they just sit there and (listen to their pastor) Fast forward about ten years to September 5, 1968, a Thursday afternoon where our respected and trusted Pastor Dierks was reading and explaining Scripture to my parents, my sisters, a few aunts and uncles, my brother’s fiancé and me. The night before my brother Curtis had visited his fiancé Becky in Fargo, and it was late at night before he started the 60 mile trek back to the farm. About 2 in the morning, on Highway 46 near Kindred, he apparently fell asleep, missed a curve and he and his 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 crashed into the bank of the Sheyenne River. Ten hours later, in dramatic fashion, the Holy Spirit fell on our entire family as we just sat there and listened to our pastor. I say dramatic fashion because in those very hours, Jesus was messing with me in such a way that before I knew it I was announcing to my parents that I wanted to be a pastor some day. For what purpose did the Holy Spirit show up that day so full of trouble? So that one more pastor could be sent, so that the Gospel would be preached, so that sinners could hear, so that souls could be born again, so that sins would be forgiven, so that one more family would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are but strangers here, heaven is their home, so that one more little country church could lay one more Gentile into the ground rejoicing that Christ is risen, so that God could grant what He absolutely loves to grant, repentance that leads to life. That’s why!
Scene #3 The Holy Spirit falls on a devout soldier (as he prays). For Scenes 3-6 we go back to Acts 10 and 11, where the Holy Spirit falls first on a Roman soldier named Cornelius in an important city named Caesarea, at 3 in the afternoon. He was already a military man, a leader of men, and a commander of soldiers. He was a man who feared the one true God, a man who gave alms to the poor, a man of frequent prayer. In fast and flashy fashion, the Holy Spirit shows up that day in the form of a vision. A vision in which an angel of God appears, the angel indicates that God is in fact listening to his prayers, and directs him to send men to Joppa for the purpose of bringing back Simon who is called Peter. You ask why did the Spirit of God show up that particular day in that particular place? So that sins could be forgiven and so that souls could be saved first in the household of Cornelius and then in the homes of Gentiles for generations to come. So that Jews could learn that circumcision was a thing of the past, so that the crucified and risen Jesus Christ could be glorified, so that apostles and disciples could be set on fire not only for the Jews but also the non Jews. So that Jews and non Jews alike could know that what God has declared clean should never again be considered unclean, so that God would grant them the kind of repentance that leads to life, that’s why!
Scene #4 The Holy Spirit falls on a hungry apostle as he (wrestles with Jesus in prayer). Scene #4 takes place by the providence of God the very next day, about noon, in Joppa, as Peter went up on the roof to pray. Three times Peter had denied his Savior on the night he was betrayed, countless times Peter had cried his tears of regret and wished he could have had a do over. Now the Holy Spirit shows up as a hungry disciple waits and watches and wrestles with God in prayer. Peter sees as strange a dream as he has ever seen. He sees heaven open up, he sees a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners, he sees all kinds of unclean animals, and he hears the command to kill and eat. Three times Peter refuses, three times a voice from heaven insists, and before could figure out what was happening, a delegation from Cornelius arrives as commanded, and the mission of Jesus Christ moves forward. Why would the Spirit of God show up at high noon in the form of a stranger than fiction kind of a vision? So that Gentiles could be included, so that well intentioned but dead wrong people of God could be corrected, so that Peter could take necessary next steps, so that true and reliable witnesses could do what true and reliable witnesses do, so that sinners could be baptized, so that the Risen Christ could be honored, and so that God could do what is in His nature to do, grant the kind of repentance that leads to life. That’s why?
Scene #5 The Holy Spirit falls on a few Gentiles as (Peter preaches) Scene #5 finds Peter and a number of Christians on their way, the following day, from Joppa back to Caesarea. It finds Cornelius kneeling down before Peter, but Peter telling him to stand back up. It finds Peter and Cornelius tag teaming to a large gathering of people and once again the Spirit of the living God shows up to do his thing. While Peter was still preaching, the Holy Spirit came on all who were hearing, and before the day was done Gentiles were speaking in tongues, Gentiles were getting baptized one right after the other, Gentiles were joining on a mission they had no idea how it might end.
Scene #6 The Holy Spirit falls on a few critics as Peter (tells them what he now knows) Scene #6 is our appointed lesson for the day, we find apostles and brothers throughout Judea hearing that Gentiles were receiving the Word of God, we find Peter going back to Jerusalem, we find circumcised Jews criticizing, and we find Peter explaining. Even as began to explain, even as he began to tell them what he now knew, just like clockwork, the Holy Spirit came on all who were in fact using their ears to hear, He came on every single one who had been appointed for eternal life, He came as promised. By now you don’t even have to ask. You know the answer to why the Spirit of God shows up wherever and whenever His Word is preached and listened to and believed and remembered and held onto. So that souls can be saved, sins can be forgiven, heavenly mansions can be reserved, and lives can be changed. So that lives can be changed for the better and for others. To say it in the way that Luke records it, so that objections to truth can be dropped, so that God can be praised, so that God could grant even to the Gentiles the kind of repentance that leads to life.
Scene #7 The Holy Spirit falls as often as sinners (repent) Our final scene isn’t final at all. It’s all that we have time for. Although the scenes of our lives have been ordained before we were ever born, they need to be lived out, one at a time. Although God has promised to work everyone of them out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purposes, they still include all kinds of decisions on our part. Decisions that flow out of a fear, love, and trust in God above all things, or decisions that flow out of a fear, love, and trust in this world above all things.
The kingdom of God is like is like a busy and stressed out and weary woman going to her Ladies Aid meeting, going to her small group Bible Study, going to church on a Sunday morning, going to her Bible on a Monday morning, and as often as she goes there, as often as she just sits there and listens, that often the Holy Spirit of God falls on her. That often, ever so slowly but surely, that often, from the inside out, she is changed. She is changed for the better, and she is changed on behalf of others.
Finally, the kingdom of God is like a middle aged man who from the world’s point of view is as successful as can be, but every time he looks in the mirror at night, and every time he prays, and ever time he thinks through what matters in life and what doesn’t matter so much, he finds himself wanting to get down on his not so young knees anymore and cry out for mercy. As often as he cries out for mercy, he knows that mercy is his. Even more than that, he knows that in that moment, the angels of heaven are in fact rejoicing, his life is in fact changing, the name of His Father in heaven is being hallowed, and the kingdom of His God is coming. Or to say it the way Luke likes to say it, God is granting yet one more Gentile the kind of repentance that leads to life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Second in a Series of 7 Sermons
Dear Friends in Christ,
Many times when one thinks of churchly success, numbers come to mind. Numbers of people packing the pews, numbers that balance the budget, numbers of a growing membership, for example. Looking back at the early church, success seemed to be about the number of sick people getting healed, the number of miracles being done, numbers of apostles speaking in tongues. But in our readings appointed for these seven weeks of Easter, we see that these numbers are only the effects of a deeper change. What makes Christianity so extraordinary is how in the midst of hundreds and thousands coming to faith in the book of Acts, it’s the Holy Spirit changing hearts and minds one at a time. Today we would see how the Holy Spirit got ahold of a vicious persecutor of the church and turned him into an amazing missionary for the church. We want to see first of all how Jesus changes lives, and secondly what those changed lives look like.
By way of introduction, let me tell you what my life looks like ever since Pastor Paul Muther came to town. It looks different. I could tell you dozens of stories proving that to be true, I will limit myself to two. Exhibit #1 – About ten days ago, an organization called Adult and Teen Challenge presented to our youth in a powerful kind of a way, so much so that our youth director Heather, Pastor Muther, and I all agreed that we should get them on the schedule to come back again. Pastor Paul agreed to make the contact. Two days later, his text to Heather and me reads as follows, “Heather, my cat took the business card of the Teen Challenge gentleman that came last week. Do you happen to have contact information for him?” Who says stuff like that?
Exhibit # 2 – On the night of public examination of our 23 confirmands, Pastor Muther and I are doing our tag team approach, and as we are winding down for the evening, Pastor Muther has the microphone and he’s winding up, if you know what I mean. By this time, I’m just sitting and minding my own business, and this is what I hear him say to the confirmands, “If we pastors ever stop doing the work of making disciples, we want you confirmands to come into our office and (slap us upside the head). Who says stuff like that?
Pastor Muther has it right, it is our vision in this place to make disciples for Jesus Christ through a faithful Word and Sacrament ministry. It’s a vision we share with the Father, it’s a vision we share with Jesus who is the Christ, it’s a vision we share with the Holy Spirit, it’s a vision we share with St. Paul and all the saints who have gone on before us and those who will carry on once we are long gone. In terms of slapping upside the head, that’s pretty much what Jesus does to Saul in our first reading for today, he gets his attention with the proverbial two by four, he teaches him what he needs to know, and he sends him in a different direction. Two parts to our sermon today about how God changes lives and what they look like once the old song has been replaced by a new one.
Lesson #1 is that Jesus changes lives through a perfect mix of (extraordinary) and (ordinary) means. There are churches which teach that believing in Jesus is a decision people can make, but the Bible teaches that no one can say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit. Some would teach that people need to reach out and find their Savior and make Him their own, but in this place we teach that it’s God who does the reaching, it’s our Savior who comes to us in the waters of Baptism, it’s the Spirit of God who is effecting change in the preaching and in the teaching and in the eating and the drinking. Growing up into Jesus Christ isn’t at all about us pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, it’s about Jesus pulling us up out of our self inflicted messes and having his way with us!
First, we see in Acts 9, that’s what He did on the Road to (Damascus). Today’s reading picks up Paul’s story with Jesus slapping him upside the head with light flashing, a voice from heaven booming, and eyes blinded. But this wasn’t the first time God had been working on Paul. Paul writes that God had called him from his mother’s womb. While he was still a toddler, God was watching his every step. During his rambunctious teenage years, God kept him in sight. During long years of rabbinical teaching, God was calling him to salvation, Paul just didn’t know it yet. No doubt when Saul saw Stephen accept martyrdom for the sake of Jesus, God was working on him. No doubt when he saw the church growing instead of dwindling in the face of persecution, Jesus was messing with him. And when the time had fully come, God reached down, slapped him down, and brought him into the kingdom. None of this was by accident. All was ordained as part of God’s divine plan. A perfect mix of the ordinary with extraordinary.
(Secondly) That’s what He did in the early (Church). The Book of Acts records at least ten stories of conversions, several of them individual conversions, and others mass conversions. In Acts 2, Peter preached repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and 3000 were added. In Acts 3 and 4, a lame beggar was healed and Peter did some more preaching and Peter and John stood strong before the Council, and before the day was over, 5000 men plus women and children were believing! In Acts 8 the Samaritan crowds of all people were listening to Philip preaching and they were believing, and Simon the Magician was seeing signs and great miracles performed and he was believing and Philip was explaining Scripture to a Ethopian eunuch, and before that day was over he was asking why he couldn’t be baptized. In Acts chapter 10 and again in 13 and again in chapter 16, the stories of conversion keep on happening, not at all by accident. In every case, Jesus Christ is on a mission, His Church is joining in, and if you were to be traveling the roads of Judea and Samaria in those days, you would be finding a peace that will not be explained and a joy that will not be contained.
(Third) That’s what He’s doing on (Carver Road) Carver Road right outside of Mankato and where Blue Earth County Jail is located. This past Thursday morning, I took the time to practice what we preach in this place, that when people you know are in prison, you should visit them. Three people I know were in jail that day, two of them former confirmands of mine, and one a friend of one of those confirmands. In all three cases, I was well received, in all three cases they knew they had messed up, in all three cases, they had a hard time looking me in the eyes, in all three cases the Gospel was shared, in all three cases, it seemed as though repentance was making room for the forgiveness of sins to sweep over their souls with a new beginning.
Finally, That’s what He promises to do on (your road). God promises to work everything out for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes. Listen to what Paul wrote to young pastor Timothy, “I am the worst of sinners, but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the worst, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” That’s another way of saying that Paul’s conversion wasn’t just for the salvation of Paul, it was for your salvation and for mine. No man is an island unto himself, and if you will take that truth on to its logical conclusion, you will be able to see that your conversion, your baptism, your faith isn’t just for yourself, it’s for the sake of others. Which brings us to our second question today, what do lives changed by the Spirit of God look like?
As often as people see and hear Jesus, their lives go in a different (direction).
This was true for Paul. As soon as he saw and heard Jesus the way Jesus wanted to be seen and heard, everything changed. Instead of breathing murder against Christ, Paul began to breathe in new life, courtesy of (the Holy Spirit). In a matter of days, Jesus grabbed ahold of Saul the terrorist and turned him into Paul the missionary. One day he was adamantly against Jesus, and three days later he was for him in the strongest way possible.
So also for the early church. The Holy Spirit took a small group of frightened and confused Jews and multiplied them into thousands of on fire Christians. Instead of running in fear from their enemies, the early Church began (“walking in the fear of the Lord”) Instead of just feeding their own fat faces, they fed the hungry. Instead of hoarding their possessions, they were famous for selling them and giving money to those who needed money. Instead of avoiding the sick and shunning the prisoners, they visited them. One day the disciples were huddled behind closed doors jumping at every noise they heard, fifty days later, they were proclaiming the Gospel unafraid, unapologetic, and unashamed.
In closing today, I ask you to think about what it would like if pastors and teachers and officers and members of this church would spend our days proclaiming the Gospel unafraid, unapologetic, and unashamed. What would it look like in this place if lukewarm turned into burning hot, if indifference turned into interest and if interest turned into passion? What would it look like if instead of merely appreciating what Jesus has done for us in the past, we begin to wonder (what He’s up to today!) What would it look like if we were curious about what Jesus is doing in the hearts of folks sitting next to us in church, if we were curious about what Jesus might be up to in the lives of folks using the food shelf and asking for gas vouchers this week, if we were curious about a co-worker’s marriage is going, if we were curious about the direction our neighbor’s teenage son is going, if we were curious about how Jesus might be messing with the janitor who is sweeping up after us at church, at school, or at work. With that in mind, dear friends, I invite you to notice three blank lines on the bottom of your sermon notes. Your assignment is to take one step down the road of what Greg Finke likes to call in his book joining Jesus on His mission. One small step, which is this, that you would write the names of three people in your life that you want to pray for in this Easter season. Pray that Jesus would be alive and well in this person’s life, pray that the Spirit of God would draw this person close to Jesus, and pray that you would have opportunity to listen to this person’s story.
Acts 5:12-20, Revelation 1:4-18, John 20:19-31
Focus: God changes us through the death and resurrection of his son.
Function: that the hearers pray to see the ways that Christ is already working.
Many times when one thinks of churchly success, numbers come to mind -- packed pews, generous bankrolls, and growing membership, or, looking back at the early Church, one might think about miracles and speaking in tongues. However, we see in our readings in the coming weeks that these are only effects of a deeper change. What makes Christianity so extraordinary is how in the midst of hundreds and thousands coming to faith in the book of Acts, it’s the Holy Spirit working in each and every individual life that brought about lives changed.
What changes lives? What do changed lives look like? What is the Gospel, and what does it look like when gospel comes in and does its work?
Two thoughts on the first question and one on the second question.
What changes lives? First, it’s a “Who,” not a “What.” Jesus changes lives. For the Christian, the peculiar and particular answer is that Jesus is the one who changes lives. In the book of John’s Revelation, Jesus speaks to John saying, “I hold the keys of Death and Hades. I have died and behold I am alive forevermore. I am the first and the last.” It’s his work, not yours. It’s his plan, not ours.
In these days, the most often-repeated advice that I hear is, “Enjoy every moment with your son, because those moments go way too fast.” And the second most often repeated is, “Don’t push him to start walking, because once he starts, he’s not going to stop.
And when I think of that, I think of tummy time. Itty bitty Benjamin enjoys tummy time far more now than he did a few months ago, but that’s not really saying much. Just the other day, I put him on his stomach and he was trying to flip onto his back, and he just wasn’t getting his legs around – I mean he knows how to do it, and I’ve seen him get it right before, but he just didn’t want to do it – and he started to cry, because even though he had his arms in the right places, but his legs just kind of didn’t do what they needed to, I told Laura that it was so hard not to just do it for him. I just wanted to push him over the rest of the way, but I couldn’t. It was his task to do. He didn’t need me to figure it out for him; he needed to figure it out for himself. In fact if I had done that, I wouldn’t have helped Benjamin; I would have kept him from what he needed. My role wasn’t to do his task for him; my role was to be there while he figured it out himself.
I tell you that to tell you this: every time a messed up marriage comes through my office, I have the temptation to think that I can fix it. I am tempted to think I can save their marriage for them. It’s easy to start thinking that I’m the fixer, and the survival of their marriage is on me. That’s not true.
Jesus Christ is the only one who can fix them. Jesus Christ is the only one who can pay for their sin. Jesus Christ is the only one who can bear their burdens for them, and he did that already, before they were born, when he exchanged his righteousness for their sin, when he died a sinner’s death, when he did all of this without our approval, without our knowledge, for the sole purpose so that he could keep on holding out this grace won for us.
He is the only one who holds the keys to death and Hades. There is only one way of salvation, and that’s through Jesus Christ. And, for the Christian, every solution in the world must work forward from this fundamental truth.
The kingdom of God is like a mom and a dad wondering where they went wrong, why their kid wandered so far. They wish they could go in and take away all the pain, right all the wrongs, fight all the battle, but they can’t. No, their task is to watch and pray, to love and to trust with eyes that look for the way Jesus is working.
Second thought on the question, “What changes lives?”, and this has to do with the “where.”
Where does Jesus change lives? Jesus changes lives in community. Our Gospel reading finds the disciples with their doors and their hearts shut tight with fear. They huddle together, except for Thomas. He had been out on his lonesome, and so had missed when Jesus appeared to the disciples.
I read an article recently on addiction and its affect on lab rats, and it referenced an experiment where rats were isolated in cages and given a choice between water and heroin-laced water. Nine out of ten would succumb to addiction and overdose.
Another scientist saw this experiment and added an element – what if the rat wasn’t in a cage by itself with nothing to do except eat and drink? What if they changed the environment and gave it a community? They created what they called “Rat Park” – complete with exercise wheels, toys, tunnels, and most of all community. “The rats obviously tried both water bottles,… [but] the rats with the good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it.”
Now, the Christian knows that his addiction to sin goes deeper than the physical, than even the emotional – it’s a problem with the relationship of our whole self to our God. But if community matters so much in this earthly problem, how much more does this allow us to see the reality that our faith put us in community with one another – a community called the Body of Christ?
William Barclay, in commenting on Thomas in John 20, puts it so well that I quote him at length: “[Thomas] made one mistake. He withdrew from the Christian fellowship. He sought loneliness rather than togetherness. And because he was not there with his fellow Christians he missed the first coming of Jesus. We miss a great deal when we separate ourselves from the Christian fellowship and try to be alone. Things can happen to us within the fellowship of Christ’s Church which will not happen when we are alone. When sorrow comes and sadness envelops us, we often tend to shut ourselves up and refuse to meet people. That is the very time when, in spite of our sorrow, we should seek the fellowship of Christ’s people, for it is there that we are likeliest of all to meet him face to face.”
It was precisely “where two or three or more were gathered in [his] name” that the risen Jesus shows up. It was precisely when two walked down the road to Emmaus that Christ accompanied them. It was precisely when the people of God gathered that Jesus shows up among them. It is precisely when the people of God gather around to receive the sacraments and hear the Word that the God comes in his might and in his mercy.
God shows up where God has promised he’ll show up, and when he does, we see him do what he’s promised to do. We see the Father showing up to act like a Heavenly Father that gives all that we need to support this body and life only out of his divine fatherly goodness and mercy; we see the Son distributing the salvation he purchased and won on the cross through the body and blood bread and wine; we see the Holy Spirit blowing a fresh wind of forgiveness and life whenever the called gathered enlightened and sanctified Christian church daily and richly forgives sins.
The kingdom of God is like a bunch of young people putting down their phones and looking each other in the face. It’s like a bunch of older folks taking the time to enjoy, really enjoy some teenagers, and even when they don’t enjoy them, to learn about whom they are. It’s like a party thrown in someone’s honor where the honored guest suddenly shows up and starts serving everyone their punch. It is a risen Savior appearing among his gathered guests and saying “Peace be with you.”
Now we turn to our second question: what do changed lives look like? We turn to our reading from Acts. Do you see this in the lives of the apostles? They are being blown along by the Spirit of God. They are setting their minds to the tasks laid before them. They are seeing something bigger than themselves – the working of the Holy Spirit – move them along into God’s grand story. The lives of the apostles and disciples were like this: the extraordinary mingled with the ordinary. The unbelievable mingled with the mundane. Joy mingled with sorrow. Success mingled with suffering. Jesus changes lives and we are along for the ride.
In other words, divine Appointments, or as Greg Finke puts it, “How is God messing with you?” You see, it presupposes that God is in control and that you are not. Finke tells a story from his time working on an oilrig with an angry, mean man named Joe. “I got to spend 12 hours every night with Joe drinking coffee and hearing what he was angry about. At first I just tried to endure it. Then, I started listening more carefully… Eventually, I figured something out. Joe was a person… over time, Joe found out I was someone who followed Jesus… early on I realized that I couldn’t fix Joe…” but he could listen and pray and befriend. At the end of that summer he saw that Joe had made progress becoming less bitter, but he ends this story by saying, “I never saw Joe again after that summer. I don’t know if he ever came to trust Jesus or not… The work wasn’t complete, but the stone was thrown. The yeast was inserted. The kingdom had come to him and started him on his journey of redemption and restoration.”
Joe was in Jesus’ hands long before Finke met him, and he will be in his hands long after Finke left him. It’s not our place to inform God about what’s happening but rather to suss out how God has prepared the ground, how he is working in the present, and pray that his kingdom which already comes and his will which already being done, might come and be done through us and among us also.
Can we take a moment to appreciate how remarkably mundane the exchange between Finke and Joe was? On Finke’s part, it isn’t anything extraordinary. It isn’t anything incredible, and yet, when you think of this one thread in Joe’s life, you see how God’s work in our world is a tapestry of interactions, of little moments, of nudges of the Spirit, where God’s word works and it works through his people in ways they know and in ways they don’t. And all we are to do is ask, “God, what are you doing and how can I join?”
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town that has stopped asking the question, “How do we get more butts in the pews?” or “How do I fix all the stuff that’s wrong in my community?” and increasingly asks the question, “What is the Spirit of God already doing? How can I join in?” And as they ask this question together, they start to see the great bounty of good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do.
How are lives changed? First, we remember that Jesus is the one who changes lives. Jesus, not us. Second, that Jesus shows up with his power where he promises to – and he promises to do so in the sacraments, in the preaching, and in the gathering of his people. What do changed lives look like? It looks like a bunch of Christians praying that they get in on what God is doing in their community. It looks like a church searching for Christ behind the faces of all who are needy, longing to be along for the ride. Amen and amen.
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. 28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
Confirmation Verse – Romans 5:1 – Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I read a story about a fellow who one day went to visit an old musician. He knocked on the musician’s door and said, “What’s the good word today?” The old musician didn’t say a word. He turned around and went back across the room to where a tuning fork was hanging. He took a hammer and struck the tuning fork so that the note resounded through the room. The musician said, “That, my friend is an ‘A’. It was ‘A’ yesterday. It was ‘A’ five thousand years ago, and it will be ‘A’ 5000 years from now.” Then he added, “The tenor across the hall sings off key. The soprano upstairs is flat on her high notes. And the piano in the next room is out of tune. He struck the tuning fork again and said, “That is ‘A” and that my friend is the good word for today.”
In the few conversations I had with Ruth, it seems as though her good word for most days was “blessed.” She felt blessed by her children, she felt blessed by her grandchildren, she felt blessed by her church, and if you were to get at the heart of her feeling and being blessed, you would quickly have gotten to the truths of God’s Word. Truths that were, are, and always will be the same. Specifically the truth that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. The truth that Jesus Christ lived the perfect life Ruth could never begin to live, He suffered all that she deserved to suffer, and He died the death on a Friday that she needed him to die. For her, He rose up on the third day, and for her He ascended into heaven on the 40th day, and for her He sent His Spirit in generous fashion on the 50th day, for her He is ruling all of heaven and earth, and just a few days ago, early on the second day of Easter, He sent His angels to carry her soul, to carry her spirit into the very presence of Jesus Christ. That, my friends, is the good word for today, and you shouldn’t be surprised that it took this preacher over 150 words to tell you what is the one good word!
Our sermon text for today is the basis for the hymn that we just sang, “My Hope is Built On Nothing Less”, a song which includes the refrain, “on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Our sermon theme today is “The Solid Rock”, and the first of two parts is this, A house built on shifting sands may stand through a variety of storms, but eventually that house will fall, and it will fall hard.
In Jesus’ day, a sensible man would have built his house not so much on a boulder, but on a cliff, on a ridge, or on a mountain, in a place that would be able to weather the worst of storms. Not so sensible people would build their homes on sandy soils which would prove eventually to be a disaster. In our text for today, in Matthew 7, Jesus had just revealed Himself as the Judge who would be turning away impenitent sinners on the last day. He said that many would be saying in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? Cast out demons in your name? In thy name done wonderful works?” At which point Jesus would say “I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Speaking of lawlessness, just a couple of days ago, three young men from Adult and Teen Challenge spoke to our youth group. They told stories of how drug and alcohol abuse had turned their lives into disasters. The first young fellow, Corey, had grown up in the inner city, he enjoyed none of the advantages many of us have enjoyed, he had been given no solid foundation in life, his life was a train wreck right up until Jesus Christ got ahold of him and turned him around. The second fellow, Alex, had been baptized into the name of the Triune God, he was raised with strong Christian values, but as life went on, his hopes were built on human achievement, he was all about succeeding for himself and making a name for himself, and after years of chasing all these other things in life, he came up empty. The third fellow admitted that he led a double life based first on playing football and second on using drugs, and at a young age, his house fell, and it fell hard.
To try and live life apart from Christ or even to keep him at a distance is like building a house without a firm foundation. To use the language of Ruth’s family, it’s like a bed without a quilt. A bed without a quilt, some would say, is like a sky without stars. Lesson #1 today, is to know the foolishness of hearing God’s Word, but not holding on tight to that Word. The foolishness of being baptized into the Christian family and then straying from that baptism. The foolishness of being handed the kingdom of God on a silver platter, and then not seeking first that kingdom. It’s been my experience in ministry that children and grandchildren and cousins and nephews and nieces tend to listen to God’s Word at funerals in a way they don’t normally listen. Which is why, I urge you this very day ask yourself the same three questions the pastors have asked Ruth over the years and even in her dying days, 1) Are you sorry for your sins? 2)Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior? 3) Will you amend your sinful life?
What a joy it has been for her pastors over the years to say to her again and again that God was her refuge and strength, that He was a very present help in trouble, that in the waters of Holy Baptism, her name was written in the book of life….that as often as she listened to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit was working faith in her heart……….that as often as she cried out for the mercy of God, the mercy of God was hers…………that as often as she ate and drank at the Holy Supper, her sins were forgiven, heaven was hers, the peace that surpasses all human understanding and circumstances would be ruling in her heart and soul and mind.
Lesson #1 was this, A house built on shifting sands may stand through a variety of storms, but eventually that house will fall, and it will fall hard. Lesson #2 is this, The house built on the solid rock will stand through every storm, even the final one. One truth we learned about Ruth in the past two months is that she appreciated not only the congregations that have been home for her over the years, but also Trinity Lutheran School. Our principal tells me that she had recently written a check out to TLS for school supplies, her obituary indicates what many of the families did years ago, they made a particular effort to send their kids to TLS in7th and 8th grade years, even if that meant kids boarding at grandparents or other relatives. No doubt, Ruth’s parents had this one great desire – that she be instructed in the six chief parts of the Catechism by their pastor, that she would build her life on Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that her house would be founded on the solid rock and therefore never fall.
No doubt Hattie and Fritz Guse would be comforted in knowing that Ruth’s faith in her crucified and risen and coming back again some day Savior grew over the years and remained strong in her final days. A pastor older than I told me one time that his favorite question in the catechism was question #152. I’m talking the 1943 edition now, the English version where there are 331 questions, and the habit of pastors years ago was that kids would memorize all 331 questions, not to mention 703 Bible verses.
Question 152 asks, “Why is the resurrection of Christ of such importance and comfort to us?” As you take in the fragrance of all of these Easter lilies and flowers, as you notice one more time that the resurrection candle, the baptism candle, the Easter candle is burning brightly today, as you think one more time about what is most important in life and what is not so important, let these four answers to that question soak into your hearts and souls.
Christ’s resurrection definitely proves first of all that Christ is the Son of God. He is who he said he was. He is the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. It’s very comforting to know that Ruth Guse Schoenfeld held on in a strong way to her Savior’s hand, it’s even more comforting to know that He’s been holding her in his arms all this time. (Story of a father and son walking on a slippery sidewalk).
Christ’s resurrection definitely proves secondly that His doctrine is the truth. It’s pretty comforting to think back on all of those years Ruth spent teaching Sunday School, all of those quilts she tied, all of those duties as wife and mother and grandma she fulfilled in good fashion, and it’s even more comforting to think about her getting blessed every time she heard and kept the Word of God. The church she attended for so many years, Trinity Lutheran in Wilton, is famous in this corner of the Kingdom for preaching and teaching the Word of God in a faithful way. It’s very comforting to know that Jesus loves us because the Bible tells us so. It’s even more comforting to know that the Bible is proven to be true by the resurrection of Christ.
Christ’s resurrection definitely proves, in the third place, that God the Father has accepted the sacrifice of His Son for the reconciliation of the world. It’s very comforting to know that Ruth has finished the list of good works ordained by God for her to do, that she has finished her course believing in her Savior, it’s even more comforting to know that when Jesus said on the cross, it is finished, that he meant what he said and said what he meant. All that needed to be suffered was suffered, salvation was accomplished, spiritual debt was cancelled, sins forgiven.
Christ’s resurrection definitely proves, finally, that all believers shall rise unto eternal life. It’s very comforting to know that at the moment of death, Ruth’s soul and spirit went into the very presence of Jesus Christ. It’s even more comforting to look forward to the resurrection of her body. We praise God today that every house built on the solid rock will in fact stand through every storm, even the final one. We sing to the Lord in joyful fashion today, knowing that Ruth and her husband heeded the warnings not to build their house on shifting sand, knowing that when the final rains fell and the floods came and the winds beat against their house, it did not fall, we sing alleluias to a Risen Christ knowing in a definitive way that she is resting from her labors and that her works will be following her and multiplying into this world for generations to come. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther