Judd Strunk funeral sermon
November 15, 2017
II Timothy 2:1-7
You, then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men,[a] who will be able to teach others also. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Judd Strunk knew well what all of us learn sooner or later – that life is a mixture of really good times, horrible times, and everything in between. It’s a pretty simple matter to make it through days of great joy and successes, it’s not at all a simple thing to endure days that are full of incredible sorrow and suffering. Two qualities Judd and Elaine possessed that helped them through days of trial. Two qualities that we do well to focus on this morning would be a sense of humor and strong Christian faith.
You knew Judd had a sense of humor just by walking into his gas station office. Dozens of quips and quotes there were – many that I could speak from the pulpit, and perhaps a few not so much. 1)Credit makes enemies, let’s be friends. 2) Everyone brings happiness here – some by coming and some by going! 3) It’s hard to soar like an eagle when you work with a bunch of turkeys.
A good sense of humor seems to me to be a terrific companion to a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. Spend time at any funeral lunch, and you’ll know what I mean. The tears at the gravesite give way to all kinds of stories, all kinds of fond memories, and all kinds of laughter. No disrespect is intended, it’s just our way of recognizing that you can only cry so many tears. It’s our way of declaring to anybody who is paying attention to Christians in days of death and burial that caskets and funeral homes and gravestones don’t get the final word around here. Jesus Christ gets the final word. Nursing homes and hospitals and parkinsons disease and heart failure don’t get to rule in our hearts and minds for any length of time. Jesus Christ who was crucified until he was dead and buried and then rose up again on the third day – He gets to rule in our hearts and minds as time goes on. Sadness and sinfulness and sickness don’t get the best of us, the grace, the mercy, and the peace of our God get the best of folks who have been baptized into the faith and have remained in that faith through thick and thin, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer.
Even more important than having a sense of humor as a way of coping with days of routine as well as days of tragedy is to be a recipient of God’s grace, It is for the Holy Spirit to work inside of us a confidence that God can be trusted, a confidence that our sins have been paid for, our debt has been cancelled, our destination has been made sure by Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and coming back again.
Strengthened by Grace is our theme for the day, as Paul writes to young Pastor Timothy and urges him to let the Lord fill him with power in all the chapters of life. It was by the grace of God that Paul had been saved, it was by the grace of God that Paul had planted all kinds of churches in that first century, it was by the grace of God that these churches would have pastors to watch over their souls, and it was the burning desire of Paul that Timothy be one of those pastors who carried on his legacy.
To help Timothy understand what he was up against and how crucial it was that he be receiving the grace of God and holding onto that grace, Paul uses three metaphors. He compares the Christian life to the life of a soldier, the life of an athlete, and the life of a farmer.
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. In this metaphor, Jesus Christ is the general, and Timothy is to be one of the noble soldiers in the army of the Lord. Timothy would be a pastor in a time when the church would be persecuted and even martyred for what they believed. He was to get himself ready to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from his faith.
Paul pointed out the obvious – that the man who enlists steps out of the common civilian life and his one aim and object is to please and earn the commendation of the one who enlisted him.
As I prayed with Judd and his family the night before he breathed his last, he wore his cap indicating he had served in the Korean war. For whatever reason, the longer I prayed, the more he pulled that cap down on his forehead, as if to say, “I have fought a good fight. I am finishing the course. I continue to be strengthened by God’s grace.
Metaphor #2 is the athlete. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. As an athlete would compete according to the rules, as an athlete would compete with all of his strength, as an athlete would compete with the first place trophy in mind, so was Timothy to be strengthened by God’s grace, so was Timothy to run his race with the eternal prize before him, and so was Timothy to be careful never to deviate from preaching the pure Word of God.
The last time I visited Judd at Oak Lawn Terrace, he had his high school senior annual out on the table. He pointed with pride to his baseball team’s success, he pointed out fellow classmates and athletes with whom he played, and he reminded me not at all in a boastful manner that he had been an all conference kind of a baseball player. I know that for you kids and grandkids, many of your fondest memories are of you dad and grandpa sitting on those bleachers cheering you on and wanting you to succeed with all of his heart.
Metaphor #3 is the farmer. . 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.7 Paul wanted Timothy to know that just as the farmer could not live unless he did not first take his share of his produce, so also would the Pastor Timothy need to take of their spiritual fruit for themselves, even as they toiled for spiritual fruit for others. They would toil by preaching and teaching the Gospel, and this toil would in fact produce faith, love, and godliness, precious fruits indeed.
As surely as there must be farmers to sustain the life of the world; there must be preachers to sustain the life of the church. In Romans 10, Paul makes it clear that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. And how will people call on him if they have not believed? And how will they believe unless they hear God’s Word? And how will people hear God’s Word unless preachers preach it to them? Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
Judd and Elaine and their children seemed to understand the importance of preachers more than the average family. I say that because Judd always referred to me as Reverend, Elaine always referred to me as Reverend, before she died, Sue would call me Reverend, to this day, Bruce and Sarah carry on this tradition of respecting the office of pastor by calling me Reverend. If I’m not mistaken dear Leona, Judd’s mom, did as well. (Story of our Mission Society and others re roofing Leona’s house / 85 year old Armin Tesch and me up on the roof, even though I have zero skills and desire to be up on a roof / Judd spending his morning pacing on the ground below, worrying and praying and crying out, Reverend, don’t you be falling off that roof now!”)
By God’s grace I didn’t fall off that roof, suggesting the prayers of a righteous man were heard. A righteous man he was, not because he lived such a perfect life, but because God has declared him to be not guilty by virtue of Jesus Christ living in perfect fashion, Jesus Christ suffering, dying, rising up again, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, Jesus Christ ruling all of heaven and earth with grace, with mercy, and with power.
Every time Judd listened to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, He was strengthened by the grace of God. Every time he ate and drank at His Lord’s Supper, the forgiveness of sins was delivered right into his heart, his soul, and his mind. And that’s why we say a righteous man he was, by the grace of God. May God keep all of Judd and Elaine’s descendants, all of his military buddies, all of his fellow athletes, all of his farmer friends strong in faith unto life everlasting, may He help all of us to have a sense of humor in all the chapters of life, May Judd rest in peace until the day when Christ comes back as conquering king and all the world’s armies lay down their arms. May Judd rest in peace until the day when Christ crowns all who have run their races straight May Judd rest in peace until the day when briars and brambles will cease and the harvest comes by the grace of God alone.
Funeral Sermon for Arnold Ruege
November 3, 2017 / “Whom Shall I Fear?
Psalm 27:1- The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Dear Friends in Christ,
Years ago, I was visiting an elderly man who had fought in World War I, who was a man’s man kind of a man. He was tougher than nails, he trusted in his Savior, he was very hard of hearing. A day or so before he died, I visited him in the nursing home, and I asked him if he was afraid of dying. He couldn’t hear me, so I asked a second time and he couldn’t hear me. About the third or fourth time I was literally yelling this question at Hillcrest Nursing Home, are you afraid of dying? When he finally heard me, grumbled back, “hmff, what the ‘heck’ is there to be afraid of?” Ted knew by faith that the Lord was with him and would not forsake him, that he had no eternal reason to be afraid, that at the end of every day he could be still and know that God was God.
That’s pretty much the attitude of King David in Psalm 27. Remember that David had good reason to be afraid in the various chapters of his life. He had faced at least one lion and a bear wanting to attack his sheep. He faced a giant by the name of Goliath. He had dodged more than one spear hurled his way by King Saul He was forced to part company from his good friend Jonathan. At various times, he had fled for his life, he was without food and weapons, he was hunted by King Saul like a man hunts for deer, he led armies into battle, his infant son died as a direct result of his own sinful decisions, his own sons rebelled against him, his best friend betrayed him, his own wife Michal absolutely despised him – just to mention 8 or ten of his enemies. And in spite of all of that darkness and danger, David cried out, The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? What David truly wanted was to dwell in the house of the Lord in all the days of his life, which is another way of saying he wanted to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple, which is another way of saying as long as he was in the presence of the Lord, as long as he knew the Lord was his good shepherd, as long as he knew that the Lord was following him around with goodness and mercy, he would not be afraid.
No doubt Arnold had good earthly reasons to be afraid, as do all of us. He had chapters of life that were better and some that were worse. He had years that were richer and some that were poorer. He had times of good health and times of sickness. Times when he felt like dancing and times when just wanted to be alone and maybe have a bit of a pity party. Times of laughing so hard his stomach hurt and times of crying so hard he had no more tears to shed.
You all have your memories of Arnie, some of them fond and no doubt a few that are not so fond. I knew Arnie best in the weeks leading up to his marriage to Doris, and then in the months leading up to and following her death and burial. They were days of great joy mingled with all kinds of sadness.
The fact that life is a mixture of smooth sailing days and stormy weather days comes as a surprise to none of us. The Bible teaches from beginning to end that life is short and full of trouble, and our life experience confirms it. We travel through life with all kinds of friendships to enjoy, and at the same time there are enemies to be faced. This Christian man had at least three enemies to face, as do all of us in every one of our days. Enemy #1 was him own sinful nature, which would tempt him to think wrong, to speak wrong, and to do wrong. Enemy #2 was this sinful world which would coax him to stumble and to stutter through life, making all kinds of mistakes and contributing to all kinds of conflict. Enemy #3 was the devil himself with all of his nasty demons who would be lurking and prowling and throwing roadblocks and causing trouble in his family every step of the way.
But in all of his days his Lord Jesus Christ was stronger than her enemies. He was his light and her salvation, as often as he listened to and remembered God’s Word, as often as he held onto the promises God made to him in Baptism, as often as he just sat still and knew that God was God, that often Jesus Christ was his sigh of relief. That often God was his refuge and strength and very present help in trouble. As often as he cried out for help, as often as he sought his Savior’s face, as often as he looked beyond herself for answers, that often he had strength to face one more day.
The Good News for Arnold Ruege was that even if he didn’t have his eyes fixed on Jesus, Jesus had His eyes fixed on him. Even on those days when Arnie was following Christ at a distance, Christ his Good Shepherd was following him with goodness and mercy. Even though Arnie fell short of the glory of God on a regular basis, as we all do, His Father in heaven loved him with an everlasting love. Jesus Christ had paid for every one of his sins with his very life, the Holy Spirit was at work in all the circumstances of his life to work things out for his eternal good.
It’s comforting to know that Arnie was baptized into the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and it’s even more comforting to know that God is faithful to the promises He made to him in that baptism. This is the only good news that really matters from one generation to the other- that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. By living the perfect life none of us can even get close to living, by suffering all that we should have suffered, by offering up a sacrifice to end all required sacrifices, by rising up again on the third day and by ascending into heaven on the 40th day and by sending His Holy Spirit in superabundant fashion on the 50th day, he works in us a heart that is not afraid, he works in our life in such a way that we do hide in his shelter, in such a way that we are concealed under the cover of his tent, in such a way that we do spend our days waiting for the Lord, we do spend our days looking upon the goodness of the Lord, we do spend our days doing all things he is asking us to do through the strength of our Lord.
Perhaps you have heard the story of a Christian woman who was making funeral arrangements with her pastor, and when they were almost done, she had one more request. She asked if she could get buried with a dinner fork in her hand. When the pastor asked why, she indicated that all her life, at church suppers and at all kinds of meals, whenever they said to her that she should keep her fork, she knew the best was yet to come. Dessert was coming! So also as we lay yet one more of our fellow travelers to rest, we do so knowing that the good old days have not passed us by, rather the really best days are yet to come. Paul wrote that he desired to depart and Christ which is far better. And again, for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Years ago, I invited Arnie to join a few men and me for early morning coffee, a fair amount of talking smart, and a Bible discussion. For a time we called ourselves “Men of Integrity” and we would encourage each other to live our lives knowing that we were saved by through faith alone in Jesus Christ, and also knowing that true faith never came alone. It always came with good works, prepared in advance by God for us to carry out. After one or more wives told us that their husbands didn’t feel like they qualified to meet with a group called Men of Integrity, we decided on a new name. Our new name was and is to this day, “Men Who Need Help.”
The fact is that all of us, men, women, and children alike, need God’s help to face every one of our enemies in every one of our days. The last enemy to be faced is death itself. It looks as though that enemy has gotten the best of Arnie, but we lay him to rest in these days knowing that death will not have the final word, our resurrected Lord and Savior will have the final word.
Two lessons to learn again, in closing, in answer to the question, Whom shall I fear? Lesson #1 – no need to fear the old sinful nature, no need to fear this sinful world, no need to fear the devil and all of his nasty demons, no need to fear the valley of the shadow of death itself, all of these enemies have been soundly defeated by our Lord Jesus Christ. Praise and honor and blessing to Him!
Lesson #2 – Whom shall I fear? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Or as Jesus warned, “ Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” The death of every loved one is a terrific inventory to take inventory of our own thoughts, our words, our actions, our habits, our lifestyle. And as we take inventory, we find that we have fallen way short of fearing, loving, trusting God above all things. And as we find again and again that we have fallen way short, we get down on our knees, we cry out for mercy, and mercy is ours. We cry out for yet one more chance, one more new beginning, and praise be to God, a one more chance / a new beginning is ours!
There’s something dark and dreary and even worse about caskets and cremation and cemeteries, but as people of faith, we take all of this in, and at the end of the day, we say with the Psalmist, The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
The Gift That Keeps on Giving
October 21 and 22, 2017
Psalm 145:8-21 / II Corinthians 9:6-15 /Luke 21:1-4
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9
Dear Friends in Christ,
He just kept on (giving)
No doubt you all have two or three people in your lives that have particularly impressed you and blessed you with their generosity. One of those two or three people in my life was my father in law, Lester. He was an early riser, a hard worker, a Green Bay Packer backer, and he could talk smart with the best of them. There was nothing he could not fix, and there was nothing he wouldn’t do for family, for friends, and for his local church. He and Joyce would use up weeks of vacation at a time work on projects with their two daughters, their one son, and families. It seemed to me that he didn’t have a selfish, a stingy, nor a lazy bone in his body. He passed away over 21 years ago, and if you want to see Debi and her mom tear up, go ahead and ask them how much they miss Lester. No doubt you could all name one or more people in your lives who are famous in your minds for giving and helping and serving and befriending whether they were being appreciated or not. They were and are gifts that keep on giving.
In today’s sermon, we fix our eyes on Jesus Christ, who was, is, and ever shall be the gift from God that keeps on giving. Jesus Christ is synonymous with the grace of God. The grace of God is, by definition amazing, contagious, and generous. There you have the three parts of today’s sermon – the grace of God is by definition amazing, contagious, and generous.
First of all, Grace is, by definition, (amazing). Our appointed Scriptures for today make this abundantly clear. In Psalm 145, we find the wretched sinner King David amazed at how great, how merciful, how compassionate, how gracious, how mighty, how amazing is the one true God. King David, famous for disrespecting the military he commanded, famous for committing adultery with a soldier’s wife, famous for trying to cover up that sexual misconduct, famous for homicide and lying repeatedly through his teeth, now forgiven, now cleansed, now declared righteous concluding this song of praise with “My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord and let all flesh bless his holy name forever.”
And then there is St. Paul the wretched persecutor of the church transformed by the grace of God into perhaps the greatest missionary of the Gospel. In today’s Epistle we find him inviting the Corinthians to be amazed, as he is amazed, at how God just keeps on giving, amazed at how God is able to make his grace abound and then multiply out into the community and throughout all the generations.
In our Gospel lesson for today, we find Jesus Himself amazed at how the Holy Spirit could work such a faith in the heart of a widow that she would give away the very money she needed to live on.
Lesson #1 today is simply to be amazed by the grace of God, as a little girl would be amazed the first time she sees for herself the ocean. A couple of questions for you, to chew on in these days.
Lutheran Hour preacher Ken Klaus recently told a story of a Christian church that was conducting a food drive. Congregational members were asked to contribute non perishable items. One mother and her six year old daughter were going through their pantry, and came across a bottle of beets. The mom set the beets aside, along with some condensed milk and lima beans. The mom said, “There, that will do, and we won’t miss these things, nobody here likes them.” To which the daughter politely replied, “But if we give them only what we don’t want, aren’t they helping us?”
This story and the story of the widow giving her two small copper coins reminds us that both generosity and stinginess are contagious. Let me repeat that, both the habit of generosity and the habit of stinginess are contagious. Paul teaches us today that God loves a cheerful giver. The Psalmist tells us that the Lord, who really owns everything, isn’t at all impressed with left over contributions, nor is He going to be pleased when we just go through the motions. What the Lord wants, first, foremost and always is a Christian heart which has seen the Savior’s sacrifice and is moved to respond. That response may be shown forth in terms of treasure, or talent, or time, but always it will find its source in a broken and contrite heart.
Lesson #2 is that God’s grace is by definition contagious, as contagious as a good belly laugh can be in a room full of people who like to giggle. Two questions for you to chew on in these days today, as we think about which of our habits are catching on with other people.
Paul knew what we want to know again today. That as often as the amazing grace of God is received, that often it shows up as an amazing generosity towards others. Generosity isn’t so much a decision that we make, it’s an attitude worked inside of us as we daily drown the old sinful nature, leaving room for Jesus Christ to rise up on the inside of us and rule. Generosity isn’t something we can muster up by trying harder to muster it up, it’s a gift worked on the inside of us as we recognize and ask God to take away every bit of our stinginess, every bit of our self -centeredness, every bit of our foolishness. Generosity isn’t something we can manufacture, but it is something we can imitate from others, it is something we can encourage in one another, it is a gift from God that He invites us to pay forward always with the next generations in mind.
Lesson #3 is to observe the natural progression from amazing grace on the part of our God turning into an amazing generosity welling up on the inside of us and bubbling over into the lives of others. Two questions for you to chew on in these days:
When I asked Louise if there was one teacher in particular that inspired her to be a teacher, she said, yes. Miss Peterson, her 3rd grade teacher at St. John Lutheran School in Good Thunder. Miss Peterson, she says, was ever so sweet, ever so kind, ever so ready to let her assist her classmates in their multi grade classroom. These and thousands and thousands of other teachers and parents and supporters of Christian education all over the world, this is what they are doing, they are paying it forward. It all started with Jesus Christ paying all that was necessary to pay, and it continues as often as the next generation is invited to receive the gift of God’s grace. God’s grace, which is by definition amazing, contagious, and generous. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
God’s Love for the Lost and Straying
Ezekiel 34:11-16 / Matthew 18:10-14 / II Peter 3:8-13
So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Dear Christian Friends,
In this church year, we have been weaving our way through the Gospel of Matthew and what scholars call his five teaching discourses. In the Epiphany season, we studied the Sermon on the Mount, in the Easter season we studied the second / Jesus as Missionary. This summer we studied through the third / Jesus as Story Teller. In November, we will study the fifth discourse / Death, Resurrection, World Judgment. This weekend and last, we focus on the fourth discourse / Life in the Community of Faith.
Last weekend, Pastor Muther brought forth three thoughts about the Place of Children in the Community of Faith – 1) What it means to be child like, 2) Who we are and how we live out who we are will have impact both the good and the bad in people around us, and 3) The greatest thing we can do in a day is to receive what God is trying to give us.
This morning, we focus on God’s great love for the lost and the straying. We operate with the premise that it really isn’t our assignment to figure out whether folks are still in the faith or have been lost to the faith, it is our assignment to care about the same things our Good Shepherd cares about, it is our assignment to have this Godly desire that not one of these little ones should perish, it is our assignment to go looking for those who have been scattered from the flock and invite them back into the green pastures and near the still waters.
We might have only (one chance). My first assignment as a pastor was to Immanuel Lutheran near Lewiston, MN. We came there in August of 1980, and for the previous three and a half years, they had been without a full time pastor. Some congregations have a way of struggling without the leadership of a full time pastor, but not this one, not so much. In fact, they had established an evangelism committee, and there were a number of their members who had been trained to go out and about, knocking on doors, making Gospel presentations. In particular, there was a man named Erwin, who was on fire for getting into the homes of people and making a full fledged Gospel presentation. He was a bit more aggressive than most of us, to put it mildly. On more than one occasion, my sense was that the folks really didn’t want the full load, but his philosophy was “this might be our only chance.” He very much had this desire of our Father in heaven that no one should perish, this great desire for all to reach repentance, this great desire for the amazing grace of God to be received and unleashed into the hearts of the lost and the straying in our community.
Three truths we want to learn today about God’s amazing grace. Three truths arising out of today’s Old Testament Lesson, today’s Gospel lesson, and today’s Epistle Lesson, in that order. (The words for the first two parts of our sermon today come from a Facebook cartoon I saw recently – a lady with a frazzled and impatient look on her face declares first, “I could use some help around here.” And then secondly, with a different kind of a look on her face, she declares, “I’ll just do it myself!”)
Lesson #1 from our OT reading - I’m just going to come down there and do it (myself).
For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. (Ezekiel 34:11)
Years ago, I can remember getting ready to do a painting project in our parsonage basement, and our daughter Michelle wanting to help. I said sure, you can help, but the more I watched her paint, the less I wanted her to help. I wasn’t particularly patient with her, and it wasn’t long before I suggested she go and play and I would just do it myself!
In much the same way and on a much grander scale, the more God saw the shepherds of Israel in action in the days of Ezekiel, the more he knew he would just have to come down out of heaven and shepherd the people himself. The shepherds of that day were feeding themselves, but not the sheep. The weak they were not strengthening, the sick they were not healing, the injured they were not binding up, the straying they were not bringing back, the lost they were not seeking out. The sheep were getting scattered because there were no shepherds that cared about them. They were wandering all over the mountains and on every high hill, and nobody was searching for them.
And so God announces what He had already declared throughout the ages, beginning with Adam and Eve and repeating to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, and to their descendants. From heaven above to earth below, He would be coming. Ezekiel prophesied what King David had already written- Yahweh Himself would be the shepherd of His people, He would make his people lie down in green pastures, He would lead them beside the still waters, even though God’s people would walk through the valley of the shadow of death, they would not be afraid, Jesus would be with them always, even to the end of the age.
Lesson #1 today for this community of faith is spend our days rejoicing. To keep on rejoicing that Jesus Christ has already come down and done it all by Himself. Keep on rejoicing that He came on a search and rescue mission, and mission has been accomplished. When He declared on the cross that it was finished, he said what he meant and meant what he said. Nothing we can do or say can add to what he has already done. He came looking for us in the waters of Baptism, and He has found us. He comes looking for us in the preaching of His Word, and He comes looking for us in the bread and the wine of the wine of the Supper, and every time we receive the gifts He is giving, the lost are found, the straying are rescued, the injured are bound up, the weak are strengthened, the hungry are fed, all is well here on earth as all is well in heaven.
If lesson #1 is to spend our days rejoicing in what our Good Shepherd has already done, lesson #2 is to be passionate about what He is still doing. If lesson #1 is to rejoice in a mission accomplished, then lesson #2 is to be passionate about the mission ongoing. Or to say it as moms and dads often say when they are trying to teach their children the value of pitching in and doing projects together, I could use some (help) around here.
Lesson #2 comes from our Gospel reading – the words of Jesus - See that you do not despise one of these little ones….So it is not the will of my Father that one of these little ones should perish.
This is, in fact, the overarching theme of the Pentecost season, which begins 50 days after Easter and extends all the way to the end of November. Pentecost was that day when Jesus Christ poured out His Spirit like he had never poured it out before in the history of the world. From that day forward, the followers of Jesus were to take the Gospel to the far corners of the world, from that day forward, the Church was to be focused on making disciples of all nations by baptizing in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost and by teaching all things that God has commanded. From that day forward, every little Christian congregation all over the world was to see to it that they were not despising even one of these little ones. From that day forward, pastors and boards of elders were to have on their agenda how best to search for and rescue those who had gone astray. From that day forward, Christians in every generation were to be out and about joining Jesus on His mission to seek and to save the lost.
If lesson #1 was for this community of faith to keep on rejoicing that Jesus Christ has already done it himself, and if lesson #2 is for us to know that Jesus can use our help around here, then lesson #3 out of today’s Epistle lesson is for us to know that God’s patience with sinners is not to be confused with a lack of seriousness.
Lesson #3 is from our Epistle reading - The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance…Peter goes on to say that the day of judgment is coming like a thief in the night, the world as we know it will be passing away, believers will be saved, and unbelievers will be condemned.
Peter would have our Father in heaven looking us in the eyes today and saying, I’m (serious). I’m serious about waiting for the Gospel to be preached in all the nations. I’m serious about both Jews and Gentiles to be invited to the great banquet hall. I’m serious about every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord.
As the shepherd who left the 99 and went searching for the one lost sheep was serious, as the woman who lost one of ten coins and searched until she found it was serious, as the father whose prodigal son came home was serious about celebrating the forgiveness of sins, so is our God serious about His Church carrying out His Great Commission. He’s serious about the mission and ministry of Christian congregations and institutions near and far. He’s serious about preachers preaching in faithful fashion week after week, He’s serious about children getting baptized and raised up in the discipline and nurture of their Savior, He’s serious about His cross being lifted High, His Name being hallowed, and His Kingdom of grace coming more and more in our midst.
In closing today, we note how often it is that we get distracted from the mission of the church. Some times we are distracted by life going well and other times by life not going well. Some weeks, we are distracted into complacency by our prosperity and other weeks we are distracted into panic mode by crisis. This past Monday morning, we woke up to news of Las Vegas in crisis. We watched in horror as a crazy man perpetuated unimaginable evil on hundreds of concert goers, killing 59, injuring hundreds, and outraging millions. Many of us spent time wondering where was God and how God’s Kingdom could possibly be extended in these days of tragedy.
In response, a columnist name Mike Rowe responded with an article pointing out how the spirit of Americans is (unstoppable) during crisis. quick to rise up and not be silenced.
“The world is as uncertain as the people in it, and we share this land with some very uncertain folks. But we also share it with living proof that hope will never die.
Take comfort in men who threw themselves over other people’s children. They are no less real than the killer, and they are still with us.
Take comfort in the woman who loaded wounded strangers into her car and drove them out of harm’s way.
Take comfort in the hundreds of first responders who risk their lives every day, and the hundreds of anonymous citizens who stood in line to give their blood.
Take comfort in the fact all good people are shattered, and that you are not alone.
In this very place and in this very hour, we ask for more and more of the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts, we ask for the seriousness of those first responders and medical personnel in Las Vegas to be our seriousness, we ask for God’s desires to be our desires.
The kingdom of God is like a large community of faith in a small town who struggle to stay focused on the one thing needful. They care deeply about the kingdom of God and His righteousness, but they often get distracted by all these other things in life. But as the years go on, the Holy Spirit has a way of drawing them closer and closer to their Savior. More and more these days they are rejoicing that Jesus Christ has done everything necessary to seek and to save the lost. More and more they realize what a privilege it is to be part of His ongoing search and rescue mission. As often as they come with their brokenness to their God, that often they find joy rising up on the inside of them, that often they find their eyes being opened to see what it is that God is wanting them to see. In Jesus Name. Amen.
Mission Dei: Building the Kingdom
Our Public Relationships Part II
September 27, 2017
Dear Christian Friends,
We are in the final of a four week journey through our annual theme, Missio Dei: Building God’s Kingdom. We have defined a mission as a purpose that orders and directs us toward a certain goal, as opposed to just sort of aimlessly wandering through life taking up time and space with no particular destination in mind. That our God has always been on a mission, is on a mission in this very hour, and will be on a mission until His Second Coming is indisputable. The Father sent the Son, on the Day of Pentecost both the Father and the Son sent forth the Holy Spirit, and from that day forward, the Spirit of God dwells in us and sends us to do God’s will in each and every relationship we have. Three weeks ago we focused on our mission to our intimate circle, two weeks ago our mission to our personal circle, last week to our social circle, and today to our public circle.
Answer #1 to the question of what God’s love looks like when we take our private convictions into the public circle is that it looks like rain and snow accomplishing the purposes for which they were (sent). According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, more than 40 percent of Americans “say” they go to church weekly. As it turns out, however, less than 20 percent are actually in church.
Research like that makes us wonder how it can be true that God’s Word isn’t returning to Him empty. How can it be true that God’s Word is achieving what He pleases and is successful in the thing for which He commissioned it? The answer to those questions is that God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are deeper than our thoughts. That’s another way of saying that our assignment is to work hard at planting the seeds of God’s Word, to work hard at watering and fertilizing and cultivating the tender plants, and to trust God to do the growing and providing of harvest.
A more encouraging survey comes to us from the Billy Graham Center, which surveyed 2000 unchurched Americans. Five insights from that research may surprise you. 1) Most have some church background. 2. Most quit church because they got out of the habit of going. 3. One third have plans to go to church in the future. 4. The unchurched are very open to a gospel conversation- 47% would definitely interact freely in such a conversation and another 31 % say they would listen carefully without participating. 5. If you invite them, they will come. 55% said they would come if invited by a family member, 51% if invited by a friend.
The kingdom of God looks like three Christians responding on FB to NFL controversy- 1) Players should be fired and I’m never watching NFL again, 2)President Trump is an idiot, and we need to get rid of him. 3) I wonder how we can both respect our country and address the issues of police brutality and racism at the same time.
Answer #2 comes from Romans 10, It looks like conversations and actions seasoned with (grace).
Paul said it this way to the Colossians, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
The kingdom of God is like three Christians who post on Facebook today 1) One posts her favorite recipe 2) One posts a right wing news article which blasts away at liberals 3) One posts a left wing news article which blasts away at conservatives, and 4) One posts with tears in her eyes about the devastation in Puerto Rico and wonders how we can pull together and help.
Which leads us right into the third answer to the question of what God’s love looks like when we take our private convictions out into the public circle.
It looks like citizens disagreeing without being (disagreeable) The Pharisees were about as disagreeable as you could be in the day of Jesus. The opening verse of our Gospel lesson reads, “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle Jesus in his words.” In these verses, the Pharisees join forces with their opponents the Herodians to try to destroy Jesus. They imagine they will throw Jesus off guard by flattering him with words of praise. Should God’s chosen people the Jews pay taxes to an evil government or not?
When Jesus answers that we should give to Caesar whatever belongs to Caesar and to God whatever belongs to Him, He is focused on the big picture instead of the various pieces of the puzzle. We are to be loyal and obedient both to the secular and the spiritual authorities. As we take our private convictions out into the public arena, we do well to remember how broad and how deep and how high and how everlasting is the love of our God for us. He loved us by creating us wonderfully and marvelously and with purpose in the first place. He loved us by redeeming us with his very own body and blood. He loved us by placing His Spirit inside of us in the waters of Holy Baptism. He loved us by instituting government, church, and marriage all with distinct purposes. And in our texts for today, he invites us to think about what it means to be citizens in both earthly and heavenly kingdoms.
Bernard Meltzer was a radio talk show host who offered advice to callers on a show called, “What’s Your Problem?” He had this to say about working through our disagreements with others, “If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, then you have discovered the secret of getting along - whether it be business, family relations, or life itself.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther