Sermon teaser for Palm Sunday

Here is the opening paragraph for this Sunday’s sermon. May God be glorified…

The holy bookends of Palm Sunday and Easter, encapsulate a holy drama that ends in a sure and certain hope through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus rides into Jerusalem as the king of peace, is later mocked as the King of the Jews and then bursts through as the victorious King; one who obliterates sin, death and the power of Satan. We enter this morning in jubilation but leave somber and reflective as we contemplate the events of Holy Week. We enter worship this morning shouting, “Hosanna” which means “save us now” and leave hearing how Jesus does just that. The scope of this day is a microcosm of the holiest week of the year but may we not be satisfied with only this, rather, may we encounter the Passion of Jesus Christ anew as we listen to our salvation unfold and the power of death crumble into oblivion.

May God bless you as you journey through Holy Week; coming through the darkness and emerging into the Light of Easter morning.

The Pastor -|—

The Thief is Coming

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Are you ready?
Are you waiting?
Are you looking for the Lord?
Are you longing for the Lord?
Are you being complacent?
Are you clinging to worldly peace?

My friends, the Lord is coming. He has risen and now is planning his return. The only thing not certain (to us) is when, but I fear that many people either don’t know this or are taking this for granted. But if we truly fear this then what are we doing about it? It’s one thing to proclaim the Easter message and but are you talking about getting ready for the Lord, and not getting caught eating and drinking and making merry.

So the question shouldn’t be, “Are you ready?” but rather, “What are you doing to get others ready?

Our politicians are so focused on providing peace and security for people that many get drawn into these messages of worldly hope. And as people get drawn in, then Christ gets left in the rear view mirror, barely an after thought. But this is dangerous stuff, for the Lord will return like a thief in the nigh and catch many off guard.

Don’t be one of them.
And don’t let your neighbor be one of them.

We can’t afford to be complacent and say, “I’ll take them tomorrow”, for tomorrow may never come.

Living Easter hope, as I mentioned in my post from yesterday, is not about getting better in this life, but preparing ourselves for the next Life through holiness, though obedience to God and following Jesus to the cross. And living Easter hope is being hold and courageous in your faith, because really, what do you have to lose.

Fear not those who can destroy the body but the one who can throw the body and soul into hell.

So let’s get ready for the “thief” as he steals away our souls for eternal worship of God our Father.

And don’t forget about your neighbor.

Holy God, may I never forget about why Jesus died and the place in your mansion that he went to prepare. May I be found ready when Jesus returns. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Living Easter (Romans 5:6-11)

[From the Easter prayer breakfast at the White House]
“We live our faith when we nurture the hope and possibilities that have always defined us as a country,” Biden said. “We live Easter — and to live Easter is to live with the constant notion that we can always do better.”

NO, NO, NO!!!

That is not living Easter; not even close.

This is living Easter:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. [Romans 5:6-11]

The hope of Easter is not about the notion of us doing better (don’t get me though, we should want to do better all the time), but rather living with the joy that we have been reconciled to God through faith in Jesus. Jesus did better and therefore we should rejoice and celebrate that. And because Jesus did better I strive to be more like him; striving to be more Holy. But the fact of the matter is I know I will fall short. I will takes steps forward but then take steps back. Living Easter is about God and the promise of the empty tomb.

Living our faith?

“We live our faith when we nurture the hope and possibilities that have always defined us as a country,”

What a vague statement. Living our faith is following Jesus and obeying him. If that is what Biden means then great but I have my doubts whether that is what he is getting at. Call it what it is. Living our faith, Easter faith, is living in joy that despite this messed up and fallen world (which will pass away), though faith in the crucified and risen Jesus, we will not pass away. Living our faith is about glorifying God.

That is Easter faith
That is Easter hope
That is Easter joy

If it is about you getting better in this life then you will be sorely disappointed. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and on his perfect obedience that lead him to the cross because we are not better.

Praise be to God that we can have this TRUE Easter faith and hope.

Holy God, thank You that Jesus came to save an imperfect and disobedient people. Help us become more like Your son that we may glorify You. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Dwelling and Gazing

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This here is the Easter hope:

Dwelling in the house of the Lord
Gazing upon the beauty of Lord
Inquiring in his temple

I mean, really, this is the Good News and our hope. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave that we might dwell with him. He didn’t die and rise that we might have a good life now. It really bugs me and worries me when preachers try to sell this message of hope in this life. Scripture says that if in this life we have hope in Christ only then we are most to be pitied. Jesus didn’t die that we may have a temporary hope; a limited hope; a shortsighted hope. Jesus died that we may have eternal life; dwelling in his temple and worshiping him forever.

But something else to think about. Not only will you, through faith in Jesus, dwell in his temple, but you will gaze upon a beauty that is absolutely mind blowing. There is nothing in this universe that can compare. If someone tries to sell you a worldly hope you need to respond:

That’s not good enough. I want more.

And Jesus gives you more.

Praise be to God that our hope is more and better and wonderful and beautiful.

Holy Father, I praise you that death has been defeated and that I can live this life with hope of something more. And I look forward to that day when I am dwelling and gazing on your beauty and inquiring in your temple. All praise and worship be to you, oh God. In Jesus name, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Holy Saturday ~ Limbo

I feel like I am in limbo today.

The past two days we traveled through the cross of Jesus and now today ~ Nothing. Jesus has been crucified and buried, but tomorrow, though, is the joyous celebration of his resurrection. But I’m still in today ~ so nothing, at least for now.

And so I am here in my office reflecting on the cross, my sin and Jesus’ willingly going to the cross for me. And as I reflect on this I am polishing off TWO Easter sermons.

That’s right, I am just crazy enough to do that 🙂

This is something I have never done before. You see, I have two Easter services here at Salem Lutheran Church and one out at Belmont Lutheran Church. Every year I have written one Easter sermon and preached it three times. But there are a couple “problems” that I have never addressed before:

(1) Some people that come to the Sonrise worship service at Salem will come back for the Festival worship service later (I lead the Sonrise service at Belmont in between). And so those people hear the sermon twice, not necessarily bad since I need to hear something more than once to really get it, but I have heard comments.

(2) The crowd at each service is generally different (with a few the same). And so with a different crowd, a different message is needed; a different focus, if I am going to be contextual.

And so I felt the Spirit move stronger than ever, this year, to write TWO sermons. Besides, there shouldn’t be a problem, since I have plenty of material 🙂

Praise be to God!

And so this “nothing” day is turning into something. I am reflecting on the cross and preaching to myself an Easter message in two ways (but yet the same) as I get ready to lead God’s people in worship tomorrow.

What a day
Nothing to something ~ yup, that sounds like God

Holy Saturday, a day of limbo, but also a day of great expectation and hope as we know what is coming, and I am not talking about tomorrow.

God bless you as you wait expectantly for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Come, Lord Jesus, with your glorious Kingdom and praise be to God!

Living God, what a roller coaster ride this week, and now we wait for the glorious return of our Lord Jesus. Bless our waiting, Oh God, and may we feel the passion to share this Good News every single day. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Holy Wednesday ~ No Ceasing

Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge. [Proverbs 19:27]

For a couple weeks leading up to Holy Week, I started seeing my YouVersion Bible app advertise Holy Week and Easter Bible reading plans and devotions. There are also a number of videos, in the app, being offered on the life of Jesus. On TV, I have been seeing a number of Bible based movies and other informational shows about the Bible, Jesus and the times. So much stuff being thrown at us this time of the year.

But why only this time of the year?

The easy answer is that it is Holy Week and Easter. This is deemed to be the most important week of the year for Christians (along with Christmas minus the commercialization). And so it makes sense that information is thrown at us to help Christians prepare for this holiest of all weeks.

But I ask again, why only this time of the year?

The message of Easter is not only proclaimed one time a year and then we’re done. Jesus shouldn’t only make an occasional appearance in our mind’s eye. Faith development and spiritual disciplines shouldn’t only be encouraged once a year. We need instruction 24/7; 365/366 days a year. At least for me I need the Easter message everyday and my faith encouraged everyday.

When you cease to hear instruction; when you cease to receive the Gospel/Easter message; when you cease to feed your faith, you WILL stray, as Satan leads you off on dangerous rabbit trails into deadly snares. But, when you keep yourself in the Word, you will not only grow in knowledge about God but you will grow closer to God in Jesus Christ as your faith is nurtured and strengthened.

So as you reflect during this Holy Week, commit yourself to keeping you eyes on Jesus and your ears inclined to the Word; even after Easter. Don’t cease to hear instruction. Don’t cease to hear the Gospel. Don’t cease to pursue God in Jesus Christ.

Lord God, heavenly Father, may your Word draw us in and capture our souls with hope and peace. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Bring On Holy Week

It’s Holy Week, so watch out and give the pastor some space.

I almost feel like that is what people are thinking around me. True, Holy Week is busy:
~ Five worship services to get ready for
~ First Communion students to prepare
~ Three sermons to write

And on top of that I have two children under two and a working wife.
And on top of that I have my regular weekly responsibilities.
And on top of that the potential for pastoral care emergencies.

So with everything going on in my life I sometimes feel that people are looking at me with pity or relief that they don’t have my schedule or hesitation on whether to call or ask me anything.

The fact of the matter is, YES I am busy this week, but NO, not too busy for ministry and people and the Gospel and whatever else is contained in the fine print of my letter of call. Holy Week can cause more grey hair to make an appearance on my head but according to Proverbs that is just a “crown of glory” (Proverbs 16:31) so I’ll take it.

The other thing about Holy Week for me is that it definitely brings me closer to God as I am carefully studying scripture and planning worship services in order to help people express their worship of God,

(as I do every week, but it just feels more intense this week; if that makes sense)

and it is a holy calling and a holy task that I take very seriously

(not better than anyone else, just different).

But the other thing about Holy Week for me, and especially Easter, is that I generally see people in worship that normally don’t attend worship. And so I have a “captive audience” to slap up across the head with the Gospel. And so I am extra aware as I want to see that gospel slap leave a mark on those CEOs (Christmas Easter Only).

Lot’s going on; lot’s of activity and a lot of opportunities. So don’t shy away from the pastor. Please don’t give me space. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of me. Don’t pity me because this week is busy. What I do ask is that you pray for me and for all pastors and church leaders as we prepare this week.
~ Pray for faithfulness as we prepare messages and worship.
~ Pray for faithfulness as we still have families to care for.
~ Pray for faithfulness as we still have temples (bodies) to care for.
~ Pray for faithfulness as we still have souls to nurture (namely our own).

Holy Week is an awesome and incredible week and I look forward to it every year and saddened when it is done. But I am eternally grateful that the message of Easter is something I get to preach week in and week out, but even more than that, the message of Easter is my hope and your hope all year long.

So come, Holy Spirit, and bring on Holy Week and anything that goes with it. And by the grace of God I will be ready 🙂

The Pastor -|—

A new “normal-ness”

It’s my first day back in the office following my post-Easter vacation.  I traditionally take at least a week off after Easter to rest, breath, get stuff done around the house that got neglected during Lent and to reflect.

It was glorious.

Now I find myself lost.

Each year I get so accustomed to the busyness of Lent that when it abruptly stops, I am thrown into somewhat of a tizzy.  I have to reorient myself to the “normal-ness” of pastoral life.  And when I say “normal-ness” I say that tongue-in-cheek; knowing that there is nothing “normal” in pastoral ministry.

But to make matters worse, summer is approaching which means:
~ No confirmation classes
~ Earlier worship times
~ No Wed Night Live (our Wednesday Sunday school program)
~ No release time (3rd – 5th grade)
~ No monthly ministerial meetings

Basically, my schedule frees up a lot.

The temptation for me is to procrastinate; thinking that I have all summer to get confirmation planned for the fall, etc.  But summer really isn’t that long.  Time does flies by and before I know it, September will be here and a new season of “normal-ness”.  And after nearly 10 years of pastoral ministry one would think I would be used to this.

But I’m not.

It’s kind of like jumping into a cold lake.  There’s an initial shock but eventually you get used to the water.  And it makes no difference how many times you jump into cold water ~ there’s always a shock.

So maybe I just need to tread water for a day or two; slowly acclimating, before beginning the long swim across the lake.  So if you see me with a deer-in-the-headlights look for the next couple days; just politely wave and try not to stare to much. I’m not being lazy; I’m just treading water trying to adjust to the new “normal-ness”.

The pastor -|—

Eerie quiet

Quiet
Almost an eerie quiet around here

No hustle and bustle
No scrambling to get the next to-do item done
No printer printing lesson plans or manuscripts
No ringing phone

Just quiet
Eerie quiet

And I almost feel guilty in a way
Shouldn’t I be more busy
Shouldn’t I be “accomplishing” more
I did spend a couple hours doing visits but that was easy
I almost feel relaxed now…sitting here in the…

Quiet
Eerie quiet

And now I realize that I am sitting here writing about nothing
But I have to be honest…it feels good to be writing about nothing
Nothing theologically deep…just some ramblings from a post-Easter pastor
Enjoying…

The quiet
The eerie quiet

But…

The eerie quiet will get old…as it always does
Soon I will need the hustle and bustle
Soon I will need to scramble over a to-do list
Soon I will need to hear the printer working overtime
Soon I will need to hear the ringing phone

But in the meantime I will enjoy…

The quiet
The eerie quiet

(from the post-Easter brain of ) The pastor -|—

Satan attacks but God wins

It’s Monday morning and I have been doing some reflecting on the events of yesterday (Easter).  I feel like a bus has run me over but God was faithful.  Satan did his best to stop the proclamation of the Word of God but God was victorious (in more ways than one). Satan took his best shot but it wasn’t good enough.

Allow me to explain to the glory of God

Attack #1:
I woke up Easter morning after only about a couple hours of sleep.  A head cold started attacking me the night before.  I thought I was holding it off (drugging myself up as much as I could) but it wasn’t enough…I was prevented from getting a good night’s sleep.  A bad night to have sleeping problems.   But when I woke up at 4:45 a.m. as planned I felt rested.  Score 1 for God 🙂

Attack #2:
As my morning progressed; getting ready for the 7  a.m. Sonrise worship service, I could feel the frog in my throat growing.  I knew that if things continued to progress like this I would have problems later in the morning.  You see…I had three worship services at two sites.  I had a long morning ahead of me and I needed my voice.  Everything went fine during the first service; but I started to feel my throat have issues at the second service (at Belmont) and a little at the third, but my throat held up…I made it . Score another point for God 🙂

Attack #3:
After my first Sonrise service (at Salem) I usually have very little time to get out to Belmont for Sonrise service #2.  Eight miles separates the two churches which usually involves me eating egg bake in the car while exceeding the speed limit…slightly…but not this year.  But in preparation for the unknown I have all my  Belmont materials ready by my office for a quick grab and go…including another copy of my sermon manuscript.  I made it to Belmont with 15 minutes to spare (not too bad…I think that is a record for me).  During worship my nose started to run some more and throat was filling with phloem (sorry for being so graphic).  And then batteries in my cordless microphone pack died but I was able to make a quick change during the offering without missing a beat (nice try Satan). But attack #3 came during the sermon.  About half way through I noticed a problem (besides my nose and throat)…the sermon manuscript I was using was an earlier, uncompleted copy of the sermon.  I am not sure how I managed to print the wrong copy.  Paragraphs were in the wrong order and I was missing 1 and 1/2 pages.  Slight panic set in…and then calm.  I proceed to preach and share the Gospel without a hitch.  Score a couple more points for God 🙂

Attack #4:
I made it back to Salem for worship service #3 with about 30 minutes to catch my breath.  During worship my throat was still being annoying, my nose was still having issues and my energy was starting to run low…but…as I started to preach and preside at the Lord’s table, I felt a second wind.  Score yet another point for God 🙂

All along the way Satan did his best to derail the proclamation of the Good News that Christ has risen! He has risen indeed! Alleluia! But God was going to have none of that.  Yesterday morning was yet another reminder that God is in control and not Satan.  I do not take any credit because on my own I would have crumbled under the weight of all that was attacking me.  Today…I feel like crap…but Easter happened.  The Word got preached.  And now I can have some Sabbath rest.

Satan can not stand the fact that the tomb was empty and that Jesus lives. And he will do everything in his power to stop that proclamation but God is faithful.  God wins and because of that we too win.  Praise be to God 🙂

Final score: God ~ ALL the points in the world. Satan ~ a big fat 0

JESUS LIVES! ALLELUIA!

The pastor -|—