First Lesson: Isaiah 6: 1-8
Responsive Reading: Psalm 29
Second Lesson: Romans 8: 12-17
Gospel Lesson: John 3: 1-17
Grace and peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Tim had a foul mouth. Tim knew every bad word a person could say and would often say them just to see how people would react. Tim walked around town with a perpetual scowl on his face always looking down on the ground. People that knew Tim joked that they had never seen him smile. Tim never had a positive word to say about anybody else. Tim was the guy always complaining about the food at restaurants. Tim was the guy who would go to the local school’s basketball game and leave in a foul mood because of how much this year’s group of kids disappointed him.
Tim didn’t think much of his local church. Sure, Tim had gone to Sunday school as a child when his parents made him. Tim’s parents marriage was all kinds of messed up, and if they told Tim to do something, he probably resented them years later for it. Tim didn’t think much of the church crowd. Tim thought they were all a bunch of hypocrites. Tim heard of choir members cheating on their wives. Tim heard tales of Sunday school teachers getting so drunk that they were unable to stand at the bar. Tim heard tales of the pastor yelling foul language at his neighbor. Tim didn’t think that church people looked all that different from anyone else. Tim would laugh whenever one of the holier than thou Christians stumbled in front of the town.
Tim’s life would one day change forever. Tim ran into Roger at the supermarket. Roger was the church’s janitor. You see years ago when Tim was in confirmation; as part of their confirmation the kids were assigned ways to serve the congregation. Tim was assigned to help the janitor, so this is how Tim knew Roger. Tim had gotten quite strong since he was a scrawny little confirmation lad. Tim looked like a linebacker. Roger asked Tim if he would consider helping Tim move some stuff that he was having difficulty moving at church. Tim would always say “no” to such a request. Tim would say “no” to the Pastor, Tim would say “no” to his drunken Sunday school teacher or the philandering choir member. Tim saw Roger though different then he saw the others in the church crowd. When Tim was a child, Roger seemed to be genuinely concerned about him. Roger would always ask Tim about his day. Roger would always buy Tim a pop after they got done doing their work. Roger and Tim would tell each other stories about their latest hunting or fishing adventures. Roger was one of the few adults that Tim actually liked growing up. So Tim said “yes” to Roger’s request.
Roger probably wasn’t the idle church member. Roger talked kind of slow. Roger didn’t have very much money. Roger was bald and heavy-set and not much to see. Roger was a lifelong bachelor. No one would mistake Roger’s wits of a champion debater. Day after day, Roger kept coming back to church with the attitude that his job keeping the building clean was the most important thing in the world.
As they were moving furniture that day, Roger asked Tim, why Tim was never in church?
Tim started to complain about the people that went there. The complaints all ran together. People there were fake. People loved power more than helping others. Tim was tired of all that flawless hair, the shiny white teeth, and the people that acted all high and mighty?”
Roger listened to Tim’s every word before finally asking him “What about Jesus?”
Roger confessed something to Tim on that day. Roger too had been disappointed with the church. Roger had the pastor yell at him for things that weren’t his fault. Roger had seen kids acting carelessly on the church grounds figuring that’s why they paid Roger. Roger realized something about the church though at these moments. These moments that would disgust people like Tim were the moments where grace came into the cracks of people’s broken lives. Roger had been around the church for a long time. Roger had seen Pastors come and go (some who he liked better than others). Roger had seen people get mad and take their ball and go home. Roger had seen plenty of church members fail to act like good church members are supposed to act. Roger still kept sweeping, mopping and vacuuming the floors because he believed that Jesus is bigger than all that.
Roger went to church because people were hypocrites because people fell by the wayside. Roger came to realize that no toilet was ever going to be truly clean. People like this were why Roger needed to follow a God that would promise to deliver people from the mess of their lives.
Jesus came for the sick and the hurting. Jesus never went through a day of his ministry expecting to encounter the spiritually healthy.
After talking to Roger that day, it was almost as if some spirit was trying to reach Tim. Everything Tim had previously thought about the church and its members was being challenged.
Tim’s story reminds me of a Bible story. It’s the story of Isaiah.
Isaiah lived in a land where he saw the followers of God continually disappoint. Their worship was dead. They neglected the needs of their neighbors. Everywhere that Isaiah looked he saw disappointing followers of the one true God all around him. Isaiah heard God cursed in every way imaginable. Isaiah had started out with the best of intentions. As Isaiah saw wicked king after wicked king tries and fail to lead the people of Israel the jadedness got to Isaiah. Isaiah soon became as bitter and pessimistic as anyone else. Isaiah figured that he was a failed preacher and that opening his mouth anymore was pointless.
One day though God came into Isaiah’s life in a way that he could not have previously imagined. Isaiah was in the temple when he looked up to see a vision of the Lord sitting on his throne. The Lord was surrounded by Seraphim (the highest ranking of all angels). The Seraphim had six wings. Two wings are covering their face, two wings covering their feet, and two wings with which they flew. As soon as Isaiah saw this scene, he came to realize that he was just as dirty as anybody else in the nation of Israel. Isaiah wanted to flee from the Lord’s presence at the very moment.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
As Isaiah stood in the Lord’s presence, he knew that God could destroy him at any moment. What Roger had to tell Tim about the presence of God is not to obsess about his fellow church members. Tim was not worthy! Roger was not worthy! Isaiah was not worthy! No one is ever worthy!
The Thing is God’s forgiveness is anything but ordinary. For once Isaiah dreaded his future standing in the presence of almighty God. A Seraphim grabbed a burning coal from the fire, and touched it to Isaiah’s lips and said “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for;”
Isaiah’s pessimism had quickly turned to hope as soon as he received that touch of grace. When Isaiah saw the Lord everything changed for him.
Isaiah quickly gained a new outlook on those that he was called to serve as he proclaimed
“Here am I. Lord Send me!” Let me be your vessel to the people of Israel as imperfect as they may be.
There is a church that has a sign as you leave their parking lot that says “The mission field starts here.” The mission field is the hypocrites, sinners, and just flat out curmudgeons like Tim that you shall encounter in your daily life. Anytime spent discussing this fact is already time wasted.
Back to the story of Tim and Roger, as Tim was talking to Roger that day he saw that there were things that weren’t quite right. Tim had gone through life always blaming others from his parents to his bosses to his neighbors. Tim didn’t want to admit the truth about himself. Tim was a sinner no different than anybody else at the church that he resented so much. Tim started going back to church. Tim went because he needed Roger’s support. Tim began to look at people through “new” eyes and saw that he could use their help also. What Tim liked most of all was hearing the promises of the Gospel given to him both orally through the proclamation of forgiveness and physically in bread and wine.
You see the problem with too many of us is that we go through life only seeing the world one way.
A few weeks ago, the actor Ed Helms gave a commencement address at the University of Virginia where he discussed human nature’s tendency always to try to simplify complex people living within a complex world.
Helms said, and I quote: “We’re all guilty of this. How many times do we label people with our first impressions only to be proven wrong? The tattooed motorcycle guy who turns out to be a teddy bear, the buttoned-up co-worker who actually knows how to party, or the mousy librarian who takes off her glasses to reveal that she’s a bloodthirsty alien from a distant galaxy. We try to define others with simple labels because it makes the world easier to understand.”
Perhaps the hypocrites that Tim thought defined the church were there because they knew they could not escape their imperfect self. Perhaps Isaiah was called to preach to the people of Israel because his lips were just as unclean for a time as anybody else’s.
Today is Trinity Sunday. The story of the Trinity is the story of salvation as played out in Tim’s life. A love was given from each member of the Trinity for Tim’s sake. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were all equally vital in Tim’s salvation story.
The Father identified Tim for salvation before the beginning of the world. The Son died for Tim’s sins on the Cross. The Spirit worked through Roger in proclaiming to Tim why he needed to hear the Gospel.
In the months ahead, Tim’s attitude slowly began to change. The next time, Tim heard about the stumbles of the people in the church he saw them differently. Tim came to realize without people’s stumbles; there wouldn’t be a church in the first place.
 Piatt, Christian. “The Real Reason Christianity is Still in Decline”. Patheos. 20.May.2015. Web. May.22.2015
 Matthew 9:12, Mark 2:17
 Isaiah 6:5
 Tanner, Beth. “Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13) Commentary”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 07.Feb.2010. Web. May.22.2015
 Isaiah 6:7b
 Isaiah 6:8b
 Schneider, Matt. “Best Anti-Commencement Speeches of 2015 (So Far).”Mockingbird (MBird). 21.May.2015. Web. May.22.2015.
First Lesson: Ezekiel 37: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34,35
Second Lesson: Acts 2: 1-21
Gospel Lesson: John 15: 26-27, 16:4b-15
Grace and Peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story of Ezekiel this morning. You might know much about Ezekiel, but you know his story.
Ezekiel’s story is the story for the guy in high school that asks out every girl that he can think of only to keep receiving “no” for an answer.
Ezekiel’s story is the story for the baseball team that seems predestined to lose before they take the field.
Ezekiel’s story is the story for the couple sitting down with no idea where the next dollar might come.
Ezekiel’s story is the story for the person who has just received a diagnosis of cancer with no potential cure.
Ezekiel’s story is the story for the person who is quick to assume the worst at the first sign of difficulty.
Ezekiel’s story comes not only from the most terrible time in Ezekiel’s life but rather many people’s lives. The Book of Ezekiel was written perhaps during the lowest point in the nation of Israel’s history. The Israelis had just been wiped out in the battle by the Babylonians. The war was a blood bath. There were so many dead bodies on the desert floor that no one was going to make an attempt to bury them. These bodies were just left to rot out in the desert sun till they became nothing more than a pile of bones.
Dead bodies though weren’t the only consequence of the war with Babylon. The Southern Kingdom of Judah had collapsed. The King was taken away blinded and in chains. A foreign army now occupied the people's homeland.
Many of Ezekiel’s neighbors had fled to neighboring nations as a result of the war, whereas Ezekiel had seen other neighbors taken as prisoners and transported to Babylon. Ezekiel’s neighbors that remained lived in terrible poverty. Everyone who stayed in Judah was on the verge of starvation. In fact, the situation was so bad that the Book of Lamentations describes “Women cooking their children” so they could eat.
So the people of Israel were quite jaded during these days about their faith. The people of Israel figured that God had abandoned them to this epic suffering. Some believed that God didn’t even exist. Whereas others figured that their own sins were so great that God had stopped listening.
We know people like Ezekiel knew.
For example, a few years ago a TV miniseries came out telling the story of the Kennedy family. One scene highlighted this theme of God abandoning his people.
The scene occurred during World War II when the future president JFK vanishes at sea. His dad Joe then goes and sees the Catholic Priest to ask him to pray for JFK’s safe return. The Priest agrees, but he also reminds Joe Kennedy that he could also pray. Joe says, “I can’t do that.” Joe Kennedy believed that he had sinned too greatly for God to listen to his prayers.
For Joe Kennedy like the people of Israel in Ezekiel’s day, the idea that God might listen to them was hopeless.
It was into this thinking came, Ezekiel. They say all sin is caused by either “spiritual pride” as in the case of Adam and Eve or “spiritual despair” as in the case of Judas. Both types of sin played out before Ezekiel’s eyes.
For Ezekiel for years and years had been warning the people of Israel about the sins brought on by their pride. The saying rings true “pride cometh before the fall”. As the Babylonians conquered Israel, as soon as people fell into poverty, as soon as the desert floor became covered with bodies. Ezekiel’s message had to change to speak to a broken and battered people.
Ezekiel’s greatest fear was the people of Israel embracing “spiritual despair” or the belief that God couldn’t forgive them, and that God no longer cares.
It was with these concerns in mind that Ezekiel was led by God into the desert to see a vision of the future. Ezekiel was brought face to face with bones of the dead as far as the eyes can see.
Ezekiel saw every kind of bone imaginable (shin bones, wishbones, collar bones, and skulls). The sight of so much death brought terror to Ezekiel’s eyes beyond what the most terrifying of horror movies could capture.
When the Lord brought Ezekiel to this place, he asked him what would seem to be the strangest of questions. The Lord asked Ezekiel directly “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Ezekiel was like anyone would be, unsure of how to answer the question. Ezekiel began to respond with nothing but doubt consuming the back of his mind. “O Lord God, ONLY you know.”
The Lord decided to start getting bossy with Ezekiel at this point.
Hey Ezekiel “Why don’t you speak to these bones?” “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!
Ezekiel then began to preach to these bones figuring it would do no good. Ezekiel was wrong! Soon a rattling comes up from the ground. Bones started coming together. Ezekiel saw bone then he saw flesh then he saw skin, but yet there was no breath.
The Lord God then called Ezekiel to bring forth breath. As soon as Ezekiel started speaking, breath came, and people rose to their feet. The Skeletons were getting ready to dance in the streets.
Our lesson closes with the Lord wanting Ezekiel to take the vision that he had just seen and pass it on to the whole people of Israel.
The Lord wanted Ezekiel to confront the pessimists who were saying
“Our bones are dried up, and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”
Ezekiel is speaking to people who couldn’t be inspired. Ezekiel is speaking to folks who couldn’t be easily encouraged. Ezekiel is speaking to folks who believe that God had given up on them. There are plenty of people living today to whom Ezekiel could have been speaking.
The Lord wanted Ezekiel to bring forth a message of hope. A message that a day was coming when God was going to bring forth these bones from the grave. God was going to bring the people of Israel back from the dead in the land that they once called their own.
The thing about Ezekiel’s story is the people he knew assumed the worst! The last years of their life had them only seeing the worst! They assumed that they were going to begin another period of slavery in exile as it was in the days after Joseph and before Moses. Within the 50 years, the Babylonian Empire would fall into the hands of the Persians. Soon Israelites would come back to their land led by men such as Ezra and Nehemiah. Through the group of men who returned a Savior was born. God’s chosen people would soon be resurrected just like the dry bones promised.
For our lives are often the lives of the people to whom Ezekiel was speaking. We often identify with the population of Israel. Deep down inside we often view God with cynicism, skepticism, and doubt. We carry grudges because of either our pride or we don’t’ believe that God can change other people, or we don’t believe that God can change us.
As it is in the time of Ezekiel, it is when sin completely kills that the Gospel can bring us back to life.
For example, when you talk to preachers ask them if they’d rather perform a “wedding” or a “funeral”. The answer to this question might seem obvious, but it isn’t. For people often don’t care what you say at weddings, their mind is always on the upcoming party; whereas at funerals, the words that one says matter.
People are always wondering about God’s role in death. No one would sit here today if they didn’t. Whenever we sit at a funeral, we wonder about our own death. We wonder how God is going to respond when we come into his presence.
We care about the Gospel at funerals. We need to hear how soon a day will come when God will restore tendons, flesh, skin, breath and bring our dead bones back to life not only physically but also spiritually especially in an imperfect people as lived in the days of Ezekiel.
I want to close this morning by taking a detour in the sermon. I want to reflect upon a practical question that many people have “What do I think of cremation?”
Cremation is a practice that was looked down on in the Church since the Church’s earliest days for a few reasons.
1. Pagan religions often burned their dead as a way of mocking Christian belief in the Resurrection. Cremation was considered a crime whose practitioners could be punished by death in Europe for over 1000 years for this reason.
2. Eastern Religions like Hinduism often cremated due to their belief in reincarnation rather than Resurrection.
The last few decades though have seen cremation slowly gain acceptance in churches. The reasons for cremation are health reasons, financial reasons, and practical space reasons. China could in no way bury billions of people.
Lutherans have long been quite open to cremation for nearly one-hundred fifty years due to the cold climates that Lutherans often lived making burying people in the middle of winter difficult.
So for these reasons, cremation is in many cases a matter of personal preference. Cremation is a question to which the scriptures don’t’ give an answer.
What we shouldn’t do is argue against cremation for reasons of doubt on the grounds that God can’t create life out of ashes, just as we shouldn’t doubt that God can take the bones of a fallen people and bring them back to life.
The message that Ezekiel gives is the Gospel in a nutshell. Ezekiel’s story is a story of hope to people in a time of despair. A message that those on the verge of giving up need to hear.
1. No sinner is beyond redemption, no matter how wicked Israel was before it fell, and no matter how many false religions it pursued. God’s love was such that he was not going to abandon his chosen people.
2. Today we celebrate the day of Pentecost. The Birthday of the Christian Church. The day that the Holy Spirit came down from heaven.
Robert Farrar Capon points out how so many of us think about God’s activity in the world in the wrong way. We assume that God works like a sewing needle, piercing a piece of fabric, then withdrawing. Whereas rather God works an iceberg hidden below the surface, getting ready to poke above the surface water changing everything that it encounters without warning.
The message of Pentecost is that God is not absent from our world today. The Holy Spirit carries out God's work. God is present as we encounter the pages of scriptures by which the Holy Spirit speaks. God is present as the Spirit comes to us in the most ordinary of forms (water, bread, and wine). The Holy Spirit comes to us through articulate preachers and boring preachers. The Holy Spirit comes whenever we encounter the Gospel in our daily lives. The Holy Spirit comes when we hear a word of forgiveness and resurrection in the midst of our personal tragedy as in the days of Ezekiel.
The Spirit reminds us that God is still working in the world even when we might have good reason to doubt it. This God’s work is not going to be completed until dem bones get ready to rise from the ground and start dancing down the streets. Amen
 Lamentations 4:10
 The Kennedys miniseries from where this scene came aired in 2011 on Reelz Channel.
 Ezekiel 37:3
 Ezekiel 37:3
 Ezekiel 37:4
 Ezekiel 37:9
 Ezekiel 37:11
 A big lecturing theme of my former Luther Seminary Professor Steve Paulson.
 This reference is from a comment made by Frank Sonnek in a Mockingbird article entitled “Mockingbird Glossary: Pneumatology aka The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit” published by Mockingbird Ministries on March 16,2010.
First Lesson: Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26
Responsive Reading: Psalm 1
Second Lesson: 1 John 5: 9-13
Gospel Lesson: John 17: 6-19
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this morning like I begin nearly every Sunday morning with a story. Let’s go back in time to the year 1994. We know 1994 for Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan, Forrest Gump, and the death of the voice of Generation X - Kurt Cobain.
1994 was the year of my own confirmation at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lindstrom. Picture me in 1994, rocking a mop-top haircut, about twenty pounds heavier without the muscle. I liked to dress with jeans so baggy that you wouldn’t want to run down the street due to the risk of being arrested. I thought Snoop Doggy Dogg as people knew him back then was God’s gift to music. I still got yelled at by my parents plenty at home! I will admit that after years of self-reflection that they were probably generally right.
I want to tell you a story from my own confirmation that serves as a public confession. My class had about forty kids. We had so many kids that we needed to have a rehearsal for the confirmation ceremony a few days before. When you have forty kids trying to follow directions, you are bound to have some chaos. Having turned fifteen just a couple weeks prior, I thought I was a lot smarter than I really was. So I desired to show off my cleverness to some of my friends. I wasn’t really all that unique for a fifteen-year-old. So as me and some friends were standing right next to the Everlasting or Eternal Candle. This candle that shines in our presence this morning is always lit to symbolize “How the promises of the Gospel shall never leave us or forsake us”.
Now in my fifteen-year-old mind, I figured that the reason that this candle always stayed lit is because it must be one of those trick candles that I had seen at birthday parties. So I asked my friends to watch as I gently blew over the top of it (hoping to get a laugh). My plan didn’t work though as the candle went out, and smoke started filling the sanctuary. I figured I was for sure going to hell at this point! I avoided getting caught since there was no way to keep straight who was doing what. I lacked the courage at this stage in my life to confess my sin. What this story illustrates is that if anyone had any doubts that God could forgive them for what they’ve done wrong, look no further than myself standing up here today.
Today’s confirmation lesson comes to us from Acts the 1st Chapter. Our lesson comes to us from the earliest days of the Christian church. It’s a tale of the eleven remaining disciples of Jesus as they seek to chart out a course in this world. Many of us wrongly think that faith would be easy if only our lives could encounter Jesus just like the Disciples did. The Disciples lives though were anything but easy. The Disciples had plenty of disappointments and fears as they lived during the Church’s early few years. The Disciples encountered all sorts of nasty things being said about them and received all kinds of threats of physical violence as they looked out onto the horizon until the Lord’s return. The Disciples could have easily given up on trying to establish a church, yet they didn’t. The Disciples knew that starting the Christian church was a matter of life and death that went beyond even their lives or death.
In today’s lesson, The Disciples need to choose a replacement for Judas, so they decide to cast lots. The Disciples pick a man named Matthias. Today’s sermon though is not about Matthias. Matthias is perhaps the least famous Disciple. There are no books of the Bible named after him.
All that we know about Matthias is that legend has him traveling around the Greek coast trying to start churches. Matthias’ story is ultimately the story of the Confirmation class for today. Your story from this day forward is an open book. The question for this morning is “How do we be a church in a world that seemingly rejects its authority more every single day?”
You might wonder how did I go from a poorly behaved confirmation student to a confirmation preacher? I began to realize a few things about life.
To do this reflection, let me reflect on the words of the great American philosopher P. Diddy. P Diddy back in the day came out with a well-known tract called “Coming Home.” This song actually has quite a bit to do with Diddy’s spiritual journey.
Diddy in the Chorus cries out:
“I’m coming home; I’m coming home! Tell the world I’m coming home. Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday. I know my kingdom awaits, and they’ve forgiven my mistakes.”
Diddy's whole song is expressing a yearning for redemption. The whole song consists of Diddy expressing remorse for how he treated his baby mama and his kids. Diddy reflects upon painful memories such as the Death of his best friend, the Notorious Big. Diddy is expressing his desire to go home is hoping to go to the one place on earth where he might be forgiven for his mistakes. For P. Diddy is going through a spiritual crisis that we often see in the Church, Diddy's expressing a drowning through his awareness of his guilt and sin.
My message for this morning is never get like P Diddy though and believe that you have sins that God can't possibly forgive. For God is working in your life in ways that might not be obvious today, they might not be clear for ten-twenty or even thirty years. Our God will not stop loving you! Our God will love you irregardless of your imperfections, your failures or your sins.
The reason that I dedicate my life to this type of work is because everyone needs forgiveness. People out there can and will say all sorts of nasty things about you. The reason that the Church exists in my life is because I need a means of hope in a fallen world. I need to be a part of a place that looks beyond what we see every single day. I need at times of joy, celebration, and death to be in the presence of people who also believe that God is somehow working through it all. I long for Water, Wine, Wheat, and Word that no one else can give outside these walls. I could have very easily stopped being involved in the church after I was confirmed. I would have rather slept in on a Sunday morning. What brings me to church is the opportunity to connect real life experiences with what’s going on deep with my soul (sin, grace, law and gospel). The candle never stopped burning even as I attempted to blow it out!
The thing about your life ahead is that it will not go according to the script. You will probably have your heart broken. You will come to a place where you yearn for answers. It is at these moments that I pray that through it all you see that this is the place that shall stand beside you. We do not stand beside you because we are perfect ourselves. “We are an imperfect church made for imperfect people”. We rather stand beside you because this place belongs to Jesus. We belong to the one who promises to stand alongside you until bringing you till the day of Resurrection.
We are now at the end of our confirmation journey. The times of high/lows, would you rathers, watching me throwing Catechisms around the room, Sardines, Mafia, Toilet Plunger vs. Toilet Brush Hockey, and hearing legendary stories of Randy LaBarge wrestling a bear in his underwear has come to an end.
I want to conclude this morning by saying a few words about each of our confirmands.
Brandon Dow- Brandon’s passions are the Boy Scouts and being outdoors. Brandon my words of wisdom for you this morning are “own the type of person” that you want to be. Don’t buy anybody else’s generic brand. What I have learned in my thirty-five years of living is that there are going to be people that aren’t going to click with you for whatever reason. There are going to be people who lack the courage to stand beside you when you need the most. Brandon if you “own the type of person” that you want to be. You will be less concerned with what others are going to think about you. You will come across the type of people that wish to be what you’re ultimately about in the end. For those who reject you for who you are, their behavior says more about them then it ultimately does about you. Brandon, I’ve dealt with you quite a bit over the past few years. You do have a lot going for you. Remember that you need to be your own brand of awesome, not anybody else’s.
Nick Perfetto- Nick’s a fiery, competitive guy. When Nick thinks he knows an answer when playing Jeopardy, Nick leaps up from his chair. I’ve had to try to get Nick to chillax on more than one occasion. Nick’s deep, dark secret since he’s getting confirmed I can blast to the whole town of Silver Bay is one time when traveling down to Adventure Zone in Duluth, Nick kept pressuring me to play the song “Roar” by Katy Perry until he finally wore me down. Nick absolutely loved coming to confirmation at Sychar. Nick’s asked if he could come back even next year. Nick’s energy is what makes me excited to finally be able to have a youth group for kids that we confirm today in the years ahead.
Hunter Monson- QB 1. The neat thing about Hunter being with us the past few years has been seeing his growth as a human being. Hunter has been more responsible, helped keep the class on track at times, all the while remaining his smooth self. For the record, Hunter Monson is the only person that has ever sent me a text message stating “sup girl.” Hunter will often come early to Confirmation, and one of the best things about him is watching him interact with our Little Fishes. Hunter can get the kids’ affection in a short amount of time. Hunter, I want to personally “thank you” for choosing Sychar as the place of your confirmation journey.
Zach Lewis- Zach hit a shot to win a JV basketball game against Cook County earlier this year. I believe that I was the only adult to storm the court afterward to give Zach a running high-five. I’m sure that I looked like a huge dork at this moment, but the thing is that I really don’t care. I am how I am, and for that I don’t apologize. Leaders will always stay faithful to their convictions above all else. Zach was a leader amongst our confirmation class. What is noteworthy about Zach is the way that he leads, he doesn’t compromise, he will not sell people out, he keeps his cool and he believes that he can get his point across without sheer intimidation. Zach carries himself in a way that commands the respect of others. Zach your role going forward in this world will be defined by these very things that you do so well.
Sylvia Davey- Sylvia had an interesting confirmation experience being one of the two girls along with Lily Lewis with upwards of ten boys at times. Sylvia could tell you all that a person could ever want to know about the behavior of 8th, 9th, and 10th-grade boys. Marc and Becky need not worry though as Sylvia was more than able to hold her own when kids got out of line. The thing that stands out about Sylvia is her loyalty to others from family to friends to her own commitments. Last Wednesday due to school scheduling conflicts, we had no kids due to track meets, softball games, and baseball games. Sylvia asked me if she should skip, so that she wouldn’t miss the last confirmation. Sylvia’s loyalty is on display as she plays Basketball all winter, regardless of the outcome, her attitude stays the same. When the boys would get rowdy Sylvia’s attitude towards them would be the very same the next week as the previous week. All these things speak to Sylvia’s ultimate character as we reflect upon what she has brought to this church.
Gunnar Frahm-The thing that stands out to me about Gunnar is his rare sense of selflessness. I’ve had Mr.Nicklay, and teachers make comments to me unprovoked about the rare type of kid that Gunnar is always going out of his way to help others. Just last weekend, Gunnar sent me a text message hoping to buy his mom flowers so that he may honor her in front of the church. When I talk to Gunnar about his plans, his number one goal is not his own personal interests. Gunnar’s number one goal is to see to it that Renee and Faith are always in good care. Gunnar knows that he’s a bit different in how he sees the world from other kids. Gunnar, I want you to look at this is a good thing.
I once had a wise professor say unto me “No one ever changed the church or the world by following someone else’s path”. Gunnar I ask that you go through life with patience, your time will come, and when it does it will be awesome.
You will someday be able to see the purpose behind God’s plan for your life. You will be able to see that God’s will for you is always good as you encounter the one who gave himself for you upon a cross.
Let us as a congregation give thanks to our confirmation class today. We confirm a group that has celebrated Sychar over the years. We celebrate receiving as members here today the future of this church. Thanks be to God for his work and presence in the lives of Brandon, Nick, Hunter, Zach, Sylvia, and Gunnar on this day.
First Lesson: Acts 10: 44-48
Responsive Reading: Psalm 98
Second Lesson: 1 John 5: 1-6
Gospel Lesson: John 15: 9-17
Grace and Peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin by telling the story of Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad were both students at the University of Minnesota. Dad had recently gone out with a girl named Nancy from Saint Paul. Dad approaches who he thinks to be Nancy not realizing that Nancy had a twin sister who would become my mother. The rest of the story is Mom and Dad are now in their 43rd year of marriage.
While Mom and Dad’s love story is unique, it is not the most important love story that you will hear today. The following story might change everything that you think about love. I want to tell you the story of a guy named Doug and a woman named Jaime. Doug and Jaime met through reality TV.
The network Biography airs a show called Married at First Sight. Married at First Sight is a show where people volunteer to marry complete strangers. The marriages are arranged by experts (phycologists, sociologist, spiritualist, and sexologist). The premise behind Married at First Sight is that the first time that you’re going to meet the bride/groom is at the wedding. The couples then are whisked away to a honeymoon where they’re supposed to live happily ever after.
We probably think the premise of a show like this is stupid. We reject arranged marriage because it is an affront to our sake of personal independence. We like to believe that our decisions are always going to work out best for us in the end. The idea that someone might choose for us to enter into the most sacred of relationships is a scary thought.
Back to the story of Doug and Jaime, Jaime has it all. Jaime has a great job as a nurse. Jaime’s tan, in shape, and has the looks of a model. If Jaime’s alone in a room every single guy, there is going to approach her. Doug is a different story. Doug is tall, awkward and goofy-looking. Doug has noticeable moles on his face. Doug after some bad financial decisions is living at home with his parents. You break this down on paper; Doug doesn’t look like he belongs with Jaime. Jaime would appear to be way out of Doug’s league. Yet the experts decide that they belong together.
Doug and Jaime finally meet at the wedding. Jaime upon seeing that she had agreed to marry Doug was devastated. Jaime didn’t believe that she could feel attraction for a guy like him. Jaime would express her disgust about Doug to everyone who would listen. When Doug would attempt any sort of physical contact with Jaime, Doug’s touch would repel Jaime. Jaime at the wedding reception had a major meltdown in front of Doug’s family because she couldn’t believe that the experts could assign her a man that she would never want for herself. Doug’s family believes that he’s going to be much better off if he never has anything to do with Jaime ever again.
Early in the relationship, something begins to stand out about Doug. Doug’s ability to forgive Jaime is noteworthy. Jaime was never going to lower herself by referring to any getaway with Doug as a “honeymoon”, so Doug starts calling it a “vacation”. Jaime forgets Doug’s last name, Doug merely laughs. Whenever Jaime wishes to avoid any physical or emotional intimacy, Doug gives all the space that she needs. Doug figures that he’s going to be unable to sweep Jaime off her feet at first sight but Doug is going to be patient with her and not give up on her. Jaime is dumbfounded by this all. Jaime had never had another relationship in her life remotely resembling this one. She knows that she’s treating Doug horribly, yet Doug cannot stop smiling when he’s in Jaime’s presence. People that saw Doug and Jaime’s story play out would probably think that Doug is a sucker and a sap for putting up with Jaime’s diva-like behavior.
Doug’s joy in Jaime’s presence eventually begins to cause Jaime’s walls to crumble down. Jaime finally breaks down to Doug about why she has so much difficulty trusting others. Jaime grew up in a trailer park. Jaime’s Mom was a drug addict. Jaime has no clue who her Dad is. Jaime on the exterior seemed to have it (looks and a great job), yet on the interior she was broken beyond belief. When Jaime finally puts her real self out there for Doug, he is not going to abandon her, in fact, he loves her all the more. Jaime had lived her life up to this point consumed with all that she didn’t have. Jaime thought she knew the story believing that it would lead to a tragic future. Whereas Doug had vowed a dedication to this marriage beyond what Jaime deserved. Doug was going to be thrilled to marry Jaime, even when Jaime’s reaction was going to be anything but excitement. The relationship was not going to be defined by Jaime’s mistakes, rather Doug’s forgiveness. We will get back to Doug and Jaime’s story in a bit.
Today’s Gospel comes to us from John the 15th Chapter. John 15 is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse. It’s a long speech by which Jesus gives the Disciples words of wisdom to ponder as he is not in their immediate presence.
Jesus in today’s lesson wishes to give the Disciples a sense of peace. Jesus wishes to extend unto the Disciples a promise to guide them no matter what peaks and valleys that their lives take them. Jesus wants to remind the Disciples that he will come back for them as he proclaims “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
Jesus is not only preaching to the Disciples but also to a particular fear and insecurity about their own salvation that grips many people.
Let me tell a story, a while back another church in town was holding an evangelistic meeting that was designed to attract the “young people”. I attend the event; you have speakers high on enthusiasm who proclaim that to really be a Christian “It’s not enough to be a baby and get a little wet”. The speakers managed to poke holes in the lives of junior high and high-school students, who are unsure about their place and purpose in this world. These methods can often be effective. The problem gets to be when the seemingly initial rush of a chosen conversion begins to fade. It might be fun and exciting to run on race day, yet it’s never fun and exciting to run on a cold and windy morning.
All these things bring us to the reality of the Christian life. Someone could walk into this church today and say we talk too much about “Baptism” and “The Lord’s Supper”. Someone could proclaim that we make “grace” too cheap and easy. They might say we put too much emphasis on the Gospel in the presence of the world that could stand to hear a “word of judgment”.
The reason we talk about these things is because of what they say about salvation. Infant Baptism is the perfect example of God’s work of salvation. A helpless infant entirely dependent on others is saved. In Baptism, God expresses devotion and loyalty to a fallen humanity.
Christ died for you. The sacraments are given unto you. The Church should not exist to look for ways to restrict access to God’s graciousness.
There are three spiritual truths that should guide us every day of our lives. 1. We are a broken, imperfect people. I could stand up here, and it would be like shooting fish in a barrel to point out the problems in people’s lives. 2. God wants to bring everyone to salvation. “For God so loved the World that he gave his only son.” The scriptures never cite an example of a person that God does not desire to bring to salvation 3. God is actively working to bring forth the day of your salvation. God is going around zeroing in on people no different than Doug zeroed on in Jaime, not being easily deterred by the so-called evidence by which many people would issue judgment. God is going around dispensing his gifts of grace in the most happy-go lucky of fashions.
People often get angry when hearing stories like Jaime and Doug’s. The fact that a guy like Doug would put up with Jaime while receiving so little in return seems to be the definition of unfair. We always have a warped sense of fairness. The only hope that any of us has in either life or death is that God chooses to act “unfairly” in the form of Jesus Christ.
In the words of Romans 8 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
In closing, back to the story of Jaime and Doug. Jaime begins to open to Doug. Jaime begins to fall for Doug in spite of her initial resistance. Doug eventually saves to buy Jaime a “new ring” that could be their “ring”, right before they re-exchanged their vows in their own storybook fashion. Who says that arranged marriages are always a bad thing? Jaime and Doug’s story is a beautiful tale of election. It’s a perfect metaphor for God’s salvation. Jaime gave Doug every reason not to love her, to march out of her life, yet Doug would not be deterred. Like the story of Jaime and Doug, God’s choosing of us in anything but rational. Our God is neither cold or calculating. Our God has chosen you for salvation from the very foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Christ died for everyone! Christ died for Judas Iscariot, who would betray him for thirty pieces of silver. Christ died for Pharoah,who abused God’s chosen people. Christ died for Jaime even as she thought no one could love her if they knew her secrets. This is reality! Amen
 The inspiration is written by Condon, Sarah. “Love Lessons from Fungus: Married at First Sight”. Mockingbird Ministiries (MBIRD). 26. Aug.2014. Web. May.4.2015.
 Condon, Sarah. “Love Lessons from Fungus: Married at First Sight”.
 Condon, Sarah. “Love Lessons from Fungus: Married at First Sight”.
 Condon, Sarah. “Love Lessons from Fungus: Married at First Sight”.
 Condon, Sarah. “Love Lessons from Fungus: Married at First Sight”.
 Condon, Sarah. “Love Lessons from Fungus: Married at First Sight”.
 John 15:16
 This is from a beautiful quote of Robert Farrar Capon’s that can be found on his Wikipedia article in it’s entirety.
 Romans 8:28-30
First Lesson: Acts 8: 26-40
Responsive Reading: Psalm 22: 25-31
Second Lesson: 1 John 4: 7-21
Gospel Lesson: John 15: 1-8
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
There is a famous saying that has hung outside more than one church that says “God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts.”
Let me begin with a story, I’ve told this to the confirmation students before. When I was growing up, I knew a guy named Hank. I played basketball with Hank’s sons. If you met Hank, you would think that he’s the most religious man that you’ve ever met. You run into Hank at the grocery store the conversation would go like so:
“Hank, how are you doing Today?”
“I’m doing fine, Praise the Lord!”
“Nice weather that we have out there.”
“God is good, Praise the Lord!”
“Too bad about the boys losing that Basketball game the other night.”
“We’ll get better, Praise the Lord!”
Hank was a fine upstanding Christian. Hank would pray out loud at restaurants. Hank could quote the scriptures better than a lot of ministers. No one could ever accuse Hank of not being motivated and excited about what God did for him. To many Hank would be a religious nut, Hank was quite vocal about how his religion affected his belief system.
The issue with Hank though was not of sanity; it was rather one of insecurity. Hank was like the teenage girl stepping on the scale every morning, hoping that she can reach a goal weight as the total defining mark of all that she is to be.
The issue with Hank seems to be how he understands the Christian Life. Hank believed the Christian Life as something that was visible, something that he needed to reveal bluntly and directly in every encounter that he had.
If Hank isn’t the model of the Christian life what should it be?
Let’s break the exactly what is spiritual fruit. The phrase “spiritual fruit” is Biblical. The most famous phrase occurring in Galatians 5
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
We’d like to know people that can be these things all the time, kind, joyous, peaceful, and self-controlled. What I’ve found is that even when I think I’m doing pretty good with all these things then the Vikings will lose in disappointing fashion, I’ll go sulk in my room and be back to square one.
So why do we come to Church then if we keep ending up at the same place again and again? The meaning of “spiritual fruit” leads us into our Gospel for today from John the 15th chapter.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”- John 15:5
I’ll freely admit that this is not my favorite passage to preach on. You start talking about being vines and branches then everyone will quickly get confused. John 15 is a passage about how not only we are to live as Christian people, but about how God runs the world.
One of the most important concepts within Luther’s belief system was his understanding of how God runs the world through two separate kingdoms. The right-hand kingdom is that God rules through the instruments of Word and Sacrament. God reigns by giving clear words of promise to those who hear them. Contrast the right-hand with the left-hand kingdom which is where God places us in this world to live out our callings to our neighbor through individual vocations. We must not get these two kingdoms confused. Everyone wants to save the world, yet no one wants to do the dishes and for Christians this is inevitability a problem. We must always keep our responsibilities straight. The key to living as a Christian is to remember that your responsibilities are always going to be for the world around you.
A while back, a church in town had some members go to the parking lot at Zup’s. They came up and started asking random people how do they know that they’re saved. People would say “I go to such and such a church” or “I’m a good person” or something like this.
The people asking this question wanted to more proof that the person was saved such as some testimonial where they went from being in bar fights to leading Bible studies. The thing is salvation doesn’t occur by proof; salvation merely occurs by promise.
“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”- John 15:3
Only once we come to terms with the fact that our salvation is already achieved can we move outwards without hesitation to serving the world around us.
How do we live as Christian people? Let me tell a story as recalled by Tim Zingale.
In 1954, Time magazine told the story of a Korean boy named Ronnie. Ronnie’s mother died during the war, and Ronnie’s father abandoned him. Ronnie is found nearly dead on the floor of a shack. Ronnie eventually falls into the care of a Korean nurse named Grace. Grace adopts Ronnie.
Raising a child was not going to be easy for Grace especially one with Ronnie’s health. Grace had to make many personal sacrifices so that Ronnie could receive the food and vitamins needed to get back to health. Grace did all that she could, yet Ronnie wasn’t getting any better. Ronnie eventually develops tuberculosis and the only way for Ronnie to become strong was through bone grafting. Remember in 1954, medical technology wasn’t what it was today, especially in post-war Korea.
Grace insists that since they need bone to take it from her leg. The doctors really didn’t want to do this. Grace was not well herself having just healed from kidney surgery. Grace would not take “no” for an answer. The doctors eventually give in, when presented with no other options. Grace would be in a cast for the next several months. Grace would never walk right after this surgery. Grace never regretted doing this though. Grace knew that she had done what she was called to do whenever she saw Ronnie running, laughing, and playing. Grace was not this boy’s mother; Grace became the boy’s mother. Grace’s actions were crazy because they went against what every reasonable person would deem logical.
“Something is not a fruit if you have to think about why you do it.” Grace just acted this way towards Ronnie for reasons that she could not explain.
This week we’ve seen some of the worst of human instincts play out before our very eyes in Baltimore. The worst of all human ideology has been on display. The conservatives blame the liberals, and liberals blame the conservatives. People use past sins as a justification for present sins. Baltimore is not a unique situation. It’s just a sign of the times that we can dehumanize each other and not think anything of it. We are often slaves to our own belief system regardless of its rightness. We must emphasize again and again that this world is under attack by forces that we can not often name. Look at the mess that is our world as we turn on the TV and tell me that there isn’t a devil present and lurking.
The Church can merely be branches on the world’s vine. In the words of Russell Moore, our calling to exist does not lie because we are smarter or more moral than those who would rather sit at the coffee shop then attend worship. We do not produce fruit because we have brains that the non- religious could not possibly have. We do not produce change because we even have greater character than an Atheist. We exist because we are a forward-looking people. We believe that the Gospel belongs to the most serious of sinners and we have the Gospel, we have the vine.”
The only thing that makes the Church unique is that we have Christ. If a branch breaks from a tree, then it will surely die. The Father sees to it though that the vine shall grow and keep bearing fruit. One day all the unproductive branches will be pruned once and for all. The branch is always in the vine; Christians are always in Christ.
How should we understand our lesson for today? We begin by understanding its audience. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, the ones that would have been thought to be the religious nuts of his day. People knew the Pharisees religion far and wide yet according to Jesus their religiosity wasn’t producing fruit.
The Disciples are the branches. The Disciples are the ones who are told that they are going to produce fruit. The thing about fruits is they are called “Fruits of the Spirit” because we do not produce them as rewards for our efforts. Rather fruits are what we produce as a gift. We never produce good works as Christian people. A good work can never be so because our motivations are often in the wrong place that we need to look good before God and Man. If you need to discern your motives, then you aren’t producing good work, whereas a fruit like in the tale of the Korean nurse Grace comes without much need to try to discern why.
Fruits come just by living life as a normal person. The Christian life is not about being a hero. You live as a Christian when you do all sorts of things that maybe don’t seem all that outwardly religious from scrubbing floors to being a part of the life of a child.
The vine supports the branches; you are God’s child. Your life depends on the vine promising not to snap.
The Christian life is not easy. It would be way simpler if every time you came to church you saw dramatic changes in your own life and the life of those around you. Nobody masters the Christian life, yet our spirit remains present. Change comes in our lives precisely when we don’t see it. Faith is hidden. Apart from Word and sacraments, Christ is hidden.
The following sermon is not a how-to manual on producing “spiritual fruits”. I don’t believe such a manual can be written. Fruits don’t decide they are going to latch to the vine. You don’t decide to produce spiritual fruits any more than an apple choose to be an orange. What rather happens is that the Spirit takes us at moments that we don’t expect to serve our neighbor in ways that we could not previously imagine. One ultimately doesn’t have to be thought of as a religious nut to produce spiritual fruit. Amen
 Galatians 5:22-23a.
 Pastor Donavon Riley pointed me to a reflection for Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter found on the Higher Things website based on 1 Peter 2:11-20 which served as useful reflection considering the purpose of the Christian life. This reflection is for April 28th, 2015 and edited by Rev. Mark Buetow.
 Zingale, Tim. “Are YOU Attached”. Sermon Central. May 2003. Web. Apr.28.2015
 The best commentary on Balitmore was written by Reverend Russell Moore entitled “What Balitmore Needs” 27. Apr.2015. Moore to the Point(Russell Moore.com). Web. Apr.28.2015.
 Moore, Russell. Reverend “What Balitmore Needs”
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. Pages 73-74.
 The Cross Alone Website has an article pointed out to me by Joe Burgess entitled “Not ‘the centered life’-but “hidden in Christ”. This line is a direct quote from the article. The website is maintained by Dr. Meg Madson.