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.
First Lesson: Acts 4: 5-12
Responsive Reading: Psalm 23
Second Lesson: 1 John 3: 16-24
Gospel Lesson: John 10: 11-18
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this morning with a story. In 2011, I was going to take a vacation to Las Vegas like most winters, the only difference was this time I was going to side junket to see my Aunt Carol in California. Carol calls me up and says that she is going to invite Grandma to join us for the festivities. You figure a thirty-one-year-old Lutheran minister, his fifty-one-year-old aunt, and eighty-seven-year-old grandma getting together would make for a boring story, you would be wrong.
I leave peaceful Las Vegas to drive to California. Driving rush hour in Los Angeles was going to be the most peaceful part of the rest of the day. I’m supposed to pick Grandma up curbside at LAX with her having no cell-phone. When I finally track her down, she needs help to getting to the bathroom. The following scenario isn’t ideal when you’re curbside at LAX. I help Grandma to the bathroom, rush back to the car hoping it’s not stolen or towed, and then go meet Grandma again to push her out to the car. The only problem was in the franticness of trying to park the car in a large foreign airport, I forgot my way back to the car. I have to spend the next ninety minutes walking parking lots at LAX to try to find a rental car. Once I finally get Grandma into the car, I enter in Aunt Carol’s address into the GPS. The thing about Grandma is she isn’t real good with directions; the problem with this is that she gets agitated when you don’t listen to her. Grandma insists Carol lives north of the airport, rather than south.
So the entire car trip consists of Grandma yelling at the GPS “shut up”, shouting some words that would be defined as “cuss words” and proclaiming how we’re going to end up dead in Mexico before the night is over.
Finally, I try getting Aunt Carol on the phone to calm Grandma down. The following conversation would only agitate the situation. Soon, I’m driving on the 405 San Diego Expressway listening to Aunt Carol and Grandma yelling at each other over my cell phone at the top of each other’s lungs over directions. A few hours in California have turned into the least peaceful vacation of my entire life. Finally, we get to Orange County about ten West Coast time.
I go to bed sometime about two am; I get woken up at four by Aunt Carol and Grandma screaming at each other at the top of their lungs. I don’t even think about getting out of bed. I didn’t care to know the nature of the argument at this point. I just hope it stops soon enough that I can some sleep. When I wake up the next morning, no one acts at all like any of this is outside of normal.
The thing about Grandma and Aunt Carol is this is their relationship. My Aunt and Grandma think nothing of calling each other at 2 AM as Grandma stays in the nursing home with a roommate. They’ll yell at each other, and then think nothing of it five minutes later. They are as close to each other as any mother and daughter could be. What their relationship does though is showcase the myth that all Swedes are afraid to express themselves.
Their relationship like all human relationships it is unique. They have a weird give and take, but it works for them. It seems like whatever comes their way the relationship is never in flux even as the world around them might be pulling them every direction imaginable. These bedrock relationships in the midst of chaos are what we desire in life.
My Aunt and Grandma’ story brings us to today’s Gospel lesson from John 10 where Jesus proclaims to be the Good Shepherd. This proclamation ties into our Psalm for today that we all know for its famous beginning “The Lord is my shepherd”.
What’s noteworthy about this passage is the audience for this passage. Jesus is speaking to the very disciples, who are about to abandon him upon his arrest. Jesus is saying to his disciples that our relationship is not going to be like a normal relationship. You’re going to run away from me, you’re going to ignore my call, and I’m still going to chase after you. Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd because sheep are animals that will inevitability disappoint you. The thing about a good shepherd is that his priority is never on the sheep that stay where they’re supposed to stay; the shepherd’s priority is always to the lost sheep. A shepherd will always put his lost sheep first.
What does this passage have to do with us today? I’ll often hear people talk about their relationship with Jesus being the most important thing in their lives. Such language always sounds good, but I do wonder if it misses the point.
Think of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep, this is a one sided relationship. The shepherd is the one who gives all good things; the shepherd watches over his sheep as a father watches over his children. The shepherd is ultimately the sheep’s savior once harm comes their way; the sheep are merely the heirs to all the good things that a shepherd may deliver.
Michael Horton a few years ago wrote a book called Christless Christianity in this book; Horton describes the Christian’s relationship with the shepherd.
Horton says, “Everyone has a personal relationship with God already: either as a condemned criminal standing before a righteous judge or as a justified coheir with Christ and adopted child of the Father.”
We stand before God either as a guilty sinner or forgiven saint. There is no potential state of flux. Our relationship with Jesus was not defined within the last week; nor will it be defined within the upcoming week, our relationship was made on a cross.
What makes our relationship with Jesus different than all voluntary human relationships is it is defined by a promise. The observable measure of our faith is what God gives to us in word and sacrament.
The thing that stands out so much about this passage is the contrasts that it portrays
“He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who doesn't own the sheep, sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep, and flees,”-John 10:12
This week I was watching a TV show on former LSU Basketball Coach Dale Brown and Shaquille O’Neil. Their story begins with O’Neil living in Germany as a 13-year-old boy. O’Neil stood 6’9 but was unable to dunk a basketball. O’Neil was too weak in the legs. O’ Neil is ready to give up basketball. O’Neil hears that LSU Coach Dale Brown is coming to visit his stepfather’s Army base. O’Neil decides to try to approach Brown for advice. O’Neil despite his size was just as timid and awkward as your average thirteen old. Brown promises O’Neil that once he’s back in Louisiana, he was going to send Shaquille strength drills to get bigger. Brown keeps his word. Brown stays in touch with this uncoordinated thirteen-year-old in Germany. Brown stays in touch throughout O’Neil’s high school career before O’Neil decides to play for Coach Brown at LSU. Brown’s relationship with O’Neil was about much more than just winning games. When O’Neil misses a class, Brown forces him out of bed to run sprints at the track. When O’Neil thinks that he is going to bomb in speech class, Brown helps him by listening to his speech. Years go by; O’Neil leaves LSU becomes the biggest Basketball star in the world. O’Neil makes hundreds of millions of dollars, yet Dale Brown never asks for a thing. O'Neil is still contacted by Dale Brown every week, no different then when he was an awkward thirteen-year-old living in Germany. The shepherd and the sheep’s relationship will not change because of the sheep’s success or lack of success.
‘Shepherds do not come and go willy-nilly out of a sheep’s life. Think of the most important of relationships in your life. Do these people leave you when your hair is either leaving you or going gray? Do these people leave you if you’re carrying a few extra pounds around the midsection? Do these people abandon you after hearing you tell the same boring story time and time again? 
The difference between a hired hand and a shepherd is the difference between one looking to collect a paycheck and someone whose vow to you extends way beyond what you can ever give them in return. The good shepherd promises to stand alongside us during the storms of our life when others go running for shelter.
Let me tell another story. I start to work in Lamberton. I get a call from Pastor Warren Baker in Estherville, Iowa saying that his congregation prayer team is praying for me and that he is going to watch over me in the months ahead. I go meet Warren for lunch at the Embers off I-90 in Jackson, Minnesota a bunch of times over my time down there. Warren’s a colorful character. Warren’s the type of guy that if he meets ten new people, the sheer bluntness of his words will have no one leaving the room unsure how they feel about him for better or worse.
The thing that I admire about Warren is once a person comes into his life there is not one thing that he wouldn’t do for them. He would think nothing of driving 1500 miles to help a small house church in the middle of nowhere Montana figure out their next steps. Warren would think nothing of being on the phone at seven in the morning or eleven at night. Warren would think nothing of driving a hundred miles for a hospital visit. Warren would think nothing of giving money out of his pocket to help someone else down on their luck. Warren has dedication to shepherding his congregation and those outside his congregation like no minister that I’ve ever met.
One day, Warren is sitting down with me when he makes one of the boldest statements that he’ll ever make.
He says, “Stew you’re really lucky if, in life, you have five people that will always be close to you. People that will stand beside you whether you’re successful or a failure. People that will be close to you wherever your ministry will take you. Stew, you have your Father, you have Carl, one day you’ll maybe have a wife that falls into this category, and the last person you have is Warren Baker”.
The brashness of this statement caught me off. Who is this guy to talk to me in such a way? How can he make such a bold promise? I would never say anything like that in return. What Warren was saying is no different than what the good shepherd is saying to the sheep.
The definition of a good shepherd is someone who will go farther for the sheep then makes any real sense. The relationship between a shepherd and a sheep is never one of like for like or trade off for trade off. The relationship between a shepherd and a sheep is one where the shepherd promises to walk alongside side the sheep, sustain the sheep with the gifts of life, while the sheep merely stare at the shepherd confused by it all.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep, and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”- John 10:14-15
The point of our passage from today where Jesus promises to be our good shepherd is we do not control our relationship. What we must always do is contrast the relationship between Jesus and Us with every other relationship that we hold in our life.
What the Christian ultimately does or does not do is not where the Christian hope resides. The great hope of the Christian faith is dying to our self; the great hope of the Christian faith is the day that the shepherd returns once again to make all things new. He is the shepherd; we are the sheep. Amen
 Psalm 23:1
 McDavid, Will. “Old Persuasive Words: Seven Common Theology Phrases That Should Be Used More Precisely”. Mockingbird Ministries (MBIRD). 28.Oct.2014. Web. Apr.21.2015
 Kalnajs, Dawn. “It’s Not a Religion, It’s a Relationship”. Real Reality Zone. 18.Jul.2009. Web. Apr.21.2015. Taken from the comments section by Tom made on Oct.3.2009.
 This was an episode of ESPN’s SEC Storied entitled “Shaq&Dale”. 13. Apr. 2015. TV. Apr.24.2015
 Inspired by McLarty, Dr. Phillip. W. “Good Shepherds and Hired Hands”. 2003. Lectionary.org. Web. Apr.21.2015
First Lesson: Acts 4: 32-35
Responsive Reading: Psalm 133
Second Lesson: 1 John 1: 1-2:2
Gospel Lesson: John 20: 19-31
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story of ten men locked in a room. These men’s lives were about to have an encounter that was going to change their lives’ forever. Only one man was left out. Our story for today is the story of the week after Holy Week. Our lesson tells how a man named Thomas was at the center of the story.
Our lesson begins the Sunday night of Easter in a locked room at the same house in Jerusalem where the Disciples had shared their final supper with their savior a few nights before. The Disciples were terrified. They were witnesses to Jesus’ arrest. John had been a witness to his crucifixion and death. Peter was so scared at being recognized by the mob that he denied knowing Jesus on three separate occasions. The Disciples feared that the same Chief Priests who had Jesus killed were coming for them next.
So the Disciples that Sunday sat and sat some more. They were thinking about how to escape town without being recognized. They were living like outlaws. Then one disciple saw him. Then another disciple’s eye became open. Another disciple started shaking his head like he was living in a dream. There standing before them was what appeared to be “Jesus”. The same “Jesus” who they thought was dead was now standing before them.
The first words out of Jesus’ mouth upon seeing the Disciples were “Peace be with you”. Jesus knew what the Disciples reaction was going to be. Sure they had seen Jesus perform miracles, even raise Lazarus from the dead, yet seeing Jesus coming back from Roman Crucifixion that’s just going to freak people out. Was Jesus a ghost? Jesus knew what the Disciples were going to think. So Jesus sets out to prove that he’s all flesh and bone to the Disciples at this moment. Jesus shows the Disciples his hands and his side. Jesus extends unto his disciples the very hands that were pierced by nails and the very side that had been whipped. The Disciples were convinced that they were dealing with the same guy; they had supper with a few days prior. The Disciples started yelling like you would upon seeing a long lost family member. A few disciples even busted out dance moves in celebration.
Only one of the eleven remaining disciples wasn’t there for Jesus’ appearance, a man known as Thomas. Why was Thomas not there on Sunday evening? Thomas was sick of being in a locked room. Thomas was sick of being asked the same few questions again and again. Thomas was tired of hearing other people crying. Thomas would rather be alone. Think of all the people that you know in your life that have just lost someone close to them. We all know how people grieve differently. Some people grieve by always needing to be around people. Other people might not show up to church for a little while. They might not want to spend a lot of time doing things with friends. We all know people who would rather grieve alone. Thomas was this type of griever. Thomas’ grief explains why Thomas wasn’t there at the Lord’s first appearance.
Thomas finally comes back to where the Disciples were staying. Thomas knocks a special code so that they know he’s safe to let in.
Thomas comes back that Sunday night to hear a tale. “We have seen the Lord” “He was just here” “Thomas, you totally missed him.”
Now imagine Thomas’ reaction to hearing the Disciples story.
Thomas when you left, and we had the doors locked real tight, Jesus just showed up here, and Jesus then left.
We have no idea where he went, we don’t know when he might return, and He didn’t really stay all that long. But Thomas, you need to believe us that he was here.
Thomas was probably thinking, wait a minute, we spent the last three years together with Jesus, he then just shows up and leaves again.”
Let me tell a story, When I was a freshman in college, I worked as a Bible camp counselor. 8th and 9th grade week was the toughest week all summer. The kids were at just the age, where causing mischief for authority figures was the most exciting thing in life. One day the heavens opened up over Pine County. The kids were supposed to stay inside. Kids being kids they kept threatening to bolt out the door. I was started to freak out whenever anyone would make a quick step towards the door. Finally an old maintenance guy named Phil who had worked at the camp for decades, comes up to me, tells me not to worry about it because “Where exactly are they going to go”.
Even if Thomas thought Jesus might be alive, the idea that he would be staying somewhere else in Jerusalem or out traveling by himself, after all, that went down in the past week seems kind of far-fetched. Where exactly would Jesus go without the Disciples? Thomas had good reason to believe the Disciples’ story was fishy. Thomas wasn’t the type of guy that was going to fall for a story. Thomas wasn’t going to have people laughing at him behind his back. To Thomas, what the other disciples were saying seemed to be as believable as saying that someone saw Elvis Presley down at Bri-Esa’s.
So Thomas did what nearly anyone would do. Thomas came up with a series of demands, proofs, or prerequisites that he needed to have met before he would finally declare himself to be a believer.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe. “
Whenever I preach on this text, my reaction is always the same. Thomas is the most misunderstood character in the Bible. Peter is never called “Denying Peter,” none of the other disciples have the nickname “cowardly” attached to them for abandoning Jesus upon his arrest. Despite all this, Thomas is the one with the negative sounding nickname “Doubting Thomas”. Whenever we attach a nickname like this to Thomas, we are failing to admit that he was just as human and flawed as any of Jesus’ other disciples. Nor does Thomas ask for more proof of belief that the other disciples had already received.
Let’s be honest about a second point. Monday passes, no Jesus. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, no signs to see of Jesus and no reports to hear of Jesus. Every day in the week after Jesus’ death, Thomas is probably feeling more and more convinced the Disciples had just been drinking a little too much wine with their Sunday evening supper. As for the other Disciples, they have what would seem to be the definition of a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Though they still sit around the same room acting like nothing has ever changed.
Let me tell another story, when I was sixteen years old, I didn’t have a driver’s license, and my parents were going away on vacation. My parents decided that in case my sister, and I needed to go anywhere they would give my friend Ben the keys to their new Mitsubishi Galant. Ben was the friend whose wedding ceremony I performed last month in Mexico. Giving a sixteen-year-old keys to a car like that is a terrible idea. This case was no exception. Ben drove everywhere that we could think of with this thing. Ben drove to eat in Hinckley. Ben drove to the Mall of America. Ben drove to Minneapolis multiple times. Ben drove miles backward through the streets of Lindstrom trying to get the odometer to reverse. Ben drove around back-country Chisago County roads at way above the speed limit. This thing handled so smooth that it could take corners at well over a hundred miles per hour. If boldness were ever going to get me killed any week of my high school life, this would have been the week. I’ll just say there is some good luck involved with that week and me speaking to you today.
The thing about Ben and I is we had been given a new lease on life, we weren’t just going to sit around watching T.V. Yet in the wake of encountering Jesus, the Disciples just sat around and did nothing. The Disciples didn’t seem really all that interested in convincing Thomas that the Resurrection was for real. Doubting Thomas is only a creation of the Disciples not being the most effective evangelists themselves.
The following Sunday night though Thomas would have his moment. It was almost as if God was saying “Thomas, you think you can run away, no, you can’t.” He’s back. The long hair guy who the Swedes think had blond hair and blue eyes. Thomas was now like the guy saying “There is no way anybody can beat Kentucky in Basketball”, yet you shut up pretty quickly when Kentucky losses.
Here was Jesus standing before Thomas. The script played out the same as last Sunday’s visit. Peace be with you, See my hands, Touch my side, Stop doubting and believe. Thomas from this point forward in life was going to confess Jesus to every person that he was going to meet.
Interestingly enough, Jesus never dwells on Thomas’ doubt. Jesus is much more interested in extending Thomas peace and forgiveness so that he can move forward with life.
So the story of Thomas brings us to this morning. We reflect on the meaning of Thomas’s story for our story.
Fredrick Buechner says, “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep.”
So might doubt have a spiritual purpose? Doubt isn’t good or bad. Doubt is merely a reality of faith. When people say prove that Jesus rose from the dead. Perhaps you can make the case that without some sort of spiritual intervention that there is no way that eleven men hiding scared in a room would one day be the founders of a religion with over one billion followers at every corner of the Earth. Perhaps you could give a testimonial of how your faith led you through a particularly dark moment in your life. The truth is that none of these things can convince an unbeliever unless God decides to touch them just like he touched Thomas. The reality of faith is that there will always be open questions or things that we won’t know this side of heaven. We can do one of two things with our doubts. We can either drown in our doubts, embrace our excuses, stand on the street corner pointing out all the hypocritical Christians who give someone a nickname like “Doubting Thomas”. The other option is we can admit that we will have doubts as Christian people that will never smooth over, and that’s O.K.
Why would God allow this? Why was my friend put to death? Thomas is not a raging skeptic; Thomas is an everyman for the Christian faith. Thomas is a hero whose life story takes him all the way to India way farther than any of the other disciples to start a church.
You actually believe that when you die that you’ll eventually wake up? Sure, do. I’ll take Thomas’ word for it. Amen
 The following sermon is a semi-creative retelling of Thomas’ story based on John 20:19-29.
 John 20:19
 John 20:19
 John 20:20
 John 20:20
 These are not reasons from any sort of academic speculation. This serves merely as a way to imagine Thomas’ story.
 John 20:25
 This part of the sermon along with the section pointing out Thomas’ reasons for being skeptical of the Disciples claims were inspired by an article entitled “Correcting Saint John” written by Russell Saltzmann (NALC) published at First Things on 9.Apr.2015. Web. Apr.9.2015
 John 20:27
 The Buechner quote appears in a sermon by Reverend Tim Zingale entitled “? Thomas” published at Sermon Central in March 2008.
 Ed Markquart gives a really powerful testimonial in a Series B sermon entitled “Thomas, an Honest Doubter” that can be found at Sermons from Seattle. Markquart’s testimony inspired the last section on the importance of just letting doubts eventually go.
 Church Tradition
First Lesson: Isaiah 25: 6-9
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
Gospel: Mark 16: 1-8
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you a story about my Great Grandpa Arvid. Arvid was in his nineties. Arvid’s eyesight was at the point that he probably shouldn’t have been driving, yet he was. One day, Arvid is backing out of his driveway when he backs all the way across the street hitting Duane Arnold’s apple tree. Arvid hit this apple tree hard. The back end of Arvid’s car was not going to be easily fixed. Apples and branches were scattered all over the car’s roof. Arvid felt nothing, so he drove uptown. Arvid stopped in at Russ Johnson’s local service station. Russ Johnson’s was the last service station in Lindstrom where they still had attendants fill up your car. Arvid asks for a fill up because he was going to drive to Wisconsin. The attendant had no idea what to say at this point as he looked at the banged up car with the old man oblivious to it all. Arvid would never drive a car again after this incident. Life was never going to be the same again. Why was Arvid going to drive to Wisconsin? We can merely speculate in the years after he left us. Back to Arvid and the apple tree in a bit.
Today’s Easter lesson comes from the Gospel of Mark. The story begins with three women Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome wishing to get up early on a Sunday morning to see Jesus. These women probably hadn’t been able to sleep really well as they dealt with all the emotions of the past few days witnessing one of the closest people in their life to die in such a fashion as crucifixion. They get up early that Sunday morning so that they may anoint his body. Give Jesus as proper a send off as they could before moving onto the next chapter in their life. Their concern going to the tomb that day was the stone guarding it was so large that they would be unable to move it.
When they arrive at the tomb, they see the stone rolled away, and an angelic messenger sitting in the place where Jesus body previously lay. The messenger proclaims “The Jesus that you are looking for, he is not here; he is on his way to Galilee”.
The trip back to Galilee seems like an odd move for Jesus. Here Jesus was in the cosmopolitan city of Jerusalem, the religious capital of the world. Jesus could have returned to stand before his captors and crucifiers with the taunts of “na, na, na, boo, boo, you can’t kill me”. Jesus instead decides that he wants to go back to Galilee.
The one thing that many people don’t know about Jesus after the resurrection is that he wasn’t all that visible. He appeared to the disciples twice in Jerseleum, he encountered a couple travelers on the Road to Emmaus, he appeared before the Disciples at the Lake of Tiberias for the miraculous catch of fish, and he appeared to the eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee to give them the Great Commission. Jesus made five appearances in forty days between his Resurrection and Ascension. What was Jesus doing the rest of that time? Nobody knows? The thing worth noting about all these appearances is that none of them had much fanfare. Jesus throughout the Gospels seems to be not one to revel in his fifteen minutes of fame. Jesus doesn’t go back to the Temple in Jerusalem so that all the eyes of the world may be upon him. Instead, Jesus goes somewhere where his motives are less evident in a post- Resurrection world.
So why go back to Galilee? Why primarily spend his extra days on Earth off the grid? To understand this question, you need to know the whole story of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is returning to the place where he spends the majority of his life and ministry. Jesus is returning to the sites of his teaching and miracles.
There are many things about Jesus’ life within in Mark’s Gospel that shall always be a mystery. Like when Jesus would perform healing miracles, why would he want people to keep his mighty deeds a secret? Why when Peter recognizes Jesus as “the Christ” does Jesus want Peter to keep his mouth shut.
The reason for this is because the only way that we know anything about Jesus is through the Resurrection. We can only understand every story within the Christian Gospels in light of the story’s ending. The history of Galilee is perhaps why Jesus wanted to return to the site of his ministry. It’s almost as if Jesus is saying to those who think they know his story, to go read it again.
One of the most common encounters that I have in the ministry is dealing with people in the midst of their grief. People often wonder why so and so had to leave them. For many people, there are no right words to say.
I had a Great Uncle named Sunny. Sunny was a nice guy. Sunny was a Unitarian, who held no belief in eternal life. My Dad went to Sunny’s funeral where all they talked about was Sunny and things he loved such as nature. Sunny’s funeral served as an example of depressing ways that people can often think about death. There was not one word said that gave any hope for those that mourn beyond their memories of Sunny. We’re here today, but gone tomorrow. Non-religious funerals are the most empty events in the world. To believe that there is nothing out there seems to crush the soul.
Our Resurrection story tells us something different.
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead.”-1st Corinthians 15:12
Today, we see a Jesus, who has risen from the dead, yet is still hiding out there in the world. What we also see is a Jesus, who refuses to stay exactly where he is supposed to stay. What Easter reminds us is that God doesn’t sit still or even play dead, Our Lord does what he pleases. Our Lord will even save “sinners”. The secret behind God’s motives is why even those closest to Jesus would misunderstand him throughout the course of his life.
Tom Long says it best “The saving action of God in the world is always hidden, ambiguous, sealed off from obvious explanation”.
Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb that day expecting God to act one way only to be proven wrong. The women flee the tomb in terror because this story was going to play out so differently than they could have previously envisioned.
We often expect God in our lives to zig one way, only to be surprised when he zags the other way. Jesus came into this world all-powerful, yet he was going to suffer and die still. Where God most ultimately surprises us is when he stands alongside us when we are at our weakest, the very moment of our death.
Jesus goes back to Galilee to return to the beginning. Bring us back to Eden. Today, we return to the promises given to us in our Baptism.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.-Romans 6:3-5
My hope is that you see you every event that you are having to move forward from this day in the context of the resurrection that you reappraise the whole story of your life through its ending. That as we leave this place you head back into the world, we remember that our Lord has promised to go ahead of us. We encounter on this day a God that we cannot capture or catch. We encounter a God whose whereabouts are often so nonsensical that he ends up on the Cross only to end up walking back to Galilee three days later.
Let me close with the conclusion of my Great Grandpa and the apple tree. The car gets cleaned up. No one is quite sure what to do with the apples. The Arnolds from across the street didn’t want them. Many of the apples were smashed and appeared to be inedible. While my Grandma Buena May, who was my Great Grandpa’s caretaker, takes all the smashed apples and makes a pie. I remember this pie like no other apple pie that I’ve ever eaten because the story behind it was so unique. The apple story ties into the story of Easter because this is what Our Lord does on this day. Our God takes on our weakness (our smashed apples), our imperfections in the form of death, only to use it to usher in forgiveness and eternal life. He is risen! He is risen indeed!
 Mark 16:3
 This is a slight paraphrase of Mark 16:5-7.
 John 20:19-29, Luke 24:36-49
 Luke 24:13-35,
 John 21:1-10
 Matthew 28:16-20.
 Mark 1:43-45, Mark 5:43-44, Mark 7:36, Mark 8:26
 Mark 8:30
 1st Corinthians 15:12
 This was inspired by Duke Professor Will Willemon’s explanation for the Resurrection.
 Long, Thomas G. “Dangling Gospel: Mark 16:1-8”. The Christian Century. 4.Apr.2006. Web. Mar.30.2015 taken from Religion Online prepared by Ted and Winnie Brock.
 Romans 6:3-5
Responsive Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
Gospel Lesson: Mark 11: 1-11
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story of a man named Joshua. Joshua was no extraordinary man. Joshua was merely a laborer at a farm a few miles outside Jerusalem. Joshua was nothing more than a modern day grunt. Joshua’s life didn’t seem to be very much about living, merely about surviving.
Joshua got up one Sunday morning that was going to be different. The last few days of Joshua’s life had been different. People had been traveling from all over: Persia, Greece, Rome, Syria, and Egypt passing right by Joshua’s front door. Jews were coming to Jerusalem for the annual Passover celebration from all over. Passover was the biggest religious event of the year, a celebration of God sparing the people of Israel from death in the Land of Egypt, many generations ago.
Joshua didn’t get excited for Passover like some people. Think of that Uncle of yours that doesn’t get excited about Christmas. It wasn’t that Joshua didn’t believe in God. Joshua prayed his prayers every morning. Joshua would make an appearance at Synagogue every once a while. The thing though for Joshua is that he just didn’t expect God to do much in his life. It would be fair to call Joshua a skeptic. Joshua didn’t think much of religious folks. All the leaders at the Temple seemed only to be in it for themselves. Perhaps, Joshua would be more faithful if there could be a reformation within his religion. If only there could be a new way to understanding God interacting with the world.
Joshua’s had his curiosity recently piqued though. Joshua heard of a man that was coming to Jerusalem for Passover that was unlike any man that Joshua had ever met or ever heard. Rumors were spreading that this man had recently healed a certain Lazarus of Bethany from the dead. There was something that Joshua couldn’t figure out though about this Jesus, how come if he wanted to make a difference in his religion, why was he never in Jerusalem. Everything that he heard about Jesus was that he spent his life living in small towns in fishing villages in the remote area of Galilee. Joshua couldn’t figure why Jesus wouldn’t spend more time in Jerusalem. Joshua wanted to know more about this man. Joshua had nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon, so he began walking towards Jerusalem to hopefully see Jesus.
Joshua finally sees a crowd gathering alongside the road. Joshua noticed something about this crowd. The crowd was made up of people like Joshua: laborers, merchants, slaves, and miserable looking persons with drab clothes. A parade was about to start. The parade was going to be a different type of celebration though there would be no confetti, no streamers, or no celebratory music. The parade was just going to be thirteen men and one donkey.
The scene on some levels didn’t make much sense. Here was an ordinary looking man, riding an ordinary animal. The shouts seemed to belong to people witnessing one of the most exciting moments of their life.
People rallied around Jesus because he was one of them. Jesus could have dined with kings and queens. Instead, he ate with peasants. Jesus could have hung out with the rich and powerful. Instead, he hung out with lepers. Jesus could have sat in the Temple debating issues talking way over the common man’s head. Instead, Jesus taught those uneducated who were unable to read by telling parables.
On the other side of Jerusalem on that Sunday coming in from the Western coast would be a different kind of parade. The Roman Governor Pontius Pilate was traveling into Jerusalem from his home in Caesarea Maritima. Pilate’s parade was going to be the type of parade that every little kid would want to see: cavalry, soldiers, big, white horses, trumpets, pomp, and circumstance. Pilate’s parade was an awesome display of power. Pilate was surrounded by soldiers. Pilate seemed almost larger than life unable for the ordinary person to touch.
Here just a few miles away was another parade. Here came Jesus riding on a donkey. Why a donkey was something that Joshua couldn’t figure out. It wasn’t even a particularly good donkey, a young one, in fact.
You see there was a very good reason that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. You see about 600 years prior, the Prophet Zechariah predicted that a great king would come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey.
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king, is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”- Zechariah 9:9
You see the people of Jerusalem were longing for a king. They had longed for a king since the days of Samuel over one thousand years before. Everyone standing alongside the road in Jerusalem had heard stories about the glory days with a king. The high point in Israel’s history was one thousand years prior during the reign of David and Solomon. Everything was going according to plan. The people were united like never before. Israel was powerful and strong. King Solomon had built a fabulous temple.
The shouts were clear: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father, David.”
The David chants had deep meaning. David was not only Israel’s greatest king but also David had previously done the unthinkable. David had won the most improbable of battles. David had taken down the greatest warrior from the greatest army in the world in a man named Goliath with just a stone and a slingshot. David was embraced by Jewish people because he was the ultimate underdog. Jesus was marching into the city of Jerusalem getting ready to stare down the most overwhelming of favorites directly into their eyes.
The crowd of onlookers saw this as David marching into the city proclaiming that he was going to take down Goliath.
“And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
These people gathered around Jesus because they had nowhere else to turn. Hosanna means “Save us now”. Hosanna is the cry of the powerless. Hosanna is the cry that people would shout after being let down by their families and communities from the previous generation. The crowds on that day were loud and kept getting louder. The shouts were memorable enough that the exact words that Mark remembered them when writing his Gospel nearly a generation later.
We might think of Neil Armstrong’s words “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” as words that will live forever. The words shouted by the crowd of “Hosanna” would ultimately live forever.
The crowd was shouting for salvation. Salvation for what would quickly become the issue. People like Joshua had plenty of grievances. They had grievances with the Romans. They had grievances with their religious leaders. They walked through life with plenty of fear. They figured one misstep would result in a cruel death. The thing about “Hosanna’s” meaning is the story of salvation would play out differently than anyone could imagine.
“And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields.”
Garments were thrown on the road that day as a sign of adoration. People would wave palms in the air like Homer Hankies. Every wave of a palm branch was a wish of hope, a wish that Passover was going to end according to the people’s dreams.
What was Jesus going to do when he came face to face with the people on Palm Sunday? Perhaps he would make a deaf man hear, perhaps he would give a blind man sight, and perhaps he would give a Leper clear skin. People were hoping to hear Jesus give a fiery sermon against the Romans. Jesus chooses to stay silent though on Sunday. The moment was ultimately not about making converts. Jesus’ destiny was not for the Jewish people; rather it was for all people. Jesus was staying silent because he knew as he got ready for the week ahead that he would march towards the cross. Jesus was going to be not only on a path for death, but also a path to resurrection.
Jesus was going to be critical of the Jerusalem that he marched into that Sunday. The crowds would quickly get on his side. The authorities would arrest Jesus at night for fear of a riot breaking out. The trial would have to take place at night with only certain people in the know.
On one side of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the shouts were defining “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna to the King”. Reports of this parade would quickly make their way across town. Whispers would soon begin of “crucify him” as people began to fear a man who would ultimately go forth to his death without any resistance.
Joshua woke up Friday morning to some startling news. Jesus was under arrest. This news didn’t faze Joshua all that much. Joshua had seen plenty of people come that had promised hope and change only to end up crucified. Joshua went to work, only slightly disenchanted that this Jesus fellow would make things different. Joshua figured that he would never hear about Jesus again. Only the following Sunday, a new buzz arose. Rumors were spreading about Jesus again. These rumors were even more unbelievable than the previous rumors about raising a man from the dead. People were now saying that Jesus’ tomb was empty and that he was alive.
Joshua, the religious skeptic, could not believe this tale. Forty days later though Joshua gathered with the Church in Jerusalem to watch Jesus ascend into heaven. Joshua’s life had been completely changed in just a little less than seven weeks. Joshua came to realize something about Jesus’ death that there could be no other way. Jesus wouldn’t have marched to Jerusalem if there were any other path to man’s own salvation. The following realization was what ultimately broke Joshua down. Christ Jesus died for “Him”. Christ Jesus rose again so that he may “live”. The following is the story of a man named Joshua and a day that we call “Palm Sunday”. Amen
 Probably not the most creative of character names that I’ve ever used. I wanted a name that sounded like it could have belonged to a first century Jew that would be easy to remember.
 Exodus 12
 John 11:1-43
 A lot of the motivation for this story comes from Marcus Borg’s and John Dominic Crossan’s The Last Week published by Harper Collins in 2006. This book served as a motivation for a previous Lenten series of mine.
 This comes from John 12:14 as Ed Markquart points out in his commentary on “The Palm Story” at Sermons in Seattle this is kind of a quirky detail to add unless it’s actually true.
 Zechariah 9:9
 1 Samuel 8
 Mark 11:10
 1 Samuel 17
 Mark 11:9
 Mark 11:12 to the end of chapter 13 details the political realities of Holy Week better than any other Gospel. This is the basis for the Borg and Crossan book on the Last Week.
 Mark 14:1-2
 Ed Markquart has a fascinating historical commentary called “The Riots of Pilate” over at Sermons from Seattle. This sets background to Pilate’s presence at Passover.
 The post-resurrection appearance in front of the biggest crowd in Acts 1.
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Tonight we come to the final lesson on Luther’s Small Catechism dealing with Holy Communion.
The question that I want to look at is the issue of who should take Holy Communion?
Recently, I had some friends from Luther Seminary that were all kinds of mad. The church body to which they belong was considering the question of “Whether to give Communion to the unbaptized?”. I kept coming across all sorts of emotional Facebook posts surrounding this very issue.
The question made me think of a story from within my ministry. When I was working down in Lamberton, I knew a girl named Connor. Connor starts attending the church because a lot of her friends were going to Our Savior’s. So Connor comes to me in Seventh Grade wanting to take First Communion Class. So Connor and I get together a few different days after school and go through a study guide on the Lord’s Supper no different than I’ve done with kids here. I assumed that Connor had been previously baptized. We were living in Southwest Minnesota farm country, even those who never had any intention of going to church would get their kids baptized. Connor was a unique child. Connor would go to church nearly every Sunday by herself without a parent, I’ve never seen this in a 7th grader. Connor would help with VBS. Connor was the type of kid that any church would love to have been active within their youth group.
I leave Lamberton to move up to Silver Bay. I had Connor for the first quarter of her confirmation. When Connor gets confirmed, it comes out that she had never been baptized. Many people would assume that I made a great error in not exploring this situation formerly. The revelation though didn’t bother me at all because I just figured that God worked through Connor’s life in a unique way.
There is not a one size fits all approach to the Holy Spirit. We are a church of Word and Sacrament. We believe that God reaches people through the Gospel given both orally through preaching and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins along with reaching people physically through Water, Wine, and Wheat. While Baptism is often the first means that God reaches us, this is not the only possible means by which God can create faith.
When I think of the question of “Whether to commune the unbaptized?”. I tend to think of hypothetical situations. What if a guy attends church on Christmas Eve, who has never been baptized? What if this guy hears the preacher invite the congregation up to Holy Communion? What if this guy is curious about what is happening and wants to partake in the Lord’s Supper?
The preacher has two possible solutions at this point. You can either take the guy explain that God might only possibly work in your life after you’ve conducted an exhaustive study of the Small Catechism. I could perhaps even throw in a small, boring Church history lesson.
The fellow would then go home thinking about Communion in entirely wrong terms of being something earned out of our worthiness. The person probably never thinks about going back to the church ever again. I can’t imagine that this is really how I should be proclaiming the Gospel to strangers within our midst.
The more daring possible solution is to take Jesus’ words “ This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. “ You could give Communion under the premise that it is predicated on God’s ability to act, rather than our ability to comprehend.
There have been times in my ministry, when I’ve had to go to the nursing home to visit with congregational members whose minds have slipped to the point that you can’t carry out a coherent conversation. Situations like this have never been an issue of whether to bring my Communion kit. I believe the promises given in Baptism are still relevant after one’s mind might be gone, the promises given in Holy Communion would be no different. Did these people comprehend the sacrament? No. Did these people decide they needed to take the sacrament in a legal binding fashion? No. Did they receive the Lord’s Supper to their benefit? Yes.
Plenty of Pastors don’t feel the way that I do. I know the verses from 1st Corinthians 11
‘Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”- 1st Corinthians 11:27-29
What we can say is that these are some of the most misused verses in all the scriptures. The 1st Corinthians passage has been used to argue against everything from Infant Communion to not communing Non-Lutherans to refusing to commune the unbaptized. These verses were never written to speak to any of these issues.
The thing about 1st Corinthians 11 though is there is a very precise context in which Paul wrote the passage. Let me repeat 1st Corinthians 11:21-22 the key verses from this passage:
“For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”
What was happening in the Corinthian Church is well-off members were drinking all the Wine and eating all the Bread before other members could partake in the meal. Paul’s whole basic point was if you want to eat two loaves of bread by yourself, eat them at home. The Lord’s Supper is different. The Lord’s Supper belongs to all of God’s people. We cannot try to read Bible passages as addressing every possible hypothetical situation that they were never written to address. Some situations are ulitmately left up to pastoral discretion and congregational policy.
I have a friend whose name is Natalie. Natalie is a pastor out in Pennsylvania. Natalie had a confirmation student who will tell everyone at school that “She didn’t believe in God”. Natalie wondered does this mean that she shouldn’t receive the sacrament. When Natalie asks me this, I didn’t know any more than her. I decided to ask the smartest guy that I know in Joe Burgess. Joe was a part of the International Lutheran-Catholic dialogs. Joe has received audiences at the Vatican.
Joe’s response to Natalie’s question was so good that I read it here tonight
“Teens are teens. They pose. One will claim to be a communist. Another will color her hair pink and so on. Pastoral care requires that we take care. Presumably the teen has been baptized. Does she come forward to receive the sacrament? Is her atheism merely a pose? No one is to be compelled, to be sure, but if someone comes forward, we cannot demand in that person a level of theological knowledge lacking in most pastors.”
People might wonder what about taking Holy Communion in other churches that aren’t Lutheran.
When I was in Seminary, there was this large Baptist church in Minneapolis that I would occasionally attend on Saturday nights. The way that these Baptists did Communion was interesting. The minister would first of all get up there and say “If you had any unresolved sin in your life than you shouldn’t commune”. I would never be worthy according to that standard, and I’m sure few people in that room would be. The reason that we take Communion is because we are sinners. Sinners need forgiveness. Remember that Jesus gave Judas communion right before he sold him out, and he also gave Peter communion before denying to know him on three separate occasions.
The Church then proceeded not to have people walk up to the front to receive Communion, but rather they passed the communion cup and trays down the aisle where everybody served themselves. Self-service Communion would seem to defeat the purpose of the Lord’s Supper that one hears the words “This is my body, which is given for you.” We don’t give words of promise and forgiveness to ourselves; this is why it's so important to have someone else give Communion to us. I did not take Communion that night. My reasons had nothing to do with not acknowledging the believers in this congregation as my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. My reasons always have to do with not receiving an explicit proclamation regarding the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.
What I would do is extend Communion though to any members of that church or any church if they came here if they believed that Christ is indeed present in the Bread and Wine for the forgiveness of sins. We believe the Lord’s Supper is not a mere metaphor or a vague spiritual presence. We believe that Christ comes to us in his Supper. For in the words of Paul from 1st Corinthians 10 “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”
Holy Communion was at the center of the worship life of the Early Church because of its unique role in sustaining people’s faith.
As we reflect on the Lord’s Supper tonight, a few points need to be made.
1. What makes the Lord’s Supper effective? The Lord’s Supper is effective because, within it, we receive a Word of promise. Both sacraments Baptism and Communion produce faith; they do not depend on faith. Taking the Lord’s Supper doesn’t prove that you are a Christian. What the Lord’s Supper does point out is how God gives us the Supper so that we may be sustained and strengthened in our faith.
2. The main problem that people have in understanding the Lord’s Supper has to do with how they use the Bible. Our initial instincts are always to use the Bible to judge rather than to proclaim. The Bible seems to be the means that we judge the faith of others and even ourselves. We must always seek to avoid this tendency. The Lord’s Supper is not something that God commands us to do; it is rather something that God does for us. Faith is not something that we sustain or decide upon; it is rather what God keeps through the promises of Word and Sacrament.
Tonight, we close our study of Luther’s Small Catechism. In a little less than two months, we will confirm six youth into this congregation. I should close with a few words on what makes us Lutheran.
I am a Lutheran because I believe Luther’s words: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” I am a Lutheran because I am a no good, broken sinner. I am a Lutheran because I believe that God sustains the Church, in spite of our own effort. I am a Lutheran because Jesus and his Gospel is at the center of all that I hope and believe. Amen
 Luke 22:19
 This section was influenced by an email exchange that I had with Joe Burgess in March 2011. I get into the reasons for that email later in the sermon. Joe was recalling giving Communion at a mental insistution. My experiences have been primarily with Alheizmer’s patients. FYI- I have made Communion visits at mental wards.
 I had a discussion with Joe Burgess about this in my March 2011 email exchange. The context was my recalling a professor at Luther Seminary saying that “We shouldn’t commune Infants because they can’t examine themselves”.
 The following excerpt is from a March 20, 2011 email between Dr. Joe Burgess and Myself.
 1st Corinthians 10:16. It’s really hard to argue the Apostle Paul saw the Lord’s Supper as a mere symbol.
 This is a paraphrase of Joe Burgess’ words to mean on the misunderstanding of Communion present even within Reformation churches.
 This is a quote from The Third Article of The Creed in Luther’s Small Cathecism.
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.