Text: Titus 3:3-8
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I was in seminary, my professor Micheal Rogness said, “One thing that we need to accept as Lutheran pastors is that our kids will always lose arguments to Baptist kids regarding the age of Baptism.”
The case is simple and appears to be convincing “There are never any babies baptized within the Bible”.
For if you can’t provide evidence that Baby John was baptized at three months, then this means that Jesus’ followers wouldn’t baptize babies.
The problem with this argument is that it completely ignores what the Bible actually does say about Baptism.
Point number #1- There seems only to be one passage in the entire New Testament, which ties Baptism to a particular age.
The passage of note is Colossians 2:11-12 which says “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
The reason that this verse is so important is because it connects Baptism to the Old Testament act of Circumcision. We know from the days of Abraham that Circumcision took place at eight days old (there is no argument from anyone regarding that matter). Circumcision was the means throughout the Old Testament by which God made children recipients of the promises of his kingdom. So the connection between Circumcision and Baptism points us towards the truth that God’s promises can be received by those even at eight days old.
We must also note that the history of the earliest followers of Jesus takes place in the Book of Acts. On three separate occasions within Acts, whole households were baptized: Acts 16:15- Lydia and members of her household , Acts 16:33- The family of Phillipian jailer, and Acts 18:8- the entire family of the synagogue leader Crispus. It stands to reason that very, young children or even babies would have been included in these entire households.
What is noteworthy about the tales from Acts as described my friend Cliff Hanson is “The only people who demonstrate faith are the heads of households—they have faith and are baptized, but the rest of the members of the household (presumably children) are baptized with not one word mentioned about their belief or lack thereof.”
Point number #2- There is never one example given from within the pages of the New Testament telling someone not to baptize someone else (nada, zip, zilch).
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit,”-Matthew 28:19.
“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call.’”-Acts 2:38-39
Using phrases like “all nations” which presumably would include children and “every one of you” would seem to speak to the audience of God’s promise.
So the simplest response when someone says “There are no babies baptized in the Bible” is to only reply that “There is not one example from within the entire scriptures where someone is said to be too “young” or some other discriminating factor to not receive Baptism. Ulitmately, the burden of proof rests on those who wish to withhold God’s grace from the entire world ,not on those who wish to extend it.
So this Biblical background on Infant Baptism leads into an important question of “Why is Infant Baptism so important?”
One of the great teachers in Church history is Saint Augustine of Hippo. You know a church father has made it big when the TV show The Simpsons references him.
Augustine’s most famous work is Confessions. One of the main things that Augustine writes about within Confessions is his behavior as a baby. Augustine recalled his life as a baby, by looking out onto other babies that he encountered. Augustine says the defining trait of “infancy” is how one views the world. As an infant, everything in the world is centers around seeing your “needs” and your “wants” met. When Augustine would not get something that he wanted as an infant, he would “cry”. Augustine’s attitude as an infant was no different than the attitude of Adam and Eve within The Garden as his individual desires become placed at the center of creation. People tend to only think of babies as “cute” or “ignorant”, yet what Augustine realizes is that a baby is just as selfish as the most wretched of adults.
Augustine understood the spiritual truth that human nature does not become sinful over time (due to bad influences), human nature is born sinful. To which we recall King David’s words in the 51st Psalm “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me”.
The excuse that many people make to not baptize infants is that one needs to be aware or posess knowledge about their sins to be guilty of them. These people tend to think about God’s judgment like the legal system does in doling out sentences for children and adults differently depending on their level of age or understanding. The Bible never distinguishes though some being more guilty than others. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”-Romans 3:23
So if infants sin then infants need forgiveness of sins. This is precisely why infants need Baptism. Yet we often cannot grasp how Baptism actually works, where mere water brings forth God’s grace.
We might wonder how can water do such great things? Plenty of people wondered such a thing when Luther wrote his Catechism.
The crucial thing though is not the water; water is just water. When water becomes connected with the promises of God’s word only then does it become life-giving water.
A famous conversation takes place between Jesus and Nicodemus within the 3rdchapter of John’s Gospel regarding the meaning of being “born-again”. Nicodemus could not understand the discussion. Nicodemus couldn’t grasp how he could be “born-again”, when he was old. The best translation of this passage is “born from above”. The promises of Baptism are such that they serve as a reminder that we participate about as much in our spiritual birth as we do within our natural birth.
The other question is can infants possess Faith (especially if Baptism requires faith)?
We believe that Faith is required for salvation. The scriptures say so in numerous places. The scriptures in Matthew 18 also cite “very young children” as examples of Faith. Many people can’t grasp the disconnect, as they think of Faith as being purely “What we know”.
For if Faith is dependent on our knowledge to be valid then the mentally handicapped along with those who have lost their mental capacities cannot possess it. We cannot separate the way we think about Baptism from the way that we understand salvation.
People misunderstand Baptism when it’s thought to be something that we do. The important thing from within the scriptures is that they never describe Baptism as our personal confession of Faith.
Baptism is “The act of being buried with Christ into his death”- Romans 6.
Baptism is “The washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit”- Titus 3
Baptism is the act which “now saves you”- 1 Peter 3.
The scriptures describe Baptism continually as something that God does for us, not the other way around. The scriptures describe Baptism in such a way that God is always the actor, and we are always the audience. If Baptism is God’s activity rather than our own than age or mental status is irrelevant.
I have a friend whose name is Ben. Ben grew up in a church that would have never baptized someone less than say six years old. Ben goes off to Bethel College where he hears perhaps the best argument for Infant Baptism that “Infant Baptism is the purest expression of the Gospel”. An infant can do nothing to receive the Gospel. Ben was forced to rethink his position after hearing this argument.
The truth about all baptisms, whether they take place at the hospital right after birth or on one's deathbed at age 110, is that all Baptisms are Infant Baptisms. Baptism is a reception of a promise. The promise is given to forgiveness after you spend years of your life astray. The promise of Baptism is such that it assures us that God sustains our faith even if we cannot begin to explain it.
Tonight we reflect on the meaning of Baptism as given by Luther’s Catechism.
What is Baptism?
Baptism is not merely the act of getting a baby wet. Baptism is the act of giving everlasting salvation to all who believe what Christ has promised.
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved;” - Mark 16:16
Baptism is the great Christian hope. Luther saw one’s Baptism as being the very central event in the Christian’s life. Luther saw Baptism’s meaning as being the act by which God draws us back to his arms after we run off every conceivable way in the other direction. Baptism is the ulitmate expression of God’s relationship to his children. Amen
 Hanson is the Pastor at Faith Lutheran in Isanti, Minnesota. Hanson’s article is from the March 2015 newsletter entitled “Lutherans Anonymous #2: Why does your church baptize babies?”
 The Simpsons episode is from season 7 entitled “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doddily”.
 Psalm 51:5
 The section of Luther’s Small Catechism for tonight is part four on Baptism. Luther addresses this issue by considering four questions surrounding Baptism including “How can water do such great things?” Augsburg Publishing House/Fortress Press. 1979.
 h/t to Saint Martin on this one.
 John 3:1-15.
 The Greek term for “again” would be the same as the Greek term for “above”. Considering that the person with whom Jesus was having this conversation in Nicodemus was known as one of the most spiritual men in all of Israel, it would seem the phrasing has more to do with justification( above) rather than sanctification (again).
 John 3:18, and John 3:36 just to cite a couple examples.
 Matthew 18:2-5
 This is so important.
 Point is made by Hanson which I expand a bit.
 Luther’s first question from the Baptism portion of Small Catechism
First Lesson: Numbers 21: 4-9
Responsive Reading: Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-22
Second Lesson: Ephesians 2: 1-10
Gospel Lesson: John 3: 14-21
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”- Ephesians 2:8-9
We live in a world that loves competition. I’m guilty of this. I’ve been running five or six days a week throughout the winter. I ran ten miles last week when it was fifteen below zero. My eyebrows were totally frosted upon getting back home. What motivates me is not a love of running. What motivates me instead is a love of competition. I don’t want to say I finished in the top 10% of a race; I would rather finish in the top 2%. I realize that perhaps what I lack in talent, I can make up in effort. I figure my competitors would never want to push themselves on a sub-zero morning as I do.
My mindset though is not unique.
When a guy meets a pretty new girl, he is quick to show off her picture to all of his friends. The image serves as evidence of him being “the man”.
High school kids will compare their grades to the grades of their friends. These children see their grades as their only means of advancing in the world.
I know a guy named Adam. Adam’s doing quite well working for UPS. Adam came to the realization that he would be able to afford any car that he wanted. Adam decided upon a decked out, new BWM. Adam then decides to start calling up everyone he could think of to tell them the details of his new car.
When I was down in Cancun, I was visiting with a group of people around my age that went to Augsburg where the groom attended college. The thing about hanging around the beach is it leads to some pretty honest reflection of body image. Men bulk up and not in a good way once they’re no longer 21, you can’t keep drinking beer forever without any effects, women no longer look the same after childbirth. Everything people began to put in their body becomes either an obsession or an admission of defeat. Comparisons can often be cruel.
Competition is the way of the world. The most popular TV shows from The Bachelor to American Idol to live sports center on competition.
Many Christians think of their life in similar ways. We often think of God demanding the same type of perfection within us that is required to win a TV singing competition.
Today’s lesson comes to us from the Book of Ephesians the 2nd Chapter. Ephesians is a book that the Apostle Paul wrote pastorally to people with whom; he had some very close relationships. Paul writes Ephesians as a story of salvation.
The Church in Ephesus like most of the earliest Christian churches lives with competition. A competition between rigid, disciplined former Jews would have been around religious settings their whole life and knew all God’s rules versus the happy-go-lucky new Gentile converts.
I knew a guy at Concordia named Robert. Robert stood out at Concordia because every single day, he always wore a buttoned up shirt while always buttoning the top button, there were no exceptions to Robert not buttoning the top button. Robert would never even leave his room without a buttoned up shirt.
Robert had a roommate named Jason. Picture the type of big, fat, happy go lucky guy who would always wear Hawaiian shirts. Jason one day hatched a plan to cut off the top buttons all of Robert’s shirts. Robert was horrified at the idea, because it was so different because of how he lived his life every day to that point in time. Robert like all people liked to maintain a certain amount of control of his habits when interacting with others. The dispute button Robert and Jason over the top button was similar to what was the taking place within the Ephesian church.
There were going to be Christians that didn’t want “Grace” to be too easy, cheap, or even “free”. People within the Ephesian church believed if there weren’t restriction on grace that the whole world would fall apart. Dealing with the meaning of “Grace” in the wake of Christ’s resurrection was always going to be an issue for the believers in Ephesus for this reason. Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians to help define “Grace” as a gift.
The meaning of “Grace” was one of the main ideas discussed during the life of Martin Luther. Let me give an example that I’ve probably have used before. Imagine a man setting out to try to swim across the Atlantic Ocean.
The first definition of grace would have this man swim across the Atlantic Ocean both day and night. The first definition of grace provides this man with a lifeboat to rest on during the middle of the night. The first definition of grace has this man given a little extra push or motivation whenever his arms or legs get tired. Plenty of people and churches think about grace this way.
The second way to think about “Grace” is how Luther thought about it. Luther would have stared out at the Atlantic Ocean seen swimming across it to be a hopeless venture in his mortal body. Sure Luther could run into the Atlantic Ocean with enthusiasm and begin to kick for a little while, yet this wouldn’t do much good. Grace for Luther is God’s ability to carry us from one side of the ocean to the other, apart from any efforts that we make.
Let me propose an interesting question for this morning “What if seeking to grow spiritually can often be the Christian enemy?” “What if pursuits of spiritual growth set up a false view of life and human relationships? What if the ways of Grace we should contrast with the ways of the world?
Let me tell a story this morning. The tale comes from a sermon given by a guy named John Zahl. Zahl is a pastor at Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Zahl recalls a few years prior, having a member of the congregation who owned a high-end department store like Macy’s. The member decided as an act of grace decided to give Zahl a gift certificate for Christmas. Zahl goes to use the certificate at The Owner’s store. Zahl picks out a new sports coat, dress shirt, and a pair of loafers. Zahl was pretty happy with the generosity. Zahl had a plan though; he would carefully study and add together each price when choosing these items. Zahl had one goal with the gift certificate though; he wanted to spend more money within the department store than the gift certificate was worth. Zahl believes that if he puts a little money back in The Owner’s pocket, then The Owner would understand Zahl’s gratitude. Zahl walks up to the cash register, placed down his selections, and The Owner begins to ring up the purchases. Zahl begins to get nervous when The Owner says that he had only managed to use up half of his gift certificate. Zahl quickly realizes that The Owner was only charging him half of the purchase price. Zahl wanted nothing more to make amends with the generous owner on his terms. Zahl once again sets out to rectify the situation.
Zahl goes home to talk to his wife. Zahl and his wife hatch a phase two to the plan. They were going to return to the store in a couple weeks, and buy so many clothes that it would go way over the value of the gift certificate. They were determined to make The Owner desperate to accept their money in return. So Zahl and his wife go to the store. They pick out as many clothes as they can carry to the counter. The Owner takes the gift certificate and begins to stuff two huge bags full of clothes. Zahl and his wife are feeling pretty confident that The Owner will finally demand they get out their credit cards. The Owner had to make some money from them! The Owner as he finishes ringing up their purchases looks at the Zahls then says something that shocks them, “You’re not going to believe this, but I’ve rung everything up, and the total comes to exactly zero”. The Zahls began to protest “That can’t be right. The total should be well above what was left of our store credit, etc…”
Finally, the owner turns deadly serious as he says “I don’t think you understand how this gift certificate works. No matter what you throw at it, the total will always continue to come up reading zero.”
The Zahls jaws seemed to drop to the floor at this very moment. The Owner was giving the Preacher a sermon about grace. We cannot buy our way out of grace. We cannot say the right words of gratitude or appreciation for grace. Grace has no limits! The Zahls then get the same gift certificate for Christmas the very next year.
Our gift certificate is the cross. Our gift certificate is receiving the promise that God seeks to make peace with an unbelieving world.
How do we grow as Christian people? How do we become the Christian idol, the Christian LeBron James? Quite simply, we don’t because we can’t.
What the story of the Gift Certificate illustrates is the nature of the Christian Life. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”-Romans 3:23. It’s not a matter of whether you need to be a better person. It’s not a matter of playing the odds or even giving back your fair share. The Bible is clear, all people fail, yet all people can be saved through God’s grace and mercy.
Ed Markquart and John Zahl describe the Christian Life beautifully “God gives gifts, God doesn’t pay your wages.” Gifts, not wages is not just the point of one sermon; this should be the point of every sermon.
I remember one time in seminary a girl asking “Whether Grace or Faith save us?” Are we saved by God’s generosity or our belief? The way to answer this question is that this isn’t an either-or proposition.
Faith is beyond what we can even confess. Faith is more than being confirmed or being able to explain the Apostles Creed. Faith is instead an assurance deep in your soul that God shall one day make the world right, even if you can’t explain how. How do you explain how parents loved you from the time that you were a young child? Your parents were just always around you; you were able to grasp that your parents were watching over you and wanted what was best for you. You can’t explain this, nor did you come to this place after years of considering the options. The definition of faith is that which you can’t prove, yet still exists. We possess no ability to boast about our faith because it does not belong to us. As we look out into our lives, we remember that God is the painter, and we are the picture, God is the creator, and we are the creation.
The thing about grace is we don’t earn it, we don’t deserve it. Our God is a gracious God, who keeps giving to us without limits.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”- John 14:27
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see. Amen
 Fever, Kyle. “Commentary on Ephesians 2:1-10”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, Minnesota. 15. March.2015. Web. Mar.12.2015. Working Preacher dates articles to the Sunday of the upcoming (RCL) Revised Common Lectionary.
 The backstory for the Church in Epeshus would be similar to the back story to previous sermons on 1st Corinthians.
 McDavid, Will. “The Gift (Certificate) Which Never Expires: A Sermon by John Zahl”. MBird (Mockingbird). 23. Feb.2015. Web. Mar.12.2015
 The website for Grace Church is gracechurchcharleston.org.
 This comes from a selection of sermons written by Zahl called Sermons of Grace. The book can be purchased on Amazon.
 Ed Markquart’s commentary is found at Sermons From Seattle.com. Markquart’s commentary is found under Books of the Bible-Ephesians for Ephesians 2:8-10.
 I give both Markquart and Zahl credit. Markquart gets credit for the line, whereas Zahl gets credit for explaining the idea.
 Markquart makes this analogy in his Reformation day sermon from Romans 3:19-28. This is one of my favorite Markquart sermons.
 Markquart, Ed. “Mother Theresa, Saved by Grace”. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Mar.12.2015. Sermons from Seattle doesn’t’ list dates for delivery.
 Opening verse from John Newton “Amazing Grace” published in 1779. Newton’s life story is as strong testimony of Grace.
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to begin tonight by telling you the story of two pastors named Pastor Phil and Pastor Tom. Pastor Phil worked as a hospital chaplain, and Pastor Tom was the associate minister at the church where Pastor Phil attended.
Pastor Tom’s wife Shirley was very sick. The prognosis for Shirley didn’t look very good at all. So Pastor Tom and Shirley pursued every medical course imaginable as a way to bring healing.
Around the same time, Pastor Phil’s wife Kate also had become very ill. Kate was a bit different from Shirley though in that she didn’t seek to pursue traditional medical healing. Kate believed instead that the power of prayer would lead to her survival. In other words, Kate believed that if she trusted in God enough then she would be healed of her ailment. As the months passed, Kate grew well against all odds, whereas Shirley would pass away.
Soon after Shirley’s death, Kate was talking to a grieving Pastor Tom. Pastor Tom had taken Shirley’s loss especially hard because she was his one constant support throughout years of the ministry. Kate is hoping to be helpful when she informs Pastor Tom that the reason she lived and Shirley died was because Shirley had relied on traditional medicine, instead of the power of prayer. Kate’s statement outraged Pastor Tom because Tom and Shirley had prayed, they had visited doctors, they were devout in their faith, and yet in the end no healing had come Shirley’s way. All Pastor Tom got to hear afterward is that his lonely nights were taking place because his faith wasn’t strong enough. Bad feelings existed between Pastor Phil’s and Pastor Tom’s family from that day forward over the power of prayer.
So we ask on this evening “Why did God heal Kate but not Shirley?” The simple answer to this question is that God willed to bring Shirley into his presence, before Kate’s work on Earth was done.
The story of Kate and Shirley though points how we often misunderstand healing as Christian people. Kate was healed this much was true; Kate also died a very painful death nearly a decade after Shirley. Kate’s belief in faith healing only worked for so long. For whether one believes in faith healing or not, everyone must admit that faith healing is merely a temporary solution. The true healing work of God takes place within Resurrection where the body is born again free of the decays that corrupt it within this world.
For when Jesus engages in healing miracles through the Bible. The overall point of these miracles was not to verify the faith of the individual recipients, who often came more diverse variety of faith backgrounds than Lutherans and snake-handlers. The point of healing miracles was the point toward God’s ability to restore life when it was thought to be impossible. The context of any healing miracles within the Bible’s pages is to point towards Christ’s Resurrection.
God’s pouring out of physical healing is a rare occurrence even throughout the Christian scriptures. For example in the 12th chapter of 2 Corinthians, The Apostle Paul pleads to take away a physical ailment (often assumed to be epilepsy) on three separate occasions to the Lord. Paul kept hearing a “no” from God in response. The Apostle Paul eventually comes to terms with God’s response by citing one of the most important lines in the New Testament in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 saying
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
For Paul’s point is that God’s plan for our lives doesn’t consist of serving as our personal genie. God’s will can only be made known at the moment of our salvation. It is in our own unique struggles and hardships that the need for God’s grace is made known.
We can be comfortable with prayer and advocate for prayer while acknowledging that it does have limits. In 1 Timothy 5, Timothy had been suffering from common medical ailment of an upset stomach. Paul’s advice to Timothy is not to rely on faith healing/prayer, but rather to use the traditional medicine of wine.
For nowhere in the scriptures does God give a promise of healing if you have a certain amount of faith. The one great spiritual truth is everyone dies. The twelve disciples all often died in brutal fashion, the Apostle Paul died, and Kate even died after thinking that she possessed the ability to overcome death.
So the question comes then “Why do we pray?” We don’t get the answer to this question.
As we reflect, we remember that throughout the New Testament, Jesus warns against certain types of prayer. Jesus warns against making massive public displays of your prayer-Matthew 6:5. Jesus warns against babbling on like Pagans, who think God will hear them because of their many words- Matthew 6:7. Jesus condemned the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18 for using his prayer as means to demean the sinfulness of others.
So when Jesus condemns prayer throughout the scripture. Jesus is saying that one has a misunderstanding of prayer if they make it about themselves. We misunderstand prayer if it’s about how much you can do for God. Prayer is not a saving work.
Within Confirmation, we’ve talked about the question of praying at school lunchrooms. Bowing your head for a moment of silent reflection and gratitude would be an appropriate use of prayer. Standing on the table and praying to smite the heathens in your math class would be an inappropriate use of prayer.
As we reflect on prayer tonight, we remember that Jesus openly speaks of the power of prayer throughout the New Testament.
“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer”-Matthew 21:22
Jesus isn’t promising you a million dollars or that you will never get sick as long as you pray within this verse. What Jesus is promising instead is that those who call on his name shall receive the Kingdom of Heaven.
For our prayers are answered when we turn from our sinful ways of trusting in ourselves and seeking to run the world in our image and instead place the focus on seeing God’s Kingdom built instead.
With these things in mind, Jesus tonight gives us an example of how to pray in his Lord’s Prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer is a terrific prayer for a couple reasons. Number one, It’s simple, it says all that we need to say in any prayer. The Lord’s Prayer serves as our prayer when we don’t even know the words that we should pray. Number two and most important is the Lord’s Prayer teaches us a proper understanding of prayer by placing the focus on God’s work rather than our rewards.
For the power of prayer in the scriptures is revealed perhaps best through the story of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah’s story like the story of many people is a story of hard times. Decades before Nehemiah’s birth his homeland of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians. Nehemiah’s ancestors were forced into exile and scattered from their friends and the family for decades. Eventually though the Babylonians fall at the hands of the Persians. Persian rule would begin to allow the Jewish people to return home. The Jews were returning home to a land that was in shambles. The Jews were returned home to a land that gates burned down, and the walls had been broken down as a result of war. Nehemiah upon hearing this news is devastated. Nehemiah began to weep for his people. In a final act of desperation, Nehemiah turns to prayer calling out for help.
God soon answered Nehemiah's prayer but not in the way he expected. The Persian King Artaxerxes decided to send Nehemiah back to Jerusalem as its governor upon hearing of Nehemiah’s sadness.
Nehemiah’s move was not going to be easy. Nehemiah was enjoying a good life as cupbearer to the Persian king. Nehemiah was walking into a situation like the new football coach whose team hasn’t won a game in three years. Nehemiah upon entering Jerusalem faced opposition from his people. Nehemiah saw people tired of being beaten down by years of losing, who didn’t think anyone could rebuild the wall. The People of Judah didn’t believe that God was watching out for them after years of suffering. Soon with God’s help, Nehemiah completed the seemingly impossible task of rebuilding the broken wall within 52 days. Nehemiah’s story points to how God answers Prayers, even if we can’t necessarily envision how he answers them.
The essential point that Luther makes about prayer in the Small Catechism and the central belief of the Lutheran faith is God’s will cannot be stopped, even in the seemingly most impossible of circumstances.
For when we call on the Lord in prayer, his answer may not always be clear. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says as Christian people that “We live by faith and not be sight”. These words serve as an excellent description of our prayer life. The answers to prayer might not always come to us in dramatic or visual ways, yet God promises to hear our prayer. For in the words of James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”.
So to “Live by faith” means the proof of God’s work in the world isn’t always to be obvious. To “Live by faith”, we take hope that God’s ways can only be made known through his Gospel. The Gospel promises assure us of the words of Romans 8:28 “God works all things for good of those who love him”. What we remember tonight is that the ultimate sign of God’s grace takes place not in extending our stay in this world, rather God’s grace will be revealed in the world that is to come. Inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven is how God ultimately answers our prayers. Amen.
 The following tale is based on a true story involving pastors and people that I know. I used different names to protect animosity.
 1 Timothy 5:23
 The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke 18:9-14.
 The following is a historical overview of the Book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is the last written book of the Old Testament composed about 400 years before the Birth of Christ.
First Lesson: Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
Responsive Reading: Psalm 22: 23-31
Second Lesson: Romans 4: 13-25
Gospel Lesson: Mark 8: 31-38
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin with a story. I have a friend who worked for a while as a preacher in North Dakota. Her congregation was in the midst of some hard times. One day, she is giving a sermon when she says something that the Council President doesn’t like. The Council President proceeds to get out of his seat, walk down from the balcony, and walk up the center aisle. The Council President interrupts the middle of her sermon to openly criticize all that she was saying. A lot of the stoic Icelanders within the congregation had no idea what to make of this scene. Finally, the sheer uncomfortableness of it all put the scene to rest, and the North Dakotans resumed their daily lives. My friend and her husband shortly afterwards left this call.
Gracia Grindal who was a preaching professor of mine at Luther Seminary tells stories of when her father was a preacher those occurrences were common place. Pietistic congregants would openly disrespect the minister’s authority by interrupting the sermon with shouts of lines like “If you keep preaching like that then we’re all going to Hell”.
Just like a football coach, people often think they know better than a preacher, even if this preacher is God’s own son. We all know of the twelve disciples. Jesus a few years back had given a really unpopular sermon where he said “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”- John 6:53.
Many of Jesus other disciples left him until only twelve stuck around. Some might say that Jesus’ initial beginnings into the ministry weren’t all that successful.
Fast forward a few years into Jesus’ ministry. Jesus built up his reputation once again. Jesus had just fed thousands of people; he had just recently healed a blind man outside Bethsaida. The Disciples seemed to be finally grasping the meaning of Jesus’ message to be the Messiah.
I remember one of the most traumatic moments of my adulthood was watching the Vikings play the Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship game.
I went into the game thinking there was no way that the Vikings would be able to win in New Orleans. The game goes back and forth. Vikings get the ball back with 4:00 left in regulation in a tie game. Chester Taylor catches a screen pass and rumbles down to the New Orleans 33’ yard line. I finally leap out of my seat. I figure I’m minutes away from watching my Vikings play in the Super Bowl after investing a quarter century of my life waiting for that moment. I’m getting ready to scream for joy at the top of my lungs. Knots are in my stomach. I figure one of the happiest moments of my life is around the corner. Everyone who knows the Vikings knows how this story plays out: twelve men on the field, interception, lost coin flip, Saints win the Super Bowl. There is no more painful feeling than watching hope fade before your very eyes.
The Sermon that Jesus was to give was going to be a punch directly to the guts of the Disciples. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”-Mark 8:31
Jesus predicting his crucifixion would have stung the Disciples. The Disciples probably felt misled upon hearing these words. They felt like the kid who believes his parents are taking him out for ice cream, only to end up at the dentist. The Disciples had been following him for years, even when others had abandoned him. The reason that they followed Jesus had to do with the hope that he would be different that the people of Israel would finally be set free from their cruel Roman oppressors.
Tired of being beaten down by the powers above them is why people would have followed Jesus in the earliest stages. Jesus was the number one pick for the sports team whose fandom rests solely on hopes and dreams for generations. Jesus was the good looking, charismatic, articulate candidate for the political party that dreams of winning an election. Jesus’ whole ministry for many people wasn’t so much about what he said or did, but rather that he sold “hope” and “change”.
Now Jesus is telling the disciples that he is going to flame out. We can imagine the scenario; imagine the girl who thinks that she has finally met the guy of her dreams, only to hear that she’s never going to get the ring. Imagine waiting all day to eat the perfect steak, only to see it charred to the point where it’s barely edible.
Jesus in this lesson is describing the end-game to an audience that wanted to hear anything but it. Jesus was about to die with the Disciples looking on from the stands.
Peter comes into the scene at this point. Peter is the leader of the disciples. Peter is the Church Council President. Peter knew he was going to hear grumblings about this message. Peter didn’t want to have conflict, yet Peter didn’t desire to see another incident where a congregation of twelve became a congregation of two. Peter decides to take Jesus aside. Peter was probably telling Jesus that the disciples had given a lot of time, money, and nights away from home for him. Peter had to let Jesus know that what he was preaching was not what they had signed up.
Jesus was stubborn though in the face of Peter. The Kingdom of God would not be made known in Jesus’ life, but rather in Jesus’ death. “To save your life you must lose it.” Peter had his opinion, but it was merely his opinion.
It was at this point that words of Isaiah rang true “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The way of the cross would be Jesus’ way.
When Jesus says “Take up your cross and follow me”, it is a saying about how we view success.
Just like the disciples we probably evaluate success very differently then Jesus did. If I was to ask people in this room to evaluate success the answers you might hear include the person with the biggest house, the person who drives the nicest car, the person who wears the best clothes, and the person that is able to afford any dinner that they desire from the local supermarket.
Last Saturday, I was having lunch with my dad where we ran into a lady who serves on the city council with him. This woman helps out as a youth leader at her church in the cities. Everyone knows this church’s name, even up in Lindstrom thirty miles away. She said that they got seven hundred kids on Wednesday night. These numbers are what many people would deem to be a prosperous church in they never have to worry about paying the pastor or being able to afford the heat. If one person out of twelve gets mad, they can ignore them then move on. Her church would seem to be the definition of a successful church. Staring at a powerful church was Europe throughout the life of Luther, yet it was this church that had lost something important.
What our lesson reminds us though is how power isn’t always a good thing. When we have power, we have control. We always leap to the question of “What can we do?” “Whom can we control?” or “How can we control it?”
Tullian Tchavadian tells the following story.
There was a young woman one night browsing on Match.com whose eyes notice a gentleman named John Fitzgerald Page. The woman expresses a token of interest in Fitzgerald Page. Fitzgerald Page would seem to be a great catch: Ivy League educated, great shape, MBA degree, drove a BWM and a sharp dresser. John Fitzgerald Page believed his hype and believed himself to be the biggest catch in the city of Atlanta. So when this lady tries engaging with John Fitzgerald Page, he wanted to know that she demanded excellence for herself. He needed to know that she had a top-notch education, that she kept herself in impressive shape. When Fitzgerald Page’s admirer responds “no thanks” upon hearing his series of expectations for a mate “he lost it”. “How dare she”, she was a fool to not try to prove herself to him. She was never going to find another guy like John Fitzgerald Page. Fitzgerald Page’s angry email quickly spread across the internet exposing his pride for the whole world to see.
There are plenty of Christians who think this way. They think only in terms of their resume. Jim Nestingen tells the most common thing he encounters in the church is hearing people talk about all the great things that they’re doing in the name of the Lord. The way many Christians talk you’d think Jesus Christ will soon be out of a job as there are no sinners to save.
John Fitzgerald Page couldn’t grasp the meaning of love. Love is not accepting someone who meets our standards; Love is standing by someone even as they fail to meet our standards. The Love of God would soon be fully known on a cross.
As Jesus predicts his coming demise, Peter begs him not to go. We all know Peter. Peter thought he was the nice guy. Peter assumed his leadership was being productive. Peter wanted everyone to get along. The trouble though with the self is that it gets into the way. There is nothing that we can do. Jesus’ sermon probably wasn’t all that good. Call committees probably wouldn’t have been clamoring to hear more. He didn’t tell funny stories, he didn’t deliver brilliant analogies, and he didn’t bring the audience to tears with control of their emotions. The thing about salvation is that it isn’t even the result of effective preaching versus ineffective preaching. Salvation only comes through death.
The Disciples were never going to be able to grasp this. A few months later upon Jesus arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane they brandish swords trying to fight death off.
This morning, we confront the harshest of spiritual truths best expressed by Gerhard Forde. We die; death is not something that we do. As we look towards Christ’s death, we see a preview of our death. The cross is a preview of our funeral. The only thing we can do to get ready is do what Jesus did upon the cross. We can climb Calvary’s mountain unto the brink of death, and then stand with helpless arms at our side. Coming to terms with the powerlessness within our spiritual existence is the meaning of the words “Take up your cross and follow me”.
The thing about death is that it is not the end, death is rather the beginning.
Peter identifies something crucial in our Gospel lesson for today. Peter recognizes that there are only two ways to view God. Peter sees God the first way as the ultimate power, as the greatest good in the universe. God is the entity that we can’t grasp. God above us, yet Jesus proclaim God to us today in an entirely different way.
Jesus proclaims God’s way as he is “crucified under Pontius Pilate”. Jesus proclaims God’s way as “he journeys to his own grave”. Jesus proclaims God’s way as he stands alongside The Girl that Mr. Atlanta John Fitzgerald Page rejected.
A few years ago, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was jilted by the loss of his best player LeBron James. Gilbert gave an off the cuff rant in the midst of his pain. Within Gilbert’s rant though he spoke a profound spiritual truth when he said “Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there. Sorry, but that’s simply not how it works.”
What we hear today is that Heaven comes only after Death. We can’t get to heaven without having to die. We can’t have a resurrection without a cross. “Take up your cross and follow me” Amen
 John 6:66
 Mark 8:1-10
 Mark 8:22-26
 Mark 8:27-30
 My old preaching professor Michael Rogness wrote a terrific commentary on this passage (Mark 8:31-38) over at Working Preacher. Rogness’s commentary was accessed on February 23rd, 2015 for March 1st, 2015 services.
 Mark 8:32
 Mark 8:35
 Tying in this passage to Isaiah 55:8-9 is a connection made by Rogness.
 Mark 8:34
 Rogness draws this passage into connection with one of Luther’s most important bits of theology in the distinction between the “theology of the cross” and the “theology of glory”. The theology of the cross means that God’s connection to human beings is most revealed in weakness (sin) rather than strength (sanctification).
 The Cross Alone website has an old sermon by Gerhard Forde “On Death to Self”. This sermon tends to put a different spin on the verse “Take up your cross and follow me” than how people often grasp it.
 Tchavadian, Tullian. “Grace and Personal Identity”. Liberate.org. 2.Sept.2013. Web. Feb. 24.2015
 This insight was made by Nestingen when I had him for Lutheran Confessions in 2005 at Luther Seminary.
 Forde makes this connection.
 Forde, Gerhard. “Dying to Self”.
 Mark 8:34
 Lannon, Nick. “Billionaire Dan Gilbert: Theologian of the Cross”. Mockingbird. 15.July.2010. Web. Feb.24.2015.
 Mark 8:34
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
You all have probably noticed that I’m not here tonight. Tomorrow morning, I’ll head down to the airport and fly to Mexico. Many people don’t like to fly in planes. People hear stories about planes crashing down into the ground with no survivors left onboard. One time when I was flying back from Washington DC., there was so much turbulence that a lady behind me kept yelling “Save me Jesus” during the flight. It’s fair to say this was not a pleasant travel experience! My last plane trip out to Vegas encountered some fierce gusts of wind that had people reaching for the vomit bags. While anything can happen on a plane, I don’t fear flying, I figure it’s an equation of basic math. I’m much more likely to get injured driving to Zup’s than crashing down on a 747. My comfort level doesn’t mean that flying requires no sense of faith in the pilot or the airlines or even the weather. I believe my faith is in good hands because planes have landed successfully, so many times before.
As we look tonight to the meaning of the Apostles Creed in the Small Cathecism, we consider the meaning of our faith in the hands of the one who conquered death and grave.
Let me tell a joke, A number of years ago, the comedian Jerry Seinfeld had a bit called “What is the deal?”. One of the better Seinfeld bits entitled“What is the deals” had to do with fear.
Seinfeld remarked, “According to most studies, people’s number-one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Seinfeld’s funny observation leads us into the lesson tonight on Creeds. Creeds in some way make little sense. To many churches, creeds are an unnecessary distraction to the real work of the church in interpreting the Bible. I want to let you in on a funny secret for tonight. If you were to ask ten people what they believed about the Bible, you might get ten different answers. In fact, when it comes to the Bible, there’s probably someone out there who believes that it says God is a little green man hiding out on the moon. So everyone can talk about the Bible, but what creeds do is say exactly what we believe about the Bible.
Some of the most important passages from within the Bible are “creeds” or statements of belief. Our lessons for tonight have the Apostle Paul giving us a couple of important creeds
“That if you confess with your mouth,”Jesus is Lord,”and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”- Romans 10:9
“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”-1st Corinthians 15:13-14
Take verses like these out of the Bible, it is merely a collection of stories and sayings that might or might not apply to our daily lives. When we think of the Bible in terms of the creeds that it gives to us, we express its very promises of salvation for all the world to hear.
For it is impossible for a church to exist without creeds or statements of belief. For example, tonight we sing a couple of hymns in “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, and “Bind Us Together”, when we sing these hymns we make statements of belief or creed regarding the Christian faith. These songs speak to what we wish for the church to look like in the years ahead.
The thing about creeds is we do not own them. Tonight, we study the Apostles Creed. The Apostles Creed is the oldest of creeds. The Apostles Creed came into prominence due to its simplicity as a statement of belief for Baptism in the Early Church. The Apostles Creed came into prominence even before we had the Bible as we know it today.
There is one line within the Apostles Creed that is worth noting it’s a statement regarding whether it’s the holy “Christian” church or holy “catholic” church. I always prefer saying “catholic” church and I’ll tell you why. Catholic means universal. Catholic has a way, broader meaning than Popes or Priests. Catholic means that our faith is the same one that was said by the earliest of Jesus’ followers when they said the Apostles Creed for the first time. Catholic means we are not merely a set of individual Christians, we rather are one body shaped through the generations and incorporating all of God’s chosen people. You see when you call the church “Christian,” what you are saying is that Christians make the church. Just like the hardest workers with the most talent end up in the NBA, the most devout of God’s people constitute the church. The Church is not an exclusive club made up by individual Christians who can set their rules and regulations to go with the time. A church dependent on our ability to follow through would be the wrong understanding of the Church. The Church is instead “catholic” in nature, for the church that we belong to is the same one that the Holy Spirit formed on the day of Pentecost. When we say that the Church is “catholic”, what we are saying is that the Church does not belong to our whim, wishes, and desires. When we say that we are a part of the “catholic” church, we are saying that we belong to something much bigger and more powerful than our own sake of individual achievement.
The thing about Luther is he would have hated having a church with his name “Lutheran” upon it. Luther never would have considered himself to be worthy of such-esteem. Luther instead would wish for the Church that as broken and imperfect as it may be in the present age that it eventually beome one just as “The Father” and “The Son” are one.
For what the Church is a Communion of Saints, who believes in the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. What the Apostles Creed does is tie together the complete work of God in all our lives in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When we say the Creed, we say it together because we do not gather as individuals separated by beliefs, color, gender, money, or even own good or bad behavior. We gather together as One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church joining with the witness of Jesus’ earliest followers. What we confess is that we will soon reunite with those who have ultimately gone before us.
Tomorrow, I’m gone to get on a plane. Planes can be exciting. Whenever a plane experiences turbulence, one’s live flashes before their very eyes. These types of moments take many forms. Scary moments when we might not know what kind of prediction that the doctor might make, uncertain moments when we might be called to leave behind our homes to pursue our dreams, and moments of celebration when we hold our child for the very first time. We look to creeds as a way to draw from seemingly hopeless situations. We look towards the creeds as a reminder that God’s plan is much bigger than what we can often grasp. We look towards the Creed as a reminder that the unknown has been made known through the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Why do I believe creeds are so important? I close with a story. When I was young, I was really close to my great-grandpa Arvid. Arvid would always provide me plenty of pizza and candy to eat. If it wasn’t for Arvid being in my life, I doubt I would be standing here. Arvid gave me a comfort level of being around old people that many people don’t get as a young child. What I remember is being there the night that Arvid died, surrounded by my Mom and Dad, Grandma, Aunts and Uncles. As I was shedding tears, I looked towards Arvid’s grave with hope. The hope came because as Arvid was about to be declared dead and be buried, this was not the way the story was going to end, I believed that the story would end with an “ascension up into heaven”. At Arvid’s funeral, we sang the song that we sing tonight in “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” as a reminder that in the midst of Arvid’s life through the loss of two children in child birth, through the suicide of a son-in-law, through the alcoholism of his own children, through business ups and business downs, through the death of his wife, and through old age as his body quit doing what he wanted to do. Arvid in these times would not get discouraged, because he knew the difference between this life and the life-everlasting. There was nothing more important for Arvid than his creed, and it was this creed that guided Jesus’ very own apostles through the ups and downs of their own lives, just like it should guide ours’ tonight.
 “ ‘What’s the Deal with..’ 15 Jokes from Jerry Seinfeld on His Birthday”. WCBS101FM.1. New York’s Greatest Hits. 23.Sept.2013. Web. March.2.2015.
 The Old Roman Symbol on which the Apostles Creed is based was formulated within the 2nd Century; the Biblical Canon was not completed until well into the 4th Century.
 This was inspired by the reflections of arguably the greatest preacher of the my lifetime in Robert Farrar Capon. Capon writes about the “catholic” vs “Christian” distinction on pages 115-116 of his book Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment. I was pointed to this connection by Ethan Richardson over at Mockingbird (MBIrd) in an October, 10, 2011 article entitled “Church Saltiness”
 This play on words is based on the High Priestly Prayer especially John 17:21.
2 Samuel 11
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As we consider the meaning tonight of the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism, I wish to begin by reflecting upon a story. It’s a story that seems to be the plot of bad reality TV. It’s the Bible story that is our lesson for tonight in David, Bathsheba, and Uriah.
King David was one day walking on the roof of his palace. David saw a beautiful woman off in the distance bathing named Bathsheba. Bathsheba was the most beautiful thing that David had ever seen with his eyes. David was going to get with Bathsheba by any means necessary. Bathsheba wasn’t going to be able to say “no” to the king. Bathsheba then becomes pregnant. David knew that if this got out it would damage his rep. David wanted to do anything to get this child problem to go away.
Bathsheba had a husband named Uriah. Uriah was a soldier in King David’s army off fighting battle. David decides as a way of putting an end to the scandal to demand Uriah comes home from the battle to lay with his wife. David didn’t want to lose a soldier, yet if he didn’t it would soon get out that Uriah wasn’t the baby daddy. Uriah though was a much better man than David. Uriah refused to leave his fellow soldiers behind in the midst of a battle. Uriah was the ultimate teammate. Uriah was the guy on the end of the bench still encouraging his teammates when losing by thirty points. David wished that his whole army was like Uriah. David knew that his Uriah and Bathsheba problem would need resolution.
So David then decides to notify his commander to place Uriah at the front-line of battle, and have his fellow soldiers abandon him in the midst of a fight. Uriah would soon lose his life. David then quickly marries Bathsheba after Uriah’s death. King David in this story is every negative trait that you could every assign to a guy: he’s a creeper, a sleazeball, a jerk. David only got the girl because he was the King. What I want to talk about tonight is why King David’s story matters.
King David’s story ties into one of the biggest separations that took place during Luther’s life between himself and the church he left. The Church of Rome believes there are two types of sin in this world. Venial sins that are sins that merit temporary punishment say a few Hail Mary’s, sprinkle some holy water and make some penance then you can be forgiven.
Catholics would contrast venial sins with mortal sins or sins that merit eternal punishment and cannot be forgiven. It’s hard to classify what the Roman church considers a mortal sin since according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church one’s you must consider one’s intentions when differentiating between venial and mortal sins. No different than the legal system treats the reckless driver who kills a person differently than someone who commits an act of premeditated murder. The Catechism of the Catholic Church for this reason cites violence against your parents being a graver sin than violence against a stranger because there is a much more deliberate thought process involved in hurting your parents (Hence the commandment: Honor your Father and Mother).
So are there certain sins that can’t be forgiven. Back to the story of King David, King David’s intentions were rotten from the very start. King David’s sins were not momentary weaknesses, but rather deliberately hatched schemes. Look at all of the Ten Commandments that King David broke “Thou shall not commit adultery” “Thou shall not kill” “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife”.
Bosses have banished employees from their presence and teachers have thrown students out of the classroom for way, way less than King David committed with Bathsheba and Uriah.
So how does God respond to King David’s crime? God sees to it that King David is the greatest king that the nation of Israel shall ever possess. For what the story of King David illustrates to me is that there is no such thing as an unforgivable or unpardonable sin.
What about the sins that can be forgiven? Do we need to make amends? Do we lose jewels off our crowns in heaven? Must we spend time in purgatory to pay for everything that we’ve done wrong? Must we spend time in a place between Heaven and Hell for all that we’ve done in this life?
Questions like this cause me to consider one of Jesus’ famous most famous encounters in the Christian Gospels with the Thief hanging alongside him on the cross as he echoed his famous words “Today you will be with me in paradise?” This Thief is an interesting character. Like King David, he was probably a jerk, he was underhanded, and he was deceptive. Purgatory would seem to exist for people like this thief. Jesus promises unto him “The Kingdom on the day of his Resurrection”. Just think this guy violated the commandment “Thou Shall Not Steal.” The Thief broke this comment so frequently that he even had the nickname of “The Thief.”
So what good are the Ten Commandments then if they don’t keep out the very people they ultimately should. The one thing that our Confirmation students know is the Ten Commandments.
They know that all sin is a violation of the First Commandment “You shall have no other gods before me.”
They know the Commandments can be broken down into two tables. The first table has to do with our relationship with God “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain” “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”; these are the first three commandments.
The second table has to do with our relationship with our neighbor and the world around us in talking about “Parents, murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness and coveting.”
These commandments exist because we are a fallen people, which God continually needs to reign in. These commandments shed guidance for the Christian Life because we can all relate on a personal level to seeing the world break before our very eyes.
We know the Eight Commandment. We have heard people say false and nasty things about us. We have gone home with our feelings hurt. We have been bothered by how little people seem to care how we feel. “Sticks and Stones might break our bones, but words do hurt us.”
We know the Ninth and Tenth Commandments as we figure that our life would be so much better if we just had a prettier girlfriend, a nicer phone, or more money to spend.
What these commandments do is not only remind us of our calling to the world around us, but they also point us towards our need for God’s grace.
Within the Gospels, Jesus encounters a woman who married five times and was now shacking up with another guy. Jesus does not condemn her; Jesus instead gives unto her a word of forgiveness. As Jesus proclaims forgiveness, his point was not that the past is irrelevant. The past was very relevant. Every broken relationship came with a significant degree of pain and hurt. What Jesus’ word of forgiveness illustrates is that the Ten Commandments were given not to save, but rather to reduce harm in a fallen world.
If the Ten Commandments don’t save us, I close tonight with a reflection on the question of “How does salvation happen?” “Does salvation happen over the course of a lifetime?” or “Does salvation happen within the course of a moment?”
When I was seminary, I had a professor named Walter Sundberg. A student asks Sundberg if he had heard of the death bed conversion of Jeffrey Dahmer. For those of you too young to know Jeffrey Dahmer, let’s just say he was a sicko. Dahmer would lure young men into his apartment: rape them, kill them, and dismember their body. Dahmer would then pleasure himself to his victim’s remains, before consuming their flesh. The courts charge Jeffrey Dahmer with fifteen counts of murder. Could God actually save such a disgusting individual? To Which Sundberg answered that if God had saved all sorts of terrible people before, just like King David and the Thief.
How salvation happens was the central question at the heart of all of Luther’s life teaching in justification by faith alone. When does salvation occur? If salvation occurs over the course of a lifetime, then Jeffrey Dahmer as one of the most deranged individuals ever to live would be in big trouble. The question about salvation and Jeffrey Dahmer brings us to the most important of our faith questions.
Roman Theology believed in Infused Justification. Infused Justification means that Salvation is a process that occurs over time. Salvation is like weight loss (slow and gradual). Where the differences lie is that Luther believed that salvation was not a process, salvation took place in an instant. It would have taken place at the moment that the Thief upon the Cross came to believe, it would have taken place the moment that Saul was blinded on the Road to Damascus, and it would have taken place on the day of your Baptism. Lutherans believe that salvation comes to us like a tornado, we cannot prepare for it; it happens then we are left to sort out the consequences. Truly, the one thing that Luther believed someone contributed to their salvation was their sin in need of saving.
When Luther wrote the Small Catechism to German families, this was the spiritual truth that he wanted them to grasp. Christ was not the new “Moses”; Christ was not the new “law-giver”. Christ did not come to place a series of religious demands on top of your school demands, and on top of your family demands. Christ came because we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. The Commandments remind us of this, but what the Cross reminds us of is God’s last word on the matter. Amen
 The Catechism of the Catholic Church.(CCC) The definitions of sin are lines 1852-1853, where as the difference between mortal and venial sins are lines 1854 to 1864.
 Luke 23:43
 CCC- 1987 TO 1995.
First Lesson: Genesis 9: 8-17
Responsive Reading: Psalm 25: 1-10
Second Lesson: 1 Peter 3: 18-22
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 9-15
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”- 1 Peter 3:21
Baptism now saves you. There are arguably no more controversial words in the entire scriptures for their meaning then this verse from 1st Peter 3. To understand the meaning of the 1st Peter, you need to know the story behind 1st Peter. I want to tell you its story today.
I want to tell you the story of two characters.
I want to tell you the story of a man that we will call Billy Baptism. Billy got baptized as a baby because Mom and Dad had been baptized as infants. Billy’s Baptism was going to be an excuse for Grandma and Grandpa to come see little Billy. So Billy grows in years, Billy attends Sunday School then Confirmation. In Confirmation, Billy is forced to wear what he thought was an ugly acolyte gown against his wishes. Billy finally gets confirmed. Billy looked at his Confirmation like a kid looks at the end of high school, he’s going to celebrate because he is not going back again. Billy went off to college, where he met and married a girl that wasn’t real religious either. Billy figured his kids should be baptized, yet when they didn’t want to be bored in Confirmation, Billy was fine with this. Billy eventually becomes an old man who occasionally attended a Christmas or Easter service. Billy dies. Billy’s preacher didn’t know Billy at all, so he had to think of what to say at the funeral. Billy’s preacher gets up at the funeral saying “Billy was saved because of his Baptism.” Billy’s Baptist cousin is furious! Billy was baptized eighty-some years ago. Billy’s life showed all sorts of evidence that he didn’t take the meaning of his Baptism all that seriously. Billy’s Baptist cousin started to complain about the Lutheran preacher to anyone who would listen. Everyone in this room knows Billy Baptism.
Now I want to tell you the story of another man named John Pilgrim. John Pilgrim was the type of person to whom the book of 1st Peter was written. John Pilgrim grew up in a devout Jewish home. Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, John Pilgrim encounters one of Jesus’ followers who convinces John Pilgrim that Jesus was the Messiah. John Pilgrim’s family was not happy with him. John Pilgrim was disowned by his family. Things were getting hot for Christians during John Pilgrim’s life. Many of them were forced to flee the lands where their family lived for generations to go into exile. John Pilgrim’s life was going to be hard because of his faith. John Pilgrim was not going to be able to maintain much in the way of social relationships outside the Church community. Think of confessing that you were a proud and open communist in the midst of the Cold War, this was the type of social ostracism that John Pilgrim would face. People often didn’t just think of John Pilgrim as wrong, they thought of him as “evil”.
John Pilgrim was “maligned” (2:12), and “reviled” (4:14). He lived in constant fear (1:17) of criminal charges being brought before him on account of possessing insufficient loyalty to the emperor. (3:15)
Where in the land where Billy Baptism lived, persecution of Christians might be people thinking you were some sort of religious weirdo. In John Pilgrim’s land, Christian faith could often be the difference between life and death. Billy Baptism would have no understanding of what John Pilgrim would have gone through on account of his faith. It seems foolish that Baptism as salvation applies equally to everyone involved here.
Let me tell you why John Pilgrim’s story matters as we consider the meaning of 1st Peter. John Pilgrim’s underground church would have probably received a letter like this through a messenger who traveled under the cover of darkness.
When we think of the famous words from 2 Timothy “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” These words would apply to a man like John Pilgrim like no other man that we know.
The thing about 1st Peter is its promises of Baptismal salvation are meant to apply to Billy Baptism just as much as John Pilgrim, and this is what I want to talk about this morning.
Let me begin by telling a story, as I’ve talked about before when I was misbehaving at fourteen years old, my parents sent me to the local Baptist high school to get corrected.
When I first started attending school there, I encountered an entirely different type of kid than I had encountered at the public school. There were kids that competed in Bible memorization contests (I didn’t know before there were such things), whereas my friends could only quote inappropriate Snoopy Doggy Dogg lyrics. At the public school, you were considered an odd duck if you weren’t watching R-rated movies at 12. At the Baptist school, you were regarded as a rebel if you ever watched an “R” rated movie. Kids would not attend dances, I knew a kid that got expelled for smoking a cigarette in the school parking lot. These kids knew the scriptures backward and forwards. I remember hearing the line again and again “It’s not enough to be baptized as an Infant”. I heard all sorts of dramatic testimonies of salvation from previously failed Christians.
I struggled with the question of Infant Baptism until I got to Concordia. At Concordia, I wanted to put qualifiers on Baptism to make my position acceptable to my Evangelical Free friends. It wasn’t until I got to Luther Seminary, where I fully grasped the Lutheran beliefs on Baptism. What changed me was seeing over and again, how messed up were the lives of even the best Christians.
Whenever someone claims Baptism is not enough, it is based on a misunderstanding of Baptism.
A few points about the scriptures and Baptism always need to be repeated.
1. The Scriptures never describe Baptism as one’s personal confession of faith. When people say that no infants are baptized in the Bible (this is true), but this is missing the point rather the key point is that God is the actor, we are the audience. God is giving to us, and acting for us, not we to him. Within Baptism, the direction is always Heaven to Earth, never Earth to Heaven. So in theory, God could baptize a rock to eternal life, no differently then he made a bush burn. Do not the scriptures say “"if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”- Luke 19:40
2. Baptism does save because it delivers Christ. Lutheranism gives all credit to God and no credit to man when it comes to salvation. For this reason, we place importance on things like Baptism and Communion like no other church does. Lutherans believe that Baptism bring Christ unto us. Baptism is the means by which God gives unto others his grace.
Perhaps the key words in the entire scriptures dealing with Baptism take place in Romans 6 where the Apostle Paul connects Baptism to one’s own death and subsequent rebirth and resurrection. Remember the scriptures describe Baptism as an act of “rebirth” of which we are as active of participants as our natural birth.
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned,”-Mark 16:16
Often I’ll people say that it’s not enough to be “baptized” that you need to believe instead. Baptism though cannot be separated from belief. Baptism is the means by which receive Christ.
People will wonder what about the guy that his faith, yet is never baptized. When we say Baptism creates faith, we don’t believe that Baptism is the only means by which faith is created. We are a church of Word and Sacrament. The Gospel preached could be just as effective as the Gospel received. Whereas God reaches some through the spoken word, he also reach people from the physical element.
Educators will often talk about different types of learning styles how they learn either by seeing, doing or hearing. You talk to any long time teacher; they will not dispute this truth for a second. Different learning styles explain why some people thrive in shop, yet struggle in history. It’s not a question of brains but rather how they process information. Yet many people can’t understand that grasping Faith can come to us in different means.
What we must remember is that God reaches us through ways outside Baptism. No, differently than kids learn different ways.
Now we get back to the story of Billy Baptism and what are we to make of his salvation. What are we to make of the kid that grows up Lutheran, and comes home for family Christmas declaring himself to be an Atheist.
Do we believe that if someone is saved in Baptism that therefore they are always saved? Do we believe this, even if they publically profess against the faith of the church at a later date?
I don’t have a position on the question of “Once saved, always saved.”
“If God wants to be more generous than I would be, this is God’s business, not mine.”
When I was in Seminary, my preaching professor Micheal Rogness said something about funerals that’s always stuck with me that we never make a judgment as to a person’s salvation at their funeral.
Pastor Jason Peterson cites an excellent example. Peterson mentions how that “sweet church lady with the huge offering statement might be a prideful, callous unbeliever at heart”. “At the same time that drug-addicted pervert just might remember the Gospel from his Confirmation instruction during the seven seconds when his motorcycle collides with the semi and his heart stops beating”. We should not begin to attempt to answer these questions. We really don’t know what exactly Billy Baptism believes in the depths of his soul.
Today’s lesson from the Book of 1st Peter ties in baptismal salvation with an issue a story that we do know. It’s the story of Noah. The story of a world that had grown so wicked, and so thirsty that God needed to overwhelm the whole world with water in the midst of a dessert. The flood served as a reminder that God was not going to sit idly by in the face of destruction. God was going to come into the world and overwhelm once again through his death and Resurrection. Baptism is the completion of God’s salvation brought down from heaven brought unto the people left behind.
As we reflect upon the stories of John Pilgrim (the faithful 1st Century Christian) who risked his life nearly every single day for his faith. John Pilgrim was the type of man our Baptismal promise from 1st Peter was given. We also reflect on Billy Baptism the man who never found a preacher good enough to bring him to church. We remember the words about the meaning of Baptism found in Ephesians 4 that there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. The same baptism is given to two men that although very different, stood at the pearly gates with the same one hope given through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
 2 Timothy 4:7
 Titus 3:5-7.
 Peterson, Pastor Jason. “Does Baptism Save? Lutheran Reformission Blog. 9. Sept.2010. Web. Feb.15.2015.
 Peterson, Pastor Jason. “Does Baptism Save?”
 John 3:1-8
 Romans 6:3-5
 Peterson, Pastor Jason. “Does Baptism Save?”
 Peterson, Pastor Jason. “Does Baptism Save?”
 Ephesians 4:5
Evening Lesson: Genesis 3: 17-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Tonight, we begin a six-part Lenten sermon series based on the teaching of Luther’s “Catechism”. Tonight, we start with the topic of “confession”.
I want to begin by asking you to picture a particular time in your life. Picture a time that you got in trouble. A time when you did something that you know you shouldn’t have done, and people weren’t going to let you hear the end of it. I want you to keep that moment in your head.
Let me tell a story from my life. When I was about four years old, my Dad bought a new VCR. VCR’s were the latest hip technology at this time. This VCR cost a few hundred bucks. Mom and Dad gave four-year-old me, very concrete instructions, not to go near the VCR. Although as everyone knows when you tell a four-year-old not to do something, this only motivates them to do the exact opposite. So one day after eating a popsicle, I needed to do a little exploring of the VCR. I decided to use the popsicle stick like a Doctor might use a scalpel. The popsicle stick falls in, and no one could fix the VCR. Now my dad was mad!!! Dad is a yeller. Out of fear of punishment, I kept saying “sorry” over and again. Now when I was four years old, I would have done anything or said anything to put an end to my punishment.
Fear of confession was a major issue during Luther’s life. People thought the way that four-year-old me thought during Luther’s day. People weren’t sure how to rightly confess their sins before God. People believed that when you confessed your sin that you needed to confess every single detail or else God couldn't forgive you. The perfect memory standard means remembering every mean and angry thought towards your neighbor; this means remembering every word that you really shouldn’t have said. The burden of confession was thought to be impossible.
For the reason the Roman church required such detail in their confession is because the way that you would make amends for your sins would be to do some type of work (such as saying Hail Marys of writing Bart Simpson like sentences on a chalkboard) as a way of avoiding punishment for your sin. For correcting this understanding of confession was the basis for Luther’s most famous work, his 95 Theses.
Luther realized that remembering every sin a person committed throughout the day or week was impossible. Especially, if you have an understanding of sin as Jesus spoke about throughout the Gospels.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire”.- Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”-Matthew 5:27-28
For Luther recognized that confessing every individual sin was impossible for any mere human being to complete. If the standard at the pearly gate was confessing every particular sin to receive God’s forgiveness then “No one could be forgiven”.
Luther’s issue was that confession had become misunderstood. People feared confession when they should have drawn comfort from it. Confession is a two part act in the Word of Law or judgment followed by the Word of Gospel or forgiveness. Luther wanted people to understand confession as a reminder that no matter how much of a jerk someone might be that no one is outside the possibility of God’s grace.
So in looking at some of Luther’s beliefs about confession we turn to Ash Wednesday tonight. Ash Wednesday is the day of confession within the church.
People often wonder “Why do we use Ashes?”
The reasons are both Biblical and Historic for our Ash Wednesday practice.
The first reference to ashes within the Bible occurs from our lesson tonight right after the Fall of Adam and Eve in the third chapter of Genesis. In words that we speak at every funeral, we are reminded of the curse of death.
“Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
For just as the Lord created Adam out of the ground, the Lord would see to it that Adam’s sin brought him back into the ground.
So ashes serve as a reminder that we shall all face death because of our sin.
The second significant mention of Ashes from within the scriptures come from the New Testament where Jesus encourages the city of Bethsaida to confess in sackcloth and ashes as a way of expressing sorrow for their sins.
Within Church History, the first mention of ashes being used in the history of the Church occurs in the third century. When those who were viewed as really bad sinners and had been kicked out of the Church, such as murderers and adulterers would put ashes on their forehead to state their sorrow for their sin, and hope to be let back into the Church.
But during the Middle Ages, the most common time for public sinners to try to get back into the Church was during the season of Lent.
So ashes on the forehead soon took on a different meaning.
In the 12th century, Ash Wednesday became the beginning of the Lenten season. By placing the ashes on the forehead, we give a confession of our sins, and one’s need for forgiveness by the Cross of Christ. When we place Ashes on our forehead tonight, the statement is simple “I Am A Sinner.” Nothing more, nothing less.
So we’re as we might face sorrow for our sins (I still feel bad about the VCR!). We need not leave tonight in a state of despair because a message of hope and forgiveness comes with it.
This world is not the end for us. Because it was on the Cross, Christ experienced our death, so that one day we shall be raised to life eternal. Whereas we sin, Christ endured the Cross so that we may be forgiven of all our sins. So that as we leave tonight we can look to our confession with ashes like Luther looked upon confession as a joyous event that frees us. While assuring us of the victory over sin and death won by Lord and Savior on the Cross.
To close with the words of Luther from the Catechism, “This is most certainly true”. Amen
 Genesis 3:17-20 is the evening lesson.
 A section of Genesis 3:19
 Matthew 11:20-24
First Lesson: 2 Kings 2: 1-12
Responsive Reading: Psalm 50: 1-6
Second Lesson: 2 Corinthians 4: 3-6
Gospel Lesson: Mark 9: 2-9
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want you this morning to picture a moment in your life? The moment that I want you to picture is the moment that you would deem to be the most special or unique. The moment could be the time in high school, when you hit the shot at the buzzer to win the game. The day, when you looked down at the scale to see a particular goal weight achieved. It could be a major life accomplishment in the day that you received the significant award or got offered the new job. For many people, this moment might be the moment that you saw your bride getting ready to come down the aisle, or the time that you held your child for the first time. Chances are these moments define your life. I want to tell you the story about one such moment for three men today in Peter, James, and John.
Peter, James, and John had been traveling with Jesus for about two years throughout all of Israel. They had heard Jesus give plenty of sermons. They had seen him walk on water, heal the sick, and even feed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. For Peter, James, and John their minds could not fathom what they were about to see next. For one day, Jesus took Peter, James, and John on a hike. They could not quite figure what the purpose was for this hike, yet it would soon become apparent.
Once they reached, the top of the mountain, they saw a fireworks show like one could not imagine. Jesus’ appearance changed right before them “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Peter, James, and John knew the famous Old Testament story of God appearing before Moses in a Burning Bush and Moses’ life changing forever as he encountered the living God.
After overcoming the initial shock, of Jesus’ change in appearance, Peter, James, and John mind were further blown as appearing before them was Moses of said Burning Bush fame and Elijah the only man to ever ascend to Heaven in a whirlwind. There were not two more important figures in the history of Israel than Moses and Elijah. The whole Old Testament was summed up in these two men the Law and the Prophets. These men were Israel’s George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Here they were back to life, after, not having been seen for hundreds of years. Think if you could invite any three people living or dead to dinner who would you invite? This question had just become a reality for Peter, James, and John upon the Mount of Transfiguration.
So Peter’s reaction to this most incredible of scenes is expected. Peter wants the moment to last forever. Peter wanted to camp out at the Mount of Transfiguration for as long as possible. Peter figured this was the payoff to his faith. The scene to which they were witnesses was the completion of the years of getting ready for that one shining moment. Jesus quickly had to correct Peter’s imagination as soon as this moment came to end.
What are we to make of this story of Transfiguration today?
As many of you know, I’ve hiked the North Shore as much as anyone possibly could. You ask me about a hiking trail from Duluth to the Border, I could give you a description of nearly every trail’s difficulty, its scenery, and its logistics.
My favorite hike on the North Shore is Mount Josephine up in Grand Portage. Most of you have been to Palisade Head, many of you have been to Shovel Point, but what makes Mount Josephine, so spectacular is its climb. Mount Josephine is an ascent of 600 feet in about 6/10 of a mile. You will huff, and puff to get up to the top of Mount Josephine regardless of your fitness level. But the difficulty of the climb is what makes Mount Josephine so spectacular. The steep angle gives you an incredible view of Lake Superior where you can see out even as far as Isle Royale. Once you get to the top of Mount Josephine, you feel a sense of accomplishment as your breath gets taken away by the view. You vow to stay at the top of Mount Josephine for maybe a half-hour staring a site like you will never see again. Something happens though during your time on the top, the view from Mount Josephine becomes more ordinary. Eventually right before that one last look, you now know that it is time to descend the mountain.
Misunderstanding the moment is the problem with Peter’s mindset in our Gospel lesson for today. What people seemingly can’t grasp about life is the life is mostly spent down in the valley, not upon the mountain. For like Peter seeing Jesus transfiguration before his very eyes, this experience was going to be fleeting.
When I was in seventh grade, I had a science teacher named Mr. Collins. The benefit of being around science people is they tend to see the world not in terms of emotions and feelings, but rather how pieces fit together. Now Mr. Collins wasn’t much to look at he was short, he was bald, and he had put on a few pounds since high school. Mr. Collins though knew seventh graders quite well. He knew they were at the age where every single person was judged on the basis of physical appearance or “how hot they were?”
Mr. Collins one day addresses the class, where he points out that looks are a terrible reason to choose to marry. Mr. Collins reminded us that he didn’t think of his wife in the morning for how she looked, but rather he thought of her as his wife. The one to whom he was going to spend the rest of his life, long after both their looks had faded. The problem that Mr. Collins was addressing is that basing a marriage on its initial excitement or romance leads to the moment fading and the marriage not lasting. You can not create the same thrill on day in and day out basis. For as Jesus seeks to illustrate to Peter, mountaintop experiences don’t last.
Our question for today is ultimately “Where do we find God in the world?” Peter, James, and John in the rush of initial excitement believed that they had discovered God upon the Mount of Transfiguration. They believed there would never be any bigger moment in their lives than seeing Moses, Elijah, and Jesus standing together.
Often, I’ll hear people talk about grand spiritual life-changing experiences. When I was fourteen years old, I spend the week at Bible camp in South Dakota in the Black Hills. I made some new friends, had some cool counselors, had my faith challenged. This initial surge of the moment led me to believe that this was proof of God’s presence. I vowed that I was going to be a changed man from this day forward. I remember going home and apologizing to my parents for being such a brat in the months prior. Something happened after I got back from South Dakota called everyday life. I kept encountering the same friends, I got back into the same routines, and as the initial surge of South Dakota wore off, I reverted to being just as big an attention starved brat as ever. Just like as soon as Peter, James, and John traveled down from the Mount of Transfiguration, they were forced to encounter a boy begging to be healed of Epilepsy. The snap back to reality is often difficult for us to grasp. We want certain moments to last forever, only for us to be disappointed when they don’t. Disappointment can confuse us as to the realness of God’s presence.
What we must remember this morning is that God’s presence is not found merely in mountaintop experiences, we find God’s presence in the everyday world. When we say that we live by faith, what this means is that we live by promise. We live with the belief that even though we might not see Jesus at this moment, this doesn’t mean that he is not present in our lives.
Often, I’ll hear people say “I wish God’s presence could be clearer.”
As we begin Lent in a few days, we look towards the hope of Easter. We look towards the God, who at the world’s creation said, “Let there be light”, and we see this light in the light of the world who shone amongst us in Christ Jesus.
When I was working down in Lamberton, I took a Sunday off to go to California with my aunt and my grandma. I had a guy I knew from seminary pinch hit named Mark Lund. Mark was just getting a comfort level for speaking in front of others. Mark this Sunday is giving a Children’s sermon. The thing about Children’s sermons is that kids will blurt out just about anything at the most inopportune moments. So, after being asked a question that Mark was unsure how to answer, Mark just told the kid “Remember the correct answer is always Jesus.” So when I return to teach Confirmation, when the kids didn’t know an answer they just kept answering like Mark had taught them. The right answer is all spiritual questions, all spiritual doubt and despair is “Always Jesus”.
We will all have plenty of events and experiences in life that we won’t know their meaning. This much is true. What I also know is that Christ comes to us on this day in two ordinary forms (Word and Sacrament), the promises of our Gospel given to us in Bread and Wine.
Plenty of us can clamor that we wish that God would deal with us a bit differently than he does. The reason, that God deals with us as he does, is because we need to encounter God within humble means. If I was to call down fire from heaven, like Elijah this morning. People would go home amazed with me, or the fact that they were worthy enough to be part of this congregation, rather than to look towards the cross the reality of God’s work in the world.
In closing, one of the big news stories of the last few months has been the Charlie Hedbo massacres that took place in France where three armed gunmen stormed a newspaper office killing twelve people within the building. The reason for the attacks is the Muslim Gunmen were deeply offended by a series of satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that had been published a few years previously. One of the central tenants of Islam is that Muhammad cannot show any weakness, Muhammad cannot be humiliated. So the Gunmen inevitability react like they did. What separates Christianity from Islam is that Christianity is a religion of weakness rather than strength. Christianity grew through martyrdom rather than warfare. The whole central premise of Christianity is that God became weak. God entered into our sinful flesh. God suffered humiliation upon a cross to bring us salvation.
What Peter, James, and John were reminded on the mountain about the Transfiguration is that we as Christians are never defining God in the present, rather we are always looking ahead. We’re always looking towards Easter. We are always looking towards the Resurrection. Amen
 Let the record show that the Gospel text for this sermon is Mark’s account of the Transfiguration found in Mark 9:2-9.
 Matthew 14:22-33
 Matthew 14:13-21
 Mark 9:3
 Exodus 3
 2 Kings 1:1-18
 Matthew 17:14-20
 Genesis 1:3
 John 1
First Lesson: Isaiah 40: 21-31
Responsive Reading: Psalm 147: 1-11,20c
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 9: 16-23
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 29-39
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want you this morning to picture the type of person that you all know. Imagine the kind of person that can never say no to anyone. Visualize the type of person who wants everyone to like them. Think of the kind of person that is afraid to offend others with their opinions. You know the type of person who is willing to bend their principals as far as possible to avoid any potential conflict. Their names are probably on the tip of our tongues. We would call this type of a person a “people-pleaser”.
The people pleasers you know bring us to our lesson for today from 1st Corinthians 9. Our lesson centers on one man, the Apostle Paul. Paul wasn’t your typical people-pleaser. Paul had spent the first few decades of his life as anything but a people-pleaser. Paul was gruff, Paul was quick to anger, and Paul didn’t care whether certain people liked or disliked him. Persons in a former life knew Paul as Saul. Saul was the harshest critic and persecutor of 1st century Christians. Then one day, Saul’s whole life changes as he is blinded on the Road to Damascus. Paul’s experience on the road was truly life-changing. Paul was now the 500 LB guy running marathons. Paul was the guy set free from prison; wanting to tell everyone how awesome it was being outside. Paul went from killing Christians to seeking to convert new Christians. Paul traveled all over the world starting new churches. One of the places where Paul started a new church was in a town called Corinth.
Corinth was an important city. Corinth would have been one of the main centers of trade between Asia and Europe in the days that Paul lived. Corinth attracted people and ideas from all over the world, for this reason.
A church had started a few years before in Corinth. The church in Corinth was a mess. The Corinthians had numerous divisions within their midst. The Corinthians division was between the old guard loyal to Paul (the church’s founder) and the new guard loyal to the young, charismatic Apollos. The Corinthians argued about food, they argued about whether they could meat sacrificed to other gods; they argued about whether they had to eat certain diets to be followers of Jesus. The Corinthians argued about spiritual gifts and authority amongst their members; they argued whether God had given a select few the gift of tongues. The Corinthians argued over women’s roles within the church. The Corinthians argued over what it meant to live as a Christian. The Corinthians even had a reputation as a bit of a rowdy church. The Corinthians had members who wanted to sleep with everything under the sun. When the Corinthians got together for the Lord’s Supper chaos would reign, as certain members would attempt to drink all the wine before other members could get some. The Corinthian’s were even suing each other. Any church horror story that a person has maybe heard ties into the story of the Corinthian’s.
So Paul writes a letter to the Corinthian church with the hope of trying to sort out their myriad of problems. Within this letter comes the following passage from within the 9th chapter.
“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To the Gentile, I became like the Gentile. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. “
Let me put Paul’s words in modern terms to understand them. What Paul is saying is that if he walked into a room full of Republicans, he would talk and act like a Republican. But if Paul were to walk into a room full of Democrats twenty minutes later, he would talk and act like a Democrat. If Paul were to walk into a room full of Lutherans, he would talk about his faith like a Lutheran talking about his baptism. Whereas, if Paul were to walk into a room full of Baptists, he would speak of the day that he was saved. If Paul were to walk into a room full of Vikings fans, he would wear the Helga horns on his head. If Paul walked into a room full of Packer fans, he would wear a giant block of cheese upon his head.
Paul is saying these words as a way of reminding the Corinthians of the point of his letter “that there be no divisions amongst them”-1st Corinthians 1:10
People might hear Paul’s words and be unsure of his motives. They might assume Paul lacks principle. Paul being a flip-flopper though was not the point of this passage.
Paul was not like the insecure Junior High Student, who if their friends like a particular type of music, they will like a certain kind of music. If their friends like a particular type of activity, then they will like a certain type of activity. If their friends like to eat worms, well you can guess the rest. Our passage for today we can only understand in the context of the rest of Paul’s life and Ministry.
Paul did not go through life a popular guy. Paul was run out of towns, Paul was beaten by mobs, Paul was called all sorts of nasty names, Paul was thrown into jail, and Paul failed to reach all kinds of people.
Paul writes his letter to the Corinthians so he could let them know a little bit about his understanding of the church. Paul didn’t necessarily see the church inside the doors of it.
Let me tell a story, I have a friend whose name is Matt. Matt is a hospice chaplain in Las Vegas. One time Matt is assigned to go visit a patient. We know the type of gentleman, lonely, old angry bachelor who had just been given months to live. Matt tries to engage in a variety of subjects: his cancer, his family, his fear of death. Matt quickly discovers that he’s not going to get two words from this guy. The Guy soon finds out that Matt grew up in Cleveland and a Cleveland Indian fan. This guy had one request for Matt during his visits to come see him during Cleveland Indians games, so they could watch them together. This guy wanted nothing more in his dying days then just having someone to talk Baseball. Matt knew that this wasn’t what his bosses wanted him to do, yet Matt then began to consider “What exactly is ministry?” Once Matt got into the door with this guy, once this guy realized that Matt was on the level only then could the ministry begin.
Paul realizes that his personal calling is not to claim power for himself; rather Paul’s calling is to try to reach all kinds of people. Paul comes to realize that having knowledge of people’s lives doesn’t give him power, it rather gives him opportunity.
Let me tell a personal story. When I first entered the ministry, my Mom wanted me to start wearing clergy collar shirts. She was even going to pay for them! Mom saw these shirts as people in the days gone by see them as a sign of respect and authority within a community. So I buy a black shirt and a gray shirt. I would wear them occasionally. One time, I wore them for a Hospital visit at the Mayo Clinic and got free parking, so I thought this was a pretty good deal.
Where the problem arose is when I would do stuff out of town, I would usually have to run other errands. Let’s just say walking through Walmart, you could get some weird looks wearing a clergy collar. Clergy collars in a generation past were thought to make a person approachable, yet prying eyes seemed to indicate that I was anything but approachable. People often rightly or wrongly think a guy that wears a Vikings jersey on Sundays is often more understanding of their day to day struggles than the man who wears the weird collar. My goal within the Ministry has never been to attain a certain amount of power or respect, but rather build a particular type of relationship for the sake of the Gospel. Building relationships with all kinds of people was Paul’s goal for the church in Corinth.
So what is Paul saying to us today? Paul is approaching the situation in Corinth like any good politician would.
One Bible commentary that I was reading this week describe Paul’s words to the Corinthians well when it says “What we see here is Paul walking a tightrope, “blending sacrifice with reward, freedom with constraint, boasting with humility, law with love in order to optimize the Gospel”.
I had a roommate in college named Gabe. Gabe was a particularly colorful character. Gabe was a good guy, but Gabe didn’t care what others were going to think of him. Gabe would walk around campus eating rolls of cookie dough, which was funny since he weighed about 115 lbs. I asked Gabe one time why he wasn’t in class. Gabe said he needed to check his Fantasy Baseball lineup. Gabe would stay awake all night and sleep all day. People wouldn’t always know how to respond to Gabe.
Paul is telling the Corinthians that Gabe will be sitting next to you in church. Gabe’s way of doing things isn’t going to be your way of doing things. What the Corinthians needed to abandon was the mindset that too many modern people within the church have that God prefers the churched to unchurched, the rich to the poor, the faithful to the faithless.
The thing about being a community of faith that means anything is that it's not always going to be comfortable. People are going to wear obnoxious colognes, people are going to ramble on with their stories, and people are going to have all sorts of ideas that you can poke holes. These are the types of imperfect people that make up a church and the community that it's trying to reach.
Paul is attempting to get the Corinthians to reflect on what they stand for as a community of faith, what are their makes or breaks. For Paul realizes something that plagues the modern church- most people’s makes and breaks are trivial. What ultimately defines us is how the Gospel says that every single individual matters to God and this church. Right beliefs are essential, yet right beliefs only matter to the extent that we proclaim them to those around us.
Paul was a people-pleaser. Paul was a people-pleaser though with a purpose. Paul’s purpose was different than a lot of the other Corinthians purpose; Paul’s purpose was making the cross known. Paul’s purpose was reaching people from all walks of life, with a promise of forgiveness given directly to their ears. Amen
 Acts 9
 1st Corinthians 1:12
 1st Corinthians 8:1-13
 1st Corinthians 12:1-11, 1st Corinthians 14:1-25
 1st Corinthians 11:1-16
 1st Corinthians 6:12-20
 1st Corinthians 11:17-34
 1st Corinthians 6:1-11
 The following is a paraphrase of verses 20-22
 Crouch, Frank. L. “1st Corinthians 9:16-23”. Working Preacher. 2. Feb.2015. Web. Feb.4.2015
 This was inspired by a really good reflection entitled “Clergy Colllars: What Not to Wear” written by Sarah Condon over at Mockingbird (MBIRD) 29. Jan. 2015. Web. Feb.4.2015
 Mast. Paul. “Epiphany 5B: Lectionary Epistle” Center for Excellence in Preaching. Calvin Theological Seminary. 2. Feb. 2015. Web. Feb.5.2015
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.