Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
In 1965, the Coca-Cola Corporation primarily as a means for advertising commissioned Cartoonist Charles Schultz to create a Christmas special. Charles Schultz then began to create a vision of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Schultz embarked on the project not merely wishing to entertain, he insisted if he was going to attach his name this special was going to be about some sort of deeper meaning. Charles Schultz wanted to craft a special that captures the melancholy or bitter sweetness of the Holiday season faced by so many people. To add to the realness of the story, Schultz insisted that there be no laugh-track so the story would develop organically. Schultz also insisted upon having children rather than adults do the voices (unheard of at the time) as a way of emphasizing the lack of polish he wished for his characters to convey. But the ultimate request that Charles Schultz made to CBS was that a reading of the Nativity Story from the Gospel of Luke be included. Executives were reluctant of the overt religiosity of a special that dared to include a 51 second reading from the King James Bible. Executives after A Charlie Brown Christmas sneak previews were convinced that this would be the last Charlie Brown special because it was going to bomb, so bad. They would have taken it off the air, yet it was already on the schedule with the backing of one its biggest sponsors in Coca-Cola. Yet a Charlie Brown Christmas was a smash hit. Half the TV’s in America were turned into it; it won Emmy and Peabody awards later that year. The same special in 2010 was a given a five year extension by ABC taking it up to 50 years of Christmas viewings. A Charlie Brown Christmas is the definition of a Holiday Classic. What I wish to talk about tonight is the reasons for its popularity.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is popular because Charlie’s experience is all of our experiences. Charlie comes to the Holidays living in a painful place, feeling isolated from the world around him, it’s the story of feeling sad on what is supposed to be the happiest of occasions, yet it is in the midst of all this that Charlie Brown through his friends Linus receives the surprise of Grace. It was in the magical 51 seconds of a reading from tonight’s Gospel from Luke 2nd Chapter that the Charlie Brown was lifted from his gloom and his existence changed forever.
For those unfamiliar of not remembering the story well, A Charlie Brown Christmas tells the story of a depressed Kindergarten boy on the eve of Christmas. Charlie couldn’t understand why he wasn’t in the mood for the Holidays. Charlie had a hard time grasping why he felt like he did with everyone around him seeming to be so happy. Charlie on the advice of his friend/enemy Lucy agrees to direct a Christmas play as a means of trying to get into the Holiday Spirit. Yet Charlie’s leadership soon encounters kids who seem more interested in just trying to have fun then discovering the true meaning of the season. Charlie figures the only way to fix the cast’s attitude, with the play, is to go purchase a tree. Lucy gives Charlie the suggestion of purchasing the biggest, shiniest, pinkest tree in the lot. Yet when Charlie gets to the Tree Lot a certain tree stands out to him, the only real tree in the lot. Yet this tree was not a beautiful tree it was a wimpy tree, a weak tree, a dying tree. Yet there was something about this tree that captivated Charlie Brown. The Tree was a metaphor of how Charlie Brown saw himself. Once Charlie returns with this puny tree, he is instantly laughed at. Lucy couldn’t believe how dumb Charlie would be to purchase such an ugly tree. This last bit of mockery began to break Charlie Brown down. Charlie had come to the point in his life where he viewed everything he touched as a disaster. The cruelty of the children around him caused Charlie to eventually break down as a he said in a tone of agony, “Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Then out onto the stage walks Linus. Linus was an interesting choice to read the Christmas story in front of an audience since Linus whole existence was marked by a lack of self-confidence. Linus was known by everyone else around him for his famous security blanket, which people thought of as being silly, childish, and unnecessary. Yet Linus needed this blanket as something to grasp so that when he was weak and heavy laden, he could be given comfort and rest- Matthew 11:28.
So as soon as Linus steps onto the stage- he reads Our Gospel Lesson.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
As soon as Linus proclaimed to Charlie Brown the true meaning of the Holiday. Charlie Brown was given a new sense of purpose. Charlie decided to pick up his fragile little tree, and then walk home. After hearing Linus’ words, Charlie decided that this tree was important because it was his tree. Charlie wasn’t going to abandon his tree; he was just going to keep on loving his tree. In the meantime, moved by Linus’ reading as a critique of their selfishness the Peanuts gang follows Charlie Brown home, where Linus upon seeing the tree standing before him proclaimed another word of Grace as he says, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little bit love.”
Linus saw hope where no one else saw it in the scrawny, little tree. The Peanuts Gang then decorated the tree revealing its beauty and self-worth, right before singing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing“ together as the show closed.
As a way of illustrating the impact of this special on the American public about the weak, little tree. One thing that should be noted for anyone born in 1979 like myself is that a very popular trend of the early 1960’s was skipping real Christmas trees for brightly colored aluminum ones hence the pink trees being prominent in the special. But when viewers saw Charlie Brown stand by his tree in spite of its ever diminishing life span, it caused the aluminum tree market to collapse. Hence aluminum trees were no longer being manufactured just two years after A Charlie Brown Christmas first made it on the air.
The story of Charlie Brown brings us to our Gospel lesson for today. It’s a message to the Charlie Brown’s and Linus’s other there. It’s a message that Jesus Christ was born as a way of bringing good news to those who have been beaten down by self-doubt, anxiety, and despair. It’s a message to those who see in the mirror everyday all the ways they’ve fallen short, for not being pretty enough, rich enough, tall enough, or strong enough. It’s a message that seeks to break down the fake human masks that we tend to portray for all the world to see versus the weakness of our very reality as emphasized by Charlie Brown’s little tree. It is a message that seeks to reach those who feel forgotten and abandoned by the world. It is a message about Shepherds, the people who occupied the very margins of society. Shepherds were considered to be the type of people who society had given up on yet. Yet when the Angel comes to them it illustrates that God does not give up, when others around you do.
For born this night was a baby lying in a manager wrapped in swaddling clothes as a mere mortal, the Son of God was born in a feeding trough. It’s a story which proclaims that Jesus is being born amongst those who least expect it. It’s a tale that says when you’re like Charlie Brown and about to give up as you’re broken by the world, broken by your own sin, to remind you that God does not give up on you. God sent his own son into the world, born of a Virgin. So that as a many as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ- Galatians 3:27. The message of tonight is we are all ultimately Charlie Brown. So that even when we are afflicted by that which occurs around us this Holiday Season or the months that come after it, we know that we are not alone in this world.
Be assured that on this night a baby was born to be your savior. This baby was born to unexpected parents in the lowliest of places of a feeding trough. This Baby was born to embrace you in the midst of your failure, and never let you go. This is the story of A Charlie Brown Christmas and this is our story for tonight. Amen
 Cavna, Micheal. “ ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas 2012’: The gospel truth behind how tonight’s ‘Peanuts’ special became a beloved holiday classic. Washingston Post. 28.Nov.2012. Web. Dec.10.2013
 Cavna, Micheal. “ ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas 2012’: The gospel truth behind how tonight’s ‘Peanuts’ special became a beloved holiday classic. “
 Habeeb, Lee. “The Gospel According to Peanuts”. National Review Online. 25.Nov.2011. Web. Dec.10.2013
 Habeeb, Lee. “The Gospel According to Peanuts.”
 Habeeb, Lee. “The Gospel According to Peanuts”
 Marciuliano, Fransesco. “6 True Facts about ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’. Smosh Online. 3.Dec.2012. Web. Dec.10.2013
 Cavna, Micheal. “ ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas 2012’: The gospel truth behind how tonight’s ‘Peanuts’ special became a beloved holiday classic.
 Habeeb, Lee. “The Gospel According to Peanuts”.
 Johnson, Matt. “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.” Resurgence Online. Mars Hill Church-Seattle, WA. 21.Dec.2012.Web. Dec.11.2012.
 Schneider, Matt. “That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts, Pt. 2.” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 7 Dec.2012. Web. Dec.10.2013
 Schneider, Matt. “You’re a Hopeless Case, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts.” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 18.Jan.2012 Web. Dec.10.2013
 Schneider, Matt. “You’re a Hopeless Case, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts.”
 Schneider, Matt. “That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts, Pt. 2.”
 Marciuliano, Fransesco. “6 True Facts about ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’
 Satterlee, Craig. A. “Commentary on Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]”. Working Preacher. 24.Dec.2012. Web. Dec.11.2013
 Satterlee, Craig. A. “Commentary on Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]”.
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story today of a man who didn’t say much. A man best described as the strong, silent type. Yet this man was an integral part of our Gospel despite never issuing one word throughout it. This morning, we’re going to look at the story of Joseph, the Father of Jesus.
Joseph was raised in the town of Bethlehem. Joseph moved to the town of Nazareth probably to find work as a carpenter. The town of Nazareth wasn’t very big; it only had a population of about 400 people. Barely anyone had even heard of Nazareth. Yet Nazareth was nearby the city of Sepphoris which was the regional capitol of Galilee a little more than 4 miles away. Within the town of Sepphoris lived Joachim, Anna, and their daughter Mary. Joachim and Anna knew Joseph, they were distant cousins, and they knew that he would be good for Mary. They both knew that there were things that Joseph lacked mainly money and desirable skill. Joseph was merely a common laborer. Yet Anna and Joachim figured he had the type of character that would see to it that Mary was always treated well and cared for her above all others.
Mary would have been prized above all else for her virginity. The Marriage of Mary and Joseph was arranged when Mary was about 12 years old. Joseph and Mary were then considered to be betrothed to each other. They were considered to be husband and wife in the legal sense, yet they were going to have to wait for a period of one year to consummate the marriage in a moral sense.
Then one day Joseph’s whole world began to change. Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant. Joseph knew that he wasn’t the Father. This news crushed Joseph! Joseph had so much going on inside him when he found out. Joseph feared becoming a laughingstock; once it was made known to those around him that he wasn’t the father. Joseph internally went through a whole range of emotions upon hearing this news: Joseph was depressed, then Joseph was confused, but more than all this Joseph by shattered wishes that things weren’t going to work out with Mary. Joseph’s response to Mary’s pregnancy though was noteworthy. Joseph was a man of high character. He was the type of person who would stick up for someone when the chips were down. Joseph was the type of person who would stay loyal to someone who didn’t give them any obvious benefit.
Joseph didn’t want to try to one up Mary as a way of lessening his own humiliation. Joseph looked upon Mary with grace. So Joseph looked at Mary wishing to divorce her quietly. Joseph knew that if he made a spectacle of what Mary had done the consequences would be dire. Joseph knew that the Law of the Land was such that if a woman cheated on her finance, she and her lover were both ordered to be stoned to death. People were especially harsh if the women involved were a virgin.
One night, Joseph’s whole world changed forever. Joseph was visited by an Angel. The Angel then proclaimed to Joseph- “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”
As soon as Joseph heard these words, he was at the crossroads of his life. He probably couldn’t have imagined the purpose behind such an arrangement. Yet the Angel’s next words brought it all into perspective.
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)
Joseph was given no concrete proof of this new reality of life. He merely knew that he needed to marry Mary as soon as possible to protect his wife from getting stoned to death once evidence of her pregnancy began to show. Mary and Joseph then had to get ready to the 80-mile journey with his pregnant wife Mary to his hometown of Bethlehem to participate in the Roman Census as she readied to give birth.
What Joseph’s story does for us this morning is illustrate how one’s worldview guides them in life.
To illustrate this let me tell a story.
I knew a guy we’ll call Jim that had all sorts of things going for him in life; Jim was smart, he became a lawyer, Jim was hard-working, Jim was detailed-oriented, and made millions of dollars. Yet Jim had one guiding principle that carried him through all human interaction, “Never forget a wrong”. When Jim was getting up there in years, he decided to write notes to all of his 8 children to be given to them upon his death. These notes were going to highlight the ways that they disappointed him over the years. Some of Jim’s children upon reading these notes proceeded to take the last words that they ever received from their father and throw them in the trash. As you can imagine, years after this man’s death kind words are rarely spoken about Jim. I want to defend Jim this morning. Jim had experienced plenty in life to cause him to expect disappointment in other people. Jim had seen others try to take advantage of him for his wealth. Jim wasn’t a villain; he was incredibly smart, and more complex than others would give him credit. He was generous with his money and always wanted what was best for other people. Yet Jim thought like plenty of other people think the same type of people who laughed at Joseph for daring to take Mary as his wife. The type of people who would think it was foolish to risk their whole world on the visit of an angel. Jim didn’t want to embrace the possibility of hope and renewal when it came to other people
Compare Jim to Joseph. I imagine Joseph was taken in with an almost gullible, optimism as he heard the words “and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” These words seemed to be a pronouncement of foolishness. Words that a hardened cynic would laugh at, yet Joseph embraced a great hope that these words could be true. Joseph believed that grace was real and was about to come to him in the form of a child.
There was no real good reason for Joseph to be chosen to be the Father of Jesus. Joseph was no religious scholar, Joseph had no political power. The only real noteworthy thing about Joseph was that he was a distant relative of King David, who had been deceased for over 900 years. For the reason that Joseph’s story is so noteworthy is because it really emphasizes the Gospel. We receive God’s favor not for doing anything. We receive God’s favor in spite of our initial misgivings that a Virgin could really give birth to the Son of God. Joseph’s story says something to us about the nature of faith. How our faith in the Angel’s pronouncements can’t be proven. Yet the whole plan and reality of salvation is so different from our everyday experiences that it really can’t be any other way.
Joseph’s impact upon Jesus’ life cannot just be seen in Gospel lesson for Today. The visit of the Angel to Joseph would be the first of four visits in Josephs’ dreams.
The second dream would occur shortly after Jesus’ birth as the Angel tells Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt, and remain there awaiting further instruction, because Herod is seeking to find and kill Jesus as Herod had ordered the killing of all young male children born in the vicinity of Bethlehem for fear of his own throne-Matthew 2:13.
The third dream has the Angel instruct Joseph to return his family to Bethlehem with news of the death of King Herod. Yet Joseph was still hesitant because of fear of Herod’s Son- Matthew 2:19-20
The fourth dream has God himself assuring Joseph that it was ok to return his family back to Bethlehem, before Joseph eventually leads them to settle again in Nazareth in Galilee where Jesus was raised.
One thing that should also be stated this morning is that Joseph had several other children besides Jesus. Matthew the 13th chapter makes a reference to James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon being Jesus brothers along with a reference to Jesus having sisters who are never named.
The last appearance of Joseph in our Gospels is the story of Jesus visiting the Temple with the Boy Jesus at the age of twelve. This last appearance shed unique insight into their relationship. Jesus didn’t in these moments speak of Joseph as his father, but described himself as being inside his Father’s house. When Jesus spoke this description was not common. No one would have dared to describe God as their Father before this, except the one that came from heaven itself.
Yet the relationship between Jesus and Joseph still remained like that of Father and Son. In the 6th chapter of John upon a return to Nazareth early in his earthly ministry, people from his hometown grew greatly skeptical of Jesus claims to be the one to usher in the Kingdom of God. They saw Jesus as too ordinary, too common to say the things that he said. John 6:42 has the crowd asking “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven?’
Yet as the crowd grew upset with Jesus claims, they missed something very important about heaven. Heaven is not some distant far away reality, we cannot grasp, when instead Heaven came down to Earth in the most ordinary, human of forms raised by a woodworker.
Church tradition has Joseph dying around the year 18 or 19 AD or about 10 years before his son began his ministry. When Jesus and his Mother Mary attend the Wedding at Cana, the sight of Jesus first’ miracle and the beginning of his ministry, Joseph is never mentioned. In Mark the 6th Chapter upon, Jesus is referred to as Mary’s Son a reference that would only make sense in a male-leadership driven culture if the Father was not dead. There is never any evidence given in the Christian Gospels that Mary was anything other than a widow during the time that Jesus lived.
Yet the limited impact of Joseph during Jesus ministry doesn’t take away from the impact of his story. Joseph’s story for us is a story of the Gospel. It’s a story of a young man who had his heartbroken when he found out his young wife was pregnant, yet he wasn’t the father. Though Joseph even upon receiving this most difficult of news wished that harm wouldn’t come Mary’s way. Joseph’s story is a story of hope, a story of being able to embrace that a new day will be different from the old day. Joseph went against every previous life experience, because the Gospel goes against every previous life experience. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Amen
 Markquart, Ed. “Joseph and the Virgin Birth”. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Dec.11.2013
 Matthew 1:19
 Leviticus 20:10
 Matthew 1:20
 Matthew 1:21-23
 Matthew 13:55-56
 Luke 2:39-52
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and Fire”- Matthew 3:11.
These words from our Gospel lesson for today which reflects upon the ministry of John the Baptist, how John the Baptist preached in the wilderness encouraging people to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. Our Gospel shows how John’s Baptism in being similar set the stage for our own Baptisms. But what exactly do John’s words mean “I have baptized you with water, but he who is to come will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
To reflect upon these words’ meaning, I want to reflect upon the wisdom of one of America’s greatest religious thinkers in Archie Bunker.
For those of you who don’t know Archie Bunker. Archie was the lead character on a very popular TV show “All in the Family” in the 1970’s. Archie Bunker was anything, but polished or politically correct in his thoughts. Some might call him TV’s most lovable bigot as most of the show’s humor revolved around Archie making derogatory comments to those who were of different races, nationalities, sexualities, or held different political views from his own. Archie was the definition of a hothead, who would just say whatever thought popped into his head without regard for the consequences.
When it came to Religion, Archie Bunker was complicated. Archie would frequently assert during the course of the show, how important his Christianity was to him. Yet Archie rarely went to church and when he would go he’d storm off because he wouldn’t like the Minister’s Sermon.
When Archie does finally commit to start attending church, he does everything he can to get out of it, when it starts to conflict with his wishes to attend a Football game. So, why do we reflect on the wisdom of Archie Bunker this morning?
Because in 1976, there was an episode of “All in the Family” that dealt with the Christian understanding of Baptism like no American TV show before or since.
In this episode, Archie gets into a huge argument with his Daughter Gloria and Son-In-Law Michael or Meathead over whether they should have their Baby (Archie's Grandson) Joey baptized. Archie's Son-In-Law Meathead didn't want Joey baptized, “Because Meathead considered himself to be an Atheist”.
When Archie tried reasoning with Meathead, he reminded him that Meathead had been baptized. At which point an angry Meathead cried out “How he renounces his publically renounces his Baptism and it means nothing to him”.
At which point, Archie points out with his normal sense of tactfulness, how this is the stupidest thing he had ever heard. This would be the same thing as Meathead renouncing his belly button, it's impossible to do; just because you say renounce your Baptism doesn't make it so.
This scene brings up all sorts of questions that people have about Baptism. Meathead thinks of Baptism like most people do (Atheists and Christians) alike. It's just a ceremony were water is poured over the head. Sort of a family rite of passage with religious meaning for Michael and many others, Baptism doesn't actually do anything.
For example, when I worked down in Lamberton, I was at the Funeral Home for a Visitation when a guy comes up to me because he heard that I was a Minister. This guy wanted to quiz me or interrogate me.
This guy asks me, “If I actually believe Baptism saves anyone?”
This guy proceeds to tell me it’s more important that someone asks “Jesus into their Heart” as a true measure of their salvation.
Before giving me a chance to respond, perhaps because this guy knew he wasn’t going to like what I had to say.
He then starts quoting from the 3rd Chapter of John of how one needs to be “born-again” of BOTH Water and the Spirit so Baptism isn't enough. How we can't trust in our Baptism to save us.
At this time I pointed out how we I agreed with him that if everyone who is saved must be born-again.
Yet where we differed is when I pointed out how we participate about as much in our Rebirth and as we do in our Natural Birth. Where we disagreed on what it means to be “born-again”. Where as he associated being born-again with a dramatic life-transformation where you overcome your doubt and sin, instead being born-again is the very act of God to create faith and eternal life in the midst of sin and death in the waters of Baptism.
We are not born-again because we are effective Christians; we are born-again when we're rescued from drowning in sin by work of God's own Spirit.
Water by itself means nothing. Yet when water is connected to the promises of the Word of God then new life can come into being.
For the main issue involved in studying Baptism comes down to one fundamental question. This doesn't matter if Lutherans and Baptists are debating whether to Baptize Infants or Meathead is claiming to renounce his Baptism, “Is Baptism the work of God or the work of Man?”
If Baptism is the work of God then it's proper to associate Baptism with salvation. If Baptism is the work of God then one's age or intellectual ability is meaningless. If Baptism is the work of God then the Mark of the Cross upon our forehead given in Baptism is as difficult to take away for who you are as a permanent scare across your own leg. Whereas if Baptism is the work of Man then your Baptism can be declared worthless if you claim to lose your faith like in the case of Meathead.
But what do the scriptures say on these issues.
Titus 3:5-7 states “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
This passage clearly associates the act of Baptism with the work of the Holy Spirit to do wonderful, magical acts in Baptism of renewal and regeneration.
I Peter 3:21 states this truth more explicitly when it states “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
One of the most common misunderstandings I here about Baptism is in relation to Confirmation. When people seem to believe that “Confirmation makes Baptism valid” or “Confirmation completes Baptism,” while Confirmation is useful for religious instruction, the celebration of it is little more than a family ceremony or rite of passage.
This is in direct contrast to Baptism where
To quote my good friend Dr. Joe Burgess
“In infant baptism the Word of promise (Our Gospel) produces faith, and such faith is obviously not a decision. Nor is such but a fragment of faith, a kick start, as it were, for the infant receives the Holy Spirit, who cannot be divided into parts and is not merely potentially present. Just as the infant does not potentially receive forgiveness and eternal life, but actually and fully.”
Yet people get nervous if you associate Baptism too closely with Salvation. They say what about professing Atheists like Michael from “All in the Family” who refuses to get even his own kid Baptized? They say what about people who show up for Baptism then you never see them again? What about the nominal Christians like Archie Bunker of the world?
I think part of the problem with all this is we love to hear Grace for ourselves and judgment cast upon everyone else. We're continually wanting to associate God's salvation with our worthiness in some way, shape, or form. Yet the only hope any of us for the gift of eternal life whether we're active Church members or never in attendance is the Grace of God to save whom he wants to save.
God does not save any individual unfairly, God saves every individual he chooses unfairly. If God chooses to save more people through Baptism then we think he should, this is God's business not our own.
So, what do we say about Atheists who have been Baptized years ago like Michael?
It's important to point out that people's faith is often complex.
When people claim to be Atheists they may have been jaded by the church or people in it somewhere along the line. These people then consider themselves to be Atheists. When it's just anger they hold at other people.
Sometimes people claim to be Atheists when they're just plain angry at God. A famous example of this type of Atheist would be Larry Flynt who's the Publisher of Hustler Magazine had a very public conversion to Christianity in the 1970's only to become a very public Atheist after he was shot and permanently paralyzed. Flynt then began cursing God at every turn.
Some teenagers might claim to be Atheists just because they're looking for attention. And it's sometimes tough to differentiate between a person's reality and person's pose.
So, in cases of Atheists like Michael or Meathead, we would never say one's Baptism didn't work since faith was there at some point in time. God did not fail these people. Rather they fell away from the Christian faith due to their own sin, pride, and anger.
As far as a Baptized Atheists' final eternal destination I prefer not to attempt to answer this question. The scriptures clearly state in several places that those “Who do not believe, shall not be saved?”
Yet at the same time-plenty of people have been saved in spite of imperfect beliefs. None of us can ever believe rightly on the basis of our own sin.
So, we always want to stress caution when considering one's final destination, instead we just proclaim the promises of Baptism which are the promises of our Gospel. We might not see magical transformations right away. Yet the power of the Holy Spirit is such that he can breakdown the seemingly most impenetrable of walls. And reach people with the hope that God has claimed them as his own.
Back to the conclusion of this “All in the Family” Episode. Archie comes up with some scheme to get Baby Joey out of the house with him. Once Archie realizes the Minister is going to be of no help with his dilemma. Archie takes the radical next step of sneaking the Baby into the Church himself and bringing his Grandson to the Baptismal Font. Archie then dips his hand in the water and places it over his Grandson Joey's head at he mouths the words “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”.
Archie Bunker may have seemed or appeared to be one of the worst people possible to shed light into how Christians understand Baptism. But in reality, he was one of the best. Because Archie wouldn't have thought Baptism was important, if he didn't understand the darkness in his own soul. Archie wouldn't have thought, Baptism was important, if he didn't realize his own powerlessness to change himself. Archie wouldn't have thought, Baptism was important, if he didn't realize how we all fall short of the glory of God. How spiritually dead we all are inside yet within the waters of Baptism, a miracle takes place which washes away our sins and gives us new life.
Why this happens? This makes no sense, other than the love of God who gave his life to save our own and will stop at nothing to bring us into his presence by the power of his Holy Spirit in Water.
For as our Gospel lesson states just as John baptized with Water, the one that came after him in God's own Son, Jesus Christ our Lord has baptized us through water with the Holy Spirit. Amen
 Mark 1:8
 John 3:18, John 3:36
 Romans 3:23
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The following story is based on Today’s Gospel from Luke 23. This is the story of a thief named Titus. Titus had lived a bad, bad life. Titus had spent the majority of his life living in the desert. Titus would seek to rob or murder anyone that would dare cross his path. Titus was even guilty people said of killing his own brother. Titus wasn’t particularly close to anyone. He did have an occasional partner in crime named Dimachus. Titus and Dimachus one day finally went too far with their actions. They encountered a few Roman soldiers on the Road to Jerusalem. Titus and Dimachus were initially excited since they knew Roman soldiers to be wealthy. Titus and Dimachus attacked these soldiers from behind, and then beat them death so that word of their crime never got out. Jerusalem in recent years though had been having plenty of people with Political Zealots, Religious Zealots, and even terrorists like Barabbas. When the Roman authorities heard the tale of these two thieves, Titus and Dimachus quickly jumped to the top of the most wanted list. Titus and Dimachus were soon captured. They were sentenced to death by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. The sentence was bad, a sentence of crucifixion. Crucifixion was considered to be the most shameful and disgraceful way a person could die. Titus and Dimachus had embarrassed the Romans so they were going to be punished for it. Crucifixion was such an awful way to die that the Romans would not allow its own citizens to die such a death. Crucifixion was a special sentence, a sentence of death reserved purely for enemies of the Government. As soon as Titus and Dimachus were sentenced they were forced to carry their own wooden cross beams nearly a mile outside the city, climbing nearly the whole way to the Jerusalem’s highest point atop the hills of Moriah. Yet in the midst of their walk away from Jerusalem, they saw a man behind them sentenced to crucifixion by death just like them only this man was not only surrounded by soldiers but also a large crowd. This man had been whipped so bad that he could barely walk. Roman soldiers had forced another man to carry his cross for them.
When Titus, and Dimachus arrived at Golgotha, otherwise known as the Place of the Skull. They were not alone. Joining them was a man they were calling “Jesus”. Jesus was called the “King of the Jews”. Titus was hung to Jesus’ right. Where as Dimachus was hanging to Jesus’ left. Titus at first couldn’t understand why Jesus would be called the “King of the Jews”. His body was a bloody and battered mess. Titus at first though that this Jesus was a crazy person, that’s why the fellow soldiers and on-lookers were mocking him. Titus then felt the need to join in with their insults. Titus actually heard this King of the Jews say as the Roman soldiers hung up upon the cross “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
This so-called King had been rendered so powerless that the Roman soldiers as a way of mocking his pending death began to divide up his clothes by casting lots. There was a loud crowd of people watching this King of the Jews be put to death to their delight. They mocked him further by saying “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, the chosen one”. The soldiers then approached his stretched out body, then gave him an offer of sour wine as a way to make fun of his thirst. The soldiers then further mocked him by saying “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself”. The soldiers then hung a sign above this man’s head to explain the reason for this death “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS”.
Dimachus kept up with his mockery of the so-called king as he cried out “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! Dimachus knew he was about to die. Dimachus was never going to give up his toughness. Even while being executed by merciless Roman soldiers. Dimachus had convinced himself that he was going to die with his pride intact unlike this foolish King of the Jews. Dimachus wished for his last breathes on earth to be spent cursing out this make-believe king. Dimachus had gone to the Cross defiant. Dimachus was going to stay himself right up until the bitter end. The more Dimachus hurt on the inside, the more he delighted in mocking Jesus.
Something came over Titus though as he heard his friend join in with the crowd, join in with the Soldiers, and laughing at this King of the Jews. Titus had been around plenty of thieves and scoundrels in his life yet this man seemed different for reasons he couldn’t place at this given moment. The Thief even in this King’s great suffering saw something unexplainable compared to how the world normally works. Titus noticed that even in the midst of all this torture and mockery that the King didn’t retaliate or fight back. Yet he didn’t just back down or cower in these last moments either. The King had no interest in trading fire for fire. He had merely mouthed the words “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”. Something about this whole incident struck Titus as awkward from what he had previously thought (before he had encountered this so-called king). This man was able to love in the sense of hatred; this man was willing to extend grace in the presence of injustice. This man was extending forgiveness to the very men that crucified him.
Titus saw a sense of power. Titus saw a sense of love. Titus saw a sense of mercy. Titus saw a sense of grace. Titus’ saw all this as this King’s body laid battered right along besides his, a King who even though seemed nothing, but weak and broken in that very moment. Titus came to believe that one day that this King’s power would be revealed for the entire world to see.
Titus eventually snapped at Dimachus saying “Do you not fear, God, since are you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due rewards of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong”. Titus then proceeded to speak the words of a broken man with no one else in the world to turn saying “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”
Jesus the King of the Jews then looked upon Titus, hearing his confession. Upon hearing his humility, years of wrong, self-loathing, and guilt had led of all of Titus’ life to this very moment. The King turned his head towards his right with some of the last ounces of strength in his body. The last image that people have of this king’s death was his head hanging in Titus’ direction. The king then mouthed out these words “As Today I say you will be with me in Paradise”.
These words that in that very moment indicated that no one can ever be too far gone, to be beyond the reach of Christ.
Darkness would soon cover the whole land. As the King cried out “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. As the king breathed his last breath, Titus would breathe his last breath not long afterwards.
Roman soldiers then walked up to Titus after his death and broke his legs to prove he was really dead. There was not a sign of life in Titus’ body. Titus’ mother looked on at this whole spectacle bawling her eyes out at her son’s life could have gone so wrong to end up like this, only to be consoled by the Mother of the King named Mary who assured her that everything would soon be alright.
Charles Spurgeon describes this story best when he says “What makes this story memorable is that it occurred when Our Lord was at his very lowest, yet the Thief was able to see him as a king anyway.”
This story is memorable because we would think like Titus’ came to think. We would see the King’s agony as evidence of his defeat. Yet Titus went to death truly believing that the one who hung alongside him was going to bring us into his Kingdom.
Titus was the King’s last companion on Earth. This King was not an ordinary King to die with a criminal such as Titus. Yet this wasn’t any different for this King. This was the King’s whole life. This King didn’t associate with the rich or powerful like the Pharisees or the Sadducees. This King didn’t sit around with the other religious big wigs of the day. This king associated with Tax Collectors and Sinners, and was left to die with a thief.
The fact that Titus was the last person the king associated with, the last person our lord made a promise to. This story says something to you and me. It says that the Lord shall choose us; the Lord shall remember us as he enters into his Kingdom. This king is different. This King didn’t seek to only enhance his power. This King didn’t seek to smite all his enemies. This King last companion on earth was nothing more than an ordinary sinner. A sinner that had been mocking him moments earlier, yet still promised to bring him into his paradise.
This King was certainty different then other kings. This King was more than just an ordinary ruler. This King had gone to his death with a purpose, a purpose of ushering in a new heaven, and a new earth. A Kingdom not governed by fear or power, but rather a Kingdom governed by mercy and grace. A Kingdom that Titus the thief would soon experience. Amen
 Luke 23:33
 Luke 23:34
 Luke 23:34
 Luke 23:35
 Luke 23:36
 Luke 23:37
 Luke 23:38
 Luke 23:39
 Luke 23:34
 Luke 23:40-41
 Luke 23:42
 Luke 23:43
 Spurgeon, Charles. “The Believing Thief”. Metropolitian Tabernacle of Newington. 7 April 1889. Web. Spurgeon.Org. November 18, 2013
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As we celebrate All-Saints Sunday today, I want to tell you the story of a Saint and the impact that one such Saint made on my life. Now when I was growing up, I didn’t have a Grandpa that enjoyed spending time with kids.
Yet I had an ever bigger blessing, I had a Great Grandpa Arvid. Arvid lived a few blocks away in Lindstrom in a big, brick house that reminded you of Wrigley Field with the Ivy hanging down from it. Arvid’s place would be my get away from home.
Perhaps the most special year of our relationship was the summer of 1991 as the Minnesota Twins completed a turn-around from “worst” to “first” bringing the World Series Trophy back to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Arvid’s Daughter “My Grandma” would often have to leave for the night. So when I was in Junior High, I would often spend the night at Arvid’s house to make sure nothing happened to my ninety- something Grandpa who had trouble moving through the night.
Arvid died in November of 1995 at the Age of 95. Arvid might have made 100, yet his diet was absolutely horrible. That’s why I liked hanging out at his house so much. I rarely saw Arvid without a bucket of Caramel Corn in his hands.
My first experience with death was visiting as a 16 year old nursing home in the last few hours of Arvid’s life as he struggled with his last breath.
Arvid’s legacy in Lindstrom was such that the week he died, the Chisago County Press editorialized about his death. Arvid brought a lot to the town of Lindstrom. Arvid founded the Victor Agency in 1948, the business my Dad runs today. Arvid served as Mayor. Arvid was the last original member of Trinity Lutheran Church to die. Arvid brought the Dairy Queen to Lindstrom that eventually became the most profitable DQ in Minnesota.
But the one thing that I’ll remember from that editorial given about Arvid’s life is how the editor John Silver recalled that in all of Arvid’s life experiences, no one had come across him saying a bad word about another person.
In my line of work, you see people brought down from their public image all the time, where words don’t match reality. Yet Arvid remains the figure I try to emulate in relating to other people even when I fall short in these regards.
What I’ll remember most about Arvid is how he would absolutely drop everything for others. One time I was 8 years old and had broken my leg due to my stupidity. Arvid calls me up on the phone asking if there was anything I needed.
I said I wanted “Dorpa-Scorpa”. Dorpa Scorpa was dried Cinnamon Toast, so hard that I still have a chipped tooth from eating it as a kid. Remember we’re all Swedes in Lindstrom. Five minutes later, Arvid shows up with a bag of Dorpa Scorpa as my request had become instantly the most important thing in his life.
I remember Arvid’s funeral. We were so close that it ended up being the first time in my life that I ever spoke in front of a church as I delivered a eulogy. I remember thinking that I was going to be able to tough it out, throughout the service. The worst thing you can do as a 16 year boy is cry. Yet leaving the sanctuary I remember the reality of Arvid’s loss just overwhelming me as I broke down. I stand before you today almost 18 years to the week after Arvid passed. I have been blessed with new relationships, yet I know that I will never come across another Arvid.
Our Gospel Lesson for Today comes from Luke the 6th Chapter. Today’s lesson comes from the Sermon on the Plain from Luke 6. The Sermon on the Plain is known for speaking some very dramatic language. It describes the people who are blessed as those who are hated, those who are poor, and those who are begging for just one crumb of food.
The message of our Gospel for lesson for today is simple. The things that Jesus describes are about who God blesses through his gospel, not about individual blessings that we receive. How God is present in the deepest, and darkest places of human despair.
A few years ago, I met an old High School Classmate for Lunch. I hadn’t seen this classmate named Matt for a few years. Matt walks up to me and without any tact whatsoever says to me “Boy-Stew you’ve sure gotten gray”, gray just like my great-grandpa.
Hundreds of days had passed marching closer to death since Matt and I had last seen each other. Hundreds of days had been spent trying to deny this fact. Hundreds of more days have been spent looking in the mirror trying to convince myself that I look the same as yesterday, looking in the mirror seeing that I’m not as strong as I might think.
For to whom can forgiveness be extended but the weak? Who can be given mercy other than the broken? Who can be given new life but the dead?
“None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” –Romans 14:7-8
Luther on his death bed, put the Christian’s life in the most simplest of terms. “We are all beggars. This is most certainly true.”
I want to talk a bit today about the nature of Sainthood. A number of years ago, a Time Magazine article came out with the scandalous title “The Secret Life of Mother Teresa”. This story detailed how Mother Teresa had been held up as a Hero and Saint for nearly half a century, while at the same time struggling with her own sense of doubt. Prominent Atheists jumped on this story as proof of the untruth of religion as how even one of its most notable proponents struggled with self-doubt. Yet perhaps Mother Teresa’s story tells us something else. It tells us how Saints don’t become Saints due to the human will, Saints rather become Saints because their molded into them. For it’s at moments when we’re at our lowest, that our need for a savior tends to be the most revealed.
One thing worth noting about Sainthood is Saints are never described throughout the scriptures in singular terms. Saints aren’t merely Super Heroes of the Faith. Saints are rather the whole communion of believers. The word Saint means “Holy”. We are called Saints not because we are ourselves are without flaw, we are declared to be Saints because the Holy One seeks to call us home through his gospel.
A few years ago there was a Saturday Night Live Character named Debbie Downer played by Rachel Dratch. Debbie Downer’s claim to fame is that whenever someone was on the verge of having a fun conversation, Debbie Downer would come back with some really unpleasant fact about life. Debbie Downer is actually a fairly good illustration of how too many people misunderstand religion as pointed out by Religion Blogger Kate Norris. Too many people tend to think of a Christian’s life only in terms of human glory.
Today we come face to face with the harshest downer of all in death. Death is not beautiful. Nor is Death desired. Death is not natural. Nor is Death peaceful. Death is never what God intended for his creation. As evidenced by the tears it sheds and the pain it brings. What happens in Death is we come face to face with Death’s tragedy. We come face to face with the fact that we’re just as mortal as those who have gone before. Ashes to Ashes. Dust to Dust. Yet in Death we are brought forth to the cross. So we do not face death with uncertainty. We face death with confidence because of the one who conquered death on our behalf.
“I am the resurrection, and the life”, says the Lord, “he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”- John 11:25-26.
Today we remember Matt Banovetz who rose from the Pelletizing plant all the way to being the final president of Reserve Mining. Yet Matt never changed one bit. Matt who had sleepless nights because of the burden of watching his friends and neighbors future be thrown into chaos as the Reserve was in his final days. Matt was so hurt by all this, he decided to retire rather than move on when the plant shutdown.
I’ll remember being with Dee Guzzo in the last years of her life. As she struggled with the loneliness brought on by Tony’s loss. As her eyes began to fade, as her hearing began to go, as her body kept breaking down. Yet Dee’s bond with her family was so strong that family members would spend the night at her side in the final hours. Keep trying to say the last words to her not unlike I had to say to Arvid years ago. Dee’s dying days were a testimony to how much she had given to others throughout the course of her life.
We remember Ardell Granlund for his quiet and gentle nature. We will remember Ardell always being willing to give of his time to help others as an electrician. We will remember how he loved our ladies cooking.
We will remember Ivy Grotberg as a feisty, old lady. Ivy loved music especially hymns and harmonica. Ivy will be remembered for her sense of humor. But Ivy will be remembered most of all for always putting her family first.
We will remember Pam Mattila for her ability to always see the best in other people. How Pam through her illness never wished to see other people brought down. How Pam will be remembered this Christmas Eve as the Matilla’s gather to light Ice Candles as Jon plays Silent Night at the Cemetery.
We will remember Debbie’s Nelson’s stirring renditions of Harper Valley PTA and These Boots Were Made for Walking along with her deep laugh when working at the Ye Old Store.
We will remember Lee Roy Jacobson’s tragic loss. How there were so many people at Sychar you’d think the Fire Marshall would shut it down, but the fire-men were the ones standing along the side wall as we heard stories of his sense of humor and zest for life.
We will remember Virtus Schultz trying to flirt with any woman who came his way. We will remember Virtus’s greeting, smile, and continual presence at the Northwoods. “We will remember how Virtus served as an example for so many men and women for years and years in the AA Program. How Virtus believed that if he could have his life brought back together than anybody else could”-Andi Stebelton Bourne Remembrance
How all of the Saints that we recognize today influenced lives of those around them much like Arvid influenced my own. I remember being 18 years old, trying to explain to others, where I believed I was being led with the rest of my life.
I remember sitting down at My Sister’s confirmation with my Pastor Tom. The same pastor that had buried my Great-Grandpa two years earlier, I told Pastor Tom I was feeling called to go to School to pursue a career in Ministry.
Pastor Tom just looks at me saying ‘I can see it after seeing you with your great-grandpa growing up.” Arvid wouldn’t have known it at the time, but if it wasn’t for how his life exemplified grace as I’m getting into all sorts of trouble at school and home, I’m probably doing something else, far away from here. We never know how the Saints around us impact us.
As I think back to Arvid’s funeral. I can’t remember much. I can remember processing to the Front of the Church as family. I can’t remember what Pastor Tom said. Yet I’ll forever remember something that Pastor Tom did during the sermon, something that I’ve never before seen during a sermon.
Pastor Tom had the congregation open up their hymnals and sing. He had them sing the song that we’ll sing in a just a few minutes. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. A hymn that points out the true meaning of All-Saints Sunday, a hymn that points out how any Sainthood we possess comes because Our Lord knows us not just in our triumphs, but our Lord knows us when we’re at our lowest, and most broken. How Our Lord takes us to the very place of our death and judgment only to bring us on the other side through his resurrection.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”-John 5:24
So that even when we’re weak as we’re struggling for our last breaths, even as we’re weak as we doubt the future and uncertainty through our tears, on the cross we are made strong. How by his death Jesus destroyed the power of death and how by his resurrection he opened the Kingdom of Heaven for all believers.
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed”-1 Corinthians 15:51-52.
All this so that Sinners may be declared to be Saints. Amen
 Van Biema, David. “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith.” Time Magazine. 23.Aug. 2007. Web. Oct.29.2013
 Davis. “The Exposed Lies of Saints.” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA.10.Oct.2010. Web. Oct.29.2013
 Norris, Kate. “Debbie Downer”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 4 June 2010. Web. Oct.29.2013
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Jesus Christ,
I want to tell the story this morning of Bill Blasiak. Bill Blasiak was born in a town not unlike Silver Bay. Bill’s parents were not unlike people we know. Bill’s Dad was a Miner, whereas Bill’s Mom stayed at Home working harder than anyone else in the family trying to raise Bill’s Brothers and Sisters. Bill’s parents didn’t have much money so they dreamed of a better life for their children. Bill did the church thing as a kid. Bill was baptized; Bill went to Sunday school, and eventually Confirmation Classes.
Bill viewed his Confirmation Sunday as a graduation of sorts. Bill was never going to have to listen to another one of the Preacher’s boring sermons, Bill was never going to have look silly wearing an Acolyte Gown, Bill’s Wednesdays were soon going to be free for Video Games, and Bill’s Sundays were going to be free to sleep in.
Bill went through High School as a good student and soon College was on the horizon. Bill had to begin to consider what he was going to do with the rest of his life. Bill’s Dad had instilled in him one goal. “Make as much as money as possible”.
Around this time, Bill heard of a lawyer that had won hundreds of Millions of Dollars in a Class Action Lawsuit. Bill realized that a career in the Law was what he should pursue then. Bill was an extremely motivated young man. Bill went to college, studied hard late into the night, and woke up early in the morning.
As soon as Bill graduated college he appeared to have his life on the fast track. Bill’s parents were so proud. Bill soon began Law School, yet the future soon began to crumble apart.
While Bill was in Law School, one of his Best Friends growing up named Alex had been out on the roads a bit later at night then he should have been, when a drunk driver end up hitting Alex taking his life. This event set Bill through a whole wide range of emotions.
Bill was angry! Alex’s sudden death considered Bill to consider a whole host of questions such as the role of God in it all, and what would happen to Bill if he didn’t make it through the night. Bill began to consider what he thought was at first a crazy idea that he was going to start attending Church again. Bill went in with an open mind that it might help him.
Yet what Bill heard added very little to the questions that he sought to answer. All Bill heard was of his need to do more: pray more, give more, read his Bible more, and in Bill’s mind have fun less.
Bill’s was about ready to give up on the Religion thing until one fateful afternoon. Bill had to journey back to School from his parents place. It was a drive of about three hours. Bill had driven in snow before. As Bill started driving he was confident that the drive would be no big deal. Yet the snow kept falling harder and harder. The wind kept gusting harder and harder. Bill hadn’t understood what the term zero visibility meant till that day.
After Bill had recently lost his friend Alex in an auto-accident, Bill started to get greatly nervous. Bill figured that if there was a God in control of the universe that now was the time to call out to him. Bill in a moment of temporary insanity yelled out that “If the Lord were to save his life on that snowy afternoon then Bill would give up big money as a lawyer to become a minister”.
Once Bill made it safe back to school, he figured that fate had intervened. Bill was going to go to Seminary. Bill’s Dad was upset at this all. Bill’s Dad thought he was throwing away all sorts of money, all sorts of opportunity to move to maybe end up at a small town in the middle of nowhere.
Once Bill enrolled in Seminary, he quickly began to consider that he had made the worst mistake of his life. Bill had no idea how he could issue words of comfort to other people, when he could not even comfort himself. Bill worked at his studies though as hard as ever.
Bill studied the scriptures. He came across all sorts of apparent contradictions. Bill came across all sorts of strange and goofy laws that didn’t make sense as he read Leviticus. Bill began to consider that no one throughout the scriptures really got him or thought like him.
Bill one day was talking to a Seminary classmate Hans who was tired of hearing all of Bill’s questions. Hans suggested that Bill just sit down one night and read through the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel was Hans’ favorite and figured it would make sense of Bill’s issues. Bill started reading John read until he came across Our Gospel Lesson for today from John the 8th Chapter whose words leapt off the page at him.
“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”- John 8:31-32
Bill began to consider the meaning of these words. Bill’s life had recently been defined by a lack of answers, a sense of personal bondage to the powers of this world to the powers of life and death since his friend’s death. As Bill kept reading Jesus response to the disciples about life and death would change the course of the rest of Bill Blasiak’s life.
“Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave[b] to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”-John 8:34-36
These words shed new insight to Bill into God’s role in the world. That it wasn’t ultimately about Bill. Bill was incapable of setting himself free. Bill could only be set free by the acts of a gracious God poured out in Baptism and sustained in the Lord’s Supper. Bill came to realize that the only thing that he was to contribute to his salvation was his sin in need of saving.
Bill was at this moment no longer fearful of death or the wrath of God.
Bill in this moment came to understand the meaning of the words “Gospel” and “Good News”. Bill wasn’t going to be able to question surrounding his friend Alex’s death. Yet Bill knew that on the Cross the will of a gracious God for the whole world was revealed. Bill was going to dedicate the rest of his life to correcting the ways people had previously understood God and the Church with this treasure that he had discovered. Bill discovered in this moment that God’s love and mercy is given without cost.
Bill Blasiak had truly been set free. Set free from his own bondage to sin and inability to free himself. Bill Blasiak came to realize that in this moment that Christianity is not a series of what ifs that define the relationship between God and his people. Christianity is rather about proclaiming the God that loves us and will stop at nothing to bring us into his presence on the Cross. For Forgiveness is granted, not earned.
What can we make of the story of Bill Blasiak? Bill’s story is ultimately Luther’s story as told in 21st Century America. Luther’s story is ultimately our story, a story of personal brokenness leading to the road to our redemption.
Today we celebrate Reformation Sunday. October 31st, 1517 the day that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Castle Door at Wittenberg, this event would lead to the birth of the Evangelical Church quickly called the Lutheran Church as a way of making fun of its founder and his adherents within a few short years. The Evangelicals eventually claimed the Lutheran name as their own.
Last summer I taught a class on the Life of Martin Luther. During that class someone made the remark that they had heard that Lutherans worship Martin Luther?
We worship no man Luther included. Luther had plenty of faults. Luther was Stubborn. Luther was a man of quick-temper almost to the point of his life. Luther made plenty of comments about his opponents such as the Pope that were ultimately not helpful. Luther was crass, often seeking to use Bathroom humor as a way to articulate his points. Luther often spoke of God’s mercy on one hand, while displaying very little to his opponents on the other hand. Luther towards the end of his life made many unfortunate comments about the Jews that no one would defend today. Luther made a huge error in public leadership in agreeing to the secret marriage of a 2nd Wife for Phillip of Hesse for political reasons.
I don’t wish for my life to look like Luther’s. Luther’s life from his earliest days was marked by an almost paralyzing depression and anxiety. Luther had plenty of attributes that didn’t make him a great hero of faith.
Yet why do we celebrate Luther’s life today?
About Twenty Some Years Ago, a movie came out called Leap of Faith. Leap of Faith starred Steve Martin who played a traveling evangelist named Jonas Nightengale who had aroused the suspicions of the Local Sheriff that he had no real purpose in town other than bilking the townsfolk out of money.
When the Sheriff shows up to one of Nightengale’s revivals to confront him about his criminal past, Nightengale- (Steve Martin’s character) gives a beautiful answer about sin from the falsest of preachers.
When Nightengale chimes to Sheriff-,
“Everything you said is true, absolutely true. Yes, I was born to lowly circumstances. Yes, I ran with a bad crowd that taught me to smoke weed and steal. I hung out in bars, and I hot wired cars. I grew up mistreated, so I lied and I cheated. I learned hard crime, and I served hard time. I have walked that crooked road and I have danced with the demon Satan. I’ve been face down in the gutter and looked up into the face of God. And I say to you tonight, if you wanna give up the bottle, who you gonna talk to? Someone who’s never touched a drop? And if you wanna give up womanizing, who you gonna talk to? Some pale skinned virgin priest? If you wanna give up sin, and I believe everyone here tonight wants to give up sin, who can lead you off that crooked road? You need a real sinner people. A sinner of such monumental proportions that all your sins wrapped up in one couldn’t possibly equal the sins of this king of sin. Because you know, if he can walk that straight and righteous path, if he can go from grit to grace, from sin to sanctity, from lowliness to holiness… then you, with all your everyday sin, can rise up like an angel and ride that golden elevator to God’s own penthouse in the sky.”- Jonas Nightengale- Leap of Faith (1992)
Steve Martin beautifully summed up the life of Martin Luther and the Reformation of Christianity without knowing it. Luther found the Gospel because he came to grips with the human condition. You needed someone as broken as Luther to proclaim to people how far God’s Grace and Mercy could extend.
Luther is the Church’s greatest thinker and influence since the Apostle Paul for one simple reason. Luther was politically incorrect. Luther rejected the I’m Ok, You’re OK, It’s All OK mindset that dominates our culture. Luther was one of the most honest people to ever walk the face of the Earth. Luther rejected the fakeness that people claim when discussing God and Man. This is what makes Luther’s proclaiming the Gospel hit each and every one of us so directly.
Leap of Faith eventually ends with the Con-Artist Preacher seeing the value of faith in not his life, but the lives of others in spite of our imperfect intentions. As the movie ends with Jonas going from being convinced that he’s a fraud to shouting out “Thank You Jesus”.
Jonas realizes that Christianity went way beyond how his preaching matched his life, but rather how Christianity wasn’t about Jonas at all. Jonas had been viewing God like a sinner always putting himself at the center of his existence, yet it wasn’t ultimately all about him, Christianity is all about a Cross.
The Reformation that we celebrate is a testimony to the life of Bill Blasiak, Martin Luther, Jonas Nightengale, You and Me. The Reformation is ultimately our story. It’s the story of our brokenness, the depth of our sin, and how our God will stop at nothing to set us free.
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this morning by telling a story from when I was in High School. I had gone to meet my friend Josh and we were going to go get something to eat. We decided to go to a place called the Traprock Inn, right across the Wisconsin Border in the village of Dresser not far from where Josh lives. As I’m pulling into Dresser, distracted by talking to Josh, and with very few other cars in sight, right behind me I see bright flashing lights. I pull over to the side of the road when the officer comes up to tell me that I had been speeding, than hands me a speeding ticket.
I got mad! I got mad because I thought this whole thing was totally unfair. I had ridden with friends who would drive windy Chisago County roads at over 100 miles per hour putting people’s lives in danger. Yet, here I was being given a speeding ticket for not knowing where the speed limit changed in a town of 600 people.
My response to all this was not rational. I decided that I was going to go the Polk County Courthouse to fight the ticket. My parents for some silly reason decided to let me skip school to do this. I dragged my Dad and my Grandma to these proceedings.
I was 18 years old, stubborn, foolish, the ticket was given the weekend of a Viking/Packer Game, and figured I had a case. So, my name is called up by the Judge. The Judge asks “Whether I plead innocent or guilty?” I pleaded innocent, never mind I had no case. Never mind, I would be forced to argue against a radar gun and a cop.
I figured persistence would lead to this ticket be dropped.
The Judge amused by this spectacle, asks “If I was really innocent”? “If I was sure that I wasn’t going a few miles an hour over the speed limit?” The Judge than ordered me to meet with the cop where he agreed to drop a few miles per hour off my speed for insurance purposes.
My afternoon at the Polk County Courthouse draws a parallel with our Gospel lesson from Luke the 18th Chapter. In Today’s Lesson you have a Plaintiff standing before a judge without any sort of case, hoping that the judge will relent from the normal way of doing business. Our Lesson consists of Jesus telling a Parable regarding a Widow standing before a Judge.
To understand our Lesson for Today, we need to understand the role of Widows within Ancient Palestine within Jesus’ day. The Author BB Scott describes the Widow as such:
“According to the Customs of the day, a marriage contract stated a husband’s obligation to his wife, and on his death she had the right to be supported out of his estate as specified in that contract. The widow had no legal right to inherit. Normally a husband’s estate would take care of a Widow’s needs. But the normal conditions were by no means universal. Many widows and their children were left destitute. So, common was the state of affairs that “widow” came to mean not simply a woman whose husband was dead, but also one who had no means of financial support and thus needed special protection.”
Consider that the Widow in today’s lesson was so vulnerable, that she had no family to support her even as she went forth before the judge. Consider the character of the Widow versus the character of the Judge. The Judge is supposed to be righteous and impartial.
I know a woman who serves as a Minnesota District Court Judge. She is obsessed with her reputation within the community. She refuses to go to Bars, not because she doesn’t like a cocktail, rather she fears interacting with someone she has previously sentenced. She doesn’t wish to go to church, because she doesn’t want too much attention drawn to her presence. Yet the Judge this Widow went before was different than the average judge.
“In this certain city of which Jesus speaks there resides a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people”-Luke 18:2
This Judge had no reason to hear the case. This Woman owed creditors. .This Widow was so low on the social ladder that any normal judge would have considered resolving her difficulties a waste of time. “In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent’.”-Luke 18:3
The Widow had no legal or coherent case to make. It was the equivalent of when I stood before the Judge in Balsam Lake. The only hope was that the Judge might decide to relent on upholding the law. This Widow was persistent in bringing before the Judge, her request, no matter, how absurd it might have seemed. The Judge eventually relented because the Widow kept on bothering him.
What this parable is meant to speak to is the nature of God. It seeks to compare God to an Unjust Judge. Yet point out how God’s mercy will even far surpass this of the Unfair Judge.
Robert Farar Capon summed up Today’s parable best when he said:
“What does this parable say about God? It says that God is willing to be perceived as a bad God and for no better reason then he wants to get the problems of a world full of losing winners off his back. It says he is willing, while they are still mired in their futile pursuits of the spiritual buck, the moral buck, the intellectual buck, the physical buck, or the plain old ordinary buck, to just shut up about whatever is wrong with them and get the hassle over with. It says in fact what Paul says in Romans 5:8 “While we still sinners, Christ died for us…God simply wants the wet blankets of his back, and to let the party begin.”
Our parable today causes to consider the nature of our own judgment day. Ask ourselves whether we want to receive a fair judgment of our lives or receive an unfair judgment of our lives?
A Just Judge would give the defendant what they deserve in Death and Hell, whereas the Unjust Judge would not. A Just Judge would make sure that the Widow repaid every last penny, where as an Unjust Judge might repudiate the debt. A Just Judge would obsess about the widow’s motives or her sake of repentance, whereas an Unjust Judge wouldn’t care about the self-perceived current state of one’s soul.
Our parable for today is similar to many of Jesus other parables. The Shepherd who seeks the Sheep who wanders off from the fold, the Woman who celebrates finding the coin that she had lost, the Father who welcomes home the Prodigal Son that had blown his wealth.
The focus of this parable is on the nature of God in reaching his chosen ones. How this God will not delay in rescuing and saving them no matter how desperate a situation his loved ones find themselves in throughout the course of their life.
What every one of Jesus parables is to meant to do is challenge the given audience into a wider understanding of how God’s reign transforms the earth. How God’s power is able to reach in the words of Mark Vitalis Hoffman, those who are last, those who are lost, those who are least, those who are little, and those who are ultimately lifeless.
Parables such as our lesson about the Unjust Judge are always defined by a surprising even potentially scandalous outcome regarding the nature of God’s grace. To illustrate this all let me close with a Modern Day parable in The Parable of the Bus Driver.
A while back there was a college student who in pursuit of needing to make a few bucks took a job as a bus driver on the South Side of Chicago. The Young Man soon grew to enjoy this job greatly as he enjoyed the people he dealt with on a daily basis. Although one day this all began to change, as a group of punks or hoodlums got on the bus and refused to pay the fare. This same sequence went on for a few more days. When eventually this Bus Driver sees a Police Officer on the Corner and reports the young punks who refused to pay the fare. The Officer then got on the Bus and made the young hoods pay their fare. The young men didn’t take this act so well and soon began to plot their revenge.
So, then a few days later, the young men stayed on the Bus till the end of the line. They then attacked the Bus Driver. They not only robbed this Bus Driver, they beat him within an inch of his life. This Bus Driver was in such rough shape, he had to spend several weeks in the Hospital recovering from injuries. And deep down inside, the Bus Driver got angrier and angrier at the young men that attacked him. The Bus Driver wondered “what would possess people to act such a way”.
The Bus Driver eventually got out of the Hospital just about the time the Young Punks were about to go to trial for their crimes. The case was pretty clear cut and sentencing was just around the corner. Yet the Bus Driver still deep down was angry and though he’d never be able to forgive these men who beat him.
But then the Bus Driver got to thinking about these Young Punks from the perspective of his Christian Faith. He thought of how he was far from perfect. He began thinking about how much forgiveness had changed him. So, the Bus Driver decided that he was going to something to illustrate the power of the Gospel to forgive sins on the next day at sentencing. The Bus Driver was going to illustrate something about God’s sense of justice and fairness. The Bus Driver was going to illustrate the meaning of Today’s lesson.
So, the very next day, right before the sentence was handed down, the Judge asks the Bus Driver if he had anything he wished to say to his attackers before their sentenced was announced. At which point the Bus Driver stood up and said “Yes your honor there is, I wish for you to add up all the time these young men are going to serve and assign me to serve it in their place.”
Jaws dropped throughout the courtroom. It was so quiet that people could hear the sound of their own breath. The Judge was flabbergasted and barely articulates a response as he muttered “This has never happened before… there is no precedent.”
To which the Bus Driver said “Yes it has” “It happened on the Cross, For You and For Me.”
So, therefore let us give thanks and praise for the sentence of the Unjust Judge. Amen
 Scott, Bernard Brandon. Hear Then the Parable…p.180. Retrieved on October 7th, 2013 from http://www.gettysburgseminary.org/mhoffman/parables/other/UnjustJudgeSWMN.pdf- Mark Vitalis Hoffman
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Justice, Grace, p.332. Retrieved on October 7th, 2013 from http://www.gettysburgseminary.org/mhoffman/parables/other/UnjustJudgeSWMN.pdf-Mark Vitalis Hoffman
 Vitalis Hoffman, Mark. “Parable of the Unjust Judge”. Southwest Minnesota Synod Assembly. 10-11 June 2006. Lecture taken from http://www.gettysburgseminary.org/mhoffman/parables/other/UnjustJudgeSWMN.pdf
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Sally and Sully had met in High School. Sally had caught Sully’s eye from across the Diner. Sally wasn’t at first, quite sure what to make of Sully. Yet Sully was so persistent in trying to win her over, she gave him a chance. As Sally began to spend time with Sully, she soon became smitten. Sully was always the perfect gentleman, always offering Sally his coat to keep her warm on a cold Minnesota Fall night. Sully also had the ability to make Sally laugh like no one else she had ever met. A few years after meeting Sally and Sully were married in a church not unlike this one. Sally and Sully then proceeded to spend nearly 60 wonderful years together raising three children in the process.
Shortly before Sully’s 80th Birthday though troubles arose, Sully’s breath started getting shorter and shorter. Sully then started coughing up blood. Sally insisted that Sully go to a doctor immediately. In the past Sully would have been stubborn and refused to go. Yet even Sully knew that he didn’t feel like he ought to feel. Sully feared what would happen to Sally if anything happened to him. The Doctor’s visit led to Sully seeing a Lung Specialist who brought grim news, Sully had Stage 4 Carcinoma. Sully and Sally were told that the Cancer had spread to a point where treatment yielded little to no benefit. Sully had less than six months to live. The community and family rallied to Sully’s side in his final months. Sully heard from friends that had moved away years before, which led to the opportunity to say goodbye.
Sully’s final days were tough; Sully had to be placed on Oxygen and had difficulty communicating with his loved ones. Sully’s funeral happened on a Tuesday. Pastor Neil preached a beautiful sermon at the funeral about the Christian Hope of Resurrection.
The kids stayed with Sally for a few weeks. Eventually everyone drifted back towards to their normal lives. Only Sally didn’t have Sully around anymore. Sally decided that she was going to try to find ways to keep her days busy: meet friends for coffee, playing cards and go volunteer down at the local nursing home. Yet every day when Sally went home it was tough. As soon as Sally walked in the front door, everywhere she looked reminded her of Sully. The quietness of the house without Sully’s ranting and raving was often unnerving. Not having Sully to tell about her day would leave Sally with a sense of sadness as she lay down to sleep every night. Sally was a regular at the local Lutheran church in town. Sally rarely missed a Sunday because it was one of her best opportunities to interact with people throughout the week.
One Sunday though Sally went to church where she heard the preacher say something that greatly troubled her. Sally’s Pastor, Pastor Neil, was preaching on our Gospel lesson for Today from Luke 20 when he said “There will be no Marriage in Heaven”.
Pastor Neil said plenty of words after this, yet Sally couldn’t shake these words from her head “There will be no Marriage in Heaven.”
As tough as the last several months had been on Sally, the one thing that comforted her through it all was thinking that she was going to see Sully again. Sally couldn’t imagine something really being Heaven without Sully enjoying it along with her. Sally eventually gathered the courage to talk to Pastor Neil about what she was going through when she heard those words “There will be no Marriage in Heaven.”
Pastor Neil was blunt and direct in answering Sally’s questions. Pastor Neil was convinced that there would be no Marriage in Heaven. Pastor Neil believed that the scriptures were clear on the subject.
To be sure, Pastor Neil made some good points in his conversation with Sally. Pastor Neil pointed out how the afterlife cannot be compared to this life in any way, shape, of form. Pastor Neil reminded Sally that we have no knowledge based of a world without sin, a world without pain, and a world without death. Pastor Neil tried to comfort Sally by assuring her that as wonderful as her marriage to Sully was. The afterlife is defined by the things of this world, but rather by the goodness and mercy of God extending beyond what we can even imagine.
This story of Sally, Sully, Pastor Neil, and the state of our relationships in Heaven brings us to Today’s Gospel Lesson from Luke 20. Our lesson comes to us from the Jerusalem Temple during the Last Week of Jesus’ life.
Jesus is engaging a group of Jews called the Sadducees. The Sadducees were made of primarily wealthy and high to do individuals in Judea. The Sadducees were the primary authorities of the Jerusalem Temple. A unique aspect of their belief system was that they only regarded the Torah or the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) as their authority. Since these books never mentioned the Resurrection of the Dead or any sort of afterlife then the Sadducees weren’t going to believe in it.
So, our lesson for today consists of the Sadducees attempting to set a trap for Jesus by seeking to expose his foolish beliefs about the resurrection. They engage Jesus about a hypothetical situation involving a woman and seven brothers. The women’s first husband dies leaving his wife without any children to support her. It was the custom of the day that in such situations that the widow would then marry their husband’s brother. Such an action would help keep a brother’s name and lineage alive. Yet this widow had terrible luck. Her luck was so terrible that she eventually ended up marrying all seven brothers.
So, this big question in our lesson is “Who is this widow paired up with in Heaven?” Which one of these seven brothers?
The situation behind our lesson might seem crazy. Yet similar situations occur today as widows remarry and end up being very happy for a number of years, whereas others seek different forms of companionship after the death of a spouse. What about those who endure divorces due to the decay of a fallen humanity on earth? Is there a possibility of reunion in Heaven? What about those who aren’t blessed with happy Marriages? This lesson raises a big question of “What form do human relationships such as Marriage take after the Resurrection of the Dead?”
I think a few points on this question need to be stated.
The big issue in the text for today isn’t the status of relationships in the great beyond. Jesus isn’t intending to give the Sadducees a description of the literal inner-workings of heaven. So, if someone were to just say Jesus said “There will be no Marriage in Heaven.” They should be reminded that this was not the point that he was trying to make in our passage.
The real issue for our passage has to do with the Sadducees denial of the afterlife. The Sadducees whole belief system was based on the idea that what one received in this life was as a direct result of their own personal goodness. Since they had been so generally blessed in this life then they saw no need for their own redemption. The Sadducees would not believe that which they could not confirm by either science experiment or life experiment. The Sadducees would see Dead bodies in the ground and believe that was all there was.
The debate between Jesus and the Sadducees is well described in today’s lesson which states “But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”-Matthew 22:30-31
For the real issue that our lesson deals with seeking to answer the question of whether God can raise the dead, and to that question an answer would soon be given.
Additional comment should be given regarding the nature of relationships in the afterlife.
Jesus words from this passage are often misunderstood. The best translation of the passage from Luke 20 isn’t that there will be no Marriages in Heaven. The best translation is rather that “There will be no given or taking in Heaven, they neither marry nor are given in Marriage”. Basically what this passage says is that there will be no new Weddings in Heaven. The point of this passage is not to declare relationships null or void after the Resurrection.
So, this brings back to the question of “What forms do relationships in the afterlife take?” “What will Sally and Sully’s Relationship look like?”
We can start by saying that we do have scriptural evidence of being able to recognize other people in the afterlife. Within the story of Jesus Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah were recognized by three of Jesus’ disciples. The Rich Man and Lazarus were able to recognize each other during their encounter in Hades. In the 15th Chapter of Genesis, God tells Abraham that when he dies then he will join his ancestors thereby strongly implying some sort of reunion. Even within today’s lesson in seeking to discredit the Sadducees view of the Resurrection Jesus invokes one of the most famous stories of the Old Testament in the encounter of Moses with God in the Burning Bush. It is a noteworthy reference as Jesus invokes God declaring himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “Father, Son, and Grandson. Jesus draws reference to their family bond remaining in place even after the resurrection.
Yet as we leave here this morning we must remember that many of the questions that we are considering are ultimately open questions or questions that we don’t really have a knowledge base to answer. Questions about the nature of the Resurrection aren’t really dealt with by the Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians the 15th Chapter (Perhaps the most drawn out statement of Christian belief within the scriptures regarding the afterlife).
Perhaps the reason that we don’t have a lot of details regarding our heavenly relationships is that they will be so different from our earthly realities that they cannot be expressed.
The thing about Resurrection life is it does not serve as the end of any relationships, it merely makes our present and earthly relationships stronger to such a degree that we cannot comprehend it. The nature of the resurrection is such that it will destroy all the former things of existence.
As Apologist Steven Ray points out, “We cannot understand our new spiritual bodies and heavenly existence any more than a caterpillar can comprehend what it is like to be a butterfly. We cannot anticipate how personal relationships will flower in glory any more than any acorn can anticipate standing 50 feet tall.”
For those of who have gotten married later in life to a second spouse, I think the best advice is to let God alone worry about what forms your new relationships take after the resurrection in comparison to your previous relationships. Heaven will not define relationships according to the pettiness and jealously that we often do. There will not be two men fighting over to whom a woman belongs in heaven (I can say this with relative confidence).
We go forward today by seeking to grasp the certain acts of our savior rather than the uncertain speculation. For in the words of Revelation 21 and “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Sally lived several more years after Sully died. These years which at first seemed meaningless eventually developed into something meaningful. Sally began to consider how her continual presence on the Earth even without Sully served as a chance to impact others from children to grandchildren to friends to fellow widows.
Sally’s last days were spent with her kids and Pastor Neil by her side.
Sally overtime came to accept what Pastor Neil was trying to get across in the sermon several years before. The afterlife wasn’t going to be comparable to this life in any way, shape, or form. Even as Sully and Sally had become one flesh. The nature of their relationship was going to take a much different form in the afterlife then what they had previously experienced together. Yet for both Sally and Sully it was going to be for the better.
 Ray, Steve. “Marriage in Heaven? Will We Know and Love Our Spouses in Heaven “. Defenders of the Catholic Faith. 22 Jan.2013 Web. November 4, 2013.
 Ray, Steve. “Marriage in Heaven? Will We Know and Love Our Spouses in Heaven “
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
This morning I wish to provide an overview of the Afterlife as Christians understand it. In this overview, I wish to focus on the four H’s (Heaven, Hell, Hades, and Hallmark) and how these four H’s tie together. I also wish to look at our common misunderstandings about each of these four H’s.
Let us begin by considering Heaven. A few years ago, a widely popular book called Heaven is For Real was published. Heaven is for Real tells the story of a 4 year old, Nebraska boy named Colton Burpo who on account of a ruptured appendix nearly dies. But where the story takes a really interesting turn is a few months after being released from the hospital, Colton began describing to his parents a visit he made to Heaven while in surgery even though he never actually died.
Colton described hovering outside his own body in the hospital watching his Mom talk on the phone, while witnessing his Dad praying and yelling at God for the turmoil he was going through. Colton described meeting his sister in heaven (whom he had never heard about it, having died in his mother’s womb). Colton then describes meeting his great-grandpa who has insights into his father that he couldn’t have possibly known before.
Colton claimed to have met biblical characters like Jesus’ cousin (John the Baptist) and the Archangel Gabriel who sat at the left hand of God the Father. Colton described meeting Jesus who still had the marks of crucifixion on his hands and feet. Colton described seeing all sorts of animals in heaven. Colton said that in Heaven that no one was old nor wore glasses.
A lot of the book consists of Colton’s Dad, a Wesleyan Minister, trying to reconcile Colton’s experiences of Heaven with what is taught in the scriptures. The Rev. Todd Burpo concludes that it all matches up in a way that no four year old child could have ever figured out on his own. A book like this that makes so many claims about the afterlife is worthy of reflection. What should be pointed out whenever someone claims to have gone to Heaven is that this is not exactly a new phenomenon.
In the 18th Century there was a man named Emanuel Swedenborg who claimed to have been given permission to freely travel back and forth to Heaven over 28 years. When Swedenborg returned from his journeys, much of what he claimed to have learned stood in direct contrast to Christianity. It would be easy to dismiss Swedenborg as a nut. Yet is should be noted that Swedenborg’s teaching about the afterlife influenced was well-received by some of the most influential people of his days such as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson.
Within recent years, the International Association of Near Death Studies has documented over 900 incidents of similar experiences as portrayed in the book Heaven is For Real. These experiences have existed across a wide variety of faith traditions (Christian, Muslim, Mormon, Atheist, and Hindu). But what’s most interesting about all these near death experiences is they seem to correlate directly with one’s own faith tradition.
For example, Muslims describe being greeted by 70 Virgins, Hindus describe themselves as meeting Vishnu, Mormons get to meet Joseph Smith, Catholics get to meet the Virgin Mother, and when Colton Burpo returns from heaven, he describes Heaven as constantly placing an emphasis on the need to Ask Jesus into a Person’s Heart. Faith Language that never appears in the Bible yet is very prominent within his own family’s religious tradition.
Another thing worth noting is Heaven is For Real isn’t the first book within this genre. In 2004, A Baptist Minister named Don Piper, who unlike Colton Burpo was clinically dead for a period of time as a result of an auto accident, wrote a book entitled 90 Minutes In Heaven where he describes his own personal encounter in Heaven.
Yet when Don Piper describes his visit to Heaven it contradicts Colton Burpo in that he describes everyone in Heaven not being young, but rather looking the same way as when they died. When you have two contradictory visions of heaven between two people who I have no doubt are sincere in their faith it seems something else is probably at work here. Mainly the power of the Human Mind and the influence of American Folklore are at work in providing these understandings of Heaven.
The problem with these I’ve been to Heaven and back stories is they portray an incomplete understanding of the afterlife. Heaven isn’t really what most of us think that it is, and I’ll get back to that in a bit.
Now let’s look at the second H in Hell. The greatest misconception about Hell is when people think of Satan as the ruler of Hell. This idea isn’t Biblical rather it comes from the rich imagery of 17th Century author John Milton in his book Paradise Lost. For the book of 2nd Peter describes Fallen Angels being cast into Hell and then being thrown into chains. The Book of Revelation describes Satan’s Final Destination as being cast into the Lake of Fire after Christ’s Second Coming.
Now let’s move to the Third H. The less known H of Hades. Hades is a Greek translation of the Old Testament Word “Sheol”. Sheol was known as the Grave, The Pit, or the Abode of the Dead throughout the Old Testament. Sheol was the place of darkness where all the dead go whether Faithful or Unfaithful. Sheol or Hades was known as being the personification of death along with the grave evil that death represents. Death and Hades are considered the same throughout the Book of Revelation.
Today’s Gospel Lesson comes to us today from Luke the 16th Chapter. In today’s parable, Jesus is seeking to confront the beliefs of the religious leaders of his day, mainly their love of money. To describe the error of the religious leader’s ways, Jesus speaks of two characters. The first character is a Rich Man, the type of man who the religious leaders would have idealized on account of the great blessings that God had given him.
The second man was Lazarus a poor beggar that would have been seen as a result of his poverty someone who didn’t possess God’s favor. This parable describes both the Rich Man and Lazarus being taken away after death. The Rich Man and Lazarus are both brought to Hades. Within Hades or the Abode of the Dead or Sheol, the Rich Man is unable to escape suffering and torment. Where as Lazarus is brought into a separate location within Hades called Abraham’s Bosom where he is described as being comforted within death.
What makes Jesus description of Hades so odd is the Rich Man is described as being able to communicate with Lazarus within Hades. The Rich Man requests to Abraham that Lazarus communicate with his brothers so that they don’t end up like he has.
The last few weeks we have been studying the Parables of Jesus. The Parable of the Lost Sheep, The Parable of the Lost Coin, the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, we’ve touched on the Parable of the Prodigal Son that surrounds this lesson. Jesus’ parables always use earthly metaphors within earthly contexts to convey spiritual meanings. Jesus parables use real places (vineyards) and real titles (Father, Son, Older Brother) to convey these spiritual messages.
The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus isn’t a Parable because: A. It would be the only Parable that uses a real person’s name in Lazarus. B. Jesus is not conveying a new belief or symbolic belief about the afterlife only reinforcing a belief from the Old Testament that upon death that everyone went to Sheol or Hades.
Our lesson for today brings up something interesting about Christians and the Afterlife. The scriptures portray two realities of what happens to the believer after their death. These realities are often ignored by the majority of 21st century Christians who just tend to think of the soul being immortal. We must distinguish for today the afterlife as two separate realities. Both of which are often called “Heaven”.
The first state of the afterlife is “The immediate state of existence upon death” which is the place where our loved ones may currently reside, the place that is referred to as bliss, or paradise within the New Testament. The first reality of the afterlife is what too many people refer to as “heaven”. If Colton Burpo did die in Heaven is For Real it would have been what he experienced.
When Jesus encounters a Thief on the Cross as he prepared for his own crucifixion the famous words were spoken “Today, you shall be with me in Paradise”- Luke 23:43”. Jesus was promising a similar existence to the Thief on the Cross as was given unto Lazarus in today’s lesson, a place of blessing to await the final resurrection. Yet where Lazarus resides in Abraham’s Bosom does not paint a complete picture of the afterlife.
The 2nd and final reality of the afterlife, the New Heaven and the New Earth has a higher degree of scriptural emphasis placed upon it then any sort of intermediate state between death and resurrection. The New Earth has not yet been built, when people describe going to heaven in books and seeing streets paved with Gold and pearly gates. They are describing a place that according to the scriptures is not in existence.
One place where Jesus speaks of the preparation of heaven being made between the time of one’s death and the second coming occurs in John the 14th Chapter. Famous for being read at many funerals, the passage states “In My Father’s House are many rooms”. Consider the words from this passage that are often ignored verse 2 which states “And if I go to prepare a place for you, I WILL COME BACK for you to be with me that you also may be where I Am.”
When the Apostle Paul seeks to comfort the mourning Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians the 4th Chapter, he doesn’t describe the recently deceased as currently with Christ. Paul rather describes them as the ones who will be raised first at the second coming. Yet the Apostle Paul proclaims to the Church in Galatia that it is better to depart and be with Christ, for to die is to gain. What happens between Death and Resurrection is a question that can’t be answered.
Yet I do believe that like Lazarus in today’s text that believers are in some known state of comfort. As we look at our text for today, I should say a few words about Purgatory and our Catholic friend’s belief in it. Purgatory is known as being the place of purification. The place of getting one ready to enter into a State of Grace by purifying one of the sins committed in this life. The time frames vary on purgatory on account of the nature of one’s sins. Prayers and Masses are held to lessen one’s time in Purgatory.
The issue that Lutherans have with purgatory isn’t that it’s not possible for their to be an intermediate state of existence between Death and Resurrection such as Hades, Abraham’s Bosom, Paradise, or Bliss. The real issue with Purgatory is how it relates to the Biblical witness. The Thief that Jesus told on the Cross would be with him on the next day in Paradise lived the type of life that if purgatory was a reality would deem that he spend time there. The problem with Purgatory is that it places additional debt unto God’s people, apart from the death of God’s own sin. The real issue with Purgatory is that minimizes the complete and total forgiveness won for us on the Cross at the expense of one’s ritual purification.
This brings us to the last of the Four H’s for today, the H of Hallmark. Hallmark is adopting beliefs about the afterlife because they sound nice. Hallmark is the place of Happy Endings where good people find true love, and bad people get what they deserve. Hallmark thoughts are attractive because Hallmark always gives the nicest sayings with the nicest stories. I wonder if we often don’t sell the afterlife short as strange as it might seem. We do this when we think of only the soul living on for eternity apart from the body. I think our initial thoughts about the afterlife or heaven is that such a place seems nice, to think in terms of someone playing Racquetball on a big court in the sky, an idealized version of this world with Silver Bay Falls, and Las Vegas Winters. Yet the problem with the soul living on apart from the body is that it leads one to believe that the afterlife is a lesser existence in any way, shape, or form.
When in reality the afterlife is beyond what we can imagine. The afterlife is beyond what can be expressed in a movie or on a greeting card, since we have never lived in an existence without sin, without pain, without death. We have never lived in an existence where at the very center of our being is the one gave us life, and eventually redeemed it on a cross. The afterlife is Jesus Christ is coming back, not so we can levitate outside our bodies, Christ is coming back to save the whole world, all of God’s creation. So, that it may finally be declared to be “good again” Amen
 Patton, Michael. “Book Review: Heaven is For Real”. Parchment and Pen Blog. Credo House Ministries. 6.Feb.2011. Web. Sept.23.2013
 Patton. “Book Review: Heaven is For Real”
 Patton. “Book Review: “Heaven is For Real”
 Patton. “Book Review: “Heaven is For Real”
 2 Peter 2:4
 Revelation 20:10
 Revelation 1:18, Revelation 6:8, Revelation 20:13-14
 Luke 16:22-23
 Luke 16:27
 Luke 16:27-28
 Revelation 21:1
 John 14:2
 John 14:3
 Philippians 1:21
 Luke 23:43
 Genesis 1:31
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I was nineteen, I worked for a summer as a Bible Camp Counselor. This job represented a transition in life for me. For the first time, I wasn’t being the one disciplined; rather I had to be the one doing the disciplining kids not much younger than myself. So, I sought out to think of ways to make the punishments creative and memorable. The perfect solution existed outside the cabin; there was a wood pile for campfires. This wood pile led me to a solution. One time a kid named Jared who was around 15 refused to go along with directions. So, I figured this wood pile would serve as a perfect opportunity to teach a lesson. I took Jared outside and told him that I didn’t like where the wood pile was currently. I instructed Jared to move this whole pile of wood, five feet to the right. Jared moved this wood in about 10-15 minutes. As soon as Jared thought he was done, I told Jared that I didn’t like the way the wood pile looked where he had moved it. I then asked Jared if he could move this pile of wood, five feet to the left. As soon as I made this request, a huge smile came upon Jared’s face. He understood that I didn’t care one iota about where this wood sat. I was instead seeking to convey to Jared the message that you don’t know, how the world works like you think you do. This is the most valuable of lessons for us as Christians.
Last week, I went to visit a friend of mine named Josh. Josh works as a Middle School Teacher. Josh is involved in a very interesting marriage. Josh is married to a girl named Katie. Katie grew up Wisconsin Synod. Katie’s Dad is a Wisconsin Synod Minister. Katie’s Brother is a Wisconsin Synod Minister. Katie’s Sister is married to a Wisconsin Synod Minister. When Josh asked Katie’s Dad for her hand in Marriage, Katie’s Dad said he needed to think about it. He only relented with several conditions placed upon his blessing, most of all an insistence that any kids be baptized as Infants. Josh didn’t see this as much of a problem because he didn’t see the Baptism as nothing more than the act of getting the baby wet. Josh tends to be skeptical of traditional religion. Josh is a strong Christian, yet he views traditional forms of religion as being dead religion. Josh sees too many people going through the motions on Sunday morning and in their everyday lives. Josh believes that Christians need to be expecting dramatic miracles and healings around every corner. Josh believes that if someone really has faith than any sort of life outcome is possible. Josh thinks Christianity is marked by progress of the human potential to become like Christ. So, this is why the notion of Infant Baptism seems so foreign to Josh. What evidence is there that God is really working in the life of a smelly, crying, wailing infant?
Today’s Gospel comes to us from Luke 14. It’s a passage that speaks some very harsh truths about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus associates discipleship with hating one’s mother, father, brother, sister, wife, and children. Jesus speaks of discipleship involving the cost of hating life itself. Jesus defines Discipleship through the act of carrying one’s own cross. What should we make of Jesus words for us, this morning? Jesus language giving about hating one’s family is given for a dramatic effect. It’s a speech that’s given to a large crowd of followers. It’s a speech given to group that Jesus knows will see many people struggle in their faith during the times ahead. To assure people that following Jesus will not be easy. Jesus spoke his words today because too many people were misunderstanding his message. They assumed that following him was going to instantly lead to all sorts of good stuff in return. Where as when Jesus speaks the language of “carrying one’s cross”, he is seeking to remind his followers of the reality of a Christian’s life in the starkest and most honest of terms.
How can we make sense of today’s lesson? I wish to tell you a story about the meaning of discipleship. At the end of the 2011 NFL Season, the Vikings Adrian Peterson suffered a tear of his MCL and ACL ligaments in his knee. There were pundits proclaiming that Peterson will never be the same again. One’s ability to make cuts on these ligaments is essential to being a good NFL Running Back. No one thought that Peterson would be the same type of player in 2012. Only then something remarkable happened. Adrian Peterson was the best player in Football. This leads into an interesting cause and effect.
Week 4 the Vikings are playing in Detroit when a player asks Peterson “Adrian, what are you taking? What juice you using? I gotta get me some of that.” Peterson’s response to the question was “I’m juicing on the blood of Jesus. Faith is what got me to this point.” 
Now to my good friend Josh this statement might serve as evidence that God is really working in Adrian Peterson’s life. God performed a miracle in his recovery because Adrian had faith.
The way that Adrian Peterson portrays his faith is problematic; Peterson goes way beyond acknowledging God for being one of the rare people on the planet with his talent. Where Peterson is wrong is his implication that it’s because of Jesus Juice that he achieved what he achieved. Adrian Peterson is presenting a flawed understanding of how God works in people’s lives. You go over to William Kelley High School and you have nice kids and kids with devout faith. Kids that could pray to get Jesus Juice like Adrian Peterson every single night. Yet these kids will never become Adrian Peterson.
As pointed out by Religion Blogger Matt Patrick, Adrian Peterson’s success is noteworthy because it’s so rare. Number 28’s success is so rare that it doesn’t provide an accurate representation of a normal Christian’s life. A Christian’s life is not marked by MVP awards. A Christian’s life is more likely to be marked with failure, disappointment, and struggle.
The average Christian’s life is marked by wishing that things could be different by the time they get up the next morning. I have no doubt about the sincerity of Adrian Peterson’s faith. The problem with Peterson’s message is that if one places their faith on the basis of their everyday experiences. One’s faith will soon experience crushing blows for which there are no good words to say. The question that needs to be asked today is “Where do we encounter God?” Does God encounter us in victory or failure? Does God encounter us in our MVP awards or does God encounter us in Baptism? These are the big questions.
To answer this question I wish to tell another Football related story. Tony Dungy was a former QB for the Gophers and a former Defensive Coordinator for the Vikings. In 1996, Tony Dungy was hired to take over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Before Dungy’s arrival, the Buccaneers weren’t very good. They hadn’t made the playoffs in 14 seasons and were considered the laughing stock of the league. In 1997, Tampa stunned the league as it won its first five games. The season though quickly began to unravel. The Buccaneers had a kicker named Michael Husted who started missing kicks. Husted was not only missing field goals, he was struggling to make extra points. Husted quickly became public enemy number 1 in Tampa. The media and fans shouted how Husted needed to go before it was too late. Any coach other than Tony Dungy would have brought in another kicker.
Tony Dungy had set out that if he ever coached a NFL Team that he was going to model his leadership on the principals of his faith. Dungy was going to seek to encourage rather than threaten. Dungy wished to go against the grain in how he sought to achieve victory and success. Dungy had waited years for his big break. He knew that teams weren’t going to hire him because of his worldview in relating to people. Tony Dungy was going to run his team in his own image, no one else’s.
Tony Dungy knew something much deeper was at work in Michael Husted’s life then just missing kicks. Michael Husted’s Mom was dying of Cancer up in Virginia. Husted thought he could be a professional, yet this burden began to overwhelm him. Husted’s burden carried over to the Football field. After the Buccaneers lost their third straight game due to Husted’s troubles, Husted thought it was all over for him.
The next morning, Dungy called and Husted was sure he was being let go. Dungy’s words were different. Dungy just told Husted “You’re a Buccaneer, you’re part of our family, and you’re our kicker.
The next week, the Buccaneers go up to Indy where Husted makes the game winning kick. Dungy went forward not by ignoring the situation with Husted’s mother. Rather Dungy saw to it that she came to games that season and sat in the box with his wife. Husted’s season turned around as a burden was lifted from him.
Dungy’s story stands out because it is such sharp contrast to how the world normally works. This is the message of the cross. This is the message of our gospel. God reaches us in failure. God reaches not at the moments when we achieve our potential, but rather God reaches us at the moments we understand the limits to our power. When we say the cross is at the center of everything we believe. We are not issuing a statement of belief but rather a statement about life.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus is presenting us both with a challenge and an assurance. The challenge is what lies ahead isn’t MVP Awards. What more likely lies ahead are wounds scars, as we journey towards our own inevitable deaths. Yet Jesus offers words of assurances as he promises that your victory has already been won through his death and resurrection. The crosses you carry today are not worthless ventures like moving the wood pile. Your crosses point towards that what you experience today will one day be put to death at the moment of your resurrection.
Luther summed this up beautifully when he proclaimed “God receives none, but those who are forsaken, restores health to none, but those who are sick, gives sight to none, but the blind, and life to none, but the dead… He has mercy on none, but the wretched and gives grace to none, but those who are in disgrace.”
In just a few moments we’ll sing our Hymn of the Day “Onward Christian Soldiers”. This is a hymn that has fallen out of favor in many churches. It’s a hymn that’s seen as glorifying violence. Yet this hymn has nothing to do with earthly warfare. This hymn has rather to do with the spiritual conflict that engages us everyday. It’s a hymn that deals with the reality of sin and evil in our world. It’s a hymn that doesn’t seek to present life in sanitary terms. When people ask how we’re doing too many of us wish to say “fine” or “ok” even as we’re being eaten up inside. “Onward Christian Soldiers” is a hymn that portrays as we go forward from this place today, we do not march alone. We rather march forth led by the Cross of Christ which promises us that God can and will bring victory out of defeat. Amen
 Luke 14:26
 Luke 14:26
 Luke 14:27
 King, Peter. “10 Things I Think I Think: Every Record Means Something’ ” CNNSI. 21 Aug.2013. Web. Sept.3.2013
 King. “10 Things I Think I Think: Every Record Means Something’
 Patrick, Matt. Adrian Peterson’s Theology of Glory (and Why It’s Unhelpful) “ Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 28.Aug.2013. Web. Sept.3.2013
 Yasinskas, Pat. “A Dungy story you may not have heard”. ESPN NFC South blog. ESPN. 12. Jan.2009. Web. Sept.3.2013
 Habib, Hal “On his terms: Colts Dungy stays true to principals”. Palm Beach Post. 23. Jan.2007. Web. Retrieved September 5, 2013 from Wikipedia- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Dungy#cite_note-28
 Yasinskas. “A Dungy story you may not have heard”.
 Yasinskas. “A Dungy story you may not have heard”.
 Yaskinskas. “A Dungy story you may not have heard”.
 Luther, Martin. Weimar Ausgabe 1, p. 183f. Retrieved on September 4, 2013 from http://www.mbird.com/glossary/theology-of-the-cross/
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.