First Lesson: Genesis 12: 1-4a
Responsive Reading: Psalm 121
Second Lesson: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Gospel Lesson: John 3: 1-17
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
There once was a man named Erik. Erik was like the type of guy that you might meet in Silver Bay. One day Erik dies and is standing in the presence of Saint Peter. Saint Peter and Erik start to discuss Erik’s potential acceptance into heaven. Saint Peter informs Erik that he’s been tested his whole life and he needs 100 points to make it in. Saint Peter then gives Erik the opportunity to plead his case. First, Erik describes how he was married to his wife for fifty years, how he never cheated on her once, how they raised three children together who all turned out alright. Saint Peter nods his head at Erik proclaiming “Ok, that’s three points.” Three points, Erik couldn’t believe it, he thought that alone should make a compelling case. Erik started brainstorming then thinking of his work at the local Saint Martin’s Lutheran. Erik describes being in church every Sunday, serving on the church council, and being a generous giver. Saint Peter says “That’s wonderful let me give you a point for that.” Erik is starting to get worried at this point. Erik then thought of something else to plead his case. Erik then says “Well every Friday night for over thirty years; I volunteered at the local homeless shelter.” A big smile gets upon Saint Peter’s face. Erik is finally hopeful. Saint Peter says “That’s great, I’ll give you two points for all that.” Erik is getting frustrated, he throws his hands in the air, and in a bout of frustration cries out “At this rate, the only way that I’ll ever get into heaven is by the grace of God.” Saint Peter starts to clap as he says “Bingo, 100 points for you!” “Erik, Welcome to Heaven!”
Now keep a picture of Erik in your head. Today’s Gospel lesson centers on a similar man in Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a respected elder in his community. Nicodemus was well-versed when it came to scripture and religious traditions. Like Erik, Nicodemus probably was a dedicated husband and father. Nicodemus had earned all his power through the noble ways of learning and character. Nicodemus would seemingly be the type to ace Heaven’s entrance exam, yet deep down he felt a little bit off.
Nicodemus hears about Jesus. Nicodemus hears about all the signs that Jesus is performing. Nicodemus wishes to meet with Jesus. Nicodemus arranges the meeting be at night, so their meeting can be in secret.
So Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus goes like this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Jesus' words stump Nicodemus. Nicodemus says “How can one be born from above?”
Nicodemus had two problems with what Jesus is saying about “being born from above”.
Problem One: Nicodemus was probably too smart. Nicodemus probably knew too much religious ritual. Nicodemus couldn’t imagine God not working in a way that he hadn’t heard of before. “Born from Above.” Doesn’t make sense to me, so it can’t be so.
I was reading a book this week called The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. Lewis described based on psychological research “Why Doctors make wrong diagnoses in medicine?” The issues have nothing to do with lack of education or even experience.
The issue has to do with Doctors like all people having a tendency to jump to the easiest and neatest conclusion.
For example, when a patient comes in with pneumonia and a normal heart rate; doctors will often ignore normal heart rate as being insignificant. The doctors focus on the pneumonia. Focusing on the pneumonia makes logical sense, just like it makes sense that a great guy like Nicodemus or Erik would be perfect applicants for the Kingdom of God.
Here’s the thing though normal heart rates can be misleading. A normal heart rate when your body is fighting an ailment such as pneumonia can be a bad thing because one’s heart should be working harder to heal one’s body. “Pneumonia kills because of its power to spread infection.” The heart rate appearing normal can mislead Doctors to fail to see below the surface of what’s going on.
Pneumonia/heart rate conundrum is an example of how too much knowledge can often lead to tunnel vision. Nicodemus could easily identify and possess the traits of a good religious person. What Nicodemus failed to account for is that God can and will work in ways beyond how we think it should be so.
Problem Two: Nicodemus probably fell into an even worse error though in that he might have been too successful in life. Nicodemus as great as he sounds seems like the type of guy who would give a boring testimony at church. Nicodemus never had any substance abuse issues. He probably rarely got in trouble at either school, home, or with the authorities. Nicodemus was probably disciplined with his tongue. Nicodemus probably didn’t have any real exciting vices. As great as this sounds this can be a problem.
I came across a quote by Methodist Bishop Kenneth Carder earlier this week who described this passage well when he said “From my own experience across the years, it is much easier for those languishing in prison or those who are addicted or those prodigals who find themselves waking up in a pigpen in a far country to understand what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus than it is for those of us who have reduced life to what we can control. It’s easier for them to believe in being born anew from above than we who think we have it all together.”
Back to Erik in the Heaven Entrance Exam, Erik thought he had the right approach to the test. Erik would be able to point to all his accomplishments as a way of procuring God’s favor. “Being born from above” is about something else though entirely. It’s a reminder that our God isn’t about extending this life with all its foibles a little longer, our God is rather about creating new life and bringing hope from the deepest of darkness.
Now let’s talk about a guy at the opposite end of the spectrum from Nicodemus in President Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon left the White House in shame. Nixon being the only President ever voluntarily to step down from the Oval Office. Jimmy Carter won the presidency in 1976 because people were outraged that President Gerald Ford had pardoned Richard Nixon.
Nixon had spent the next few years of his life away from the public eye, because of his actions. In 1978, Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey died. Richard Nixon decides to attend Humphrey’s funeral. Humphrey’s funeral is a big deal with every political dignitary in the world seemingly attending. What happens when these people see Richard Nixon is that they shun him, they look away, they walk the other direction. Any conversations Richard Nixon has on this day are brief. Richard Nixon’s place in the world had been made abundantly clear on this day.
Into the room though walks President Jimmy Carter. Carter would seem to be the last guy to ever reach out to Nixon. Carter was a Democrat and Nixon was a Republican. Jimmy Carter goes to find a seat when he notices standing off in the corner by himself Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter approaches Richard Nixon sticks out his hand, cracks a big smile and says: “Welcome home, Mr. President! Welcome home!”
This simple gesture of kindness would come to be a turning point in Richard Nixon’s life; his time spent living in the wilderness.
Plenty of people weren’t going to get the gesture. Jimmy Carter had everything to lose for daring to reach out to Richard Nixon. Everyone in the room believed Richard Nixon had done nothing to earn such grace. What Jesus is trying to explain to Nicodemus today is that is exactly the point.
Grace is the great equalizer for both the greatest saint and great sinner in the eyes of the world. Grace can change all our lives.
The story of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter though was not over on this day. In 1981, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated. Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter ride over on a plane together to attend the funeral. There was tension on the plane between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter over the 1976 Election. There was one man on the plane though that believed “new birth” was possible in any relationship in Richard Nixon. By 1981, the previous dour Richard Nixon had become quite jovial in the presence of others. Nixon sought to bring Carter and Ford together. By the time the three men left the plane, the ice was melted and all these former Presidents had become friends! So even in Washington D.C. is anything possible.
Back to the story of Jesus and Nicodemus, John 19 tells the end of Nicodemus’ story. Jesus goes to the cross. Jesus is being buried by two men Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Nicodemus brought seventy-five pounds of spices to help bury Jesus’ body. Nicodemus had come to realize that just like Erik at the gates of Heaven that his life wasn’t as together as he thought that it would only be the Grace of God not any of accomplishments that would bring extended arms at the great beyond.
Here’s the thing about being born from above, we don’t do it. We are never born on our terms. We don’t choose when to be born. We certainly can’t control it. Nicodemus and Richard Nixon would seem to have nothing in common in the eyes of the world. Both men needed to encounter a whole new world of grace, hope, and forgiveness. Amen
 The following is a retelling of an analogy given by Llewellyn, Tony. “Sermon Illustrations: Grace”.Hotsermons.com. Mar.6.2017.
 Llewellyn, Tony. “Sermon Illustrations: Grace
 Descriptions of Nicodemus influenced by Markquart, Edward. “Born Again”. SermonsfromSeattle.com. Web. Mar.6.2017.
 John 3:2
 John 3:3.
 John 3:4.
 The research of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman
 Lewis, Michael. The Undoing Project. W.W. Norton Companies. New York. Print. Chapter 8 (212-237).
 Lewis, Micheal. The Undoing Project. P.221.
 Lewis, Micheal. The Undoing Project. P.221-222.
 Carder, Kenneth. L. “Seeing, believing, and the new birth from above.” Faith&Leadership.com. 4.July.2011. Web. Mar.6.2017.
 Carder, Kenneth. L. “Seeing, believing, and the new birth from above.”
 Weems, Rev. Dr. Cynthia. “A Complete Makeover.” Day 1.org. 31.May.2015. Web. Mar.6.2017
 Found on Stories for Preaching website on Mar.6.2017 under “Welcome Home Mr.President taken from Maxie Dunnam, The Workbook on Living as a Christian, pp.112-113
 Stories for Preaching. “Welcome Home Mr.President”
 Stories for Preaching. “Welcome Home Mr.President.”
 Stories for Preaching. “Welcome Home Mr.President.”
 Stories for Preaching. “Welcome Home Mr.President
 CBS News Staff. “Ford and Carter: An Odd Couple?”CBSNEWS.com. 18.Feb.2000. Web. Mar.6.2017
 CBS News Staff. “Ford and Carter: An Odd Couple?”
 John 19:38-42.
First Lesson: Genesis 2: 15-17; 3: 1-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 22
Second Lesson: Romans 5: 12-19
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 4: 1-11
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin by telling you the story of a guy named Bill. Bill was like a lot of guys getting up there in years and trying to drop a little bit of weight. Bill figured that to drop his extra weight, he would need to make a few lifestyle changes. The first lifestyle change that he needed to do was avoid his favorite donut shop in Bernie’s Bakery. Bill passed Bernie’s every day on his way to work. Bill could never say no to chocolate custard stuffed long johns. Bill always had to get two or three of them which would be scarfed down before arriving at the office every morning.
Bill’s weight loss journey had been going pretty good. He had been on the straight and narrow for the last few weeks dropping a few pounds in the process. Bill had been taking a different, slightly longer route to work as a way of avoiding Bernie’s Bakery. Bill one day, via force of habit, got back on his old route to work. Bill immediately got nervous about passing Bernie’s Bakery. Bill quickly discerned that driving this way must be a sign from God to stop in. Perhaps if there is an empty parking spot, I’ll know it's God’s will for me to buy chocolate custard long johns. A parking spot wasn’t immediately open, but perhaps God was trying to teach Bill patience. Bill starts driving around the block, and around the block. And finally, on Bill’s eight-time around the block, the parking spot that God wanted for Bill at Bernie’s Bakery finally opened up!
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”-Matthew 6:13.
Today’s Gospel Lesson comes to us from Matthew 4. It tells the story of Jesus being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness for forty days. The Devil makes Jesus the most dramatic of offers to give into temptation during these days in material possessions, glory, and power. Jesus resists these temptations with more willpower than we can seemingly ever muster in the presence of our chocolate custard long johns. Today’s lesson describes a boxing match between Jesus and the Devil that goes forty rounds that were able to leave Jesus standing in the end.
What’s really interesting in Today’s Gospel lesson is how it points to ways that the Devil seeks to get us to give into temptation. How the Devil makes his ways so attractive, pleasurable and bringing about all sorts of temporary joy. How exactly does the Devil strike us???
One of the most influential books that I’ve ever read is Robert Cialdini’s Influence . Influence is widely considered to be the greatest book ever on the psychology of persuasion. Influence describes six modes of influence to get people to change their minds. These modes are on display in not only the Devil’s attacks on Jesus but also on us.
First Attack Mode: Consistency and Commitment:
Kent Crockett tells the following story. Andrew Golota was one of the best boxers in the world with a record of 38-5 with 31 knockouts. Golota had an upcoming match with Lamon Brewster for the WBO heavyweight title. Brewster starts preparing for the fight by studying tape of Golota’s fighting, looking for an advantage. Brewster saw that Andrew Golota’s fighting style left him continually vulnerable to a left hook.
Fight starts! First round, Brewster sees an opening and throws a left hook, Golota goes down. Golota gets up; Brewster lands another left hook, the same story. After Golota gets back on his feet a second time, Brewster kept attacking Andrew Golota’s weak spot with a left hook.
A much anticipated Heavyweight boxing match ends in the first round because Andrew Golota’s weaknesses left him perpetually vulnerable.
Andrew Golota had spent years developing all sorts of strengths as a fighter leading him to a championship fight, but it was his own, unique weaknesses that was his downfall.
Like Andrew Golota, we all have our weaknesses that the Devil exploits. Bill had a weakness for chocolate custard long johns. Bill had eaten so many of them throughout the course of his lifetime; one stop wasn’t going to be a big deal.
Consistency can lead to the greatest of spiritual struggles: “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
The first temptation that the Devil seeks to exploit in Jesus is his momentary weakness brought about by deviation from consistency. Jesus is sitting in the desert without having eaten for forty days. “Turn these stones into bread.”
I can barely write a sermon or read a book after not having eaten for a few hours. I cannot imagine, saying no to the simplest of material possessions after forty days. Jesus had eaten bread all sorts of times before for his benefit. Here this first temptation describes what makes the Devil’s attacks so enticing, something is presented as life-giving when in reality it will lead to nothing but death just as the Devil tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Second Attack Mode: Social Proof. When I was in junior high, there was a hierarchy of jeans. Girbauds were at the top, followed by Guess, followed by Levis then Lees and lastly Wranglers which weren’t real popular among suburban kids. One’s cool quotient was often determined by where they fell on this scale.
My middle school classmates failed to ask was an important question “Is there any proof that Girbauds are higher quality jeans than Wranglers especially for active seventh/eighth graders?” My classmates did actually hit on a trend in advertising.
David Lose tells of watching a PBS documentary several years back called “The Persuaders.” “The Persuaders” was dedicated to the evolution of modern advertising. Now some years back, advertising would focus on the quality of the product. Recent years though have seen a change in advertising trends to focus not so much on a product’s quality but rather its social status. New cars are not evaluated on things such as safety, reliability, nor gas mileage as much as the type of lifestyle it conveys to the world around you.
Now as Lose points out such appeals on the surface probably sound silly. Why would TVs or computers matter so much? Still, advertisers have been able to determine that people are often so starved for meaning or purpose in life that they seek wholeness by their social proof.
This week I was reading a book by a phycologist named Scott Sonenshein who spoke of all the ways that human beings run into trouble chasing non-essential things they don’t have to the detriment of the resources around them. For many of us, the worst thing we can do lose is our cool factor!
The second temptation that Jesus deals with is an offer for all Earthly glory. Throw yourself off the top of the Temple and save yourself for the world’s amazement. Perform a miracle on demand. Have everyone worship you for your greatness!
Here’s the thing about social proof, while it seems great at the moment there is often something much deeper we are after.
Third Attack Mode: Liking. When I was in third grade, I got into a fight that caused me to spend recess time in detention. Now I’m not going to stand up and say I was fighting for a noble cause; my cause was being well-liked by my classmates. We had a kid in our grade that I’ll call Jimmy. Jimmy was like a lot of third-graders in that he had a big mouth. Jimmy liked to brag about being the best at stuff when he clearly wasn’t. So one day at recess a group of kids was picking on Jimmy. I was by no means the leader of the operation, but like most third-graders was a willing follower. I didn’t have any problem with Jimmy, but I wanted to be liked by more people than just Jimmy. So one day on the playground, Jimmy was being picked on. Another kid got behind Jimmy in the form of a bridge and I pushed Jimmy. The playground monitor saw this and I was in trouble. Now as the years went by, Jimmy was a really good guy. I went to Jimmy’s high school graduation party even though we graduated from different schools. I was willing to push Jimmy for the sake of more power regardless of any reason to do so.
Peer pressure is powerful because we want people to like us. Think how many times in life, we’ve acted to failed to act a certain way so someone would like us.
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”-Romans 7:18
The final offer that the Devil makes unto Jesus has everything to do with popularity.
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Now there is nothing wrong with being well-liked! Being liked can have its downsides. How many people have bought something from a friend out of pressure, only to eventually regret it? How many people have been swayed by beauty only to regret it later? How many kids pushed Jimmy on the playground out of a desire to be popular? There are limits to popularity’s benefits. Jesus saw something much more important than just being the most well-liked person in the world.
Jesus saw his temptation as having a higher purpose. Those forty days in the desert would not be the only times that Jesus experienced temptation in his life, Jesus could have later given in by running away when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus could have advocated for his life before Pontius Pilate before going to the Cross. Popularity might come and go, but God’s promises shall surely endure forever!
Our conclusion for this morning is this: there once was a man tempted to go into a donut shop, chocolate custard long johns were the vice. The man found every reason under the sun to give into temptation. Satan as in the case of boxer Andrew Golota will always be able to spot our weaknesses. There once was a kid growing up wanting to be popular, so he got involved in a fight for no good reason, he could not see how all the allures of this world are merely temporary. Jesus went out into the desert for forty days and forty nights. Forty rounds of boxing with Satan without a drop of food in his stomach. The Devil gave Jesus all sorts of chances to choose an easier world for himself, yet Jesus vowed to keep going even beyond these forty days. Even to the point of death. Our lesson for Today is no matter how things seem on this day, Our Lord, in the end, is more powerful than anything Satan can throw at him. Amen
 Llewellyn, Tony. “Sermon Illustrations: Temptation”. Hotsermons.com. Web. Feb.26.2017.
 I really liked chocolate custards as a child, so that’s why I use this example.
 Llewellyn, Tony. “Sermon Illustrations: Temptation”. My version is an expanded telling of Llewellyn’s analogy.
 Matthew 4:1-11
 Cialdini’s book was published by Harper Collins (Collins Business) originally in 1984.
 Crockett, Kent. “Open for a Left Hook.” Kentcrockett.com. Web. Feb.26.2017.
 Crockett, Kent. “Open for a Left Hook.”
 John 8:34.
 Lose, David. “Into Temptation”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 07.Mar.2011. Web. Feb.26.2017.
 Lose, David. “Into Temptation”.
 Sonenshein’s book is titled Stretch published by Harper Business in 2017.
 The following examples come from Cialdini’s chapter on Liking titled “The Friendly Theif” found on pages 167-207 of the 2007 third edition of Influence.
First Lesson: Exodus 24: 12-18
Responsive Reading: Psalm 2
Second Lesson: 2 Peter 1: 16-21
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 17: 1-9
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
George Mallory had a dream. Mallory’s dream was big to be the first man to climb to the top of Mount Everest all 29,000 feet plus (the tallest mountain on Earth).
1921- Mallory’s first attempt traveling from the east reached 23,000 feet before being unable to go any further. 1922- Mallory attempted to climb from the north finally reaching 27,000 feet. Mallory’s men trigger an avalanche through a climbing error, killing seven.
Mallory then dared to undertake the third attempt to climb Everest in 1924. Mallory figured because of his age (37) that his lungs wouldn’t be able to withstand any additional attempts. The third voyage would be Mallory’s last. As Mallory got ready to depart, he vowed that whatever happened on the deadly mountain that he would not return defeated. What happened to George Mallory on the third attempt at Mount Everest? Did God intend for George Mallory to be the first man to reach Mount Everest’s peak? We’ll get back to his story in a little bit.
Like George Mallory, nearly all of us have dreams regarding how we want to see the world unfold. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a great basketball player. I wanted to be the guy scoring twenty points on a Friday night and hearing the accolades of my classmates after a big win on Monday morning. I would spend summers shooting hoops and watching basketball all the time. Two problems with this dream: “I would be generously listed at 5 foot 8” and “I was never quick.” Pretty quickly, it became obvious that God’s plans for me didn’t involve becoming a great basketball player.
Now let me tell you the tale of some other dreamers in Peter, James, and John their dream involved a mountain. Peter, James, and John had humble origins as fishermen. They left this life one day when Jesus promised unto them a world like they hadn’t seen before. Today’s Gospel Lesson from Matthew 17 tells the tale of Peter, James, and John along with Jesus climbing a mountain and like George Mallory, their life would never be the same again.
The thing you need to know about mountains in the Bible is big life-changing events take place on mountains.
Exodus 20- Moses climbs to the top of Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments governing God's relationships with his people for generations.
1 Kings 18- Elijah has a famous showdown with the Priests of Baal to seek to establish “Who is the one true God?” The showdown ends with Elijah calling down fire from heaven.
Mountains through the Scriptures play a huge role in God’s dealings with his people. The Mount of Transfiguration would be the sight of one of God’s most dramatic acts yet!
Our lesson for today has Peter, James, John and Jesus begin to climb a mountain. Jesus begins to pray like any other day. Then it happened! Not since God spoke to Moses through a burning bush had anything like this happened!
Picture the most dramatic thing that you’ve ever seen and the drama doesn’t match this. Jesus’ appearance changed instantly as he started shining as bright as the sun. Jesus human body appeared to look like nothing that Peter, James, or John had ever seen. Jesus was not just white, but dazzling white. The surprises though were going to keep coming. Then appeared on the scene the heroes of the stories that Peter, James, and John had heard as a child in Moses and Elijah. Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Was probably what Peter, James, and John had to say about this scene.
Imagine how you would react as a Baseball fan if Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were to appear in this place after having been dead for generations if you were a music fan picture Mozart and Elvis Presley. Here were Peter, James, and John encountering the long dead heroes of their faith in Abraham and Moses.
This Transfiguration scene was going to represent the high point of Peter, James, and John’s life. Nothing could ever top this. The greatest dreams of following Jesus were coming true! Here they were encountering famous dead guys. The nights of sacrifice and hard work were finally paying off. Fame and fortune seemed to be coming Peter, James, and John’s way until Jesus tells them something catches them off-guard.
Jesus tells them “Don’t tell anyone what they had seen?” Now imagine, being unable to tell anyone about the greatest thing that you’ve ever seen. Jesus didn’t want the Disciples to give anyone the wrong idea about his ministry.
The Disciples thought they had been following Jesus long enough that they were experts who had this whole Jesus thing figured out by as in many cases the experts were wrong.
Consider the following:
In 1943, the President of IBM was a man named Thomas Watson who said: “I think there’s a world market for about five computers.”
In 1946, the President of 20th-century Fox Daryl F.Zanuck said “TV won’t be able to hold onto any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”
The future is in many cases deceiving. What Jesus is saying to the Disciples is that there is much more taking place than what you merely see today on the mountaintop of Transfiguration. Jesus’ plans didn’t just involve the triumph of the present but would center on the cross which was to come. Jesus’ plans were only going to be made known once the Son of God was raised from the dead.
The great human weakness is our belief that we possess the ability to conquer the world on our own. Believing that we have equal power to God is how sin came into the world. Earlier, I told the story of George Mallory who attempted to be the first man to ascend to the top of Mount Everest.
There was another man whose goal was to tackle a different mountain in Aconcagua . Aconcagua is the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere down in Argentina. The man set out after years of preparation. The man was arrogant and wanted to do everything that he possibly could alone. He figured that he was in such good shape that everything would work out for him. He would climb all night long if necessary not even bringing any camping gear. Nightfall soon came. The man couldn’t see a foot ahead. He couldn’t even see the moon nor the stars. The man kept climbing. Eventually 100 meters from the top, the man slips. He kept falling from the sky as every good and bad memory of life flashed before his eyes. The man believes in those mere seconds that death was ahead of him. In the midst of his fall, his rope gets stuck on a branch saving his life seemingly only temporarily.
Finally, in a desperate plea, he shouts out “Save me, God.” The man in a scene just as shocking as Peter, James, and John experience on the Mount of Transfiguration hears a voice respond “Do you really think that I can save you?” To which the man replies “Yes, God, Yes!” God answers back then do the following: “Cut the rope that is holding you up?” Such a request was too- far fetched as the man began to argue back and forth with God about his plan. The man eventually drowns out God’s voice. The man just clung tighter and tighter to his rope only to freeze to death during the night. Rescue crews found the man’s body the very next morning. The man was gripping tightly to a rope all the while hanging two feet off the ground.”
This mountain climber had one vision for how the world should look. The vision was going to result in all sorts of fame and earthly glory. Suffering and death surely couldn’t be a part of this plan. The man’s dream was going to result in his downfall. Peter, James, and John also had a dream as they went up to the Mount of Transfiguration. The dream would result in them encountering a world filled with euphoria and glory. Seeing Moses and Elijah in the flesh! See Jesus shining like the Sun nothing could ever top this! What these men failed to realize is that salvation doesn’t come through what we see or experience in this lifetime. Salvation comes ultimately through death before eventual resurrection.
George Mallory undertook his third climbing expedition in 1924. George Mallory gave it everything that he had. He made it 27,000 feet, only 2,000 feet from the summit before his body could endure no more. Explorers would years later find Mallory’s body hands extended high over his head, toes pointed towards the summit, fingers digging into loose rock. George Mallory died in pursuit of the cause that defined his life. The story of George Mallory was by no means over.
Shortly after Mallory’s death, a banquet was held in England honoring the rest of his team. At the head banquet table lay a picture of the one, big bad Mountain that took George Mallory’s life. The group’s leader stands up and says the following to the assembled audience; “Mt. Everest, you have defeated us once; you have defeated us twice; you defeated us three times. But Mt Everest, we shall someday defeat you, because you can’t get any bigger but we can.” George Mallory’s resolve impacted his fellow climbers long after he left this world behind.
Twenty-nine years after Mallory’s death, Sir Edmund Hillary reached the top of Mount Everest.
Even the world’s biggest, baddest mountain can one day fall. What Jesus is saying to the Disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration is this. You might have a dream even grander than George Mallory for how the world should look. The dream might result with you literally standing on the top of the world. The dream might result in you standing in the presence of your greatest heroes. The dream might be you experiencing all sorts of great miracles within this world. No matter where you’re at Today, God’s plans go way beyond your own. These plans at times might not make a lot of sense: sin, a cross, and death do not sound all that appealing. Rest assured that even the greatest of religious experts were wrong on Good Friday. Easter is, in fact, coming soon.
 “George Mallory.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 20.Feb.2017. Web. Feb.22.2017.
 “George Mallory.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
 Matthew 17:1-9.
 Matthew 17:2
 Matthew 17:3
 The following comes from Pastor Dennis Brostrom and was originally given in “Quote” on November 15, 1984.
 Author Unknown. “The Mountain Climber” Gospel Web.net: Illustrations. 10.Sept.2014. Web. Feb.22.2017.
 Author Unknown. “The Mountain Climber”
 Author Unknown. “The Mountain Climber”
 George Mallory.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
 Stories for Preaching. “We’ll Get Bigger”. Stories for Preaching taken from Seattle Times (Jan.16, 2000) and Illustrations Unlimited. Web. Feb.20.2017
 Stories for Preaching. “We’ll Get Bigger”.
 Stories for Preaching. “We’ll Get Bigger”.
First Lesson: Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18
Responsive Reading: Psalm 119: 33-40
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 3: 10-11, 16-23
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5: 38-48
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The Hatfields were an upper-class Confederate family from West Virginia. The Hatfields made their money in timber. The McCoys were a lower class Union family from Kentucky. The McCoys took to distributing moonshine. The origins of the feud begin with a murder of a McCoy by a Hatfield relative in the waning days of the civil war. The feud though would not get hot though until the year 1878.
Floyd Hatfield had a pig. Living on the other side of the Tug River from the Hatfields was the McCoys. The McCoys also owned hogs. One day Randolph McCoy saw Floyd Hatfield’s hog and noticed something funny. Floyd’s hog had his ears notched just like the McCoys would do to their pigs. Floyd Hatfield was immediately branded to be a pig thief by the McCoys. The case eventually ends up in court. The judge for the McCoys court case was the Honorable Anderson Hatfield. The McCoys lose the case on the testimony of one witness (Bill Stanton) who is a friend of the Hatfields. The McCoys then kill Stanton.
Around this time one of the Hatfield children (Johnson) impregnated one of the McCoy children (Rosanna). The McCoys don’t like this, so they set up Johnson Hatfield to be arrested for bootlegging. Pretty soon blood is flying on all sides. Cabins were burned down. Over a dozen lives were taken from these families. One small family feud gets so heated that the Governors of Kentucky and West Virgina eventually get involved in its mediation. A court case involving the families eventually makes its way to the United States Supreme Court. The powder keg for all this bloodshed was a hog.
Now, this all seems a little extreme for a hog. But what if there was something else involved. You see as Malcolm Gladwell writes about in his book Outliers, The Hatfields and McCoys were merely one of several famous family feuds that took place in Appalachia in these years. What made Appalachia unique was the origins of its settlers. Primarily Scottish and Irish herders. Herdsmen have to possess a different mindset than farmers. Whereas farmers are dependent on cooperating with their neighbors, herdsmen have to be on guard at all times against their livelihood being stolen. Herdsmen almost by nature need to be aggressive in defending their turf. The history of Herdsmen is why the Hatfields and McCoys explode over a pig.
Now Jesus understood the herder's mentality. Jesus audience for the Sermon on the Mount knew the mentality of shepherds. The following history is why Jesus invokes them during his ministry proclaiming himself to be the Good Shepherd. Now in our Gospel lesson for Today: Jesus needs to speak to the shepherd’s mindset.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. “-Matthew 5:38-39.
I came across an interesting psychology article this week entitled “Enemies enhance the meaning of life.”
The point of the article is nothing unites a group of people like having a common enemy. You might have nothing in common with a person until you both find out that you cheer against the Green Bay Packers. Enemies enhancing the meaning of our lives explains why people unfriend people on Facebook for having a different political viewpoint. Enemies bring stability to our life. If we lose our job, then blame the President. If the Vikings lose, then the Refs must be for the Packers. If we lose a relationship, we call the other person every name in the book. The article explained people often see the world as safer if they have a group of a bogeyman on which to pin its failings.
Back to the Hatfields and McCoys, The reason the feud got so heated is both families simplified their dispute it into (I’m right and they’re wrong). They need to change, but I can stay the same. While the Hatfields and McCoys might seem to be an extreme example, we live in a society that often claims its ground by shaming and boycotts. We live in a society always looking to pin the blame on cops, single mothers, miners, environmentalists, atheists, Christians, republicans, or democrats. We assume the world will be fixed as soon “they” get to be more like “us.”
What Jesus is saying Today until we consider the possibility of looking at ourselves then the world will remain as broken as its ever been.
In 2012, The History Channel aired on a miniseries on America’s greatest feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. History Channel President Nancy Dubac described the feud as thus: “One of the things that was overwhelming when I first read the script was that there wasn’t a good guy and a bad guy. The nuances are fascinating.” . The nuances of life can become a problem.
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is the very definition of fairness.
We all agree that the punishment should indeed fit the crime. The problem is pretty soon that no one will possess the eyes to be able to see anymore. What Jesus is saying here today is that there is indeed another way forward.
“Love Your Enemies” “Pray for those who persecute you.”
We might hear these words from Jesus and assume that he doesn’t understand your neighbor who lets their dog do their business wherever they well, please!
To understand the nature of our Gospel lesson. You need to understand the context of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ life took place in Palestine during a time when hated godless Roman oppressors possessed it. The Gospels were published into a world where Christians were blamed for setting fire to Rome. Don’t say Jesus doesn’t understand your situation because his situation was probably more extreme than your own. Jesus in our lesson is encouraging prayer for his enemies who ended up putting him to death.
Anyone can love people who are nice to you or people that can improve your life whether it be personally or financially. What Jesus calls on his followers to do though is to extend love beyond just these people. Jesus calls on Hatfields to love McCoys. What Jesus is saying today is that neither your neighbor’s nor your own brokenness is beyond God’s redemption.
Once upon a time, there were two brothers who shared adjoining farms no different than the Hatfields and McCoys. These brothers worked side by side for over forty years, helping and supporting each other whenever possible. One day a rift between the brothers started. At first, the rift was minor, it was just a simple misunderstanding with no hogs even involved. The rift kept growing though until the brothers were no longer speaking to each other.
One day a man shows up looking for work. He approaches the older brother Pete carrying a carpenter’s toolbox. He asks if there are any jobs that need to be done.
Pete thought for a moment. Anger had consumed Pete's day with his brother Phil. Pete finally decides that he’s tired of looking at Phil’s farm. So he suggests that the laborer goes down by the creek and build a giant fence, so he doesn’t have to look at Phil’s farm anymore. The laborer goes down by the creek to get to work. Pete leaves the laborer for the day to go to a cattle auction. Pete returns to the check the fence’s progress. What Pete sees is shocking!
There is no fence down by the creek. The laborer had instead built a bridge across the creek. On the other side of the bridge was Phil. Phil walks across the bridge to Pete where they both confess their sins to each other before the brothers finally embrace. Both Pete and Phil offer to keep the Laborer on because of their gratitude. The Laborer refuses to stay as he wasn’t about building projects but rather building bridges. How would both the world and the church look if we adopted a similar mindset?
I came across a quote this week that summed up the Christian Church quite well given by Gordon McDonald.
“The world can do almost anything as well or better than the church. You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.”
Grace has the potential to change the whole wide world. Grace can eventually heal even the most bitter of feuds.
Back to the story of the Hatfields and McCoys. In 1976, the last two survivors of the original families Jim McCoy and Willis Hatfield gathered at a monument for those originally slain in the feud. Both men put an end to this feud by formally shaking hands on this day. Jim McCoy would die at the age of 99 in 1984. Jim McCoy was buried by Hatfield Funeral Home in Toler, Kentucky.
My point for this morning is this. You will have people in this life who you might consider to be enemies. You will have people who wrong you, disappoint you, and you might wish for nothing more for the day that you lash out with your revenge. This mindset though is how a dispute about a pig can lead to the death of over a dozen people. What Jesus is saying Today is this. “There can be another way.” A way of humility. A way of prayer. A way of grace. A way of hope. A way of healing. Do not let your enemies define you. See your enemies gather at a cross right along with you. Amen
 “Hatfield-McCoy Feud”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 14.Feb.2017. Web. Feb.14.2017.
 More background on this feud from Archer, Clint. “To Cut a Long Story Short: Preaching Obadiah.” The Cripple Gate. 04.Aug.2014. Web. Feb.14.2017.
 Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. Little, Brown and Company. New York. 2008. Print. P.166-167.
 Heflick, Nathan. A. “Enemies Enhance the Meaning of Life.” Physcology Today. 15.Oct..2011. Web. Feb.13.2017
 NM. “Can You Guys Keep It Down Out There? I Can Barely Hear My Self-Condemnation.” MBIRD (Mockingbird Ministries). 20.Oct.2011. Web. Feb.13.2017
 Pierce, Mark. “Hatfields&McCoys: 5 Beliefs That Make Me One Too.” Pastors.com. 31. May.2012. Web. Feb.14.2017.
 Works, Carla. “Commentary on Matthew 5:38-48.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 23.Feb.2014. Web. Feb.14.2017.
 Matthew 5:44
 Matthew 5:44.
Source Unknown. “Building Bridges.” Stories for Preaching. Web. Retrieved on Feb.13.2017. I slightly revised the story to give the other brother a name in Phil.
 Source Unknown. “Building Bridges.”
 Source Unknown. “Building Bridges.”
 Source Unknown. “Building Bridges.”
 Molin, Steve. “He Hit Me First!” Sermon Writer. 2006. Web. Feb.14.2017.
 Reynolds, R. David. “The Deadly Sin of Anger.” Sermon Central. 5.Mar.2008. Web. Feb.14.2017.
First Lesson: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20
Responsive Reading: Psalm 119: 1-8
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 3: 1-9
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5: 21-37
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The first season for the Atlanta Falcons was 1966. For the majority of these fifty-one seasons, the Atlanta Falcons have not been a good football team. The Falcons have made the playoffs only in about ¼ of their seasons in the NFL. Last Sunday, The Falcons were playing in their second Super Bowl. This year appeared to be the Falcons year leading at one point 28-3. With 6:04 left in the third quarter of Sunday’s football game, the Falcons stood a 99.9 percent chance according to mathematical models of winning their first championship. Five minutes left in the game the Falcons stood a 97 percent chance of winning according to these same mathematical models. The Falcons lose in overtime. I understand tough losses as a Vikings fan, but Sunday’s game seems to be life’s definition of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Fifty-one years of waiting for a Super Bowl only to see your dreams crumble in mere moments. Even though there are probably not many Atlanta Falcons fans in Northeast Minnesota, we can relate to their pain.
I know of a guy who I’ll call Derek. Derek lives in out-state Minnesota where it can be sometimes hard to meet single women. Derek gets on the internet and meets a woman that I’ll call Tonya. Tonya lives on the other side of the country from Derek. Derek and Tonya start emailing each other back and forth. After several months, Derek agrees to fly out to meet Tonya. Derek confirms travel plans with Tonya. These plans have Derek flying to a city that he’s never been to meet the supposed woman of his dreams. Tonya is supposed to pick Derek up at the airport. Derek’s flight arrives, he cannot find Tonya anywhere. Derek keeps calling and calling, Tonya never answers. Derek never hears back from Tonya ever again. Derek proceeds to spend the next few days of his life alone in a foreign city reflecting on how he ever goes forward from this day.
You may have never experienced the joys of online dating, yet you’ve probably had similar moments where you long for nothing more than escape from within your life. You’ve maybe longed for escape from the pain of a broken relationship, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one.
So our question for this morning is what we can take from the situations of the Atlanta Falcons, Derek, and within our lives as we consider the meaning of our Gospel lesson from Matthew 5. It’s the third part of Jesus’ most famous sermon ever given in the Sermon on the Mount.
Now a few weeks ago, I gave Andy Stanley’s description of the Sermon on the Mount when he said: “The Sermon on the Mount is Extreme!” People, who claim to love the Sermon on the Mount, haven’t read the whole thing.”
Now, Jesus, today is at his most extreme as he discusses the nature of sin.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”-Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” –Matthew 5: 27-28.
Now as Jesus’ audience is hearing these things. They were probably reacting to these words like you do. These words startle you.
Now the people hearing these things believed that they had kept the commandments since birth, they paid their taxes and kept peace with their neighbors.
What Jesus is saying today is that sin is much deeper than just the individual rights or wrongs we commit. Sin gets to the very nature of our essence!
Some years back, Tom Cruise came out with a movie called Minority Report. Minority Report paints a scary picture of the world where the Government doesn’t arrest people for crimes committed, but rather the Government arrests on their ability to read people’s minds for crimes that they will commit in the future.
Picture the plot for Minority Report; now picture Sin is not even hitting your brother but daring to be angry at your brother for taking the last pork chop at your last family dinner. You would constantly be in fear of God’s judgment at every corner.
How do you move forward then? Tony Robbins is one of the most popular self-help gurus in the country. Robbins rose to fame by perfecting the act of walking on fire at seminars. Robbins would later incorporate additional bold actions such as skydiving and board breaking into his presentations to help motivate people to overcome their pasts.
Tony Robbins whole shtick is making you the best version of yourself that you can be. Robbins would seem to be the perfect cure for Jesus’ harsh words about the reality of suffering and sin given on the Sermon on the Mount. Tony Robbins like Jesus is very direct when it comes to what’s wrong with people. Also like Jesus, Robbins names people’s struggles does not condemn them and promises a way of hope moving forward.
Tony Robbins could be one of the best preachers in the country. Here’s the problem with Tony Robbins. His words are encouraging you to unleash your limitless potential run until you into a brick wall. When you’re the Atlanta Falcons and you blow a sure victory in the biggest game of your life, when your Derek blown off at a far-away airport, or when you’re in a crowd of Jesus’ followers hearing how you’re just as guilty as a murderer for hating your brother.
People like Robbins can sometimes remove suffering momentarily, yet a lot of things can remove suffering momentarily. What Jesus is getting at Today is something is much more wrong with the world than just our moments of suffering. Suffering will only be gone from the world when Sin is ultimately gone from the world.
Bill Walker describes Robbins best when he says: “Robbins says we are loved because we are good — or at least have the capacity to be. Jesus Christ says that we are loved because he is good, even when we are not. And based on what I know about myself, a message about his goodness is better news than one about my potential.”
On the other side of the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday were the New England Patriots (The Now Five-Time Champions). The Patriots are defined by their Quarterback Tom Brady who seemingly has it all. Five Super Bowl trophies now the most of any quarterback ever, he’s married to a supermodel, he never seems to age, he’s got a bank account with numbers in it that those of us in this room can only imagine. You listen to Tony Robbins; you might believe the best type of Christian would be the religious equivalent of Tom Brady. You know the type of man/woman that has been blessed with good looks, smarts, charm, and self-discipline beyond what any of us sense ourselves to be. The type of person who would never blow a 28-3 lead or get stood up at an airport.
Jesus’ point with his dramatic language in the Sermon on the Mount for Today seems to be this: There is no such thing as the Christian equivalent of Tom Brady. Each of us will continually fall short in this life, no self-improvement schemes will be able to free you from suffering in this world, yet we still have a Gospel in which to cling.
Former Swedish Lutheran Bishop described the best types of Christians as such as those who “look towards their own hearts with all its sluggishness and wretchedness, the more they come to love their Savior and be struck with wonder that the grace does not run out, that their Lord never tires to forgive, that He is not ashamed to call great sinners brothers, sisters, friends and coworkers.”
A lot of people do not like the New England Patriots, just like people a generation before didn’t like the New York Yankees, and a generation before they might not have liked the LA Lakers. The reason for this is because their life experience is so different from our own. There are no promises that Silver Bay is going to get an influx of Brazilian models or Super Bowl winning Quarterbacks moving to town anytime soon.
We do have promises though to guide us even if they might not seem obvious at the moment of our despair.
Let me tell you a story from when I was in college. The Vikings were playing the New York Giants in a road game to go to the Super Bowl. One of my best friends was named Nate. Nate was talking up the Vikings the whole week of the game. Nate would tell everyone who would listen that the Vikings were finally going to win the Super Bowl. We have a party with some friends over at Concordia. Game starts. A little over 2 minutes into the game, the Vikings are down 14-0. Nate isn’t saying a word. Halftime and the Vikings, are down 34-0. Pretty soon everyone leaves including Nate. Nate the next day proclaims that he’s done with the Vikings because they’re choke artists. Let’s be thankful our God is not fickle like Nate!
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”- Deuteronomy 31:6
Ole and Lena were celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary.
Lena asks Ole “Why don’t you tell me you love me anymore?”
Ole looks flabbergasted at the question. Ole finally replies “I told you fifty years ago that I loved you, and if that ever changes, I’ll let you know.”
The point of our passage from the Sermon on the Mount is this. The way of the world is often lined with suffering. Anyone who waited fifty-one years to see the Atlanta Falcons win can confirm this. Life is not merely four quarters, and we have promises more certain that the one given by Ole to Lena on their wedding day some fifty years before. Our God doesn’t promise us merely by our surface level success. Our God even gives a sermon where he speaks to our anger, and disappointment beyond what we would even be willing to admit to others. Our God promises to be with the Atlanta Falcons both in victory and defeat, in both the pain of the present and the fifth quarter which is to come. Amen
 “Atlanta Falcons”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 8.Feb.2017. Web. 9. Feb.2017.
 Barnwell, Bill. “Anatomy of a miracle. How the Patriots came back from the dead.” ESPN. 6. Feb.2017. Web. Feb.7.2017.
 Matthew 5:21-37.
 The following lines come from a You Tube clip posted by Shawn Nelson on May, 23rd 2014. The following clip comes from Stanley’s 2011 “Shocking Statements of Jesus: Sermon Series- Part 5”. Previous reference given in Fritz and Frank sermon delivered on January 29th, 2017.
 Walker, Bill. “Learning about the Gospel from Self-Help, AA, and Tony Robbins.” MBIRD(Mockingbird Ministries). 07.Feb.2017.Web. Feb.7.2017.
 Walker, Bill. “Learning about the Gospel from Self-Help, AA, and Tony Robbins.”
 Walker, Bill. “Learning about the Gospel from Self-Help, AA, and Tony Robbins.”
 Walker, Bill. “Learning about the Gospel from Self-Help, AA, and Tony Robbins.”
 Molin, Steve. “Power of a Promise.” Sermon Writer. 2006. Web. Feb.7.2017.
First Lesson: Isaiah 58: 1-9a (9b-12)
Responsive Reading: Psalm 112: 1-10
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 2: 1-12 (13-16)
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5: 13-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin by telling you a story about a church not much different than this one, in a town not much different than Silver Bay.
Pastor Doug had just received a call to Saint Martin’s Lutheran Church. Saint Martin’s Lutheran was the most beautiful building that Pastor Doug had ever seen: gorgeous sanctuary looked like a log cabin inside, a row of very nice looking Sunday School classrooms, a brand-spanking-new kitchen, and a fellowship hall with plush chairs that could hold over 200 people. For Pastor Doug, Saint Martin’s seemed to be a dream call until he looked at the attendance figures. Pastor Doug started studying these figures and saw they had nearly 300 people at Saint Martin’s on a Sunday thirty years back; then the years went by, people started dying off or moving away or stopped coming altogether. Now Saint Martin’s would be thrilled to get 75 people there on a Sunday morning.
Pastor Doug began a new call like most preachers do with a great sense of optimism. He began calling on inactive members, he helped organize meals to invite the community to Saint Martin’s, and he spent hours trying to craft his sermons. Pastor Doug though like nearly every other pastor at Saint Martin’s before him saw nothing seem to change. Everyone Pastor Doug talked to believed that Saint Martin’s was going to stay the way that it has always been.
Pastor Doug though had different plans. Pastor Doug decides to take out an ad in the local newspaper. Pastor Doug announces that since Saint Martin’s Lutheran Church was dead, that he was going to give it a funeral. The funeral for Saint Martin’s Lutheran was going to be held at 2 P.M. on the following Sunday. Everyone in town soon started talking about Saint Martin’s Lutheran.
Sunday Afternoon rolls around, everyone in town shows up for the funeral, here’s what shocked those in attendance. Right at the front of the sanctuary was a giant casket adorned by flowers. What was in the casket everyone wondered? Pastor Doug gives a eulogy for Saint Martin’s Lutheran Church then invites everyone to come forward to see the casket. Everyone was wondering what exactly lay inside this casket.
The lines of people begin seeing the inside of the casket. Everyone who looked into the casket turned away as soon as they saw what was inside. Heads were jerking away at a violent pace. You see what was inside Saint Martin’s casket was a mirror. Every person who looked inside Saint Martin’s casket saw their own reflection.
Here’s the thing though about Saint Martin’s Lutheran it is not unique. I read a book last week called Autopsy of a Deceased Church by Thom Rainer. Rainer estimates that there are nearly 400,000 churches in this country that show signs of illness that could lead to eventual death. Now here’s the thing though about nearly all these churches: they’ve had faithful pastors, they’ve all had committed members and leaders, they’ve all attempted to reach out and engage the community in some ways. But no different than Saint Martin’s Lutheran Church years of numerical disappointment leads eventually to apathy and hopelessness setting in.
Is there hope for Saint Martin’s Lutheran Church, I’ll get back to them in a bit.
Today’s Gospel Lesson comes to us from Matthew 5. It’s the second part of Jesus’ Famous Sermon on the Mount. Let me talk briefly about the audience for the Sermon on the Mount to help understand it a bit better.
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 5:20.
The scribes were basically the Bible interpreters in Jesus’ day. If you know any English teachers, scribes had to be nature very strict and rigid about following the rules. The Pharisees were the religious elite sitting in the front row of the Temple every Sunday. The Pharisees were held in high esteem throughout their community. The Pharisees would have been made up of mostly, highly respectable businessman.
Who does Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount? Basically, everyone but the Scribes and Pharisees? The Disciples were mostly a collection of uneducated fishermen and the rest of the people listening we hear as being either meek, mourning or poor in spirit.
Now if you were to take a look at the people in the audience they would seem to be the last type of people that could turn a place like Saint Martin’s Lutheran Church around. The type of people that Jesus should have saved his best sermon for another crowd.
Here’s the thing about Jesus though, he knew who was in the Sermon on the Mount crowd.
“You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
What Jesus is saying is that he chooses people to bring forth his kingdom regardless of their previous resume.
I came across a quote this week that suggested perhaps it’s the cracks from within our lives (meekness, mourning, addiction, despair, regret, broken relationships, depression, old age and fear) that bring God’s light into our lives. Maybe it is through these same cracks where the love of God is meant to get out once again.
Perhaps the point of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus is all about building his ministry through imperfect people. People from whom light can shine out of the deepest darkness.
The question for this morning is how do we bring this light forth?
“Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a bushel but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”-Matthew 20:15.
Now Saint Martin’s Lutheran Church probably had all kinds of bushels. They probably saw all kinds of ways why their light was merely meant to flicker, rather than shine.
They might have been comparing themselves to the other more seemingly religious successful churches in town. They could have been obsessed with trying to recreate the good old days of the past, rather than boldly approaching an uncharted future. Saint Martin’s could have been consumed with conflict that pitted neighbor against neighbor and brother against brother. Saint Martin’s bushel could be all about being the dream church where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.
Here’s the thing though about bushels, we are not doomed to let them define us. We can only block out the light when we believe reasons why God couldn’t possibly act in our own church or our own lives.
Mary Poplin grew up in a Methodist Church. Mary’s church growing up didn’t look all that different from Saint Martin’s. Mary only went to church because her father made her. Mary found the church services boring and irrelevant to her life.
Mary enrolls in a college where a new world presents itself to her. Mary saw all kinds of new ways in which to engage the world around her: be more sophisticated, intelligent, and fashionable. Mary’s such a good student that she eventually gets into graduate school. Mary sees a former world of church and family that she wants no part of to be replaced with a more exciting world of booze, drugs, sex, and deeper intellectual discussions than she ever heard at her tiny, little Methodist church.
By the age of 41, Mary shows all the signs of being very successful by the world’s standards. She’s a tenured professor at an elite college. Mary had ditched God and seemed to be the better for it.
One day into Mary’s class walks a graduate student named John. John was different, but Mary couldn’t quite tell how. Whereas many of Mary’s students were angry at the world for all its perceived aggression, John seemed to be at peace.
Even after John graduates, Mary would call on his help from time to time. Several years later John and Mary reconnect. John senses Mary is lost with her place in the world. John offers to walk alongside her. Mary was at first taken back by John’s offer. But soon, Mary has a dream where she encounters Jesus at the Last Supper that she needs someone to tell. John listens to Mary talk about her strange dream. John then suggests that Mary starts reading the Bible. The good word begins to change Mary slowly. Mary soon after that returns to her Texas childhood home. Mary decides to attend church with her mother once again, doing everything she had previously rebelled. The Pastor then offers for anyone to receive communion who believes that Jesus Christ died for their sins. Mary Poplin went forward on this day.
Here’s the thing about John. John was not a religious scholar, nor did he come from a particularly privileged place in life. John was like one of the crowd folks listening to Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount. John was sent into Mary Poplin’s life to be her light.
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness hasn’t overcome it”- John 1:5.
We will ultimately never change the world because we are great examples of anything, we are merely able to let our light shine before others because we have confidence in the promises of the Gospel to do as they say. We become light only when we believe that the promises of Christ’s forgiveness are truly given unto us. We become light because the Good News of the Gospel changes us as weak as we on our own might be. The truth is a little bit of light can change a dark, dark world.
Let me close with one final story to illustrate this. Thomas Clarkson was a deacon in the Anglican Church who never became a priest. Thomas Clarkson though had one conviction that guided him that the slave trade was a great moral evil. So Clarkson along with several Quakers decide to form a small committee which holds its first meeting at a bookstore. The odds seemed overwhelming; slavery was a big business which had been a relatively undisputed tenant of western civilization for generations.
Clarkson though believed the cost of inaction was greater than the cost of action especially if his action could save the life of another.
Clarkson began distributing pamphlets and speaking all throughout England denouncing the slave trade. Clarkson soon became many people’s public enemy number #1. Clarkson describes the beginning of his journey being marked with “fear” and “trembling” over what lied ahead.
The tide soon turned. A little bit of light began shining in the darkness. Petitions soon started making their way to parliament, British MPS soon started to convert to Clarkson’s cause. People soon started boycotting sugar which fueled the slave trade. Within five years of the first meeting, the public had turned in Clarkson’s favor. Years after setting out with a seemingly impossible cause, slavery would become outlawed in Thomas Clarkson’s Great Britain.
My point for this morning is this. Darkness and death are never certain. Saint Martin’s Lutheran Church only proceeded to die when they believed that light could no longer shine. Mary Poplin thought she had left her former religion behind, right until a guy named John brought light into her life. Thomas Clarkson believed that a little bit of light could even change the whole world regardless of what anyone else believed. You see darkness and death are never certain. Jesus promises that on days such as this one a little bit of light is always going to shine. Amen
 The following is a re-telling based on David Rigg’s “A Church That Needs A Funeral” sermon found on Sermon Central given on April 19th, 2009 and retrieved on January 30th, 2017.
 Rigg, David. “A Church That Needs a Funeral”.
 Rainer, Thom S. Autopsy of a Deceased Church:12 Ways To Keep Yours Alive. B&H Publishing. Nashville. 2014. Print.P.87.
 Matthew 5:13-20.
 Matthew 5:14 a, Matthew 5:16.
 Zahl, David. “NBW on How the Light Gets Out”. MBIRD(Mockingbird Ministries). 14.Jun.2014. Web. Jan.30.2017. The following is an excerpt from Nadia Bolz Weber’s “Sermon on that special class of salty, light-bearing people to whom Jesus preaches.” Published on Patheos on Feburary 13th, 2014.
 Oden, Amy. “Commentary on Matthew 5:13-20.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul. 09.Feb.2014. Web. Jan.30.2017.
 Oden, Amy. “Commentary on Matthew 5:13-20.”
 The following paragraph is a mix of Oden’s commentary with Rainer’s book.
 Garrison Keilor description of Lake Wobegon.
 Poplin, Mary. “The Unlikely Conversion of a Radical Scholar.” The Well (Intervarsity). 09.Dec.2008. Web. Jan.30.2017.
 Poplin, Mary. “The Unlikely Conversion of a Radical Scholar.”
 Poplin, Mary. “The Unlikely Conversion of a Radical Scholar.”
 Poplin, Mary. “The Unlikely Conversion of a Radical Scholar.”
 Poplin, Mary. “The Unlikely Conversion of a Radical Scholar.”
 Stories for Preaching. “The End of Slavery” . Web. Retrieved on January 30th, 2017.
 Stories for Preaching. “The End of Slavery.”
 Stories for Preaching. “The End of Slavery.”
First Lesson: Micah 6: 1-8
Responsive Reading: Psalm 15
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 5: 1-12
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5: 1-12
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin with a story. One time there were two identical twins that I’ll call Fritz and Frank. Fritz and Frank were the types of twins that were nearly impossible to tell apart just by looking at them. Fritz and Frank’s one great difference was found in their attitude. Fritz was a hope-filled optimist tending always to see the best in every given situation. When Fritz’s baseball team would lose 10-0, Fritz would comment on what an exciting play the second out of the sixth inning was. Frank was a real downer, always believing the earth was about to cave in around him. On a nice day, Frank would comment on how it’ll probably rain tomorrow. We all know people like Fritz and Frank!
Fritz and Frank’s parents were worried that the boys were so extreme when it came to viewing life. They decide to take Fritz and Frank to see a psychologist. The Psychologist was blown away by both Fritz’s rare optimism along with Frank’s extreme pessimism. The Psychologist suggests the following seemingly radical solution: Both boys birthdays are coming soon: Why don’t give pessimism Frank a new bike, and give the optimism Fritz a box full of manure. The parents were hesitant, having always making a point to raise the boys equally. But they decide to follow the psychologist’s suggestion, hoping it would help both boys.
On the day of Fritz and Frank’s birthday, Frank sees his bicycle. The bike is a beauty a top of the line racing bike costing his parents hundreds of dollars. Frank doesn’t crack a smile. All Frank can mutter is “I’ll probably crash it and break my leg.” Fritz then receives his present. Fritz opens the box, sees the manure. A huge smile comes over Fritz’s face. Fritz starts chanting “yes, yes, yes.” Fritz then runs outside with as much joy as they’ve ever seen a child run. Fritz’s parents are confused at the boy’s joy at the sight of receiving a box of manure. So they ask Fritz why he’s so happy? To which Fritz says “With all this manure, there’s gotta be a pony around here somewhere?”
Now picture Fritz and Frank cause we’ll get back to their story in a bit. Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from Matthew 5. Jesus is early in his ministry. Jesus is starting to attract crowds that hung on his every word. Jesus decides that he needs to give a big, important sermon in response to the growing crowds. Where Jesus chooses to go is interesting.
Now one of the most scenic spots around Silver Bay is the Twin Lakes (Bear and Bean), what makes Bear and Bean so scenic is the giant cliffs that surround them so you can get a beautiful view of both at the same time, but to get this view you need to climb. Now picture Bear and Bean Lake, now picture the Lake of Galilee. So what Jesus does is take his disciples from the ground level of the Lake of Galilee to the Mount or Plain at its top. Jesus does this so they can get the “inside scoop” of his ministry. Jesus begins preaching to his disciples in his famous Sermon on the Mount.
Now I was listening to Andy Stanley preach on the Sermon on the Mount this week when he summed it up well: “The Sermon on the Mount is Extreme!” People who claim to love the Sermon on the Mount, haven’t read the whole thing.”
Jesus gives the Disciples the Sermon on the Mount to give them the insight on all of life’s manure.
Now I remember one time, I was riding in the car with my dad when he gets a call on his cell phone. The call was promising my dad the ability to purchase an unlimited warranty on his car. Dad kept an old trailblazer that probably had 200,000 miles on it that he would drive four blocks to work. So now most people would hang up on these calls but not Dad. Dad immediately knew that such a promise was way too good to be true. Dad starts asking the Telemarketer all sorts of pointed questions. You could tell the Telemarketer knew the gig was up. I believe the Telemarketer finally hangs up on Dad.
Now picture the Telemarketer, now imagine Jesus doing the exact opposite. Jesus paints a picture of his upcoming ministry for the Disciples. The picture Jesus paints is harsh containing no false promises: “You will lose those close to you, you will not gain great material possessions, you very well might even be persecuted. Rest assured in these times God is preparing you to receive great blessings even as life seemingly throws at you nothing but boxes full of manure.”
Jesus words are meant to proclaim to the Disciples that this life will bring rock bottom, mourning, and even death.
Carol Howard Merritt tells the story of having a father in hospice care. Her dad falls and breaks his hip. Her dad is already disabled before the fall and his body is certainly in no position to undergo such a procedure. Only her dad is in so much pain that they need to do the surgery, regardless of the risks. Merrit comes to realize that it is in times such as these of great pain, sorrow, anger, and powerless is when Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount might begin to make sense.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”-Matthew 5:4.
Here’s the point that Jesus is making that we often don’t understand the nature of God’s blessing. We will all have those moments in life where it seems that God might not be at work in our circumstances, but rest assured God’s blessings will probably take place only in unexpected ways.
Let me tell a story, Months before I came up to Silver Bay to interview. A pastoral colleague of mine received a call from a church in Kentucky wanting to know a young pastor with high energy to come down and interview. So I get out my best suit, best sermon, and set out on a long drive to Kentucky. I was the only candidate they were planning to interview. The interview is Saturday evening, with preaching on Sunday morning. The interview was interesting in that nearly every member of the congregation shows up. I get a call from the Call Committee Chairman a few weeks after this, saying they discussed me with the whole congregation and that I wasn’t what they were looking.
Now I knew that I wasn’t the right fit for this congregation. The Kentuckians were looking for and needed a different type of leader. But still, rejection in whatever walk of life stings whether it be professional or personal.
Here’s a point that Jesus is making within the Sermon on the Mount best summed up by Kent Crockett:
“Man’s rejection can be God’s direction. God sometimes uses the rejection of hateful people to move us to a new place or assignment where we wouldn’t have thought of going on our own. He must slam the door in our face through rejection to get us to look in another direction. Then when we get to that new place, we thank God for the rejection rather than being bitter about it.”
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”-Romans 8:28
There are going to be many moments in our life when these words will not be easy to here. These words might not bring immediate comfort on the loneliest nights of our existence.
I came across the following saying this week that I thought was really good “God often takes the trash out of our life and recycles it into something good.”
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”- Matthew 5:11-12
I want to close with the following story this morning about a man who was able to embrace these promises from the Sermon on the Mount in even the darkest of one’s circumstances.
The following story was told by Chuck Colson, Maximilian Kolbe (Kol-bay) was a Polish Priest working in Warsaw at the start of World War II. In February 1941, Kolbe was arrested by the Nazi Regime for publishing unapproved literature. Kolbe is sent off to Auschwitz. Kolbe arrives at Auschwitz and starts acting like Fritz the Optimist, he ministers and finds comfort for his fellow prisoners on every day of his stay.
Kolbe’s ministry facing a crisis though on one July day, an inmate escaped, the Nazi Soldiers were furious. Nazi policy was to take ten prisoners and place them to die in a starvation bunker. One of the ten men to be sent to death was a Polish farmer named Franciszek Gajowniczek (Fran-She-Cek) (Guy-o-nick-chek). Franciszek who you can call Frank cries out “My poor wife! “My poor children! What will they do.”
Maximilian Kolbe was not going to sit idly by in the face of this injustice. Kolbe breaks out of his line to address one of the Nazi officers. Such a bold act would normally be a death sentence, but Kolbe had to do something. Kolbe tells the Nazi commander “I would like to die in place of one of the men you condemned.” The Commander was stumped, so he merely asks “Why?”
Kolbe knew he needed a good reason, so he played on the Nazi’s normal methods of destroying the weak and elderly first.
Kolbe responded ““I am an old man, sir, and good for nothing. My life will serve no purpose.”
The officer responded: “In whose place do you want to die.”
At this moment Maximilian Kolbe points at the weeping Franciszek Gajowniczek (Fran-She-Cek) (Guy-o-nick-chek). Everyone in the camp is stunned. The officer gives in because Frank looks to be a lot stronger, more valuable worker than Maximillian Kolbe.
Kolbe is taken to a dark chamber: stripped of his clothes, left without food or water. Inside the death chamber, something extraordinary happened because of Maximilian Kolbe. In days past, prisoners would wail and weep in agony. Prisoners alongside Maximillian Kolbe in the death chamber were singing songs of praise and songs of hope even as they prepared to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
August 14, 1941, needing a place to house more prisoners. A German Doctor walks into Kolbe’s bunker, where he sees a barely breathing Kolbe smiling, right until the moment where the Doctor placed the needle in Maximilian Kolbe’s arm.
Franciszek Gajowniczek (Fran-She-Cek) (Guy-o-nick-chek) died 53 years after Maximilian Kolbe in Poland. Maximilian Kolbe was able to find hope in even the foulest smelling of manure.
My point for this morning is this. The Sermon on the Mount is tough to hear. We would rather not have to the endure terrible circumstances of our life to receive God’s blessing. Andy Stanley sums it up best: “The Sermon on the Mount is your life if your faith was perfect.” If you had the courage to look at the grave as fearlessly as Maximilian Kolbe. Perfect faith like if you were able to ask “Where’s the Pony?” upon receiving a box of manure. We might not believe quite like these men, but what Jesus is saying is that’s o.k. The truth of the Christian’s life is it will contain nasty things in Sin and Death. Jesus in the Beatitudes today is also making the following point that as times when life seems the darkest it is then when God’s blessings are getting ready to appear. Whereas we will always mourn death, soon we will be comforted when we come face to face with the awesome power of Resurrection. Amen
 The author of this analogy is unknown. The analogy comes from the Stories for Preaching website retrieved on January, 23rd 2017. I took creative liscense inserting names of Fritz and Frank.
 The following analogy comes from the Attitude section.
 Matthew 5:1-12
 The following lines come from a You Tube clip posted by Shawn Nelson on May, 23rd 2014. The following clip comes from Stanley’s 2011 “Shocking Statements of Jesus: Sermon Series- Part 5”.
 Merritt, Carol Howard. “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn”. Day 1 found on Text Week. Jan.30.2011. Web. 23.Jan.2017.
 The following analogy was found on Kent Crockett(kentcrockett.com)’s website under “Rejection” on January 23rd, 2017.
 The following analogy comes from Charles Colson’s book The Body and was found on the Creative Youth Ideas website on January 23rd, 2017.
 Maximillian Kolbe was canonized as a Saint in the Catholic Church on October 10, 1982.
First Lesson: Isaiah 9: 1-4
Responsive Reading: Psalm 27: 1, 4-9
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1: 10-18
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 4: 12-23
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I was visiting Grandma on New Year’s Eve, we were playing cards when we come across two ladies that I’ll call Phyllis and Eunice. 7 O Clock at night in the nursing home, Phyllis wants to go to bed. Eunice was going to stay awake for a while, so she has the lights on in her side of the room. Phyllis was going to have none of this. So Phyllis storms out of the room in a tizzy, complaining to the nurses about how she can’t live with Eunice because of how inconsiderate that she is. Phyllis goes back to bed and turns off all the lights. Grandma and I keep playing cards.
7:30 comes around Eunice wheels into the room once again, turning the lights back on. Phyllis is really mad at this point since the nurses aren’t going to listen to her. She decides that Grandma and I would be a captive audience to her problems. Now Grandma is no stranger to roommate problems at the nursing home. The nursing home has since decided that Grandma is better off with a private room. Grandma has one way to resolve conflict: yell then yell some more, then hope the other person gives in.
So when Phyllis is complaining about Eunice, Grandma declares that she is going to fix everything between Phyllis and Eunice. My hand is on my head, dreading what I’m going to see next. Grandma rides her scooter into Eunice’s room and tells her it’s time for bed.
Eunice just ignores Grandma’s demands that she goes to bed. Grandma then decides that things need to get physical. So Grandma proceeds to push Eunice’s wheelchair towards the bed. Grandma though quickly gets tired, and Eunice’s wheelchair probably moves one foot forward at her efforts. Now did Grandma accomplish anything mediating Phyllis and Eunice’s conflict? Not really. Did the Nurses find a way to bring Phyllis and Eunice together? No, based on what I saw I doubt Eunice could hear either Grandma or Phyllis’s yelling.
But our question for this morning is this: Do we have similar cycles of seemingly continual conflict in our life? That as in the case of Phyllis and Eunice these conflicts are not easy to resolve.
Today’s lesson comes to us from 1st Corinthians 1. Corinthians tells the tale of a church in conflict. The Corinthian Church is founded by the Apostle Paul, people in the Corinthian Church were always going to have a special place for Paul because of this history. Paul was a good organizer, but he had his weaknesses. Paul was self-admittedly not a very dynamic speaker. Paul wasn’t a rah-rah people person. Paul wasn’t all that much to see. I picture him as an older gentleman with a bit of a pot belly. Paul eventually moves on, and the Corinthians get a new preacher named Apollos. Apollos seemingly had it all. Apollos was probably tall, muscular with long, wavy hair. Apollos was energetic. Apollos made people laugh during his sermons. People would hang on every word during Apollos’ preaching. People were flocking to the Corinthian church seemingly because of Apollos.
Everyone should have been happy except they weren’t. Some of the original members of the Corinthian Church were seeing things change way too fast before their very eyes. Some of the people joining the Corinthian Church would seem more acceptable at a Monster Truck Rally rather than a Church. People often lash out at change, so Paul’s followers (The Church’s founders) began lashing out at Apollos. They accused Apollos of being “soft on sin.” They started clamoring for Paul to come back to fix their church. What was going on in Corinth can apply to all sorts of conflict, Insiders vs. outsiders, change vs. stability, with all sorts of dueling personality types in the mix.
So what does Paul say to his former followers?
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”-1st Corinthians 1:10.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to focus on a much more important question than who was a better preacher between Paul and Apollos but rather why does the Corinthian Church exist? Paul wanted the Corinthians to unite around a common purpose within this relationship. Now here’s the thing about Paul. Paul knew that sometimes finding common purposes can be hard.
I have a friend that I’ll call Heather. Heather’s a good employee responding to work requests nearly 24/7. Heather’s department recently came up for contract negotiations. Heather had been long time friends with her manager. They would frequently get together socially. Heather considered her manager a good friend. The problem with contract negotiations or wills or many other things in life is there a fixed amount of money to spend. So Heather was feeling disrespected by the contract offers. The manager recently invited Heather to a Christmas party at her house. Heather didn’t want to go because her feelings were hurt. So Heather asked me what she should do?
I said to Heather it depends on our goal for the relationship? Do you want to throw away the friendship? What in your mind is the best scenario for this relationship? Three months from now, Three years from now, or thirty years from now.
People can certainly tell of their seemingly former friends or feuding families members, but probably in all likelihood, the short term feeling of satisfaction can distract from one’s ultimate long term goals.
I was listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley where he said: “Conflict might take years to sort out, but harsh judgment will inevitability boomerang.”
So where do we find common purpose with those with whom we are in conflict? Back to Paul and Apollos.
Here’s what Paul proclaims to his followers in the Corinthian church.
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God-1st Corinthians 1:18.
The Corinthian Church exists to save sinners. It exists to proclaim the Cross of Christ to broken people. The important thing is not Paul or Apollos, but rather why do they gather as Church.
We must never lose sight of our long-term purpose in the midst of any divided household. Let me tell you a story about another family member in my dad.
Dad grew up in Lindstrom, and other than his four years at the University of Minnesota has lived there all of his sixty-seven years. Dad since 1982 has been either on the City Council or serving as mayor for every year but two. About a decade ago, Dad faced a political controversy that could have brought him down.
Lindstrom had been having traffic problems for years. The traffic problems were two-fold. 1. The sheer volume of traffic passing through town from the Twin Cities to Wisconsin over 20,000 cars a day was more than the town could handle. There were weekend days when it would take 30-45 minutes to pass through a 2 mile stretch of town on Highway 8. 2. Highway 8 also had the nickname of being “The Highway of Death” due to the sheer number of pedestrian and traffic fatalities that had taken place in the last twenty years. A big part of the problem was a lack of stoplights and pedestrian crossings.
So the Minnesota Department of Transportation proposes a seemingly radical solution to Lindstrom’s City Council to divide the town in two. The proposal was for split pairs lanes to go through Lindstrom making Lindstrom a four-lane with the former main street as the divider. Residents were up in arms; I sat in public hearings where people would accuse Dad of trying to destroy the only town he had ever known.
Now, this issue was complicated on all sides as conflict often is. This project would require a good period of construction, along with the risk that businesses wouldn’t see as much traffic. Now my Dad can also have a quick fuse, like Grandma. But at every one of these hearings, he restrained himself and listened to person after person tell him how wrong that he was. What Dad did during the Highway 8 standoff was some of the most impressive leadership that I’ve ever witnessed precisely because his actions were so contrary to his nature. Dad ultimately voted what he thought would be best for the town. Years later, Dad has former opponents come up to him, commending him on how his convictions were what was best for Lindstrom.
Dad could have very easily done nothing. The Highway was the town’s difficult situation.
As pointed out again by Andy Stanley “Love will constantly require you to deal with difficult situations in life.”
Love will require as in the case of Heather and the contract negotiations ask what do want in the long run? Love will require as in the case of the members of the Corinthian Church often cause you to admit all sorts of people with different sins than you into your previously small, little church.
You see the simplest advice that Paul could have given the Corinthian Church is to start your own church, where you get to call all the shots. Paul believed that fighting to preserve one’s relationships is the most important struggle that we often endure as Christian people.
Now some of you might be, hearing all this and say this might sound good, but you don’t know my family. I’ve had people more than once say that their family is the most messed up family ever. They might yell no different than Grandma in the nursing home and make as much headway as pushing the wheelchair six inches towards the bed. We must never lose sight of God’s reasons for putting people in our lives.
Let me close with a story told in the book Crucial Conversations how even in the most heated of relationships in life there is hope.
Bobby was about to be deployed to serve in Iraq. Bobby was nervous about what he was about to see at war. Bobby’s father was against this idea. Bobby’s dad lets him know this and Bobby blew up. Pretty soon everyone in the family had taken sides: siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, and grandchildren. Further communication between Bobby and his dad only led to more brokenness. They didn’t talk to each other for five years. Bobby’s dad wasn’t around for the birth of two of Bobby’s children. Finally, Bobby decided that the past was the past and wanted to attempt to rebuild the relationship he once had with his father. Both men agree to meet; the initial conversation was difficult threatening to boil over several times. Bobby and his dad never lost sight of their purpose: being in a relationship with each other even in the midst of their disagreements. Bobby like all people in the relationship came to see how much his brokenness had contributed to their prior split. Bobby’s mom had previously been so hurt by Bobby’s behavior that she wanted nothing to do with him, yet Bobby’s dad vouched that their relationship was worth saving. Slowly but slowly, Bobby’s family began to piece itself back together.
My point for this morning is this: We often need to ask ourselves what’s really important in this world? Do we believe that our God possesses the ability to raise even the most broken of relationships from the dead? Do we believe that God might possess plans for our church, our town, our life that go even beyond our imagination?
The great struggle that we face as Christian people is the finding the right balance between truth and grace in this world. Bobby could have let the truth of his politics destroy his relationship with his family, but he came to see the need for grace to sustain all human relationships. The Corinthians had all sorts of truth regarding how the church should look, but they lacked the grace to see that God might have different plans. We need to continually struggle with the question as Christian people in what do we really believe: “Do we believe in hope?” “Do we believe in healing?” “Do we believe in resurrection even from the most broken of relationships?” Amen
 Lesson is 1st Corinthians 1:10-18. The subplot between Paul and Apollos along with conflict within the Corinthian Church is the theme of the book.
 2 Corinthians 10:10.
 2 Corinthians 10:10.
 The inspiration for this week’s sermon comes from Carey Nieuwhof’s article titled “5 Stupid Things The Church Needs to Stop Doing to Make Progress.” Published on his blog on July 13, 2015.
 Stanley, Andy. “The N Commandments: Judge Not”. North Point Church. Atlanta. May.9.2015. Web. 16.Jan.2017.
 1st Corinthians 1:18.
 Stanley, Andy. “The N Commandments: Judge Not”.
 Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler. Crucial Conversations. McGraw Hill Publishing. New York. 2012. Print. P.29-30.
 The continual struggle between grace and truth can be found in Stanley’s book: Deep &Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend.on pages 72-83. Nieuwhof’s article also touches on this theme.
First Lesson: Isaiah 49: 1-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 40: 1-11
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1: 1-9
Gospel Lesson: John 1: 29-42
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The 1998 Minnesota Vikings appeared to be the definition of a middling football team in the last four seasons they had gone 8-8, 9-7, 9-7, whereas their biggest rivals the Green Bay Packers had gone 11-5, 13-3, and 13-3 with a Super Bowl win in the middle. When the NFL was having its annual selection of college players that spring, there was a wide receiver available named Randy Moss. Top College Football coaches Lou Holtz and Bobby Bowden described Randy Moss as one of the best athletes they had ever seen. In College, Randy Moss scored 55 touchdowns in two seasons, as the most dynamic playmaker in College Football.
Randy Moss had baggage, he had gotten into a fight in high school and charged with battery. In college, he tested positive for Marijuana. Randy Moss failed to show up to the NFL’s equivalent of a job fair in the combine. Draft day comes, Moss is expected to be one of the top 5 players taken, and no one takes Randy Moss even though he looked to be one of the clear-cut best players available. Finally, the Minnesota Vikings take him with the 21st pick. Why did the Vikings take him? Randy Moss is one of the most famous football players ever, but you might not know that Randy Moss had a half-brother named Eric Moss.
Eric Moss seemed to be Randy’s opposite in a lot of ways. Whereas Randy was one of the fastest players in the league, Eric Moss weighed 315 lbs. Whereas Randy Moss was one of the best players in College Football, Eric Moss was not one of the 240 drafted players the previous year. In 1997, The Minnesota Vikings signed Eric Moss as one of their practice players who was unlikely ever to get in a game. Here’s the thing about Randy Moss his mother Maxine was a single mom who worked long hours as a nurse’s aide. So the person who watched out for Randy Moss as a child was Eric Moss. So even as every other team was shying away from Randy Moss during the 1998 NFL Draft, the Vikings figured they had a good influence to keep Randy Moss on the relatively straight and narrow in Eric Moss. 1998- The Vikings have their best season ever 15-1. Randy Moss quickly becomes one of the best players in football. Everyone knows Randy Moss, but they might not consider the role Eric Moss played in his story unfolding.
Jackie Robinson is one of the most famous Baseball players ever. Robinson broke Baseball’s color barrier in 1947. People regard Jackie Robinson as having some of the greatest character in American history for his ability not to lash out in the presence of continual racial hostility. Every Major League Baseball team has permanently retired Robinson’s number #42 for what he meant to the game of baseball. What you might not know about Jackie Robinson is that he like Randy Moss also had a brother named Matthew “Mack” Robinson. Jackie Robinson like Randy Moss was the son of a single mother. So Mack would be one of Jackie’s biggest influences growing up. Mack Robinson was a great athlete himself. Robinson came in second the 200 meters to Jesse Owens in 1936 Berlin Olympics, in the presence of hostility of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party. Jackie Robinson arguably does not change American Baseball apart from the witness of Mack Robinson in the face of hostility.
Final story: Later this week, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States. What you might not know about Donald Trump is that he refuses to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. Donald Trump had a brother named Freddy Trump Jr. Freddy was the best man at Donald’s first wedding. Freddy seemed to have it all: good looks, outgoing, yet an extreme lack of self-discipline. By his mid-twenties, Freddy Trump’s drinking and eventually his life spiraled out of control. In 1981, at the age of 43, Freddy Trump was dead. In the case of Donald Trump, he continually speaks of how Freddy’s witness impacted his life every day moving forward after he left this world.
Now what I want you to do is picture Randy Moss, Jackie Robinson, and Donald Trump now picture their seemingly anonymous brothers and the huge impact that they played in their lives. Now picture: Randy Moss, Jackie Robinson, and Donald Trump the impact that their lives have had or will have on the lives of others. How none of this happens apart from their brothers. Now let’s talk about Today’s Gospel Lesson.
Saint Peter along with Apostle Paul were the two most influential leaders in the Early Church. Jesus declared Peter to be the rock upon whom he would build his church. The big events of Jesus’ ministry: The Transfiguration, The Garden of Gethsemane. Peter was right there. Saint Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost led to the eventual conversion of 3000 people.
Peter is the definition of a big deal, but we know less about his brother Andrew.
Like Eric Moss, Mack Robinson, and Freddy Trump. Jr, Andrew plays a very integral role in Peter’s story and the eventual birth of the Christian church.
Shortly after Jesus’ Baptism, he is hanging out in the Judean wilderness in the presence of John the Baptist. Andrew was a close follower of John the Baptist. Jesus walks by Andrew and John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Andrew and the other disciple proceed then to spend the afternoon with Jesus. What Jesus says we don’t know?
Here’s what we do know, Andrew is so moved by what Jesus says he immediately goes to find his brother Peter (the closest person to him in the whole wide world). Andrew then introduces Jesus to the man who would become the first head of the Christian church. Andrew is a great evangelist, but what makes Andrew a great evangelist is interesting.
As I’ve talked about before, when I was in college and seminary, I was overweight. My Dad was concerned for my long-term health as he should have been. So Dad signs him and I up to attend a nutrition class, I didn’t want to go. No one likes to be lectured about everything that they’re doing wrong especially if it’s true. The classes would always have snacks that I thought no sane person would ever in a million years. My Dad has made much better investments over the years then sending me to that class. Eventually, though a few years later, I came to a realization that I needed a change in my life. Ironically enough most of what that class taught: High-fat, low-carb is how I try to eat today.
Here’s the thing about Andrew, he realized that was never going to get anywhere telling his brother Peter that “He must listen “or scold him into change. Andrew rather just said to Peter “My life had changed and you can listen too!”
Tim Zingale recalls an attorney one time saying the following: “When I have a poor case, I prepare an eloquent speech, when I have a good case, I simply call the witnesses.”
I believe the Christian Church often gets Evangelism wrong because we misunderstand it.
Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point describes three types of people needed to make any social movement such as a church grow.
Gladwell talks about Mavens who are the information people. You ask a Religious Maven a question about what makes “Lutherans different then Methodists?” or “Why does the Bible have so many letters by the Paul fellow?” Mavens can give you an answer. Mavens would be seminary professors, seasoned pastors, and highly educated laymen. You will learn probably the most interesting things from a church maven. The thing about mavens though is you find a room full of them no one else will be able to say a word.
The second type of person, Gladwell talks about needed in any social movement is salespeople. Salespeople can persuade others of the worthiness of their cause. Salespeople are ready to respond to objections often without hesitation. Salespeople would great be preachers like Andrew’s brother Peter along with other seemingly larger than life personalities who help build communities.
You might hear these two descriptions and believe that you’re neither a theological maven nor a skilled preacher so therefore you’re not an evangelist. According to Gladwell though, you don’t have to be. Andrew was a connector. Andrew’s gifts were in extending invitations to others.
Phillip McLarty gives the following example. The Billy Graham Crusade had a program called Operation Andrew. Operation Andrew would seek to find normal, everyday believers within local churches and have them invite just one person to hear the great religious salesperson Billy Graham. Billy Graham didn’t become the country’s most famous preacher because of his Peter like preaching; Graham became the country’s most famous preacher because all sorts of Andrews were extending invitations for others to hear him.
Ed Markquart makes the following observation: “I would like to suggest to you that throughout the history of the church that there have been 10,000 Andrews for every one Peter”. Without Andrew, there is no Christian Church.
Andrew’s gifts of connecting people with the faith are on display throughout the course of his life.
In John 12, a couple of random Greeks are passing through Jerusalem. Jerusalem was like Minneapolis in that it was the hub of all activity. These Greeks hear Jesus preach and want to meet him. The following outreach would have been a huge deal as Greeks would have been way outside Jesus’ typical crowd. Phillip tells Andrew of the Greeks request, Phillip and Andrew both tell Jesus. Pretty soon, all sorts of unlikely Greek disciples are made.
John 6, Jesus is followed to the other side of the Sea of Tiberius by a large crowd of 5,000 people. Nightfall is coming soon; everyone is hungry and long ways from home. No one has any idea how to feed all these people. Andrew though had been walking through the crowd and came across a young boy with five loaves of bread and two fish. Andrew then introduced this boy to Jesus. Pretty soon, five thousand people were fed all because of Andrew, even though very few people think of Andrew when they think of the feeding of the 5000.
My point for this morning is this. You might not see yourself this morning as an evangelist. You might see yourself like Andrew. Andrew wasn’t a brilliant religious scholar or a charismatic public speaker. I picture Andrew as the type of guy who works at the mine; walk around Zup’s with taconite-stained clothes, Andrew would be the type of guy who likes hunting, fishing, football, and Nascar. The Church always needs people like Andrew. People whose lives are so changed by Jesus’ presence that they invite others to also follow. To some Andrew might have only been the other brother, yet too many others more, Andrew might have been the one to help introduce them to Jesus. Amen
 Guest. “Randy Moss, From Beginning to End.” Pro Player Insiders. Feb. 2.2013. Web. 10.Jan. 2017.
 “Mack Robinson”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.Aug.12.2016. Web. Jan.10.2017.
 Horowitz, Jason. “For Donald Trump, Lessons from a Brother’s Suffering.” New York Times. Jan.2.2016. Web. 10. Jan.2016.
 John 1:36.
 John 1:39.
 Zingale, Tim. “Concerning Your Calling.” Sermon Central. Jan.14.2008. Web. 10. Jan.2017.
 McLarty, Phillip. “Lamb of God.” Sermon Writer. 2010. Web. 10.Jan.2017
 Markquart’s semon served as my spark for this week.
 John 12:20-26.
 John 6:8-9
 Markquart. Edward. “Series A: Andrew”. Sermons from Seattle. Web. 10.Jan.2017.
First Lesson: Isaiah 42: 1-9
Responsive Reading: Psalm 29
Second Lesson: Acts 10: 34-43
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 3: 13-17
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
On New Year’s Eve, I went to see Grandma. Grandma and I were playing cards. Grandma proceeded to win nearly every game. Grandma would begin by explaining the rules to me. I would try to follow the rules as best I could. Grandma would still win! Then when I asked Grandma to clarify the rules, she replied: “The rules don’t really matter!”
So my continual frustration of losing card games with no rules, led to me wanting to take our time together in a different direction. I sit down with Grandma to discuss “New Year’s Resolutions.” Grandma every year growing up would give me a New Year’s resolution that she was going to follow. Grandma like most people would never follow through on her resolution.
So I asked Grandma if she had any “New Year’s Resolutions for 2017?”
To which she said, “I don’t intend to live here the rest of my life.”
The following proclamation is a bold claim for a 93-year-old living in a nursing home. While I continually admire Grandma’s optimism, the reality is most people’s New Year’s Resolutions don’t work out.
Research shows that 80 percent of New Year’s Resolutions tend to become forgotten visions by Valentine’s Day. The truth is lifestyle changes are hard.
Dr. Edward Miller, the dean of the medical faculty at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said more than 70 percent of coronary bypass patients are back engaging in the same unhealthy behaviors of eating, drinking, and smoking that led them to the operating table within two years.
Additional studies will point out that two-thirds of dieters gain back any weight they’ve lost within one calendar year. Why do so many New Year’s Resolutions fail, we’ll get back to that question in a little bit?
Today’s Gospel lesson begins a new chapter in the life of Jesus as it tells us the tale of his baptism.
Why was Jesus baptized? John the Baptist was initially unclear as to why behind this question. Jesus was baptized though to “Fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was baptized because, within the Old Testament, priests would undergo a ritual of initiation of ceremonial washing. Priests’ whole job was to make amends for people’s sins, now Jesus was going to handle people’s sin, once and for all.
On the day of his baptism, the path ahead for Jesus was not going to be easy. The very next event in Jesus’ ministry was that he was going to struggle in the wilderness without food for forty days while being tempted by Satan every step of the way. Jesus’ Baptism took place so that he may know what we know. Most of our life is spent in the wilderness, trying to find answers that ultimately move us forward.
Why do New Year’s Resolutions always fail? I was reading a book last week by Scott Adams creator of the Dilbert comic strip. Adams’ book tells his life story in how he used all sorts of failures in the business world to develop into one of the most famous cartoonists in all the land. Adams said the greatest revelation that he had in his journey was to view life regarding systems rather than goals.
For example, running a marathon would be a goal, whereas exercising every day would be a system. Losing ten pounds would be a goal and eating better would be a system. Adams points out the following problem with goals such as New Year’s Resolutions is that they leave us in a continual state of failure until we can finally relax upon completion. Only to eventually end up backsliding like two-thirds of dieters before us.
Goals are tough to achieve because of the sheer amount of willpower behind them. Systems though are different than goals. Systems are different in that they position us to embrace continual challenges as people, even if we experience our share of setbacks along the way.
Why do systems matter more than goals?
I was reading a book by the Basketball Coach Phil Jackson this week describing his time coaching the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls had the best player in the world in the Michael Jordan. There was no higher individual goal for Jordan to achieve. Jordan had led the NBA in scoring for three previous seasons, yet in the playoffs kept encountering the same road block in the Detroit Pistons. Season after season ended at the hands of the nemesis Pistons.
Phil Jackson wanted to change the way that the Bulls played the game of Basketball, by installing the triangle offense. Jordan was skeptical. The triangle had two potential downsides: 1. Jordan wouldn’t get as many points. 2. Jordan would have to trust his teammates more. Jackson saw the triangle though as bringing the Bulls to a more cohesive whole by seeking to uplift the gifts of every team member beyond Michael Jordan. The rest of the story is Michael Jordan would change his ways, defeat the Detroit Pistons and win six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls. Today, Jordan is considered to be the greatest basketball player ever, all because he was able to put a system above his individual goals.
So on this day, we gather for our first worship service together of 2017? We look ahead to 2017 as a Congregation. 2017 will be like the first days of Jesus’ ministry a wilderness experience for the people of Sychar Lutheran. People will come into our lives and people will ultimately leave our lives. 2017 also promises to bring meaning.
Wanting more kids here on Wednesday night is a goal, seeking to make our ministry reach people from birth to over 100 is a system. Wanting a better church is a goal, seeking to uplift the presence of everyone who walks through its door is a system. Like Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, the best of systems are not built alone.
Even Jesus himself did not undergo the call of his baptism alone. Jesus was joined on this day by both the “Father” and the “Holy Spirit.” As he embraced the new chapter of life before him, he heard those words of promise. “You are my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
What will happen to us at Sychar Lutheran Church in the year ahead? We might look around and see all the ways that we don’t seemingly measure up. We don’t have many members compared to churches in Duluth or especially the Twin Cities, we don’t have endless youth coming through the door on Sunday morning, and Sychar has some dark days in its history.
But let me ask you this Today: “What if our weaknesses might actually be our strengths?”
In November when I was down in the cities for a Vikings game, I attended church at First Lutheran in White Bear Lake. First Lutheran has 1800 members, four services on Sunday, and a Christian school within its building. Sychar and First would be very different churches to all those walking in their doors for the first time.
On this day, I met their Visitation Pastor Al Valerius. Pastor Al before coming to First Lutheran was the long-time Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran in Stacy. You talk to the people at Saint John’s where I’ve been to church before Pastor Al can do no wrong. So Pastor Al was talking to me about his first years at Saint John’s when their membership was similar to Sychar’s Today. Pastor Al described how these years of his ministry were a gift in so many ways. How the experience at places like Saint John’s or Sychar is different than being at a place like First Lutheran. He says the gift of being in a church like this was the depth of the relationships; you can form with your fellow members. You will never have the intimacy that we have as a church ten-times the size.
For the reality is a visitor cannot easily attend services here without being noticed. If people’s goal is to blend into the crowd without being noticed, Sychar might not be the choice for them.
What if our strength as a church is that we know where we’ve been and what we want to be, sometimes being a little stubborn in life is a good thing. Stubbornness towards a system as in the case of Scott Adams can be a very good thing.
What if we shouldn’t abide merely by the goal of getting more members, but what if instead, we should be a system with two non-negotiables: 1. The Gospel for the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed every Sunday. 2. Continually seek to reach the people of the Bay Area in whatever ways God calls us in the year ahead.
We will fall short of being the ideal church in 2017. We are an imperfect church, made for imperfect people.” It is amongst these imperfect people that we encounter hope.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”-2 Corinthians 5:17
When I was a student at Chisago Lakes Middle School, every student’s goal was to look cool and talk cool. If rap music were popular, you would start listening to rap music. If all your friends were dressing like skateboarders, then you would dress like a skateboarder. If the cool kids started wearing clown noses to school, then you better go shopping for a clown nose. The term for kids like this would be “poser.” Posers would try to be something they’re not. Posing is the polar opposite of faith.
“We are an imperfect church, made for imperfect people.” God doesn’t love us as we appear, rather he loves as we are.
The reality of 2017 is this: We will fall short within our daily lives. Every day we will die, only to awaken every morning. In the words of Martin Luther, “Life is nothing but a daily baptism, once begun, and ever to be continued.”
New Year’s Resolutions might but probably won’t bring about the dramatic change of flying to California that we often seek. Most goals are unsustainable, but systems are sustainable. It is systems that can keep a person going on the darkest days of their existence. Our system centers on not only Jesus’ baptism but the promises of our own.
Jesus on the day of his Baptism stepped into the wilderness to begin his ministry. While this ministry brought its highs such as miracles and conversion, it also brought it lows of rejection and death. On the day of his baptism, Jesus began to shape God’s people long after he rose to be at the right hand of the father. Jesus’ baptism pointed to a day that is still to come when we encounter God’s promises to one day call us by name and claim us as his own. Amen
 Mockingbird. “Time For A Change? The Ineffectiveness of New Years Resolutions” MBIRD (Mockingbird Ministries). 05. Jan.2009. Web. Jan.3.2017.
 The Mockingbird Article is based on Alex Williams’ piece “New Year, New You? Nice Try”. Which was published in the New York Times on December 31st, 2008.
 Mockingbird. “Time For A Change? The Ineffectiveness of New Years Resolutions.”
 Matthew 3:15.
 Slick, Matt. “Why was Jesus baptized?” CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry). Web. Jan.7.2017
 Matthew 4:1-11
 Lewis, Karoline. “You Are All My Beloved.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 01.Jan.2017. Web. Jan.3.2017.
 Adams, Scott. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. Portfolio/Penguin Publishing. New York. 2013. Print. P.30-34.
 Adams, Scott. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. P.33.
 The book by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty was Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success originally published in 2013.
 I was in the process of reading Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants when putting the sermon together. Gladwell’s book helped my thought process about how the way that we tend to look at both strengths and weaknesses is often wrong.
 2 Corithians 5:17.
 Mockingbird. “Resolved to Fail: Honesty and Personal Transformation.” MBIRD (Mockingbird Ministries). 02.Jan.2014. Web. Jan.3.2017.
 This saying from The Large Catechism.
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.