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.
First Lesson: Isaiah 52: 7-10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 98
Second Lesson: Hebrews 1: 1-4
Gospel Lesson: John 1: 1-14
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me tell you a story about Christmas with no shepherds, no manager, no angels, no wise men, no animals, nor any other element that we normally associate with the Christmas story.
The story, in fact, was not originally written to be a Christmas story at all but instead written to signify a different type of new birth.
England 1674- Isaac Watts was born the son of an unpopular preacher and a refugee. I imagine kids would pick on Isaac growing up because of this. Isaac Watts was a short man no more than 5’1 and sickly all his life. Isaac Watts being the son of preacher was frequently bored in church as a kid. What Isaac Watts couldn’t stand more than anything else was the music. Isaac Watts would complain to his father about the hymns all the time. Finally, Dad being sick of young Isaac’s complaining said: “If you can do better then why don’t ya?” At the age of 15, Isaac Watts wrote a hymn that became fairly well known called “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Isaac Watts’ story though as a hymn writer was not over and we’ll get back to it in a little bit.
Today as a congregation, we gather to celebrate the birth of Our Lord and Savior. There is no greater event in life than seeing new life come into the world. Every new life that comes into the world has the potential to bring families together, win the Super Bowl, cure cancer or be President of the United States. Encountering new life in the form of a baby causes to imagine the world much different than what we see on this day.
Let me tell you a story told by Edward Skidmore and Bret Harte about how “new life” can change the world. Roaring Camp was the meanest, nastiest, town in the wild, wild west. In Roaring Camp, you’d hope they would just take your money; you’d hope they wouldn’t take your life. The only people that would dare live in Roaring Camp were men that no woman would ever be foolish enough to marry. One woman lived in Roaring Camp though named Cherokee Sal. Cherokee Sal made her living the way that wasn’t honorable, but it was the only way for Cherokee Sal to survive in a place like Roaring Camp.
Cherokee Sal one day got pregnant and would soon give birth to a child. Cherokee Sal then died in childbirth and anyone of the men in Roaring Camp could have been the Father. The child presented a dilemma to Roaring Camp; now there was a baby present needing to be raised by men who knew nothing but drinking and fighting. The men of Roaring Camp were the last people equipped to be nannies. They decided though they should do something for this baby.
At first, they gather what they could find in an old box and some dirty rags to place the child. The men knew this situation wasn’t right. So one of the men decides to take some of his previous bounties to a town down the road and buy a new Rosewood Cradle for the baby. Putting the baby in Rosewood Cradle with filthy rags didn’t seem right though either, so another one of the men rode the other direction down the road to purchase some silk blankets. The men then tucked the baby girl into the beautiful cradle, but then saw that the floor underneath was filthy as could be. These were the type of men who had never cleaned a room in their life, but the next thing you know they are down on the floor scrubbing away. Pretty soon the entire room is spotless from the walls to the ceiling to the dirty windows. The baby’s room was looking better, but there was still a problem.
These men had known nothing but carousing for the last years of their life. The men were smart enough to know that a baby needed sleep and you can't get much sleep with nothing but rowdy behavior around. So the men worked on behaving better. They even began to talk in pleasant, cheerful tones. When the men went to work at the mine, one of the men was always put on baby duty so the baby wouldn’t be alone. While the men worked they would look for shiny stones so they could show to the baby, as they played with her. The men soon looked down and saw that their reflection within the baby’s eyes. It was a sign of weakness in Roaring Camp to cut your hair or your shave your beard. You might get called all sorts of names or worse for looking like a preacher. The men soon realized that they didn’t want to look scary in the baby’s presence. So soon, the general store in Roaring Camp sold out of shaving soap and other tools. One baby with unexpected origins had changed the whole town of Roaring Creek. So this leads us to ask the question “Whether one baby can change everything in our lives on this Christmas Day?”
Today’s Psalm is the 98th Psalm. Psalm 98 is a call for something new to come into the world.
“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together. "
Let me tell you the story of a young woman who this Psalm influenced. This woman was going through troubles in her life. She had received word that she had gotten pregnant. She wasn’t sure, whether the man to whom she would be married was going to stick around. She didn’t have much money to her name. When she told people her story, no one believed her. The world around her didn’t seem to offer a lot of hope as she lived under an oppressive political regime that would soon target the life of every baby born. This young woman believed that new life would, as the case of the baby at Roaring Camp, change the world. A few months into her pregnancy- she would feel her child singing and be compelled to sing a hymn of praise for what lay ahead in the child’s life. The woman was Mary (The Mother of Jesus), and the Hymn was the Magnificat.
Mary was not the only person influenced by the 98th Psalm. The small, sick child who wrote hymns, he was also a fan of Psalm 98.
The hymn that Isaac Watts wrote based on this Psalm, you may have heard and we sing today entitled “Joy to the World.”
Here’s the thing about Joy to the World it was not merely written to celebrate the birth of Christ, it was meant to celebrate what Christ would become. It’s not so much a hymn about Christmas as it is about Christ’s 2nd coming, how Christ will come back again in bodily form. Isaac Watts like all people of faith was not merely celebrating what has taken place in the past but was eagerly anticipating that which is to come.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”-John 1:5.
Watts in “Joy to the World” expresses our great hope as Christian people. Christ will one day make creation whole again. Every baptized child is marked with the cross of Christ as a reminder that one day God’s promises will come true. The same baby born out of Mary’s womb in Bethlehem will come back. The same God that promised Mary that she would conceive a child as a virgin promises to keep the word of his return. We anticipate a day with no more sins or sorrows growing. We anticipate a day when our Lord makes his blessing flow far as sin’s curse is found.
So we eagerly anticipate a day when we can sing “Joy to the World” together with all those who have gone before us. The day when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords shall rule the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove The glories of his righteousness, And wonders of his love. Anticipating the following day is the good news of great joy to our world that we celebrate this Christmas. Amen
 Hunter, Monica. “Story Behind the Song: Joy to the World.” A Godly Heritage. Dec.13.2010. Web. 13.Dec.2016.
 Kalis, Robert. “Joy to the World.” Joy Bringer Ministries. 2006. Web. 13.Dec.2016.
 Harte is the author of “The Luck of Roaring Camp” published in the August 1868 edition of Overland Monthly. This information was found on “The Luck of Roaring Camp.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.Sept.16.2016. Web. 13.Dec.2016.
Skidmore, Edward. K. “Joy to the World.” Sermon Central.. Dec.13.2005. Web. 13.Dec.2016.
 Skidmore, Edward. K. “Joy to the World.”
 Skidmore, Edward. K. “Joy to the World.”
 Skidmore, Edward. K. “Joy to the World.”
 Skidmore, Edward. K. “Joy to the World.”
 McFadden, Dave. “Joy to the World.” Sermon Central. Dec.18.2006.Web. 13. Dec.2016.
 Luke 1:46-55.
 Hunter, Monica. “Story Behind the Song: Joy to the World.”
First Lesson: Isaiah 9: 2-7
Second Lesson: Titus 2: 11-14
Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 1-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this evening with a story from my childhood. When I was about 12 years old, the local radio station out of Forest Lake-WLKX was putting together a radio program on “Christmas traditions amongst Ethnic Swedes in America.” The program was supposed to re-air in Sweden on Christmas Eve. My Grandma, my sister and I were asked to be interviewed for this special.
My sister and I were on because we spent a few years as children participating in the Santa Lucia festival where we would hold candles and sing songs in Swedish to honor Saint Lucy (The patron saint of the blind). Santa Lucy’s cultural significance is Sweden due to their geography receives very little sunlight in the winter. Santa Lucia is a celebration of how the light will eventually overcome darkness.
So my sister and I talked about role in this festival. Grandma then got up to speak about her own Swedish heritage. Now for Grandma, the important thing was telling the radio people what they wanted to hear, even if it contains some slight exaggerations. So Grandma started talking about our family’s allegiance to Swedish traditions.
Grandma begins talking about our family Christmas celebrations. She said we only ate Swedish food. We did have some Swedish food such as Herring, Rice Pudding, Lefse, Meatballs, and Swedish Sausage generally on the menu along with other Swedish specialties such as “Salsa”. But where the story got stretched is when Grandma said we only spoke “Swedish” at Christmas. The problem with this is the only conversational Swedish that I ever heard growing up was a colorful way of saying “horse manure.” It would have been pretty hard to carry on a conversation with everyone knowing just this one word.
Then Grandma said after dinner; we celebrated Christmas by dancing around the Christmas tree singing Swedish Christmas Carols in the Town Square. My sister’s, Mom’s and my jaws were dropped at this point as Grandma told her tale.
The story doesn’t end at this interview, though. A few years later, my mom was paging through an issue of Bon Appetit when she came across an article on various towns across America’s Christmas traditions. One town written about in the story was Lindstrom, Minnesota where the people gather to sing Swedish Christmas Carols and dance around the tree. (I think I know where Good Housekeeping got that idea!)
Grandma had an ideal in her mind of the ideal Swedish Christmas and proceeded to tell about it. For Grandma, the reality of Christmas in Lindstrom wasn’t the way that she thought that Christmas should look.
Now let’s consider our evening Gospel lesson from Luke 2. Nothing in the Christmas story looked like it was supposed to. Today’s Gospel story centers around a girl probably no more of thirteen whose tale of a virgin birth hardly anyone believed. A father who people laughed at for believing Mary’s tale. As they give birth on this night, surrounding them are shepherds who would have been the first century equivalent of long distance truckers spending night after night away from home separated from family, just hoping to scrounge out a buck. If God was coming into the world, it certainly wasn’t supposed to look like this. The Son of God should be born surrounded by Herod’s court and adorned by only the most upstanding and holiest of men. We think we know how God should work until he chooses to work another way.
I imagine as Mary and Joseph set out on that Journey to Bethlehem, they were like many of us would be. They worried about how they might support this newborn child. They were scared and uncertain about what the days ahead might bring under Herod’s reign. I imagine that as they were forced to give birth in a manager that it would have been real easy to wonder how God was going to reveal his presence in a situation like this one.
Ed Markquart tells the following story: There was a young Norwegian soldier during World War II who had lost everything. His mother, his father, and his whole family had been killed. He had lost close friends during the war and the land around him was in shambles. Now here he sat alone on Christmas Eve alone feeling isolated from the whole world around him. There was no more crushing situation for a man to be. So the man walked outside to stare at the Norwegian Fjords and in his despair shouted out “Glory to God in the highest.” The Fjord echoed back highest, highest, highest.
The young man continued “And on Earth peace!” .And the Fjord echoed back “peace…peace…peace.” As the young man heard these things, the Voice of God seemed to be nothing more than an echo chamber from which no good answers could come.
The young man began to cry as he imagined the next chapter moving forward from that Christmas Eve. No different than Mary and Joseph could only merely go forth from Christmas night guided merely by God’s promises even as everything else seemed to be against them. What we need to take from Christmas is that often all that we have to go on is faith, but this doesn’t mean that our God won’t come through.
2016 was a significant year in the history of our land. When people remember, this year they might remember the loss of Muhammed Ali, Prince, Carol Brady and people within our lives both close and distant. The continual presence of death serves as a reminder in our world that something isn’t quite right.
A while back, I was gathering to watch a Vikings game with Father Steve from down the road at Saint Mary’s talking about the challenges facing our nation. What we agreed is that the longest standing belief in the Church is that of apocalypticism. The World is going to end soon especially if this happens has been proclaimed as long as there has been a Christian church!
Contrast this to the tale of Mary and Joseph on this night. What our tale of a Virgin Birth though reminds us of, on this night, is the World will only be saved or end on God’s terms rather than our own. Our God has a plan as little sense as it might make that involves a timid, young girl, her husband to be, some aimless drifters known as “shepherds” watching over the Bethlehem sky, and a child that they called Jesus for he was to save people from their sins. We might have a hard time believing this all. What the Christmas story reminds us is that new life can still be created in the midst of deepest darkness.
Let me close with a story told by Tim Zingale. There once was a young girl who ran away from home to get married. Her father objected to the marriage in no uncertain terms; he said if she went through with it that he would never forgive her or see her again. The girl wrote letter after letter to her father to explain her side. The father kept ignoring this correspondence. One day, the girl had a son. The boy began to grow in years and an idea is born the daughter’s mind. I will send my son to my father. The son would serve as a symbol of her love for her father and her desire for reconciliation.
Mother and Son drove to Grandpa’s house. The son had not been there before, but the house was just as mother remembered it. She told the boy to walk up to the door and give Grandpa a hug upon answering. The boy knocked on the door, Grandpa answered, the boy reached his arms around Grandpa’s neck. Grandpa’s heart changed in this instant. He saw his daughter and motioned for her to join them inside the house. Picture this story of reconciliation and now picture what happens on this night. God sent his Son into our world to make all our wrongs right. God sent his Son to bring new life in the midst of winter’s seeming perpetual darkness.
Grandma knew how a Swedish Christmas was supposed to look. Lots of singing around the greatest Christmas tree the people of Lindstrom had ever seen. Christmas though happens pretty much the same way every year regardless of how we think it should look.
A light shines way off in the darkness. The darkness of this world might appear to overwhelm this light. This light is still present. The light keeps shining even as in the case of the Norwegian soldier it appeared to flicker out.
Our message is this: no matter what brought you here on this night. This light was born into world on this night for you. This light will not leave you or forsake you even as all the forces around you might threaten to overwhelm you. This light brings hope to you when you look out into the world desperate to find it. Unto you, on this day has a Child been born. Amen
 Orginal sermon text had Good Housekeeping, my mom corrected my memory of this event.
 Luke 2:1-20.
 Markquart, Ed. “The Peace of Christ or Christmas”. Sermons from Seattle. Christmas Sermons. Web. Dec.20.2016.
 Markquart, Ed. “The Peace of Christ or Christmas”.
 Matthew 1:21
 Zingale, Tim. “Christmas Colors.” Sermon Writer.org. 2006. Web. Dec.20.2016.
 Zingale, Tim. “Christmas Colors.”
First Lesson: Isaiah 35: 1-10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 146: 5-10
Second Lesson: James 5: 7-10
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 11: 2-11
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin by telling you a story about a friend of mine named Ira. The one thing that you should know about Ira is that his whole social life revolves around either fishing or hunting. These are the things that Ira is passionate about in life.
Here’s a story to illustrate this. Ira used to live in Western Wisconsin about 15-20 minutes from where I grew up. So I’m driving to Ira’s house one night. Ira lived way out in the country there’s a hardly a light near Ira’s house. I pull into Ira’s driveway and hear a whole bunch of yelling. What I heard wasn’t just raised voices yelling. The voices that I heard were top of your lungs (hysterical yelling). During all this yelling, all I could make out was that those yelling weren’t going to have anything to do with each other again. Most of the words that I heard I will not repeat in church.
I remember as I opened the car door at Ira’s, I seriously thought about turning around and going home. I didn’t want to talk to a police officer later that night.
I saw Ira’s brother walk out with his wife. Ira’s brother Milo wouldn’t make eye contact with me or acknowledge me. All I heard Milo say was “I’m never coming back here.” As he hopped in his car and drove off.
As I walked to Ira’s backyard, I had no clue about what they were arguing. I wondered if they were fighting about money. If it wasn’t money, I figured someone had something about the other’s wife or even worse. So I walk into Ira’s backyard and see that he’s furious but trying to calm down. Everyone sits there for five minutes with no one capable of saying a word.
All of a sudden, one of Ira’s friends Carl sounds irritated as he blurts out “How come whenever You and Milo get together all that you do is argue about boat motors?”
Now it might seem silly for Ira and Milo to invoke so much passion over which is better between an Evinrude and a Mercury but for Ira and Milo these convictions were so strong that they were going to fight for them with every fiber of their being. Boat motors in their mind are worth fighting for with every fiber of their being. Now if boat motors invoke so much passion imagine how much passion salvation can bring. Now this morning let me continue the story of a guy whose religious fervor was such that he was now in prison in John the Baptist. John the Baptist was going to fight so others may hear his message of baptism for the forgiveness of sins with every fiber of his being.
Our Gospel lesson from Matthew 11 speaks of John waiting in prison after dedicating years of his life to proclaiming the coming Messiah. John was at the point in his life where he seemed to be more existing than anything else. The forecast showed no signs of life getting better for John the Baptist. John a couple of years back had seen the high point in his ministry when he baptized Jesus in the river Jordan. John maybe had a grandiose vision on that day of Jesus and him working together to reach people throughout Judea.
Now here John was in Jail. All John had done was told the truth; Herod Antipas had taken residence with his brother’s wife. John had proclaimed that this wasn’t what God intended. John was now sitting in prison, thinking alone night after night. John was growing impatient. Jesus wasn’t shaking up the situation fast enough for his liking. John began to wonder whether his hopes in the man that he had baptized were misplaced.
So, John, has his followers pass the following question along to Jesus: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John’s question could very easily be: “Jesus, if you’re really the Messiah why do you have me sitting in this jail cell with no hope of rescue?”. The question could also be “Jesus, why don’t you banish sinners like Herod Antipas from the Earth once and for all?” or “Jesus, why if you’re really God’s Messiah must I wait for what is to come?”
Now as you hear about John’s situation, your situation is not his situation. Yet John’s feelings very well might resemble your feelings. Plenty of people go through life feeling like they are continually in prisons of their own without any chance of escape. My grandma continually refers to her nursing home as “prison” of which she yearns for escape.
These prisons we live in are especially noticeable this time of year. The reality of the Holiday season is there are a lot of people that do not look forward to it. The reasons may vary. We might define Christmas by who isn’t around whether through loss or estrangement. Christmas might be defined by who isn’t in their life. No one likes to be under the mistletoe alone year after year. Christmas inevitability brings up the comparison to those around us of seemingly functional families and bottomless bank accounts. While you might not be in John the Baptist’s situation on this day, you very well might be longing for escape from that which afflicts you in life.
“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” This question is seemingly no different than Job’s question of” Why God Why? Why would you take my family, my possessions, and ultimately my health?” So John the Baptist’s disciples come across Jesus to finally unveil the mystery of God’s plan for it. Here’s the answer that Jesus gives.
You will witness signs in your life. The blind will be able to see. The lame will be able to walk. The deaf will be able to hear. The faithless will now believe.
The signs that we see as Christian people might not seem as dramatic but rest assured they are there.
Tim Zingale tells the following story: Some years back a small church like this one was gathering for a morning Bible study. They were discussing trying to find God’s presence in the world. Finally, someone pipes up “If God would take one of the towns down and outers and change that person overnight, it would do more to convince us of his presence than anything I can think of.”
The Pastor finally remarks “What about Bob?”
Bob had previously been as bad an alcoholic as anyone had ever seen. Bob had drunk himself out of a job, out of a family, out of the respect of every single person in town. People would turn the other way when they saw Bob coming. One day though a new Methodist minister comes to town who because he seemingly didn’t know any better struck up a friendship with Bob. The new minister finally convinces Bob to go to AA Meetings, and Bob got sober. Three years later, Bob was back working again, Bob had reconciled with his family, and back in church. Within a decade, Bob was a leader in the community and lay preacher in his church.
God was at work in Bob’s life, performing a miracle no different than blind being able to see or the lame being able to walk. This miracle was slow in unfolding, so people missed it. But God had performed a miracle in Bob’s life in every way imaginable.
Bob’s story reminds us that often all we have to grasp onto as people of faith are signs that the world’s eventual redemption is on the horizon, even if it is not here yet.
Bob’s story should cause us reflection as we consider the meaning of this Advent season. What do we anticipate as Christian people or better yet what should we anticipate as we get ready for Christmas day?
What we should do as Christian people is long for God’s promises to come true, even when every card in the world seems to be stacked against us in the present moment.
Rev. Dr. David Leninger tells the following story:
“A few years ago in Reader’s Digest, a lady reported searching for the perfect birthday card for her husband. She came across a promising one. On the outside, it read: “Sweetheart, you’re the answer to my prayers.” Then she turned to the inside, which was inscribed like this: “You’re not what I prayed for exactly, but apparently you are the answer.”
John’s Prayers for Freedom in this lifetime were not going to be answered within the walls of his prison cell. People will call out during this holiday season a longing for a different type of existence.
During these times we remember Jesus’ words from our Gospel lesson: “And blessed is anybody who does not get tripped up on me.” Blessed are those who like John the Baptist even as they wait in their prison cells do not stumble because of their impatience. My point isn’t this morning that good Christian people in this life will never get impatient.
Impatience in the case of John the Baptist or in your own life isn’t always a bad thing. Impatience speaks to a passion for experiencing a whole different world from that which you previously know. I’d rather encounter a soul crying out than one who is apathetic that the world around them can truly change.
Advent is waiting for a miracle to take shape in the world around you. We long for a day when Ira and Milo can come to a relative peace over what is the best boat motor, when the Bobs within our community see their redemption story come to completion, when those lonely on this day come face to face with the source of love and acceptance. We long for the day when John the Baptist’s question of “Are you the Christ or shall we look for another?,” receives an answer with the sight of God’s new birth in our world. Word is this birth might be happening soon! Amen
 Matthew 14:1-12.
 Really good reflection on these issues written by Dr. Jeannie Miller-Clarkson entitled: “Bah Humbug! Three Reasons Some People Hate The Holidays.” The article is found on jeanniemillerclarkson.com published on December 3rd, 2016 and accessed on December 5th, 2016.
 Matthew 11:3.
 Allen, Ron. “Commentary on Matthew 11:2-11”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 11.Dec.2016. Web. Dec.6.2016.
 Paraphrase of Matthew 11:5.
 Zingale, Tim. “ What Do You Hear and See?” Sermon Central. Com. Jan.11.2002. Web. 7.Dec.2016.
 Zingale, Tim. “ What Do You Hear and See?”
 Zingale, Tim. “ What Do You Hear and See?”
 Leninger, Rev.Dr.David. “Are You The One?” SermonWriter.Com. 2004. Web. 5.Dec.2016. Leninger cites: Barbara Bartocci, “The Unexpected Answer,” Reader’s Digest, 9/84, pp. 87-88 for this analogy.
 Matthew 11:6
First Lesson: Isaiah 11: 1-10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19
Second Lesson: Romans 15: 4-13
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 3: 1-12
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Homer Simpson was mad! Homer being irresponsible like always, was late bringing the garbage to the curb for pick up. Homer then gets angry as the sanitation workers drive off, then refused to be swayed to turn around at Homer’s outburst. Homer refers to the garbage men as nothing but “trash-eating stink bags.” Springfield Sanitation wasn’t going to pick up Homer Simpson’s trash any more off after this.
Homer Simpson was not one quick to learn a lesson. Homer was never going to apologize for his insults. Homer vows to run for political office to be the new Sanitation Commissioner of Springfield. Homer being known by friends and neighbors as nothing more than a local “hot-head” figures to be a long shot against a beloved public servant in Ray Patterson. Homer Simpson though figured out something important about human psychologically that we love giving people our responsibilities .“Can’t someone else do it?” becomes Homer’s campaign slogan.
Homer was going to reinvent the sanitation workers by bringing round the clock garbage service to the town. Homer was going to see to it that the sanitation workers would be able to remove every smelly diaper at the snap of a finger. Homer’s promises lead to a landslide victory. The start of Homer’s time as Garbage Commissioner is a smashing success. Homer begins to deliver on everything promised. The people of Springfield love Homer Simpson until he blows through the yearly garbage budget in thirty days. Let’s just say Homer Simpson’s big promise of “Can’t someone else do it? Led to the whole town of Springfield being a stinky, mess from which it could never recover.
Homer Simpson’s catchphrase of“Can’t someone else do it?”, certainly has its appeal. The other week, I was in my garage after some of our cold weather. I start up my car only to see the low tire pressure light is on. So what I was going to need to do is drive across town to Leblanc’s, bend down in freezing weather, unscrew the valve caps, and fill the tires up. Doing this had about as much appeal as chipping ice from one’s driveway . I understand “Can’t someone else do it?” certainly having its appeal especially when it comes to religious obligations.
Let me tell a third story, some years ago; there was a gentleman living in a small town on the North Dakota prairie. His alarm goes off at 7:00 AM on a February morning. The gentleman looks outside. The wind is whipping. The temperature is supposed to reach zero on that day maybe. He was planning on going to church that day. There weren’t going to be all that many people there, though. The ones who would show would be kind of weird. The simplest thing to do would go back to bed and miss church that day. 7:15 rolls around, his wife comes into the room. “Honey, honey, you need to get up or else you will be late for church.” The man said, “It’s too cold, I’m not going.” Only for his wife to say “You have to go, Honey, you’re the Pastor.”
What these stories of trash-collecting, cold-weather troubles, and even going to church remind us of are the following that life is going to full of moments where we’re going to be asked to take on tasks that we might not find all that glamorous. The type of tasks that we wish someone else would do for us.
Let me tell you the story today of someone who specialized in doing some of the most unpleasant tasks in life. John the Baptist stood out in a crowd and according to most people not in a good way. The scriptures note John’s strange wardrobe and even stranger diet of wild honey and locusts. Seriously, who wants a preacher that eats bugs without shame? Nothing, John the Baptist did in life was easy. Did John seek to live in the cosmopolitan Jerusalem? No. John the Baptist lived off the grid far away from people. John the Baptist had no formal theological education. John the Baptist didn’t even have a real appealing message preaching nothing but doom, gloom, and baptism. What made John the Baptist stand out though is he had conviction like no one else, even to the point of losing his life.
Something surprising happened to John as he began preaching, he starts attracting followers from all over. In fact, when Jesus was gathering his “disciples,” Jesus choose two of John’s closest followers to be his own (John 1:35). Someone sitting in 1st Century Judea could have come up with a long list of reasons not to listen to John the Baptist; only the Gospel has John the Baptist advancing Jesus’ ministry on Earth like no one else.
Today, we will gather for two important events in the life of our congregation as we not only baptize Everly but receive new members into our fold. Today we as a congregation make a series of promises to walk alongside and support Everly and our new members in the years ahead. Our natural inclination is to think like Homer Simpson that there is someone better than us for this task. What the story of John the Baptist reminds us is that there is no one better than us for the task then who God puts in place to complete it.
Carey Nieuwhof who is a Christian author writes about the challenges facing Christian churches in the 21st century. Nieuhoff writes that the churches that thrive in the 21st century will not necessarily be the ones with the best sermons. People can turn on the T.V. or Internet to find more great preaching and often greater entertainment. Instead, the churches that thrive are going to be the ones that elevate relationships with each and every person that walks into their doors from the youngest infant to the wisest old man.
There is truth to the saying that people are more connected than ever, but also more disconnected than ever.
So what do we want for Everly and our other new members on this day? We want them to embrace a faith that can bring them hope when seemingly nothing but darkness surrounds them in life. We want them to cling to the faith of the promises of Baptism that John the Baptist proclaimed to those who came to see him in the wilderness. We realize this faith will be supported by those closest to Everly who promise to walk alongside her on this day. We (not anybody else) have to be ones to do this to avoid the church becoming nothing but a stinky mess. We have the power to change the world around us often in ways we cannot begin to fathom.
Malcolm Gladwell tells the following story. In 1995, Hush Puppies the classic suede shoe was on the verge of extinction. A mere 30,000 pairs a year were being sold in small family stores and Wolverine the parent company considered them no longer economically viable to produce. Then something strange happened, a couple of company executives received word that their shoe had become hip again in Downtown Manhattan. Retailers who would have never considered Hush Puppies were now selling Hush Puppies. They soon received word that trendsetters couldn’t get enough of Hush Puppies. Pretty soon, prominent fashion designers wanted to incorporate hushpuppies into their shows. By the end of 1995, sales of Hush Puppies were up 14 fold to 430,000 per year. By the end of 1996, Hush Puppies sales had increased another 400% to well over a million and a half pairs sold. In 1997, sales increased yet again. What happened is some time before the Hush Puppies explosion, a few kids in the East Village of Manhattan dared to be different, just like John the Baptist. These kids were going to preach a word that no one else dared to preach. The word of Hush Puppies would soon spread like wildfire. What the tale of Hush Puppies illustrates is how ordinary people no different than you and me possess power to influence others beyond what you can even imagine.
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”-Matthew 3:12.
Just think a simple, uneducated country preacher named John in a land far away from this one many years ago starting preaching Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. John’s Baptism like “Hush Puppies” began to spread without explanation. John’s followers would soon become Jesus’ followers who would proclaim a “new baptism” promising “life eternal.” This Baptism comes to Sychar, Today.
As we baptize Everly on this day, we remember that Baptism like Advent is about the future, not the present. Plenty of churches don’t get Baptism because they judge it on account of what they see today. Baptism doesn’t become a reality until the day of Resurrection.
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?..For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”-Romans 6:3,5.
Infants don’t seem to be the best testimony to God’s ability to change the world until we see a little, lowly crying infant lying in a manager. It is infants like these through whom God brings salvation to his people. Amen
 “Trash of the Titans.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.11. Sept.2016. Web. Nov.29.2016. “Trash of the Titans” is the 22nd episode of season 9 of The Simpsons originally airing on April 26, 1998.
 Trash of the Titans.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
 Trash of the Titans.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
 I believe that I heard this anecdote at Olivet Lutheran in Fargo, sometime when I was a student at Concordia College.
 Matthew 3:4.
 Mark 6:14-29.
 Matthew 3:5.
 Nieuwhof, Carey. Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.The reThink Group, INC. Charlotte, NC. 2016. Print.P.119
 Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Back Bay Books of Little, Brown and Company. New York. 2013. Print (2000). P.3-5.
First Lesson: Isaiah 2: 1-5
Responsive Reading: Psalm 122
Second Lesson: Romans 13: 11-14
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 24: 36-44
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”-Matthew 24:42
Let me begin this morning with a story told by Tim Zingale. There once was a school superintendent inspecting one of the district’s high school classrooms. The room was a mess! Desks were unorganized! Stray papers lay all over the room! The Superintendent was going to take action to remedy the situation. The Superintendent stands before the classroom with the following promise: “I want each of you to keep your desks clean throughout this school year. One day, I will come back to your classroom. When I do come back, the person with the neatest desk will receive this as he held up a hundred dollar bill. The kids all gasped. Here’s the thing the Superintendent said: “You will not know the day, your teacher will not know the day, nor will your principal know the day.”
The children hear the Superintendent’s promise and get excited. They immediately get to work cleaning out their desks. The Superintendent’s offer was the talk of the lunch room for the next week. When will he come back? The excitement of the Superintendent’s return did not last. Pretty soon, a few boys were getting frustrated. They had already spent the hundred dollars in their minds several times over. The Superintendent never came. These boys then figured the effort of keeping their desks clean wasn’t worth it. Week by week, student after student was gradually losing faith in the Superintendent’s return. Pretty soon, things in this classroom were pretty much back to the way they were before the Superintendent’s visit except for one girl that we’ll call Amanda.
Amanda day after day kept straightening her desk before going home for the night. If she had a few minutes before lunch, she would tidy up a bit. When Amanda’s classmates would make fun of her for her obsessive ways, she would just proclaim “He’s coming back.” Amanda’s classmates thought that if the Superintendent hadn’t come back by now that he was never coming back. He probably forgot about his promise they said. Amanda believed that the Superintendent would keep his word when no one else would.
The school year had eight days left; then there was a knock on the door. The Superintendent barges into the classroom. The kids are shocked. He starts inspecting the desks with seemingly each one just as messy as upon his previous visit. Finally, the Superintendent comes upon Amanda’s desk in spotless condition and into Amanda’s hand he places a hundred dollar bill.
Picture the story of Amanda and the Superintendent this morning. Now let’s talk about Today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 24. Jesus was talking to his followers about his upcoming exit from this world before his eventual return. Here is why Jesus gives his followers a sermon about the end of the world.
Jesus knew the people would be fickle. Jesus knew that they would be like Amanda’s classmates in that they would quickly give up hope when he didn’t immediately return. People reacting this way was going to be easy as they were probably going to witness all kinds of nasty things in their lifetime: violence, sin, and ultimately death.
Here’s the point in our lesson that Jesus is seeking to remind his closest of followers. You have/will see me come through in the Resurrection, I do keep my promises. I will return at My Second Coming and it will change everything.
In 2011, The Chicago Cubs finished at 71-91. The Cubs were twenty-five games out of first place. The Cubs were in a 103-year drought without a World Series Championship. Cubs’ fans were like Amanda’s classmates and had every reason to doubt that the Cubs just like the Superintendent would ever come through. The Cubs hire a new Club President in Theo Epstein. Here’s the thing that you should know about Theo Epstein, Epstein’s previous job was the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox. Epstein had put together a Red Sox team that won a World Series after a mere 86-year drought. What does Theo Epstein first do as he takes over the Chicago Cubs? He decides the team needs to trade some of their better players, to get younger ones. Epstein knew that the Cubs needed to sacrifice short-term success to achieve victory in the long run. In Epstein’s first season in 2012, The Cubs lose 101 games, finishing 36 games out of first place. Theo Epstein and owner Tom Ricketts kept preaching patience. You would think the fans would be irritated at Theo Epstein for losing so many games then demanding patience; only they weren’t.
Ricketts described Cubs fans as such “honestly, 19 out of like 20 people were just supportive…What I realized through the process was, those types of people that I talked to in the crowd, they were giving me support and helping me stick to the plan. …The fans staying with the team through some pretty lean years deserve all the credit.”
We know the rest of Theo Epstein’s story, 2016 Chicago Cubs win 101 games, the best team in baseball and after 108 years win the World Series.
The point Jesus is making to his earliest of followers today is much like the point that Theo Epstein was making to Cubs’ fans that no matter how many games that you’ve lost, I have a plan, and I have come through before and I will come through again.
Being able to see the world regarding God’s long-range vision for the world can ultimately change how you see even the seemingly most hopeless circumstances of your life.
John Zahl tells the following story. Zahl belonged to a Bible Study in New York. Every week the group would pray for each other. One of the members of the group was named Tom. Tom had the same prayer request every week. Tom hated his job and wanted prayers that God would give him a new one. So week after week for two years, the group would pray that Tom would find a new job. One day, everything would change for Tom as a new member Dan joined the group. Dan gets up to pray for Tom and prays the following.
“Dear Lord, we thank you for Tom’s current job. Help him to accept that this is the place You have currently chosen for him. Show him how he can be helpful there and, if it be Your will, provide him with a new opportunity when the time is right. Amen.”
The room was silent. Everyone in the Bible study knew that Dan’s words were what Tom needed to hear. A few weeks later, Tom’s life would change! Tom’s boss calls desperately needing his help with an emergency presentation. Tom helps, his boss is grateful for his assistance. Tom’s boss begins to open up to him about some concerns within his life; Tom is able to be a supportive listener. His boss then thanks Tom for his presence on that night. Tom through this encounter begins to feel for the first time in a long time that his current station in life might, in fact, be a part of God’s plan for him. A few months later, possessing a new spiritual perspective Tom receives an offer for a new job.
Here’s why situations like Tom’s are so difficult for us as people. We want clear answers every day of our life. To hear that our situations require faith isn’t easy. A man one day went to see Mother Theresa of Calcutta. Mother Theresa asked if she could do anything for him. The man requested that Mother Theresa pray for him just like the Bible Study group would pray for Tom. His prayer request wasn’t a new job but rather clarity or clear answers regarding God’s purpose and plan for his life. Mother Theresa said she couldn’t pray for clarity as she never had it, Mother Theresa could only pray for trust that no matter what storms surrounded this man that he had trust that his God would come through for him in the end.
“But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”- Romans 8:25
The Prayer of Mother Theresa is by no means an easy one to pray. Let me close by telling you the story of a person who knew this prayer like no one else in Martin Rinkert. Rinkert was raised in the German town of Eislenberg nearly four-hundred years ago as the son of a poor coopersmith. Young Martin though sought a different career path as a minister. In 1617, Rinkert received an appointment to be Minister in his hometown. But soon “All Hell broke loose around Him” as the Thirty Years War began. The Thirty Years War brought all sorts of bloodshed to Europe especially Germany. German cities would see 90% of their population die as a result of either war or plague. In the thirty years of Martin Rinkert’s Ministry, he would end up burying 8000 people including his wife. Everywhere Martin Rinkert looked he could see nothing but horror around him. How did Martin Rinkert respond to this destruction? Did he curse the Spanish every day? Did he lose his faith? No, Martin Rinkert became a hymn writer. Rinkert penned perhaps the most famous Thanksgiving hymn ever in “Now Thank We All Our God.” What exactly did Martin Rinkert have to be thankful? How could Martin Rinkert preserve in the face of such circumstances?
Martin Rinkert was able to be guided in life by a vision. Rinkert was able to distinguish from the present age of death from the age of resurrection that was to come. Martin Rinkert, like Amanda, was able to cling to the hope of return no matter what everyone else around them thought. Martin Rinkert, like Chicago Cubs fans, believed that the guy in charge had come through before and would soon come through again no matter how painful the present might be. Martin Rinkert, like Tom who hated his job, was able to see that his present circumstances would not define the future reality of the resurrection. Martin Rinkert, like Mother Theresa, would never receive total clarity in this life, but could go forth with trust in God’s plan in even the midst of despair. The key ingredient in all these stories is that patience does indeed pay off. Jesus’ point to his followers today is there will be times when it will be easy to lose faith. You might indeed wonder whether the apocalypse will ever come. What Jesus is telling his Disciples is that your now will not define your not yet. Christmas is four weeks from Today! Gifts will soon be opened! These gifts will include forgiveness, eternal life, and maybe even a hundred dollar bill! Amen
 Zingale, Tim. “Be Ready”. Sermon Central.com. November 2007. Web. 16.Nov.2016.
 Zingale, Tim. “Be Ready”.
 Zingale, Tim. “Be Ready”.
 Matthew 24:36-44.
 Allen, Ron. “Commentary on Matthew 24:36-44.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 27. Nov.2016. Web. Nov.16.2016..
 CBS 2 Chicago. “Tom Ricketts Recalls Why He Hired Theo Epstein Originally: ‘Living Year To Year Wasn’t Going To Change The Prospects.” Taken from interview on Mully and Hanley show airing on 670 The Score out of Chicago. 29.Sept.2016. Web. Nov.18.2016.
 Zahl, John. “Brand New Book and an Advent Sermon by John Zahl.” MBIRD (Mockingbird Ministries).02.Dec.2015. Web. Nov.18.2016.
 Zahl, John. “Brand New Book and an Advent Sermon by John Zahl.”
 Zahl, John. “Brand New Book and an Advent Sermon by John Zahl.”
 Davis, Kevin. “#692 Behind the Song With Kevin Davis:’ Trust in You’ by Lauren Daigle.” New Release Today. Web. Nov.22.2016.
First Lesson: Isaiah 65: 17-25
Responsive Reading: Psalm 98
Second Lesson: 2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13
Gospel Lesson: Luke 21: 5-19
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
In 1912, a ship named the RMS Titanic began its maiden voyage. The Titanic was the largest ship of its day. The Titanic was nearly three football field long, one-hundred feet tall and ninety feet wide. The Titanic was capable of carrying over thirty-five hundred people. It possessed a staircase that ascended four stories. The Titanic was able to sail faster than any other ship in its day. The Titanic cost $7.5 million dollars to build which Today would cost nearly half a billion dollars. When the Titanic set out for sail, passengers, crew members, and the ship’s designers believed the Titanic to be unsinkable. The maiden voyage set off with some of the wealthiest people in the world in its day as passengers. We know how the maiden voyage turned out.
11:40 PM on April 14, 1912, the Titanic strikes an iceberg, by 2:20 AM the world’s most indestructible ship plunges to into the ocean and over fifteen-hundred people perish along with the ship. The unthinkable had happened. People were left searching for answers in the aftermath.
The story of the Titanic leads us to a similar event that took place in the life of some of Jesus’ earliest followers. 70 AD: The greatest structure that Jesus’ followers had ever seen in their life would fall to the ground. The destruction was so thorough that the marvelous structure transforms into merely a pile of rubber. Today’s Gospel Lesson from Luke 21 begins to tell this story.
Jesus’ disciples had been bragging up in his presence what they thought to be the most impressive structure they had even seen in The Second Temple or Herod’s Temple. Here are three things to know about Herod’s Temple.
So what does Jesus say in the wake of the Disciples bragging up the Temple.
“As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”- Luke 21:6.
Our Gospel lesson has Jesus predicting the most inconceivable of outcomes with the Temple collapsing. Jesus’ prediction throws the Disciples for a loop. They ask Jesus “So this must mean the world is ending when the mighty Temple collapses?”
Jesus instead is making another point here today rather than predicting the end of the world; Jesus is instead imploring believers how they should respond to the most challenge circumstances within their lives.
Two major events have occurred in the past two weeks. Last week, The Chicago Cubs won the World Series after a one-hundred and eight-year drought.
You see many people believed the Cubs to be cursed because, in 1945, a Cubs fan named William Sianis was bringing his pet goat to the World Series. Sianis’ goat’s smell was bothering other people and was asked to leave. Sianis got so mad at the Cubs he supposedly placed a curse upon them that they would never play in the World Series ever again. While a billy goat curse would seem crazy at a time, it would take 71 years to disprove the curse. What this story highlights is something important that natural human instinct is to rush to judgment. It’s easy to assign the Cubs blame to a fictional curse rather than mismanagement or bad luck. When you believe something to be cursed, you’re unable to see in disappointing situations any sort of hope.
The second big event took place on Tuesday during our election. People were claiming the world to be ending or the world in the process of being made whole once again.
The reality of the election though was best summed up by Karoline Lewis who said: “The World will still be broken regardless of the outcome of any election.”
I think events like elections while important shouldn’t lead us to apocalypticism. We shouldn’t go around proclaiming the sky is going to fall at any moment as people of faith.
People of faith have been interpreting their circumstances to predict the end is near for 2000 years. Everyone of these predictions has been wrong. What people often claim to be the end, merely points people to God’s role in human history.
Jesus knew that his followers were going to witness history changing moments in their lifetime. One of these moments was going to be The Temple collapsing at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD. Jesus uses the Temple, as an illustration, to drive home the point that such events were not the end but rather merely a struggle of human life that all of his followers would experience.
Let me tell a story this morning that serves as a mini-confession. One time, when I was living in Fargo after college, I got a speeding ticket in Moorhead. I hardly had a cent to my name at the time. So I did what any irresponsible young adult would do and didn’t pay the ticket. A couple of months had passed when I get a letter from the Minnesota DMV saying my failure to pay was going to get my license taken away for 30 days. The following was a situation that required immediate action in a trip down to the DMV office in Saint Paul with a check immediately in hand then needing to beg for mercy from the official on duty. There’s a difference in life though between situations like this that require immediate action and the world ending. If I had lost my driver’s license, it would have been a problem, yet life would have eventually gone on.
Now let’s look at the most extreme situations of life. In our lesson for today, Jesus paints a scary picture for the lives of believers. The picture he paints is more terrifying that anyone we know is likely to experience. His followers would be arrested, they would be persecuted, and some would even be executed. They would be left searching for answers in these trials of life.
Hillary Scott is the lead singer of a very popular Country music band Lady Antebellum. Hillary Scott awhile back had received what she thought was the best news in the world “She was soon going to give birth to her second child.”
Fall of 2015, Scott finds out that she had suffered a miscarriage. She is heartbroken. Thoughts of the loss overwhelm her day after day. She wonders like anyone would “Why God Why?”. As Scott kept reflecting upon the loss, she kept hearing, again and again, the famous passage in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy Will be done.” Scott’s reflection eventually found meaning in the loss in that it caused her to become a different mom to her other daughter to ultimately hug her tighter.
As you hear stories like Hillary Scott’s, you can’t help but think of the words from Romans 8.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”- Romans 8:28
What Jesus is seeking to proclaim to the Disciples today is that meaning can be found in even the darkest moments of one’s life.
Let me close with the following story from the Titanic. John Harper became a preacher at the age of 17. Harper soon starts a mission church, gets married, has a daughter named “Nana,” and becomes a widow. John Harper and Nana board the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Harper immediately after striking the “iceberg” recognizes that the ship is going down. Harper rushes Nana to a lifeboat. While Harper could have easily gotten on with Nana, he merely kisses her and says “I will see you again someday.”
Harper begins trying to gather other woman and children to safety upon lifeboats. Due to a shortage of lifeboats, many people including John Harper were thrown overboard as the ship began plunging into the ocean. Harper doesn’t seek out safety, though; Harper keeps swimming to person after person preaching salvation to everyone that he encountered.
John Harper encountered one man who didn’t possess a life jacket; Harper tosses him his jacket hoping to give him a few more minutes of life. Harper swims away only to come back later and preach the Gospel. Finally, a lifeboat comes and saves this young man. John Harper kept swimming and swimming that night preaching and preaching, his body though finally gave out in the frigid Atlantic waters and his last recorded words were “Believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”
Four years later, The following young man to whom Harper gave his life jacket would stand before a Titanic survivors meeting proclaiming that on the night the mighty ship went under that John Harper gave him life not only in this world, but also the world that is to come.
Here’s something really interesting though about John Harper’s story. Nearly three times prior in his life had he almost drowned, each and every one of these times though he survived. John Harper nearly saw his world end on numerous occasions, yet he kept preserving and kept clinging to hope.
Here’s the point that Jesus was making to the Disciples and John Harper’s story tells us. There will be times when you feel the world around you might be ending. There will be times when you feel yourself cursed and feel tempted to abandon all hope. There will be times when you might struggle with finding God’s will in the trying circumstances. The world will not end on other people’s terms. The world will not end through destruction at the hands of any government. The world will only end when Christ Jesus stands before us. When Christ Jesus declares in the face of your adversaries “But not a hair of your head will perish.” Our world will not end with horror and destruction, but our world will only end with hope and resurrection. Amen
 Pratte, David. E. “Lessons from the Titanic”. Gospel Way. 1999. Web. Nov.7.2016.
 Luke 21:5-19.
 Sommerville, Jim. “ Twenty Six-Sunday After Pentecost.” A Sermon for Every Sunday. 13.Nov.2016. Web. Nov.7.2016.
 “The Curse of the Billy Goat.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.8.Nov.2016. Web. Nov.8.2016.
 Lewis, Karoline. “Saying What We See.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 6.Nov.2016. Web. Nov.7.2016.
 Ruiz, Gilbert. “Commentary on Luke 21:5-19.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 6.Nov.2016. Web. Nov.7.2016.
 Whitaker, Sterling. “Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott Reveals Miscarriage Heartbreak Inspired ‘Thy Will’. “ Taste of Country. 20.Jun.2016. Web. Nov.8.2016.
 Whitaker, Sterling. “Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott Reveals Miscarriage Heartbreak Inspired ‘Thy Will’
 Romans 8:28.
 Young, Tina H.. “A True Story of the Titanic.” Stanford University NCBC College Ministry. 2000. Web. Nov.7.2016. Young bases her article on a 1997 article from Moody Press titled “The Titanic’s Last Action Hero.”
 Acts 16:31
 Young, Tina. H. “A True Story of the Titanic.”
 Luke 21:18.
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.