Sunday, May 22, 2005

Psalm 135:5-7,13-18 - “Don’t Let Heidi Talk You into Going After Bling-Bling Instead of Sticking with the Real Game”

Holy Trinity (Year A - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22, 2005
Written with the help of the 1st annual Men’s Retreat: Chris Ausprung, David Bowman, Basil Buchko, Todd Goedeke, Don Hafeman, Don Hafeman Sr., Paul Keup, Brian Kling, Patrick LaCosse, Duane Thews, and Tom Weber

Psalm 135 was written to help us worship God. Today we gather in this place to praise God, to thank Him for everything He gives us. Praise God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, the Three in One, three persons, one God, an incredible mystery but a teaching that reminds us what a wondrous God we have. Praise God for sending Jesus to save us from our sins, to give us eternal life. Praise God for this congregation of believers. Praise God for another school year of Christian education here at Redeemer. Praise God for Camp LuWiSoMo where youth get to experience God in the beauty of His creation. It’s a wonderful day to come together, hear God’s Word, sing to God, pray to God, and celebrate the love of God.

The men who went on last weekend’s Men’s Retreat chose Psalm 135 as today’s sermon text, because they want you to praise God, to worship God, to know what a wonderful God we have and raise your hearts in celebration of our God.

So let’s worship God today. . .but you know, as well as the Men’s Retreat guys do, that there’s going to be distractions. There’s going to be things that will distract you from praising God, make you lose focus, make you forget why we’re gathered here today. No matter how much concentration we have, it seems we have trouble focusing on God.

Of course, I suppose that shouldn’t surprise us. I’ve even heard of people getting distracted when they’re watching football. . . .

The New York Jets vs. the Oakland Raiders. November 17, 1968. The Jets kicked a field goal to take the lead, 32 to 29, with 1 minute and five seconds left.

That’s when NBC switched over from football and started the made-for-TV movie of Heidi about the pig-tailed, yodeling, Alpine goat-herding girl. While Heidi watched her goats, what wasn’t on TV was the last minute of the Jets-Raiders game. In that last minute, the Raiders scored 14 points in an explosive comeback win.

The NBC switchboard was knocked out of commission from the flood of angry phone calls. NBC apologized the next day, and from then on, changed how they would handle football games that went late. However, the damage was already done. Forever known as the Heidi Game, it is an incredible example in sports history of an against-the-odds comeback, and a standing example of not taking your eyes off the ball, so to speak. NBC lost their focus, switching to a movie when they could’ve been televising an incredible conclusion to a great football game.

Heidi (doll) talked NBC out of sticking with the real game (football).

The men who went on the retreat saw a connection between the story of the Heidi Game and Psalm 135. Psalm 135 leads us to worship the true God, putting our focus entirely on Him, only looking to Him for help and peace and salvation. Yet, Psalm 135 was written for the Israelities who often lost their focus, wandered away from the true God. Psalm 135 reminds the reader that if you start worshipping idols, things made from gold and silver, things made by people, then you’ve lost your focus.

Just like how Heidi (doll) talked NBC out of sticking with (football) the football game, so, too, idols (idol) will try to talk us out of sticking with the true God (Bible).

So that’s why today the Men’s Retreat say to you: don’t let Heidi talk you into going after bling-bling instead of sticking with the real game.

If your relationship with God, your worship of the Lord is like that football game, just remember that there’s going to be things like Heidi> that are going to seem more important, more urgent, that will try to get you to throw the switch, change from football to a movie, change from the true God to an idol, change from a focus on Jesus to a focus on. . .something else.

For Israel, their Heidi was the idols of the other nations. The other nations had all of these idols made out of gold and silver, little statues, big statues, intricate, beautiful pieces of work, things that seemed to have so much power and could impress the socks off of you. The Israelites saw these idols, and they threw the switch, they took the movie over the football game.

What’s your idol? What’s your Heidi? What’s tempting you away from sticking with the real game? Well, during the Men’s Retreat, we decided one distraction that many of us struggle with is bling-bling. That’s a phrase used in Hip Hop or rap music that’s now fairly common. Bling-bling refers to all of the flashy jewelry, clothes, and other things that you might want to show off. Bling-bling has now just come to mean our material possessions. Your house, your car, your computer, your stereo system, or your credit cards (pull out props for each), it’s pretty easy to get caught up in thinking that those things are the most important in your life. They’re bling-bling. They’re flash. They’re idols—just in a different form, and they’ll take you away from the real game if you let them be a distraction.

The writer of Psalm 135 knew that the readers were distracted by all of those idols. Verses 1-14 are all about praising God, the God who made the heavens and the earth and everything in them, the God who saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the God who gave His people the Promised Land. All of these verses, all of these reminders to the people about why they should be praising God, and yet, starting in verse 15, the writer knows he has to tell the people to stop thinking about those stupid idols.

“The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
made by the hands of men.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but they cannot see;
they have ears, but cannot hear,
nor is there breath in their mouths.”

It seems like verses 1-14 of Psalm 135 should’ve had everyone very focused on the true God. It doesn’t seem like the writer should’ve have had to go back to telling the people that those idols were worthless. I mean, those Israelites must have been really easily distracted, easily led astray, easily caught up in other things. Those Israelites sure needed the warning: don’t let Heidi talk you into going after bling-bling instead of sticking with the real game. Yeah, they needed that warning back then. . .Psalm 135 was written for them. . .

You and me, we’re doing OK, though. We come here to church ready to sing praise to God. (organ plays first line of the hymn of the day strongly, then quietly continues. Out in pews. . .) “Oh, that’s one of my favorite hymns. I love it. We used to use it all of the time at the Seminary in St. Louis. Hmm, St. Louis, it was always so nice there in the spring, warm, the flowers blooming so early. I really need to get working on my yard. I wish I had a better looking yard. If I had all the money in the world, I’d hire a gardener or two, get rid of all of those weeds. My lawn would be the pride of the block!”

Look at that: Heidi just talked me into going after bling-bling instead of sticking with the real game! I started off thinking about the hymn, a song praising God, but that quickly led to thinking about St. Louis, flowers, and wanting to have the best yard. That’s how our sinful minds work. We get easily distracted. We can turn a beautiful hymn of praise into a reason to be jealous of someone else’s stuff. Bling-bling is never far away. Material possessions, that’s our idol, and even when we know how great our God is, still we’re tempted to choose the bling-bling. Just like how the writer of Psalm 135 knew that 14 verses of praising God wasn’t going to mean that the people weren’t still distracted by idols, so, too, I guess we all should know that 35 minutes of a worship service doesn’t mean we can’t still be distracted by our idols, by the material possessions we’re worried about getting and keeping and showing off.

So you might find the Israelites kind of silly for worshipping idols that couldn’t speak or see or hear or breathe, but we’re not so different. The men on the retreat last weekend realized they weren’t so different. That’s why we’re warning you today: don’t let Heidi talk you into going after bling-bling instead of sticking with the real game.

Now, it’s still going to happen; we’re going to get distracted from praising God. But that’s why we come together here in church. If I sit at home or in the woods or wherever and try to praise God, I’m very likely to quit after a few minutes. I mean, there’s other things to think about, other things to work on. But if we come together, then we’re here to encourage one another to praise God, to listen to God, to focus for this one hour, to focus on the salvation we have in Jesus.

That’s why we have education classes—Sunday School and Bible studies—because on my own, I might read the Bible for a little bit, but there’s always more work to do on the house, more bling-bling to go out and buy. But if we come together, then we’re here to encourage one another to learn about God, to know why we praise Him, to focus on Him while we read the Bible, discuss it, study it, remember the words of God.

You see, I don’t mind that we take a break during the summer, a break from education classes here at Redeemer. I think it does us good to have a break, making us eager to come back again in the fall. I think it matches our rhythm of life to have a break in the summer.

But as your pastor, I got to wonder if Heidi will talk you into going after bling-bling instead of sticking with the real game. This summer will you lose your focus on God, focusing instead on the cottage up north, the fishing hole, the races, the fun in the sun, the summer job? As your pastor, I don’t want you to lose your focus, because I don’t want you to choose a worthless idol over the true God. I don’t want you to forget about the wondrous God we have. I don’t want you to forget that you’ve been baptized into the Name of the Trinity, into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, that you’re a part of God’s family.

I’m concerned about that, and the men from the retreat are concerned about that. I saw how those men have hearts for God and hearts for you, not wanting this congregation to lose focus on the true God. That bling-bling will do you no good when it comes to eternal life, and the men from the retreat want you to have what you need for eternal life: Jesus Christ.

God forgives you for your distracted mind, the way that you forget about Him, the way you go after idols, the way you lose focus instead of praising Him. God forgives you for all of that. I mean, the death of Jesus on the cross paid for all of our sins, even our sins of weak faith.

But now I want you by the power of the Holy Spirit to use the rest of this time today in worship to focus on praising God. As Psalm 135 says, “I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods.”

Our Lord is great, so let’s use the rest of this time together in worship to hear how great our God is and to praise our God. Let me just walk through the rest of the parts of the worship service, helping us all to be prepared to focus on praising God instead of getting distracted.

Our Lord is great, which is why we’ll soon stand and declare our faith in Him in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. That’s the time to focus and realize how incredible the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are.

Our Lord is great, which is why we give our offerings to Him. We want to share what we’ve been given, so that the Word of God can continue to be taught in this place and around the world.

Our Lord is great, which is what I want you to focus on thinking about during the offering. It’s not a time to chat and show off your cool new cell phone. Don’t let Heidi talk you into going after bling-bling instead of sticking with the real game. No, use that time during the offering to focus on God, to remember what He’s given you, to pray for this congregation to use our gifts to share His Gospel.

Our Lord is great, which is why we bring our prayers to Him. We bring our prayers before God, because we know that He is almighty and can do the most incredible things. He promises to hear our prayers in the Name of Jesus.

Our Lord is great, which is why we hear the words of the Benediction, the blessing of God at the end of the service. In those words, God is telling us that He will always be with us, and that goes straight to our hearts, what a comfort to know that the Creator of the universe cares about each of us. Praise God for His blessing!

Our Lord is great, which is why we’ll end singing a hymn, raising a song to God’s Name, celebrating God with melody and harmony and voices and organ and words.

Finally, even as we leave today, our life together is one of praise. We praise God when we give offerings to Camp LuWiSoMo, again sharing what we have so that God’s Word can be taught. We praise God when we talk to one another, support one another, tell each other how much we care. When you tell someone that you are glad they’re here in church, that you hope to see them again, you’re praising God with your life. You’re telling that person that you want them to spend this time praising God with you, coming together to help each other focus on the real game, the true God.

Our Lord is great. His Name endures, lasts forever. All generations will know how wonderful our God is. And now for these moments, by the power of the Holy Spirit, may we know our Lord is great. For this summer, too, when our schedule around here changes, by the power of the Holy Spirit, may we remember that our Lord is great. Let us praise His holy Name!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

1 Peter 3:15-22 - "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

6th Sunday of Easter (Year A - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, April 30, and Sunday, May 1, 2005

A week ago, the RYMS went to Comedy City in Green Bay. Comedy City is an improv comedy club that has family-friendly shows. Competitive improv comedy pits two teams against each other, playing improv games where the players make up scenes, jokes, and gags on the spot—often using suggestions from the audience.

This kind of improv comedy has been made pretty popular due to Drew Carey’s TV show, Whose Line Is It Anyway? One of the games they play on the TV show is called, “Whose Line,” where two players have to act out a scene but every once in awhile they have pull a piece of paper out of their pocket and read the phrase written on it. They’ve never seen the phrase, the phrase is something made up by an audience member, and the player just has to work it into the conversation.

Well, believe it or not, when I was at Comedy City last Friday, thinking about improv comedy games, I was also thinking about 1 Peter chapter 3, because it’s there that Peter says, “Always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that you have.” That made me think of the “Whose Line” game. Being prepared to tell people about your faith, about the hope you have, is kind of like always having a sentence ready to go in your pocket.

So I asked 2 people to write down some sentences that I’ll use in trying to answer typical questions you might get about your faith. (Ask the people to bring the sentences forward). Now, I’ve never seen these sentences; I don’t know what they wrote.

Now, when someone asks about your church, what will you say? What’s your line? (Pull sentence from pocket. Saturday’s sentence was: “I’m happy to be here.” Sunday’s sentence was: “That was the best bean soup I’ve had all day.”) I’m not sure that that’s the best way to explain what your church is all about.

How about when someone asks why you can be hopeful even in tough times, what will you say then? What’s your line? (Pull sentence from pocket. Saturday’s sentence was: “My mother is always so busy, I have to make an appointment to see her, but that’s OK.” Sunday’s sentence was: “The hawk in the neighbor’s driveway appeared out of place.”) Again, there’s got be a better way to explain something about your faith in Jesus.

OK, that seems silly, because if someone asks you about your faith, you’re not going to just pull a random sentence out of your pocket to answer the question.

But maybe it’s not so silly. Why did Peter have to say, “Always be prepared to give the reason for the hope you have”? Why do we need that reminder?

Because I’m not sure we’re always so prepared. I’m not sure that we always know what to say when someone asks about our church, our hope, our faith in Jesus. Peter tells us to be prepared, because telling people about Jesus is something that we need to think about ahead of time. If you just wing it, make it up on the spot, you may just come up with something as random and strange and confusing as those sentences our volunteers gave me.

So, what should be our line? What should we tell people when they ask about our faith? Let’s talk about it, think about it; let’s get prepared. On the back side of the bulletin, you’ll see a place to start taking a few notes. Those notes are what you can stick in your pocket, what you can hang on your fridge or locker or above your workbench. You’ve got to keep reminding yourself of what you want people to know about Jesus, and then you’ll be prepared.

Let’s start with what Peter mentions in general in today’s reading. Peter reminds us that we have hope. He’s telling us to be prepared to talk about the hope we have. What’s that hope? The hope of forgiveness for our sins, forgiveness through Jesus Christ. The hope of life after death—because Jesus rose from the dead, we too will live a new life. That’s our hope. If we don’t mention how Jesus forgives us and gives us life after death, well, then we’re not mentioning what gives us hope, what makes our faith so important.

The only reason to encourage you to tell others about Jesus is because Jesus gives us hope. If Jesus didn’t give us hope, if Jesus didn’t forgive our sins, if Jesus didn’t promise that we will live forever if we believe in Him, then there’d be nothing to tell. Peter says, “Give reason for the hope you have.” That’s what we’re preparing to talk about—the hope.

So take that first question that you have on your bulletin, “When someone asks about your church, what will you say? What’s your line?” OK, if someone’s actually interested in hearing about your church, here’s a few things you should be prepared to say. #1 – the name of your church, which if you’re a member here means that your answer is “Redeemer Lutheran Church.” Write that down. It seems funny, but you’d be surprised how many people I meet, they tell me they go to church, but they can’t remember the name of their church, or sometimes even really where it is. So be prepared to name your church, where it is, and it’d be nice, but I suppose not necessary, if you’d remember the names of your pastors. That’s Miller, M-I-L-L-E-R, and Squires, S-Q-U-I-R-E-S.

#2 – more seriously now, if someone asks about your church, it’d be good to tell them a little bit about what happens—worship services, Bible classes, youth activities, preschool, community service. More than trying to cover it all, though, tell them about what you do at church, how you’re involved. If they’re asking you about your church, talk about what church is like for you. You don’t have to know every fact about the congregation in order to help someone understand something about your church.

#3 – after you’ve told the person a little bit about the congregation, here’s the important part, the part that Peter wanted us to prepared to say: the hope. No matter what kinds of questions someone has about your church, try to keep bringing it back to the hope we have in Jesus.

So they ask, “Why do you go to church?” You say, “Because it reminds me of the hope I have in Jesus.” “Why do you put up with the church telling you that you do bad things?” “Because my church also tells me that Jesus forgives me.” “Why is it so important to go to church each week? “Because I forget about the hope of forgiveness within minutes of leaving church. I need those reminders.”

You don’t want to be obnoxious about this. Peter himself says, “Do this with gentleness and respect.” But you don’t want someone walking away thinking that you just go to church, because they have nice flowers, it’s a pretty building, they have cookies after church, they have fun youth activities, or because you’re just supposed to go to church. You want someone to walk away from your conversation knowing that your church tells you about the hope of Jesus, that you find church important because of needing forgiveness from God, that there’s something truly hopeful about being at Redeemer Lutheran Church—and it’s more than just hoping that the service will be over soon.

So what’s your line? I don’t know. It’ll be different for every person in here, different in each situation you’re in. You can’t just keep one sentence in your pocket ready to go. However, I do know what your answer can have in it. If someone asks about your church, I know that you can tell them that our church preaches and teaches the hope we have in Jesus Christ, the hope of forgiveness and life after death. It comes down to three simple sentences: Jesus is my hope. Jesus forgives my sins. Jesus gives me life after death.

Let’s take the other question which is perhaps a more serious conversation, a question that might come when someone is going through something difficult. “When someone asks why you can be hopeful even in tough times, what will you say? What’s your line?”

#1 – this might seem obvious, but do admit that you go through tough times. If someone asks you how to get through tough times, don’t say, “Oh, my life is great. It’s never difficult.” Even if you really don’t feel like you’ve gone through much difficult stuff, don’t act as if your life is perfect and happy. You might have to say that you’ve never gone through the same tough thing, but at least admit that your life isn’t always easy.

#2 – don’t take the easy way out of the conversation. Someone asks you how you can have hope in a tough situation, and you might be tempted to say, “Oh, you know, you take it day by day, count your blessings, look on the bright side of life,” and leave it at that. While that might be true, if you have hope in Jesus, there’s more to it than that.

#3 – tell them that your hope comes from Jesus, knowing that He gives us life after death. No matter what happens in this life, there’s hope. Jesus wasn’t defeated by death on the cross, and He’s not going to be defeated by anything in your life—not even death.

So you tell someone that you have hope, because you’re not alone. Jesus promises that He’ll always be with us. You have hope, because there’s more to this life than trouble and pain. Jesus says that He will rescue us from this difficult life.

This may be really hard for someone to understand, because if they do not believe in life after death, if they struggle to believe in God, then their pain, trouble, or difficulty may seem like the ultimate problem, like their life is being ripped away and there’s nothing beyond this life. So you tell them about your hope with “gentleness and respect,” as Peter said. You don’t expect them to understand right away. Yet, you speak clearly that you are hopeful because of Jesus alone. You aren’t hopeful because you think you’re perfect, you deserve a reward, you’ve got an in with God, or anything like that. You have hope, because of Jesus alone. Again, get those three simple sentences in your notes. That’s what it comes down to: Jesus is my hope. Jesus forgives my sins. Jesus gives me life after death.

Well, I didn’t want you taking notes today just so that you’re ready to tell others about the hope we have. I also wanted you to take notes as a reminder to yourself. There is hope in Jesus.

I’ll admit it, and I think you would too, that it’s so easy to forget our hope, so easy to forget that we don’t have to prove ourselves to God—instead He simply forgives us, so easy to forget that the troubles of this life will not be able to take away the promise of life after death.

Because it’s easy to forget those things, I’m glad you wrote them down. Like I said, take your notes, put them in your pocket or on your fridge or your locker, desk, workbench, dashboard, someplace that you’ll see them this week. Make sure your notes are easy to read, that they clearly say: Jesus is my hope. Jesus forgives my sins. Jesus gives me life after death.

Jesus prepared me to speak those words to you today so that you would know the reason for the hope we have in Jesus. Now, Jesus has prepared you today so that you can go and tell others the reason for the hope we have in Jesus. What’s your line, what will you say when someone asks? It won’t be some random phrase that doesn’t make sense. Your line is clear: Jesus is my hope. Jesus forgives my sins. Jesus gives me life after death.