Sunday, October 30, 2011

Psalm 46 - “Medieval Knights”

Reformation Day (Year A)
Sunday, October 30, 2011

• (Repeat after me)
• Above the chaos
• God is with us
• God brings peace

• The theme for this year’s Gurnee Days was Medieval Knights—that was back in those warm days of August
• So our Gurnee Days chair Matt Messmer assembled a team of people who brainstormed and came up with the theme for our float: “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”
• It worked perfectly—the image of a castle fitting in with the medieval/middle ages theme of the parade
• the image of a castle tying in with Luther’s hymn inspired by Psalm 46,
• Luther’s hymn that talks about God being our refuge and strength, God being our fortress
• In fact, the float worked so well it won first place!
• But I’m still wondering: Can we see things like this as being more than telling people about Bethel Lutheran Church?
• Could we see being in the community as our chance to tell people about GRACE?
• Could we see being in the community as our chance to tell people that God is our strength?
• That God is the strong One, the One who saves us
• Psalm 46 and “A Mighty Fortress” tell us that:
• Above the chaos
• God is with us
• God brings peace
• Churches—even non-Lutheran churches—sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” to celebrate Martin Luther
• But may it really be about celebrating God’s grace
• May it be to celebrate that the Church once again recognized God’s grace in the Scriptures
• “A Mighty Fortress” inspired by Psalm 46
• Connects Psalm 46 with Christ, lifts up the grace
• Luther took comfort in Psalm 46 for the way it points to life and salvation in God, life and salvation that come to us by grace—as gift
• Took comfort because tells us that God is our strength

• Above the chaos
• God is with us
• God brings peace

• Above the Chaos – first verses
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
• (MSG) We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom
Courageous in seastorm and earthquake
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
The tremors that shift mountains.
• Above the Chaos—that’s SALVATION
• because Christ lifts us up, gives us courage, trust in what He has done in the cross and resurrection
• Bring us out of the chaos; that’s GIFT/GRACE
• Above the chaos
• God is with us
• God brings peace
• Withness
• Refrain: “The LORD Almighty is with us;
• the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
• He is WITH us
• His Withness is so central to what He has revealed about Himself
• He sent His Son to be WITH us—Immanuel
• Withness—LIFE WITH GOD
• Because Jesus is with us—lives in us by His Spirit

• Above the chaos
• God is with us
• God brings peace

• Desolations of peace
• “Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.”
• Expect scenes of destruction but what do we have?
• He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.
• Desolation to our destruction
• Brings an end to our way of doing things
• Desolations of peace—LIFE
• Because Jesus brings peace through His forgiveness

• Above the chaos
• God is with us
• God brings peace

• Bob Lenz has spoken to hundreds of thousands students, including National Youth Gatherings
• Spoke to our Northern Illinois District pastors
• Bob’s not Lutheran but has a great way of emphasizing that we are saved by grace through faith
• A tremendous set of stories that show our strength, our salvation, our hope, our comfort, our refuge in God
• At the pastors’ conference, Bob encouraged us, almost pleaded with us Lutherans to SHARE THE GRACE
• Share the message we have
• Share this hope we have that we’re saved by what Jesus does and not by what we do
• Not by our own strength; saved by the strength of God

• Above the chaos
• God is with us
• God brings peace

• That’s what we have to share with the world
• That’s what Bob Lenz was urging us pastors to share
• This thing called GRACE; salvation as GIFT
• The power of salvation is in what God does;
• The power is in what God does in Christ

• Above the chaos
• God is with us
• God brings peace

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18 - “Cones”

19th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 25) (Year A)
Sunday, October 23, 2011

• People outside of the Church are watching us
• They’re watching to see if we take the words of Jesus seriously
• They’re watching to see if we really love our neighbors as ourselves—words from the Old Testament book of Leviticus but words that Jesus repeated as He summarized the Law
• The people outside of the Church realize that those are radical words—love your neighbor as yourself
• They’re radical words because it’s a whole different way to live.
• It’s a call to live without revenge, without payback
• It’s living without retaliating, hitting back
• And they’re radical words, because they call on us to love people, all people, not just people in our tribe, they call on us to love people outside of our friends, outside of our family, outside of our community.
• As Leviticus later says in chapter 19, God’s calling on us to love the alien, the stranger, the person completely different than us
• That’s radical, that’s not how most of the world operates
• The people outside of the Church are watching to see if we’re going to be that radical
• The people outside of the Church resonate with these words, resonate, respond to this beautiful, radical love
• But they haven’t always seen this in the Church
• They haven’t always seen Christians as loving neighbors as themselves
• They’ve seen the Church standing off to the side, taking care of their own, judging those outside of the Church
• That’s the perception that many people have—we’re judgmental, we condemn others, we don’t show love
• That’s how we’re seen

• And frankly, we stand accused
• We’re caught in the act of being unloving
• We’re caught not following the radical love of Jesus

• I mean, aren’t they right?
• We don’t always love our neighbors as ourselves

• Here’s how it works:
• I’m traveling along in life and come to a moment when I am called to show love to a neighbor (cone)
• Instead, I step aside and take care of myself (bypass cone away from people)
• But here’s what those outside the Church might not realize:
God comes to me, convicts me of my sin (points back to my action), and forgives me in Jesus Christ
• Then He sets me up another moment to love a neighbor (cone)
• Again, I step aside and take care of myself (bypass cone away from people)
• God comes to me, convicts me of my sin, and forgives me in Jesus Christ
• Then He sets me up another moment to love a neighbor (cone)
• This time I follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, I am moved by the love of God to love my neighbor (turn towards congregation)
• Life is a series of cones, a series of moments where sometimes I follow His leading and sometimes I turn my own way
• But at every step of the way, God loves and forgives me
• God is committed to me and to my neighbors
• When I turn to love my neighbor, I’m not trying to earn my salvation—my salvation is secure in Jesus
• Yet, even though my salvation is secure, God is constantly prompting me to live out my faith
• That’s what it means to love my neighbor—I live out my faith, I respond to salvation
• I let God’s love for me flow through me

• So people outside of the Church will be watching us
• Watching us as we get to know our neighborhoods
• Watching to see if we love our neighbors as ourselves
• They’ll be watching to see if we’re as radical as Jesus
• And what will they see?
• They’ll see a series of cones
• They’ll see us take some correct turns and love radically
• They’ll see us take some wrong turns
• They’ll see us be convicted and admit our sins
• They’ll see us rejoice in God’s love and forgiveness
• They’ll see us return to the cones, move forward to try again by God’s power to love our neighbors

• But above all of this, what we pray they see is the love of God
• After all, it’s not really about our love
• It’s about the love of God
• The love of flowing through us to them
• We want them to see Jesus
• We want them to see the beautiful, radical love of Jesus

• The Go! Project is one of these cones
• Find a way to love our neighbors as ourselves
• Find a way to love our neighbors by sharing the Gospel with them
• Describe the Go! Project (

• The reason we need the Go! Project is because we don’t naturally love our neighbors as ourselves
• Our sinful instinct is to love ourselves and ignore the needs of others
• Despite the fact that we know the Gospel, still our sinful nature gets the best of us and we keep this Good News to ourselves
• We don’t love our neighbors as ourselves
• We don’t tell our neighbors about Jesus
• We need the Go! Project to jump start us on loving our neighbors
• It’s training us, forming us, giving form to our actions, calling us to live out the Gospel, calling us to live for God

• Of course, it’s not really the Go! Project that jump starts us on loving our neighbors
• I mean, it’s a tool used by God to help us love our neighbors

• What really jump starts us is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts
• God comes to us, convicts us of our sin, tells us that we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves
• But then God comes to us with a grand word of forgiveness, a grand word of removing that sin from us

• In Jesus, we are forgiven for not loving our neighbors
• In Jesus, we have the promise of eternal life despite our sin
• In Jesus, we are healed from our sinful ways
• In Jesus, we are transformed
• In Jesus, sent back out to love our neighbors, jump started, energized by the love of God
• In other words, when we turn away from loving our neighbors (bypass the cone),
• We find ourselves in front of Jesus
• And He confronts our sin, calls us to repent, and offers us forgiveness—then sends us back to our neighbors
• So either way—on either side of the cone, there’s Jesus
• If I turn away from loving my neighbor, there’s Jesus to confront me and forgive me and send me back
• If I love my neighbor, there’s Jesus, His love flowing right through me
• Either side of the cone, there’s Jesus

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Psalm 96:1-9 - “Preaching to the Choir”

18th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24) (Year A)
LWML (Lutheran Women’s Missionary League) Sunday
Sunday, October 16, 2011

• Climbing up on the shelves in the warehouse, counting how many Bible studies are still left in open boxes
• Small way I was helping the families of the world ascribe glory to the Lord

• Dollar bills in a mite box
• Small way that you are able to help the families of the world ascribe glory to the Lord
• Because of those dollars add up to a lot of money used to support mission projects in districts across North America, including Northern Illinois, and around the world
• With a goal of raising $1.8 million for grants to places like Haiti, Dominican Republic, Kansas, and Detroit
• In our district, LWML supports places like Voice of Hope prison ministry and Voice of Care developmentally-disabled ministry

• But what is the LWML setting out to do? What is any mission society aiming to do? What are we at Bethel trying to do?
• We’re inviting the families of the world to sing the new song of Psalm 96 with us.

• Psalm 96, I suppose, could just sound like another hymn, a hymn to the Lord—

• Sing to the LORD
sing to the LORD,
Sing to the LORD, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory
• They’re words of praise calling on us to honor the Lord

• But notice something else about those first lines
• Notice how it’s addressed to the nations, to all people,
• It’s a mission psalm

1 Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth. NOT JUST ISRAEL
2 Sing to the LORD, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

4 For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
6 Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;

• It’s what one author calls a psalm of “new orientation” (Brueggemann)
• It’s a psalm that calls the hearer to have a new orientation to the world, a new way of looking at the world, a changed perspective
• The psalm’s calling on the hearers to turn and ascribe glory to the Lord, only to the Lord

• In your bulletins, you have a logo I made for Psalm 96

• When I hear the later verses from today’s reading, the verses about ascribing glory and strength to His Name, this is what came to mind
• The LORD’s Name, God the Father’s personal Name is Yahweh in Hebrew,
• To His Name we ascribe, we give to His Name, we grant to His Name—glory and strength.
• Glory—His Name is above all else
• Strength—His Name is far stronger than anything else
• In His Name, there is glory and strength

• What’s His glory? What’s His strength? Where do we see this most clearly?
• In Jesus Christ—His cross and resurrection
• The cross is His glory—the mercy, grace, and forgiveness He won for us
• The cross is His strength—going to death for us
• The resurrection is His glory—conquering death
• The resurrection is His strength—mighty to save us
• The LWML, other mission societies, our mission as a congregation, our calling as individual Christians, it’s to invite others to ascribe glory and strength to the Name of Yahweh, to the Name of Jesus Christ

• But that calls for reenvisioning the world, reenvisioning the people around us (Robert Foster), because we can’t just think of them as enemies
• Psalm 96 invites us to see the families of the world as potential choir members who will sing praise to Yahweh
• Psalm 96 is preaching to the choir—but that choir’s not just the insiders anymore

• What will we do to make room for new choir members?
• Will you start making room for new people in small ways—a handshake, a smile, a warm greeting on Sunday morning?
• Will you see the need for the LWML, for mission societies, for outreach in our community?
• What will we do to give people a new song to sing, replacing their old songs of despair with a song of hope in Jesus?
• What will we do to help others ascribe glory and strength to the Lord?

• Because that’s what it means to preach to this choir—this growing choir, this growing group of followers of Christ
• calling on others to ascribe glory and strength to the Lord
• calling on others to declare that Jesus is Savior

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Psalm 23 - “Bear Pack”

17th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) (Year A)
Sunday, October 9, 2011

• What is a bear pack?
• Explain
• (Use rope and backpack, have some pretend to be a tree)

• Why do you put up a bear pack?
• Keep your food safe
• Have you seen the bears?
• No, but you know they’re out there
• (Person sits down)

• Psalm 23, that very, very familiar psalm, talks about the Lord as our shepherd
• What does a shepherd do?
• Protects and guides the sheep
• I imagine that if the shepherd could, he’d put all of the sheep up in a tree like a giant bear pack protecting them from wild animals
• So I hear that a shepherd protects and guides the sheep, lifts them out of trouble, that’s why I thought of the bear pack—lifting something valuable out of trouble
• Which means we’re something valuable to the Lord, we’re something that needs His protection and guidance, we’re something that needs to be lifted up
• We’re the sheep.
• We’re the bear pack.

• Psalm 23 tells us these great, comforting things that God has done for us
• Psalm’s comfort comes because we know the opposites
• We know there are bears out there
• We know there are things that threaten us

• Take a look at the psalm with me, the first verses about the Lord being our shepherd
• What does opposites does the psalm assume?

• The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, SPELLS OUT THE PROBLEM HERE
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

• You are the bear pack being pulled up to safety by God
• Pulled out of want, dry lands, threatening waters, bear attacks
• Pulled out of a broken soul, sinful paths, death, separation from God
• Pulled out of danger, lifted up by what Jesus did on the cross, by what Jesus did by rising from the dead
• Through the forgiveness of Jesus, you aren’t in danger of being sent to hell
• Through the power of Jesus, the evil one can’t overcome you
• Through Jesus, you are protected from the bears in your life.

• This is a spiritual place, a spiritual journey when you’re pulled up into the tree by God
• This isn’t a psalm that promises endless paychecks and beautiful houses and an ideal life
• That’s not what the first verse means
• “I shall not be in want”—it means that the Lord will provide for our needs, provide for us each day, but perhaps not in the ways we expect or imagine
• and not first and foremost in material ways.
• First and foremost the Lord will provide for us spiritually.

• We are not in want spiritually with Jesus
• There’s not something still needed to be supplied
• He died—paid for our sins completely
• He rose again—conquered death
• He sent His Spirit—filled out hearts in faith
• The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.

• One author put it this way:
• When we ask "What do I lack?" it’s more in the sense of "What really matters that I do not have?" What, at the hour of death, would I dare not lack? (James Limburg,
• With Jesus. . .we’ve been given the confidence that we lack nothing at the hour of death

• Ah, but that stands in the face of our laments, our anxieties, our fears, our questions
• We stand and wonder aloud why God allows us all of these bears to gather around us
• Why is there want and dry fields and threatening waters?
• Why is there soul-death, paths of sin, death, and separation from God?

• Another author says that Psalm 23 is kind of like a creed, something where we state our belief in God
• It talks back to the lament
• It doesn’t let the lament have the final say (Frederick J. Gaiser, Word & World)

• So again imagine that you are a bear pack, that life is like being a bear pack.
• What kinds of things are you going to need to talk back to? The bear that’s climbing the tree and swinging out trying to get you.
• What are you going to tell those bears in your life?
• I shall not want.
• Green pastures.
• Still waters.
• Paths of righteousness.
• God is with me.

• What’s the challenge, though, in talking back to the bear? What’s the challenge in talking back to the lament?
• You’re hanging out there; feels lonely; looks scary.

• But what’s it mean that the Lord is your shepherd?
• He’s providing everything you need even when the bears come sniffing around.
• Jesus has pulled you up to safety—forever.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Isaiah 5:1-7 - “Unforgettable”

16th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22) (A)
Sunday, October 2, 2011

• Roll out cart with CD player on it.

• Isaiah 5:1-7 is a love song.
• It’s God’s love song for His people.

• The owner did everything for that vineyard
• He put the vineyard on a hill to get good sunlight
• He dug and broke up the ground
• He cleared the stones
• He planted the best vines
• He set up the wine press, prepared for harvest
• He built a watchtower to protect it
• The owner doing everything for the vineyard, it’s a way of saying how much God has done for His people.
• It’s God’s love song for His people.

• Play “Unforgettable” which begins to skip part way in
• After it skips a couple of times, remove CD
• Smash CD with hammer

• Isaiah 5:1-7 is a love song smashed to bits

• Owner did everything he could for the vineyard
• And what does he get?
• Bad fruit
• Literally, he gets stinking, rotten grapes

• God did everything he could to love His people
• Stinking, rotten actions

• Owner - judgment on the vineyard
• Take away all of the protection and care

• God - judgment on the people
• Send them into exile

• When the people first heard Isaiah’s words,
• Probably thought he was talking about Israel, northern kingdom, already taken over
• Isaiah, though, reveals that he’s talking about Jerusalem and Judah, southern kingdom, the people who were probably confident in themselves
• Judah and Jerusalem will be lost, smashed to bits, the end of the love song

• We’d like to think, too, that God’s judgment is going to fall on someone else, those other people, those people who aren’t here
• Yet, God’s judgment comes on our sin, too
• His love song for us, smashed to bits, because we’re sinners
• Our sin produces stinking, rotten grapes
• God looks to see if our faith produces justice, produces right actions
• —but it only produces riots and bloodshed
• God looks to see if our faith produces righteousness, produces compassion
• —but it only produces complaints

• We stand accused
• We’re stinking, rotten grapes, too
• Our actions produce riots and complaints
• Our actions produce the opposite of what God intends

• Our sins hurt other people
• We hurt others by our actions and our lack of action
• We’re very far away from that love song God meant to sing about us.

• We need God to revive the love song.
• We need God to restore the broken love song
• We need God to repair the vineyard
• Take out another CD, play “Unforgettable”
• This CD plays the song without skipping

• Jesus Christ is the love song restored
• Jesus Christ has come to repair the vineyard
• Jesus Christ was sent to restore God’s people

• The cross and resurrection is all about restoring the love song, repairing the vineyard, restoring God’s people
• We may have sinned, we may have caused riots instead of right, we may have caused complaints instead of compassion
• But through the power of the cross, through the triumph of the resurrection, there is forgiveness for our sins, forgiveness for our stinking, rotten grapes

• And with that love song playing in the background, what does God work in us, work in our lives?
• Justice and righteousness
• Right actions and compassion
• Changes our hearts, changes our actions to reflect His love for all people
• Remember, though, it’s not your actions that restore the love song
• It’s God’s action; it’s Jesus Christ that restores the love song, that repairs the vineyard, that restores His ways in your heart and life

• One of the difficulties in preaching on this text is that you are not Jerusalem and Judah, you are not smug in your sin, you are not self-confident in your unrighteous, unjust actions
• Isaiah was preaching to a people who were refusing to listen to God’s Word, but here you are, ready to listen, having already confessed your sin
• Instead, you are more like the person in Isaiah’s audience, the person who lingers after everyone leaves
• Everyone else goes away grumbling, shaking their fists at Isaiah, telling Isaiah he’s got no right to speak to them that way
• Yet, you linger, you stay behind, you approach the prophet, you say,
• “What do I do? I know I have sinned. I know I have angered the Lord. I know my actions are stinking, rotten grapes.”

• In that moment, I imagine Isaiah whispering the Gospel, the Good News that you need to hear
• I imagine Isaiah singing the love song again
• I imagine Isaiah speaking about restoration
• I imagine Isaiah speaking the words he’d later proclaim, where God says:
• 57:17 I was enraged by his sinful greed;
I punished him, and hid my face in anger,
yet he kept on in his willful ways.
18 I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will guide him and restore comfort to him,
19 creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel.

• So today as you hear the Lord reminds us that He smashes the love song to bits, tears down the vineyard, brings judgment on our sin
• Remember that you have also pulled the prophet aside
• Pulled him aside, come to hear the rest of the message
• You have come to the prophet, have come to God with tears and shaking voice and repentance
• And the Lord promises restoration of the love song
• Promises restoration through Jesus
• God was enraged by your sinful greed;
God punished you, and hid His face in anger,
yet you kept on in your willful ways.
God has seen you ways, but He will heal you;
God will guide you and restore comfort to you,
creating praise on the lips of the mourners, those who repent in the Church
• God will guide you and restore you
• God will sing the love song again