Friday, June 27, 2014

Take Up Your Cross

June 22, 2014 (Discipleship Sermon Series, week 2)
Matthew 10:24-39

Once upon a time there was a fire in a small town. The fire brigade rushed to the scene, but the firemen were unable to get through to the burning building. The problem was the crowd of people who had gathered not to watch but to help put out the fire. They all knew the fire chief well – their children had climbed over his fire engines during excursions to the fire station, and the friendliness of the fire chief was legendary. So when a fire broke out the people rushed out to help their beloved fire chief.

Unfortunately the townsfolk were seeking to extinguish this raging inferno with water pistols!  They’d all stand there, from time to time squirting their pistol into the fire while making casual conversation.

The fire chief couldn’t contain himself. He started screaming at the townsfolk. “What do you think you’re doing? What on earth do you think you’re going to achieve with those water pistols?!”

The people realized the urgency of the situation. How they wanted to help the fire chief. So they started squirting more. “Come on” they encouraged each other, “We can all do better, can’t we?” Squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt.

Exasperated the fire chief yells again. “Get out of here. Your achieving nothing except hindering us from doing what needs to be done. We need fireman who are ready to give everything they’ve got to put out this fire, people willing even to lay their lives on the line. This is not the place for token contributions”

This story was originally told by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. He was urging us to realize that discipleship to Christ means much more than token levels of support to the church and God’s mission in the world. It calls for wholehearted and total life commitment. (1)

This morning we continue in our discipleship sermon series. If you recall, last week we heard the calling from Jesus as he commissioned the apostles to go out "and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."

To become a disciple you must also become a student and be willing to learn from Christ in your prayer life and allow the Word of God to come alive. 

This morning we are challenged with a text that is a little tougher to decipher and seems to speak an opposing view to what we think Jesus would have instructed. This is a busy text that the lectionary has placed in front of us this morning. It is almost like Matthew all of a sudden remembered that he had a lot that he wanted to share with the reader and let loose. It is a random flow of thoughts from Jesus that at times is hard to connect.

Where should our focus fall this morning as we are confronted with all of these thoughts? 

I would like to turn our attention to the last six verses of Jesus' preaching. 

Matthew 10:34-39

Did Jesus just say that he was going to bring a sword? Surely he does not mean a real sword, like those that we see in the movies or are on television, like Game of Thrones. Perhaps not. There may possibly be other things that can cut as deep and as sharp as a sword though. 
If we really want to admit it, the commandments that Jesus has placed upon us as his followers are quite demanding. They make us uncomfortable at times and we are often hesitant to follow through on them. You mean you want me to share your word with all nations? You want me to love my neighbors as I have loved myself? You want me to forgive someone 7 times 70 times? 

These are some tough standards to live up to. It is the sword, or demands, of Jesus that cuts through all of our excuses for not following in his commandments and his great commission to go out and serve all people. Lance Pape says it well in his commentary on this text, "The demands of the prince of true peace may very well feel like a sword cutting through lesser loyalties and making quick work of our flabby, commonsense morality."

Not only does he bring the sword, he expects us to be set against our families; man against father, daughter against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. Our foes will be members of our own households. For some of us, it may ring true. For others it is hard to decipher the point that Jesus is actually trying to make. 

The point is that we are not going to find ourselves in an actual war with our families, but it is used to heighten the idea that Jesus has came to stir things up and it truly shakes up our values, rearranges our priorities, and reorients our goals. The focus shall be returned to God and it is through Jesus that we are instructed in this manner.

All of this brings us to the main point of our gospel message this morning. "Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

We are well aware that Jesus ultimately took up his cross and carried it through the streets of Jerusalem before being nailed to it and breathing his last breath. Are we expected to do the exact same thing? It is not a literal cross though that Jesus is referring to in this passage. 

What crosses do we have to pick up? What does this look like in our discipleship to Christ? We each have to listen to God's voice and discern what cross in our personal lives it is we are to carry and where our passion lies. As a congregation though, we have set out mission and vision statements that help guide us in our lives as disciples. 

The beginning of our worship service is intentional as we are reminded why we are here and what it is we are called to do. Every Sunday we begin with our mission statement, We are Called, to Love, Serve, and Share God's Word. Our vision statements then set a course for us as we interact with our community on a daily basis.

As disciples we are called to Love. We are called to be a loving presence to those in our lives by opening our hearts to all. We allow this to happen by engaging in scripture and finding the Grace of God in all we encounter. We in turn share this grace and love with others.

As disciples we are called to Serve. We are called to serve others by being an example of Christ in all we do. We are to go out and serve our neighbors in our community and beyond. We have a great example of this by what we did on God's Work. Our Hands. Sunday last year by washing windows at Grand Ravine and making cards for our local nursing homes. We did this just this past week by serving at the AAESA Carnival and working the food tent. The possibilities to serve are endless and each of you will find that your passion to serve falls into different categories.

As disciples we are called to share. We are called to share the Word of God through worship, education, community service, and intentional living. Through every aspect of our living, those that are not members of the church should be able to tell that we are following Christ. This at times may be the hardest of the three to commit to, as well as to be consistent. We fall into the old traps and this is where Jesus comes in with his sword to cut through our excuses.

Our mission and vision statements set the direction for our ministry at Immanuel and everything that we do should reflect to how we are fulfilling the mission and vision statement.

Reflecting back upon the story from Soren Kierkegaard, we are not called to token discipleship. We do not just do it from time to time. Discipleship requires our full-time attention so that we may give ourselves whole-heartedly and commit our lives fully to Christ.  

Jesus placed his life upon the cross fully trusting in the resurrection. May we be as bold to take up our own crosses and fully commit to a life of discipleship that follows in the path of Christ.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Becoming an Intern

June 15, 2014 (Holy Trinity, Discipleship Sermon Series, wk 1)
Matthew 28:16-20

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was Professor of theology at the University of Berlin in Germany in 1930’s. At this time German Christians were divided over Hitler. One group allied themselves with Hitler, they wanted a “pure” German nation. They formed an official German church which supported Hitler and banned Jews from holding official positions in the Church. Bonhoeffer was among those who could not go along with Hitler’s anti-Jewish, radically German vision. With others he set up an underground church which explicitly refused to ally itself to Hitler’s Third Reich vision. It was dangerous. In 1937 Bonhoeffer was sacked. He flees to London. Two years later Bonhoeffer’s faced with a choice. He’s been offered one of the most prestigious theology appointments in the world – lecturing at Union Seminary in New York or returning to Germany to head up an illegal, underground seminary for the churches who refuse to go along with Hitler. He decides his faith is meaningless if he takes the easy option. He heads back to Germany and finds Hitler so evil that he abandons his commitment to non violence and gets involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The plot fails and in 1943 Bonhoeffer’s arrested. In prison he leads worship services for his fellow prisoners, until the fateful day April 9, 1945 when he’s executed by the Nazis.

Through all this what distressed Bonhoeffer was the way so many Christians could sell out to Hitler’s evil vision. How could people who owned the name of Christ so betray Christ? How could they pray in a church which banned Jews from holding office? It convinced Bonhoeffer that religiosity in and of itself was worthless. It didn’t matter how fervently a person believed in Jesus, how many times each day they prayed, how earnestly and sincerely they sang hymns on Sundays. In the end the measure of spirituality is not how we are in the church but how we are in the whole of life. In the end the measure of spirituality is to live in the world as a man or woman who is for others.(1)

As Christians we most often view the beginning of our faith as the moment we are baptized in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. It is through our baptism that we become members of the church and welcomed in to a community of like  believers.  

However, even through our baptism, if we were to look at the teachings of Bonhoeffer, if we don't live in the world as a man or woman who is for others then how can we truly call ourselves disciples of Christ?

For the majority of you in this room, your baptism was many years ago and you cannot remember it because you were an infant and it was your parents and sponsors that took on the promises for you. This is why we have confirmation so that you may have a personal involvement in your faith and make the decision to carry on in the promises made for you in baptism.

If you remember, my story is a little different. I was baptized just over eight years ago. I was hoping there may be fireworks or something, you know similar to when you kiss your significant other for the very first time, and hopefully long past that. However, I was a little disappointed because their were no fireworks. No doves descending. No direct call from Jesus saying to now go out and do this or that. There was an overwhelming sense of peace though that filled my entire being. I would argue with you that I was a Christian well before my baptism, but I was in my baptism that I could now proclaim to be a part of a faith community and the Lutheran church.

So how does one move from being baptized and then just eight short years later being a called an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America?

It is through discipleship and sensing the call to serve God in a greater capacity then simply as a member of a congregation. It was my thirst for the unknown, the mysterious, the ever-loving God that embraces us no matter what.

My home congregation developed a discipleship mentality that encouraged us all to be God's hands in this world. It encouraged people to step up and become leaders and be innovative in ministries and care for their neighbors. It is my hope that this same spirit of discipleship can be fostered within the community of Immanuel. A community where the Pastor is present and provides leadership, but is not the only one initiating change and movement forward. As Martin Luther said over and over again, we are the priesthood of all believers and are called to go out and serve as Christ.

So, how does one become a disciple? Matthew's gospel is very focused on making disciples for Jesus and over and over lifts this up. If we are to look at today's gospel lesson, first we must be initiated into the community through water baptism in the name of the triune God. The second step is that we must learn what it means to "obey" everything that Jesus has commanded us and in turn follow what he has instructed. Finally, we are called to go out and do likewise, instructing and baptizing others. We must be willing to reach out to all people regardless of their present position in life because we are all children of God.

This is an on-going process. It is not something that happens overnight and there is not some magical elixir that you can drink that will make you come to a sudden faith in God. And, most importantly, we cannot make other people take some type of magical elixir. We can open our doors and arms though to them and allow them a community that is loving and nurturing. Jesus comes to us all in due time and it is not in response to any intellectual prowess on our part, but is a loving gift of grace that only God can offer.

Being a disciple means doubting as well. The translation in the NRSV is not completely accurate when it says "they worshipped him; but some doubted." It's actual translation should read they worshipped and doubted. While we are God's children, we still have the freedom granted to us by God and to question and doubt eventually brings us to a stronger faith. Each of us comes to Christ in our own way. Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship points out that "Though we all have to enter upon discipleship alone, we do not remain alone. If we take him at his word and dare to become individuals, our reward is the fellowship of the church."

Being a disciple is easier said than done. We tend to slip up and make mistakes. Being a disciple means going back to school! Disciples are students that spend time in scripture and prayer as well as going out and serving. 

How many people in this room have served an internship of one form or another? Being a disciple is similar to being an intern. Interns should constantly be watching, practicing under supervision, asking questions, making mistakes, and learning from them. I did plenty of this while I was serving my internship as an intern pastor in Ohio. There were many things I learned how to do, as well as some things that I learned not to do.  My internship did not end though. I am still praying, listening, and asking questions as to where Christ may be leading myself as a disciple and the community of Immanuel.

At this point in our faith lives we should all be part of an internship of discipleship. We may not always know what we are doing, but it is through our faith in Christ Jesus and the grace that comes with it that we are empowered to go out into the world and stir the pot. We are called to go out into uncomfortable situations and share our faith and love with one another. 

Many of you are already on this internship path and may not realize it. For those that are not sure, I would encourage you to make sure you set aside time each day for prayer and time spent in God's word. There is no better way to become an intern than to start listening for God's voice in your life.

Ultimately, Jesus takes up his cross, and we will have to as well if we are to be disciples. We give thanks for today as we are called into discipleship and pray that we follow the path that Christ set out for us. For it is through Christ that we have been able to encounter God and get a glimpse of the kingdom that is to come.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Powers of the Holy Spirit

June 8, 2014 (Pentecost)
Acts 2:1-21

I have to admit that I am kind of a geek and I like many of those things that you can associate with Geekdom, if there is such a place. My most recent favorites are Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and of course The Big Bang Theory. BAZINGA!

You will not find me in the comic book store or dressing up as my favorite character from Star Wars or Harry Potter to see a movie at midnight. I also am not the first one in line to see the superhero movies when they first come out, nor I have I seen many of them since they left the theaters and came to DVD. So, maybe I have not fully reached the level of Geekdom that some people fully exude.  

There are a couple of superheroes that I pay attention to and look forward to when new movies come out, like Iron Man and Spiderman. By now you must be wondering why I have geeked out on you.

Well, as I have read through Acts 2 several times this past week, read commentaries, and prayed over the text, I have realized that this just isn't your normal event that is happening and there is something great and glorious taking place. The apostles seem to take on an almost superhero-esque light.  The apostles seem to be given great gifts in this Acts passage, not to mention the ability to speak and understand various languages. This is much like many of the superheroes we see in the movies or read about in graphic novels. 

In the movies and in books we can witness many various ways that superheroes receive their powers. While some may receive them from a bite by a radioactive spider (Spiderman), or by coming from another planet and landing on this planet we call earth (Thor or Superman).
Captain America received his powers by receiving a "super-serum," while Bruce Banner got hit by gamma radiation. (Extra Credit for who can name who he becomes, The Incredible Hulk). The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles caught themselves swimming in toxic waste and the next thing you know they are being trained by a rat. Maybe you are just born a superhero, like the children in the Incredibles. Or we could be born into a lot of money and have the knowledge to become our own superhero, like Batman or Iron Man. 

Are the apostles really any different from some of these superheroes we watch in the theater and read about in books? These apostles receive their "super powers" from the Holy Spirit and Pentecost is the beginning of a tremendous adventure.  It's an adventure that will include healings, daring escapes, long journeys, riots, encounters with demon-possessed individuals, shipwrecks, and much more. In fact,  it's an adventure that has not yet ended, even to this day. (1)

Imagine though, waking up that morning not knowing quite sure what the day was going to bring. Many were in Jerusalem celebrating the Jewish feast of weeks. Pentecost in Greek, literally means fifty, thus fifty days since the Passover. The feast of Weeks was a harvest festival in which the end of the spring harvest was celebrated.

There has not been a lot of action happening with Jesus' followers from the time of his crucifixion until now. They have been talking and spreading the news by word of mouth and their numbers have appeared to grow some. Yet, they have not ventured too far beyond their comfort zones. They have also been instructed to wait in Jerusalem for further instructions and as John baptized with water, they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

If the apostles have not learned much from walking with Jesus, they are probably still not quite sure what this promise is fully going to involve. 

As they gather together that day, I imagine there were conversations going on amongst them. Perhaps someone were preaching, perhaps they were praying together. Perhaps they were having a meal together. What ever they were doing, I am sure some of them may be wondering when this Holy Spirit is going to come and I am sure that many of them were quite anxious of the time to come.  

Then, all of a sudden, they are nearly knocked off their feet by the noise. It is so thunderous they probably could not hear each other at first. Then, Luke uses the image of tongues of fire resting upon each of the disciples that gathered together. Through fire God worked in the burning bush talking to Moses and instructing him in his calling. God's presence was made known to Daniel in his apocalyptic vision as God rides in on a fiery chariot. Fire has a power to it that people yield to.

Not everyone immediately buys into what is happening and question what they think is non-sense that everyone is talking about. Surely they must be drunk is just one of many comments that I am sure were made. This just points to the fact that there are always going to be doubters and we must move on from them.

Earlier I was discussing superheroes. There was one that I failed to mention. He is not much different than us and if you can recall he didn't really grasp the power that came to him all that quickly. 

Clip from The Greatest American Hero, 
Who remembers when this came out in the mid- 1980's? Who didn't wish that they had the ability to just put on a suit like Ralph Hinkley? The thing that I found amusing is that he just could not quite seem to fully understand nor was he able to control the suit he put on. If you have not seen this show at all, it is good for some laughs.

When you think about it though, as the apostles receive their super powers from the Holy Spirit, they are stunned and at the same time kind of clueless. They do not fully know the power that has now rested upon them. The theme song from The Greatest American Hero could very much fit them as well:

Look at what's happened to me, 
I can't believe it myself; 
Suddenly I'm up on top of the world, 
Should've been somebody else. 

Believe it or not, 
I'm walkin' on air, 
I never thought I could feel so free; 
Flyin' away on a wing and a pray'r, 
Who could it be? 
Believe it or not, it's just me. 

Do you want to hear something amazing though? That same Holy Spirit that came to the apostles comes to us through the act of Baptism and is present with us for the rest of our days. We too can be superheroes! We are given the gift of the Spirit to guide us in our personal lives as well as in our community. We are all gifted in different areas and as we work collectively we are able to work closer to the Kingdom of God that Jesus promises. At the same time, the Spirit brings us to faith and we remain and live in it through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We all have been given great gifts that we are entrusted with to use wisely. We are all called to go out and proclaim the good news and follow the path that Jesus went before us. The Holy Spirit is a powerful force in our lives, and there are times that we will not fully understand how to listen and follow. This is where the grace of God fits into place. 

It is God's love for all of God's children that allows us to stumble, but also that same love that sends the Spirit to guide us in our days. May you be filled with the Holy Spirit as you go forth this Pentecost and share the love of God with everyone you encounter.

Ed Strietelmeier,

The Same Mind of Christ?

June 1, 2014
Philippians 2:1-13

Paul calls us to be of the same mind of Christ. Not only this, but also having the same love. 

My first thought is, how is this even possible? For we live in a world where there are so many different options available to us and we have the freedom to make our own choices. This morning, you made the choice to come to church. I am sure there are various reasons behind that decision. Some of you may have felt obligated in coming to worship. Some of you may have been looking forward to talking with someone that you knew would be here this morning. Some of you may have been drawn in by the luncheon that we will have after worship and it was your stomach that brought you here. Can I dare say that some of you even came because you truly wanted to experience Jesus in this time and space this morning?

We all have a reason for coming this morning, and I am not saying that any one of them is a stronger factor than the others. The question now though is, what do we do in this time and space? 

We have been doing this church thing for a little while now, approximately 136 years as the community that has come to be known as Immanuel Lutheran Church. A lot of things have changed from the late 19th century when the first Swedish settlers established the congregation. Some things have not changed. 

The one constant though is that Christ has been present in everything the congregation has done. I am sure the congregation has not always moved in the way that God has called it, much like we at times try to ignore the direction that God is calling us.
Reading Paul's letter to the Philippians though sets a tone for a congregation that is functioning well, and one that he is extremely proud of. If you remember back to last week, we learned of Paul's overflowing joy for the congregation in Philippi and his thanksgiving for keeping him in their prayers.

One of the main lessons that we can learn from the congregation in Philippi is that they are functioning as not only Paul intended them to, but as Christ intended them to. It has brought great joy to all of those involved and it brings great joy to the heart of Christ.

The attributes that Paul speaks of are being demonstrated in the community at Philippi and it is through his letter to them that he is expecting the news to travel that this is what other communities and congregations should be striving for. 

The two characteristics that Paul highlights here are that the communities of faith should " of the same mind..." and, "...have the same love..."  Having the same mind means that the congregation has a single mindset which is centered in Christ and the good news. Having the same love is simply following the command of Christ to, " one another as I have loved you..."  As they live out these two key qualities, they translate to the very practical issues of humility and compassion. "Don't live out of your own ego and personal agenda," Paul enjoins them, "But look out for others, and defer to others before you seek gratification of your own interests." (1)

If the church is to move forward, then we must come to the understanding that we have not always lived up to these characteristics. The church has not always done the right thing. The thing that Christ would do. 

I recently finished a book by Cheryl Peterson, one of my Theology professors at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. The book, Who is the Church?, An Ecclesiology for the Twenty-First Century sets the course for where the church is being called. The direction has not changed much in the last 2000 years though. We have just managed to lose sight of the Kingdom of God. 

The number of unchurched, or nones, in our culture are growing. Yet many people still claim to have a belief in something and are often looking. Peterson shares the stark honest truth with us that "Many people "outside of the church's four walls" are seeking what the church purports to have--authentic community, healing, and reconciliation--but when they walk into the typical mainline congregation, they find instead a social club where members are bickering about unimportant things, people who not only refuse to live by forgiveness, but instead hold grudges and carry resentments."(2)

It is in this realization that we must be called back and reminded that we are to be of the same mind and love as Jesus. The church "is not a community called by God in order to "bless" the culture or to serve as a social club for its own "members," but to be sent out into the neighborhoods and communities in order to witness to the power of the resurrection to bring new life individually and communally."(3)

Being of the same mind and same love, does not mean that we will not disagree. It would be a pretty boring world if we were all just following along and doing what everyone else was doing and did not question things from time to time. However, to be one with Christ can be more challenging then just saying it. We must allow ourselves to open up to Christ's indwelling love and pray for guidance. 

What would it look like if we were to open ourselves up to the possibility of allowing Christ into our hearts and minds so that we may be of the same mind and love? Where could this take us in our relationship with God? Where could this take us as individuals? And as we get closer to being of the same mind and love as a congregation we are able to reach out in kind to those in our community. 

This is tough stuff. Some of us may think we are already there. I can tell you for sure that I am not though. To put aside our own ego and embrace the humility and love of Christ is radical and requires us stepping out of our comfort zones. For us to see a change in our congregation, requires a transformation within ourselves first. 

If all churches followed in Paul's guidance than we would be perfect. But this is hard work, and it is not surprising that there are not any perfect churches!

Yet - there it is right in front of us in the scriptures.  This is not one of those difficult to understand scripture lessons that needs the wisdom of brilliant scholars to explain.  Although Paul does get a little wordy, it is basic.

"Get your act together! Think like Christ! Love like Christ! and be humble like Christ!"

That's all there is to it.  It is easy to understand. But it is nearly impossible to accomplish. We too often get in the way of ourselves. We put up barriers and roadblocks, knowingly and unknowingly. We worry when we do not need to. 

Being of the same mind and same love opens us up to the unending love of Christ. We are able to listen to where we are truly being called and are filled with God's amazing grace.

Our lesson ends this morning with Paul's words, "for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

It is in these words that we are reminded of the abundant grace that is available to all. Christ is present. He is just waiting for us to let him in and start the conversation. Are you ready to start that conversation? 

(1) John Jewel,
(2) Cheryl Peterson, Who is the Church? pg 136
(3) ibid. pg 133

Saturday, May 24, 2014

How Do We Live Out Our Calling?

May 18, 2012
Acts 17:16-31

Good Morning! I bring back greetings to you from our Bishop Craig Satterlee and the representatives of the ELCA that were present at our synod assembly these past few days. 

What a wonderful time it is to be the church in the world when there are so many active things happening and being able to witness God's work being done by the many hands of the 4 million plus members of the ELCA.

While we may be going through our own challenges as any congregation does, it is wonderful to get together with others that are seeking to carry out God's calling in their communities as well. Seeing the renewing of old congregations and the success of new developments elicits a sign of hope and God's promise that is available to all of us. 

I will admit that when ever I am placed in new situations and surroundings I look at things that could be done better and even look at things that may be missing. I know that I can be critical, but my hope is that I do it in a loving and caring way that only helps to bring the Kingdom of God into closer view and clarity.

Paul in our story from Acts this morning is encountered with a similar situation as he begins to walk about the city of Athens. He gets glimpses into the daily lives of the Athenians and he is left to wonder God's role in this city.

In searching the city he finds an altar with the inscription, "To an unknown god." This provides him the opportunity to reach out with the gospel and share what he knows of this unknown god. 

It is the God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of and heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.   

This is the God that we praise today. The God that calls us to go beyond our walls and reach out to those in need. The God that breathes new life into us so that we may feel the Spirit and the grace that abounds.

I would like to share with you the synod assembly video from this year so that you may witness to what God is doing throughout the ELCA. May you see the hope and promise of God in the actions of the communities represented.

All of the communities that were presented as well as those that are thriving within the ELCA have at least one thing in common. That one thing is that there members are willing to invest.

They are willing to invest financially in the mission of the community and they see the promise and the hope of God's work being done. They are also willing to invest their time and talents so that they are able to spread that Gospel message beyond their walls and show what it means to be church.

Our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton has highlighted four strategies as we move into the future. 
First, We are church. We are a community of believers that has an incredible message to share. 

Second, We are Lutheran; where grace abounds and we celebrate together. We are all born into the priesthood of all believers and we are all called to do God's work.

Third, We are church together. Much what the video exclaimed. We are not alone.

Fourth, We are church for the sake of the world. We are called to go out and help in the world and in doing so we may just spread the Good News.

How may we as the people of Immanuel begin to live out the calling in our lives and as a congregation? It starts with an investment by each and everyone of us. We are Immanuel Lutheran Church, and God is with us. Christ came to bring us grace upon grace, and it is in this hope that we must go out and live abundantly in God's promise. 


May 25, 2014
Philippians 1:1-18a

How many of you have found yourself in a new place and wondered what that means for your life? How are you going to find support and care? Who are you going to turn to in times of need?

It may have occurred when you started a new job and you do not know a single person. You may have found yourself in a new town and are not quite comfortable with it and are left wondering where do I go to from here. 

Let me tell you, listening to a calling from God is not easy. God will call you out from your comfort zone into the unseen. You may find yourself in un-ventured territory. You may even feel as though you are being dragged kicking and screaming. You may feel that you are not even on your own path, but just along for the ride.

Personally, I have been down many paths in my life. I have started a handful of jobs since graduating from CMU. I have found myself surrounded by strangers that I would quickly have to get to know. As a manager I would have to build a relationship with my employees so that we had a good healthy working relationship. Many of the employees that I supervised became my friends over time and I still keep in touch with a small handful of them.

I have found that ministry and being a pastor is a little different though. It is difficult to be both a friend and a pastor at the same time. Clergy tend to rely on one another for support and guidance. When we have concerns and questions we often turn to one another. 

Friendship is an important part of living in humanity and God has called us to be in relationship. Luckily, I found my best friend over 25 years ago and we will be celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary this week. 

This morning we heard the introduction from Paul's letter to the Philippians. It is a gracious letter that is full of joy and he lifts up the community of Philippi in prayer giving thanks for them. Their friendship and love for him and Christ means the world to him, especially as he is writing from prison. 

There is an intimacy between Paul and his followers. There is a mutual love and respect that flows between Paul and his followers in Philippi. Not only is the community praying for Paul in his time of struggle and turmoil, Paul is praying for the community that they may continue in the work that they are doing.

The grace of God is alive and well as they reach out and pray for one another. This grace is also available to us today as a community as I constantly lift up Immanuel and all of you in my prayers. It is my hope that you are doing the same for me and my family. 

Paul's letter is one of friendship and love. As he has been called by God to go out and make disciples of the Gentiles he has developed deep relationships and impacted many lives. There is a deep compassion between the two. Our present day relationships of Facebook and email have nothing on the friendships and relationship that Paul is referring to in his letter. The relationships that he is referring to have depth and duration that today's superficial relationships cannot match.

As I said earlier, it is often much easier for clergy to befriend one another because we have things in common and when you spend several years of school together, it can happen naturally. 

In November, 1942 four young men "found each other" while attending Chaplain's School at Harvard University.  They had enough in common to bond them together.  At age 42, George Fox was the "older brother".  The youngest was 30-year old Clark Poling, and less than three years separated him from the other two, Alexander Goode and John Washington.    A common cause brought them together, the desire to render service to their Nation during the critical years of World War II. 

Between the early days of May to late July, the four had entered military service from different areas of the country.  Reverend Fox enlisted in the Army from Vermont the same day his 18-year old son Wyatt enlisted in the Marine Corps. 

Reverend Clark V. Poling was from Ohio and pastoring in New York when World War II threatened world freedom.  He determined to enter the Army, but not as a Chaplain.  "I'm not going to hide behind the church in some safe office out of the firing line," he told his father when he informed him of his plans to serve his country.  His father, Reverend Daniel Poling knew something of war, having served as a Chaplain himself during World War I.  He told his son, "Don't you know that chaplains have the highest mortality rate of all?  As a chaplain you'll have the best chance in the world to be killed.  You just can't carry a gun to kill anyone yourself."  With new appreciation for the role of the Chaplains Corps, Clark Poling accepted a commission and followed in his father's footsteps.

Like Clark Poling, Alexander Goode had followed the steps of his own father in ministry.  His first years of service were in Marion, Indiana; then he moved on to York, Pennsylvania.  While studying and preparing to minister to the needs of others, "Alex" had joined the National Guard.  Ten months before Pearl Harbor he sought an assignment in the Navy's Chaplains Corps, but wasn't initially accepted.  When war was declared, he wanted more than ever to serve the needs of those who went in harm's way to defend freedom and human dignity.   He chose to do so as a U.S. Army Chaplain.
One look at the be-speckled, mild mannered John P. Washington, would have left one with the impression that he was not the sort of man to go to war and become a hero.  His love of music and beautiful voice belied the toughness inside.  One of nine children in an Irish immigrant family living in the toughest part of Newark, New Jersey, he had learned through sheer determination to hold his own in any fight.  By the time he was a teenager he was the leader of the South Twelfth Street Gang.  Then God called him to ministry, returning him to the streets of New Jersey to organize sports teams, play ball with young boys who needed a strong friend to look up to, and inspire others with his beautiful hymns of praise and thanksgiving.

The four of them quickly developed a deep friendship. Reverend Fox and Reverend Poling were Protestant Pastors, Father Washington, a Roman Catholic Priest, and Rabbi Goode. They were truly an ecumenical fellowship that learned to listen to one another and developed a deep respect for one another.

They learned to care for one another and the men that served on their ship. They all heard the calling from God to serve and be present with those in need.

It was the evening of Feb. 2, 1943, and the U.S.A.T. Dorchester was crowded to capacity, carrying 902 service men, merchant seamen and civilian workers. 

There were threats of German U-boats in the waters they were navigating and the Dorchester was now only 150 miles from its destination, but the captain ordered the men to sleep in their clothing and keep life jackets on. Many soldiers sleeping deep in the ship's hold disregarded the order because of the engine's heat. Others ignored it because the life jackets were uncomfortable. 

On Feb. 3, at 12:55 a.m., a periscope broke the chilly Atlantic waters. Through the cross hairs, an officer aboard the German submarine U-223 spotted the Dorchester.
The U-223 approached the convoy on the surface, and after identifying and targeting the ship, he gave orders to fire the torpedoes, a fan of three were fired. The one that hit was decisive--and deadly--striking the starboard side, amid ship, far below the water line. 

Tragically, the hit had knocked out power and radio contact with the three escort ships. The Dorchester's escorts came to rescue those from the hit ship.

Aboard the Dorchester, panic and chaos had set in. The blast had killed scores of men, and many more were seriously wounded. Others, stunned by the explosion were groping in the darkness. Those sleeping without clothing rushed topside where they were confronted first by a blast of icy Arctic air and then by the knowledge that death awaited. 

Through the pandemonium, according to those present, the four chaplains brought hope in despair and light in darkness. 
Quickly and quietly, the four chaplains spread out among the soldiers. There they tried to calm the frightened, tend the wounded and guide the disoriented toward safety. 

One witness, Private William B. Bednar, found himself floating in oil-smeared water surrounded by dead bodies and debris. "I could hear men crying, pleading, praying," Bednar recalls. "I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going." 

Another sailor, Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, tried to reenter his cabin but Rabbi Goode stopped him. Mahoney, concerned about the cold Arctic air, explained he had forgotten his gloves. 

"Never mind," Goode responded. "I have two pairs." The rabbi then gave the petty officer his own gloves. In retrospect, Mahoney realized that Rabbi Goode was not conveniently carrying two pairs of gloves, and that the rabbi had decided not to leave the Dorchester. 

By this time, most of the men were topside, and the chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets. It was then that Engineer Grady Clark witnessed an astonishing sight. 

When there were no more lifejackets in the storage room, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men. 

"It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven," said John Ladd, another survivor who saw the chaplains' selfless act. 

Ladd's response is understandable. The altruistic action of the four chaplains  constitutes one of the purest spiritual and ethical acts a person can make. When giving their life jackets, Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew; Father Washington did not call out for a Catholic; nor did the Reverends Fox and Poling call out for a Protestant. They simply gave their life jackets to the next man in line. 

As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts could see the four chaplains--arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers.

Of the 902 men aboard the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, 672 died, leaving 230 survivors. When the news reached American shores, the nation was stunned by the magnitude of the tragedy and heroic conduct of the four chaplains. (1)

The friendship they showed towards one another and the love that they showed toward those serving on the ship is reminiscent of the friendship and love so apparent in Paul's letter to the Philippians.

Christ has called us together to serve in community by each other's side. Friendships and deep relationships ground us to each other and allow us to live deeper into our own humanity. We are called to reach out to the neighbor in need and lift up in prayer those that are entrusted to our care. Christ's death on the cross is our saving grace. 

We are not called to sit idly by though. We are called to go out and build relationships so that others too may hear of the Love that Christ has for all. How are you going to go and and share that Love this week? 

(1) and

Monday, May 12, 2014

Help Me

May 11, 2014 (Mother's Day)
Acts 16:16-34

As they're used psychologically, words like repression, denial, sublimation, defense, all refer to one form or another of the way human beings erect walls to hide behind, both from each other and from themselves. You repress the memory that is too painful to deal with, say. You deny your weight problem. You sublimate some of your anxious energy by channeling it into other forms of activity more socially acceptable. You conceal your sense of inadequacy behind a defensive bravado. And so on and so forth. The inner state you end up with is a castle-like affair of keep, inner wall, outer wall, moat, which you erect originally to be a fortress to keep the enemy out but which turns into a prison where you become the jailer and thus your own enemy. It is a wretched and lonely place. You can't be what you want to be there or do what you want to do. People can't see through all that masonry to who you truly are, and half the time you're not sure you can see who you truly are yourself, you've been walled up so long.

Fortunately there are two words that offer a way out, and they're simply these: Help me. It's not always easy to say them--you have your pride after all, and you're not sure there's anybody you trust enough to say them to--but they're always worth saying. To another human being--a friend, a stranger? To God? Maybe it comes to the same thing.

Help me. They open a door through the walls, that's all. At least hope is possible again. At least you're no longer alone. (1) Frederick Buechner shares these thoughts with us today as we contemplate what it means to be captive.

There are so many things happening in our passage from Acts this morning that it is hard to concentrate on one particular verse. 
Luke shares with us in Acts the story of Paul and Silas as they continue on their mission of spreading the Good News to the gentiles and all those willing to listen to the story of Jesus Christ. 

When they enter into town, they are encountered with a slave girl that draws attention to them and calls them out for who they truly are. If you think about it, what she is saying is not really an untrue statement. She follows them crying out repeatedly, "These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation." 

The apostles are referred to as slaves to God and/or Christ many times. The Greek word, doulos, can also be translated as servant. It is as a servant of God that they have been called to proclaim the way of salvation. Paul is aware that what she is speaking is true, but it is starting to get quite annoying because she is constantly following them and crying out this truth. 

I would liken it to those times when your children, or anyone for that matter, keep asking you the same question repeatedly, after you have already answered. It can be annoying. Maybe they are hoping for a different answer, or they have short-term memory loss. 

Paul does not look beyond the slave girls ability to prophesy. He sees this as a hinderance to her and an annoyance to himself and his followers. He fails to see and listen to who she is as a child of God. He does not address the fact that maybe, yes she was a slave to the ability to prophesy, but she was also a slave in the physical sense and owned by others, who in return are not too pleased as to what Paul has done to disperse the spirit from her. What is to happen to her now that she no longer has a gift that her owners could profit from? I can almost guarantee you that she was not simply released. I believe that Paul is still on a learning curve and does not always take the best step forward. After all, he is human and with that comes the ability to make mistakes.

Slavery is a hot-button issue. Maybe not as much on the forefront as it was 150 years ago in our country, but it is still an issue to this day. The problem is that we choose to ignore it and believe that when we speak of slavery, we are thinking about the pre-Civil War United States. 

However, slavery is just as big of an issue today, if not bigger, than it was 150 years ago. Not only is there slavery across the globe, one of the biggest focuses now is human trafficking. There are at least 27 million girls globally that are currently being trafficked for labor uses or prostitution. Human trafficking also occurs with males as well. Of that 27 million, nearly 300,000 of them are United States citizens and the average price placed on a person today is $90! I believe the value of a human life is much more than $90. This average age that trafficking begins is 14.

If you have payed any attention to the news over the last week, you have most likely heard of the 276 girls that were kidnapped from a Nigerian school by militants. The one thing that is upsetting is that this happened nearly a month ago and we have just found out about it in the past week. Because of continued protests by parents and loved ones it is finally getting the attention that it deserves. 

Their families cry for help has been heard from all around the world. Not only are these girls being held captive, their families have become prisoners to a system that has so far done little to address the situation and try to release the girls. 

Returning to our lesson this morning, let me remind you of the situation that Paul and Silas find themselves. They have been placed in prison themselves without the ability to defend themselves. They want freedom so that they may be able to go out and do what God has called them to do. This is not the first or the last controversy they will face though and Paul is learning what it means to truly become a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I want to turn your attention though to the man that is just doing his job. What has been assigned to him by a superior. I am sure he is just trying to make a living so that he can ensure his family has what is needed to live.

I am talking about the jailer himself. The guard that stands by at night and makes sure that nothing happens to the prisoners. It is when the earthquakes and the walls crumble that he himself becomes devastated. The last time someone escaped under a guards watch, Herod had them killed. Surely with the walls being knocked down the prisoners have escaped and he will meet the same fate.

However, Paul ensures the guard that they are all still accounted for and no one has ran off. The prisoners freedom is taunting them because they can easily leave, they can feel the fresh air on their faces, yet this time Paul thinks first of the guard. He senses the guards anguish over the fact that all these prisoners could have escaped under his watch.

The guard finds freedom though in the knowledge that the prisoners are still accounted for. It is in this freedom that he realizes that he has nothing left to lose. He leads the prisoners outside and says to Paul, more or less, "Help Me." "What must I do to be saved?" 

This freedom that is available to all of us through Jesus Christ is made aware to the guard as he senses God himself in the actions of Paul. I am sure that he had been listening to Paul and Silas singing and praying to God. If it is God that can bring this type of freedom, then he wants to experience it for himself.

He becomes a servant himself as he takes them to his home to clean their wounds and offer them a meal so that they are nourished to continue in their work. It is here that the freedom was experienced by the entire family as they were baptized without delay. This is God's grace at work in the world.

We can pray for this same freedom for the kidnapped girls in Nigeria. While, I am sure there is a mixture of faith traditions among these girls, God can and does wondrous things. God is present with them, wherever that may be, and I am sure that God is comforting them, weeping alongside them, but also drying their tears.   

For it is when we find the tomb empty on Easter morning that we are reminded of the freeing power of a wonderful and grace-filled God. God conquers our suffering and struggles, and brings peace to those who seek it. We are Easter people and we live on this side of the empty tomb. All we have to do is say, "Help me," and we welcome God into our lives to experience the freedom that has been promised to us through God's grace.

(1) From