Sermon: The Ascension of Jesus: Boring or Amazing?

At the end of the season of Easter we remember the ascension of Jesus. Compared to the resurection this might seem a little boring. However there is a message for all of us in this last encounter of Jesus.

Article: Thank You

 

I am extremely grateful for all the kindness shown to me and my family last Sunday. If you were not at Bethel on May 6th, let me fill you in. It was my birthday and we had a party at church. Not only that but we also celebrated the 20thanniversary of my ordination. The actual date of my ordination is the 24thof May but we combined these two events on Sunday and we had one big party at Bethel.

I also convinced my father (who is a retired pastor) and my son Carl to come out and join us for the weekend.

I figured this would be a low key affair. Church, lunch, birthday cake and then go home. I had told the staff (the party planners) that I didn’t want anything more than lunch. As it turns out the bishop wrote a really nice letter that was read during our worship services (with a fake llama delivering the letter at the 10:45 worship). The celebration continued at lunch where we served hamburgers and sausage to about 200 Bethel members and friends. That is a lot of people! Once again I am humbled by the turn out.

I figured the party was wrapping up when Tom, Patricia, Amanda, Dawn and Dave (Bethel’s program staff) came forward and said very, very nice things about me. I prefer them to talk behind my back because they embarrassed me with kindness.

Later on, Rachel and my father relayed all the nice things Bethel members said about me to them. I am floored by your thoughtfulness.

On our way home, Rachel opened the cards I received and read them to me (I was driving). Wow. I am not sure I am worthy of your love. Seriously.

I am so moved by your kindness and I wonder to myself if you really meant those things? (I know you do.) I think I am ok and I can hold my own in the pastor department but I am not sure if I am things you said to me and about me. I always feel like I could do more yet you assured me that what I am doing is enough. Thank you.

I do feel loved by you. I am deeply touched. I am not perfect but I do try hard to be a leader, caregiver and shepherd. Thank you for affirming my call to be a pastor these past 20 years. I will always cherish this day and that I shared it with you.

I am grateful for your love and I am thankful to be a pastor in the ELCA and more specifically… I am joyful that I am your pastor at Bethel.

With love,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: A Tour of God’s House: Generosity

We finish our tour of God’s house and we go to where generosity is expressed and received! Generosity in giving is often the last step in spiritual maturity.

Article: Sin and Confession

Sometimes we keep the sin in our lives well protected, guarded, covered over with lies. Sometimes we are not free enough to own our sin, so we cannot be healed of it. An unacknowledged wound cannot be healed.—MACRINA WIEDERKEHR, Seasons of Your Heart

 Sin always wounds the sinner.—CARYLL HOUSELANDER, The Reed of God

 Is sin a big deal? Is confession an archaic remnant of our faith? I’ll answer these two questions right now: Sin is a big deal and confession is important.

We often think of sin like a minor annoyance in the same way we occasionally get headache or twist an ankle. It is a small problem and it is no big deal. We have minimized sin. We all want to paint ourselves in the most positive light. Even I do that.

When we do that (and we do) we are minimizing our need for Christ. If sin is no big deal or a problem in my life, then I don’t need Jesus as much as others. Yikes! We all need Jesus and what he did for us.

Even modern theologians have tried to de-emphasize the atoning sacrifice of Christ while emphasizing that Christ is present with us in our darkest moments. These two theological ideas do not conflict with each other and both are true. Yet many theologians have made it an either/or proposition.

Christ came to us because we were far off from God. Jesus came to draw us close to Him.  How did He do this? Through his death and more specifically the shedding of his blood to cover (and forgive) our sins. It is our sin that causes a spiritual distance between us and God. Even if God is present in our darkest times, our sin gets in the way of experiencing the peace of God’s presence. Look what Saint Paul wrote: But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13

 Confession for the Christian is the activity that brings us near to Christ again and again.

This is what Martin Luther says about confession while quoting an early church John Chrysostom.

“I do not say that you should expose yourself in public or should accuse yourself before others, but obey the prophet who says, ‘Show your way to the Lord.’ Therefore confess to the Lord God, the true judge, in your prayer, telling him of your sins not with your tongue but in your conscience.”- Augsburg Confession, Article XV

 It doesn’t need to be a show and it doesn’t have to be done publicly but it is the vehicle that will allow reconciliation. The same applies to our closest relationships. Asking for forgiveness allows healing between two parties.

However, when we can’t see our own brokenness, we minimize sin and we have a hard time establishing intimacy with others including God. A few weeks ago in church, I referenced this verse from Isaiah 64:6 to help us think through our fragile human condition.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

 We like to think our good deeds are really good! See! I am a good person! And when do mess up, that is an isolated incident. It kind of reminds of me of McDonald’s when they released the Mc DLT sandwich. They featured the packaging that “keeps the hot side hot and cool side cool.” It is called compartmentalizing. It may work for a sandwich but it doesn’t in our lives. The verse above reminds us that even our “righteous acts” are sinful in God’s eyes.

That may seem harsh but it points our need for Christ. I completely understand what God is saying to Isaiah. Imagine if we lived in a mud pit and that was all we knew. Guess what? It would not be a big deal that everything we have (including ourselves) was always covered in mud. That’s just how life is. We cook in mud, we clean in mud, we shower in mud. If we lived like that, we wouldn’t even notice the mud but it is everywhere.

That is the way sin is. It is pervasive and infiltrates every part of our lives including our good deeds.

Once we come to realize how sin covers everything in our lives, we are more apt to confess our sins to God. Remember: confession is a return to our baptism where we are washed clean by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

Sermon: A Tour of God’s House: The Linen Closet

We continue the tour of God’s House. We go back to the lobby– the narthex as a place of movement and where we marshall our forces! Time to elevate!

Article: Earth Day/Week

April 22ndwas Earth Day. I didn’t have the chance to talk about it on Sunday because we are right in the middle of a sermon series on our core values. (These sermons are available on this website.) Although Earth Day is not on the church calendar, it is an important day because it reminds us that we are stewards. We have been entrusted by God to manage (stewardship) all that He has given us, including the world we live in.

Of course we get conflicting messages found in the two stories of creation within the book of Genesis. (FYI: Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are two different stories of creation. Genesis 2:4 begins the second story of creation.)

In Genesis 1:28 God commands the first humans to “rule over” creation and “subdue”it. Many Christians have pointed to this passage to treat the world we live in without care. As French President Macron pointed out this week while speaking to United States congress, “There is no planet B.” This is the only world we have.

Yet when we look at the second story of creation we find a different command from God. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” The word “work” in Hebrew is “abad.” It means to serve or work for another (steward). That is in addition to God’s command to “take care of” the garden of Eden.

Which one do you believe? Which directive is to be followed? Do they cancel each other out? Throughout scripture, God encourages us to be good stewards (managers) of all the things placed in our care including the world around us. In Deuteronomy 22:6, there is a reference to managing natural resources so that they do not run out. In this case, it is about birds.

In the next chapter, God tells the people of Israel that when they go to war against another nation, they should not chop down the trees of that region because they might produce fruit.

In Exodus 23 there is a command to farmers to let the land rest on the seventh year.

In the book of Proverbs King Solomon writes this, “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” Proverbs 12:10It is righteous (a Godly thing) to care for the needs of animals in your care.

When you look at the body of evidence within scripture, it clear that caring for creation is important to God. After creation was complete, “God saw allthat he had made, and it was very good.” Genesis 1:31

 Most of us are well aware of the potential dangers of climate change and how most of it is caused by humans. Scientist who study such things are in overwhelming agreement over the human impact of climate change. Although this is important work and imperative for humanity to digest and act upon; it shouldn’t make any difference to a Christian. Here is why: we should always be good stewards of God’s creation all the time, period. We should not suddenly start caring just because there is a possible growing problem if not a looming tipping point. As Christians, we should always care for God’s creation regardless of the situation.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

Sermon: A Tour of God’s House: The Garage

We continue the tour of God’s house and we go to the place where we keep our tools. OK, we don’t have a garage but we all have a place for our tools. There are even tools for spiritual growth. Today we explore that tool and what spiritual growth actually is.

 

Article: Take Time to Pray

As most of you know, the evangelist and pastor Billy Graham died earlier this year. Some saw him as a saint and others saw him as a sinner. As a Lutheran, I see him as both saint and sinner. He was a child of God and he had the same struggles with sin and being human like the rest of us. He earnestly sought God in his life and he sometimes missed the mark. Billy Graham is like us.

With that said, I ran across some words of his about prayer…

“Prayer is not about using God, it is more often about getting us in a position where God can use us.

 I watched the deck hands on the great steam ship named the “United States” as they docked that ship in NY Harbor. First they threw out a rope to the men on the dock. Then, inside the boat the great motors went to work and pulled on the great cable. But, oddly enough, the pier wasn’t pulled out to the ship; the ship was pulled snugly up to the pier.

 Prayer is the rope that pulls God and us together. But it doesn’t pull God down to us… it pulls us to God. We must learn to say with Christ, the master of the art of praying: ‘Not my will; but Thine be done.’”

 The Bible is filled with prayers, people praying and admonitions to pray. 246 different references to be exact. There are as many reasons to pray as there are troubles and joys in our lives… but I believe Billy Graham has it right. One of the things that happens when we pray is intimacy. We are drawn closer to God every time we pray. Outside of the requests made in prayer, the simple act of prayer creates a closeness with God.

Prayer is an acknowledgement that there is someone who is more powerful than you and is in charge. If that wasn’t true, why would we ever pray? If God is more power than us (He is) then prayer is also act of submission. In prayer we entrust our cares, concerns and joys to the one who holds all things in His hands.

In the south, when a cold air mass moves down from Canada, people sometimes refer to it as a “Blue Norther” and it makes its presence felt! You can feel the wind blow as the high pressure cold air rushes into the warmer area of lower pressure. The greater the difference in pressure between the high and low, the greater the wind speed.

Prayer creates in us a kind of low pressure area as we bow in humility before the Lord. The “lower” we can become through prayer, the stronger the wind will be when the high pressure of the Spirit blows in.

Take the time to pray. Don’t ask for anything. Just talk to God. Let Him know you want more of Him in your life and experience the peace of God that surpasses all understanding when we take the time to pray. (Philippians 4:7)

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

Sermon: A Tour of God’s House: The Kitchen Table

We continue the tour of Bethel and we move from the front door (of hospitality) to the kitchen table (of Christ Centered Community). Listen in and hear the biblical value of eating together. Oh and Bacon.

Article: What’s at Your Center?

Let us go back in time. All the way back to 900BC. Life was different back then… very different. At that moment in Israel’s history, they had a king you probably never heard of. His name was King Asa. Over the course of 400 years Israel had both good kings and bad kings. King Asa was a good king. Although his story was short, he should be remembered.

In 2 Chronicles 14:3-4, King Asa does something that we might shrug our shoulders at and say, “so what.” I would argue that there is a spiritual truth that is still relevant to us today.

“King Asa removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to obey his laws and commands.”

 During King Asa’s reign, Israel had a problem. Instead of being fully devoted to God, they worshipped and followed other gods too. King Asa knew this was not good for the people and that God entrusted him to lead. King Asa removed all the places of worship that were not consecrated to the God of Israel.

Not only did he act, but he also spoked to the people. He instructed them to “seek the Lord…”

 I get it, you are probably wondering what does this have to do with me and my life? King Asa is addressing the most important question of life itself. He gives us the answer, but the question is this, “What will be at the center of my life?”

People place many things at the center of their lives: careers, families, sports schedules, making money, hobbies and the list goes on. These are our false gods. A good gauge of what might be at the “center” of your life is two-fold. Our “center” can be easily identified by what we spend the most time and money on. Throughout of our lives, these “centers” might change based on circumstances.

King Asa reminds us that God should be at the center of our lives. No matter our age or circumstances, God is all we need. Jesus is our rock, our cornerstone and our firm foundation. Remember, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8

Anything but Christ will eventually lead to disappointment. We humans are fairly predictable, once something let’s us down we begin the search for a new and improved “center” that will also let us down some day. However, if we turn to or turn back to Christ, know that he will lead you and bless you beyond imagination.

What do I mean by that?

With Christ as our center, he will help us answer other questions that are almost as important. Questions like: Can I be a person of integrity? (Yes with God’s help.) Can I make a difference in this world? (Yes with God’s help.) Can I inspire others? (Yes with God’s help.)

King Asa’s actions is a helpful reminder to me to stick with God because there is nothing like having Christ at the center of our lives leading us in paths of righteousness.

Speaking of “centers”, if you went to the center of the Bible (by chapter) you would find that Psalm 117 is right in the middle with an equal number of chapters before and after it. It is only two verses long. In the middle of the Psalm (the center verse of the center chapter) it says this, “For great is his love toward us.” What a great “center” verse!

Now if you went to the center of the Bible (by verse) you end up at Psalm 103:1-2. There are an equal amount of verses before it and after it. This is what it says, “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” What a response to having God at the center of our lives! I won’t forget all of God’s benefits, I hope you don’t either.

God bless,
Pr. Ben