Many years ago, Sharon baptized her niece Kennedy, she was six years old at the time.
One day we went to visit her brother and his family and Kennedy’s mom asked her to tell us what she had said about God.
She was a little embarrassed at first, but then after some prodding she said with a great sense of confidence and authority… “ONLY GOD CAN GIVE YOU REAL FREEDOM!”
And with that, a six year old summed up the Gospel!
ONLY GOD CAN GIVE YOU REAL FREEDOM
Jesus was talking to the Jews who believed in him …and told them
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus reminds us that real freedom is spiritual freedom. Real freedom is the freedom from sin and death and that freedom can only be given by God.
Weekly Reminder – Confession of Sins
Each week, we begin our worship with the corporate confession that reminds us of this truth.
The pastor says: If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just with forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And then we pray together: we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
There it is, without God’s help we are not free. We cannot earn, or buy, or conquer our freedom because we are enslaved to sin. It is part of our human nature.
Martin Luther Described This True Freedom
“Our wills are bent or curved towards ourselves so that without God’s help, everything we do ends up being about us.”
You see we are not in bondage to our sins, those things we do wrong that come and go. We are in bondage to our own human nature which always puts ourselves before God.
And that’s exactly why Jesus came into the world. To free us from our bondage and save us from ourselves. Jesus went to the cross and went head to head with our sin so that he could pay the price required to set us free.
So I encourage you to live out your freedom. Let your life be an reflection of the Glory of God, and an example of the amazing things that living in true Freedom, TRUE FREEDOM… can produce.
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:15-16
Don’t Pick Me, Please Don’t Pick Me
Remember when you were in class as a student and you knew that the teacher was going to call on you to answer a question that you KNEW you did not know the answer too? You would do everything that you could think of to become invisible. (avoiding eye contact, looking down at the floor, pretending to be asleep…or actually being asleep) You were not confident in your abilities, your skill or your intelligence. And somehow it seems as if the teacher knew these facts, and they would go out of their way to call on you.
Let me tell you how different this is in God’s kingdom. God knows that we are, sometimes, clueless so God sent us Jesus to make a way for us where there seemed to be no way before. We call that GRACE (G.R.A.C.E. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.) Christ came and lived and died so that we could have life and have it more abundantly.
Be Bold – God has the Answers
Knowing about God’s gift, we can have the courage… the strength… the ability to approach the throne of Grace with BOLDNESS. To approach the throne with the boldness to know that we do not have to have the answers, because God has already answered all of the questions. We don’t have to hide or try to become invisible, because we have a God who loves us and wants us to be at that banquet table with heads lifted high, celebrating our freedom in Christ.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” – Mark 8:31-33
Bumper Stickers – Good and Not So Good
I have seen bumper stickers on some cars that make me laugh, some that make me sad, some that just confuse me, and some that are just plain wrong.
- “My dog ate your stick family”
- “My kid beat up your honor student”
- “The man who dies with the most toys, wins”
- And my all-time favorite: “Jesus is my co-pilot”
Are You Sitting in the Right Seat?
Folks when Jesus was speaking with his disciples and asking him if people knew who he was they came up with many answers. And let me assure you that Co-Pilot was not one of them. Siblings in Christ, if Jesus is your co-pilot then you can be sure that you are sitting in the wrong seat. Jesus is NOT the one who we are training or the one who will take over from us down the road. Jesus is, or at least he should be, leading our thoughts, words and deeds.
So get up, and move over and let Jesus take the wheel.
Okay, let’s pause from our day and think about this question for a minute.
If the world were to end today, what have we done with the gifts that God has given to us? What have we done with the gift of the church? Have we helped it grow, or are we doing our best to maintain the status quo?
What have we done with the gift of Jesus Christ? Have we helped to spread the good news of that gift, or are we trying to keep it to ourselves?
What have we done with the gift of our talents? Whatever your talent may be. Have we used it to further God’s Kingdom, or are we keeping it hidden away, out of sight and out of mind?
The Story of the Servants and the Talents
In the Gospel of Matthew 25:14-30 we read the story of the servants and the Talents, in this case the Talents were a measure of money. The lesson shows us that we are all given many gifts, and talents by God to be used to further the Kingdom, it also shows us that we do not all have the same abilities.
The talents in this text were given out in differing amounts. But each of us is expected to use the gifts that we are given, whatever that gift may be, to the best of our abilities. Sometimes it is when we are using our “talent”, that we will find that we are required to do more with it…”For to all those who have, more will be given…” So if you have ever used the expression… “I have done my part, now let others do theirs.” Bamp, wrong answer. God wants you to know that you have multiplied your gift, and now you can be entrusted with more.
Your Talent: Find it – Get Over it – Adjust
So if you have buried your talent (find it), or if you feel that someone else may be better at something than you are (get over it), or if you feel as if you need a break (adjust). The Kingdom of God is at hand, and we are all called to make sure that we are about the business of building up, and growing
As the hymn teaches us… Let us talents and tongues employ, reaching out with a shout of joy: Bread is broken, the wine is poured, Christ is spoken and seen and heard. Jesus lives again, earth can breathe again, pass the Word around: Loaves abound.-(ELW #674)
Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:10-20
A Great Start for Your Morning
I LOVE this text. When I visit with people who are going through a struggle with daily living, I always encourage them to read this passage from Ephesians the first thing in the morning, EVERY DAY. EVERY DAY. I tell them to start their morning off with this passage, because it will remind them that no matter what happens to them that day, that they will know that they are loved, cared for and PROTECTED with God’s Armor.
Use God’s Armor
When I was in college I coached a peewee football team at the local elementary school. Since I was the new guy, I was given all of the misfit kids that wanted to play, but really had no idea of what they were doing. The first day, one of my kids even put his helmet on backwards. I had to stop and explain what each piece of equipment was for, and why it was important.
The same holds true for the Gospel Armor, each piece is important and together they help to protect us from “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Now that we have increased our daily prayer lives with our 3:16 daily prayer, let’s add some extra protection for this ministry by wrapping it in God’s armor.
Rich in Faith, Hope and Trust
When I visited Tanzania for the first time, I was struck by the severe poverty and lack of material resources. When I looked around all I could see is what they did not have. Yet, by the third day, everything changed. Instead of seeing what they lacked, all I could see was what they had. Suddenly, I saw how rich they were in faith, hope, and trust, and how poor I was in comparison.
When we visited a new Lutheran secondary school built by the diocese we learned that their bishop came up with the idea to build a residential school on the top of a beautiful mountain. However, before moving forward with the project, the bishop encouraged the entire community to pray about the project for one full year. Their corporate prayers would ask for God’s affirmation, direction, and support.
During that year, people would climb to the top of the mountain to pray in the spot of the future school. As they prayed, each person would dig out a rock from the mountainside and leave it on the ground. By the time, the year of prayer ended, the rocks needed for the foundation of the dormitory were already unearthed and ready for construction.
As we begin a new chapter in our ministry and mission here at Grace
… it seems fitting to use the witness of our Tanzanian brothers and sisters in Christ as our model. In order for our plans and goals to be fruitful, they must be built on the foundation of prayer and discernment of God’s will.
Therefore, I am inviting you to join your community of faith in forty days of intentional prayer. Beginning on Sunday August 19th, 2018, please set aside 3:16pm each day to pray for our mission here at Grace.
Pray that God will direct our path forward.
Pray that God will help us discern a vision.
Pray that God will give us the courage to move into new and uncharted territory.
Let us open ourselves to God’s voice and call.
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead,
Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1:1-7
Do people know who you are?
If you stood and began to address a group, any group, would those who are present be able to identify you? Or more importantly would what you say carry any weight because of who you are?
I once attended a church function where there were going to be a lot of clergy present. At one point, someone came into the room and began to bark orders as to where we were to stand and sit and how the process was going to go. He gave us our marching orders and then turned and left the room. After he left, several of those present looked at each other and said… “who the heck was that?”
In the text from Romans, Paul avoids this kind of confusion and questioning by starting off with his credentials. And Paul’s credentials did not so much as tell us WHO Paul was, but they told who WHOSE Paul was. And Whose he was, was Jesus’. Paul was a person called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.
We also are Called by Christ, and set apart to be God’s witnesses in this world. Let us make sure that when we encounter others that they know more about WHOSE we are than they know about us.
When Elijah was fleeing from the wrath of Jezebel, he did not know what was in store for him, but God did. God sent an angel to Elijah when he was at the point of giving up, and that angel brought him food and water. That angel brought him bread for his journey. “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” – 1 Kings 19:4-9
There are times in our lives when we can also feel as if the journey is going to be too long, and we want to give up or give in. Even though we may not know where that journey is leading, God does, and God sends messengers and angels to us to give us bread for our journey.
Enough that Sustains
That bread is Jesus and the Word of God. Are you eating enough to sustain you? Are you drinking in God’s Word enough to fulfill you?
We are standing at the start of a brand new journey together…
We are standing at the start of a brand new journey together and we don’t know where this road is leading, but God does. I want you to make sure that you are being filled by God’s Word. We have several adult Bible study options here at Grace as well as our children and youth Christian Education. I invite you to find a way to attend. Find a way to come and eat and drink and gain strength for our journey.
Some of you may remember from my introduction letter that many years ago, my wife, Sharon and I took a trip to Muir Woods. Muir Woods is a wonderful national park outside San Francisco where the majestic redwoods grow. When I saw these beautiful enormous trees for the first time, I was struck with a feeling of awe. I was amazed by their strength, their size, and their age. I was also amazed to learn that even though the redwoods are so tall and strong, each tree actually has a very short root system. Each individual tree has a root that is approximately ten feet long.
How Can That Be?
Think about it for a moment… a tree anywhere from a hundred to three hundred feet tall is supported only by a ten foot long root! How could that be? It doesn’t seem possible. In fact, what we learned is that it is not possible. If a redwood grew by itself, its root could not support the weight and height of the tree. Left alone, the tree would eventually pull up its own root, topple over, and die.
That is why redwoods never grow alone. They always grow in community. They grow in tree clusters. Each tree is surrounded by other trees. They are so close to one another that their roots interconnect by stretching out horizontally rather than vertically. This creates a literal web of roots so strong that it can support a whole community of trees, even ones that tower hundreds of feet above the earth.
We Grow Together in Christ
As I enter into the community here at Grace, I am very aware of two things:
- In a very profound way we (you and I) have always been a part of the same community. In baptism, we have been rooted together in Christ Jesus and therefore are part of the same body.
- Yet, at the same time, I am new to this cluster and need your support, prayers, and welcome as I begin to intertwine my roots with yours.
Perhaps the tension between one and two is an example of the tension in which we live as disciples of Christ. We are constantly living in the tension between building loving relationships with those who are already here and reaching out to invite new people to join the community. As a new person here, I look forward to meeting you all and beginning to build those connections. I look forward to hearing your stories and sharing mine.
A Cluster of Support
I am excited about our partnership in ministry together as we honor the past as well as look to the future. I pray that our ministry will be faithful to both our calling to love and care for the present body and our call to increase the body by reaching out to those who stand alone in need of a cluster to love, support, and pray with them.
Yours in Christ,
A large bouquet of balloons! Every now and then someone is trying to transport multiple balloons in their car. It’s quite a sight. Taking 25 large helium balloons and stuffing them into a small cab can be an exercise in frustration.