I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. Not so much physically tired, although that happens sometimes with two young daughters who don’t always sleep through the night, but just tired of the things happening around us in our world today.
I’m tired of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact that it has had on our community and on the world. I’m tired of not being able to worship together with a sanctuary full of my brothers and sisters in Christ due to our social distancing precautions. I’m tired of not being able to host our regular activities due to concerns about people’s wellbeing and the size of groups. I’m tired of not being able to gather with groups and not traveling like we used to. I suppose I could summarize it by just saying that I’m tired of the way that our lives have been disrupted.
I’m also tired of the political drama that seems to encompass more and more of our attention and our conversations while being less and less positive or helpful. I’m tired of lies. I’m tired of anger. I’m tired of the constant power grabs. I’m tired of the selfishness and self-centeredness. I’ll be honest with you, I care very little about politics or political parties, but I am pretty concerned about the way that politicians have been turned into idols and political parties into religions.
I’m also tired of the way that Christians have gotten sucked into all of this nonsense and pulled away from God’s Word and His Promises. I’m tired of the selfishness and self-centeredness that has developed in response to the pandemic. I’m tired of the anger that consumes so many related to politics. I’m tired of the “I know best, and you’re an idiot if you disagree” attitude that seems to drive our response to so many things.
I’m just tired. How about you? Are you tired too? I bet you are. I know some of you are based on the conversations that we’ve had over the last months.
Now fortunately for me and for you, I’m not just some opinion columnist for the local newspaper. I’m not here to complain and bemoan all that is wrong with the world. All of these things that I’ve described can be chalked up to the sin that has infected our whole world – you could almost say that sin was the first pandemic – everyone has been infected and no one gets out alive.
But fortunately in the pandemic of sin, we have a fool proof solution with 100% effectiveness. In Matthew 11, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
In John 16, Jesus also says, I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
These are awesome words of comfort spoken by the King of the Universe, Jesus himself. When we are tired, we can turn to Jesus and he gives us rest. He takes all of our burdens, all of our stressors, all of our shame, all of our sin, all of our pain, all of our suffering and in exchange gives us hope, peace, comfort, forgiveness, and life that never ends. What great comfort it is to have this assurance.
When we receive these gifts from Jesus it sets us free to share them with others. We’re no longer bound to ourselves, but we are turned loose on the world to make sure that others receive these great gifts too.
Jesus summarizes all of what God expects of his people in two sentences. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” And the second one is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.
These two simple sentences should guide the way that all Christians live. We should not be selfish or self-centered. We should not constantly be asserting “my way is right and you’re an idiot if you disagree”. Instead we are called to love others and be the light in a dark world.
Paul gives encouragement in Romans 12 that is worth us all reading over and over again. He writes, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Jesus loves you, how can you love others this week too?
What is Truth?
(I originally wrote this for our local newspaper's pastor's column.)
I’m a news junkie. I like watching and reading the news and know what is going on in our town, across our state, the country and the world. It is interesting to know what is going on and to be aware of current events.
Last week I saw a clip of an interview that was rather intriguing. This interview was given by Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, and who is currently serving as a personal attorney to President Trump. In the interview he made the comment that “truth isn’t truth” and said that “it is someone’s version of the truth”. These comments have received a lot of criticism since they were said.
It got me thinking about another time that words like this were spoken. It happened after Jesus had been arrested and put on trial before the Roman governor Pontus Pilate. Pilate is trying to figure out who this Jesus character really is. He’s heard many things, but now he has the chance to speak with him directly. He starts asking question as he tries to get to Jesus’ true identity. In response to one of these questions, Jesus says, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)
Pilate then says, “What is truth?” It really is the age-old question, isn’t it? What things are true and what things are false? What do we believe and what do we reject? How do we know?
These questions have heated up over the past few years as you read stories about false information being spread via social media, biased news reporting, and outright lies being told by people in interviews. You might find your head spinning and the question, “What is truth?” coming up again and again. We might long for a perfect world where everyone told the truth all of the time, but unfortunately, we know that won’t happen.
It won’t happen because the truth is that we all have a little problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, old or young, popular or an outcast, we all have the same problem. That problem is sin. The phrase, “Nobody is perfect” is true. We have all been affected by sin and that is what causes us not to live a perfect life. Sin is what causes us to lie too.
The unfortunate truth is that this sin separates us from God our creator. God made everything around us – the world and everything in it. He made you and me and he loves his creation. But God can’t stand sin. Sin can’t be in his presence. It doesn’t matter if it is one sin or one million sins – they all break the relationship between God and his creation. If left unchecked, this broken relationship results in an eternity of separation even after we die.
The truth is that you and I can’t fix ourselves. You already know this. Try being perfect for a whole day – not getting angry, not saying anything mean, not thinking anything bad. It’s impossible. Sometimes it is hard to even go an hour. Yet God demands perfection, not just your best try.
This truth might seem pretty hopeless. If we’re sinners who are separated from God and we can’t do anything to fix the relationship because we are sinners what good is anything?
However, the even bigger truth is that God is a God of mercy, and grace, and love. The truth is that he loved you so much that he sent his son Jesus into the world to be perfect since you and I couldn’t. He sent Jesus to take all of the punishment that you and I deserved and to give us all of the perfection that we couldn’t do on our own.
Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”. (John 14:6) Anyone who believes in him has forgiveness and eternal life with him. This is the truth that transcends everything else.
People may lie and contradict each other. We may wonder whether what we’re hearing or reading on social media and in other outlets is true, but the one thing that you never have to wonder about being true is how much God loves you. That is the greatest truth in the history of the world and ultimately the only truth that really matters.
Much has been said in the past couple of days about Attorney General Jeff Session’s comments referencing the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13. Paul gives instructions in this text about obeying the government because they are given their authority by God and worthy of respect.
This is most certainly true. Before you write it off as being ridiculous, go and learn more about the Roman government that is in power as Paul is writing this. You’ll discover that he’s living under an emperor who is violently anti-Christian and this is not a reference to simply Christian governments.
However, while the command for respecting our government is true, I’m not sure if that is the most helpful place to go in Scripture when talking about the way that we treat other people.
If Christians are going to invoke scripture when discussing policy and especially policies related to the treatment of other human beings, might we also consider:
Having laws are important. God has instituted government and given it authority for good order and keeping the peace. However, as Christians we are called to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves and to care for those who we find around us. We really have no excuse not to do this.
I wonder if we’ll ever figure it out.
We have so many problems, so many conflicts, so many issues.
Over and over again we affirm for people that the individual is what matters the most.
Your thoughts, your feelings, your desires are most important. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or says because you should just do you.
Then we’re shocked when people act selfishly. We’re “shocked” at the vile behavior that prompted #MeToo. We’re “shocked” at the never-ending violence that comes up over and over again in our schools and public places. We’re “shocked” at political scandals. We’re “shocked” at oppression and hatred between races and cultures.
We should stop being “shocked” because we created this.
Until we love others more than we love ourselves.
Until we count others more significant than ourselves.
Until we value others more than ourselves.
There are no amount of laws, public reprimands, arguments, or well wishes that are going to change this situation that we find ourselves in.
I wonder if we’ll ever figure it out.
We can’t do this on our own. We can’t lecture others into being nicer or kinder or more loving. Our evil nature doesn’t allow that.
But we can experience it. We can experience a love that is boundless. A love that doesn’t go away just because we’re bad. It comes through Jesus Christ.
Experiencing Jesus’ love and sharing that love can make us nicer, kinder, and more loving.
It can help us love others more than we love ourselves.
It can help us count others more significant than ourselves.
It can help us value others more than ourselves.
And it is in that moment when we will finally get the peace that we’re looking for. But I’m sure it won’t happen without Jesus.
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17
My wife and I both moved to Algona from St. Louis and while it isn’t where I grew up, it is a city that I’ve come to love. It’s a great place with many things to do and see. The food is great too. Since my wife’s family all lives there we make it back to visit on a somewhat regular basis. Last week we packed up the car and drove down so that all of the extended family could meet our new daughter, Abby.
The first night we were in town we were having dinner with some friends who told us that an event that they were supposed to attend the next night had been cancelled. We asked why, and they said they city was preparing for a verdict to be announced the next day in the case of another police officer involved shooting.
Now if you’ve been paying attention to the news, you probably know how this turned out. A white police officer was found not guilty of murder in a case where he shot and killed a black man during a traffic stop.
Protests began in the city shortly after the verdict was announced and continued throughout the weekend. As we sat and watched the news, I recalled living in St. Louis during the protests and rioting in Ferguson following a similar incident a few years go. It’s incredibly sad to watch a community that I love struggle with this conflict, hatred, and tensions.
Watching the situation unfold reignited something I’ve been thinking more and more about recently as our country experiences conflict after conflict unfold before us. Before the St. Louis protests there was the violent clash between a group that was reminiscent of the KKK and counter protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia. Before that there is a nearly endless list of conflicts and clashes, protests and violence.
“All you need is love…” or so the Beatles once said. It’s the same refrain that I hear over and over again as people try to make sense of all of the hatred, racism, and violence. Friends in my newsfeed post news articles about these terrible event and offer accompanying comments wondering why there is so much hate in the world and imploring people to love each other more. Commentators on 24 hour news stations offer similar advice. “Love more” is the refrain after every terrible act of violence, hate, or racism that happens
It is horrifying to see these things happen and the constant conflict can be overwhelming and make a person feel like it’s impossible for anyone to love anyone else anymore.
Yet we constantly implore people to dig deeper inside of themselves. Find that good inside of you and love and care for your fellow humans. It’s true, we should love and care for each other, if for no other reason than for a common sense of decency and respect.
But have you noticed that the more we tell people to dig down inside of themselves and find love instead of hate to share with the rest of the world, the worse things get? The more we tell people, “You need to be nice” or “We all just need to love each other” or “No hate, just love” The more hate we see. The more division we see. The more violence we see.
I don’t think this is a coincidence. In fact, I know it isn’t a coincidence. You see, I know that there is nothing good inside of me when I’m left to my own devices. There is nothing good in any human being. We’re all filled with sin, death, and destruction. That makes us selfish, it makes us lazy, it makes us hateful, it makes us violent.
The more we tell people to just dig into themselves, what are they going to find? More sin! More hate! More conflict. Saint Paul tells us this in Romans 7, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So what are we to do? How do we make things better? Can we make things better? Our key to resolving all of the hate and conflict and violence and terrible things that keep happening isn’t to tell people to look further inside of themselves hoping to find love.
Instead it is to look to Jesus. He is love in the flesh. He loves you and showed that love by coming and living here on earth. He showed that love by dying on the cross to forgive your sins and mine. He showed that love by rising from the dead and continuing to live and be in charge of everything.
John tells us this in chapter 3 of his gospel, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
It’s when we look outside of ourselves, when we experience Jesus’ love that we’re truly able to love others no matter who that other person is or what they have done. We are able to love because Jesus first loved us, not because we were able to dig down deep and find some special love inside of ourselves.
So I hope you will look to Jesus. Experience his love. When you do, turn around and share it with as many people as you can. I think it would be pretty awesome to see Jesus’ love reflected in our cities and states across the country because his love drives out hate, selfishness, and violence and replaces it with a peace that the world so desperately needs.
"Free Food" -- August 6, 2017
I've decided to start sharing the YouTube videos of my sermons here on my blog. I've had some people comment that they enjoy watching them and this will keep them in one place together.
This is from this past Sunday, August 6th. It is based on the texts from Isaiah 55:1-5 and Matthew 14:13-21
Food is one of those foundational things for our lives and yet it can get pretty expensive. When you go to a professional sporting event, concert, or other large event you often find yourself being asked to pay exponentially more that what the food is actually worth. If you shop for your own food you can often find good deals, but yet you will still end up spending quite a bit every month for food.
We have good news as Christians. Jesus had compassion on us and came into this broken, sinful world. He experienced hunger, tiredness, thirst, temptation, loss, conflict, sickness, torture and death. And yet he continued to love and have compassion. He feeds us with FREE spiritual food and gives it to us in abundance so we always have more than we need!
My wife and I just welcomed our first child into the world a couple of weeks ago. She wasn’t due to be born until RAGBRAI Day (July 24) but apparently decided she wanted to make an early appearance. As I sit here writing this, it is early in the morning and she’s asleep in her little sleeper next to me in the living room as we let mommy get some more sleep.
The gift of life that comes with a new baby is something that is truly miraculous. From that first moment that you discover that a baby is on the way, through the growing, the first time you hear the heartbeat, ultrasounds, and ultimately the delivery, it is an incredible process.
It’s also a terrifying process. Throughout the pregnancy I worried about whether baby and mom would be healthy and well. At the delivery we waited for that first cry to tell us that she was breathing ok. Now that we’ve been home a couple weeks we find ourselves worrying about all sorts of things. Is she eating enough? Is she still breathing in the middle of the night when we’re startled awake for no apparent reason? Is she growing like she’s supposed to be? Are we ever going to sleep through the night again?
If I had a dollar for every person who told me before she was born that “Having a baby will change your life” I probably could have made a pretty good dent in her college fund. But it is true, things change, life changes when a baby is born.
Your time changes, your sleep schedule changes, your priorities change, your worries change, and your house changes. That last one might seem like a weird one, but I add it in there because it is true – your house changes because you start to accumulate all sorts of baby stuff. Between the things that we’ve purchased and the gifts that have so generously been given to us by friends and family, our now has many new things in it that didn't exist just a few months ago.
As I think about all of these presents it is a little bit funny to me how important all of these things are for a brief moment in her life, and yet how quickly they all become unnecessary or unusable. She’s already starting to be close to growing out of some of the clothes that she has. Someday she will be too big for the rocking seat and bathtub that she has and they’ll all just end up in storage or at a garage sale.
This got me thinking about how temporary our stuff is and how quickly the gifts that we give pass away. It also got me thinking about how I, as a father, have the opportunity to give my daughter the single greatest gift that she can ever receive and the only gift she won’t outgrow, that will never break, and will not get rusty or worn out.
I have the privilege of sharing God’s Word with her. Telling her about the mighty things that God has done. About how he created the world with the power of his spoken word. How he delivered his people from slavery in Egypt and protected them even when they ignored and disobeyed him. I get to tell her about how there is sin in the world and it causes terrible things to happen, but how God loves his creation so much that he wasn’t content to just sit back and watch the world self-destruct so he made a promise that he was going to restore it.
I get to tell her about how God kept this promise by sending his son Jesus into the world. We’ll talk about how Jesus lived a perfect life, he taught about God’s kingdom, he showed love and compassion to those in need, he healed the sick, he called sinners to repentance, and he forgave peoples’ sins. I get to tell her about how he showed the ultimate act of love by taking the punishment that we all deserved and dying on the cross once and for all. I’ll get to tell her about how he didn’t stay dead, but how he rose from the dead on that first Easter Sunday morning. I’ll get to tell her that because he is alive we will rise too and live in the restored creation with God for eternity.
I’ll tell her all of these things because that’s what God commands parents to do. Deuteronomy 11 says, “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.
I also do it because I know that God’s Word is powerful, and through it he creates saving faith. I trust that God will work through his Word to grow that faith in our daughter. Her journey of faith started last week when she was washed in the waters of Holy Baptism. God adopted her as his own and marked her with His name – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Her mother and I have the privilege of ensuring that she continues to grow in the faith.
As Christians, this is a responsibility that we share together. No matter whether you have children or not, you have the responsibility to share the Good News about Jesus with the people in your life. God’s Word is powerful and will work in the lives of the people with whom you share it. It is a Word of hope, restoration, and forgiveness for the whole world and I hope you’ll join with me in sharing it.
Don’t Take a Vacation from God
Summer is back again. School is out, graduations have happened and vacations are being planned or have already started happening. I can still remember how excited I was as a kid for summer to come and for school to be over. School was ok, but summer was so much more fun. There was time to play outside, to go swimming, and to visit my grandparents. But the best part was probably the fact that I didn’t have to be in school for three months. No more classes and no more homework. More time to focus on the fun stuff.
Sometimes I fear we have the same attitude about our attendance at and participation in church during the summer. Summer arrives and we get so excited for all of the fun things that we have planned. Outdoor actives, vacations and the other things we find to fill out time. It’s easy to feel like we’re on summer vacation from church and this might be just as exciting to you as it was to me when we were on summer vacation from school.
That’s not how it should be; we should never take an extended vacation away from being in church. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Of course you have to say that because you’re a pastor.” But that’s not actually why I say it. It’s not some sense of self-preservation. I say it because there is no more important place that we can be than in the same place where God has promised to be and where he promises to distribute his gifts.
In Hebrews 10 we read, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
In this text we are encouraged to hold strongly to our confession of hope – that is the faith and confidence we have in Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. The writer goes on to say that we should encourage one another to love and to do good works. The only way we can do that is if we are actually gathering together in the same place which is probably why the sentence continues “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some”. Already in the time when this is being written there are people who are taking a vacation from gathering together as the Body of Christ.
So there’s the relationship that we have with fellow believers and the opportunity that we have to love, support, and encourage one another when we gather together for worship. But I also mentioned that it is the place where God distributes his gifts. What are the gifts? Martin Luther preached a sermon once that used a wonderful image to describe the gifts that God gives.
Luther said that each week we come into God’s presence and we’re carrying an empty sack. The troubles and problems of our life have just really taken it out of us. We have nothing to give and need to receive something to fill up our sack again. So we come into church and in our service at Trinity, we begin by confessing that we are sinners, in response we hear that our sins are forgiven. Boom! God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness is dropped into our sack. Scripture readings are read and God drops more grace, mercy, and love into our sacks. Our sacks are starting to fill up. The gospel – the good news of life and forgiveness through Jesus Christ is proclaimed in the sermon and this life and forgiveness is dropped in the sack. We receive the blessing of God at the end of the service and that is dropped into our sack too.
By the end of the service our sack is full again. We lug the sack out with us as we go about our lives in the places God has put us. Along the way we encounter our parents who annoy us with their expectations and rules for our lives. We get into a fight with our spouse. Someone mistreats us at work or school. Our first instinct is to take this sack and beat them over the head with it, but that’s not why we have it. Instead we can reach into the bag and pull out some of the grace, mercy, peace, and forgiveness that we have received and we can share it with the people who have sinned against us. We can show them the amazing love that we have already received. By the end of the week our sack is empty again and needs to be refilled.
You see, if we take a vacation from church for the summer then our sack is going to stay empty. We won’t have the gifts that God has given to us to share with others and that would be rather unfortunate.
Have fun this summer. Enjoy the outdoors. Travel to see friends and family. Explore the world. Just don’t take a vacation from God. He loves you more than you can imagine and wants to keep refilling your sack with his awesome gifts so that you can keep sharing them with others in your life!
I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe how fast the past few months have been flying by. It seems like it was just Christmas and now we’re already in April. This is exciting because it means that spring is just around the corner and summer will be here again.
One of the unique things about April is the way it starts. It starts with the unofficial holiday called “April Fools Day”. Did you experience any pranks this year? April Fools Day is the day for pranks and trying to fool people into believing something that isn’t real. Last week my wife shared a link with me on Facebook of the top pranks that parents could pull on their kids. There were some pretty funny ones on the list. We might have to save some of those for when we have kids that are old enough to enjoy them.
Some of my favorite April Fools Day jokes over the past few years have actually come from Google. Seems like a weird place to find pranks, but Google always seems to release a few things that range from the “almost too good to be true” to “absolutely unbelievable” and for a while people regularly fell for these pranks. I think I like them because I’m sort of a technology nerd at heart.
One prank that Google pulled a few years ago was called “The YouTube Collection”. This was their “brand new” service that was going to be similar to Netflix, but for YouTube videos. The premise was that they would send you DVDs with various YouTube videos on them and then you could comment on the videos via regular mail that you would send back to them. Apparently they would also send you other people’s comments that they were making on the same videos.
I know, you probably think this sounds ridiculous, but I am sure there were some people who read it and thought, “Oh that is a great idea, let me fill out the sign up form!”
Why am I talking about April Fools Day? It isn’t a church holiday, so it may be weird to be reading about it in the church column. Well, I bring it up because we’re rapidly approaching one of the most important days in the church. Next week Christians all over the world will be celebrating Easter. Now Easter isn’t just a day to go hunting for eggs, gorge on candy, and have a special family dinner. All of those things are fun, but Easter is the day that Christians celebrate Jesus rising from the dead and fulfilling the mission that brought him to earth.
Now some people think that it is crazy that there could be a man named Jesus who was the Son of God. A man who lived, who loved people, who healed diseases, who was tortured, killed, and then rose from the dead. It’s easy to think that this was just one big April Fools Day joke made up by a bunch of people thousands of years ago. I mean people don’t just rise from the dead every day. In fact, I guarantee that all of the people that you personally know who have died are still dead.
So why do Christians celebrate such a hard to believe event? There are many reasons, but one of my favorite comes from a guy named Paul who lived around the time of Jesus. In one of the letters that Paul wrote he said that after Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to over 500 people, many of whom were still around for the recipient of the letter to go and check with to corroborate the story.
Paul then goes on to hit this claim about Jesus not rising from the dead head on, he says, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
He says that if Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead, then our preaching is worthless, our faith is in vain, we’re misrepresenting God, that we have no salvation from our sins, and we have no hope. He even says that we should be pitied for being so foolish.
The next part of his letter says, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead”. You see, this isn’t an April Fools Day joke. Jesus did die and he did rise from the dead and he did it for you because he loves you. Because of Jesus’s resurrection on Easter we have forgiveness, new life, and amazing love. It’s pretty awesome if you ask me.
Choked up at the Rail
Yesterday, in the middle of our worship time together, I found myself a little choked up at the communion rail. The congregation was singing the words of the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” and there I was with the truly awesome responsibility and opportunity to distribute Christ’s Body and Blood and to tell those gathered around the altar that their sins were forgiven. It was an amazing moment.
For most people gathered in worship with us yesterday, I would guess it was probably just another ordinary Sunday. We came, we confessed, we ate, we sang, we listened and then we left. Just like many of us have done hundreds of times before. Nothing unusual. Just more of the same old, same old.
Isn’t it easy to feel that way? The ordinary surrounds us. Every day we encounter the ordinary in everything we do. Each morning my alarm goes off and I roll out of bed. I work out, I eat breakfast and then I head into the office. No two days are exactly identical, but they all are filled with ordinary tasks. In the evening I come home, spend time with my wife, and then we go to bed, only to wake up and do it all over again.
In the church we feel like we are surrounded by the ordinary too. We show up, follow the same liturgy, sing the same hymns, read the same stories from Scripture and hear about how we are sinners and how God forgives us. It seems like we’re just repeating the same stuff over and over again. Nothing out of the ordinary. Sure, we might occasionally have a special service, or a baptism or something like that, but most of the time it just seems ordinary.
And yet as I stood there holding the chalice and listening to the people sing, I couldn’t help but get choked up at what I was both witnessing and being a part of. I was choked up not with a feeling of sadness, but rather a feeling of awe. You see, when we gather together for worship, it is anything but ordinary.
The third verse of “The Church’s One Foundation” says:
Though with a scornful wonder
The world sees her oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed
Yet saints their watch are keeping;
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song.
It’s easy to get caught up in the problems that we face in the world. Many will argue that we’re living in a time unlike any other. A time marked by extreme polarization, fighting, and disunity. Unfortunately, these problems aren’t unique to our politics and government. They also make their way into our churches. We might be tempted to throw up our hands in the air and walk away from all of the hypocrites we’ve ever met in the church and the people who have been unkind to us. If we stay, we might at the very least cry out to God, “How long?” “How long until Jesus comes back and cleans up this whole mess?”
The last verse of “The Church’s One Foundation goes like this:
Yet she on earth has union
With God, the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won.
O blessed heav’nly chorus!
Lord, save us by Your grace
That we, like saints before us,
May see You face to face.
The hymn writer reminds us that when we gather together for worship we are gathering for something that is anything but ordinary. When we come into God’s house we’re coming into the place where he has promised to meet us. He speaks his words of forgiveness to us. He speaks a testimony to us about who He is and what He has done through His Word. And in the Lord’s Supper he comes to us in his true body and his true blood to be physically present for us in a way that we can see, touch, smell, taste, and hear.
I think that’s exactly what I was reminded of in that moment. That no matter what happens to our lives, to our churches, or to the world, God is in control and we are connected to Him and to one another through our baptism into his family.
Sometimes we just need to slow down and think about what is happening around us and what we are experiencing. Sure, the worship service might seem like just another ordinary thing, but it really is heaven breaking into earth for a few moments every week to tell us that we are forgiven and that we are connected with “angels and archangels and all of the company of heaven” to praise God for all that he has done for us. That’s pretty awesome!
My name is Tom. I'm fascinated by the ways that people, ideas, current events and theology interact with each other.