Politics from the Pulpit

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This says it clearly enough:

http://1minutedailyword.com/2012/09/15/1-corinthians-153/

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photo by campaignandwin.com

 

 

 

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Romans 12:5

 “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

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As a Christian what excites you about the Church?

It’s a good question to ponder. As you do so, let me tell you what excites me.

First, I am gripped by the message of the Church. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.” The Christian message is the grand story of God’s love, seeking to rescue His lost and fallen family from the power of the enemy. At the center of it all is Jesus, in whose life, death and resurrection God has worked this miracle of our salvation by His sheer grace and mercy. For some, this story is a fanciful tale, easily discarded. For people of faith, it is life and salvation and is non-negotiable.

Second, I am awed by the scope of the church. Jesus said, “I have sheep that are not of this fold.” Across the world and across the generations the Church has taken root among virtually every people. The multiplicity of denominations and traditions can be challenging, even troubling. Some Christians are so preoccupied with this challenge, and have doctrinally defined the church so narrowly, they are the only ones in their Church. Others, rather disingenuously, call themselves ‘non-denominational’ in an effort to minimize differences, as if doctrine is not important. But God has made us this human family so that we are all unique, right down to our fingertips. And while family life can be challenging and troubling, that does not make you any less a member of the family. In some mysterious way, by the power of the Holy Spirit given in baptism, Christians share in the fellowship of the “one, Holy, Catholic and apostolic Church”.

Finally, I am humbled by the unity in the midst of the diversity of the Church. This is not to say unity of doctrine, though doctrine matters greatly. Nor by this do I mean unity in worship. The stately liturgy of the Orthodoxy, the exuberance of the Pentecostals and the ordered worship of many Lutherans, along with many other forms, are all part of the Church’s worship. What is truly humbling for me is the knowledge that Christ is the mysterious center of the Church’s life. He has chosen us, we have not chosen Him. When Christian people gather around the Word and sacraments it is not our traditions, shared interests or the color of our skin that unite us, it is Jesus Christ Himself.

As I reflect on the life of the Church, I find it helpful to keep these three things in mind. I trust you will find them helpful also.

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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From Pastor Mark’s Daily Devotional blog.

 

 

 

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

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– Romans 5:8

Years ago I sat with a couple who were preparing for marriage. The young woman ran through a lengthy list of all the reasons she could think of as to why she loved her fiance’. He was generous, hard-working, handsome, thoughtful, funny, and so forth. When it was time for the young man to speak he said,” I don’t need a reason to love her. I just love her.” He was not far from the Kingdom!

When we examine the Bible it does not provide us with God’s reasons for loving. Nowhere is there an assessment of humanity from God’s vantage point where He lists our numerous virtues as reason for loving us. If anything, the Bible is a collection of evidence that suggests there is not much lovable about us. Our generous self-assessments are not reflected in the mirror of heaven. This is hard for us to take, to be sure. There must be something in me that God values, something I can do or be, some potential, at least, that God sees in me.

If that is so, then God’s love is a conditional, qualified love which looks for something lovable, desirable in the object of love. But that is not the way of God’s love.
The key verse that says it all is this one, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” There is no expression of worth or value here that motivated God to spend Himself for us. Jesus gave Himself for the unlovely, unlovable and ungodly – for us.

Human love examines the attractive attributes of the other to look for something WORTH loving. The agape’ love of God seeks no such validation. God loves. Period. Such love is a stunning reversal of our way. Doubtless God is deeply concerned with us and all our works and all our ways, but they do not serve as the basis for His love. In Christ, God loves us for no other reason than He chooses to do so. That is His glory, and our hope.

“May the peace of god that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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From Pastor Mark Anderson’s blog, 2013

 

 

 

 

“Then God set up a Cross”

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“…Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

                                                                                                            – Romans 4:25

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The ancient world was a vast field of magnificent temples. Only buildings bespeaking power, permanence, and ultimate authority could adequately proclaim the mystery of divinity. The gods deserved nothing less, or so thought the ancients.

 

Then God set up a cross.

It was forged by nameless servants of imperial authority. A bare, rude thing. A time tested instrument designed to evoke terror and coerce obedience through the application of unspeakable cruelty. Only the very worst, despised offenders suffered the fate of the crucified ones. The Romans lined roadways with them so that passers by would be forced to carry the weight of pitiful suffering and inhale the stench of rotting corpses. It was about as far from divinity as one could get. This is the symbol of God’s presence with us?

Yes.

God set up His cross where the four roads we travel most, meet: guilt, failure, spiritual poverty, and willful disobedience. The gift of God’s cross, the baptism into Christ’s death, is not given until I see that nothing in the world – nothing – can address my sickness unto death except this one, impossible, ridiculous sacrifice. For only by the shame, cruelty and utter godlessness of the cross can the true magnitude of our guilt – and God’s merciful love – be measured. The cross proclaims to us what our true position in life really is. No wonder we flee from it for all we’re worth.

But Christ Jesus did not flee from the cross. He embraced it’s suffering and shame in love – for you. And three days after they laid His battered corpse to rest, God vindicated His trust and raised Him from the dead.

Through Word and sacrament God continues to set up the cross – and the empty tomb – in the center of our lives, and through them releases faith, hope and love. And since Christ Jesus embodies hope He rightly calls us to hope – not in our efforts, our so-called free will or determination, but in Him, the crucified. This is the scandal of the gospel – Jesus appears in the defenseless form of the crucified God to put an end to our pretensions to righteousness in order that we might have a righteousness based on faith. A righteousness won for us, the ungodly, through His death on the bloody cross and His resurrection from the dead, where the true glory of God is revealed.

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From Pastor Mark Anderson’s daily devotional blog, 2012

 

 

 

 

Return to your Baptism…each day.

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“As your days, so shall your strength be.”  Dueternomy 33:25

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A man once laughingly observed to a friend, “God has extremely high regard for my capacity to endure hardship; for hardship is pretty much all I know!”

As we stand on the threshold of a new and untried day, we do not know what this day will bring. Will it bring good? Will it bring unwelcome misfortune and hardship? Perhaps it will bring both. It’s probably best to not dwell too much on these questions as we make preparation to enter the day. Instead, God invites us to dwell on His promises.

He has promised to give strength for every need. He has promised that no burden is too great for us to bear because we have Him. He has promised to those who belong to Him that He will work all things for our good.

With these promises going before us we may enter the day with gratitude, anticipating the opportunities it brings; the chance to provide daily bread, be with friends, share the love of family, enjoy our interests and serve others where we may.

When hardships come it may be more difficult to see our Lord at work in them. Faith may falter. When this happens we are invited to return to our baptism and kneel at the foot of the Cross, under the steadfast love of the Redeemer who gave Himself for us. There we are reminded that no trial, suffering, discouragement or hardship fall outside the vast perimeter of God’s grace.

Therefore, we may step across the threshold of each day in the sure and certain knowledge that we are held in the baptismal promises of God; and that the story that will be written, even this day, will be the story of God’s faithfulness to us – in all things.

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

                          – Pastor Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

Romans 5:2

 

“Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

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I had given her a book to read which layed out a Lutheran understanding of the Christian faith. She came from a Christian church which placed much emphasis on works, on gaining spiritual ground in this life which would translate into rewards in the next. After finishing the book she came back to see me. Her comment? “You Lutherans have it too easy. Everything depends on grace.”

This young woman is not alone in her assessment. Strange at may seem to those of us who have been nurtured in a church where grace is central, many Christians are suspicious of reliance on grace. One Christian has gone so far as to call the Lutheran Church a “grace cult”.

When Paul wrote the Christians in Rome, whom he had never met, he anticipated their objections to his message of grace when he wrote, “What shall we say? That we sin all the more so grace will abound all the more”? Paul must have run into this question a thousand times.

Paul knew full well that grace seems easy and bland, a cop out, only to those who do not fully appreciate the gravity of sin, who have not seriously tried to meet the demands of God’s law. God does not grade on the curve. Have you tried, really tried to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and you neighbor as yourself? How about striving for righteousnes, purity of heart?

Paul did and so did Martin Luther. And what happened? They pursued a ‘godly life’ with such fervor that it drove them to the wall. They came to see the towering righteousness of God as an impossible mountain to climb.

Now, it is “… through Him that we obtain access to this grace in which we stand.” Grace has not come to us at some bargain basement price. It is not a cheap remedy for a bland illness. Grace has come through Him, through the crucified and risen Jesus. Blood was shed. A death occurred. A funeral took place. Wonderul, beautiful Jesus was cast away like so much unwanted trash. That is the cost of grace.

Those who object to the sufficiency of grace have yet to appreciate the gravity of their sin and the greatness of Christ. But when these two meet, then we can truly rejoice and proclaim from the rooftops, “Everything depends on grace!”

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

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From Pastor Mark’s daily devotional blog, 2012

Thank you, Pastor Mark.

 

 

 

 

The Sermon on the Mount

The sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel contains a portion of what has been called “the Sermon on the Mount”. In that chapter there are three verses in which Jesus speaks of praying, fasting and almsgiving in secret. So far, so good. The King James translation, however, adds a word to the end of these verses. That word is ‘openly’. The formula in which the word appears can be represented by verse 4; “…and thy Father which seest in secret shall reward thee openly.”

Modern translations do not contain the word ‘openly’. In fact the earliest manuscripts, from the second, third and fourth centuries upon which modern translations are based, do not contain the word openly. It was added at a later date. Why?

I believe it has something to do with the perpetual need to resolve the tension between hiddenness and openness in the Christian life. Consider this. Our society was profoundly shaped by what has been termed the ‘ Protestant ethic’. The Protestant ethic states simply, to use Matthew’s words, if I pray, give alms and fast (as sincere acts of Christian piety) I will be rewarded with prosperity. Therefore you can tell who the serious Christians are by how prosperous their lives are. This is simple but it makes the point. God openly rewards the sincerely pious. This permeates the churches like ink in the water. It’s everywhere.

But a careful reading of the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7 in Matthew) reveals that openness and hiddenness are in constant tension. And this tension is reflective of the very nature of the Incarnation. Jesus was visible. He walked and talked, ate lunch, did miracles and so forth. Some saw Him and confessed, “He is the Son of God!” Others took a look and dismissed Him as another cheap street magician. The divine presence was not obvious.

So in the sacraments we have very visible elements; water, bread and wine. You can feel them, touch them and taste them. But hidden within them are the Holy Spirit, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. And if you talk about the sacraments as invisible you’ve missed it. At the same time if you talk about the sacraments as obviously proving the presence of God you’ve also missed it.

What all this means for me is that the Christian has no reason to expect that our living of the Christian life is going to be any more obvious than was Jesus’ own life. For the world is not going to look at the Church and exclaim, ‘My you are so absolutely gorgeous, I must sign up. Count me in.’ Among the many implications of this awareness is one that stands apart. If the Church is going to bear witness to the faith, then it must speak the name of Jesus Christ and tell the story of what He has done for a sinful world. Attempts to resolve the tension within the Christian life only result in taking the focus off Jesus and placing it on ourselves.  This we cannot and must not do. _

 

“May the peace of god that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”     –  ____________________________________________________________________________________

From Pastor Mark Anderson’s daily devotional blog, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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