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April 30, 2012 @ 8:33 am

Easter 4 Good Shepherd

Psalm 23 is one of the best known, best loved sections of the Bible. Many people who know very little of the Bible are familiar with this Psalm. It is common to be read and prayed at times of great distress and sadness, times of grief and morning, and its words and gentle imagery provide comfort.

The Lord is my shepherd,” we say. “I shall not want.”

We are comforted by the knowledge and the promise that our Lord is for us a good shepherd, a caretaker who looks after us, who tends to us the way a shepherd tends his sheep. He is there beside us, close by, watching out for us, standing guard if we should be attacked, leading us to where we can find food and provision when we are hungry, leading us to shelter when things are treacherous, and even serving us with good things in the face of our enemies. God is truly good. God is good to us.

The world is an unfriendly place for a sheep. Sheep after all are rather passive and helpless animals. They are a popular 4H project around here. Those of you who have sheep are certain that you take the necessary steps to protect them. I am often greeted by the deep growl of the dogs acquired to keep the coyotes away from the sheep when i go out for a run. A big ferocious sounding dog can be a pretty effective way to guard your aheep from predators (not to mention an exercising pastor). If you didn’t protect your sheep they would quickly wind up a nice meal for a pack of hungry predators.

Well if the Lord is our Shepherd, then that would mean that we are like sheep. And if sheep need a protector to ward off the predators, then there must be predators who sneak around in the dark hunting us.

You need to protect your sheep. You need big dogs, alpacas, donkeys, you need to lock them up tight in the barn because you know that if you don’t your sheep probably won’t make it until tomorrow, let alone to then end of July when the county fair rolls around. Your sheep need a constant guard. You see to it that a guard, a protector or shelter is there.

God does the same for you. Yet what is astounding is the fact that he doesn’t farm this duty out to somebody else. He doesn’t have guard dogs to stand watch for him. He doesn’t use alarm systems and video surveillance or electrified fence. He does the job himself.

The Lord is ever watchful. He never takes his eye away from you, his little lamb, even for an instant. The Lord is your Shepherd and you shall not be in want.

This is a comfort for you. He will not leave you or abandon you. Especially as you find that your way has come through the valley of the shadow of death. The Lord will at times lead us through the valley of the shadow of death and we will feel pain. We will feel sorrow or grief or fear. We will suffer. But this suffering, this pain alerts us to something that needs to be fixed.

Perhaps the death shadow is in fact death. You struggle with death in your own life, someone you love has died or might die. You grieve. Grief causes heart ache and pain. But this heart ache teaches you to look for and listen to your shepherd.

When sheep are lead through dangerous territory, they keep close to their shepherd. They know that their shepherd is with them and that he will protect them. They also know that their shepherd knows the way out. And so they go where he goes. They follow where he leads.

Children, when faced with a difficult loss or fear will go to their parents, they will stick close to their parents, because they know their parents will save them and protect them. They go where their parents can be found and hold tightly because they sense the need to be protected and they are comforted by the warmth and the strength of their trusted protector. Likewise with you. When you are afraid or sad or threatened, when you find yourself in the valley of the death shadow, you go to Jesus. Cling tightly to him. Go to the place you know he will be. Follow him where he leads you. Do not let go of him. Because he is safe. He is strong. He protects you. He comforts you. His strength will put you at ease.

How do you do that? Where do you find your Good Shepherd? How can you cling to him? Where can you be sure you will find him? Where are his restful waters and his green pastures. Where is his rod or his staff that you might be comforted by them?

These questions are important questions and their answers are important answers. People need to know them, we need to find these answers. Our life, and protection are bound up with them.

Jesus says that he is the Good Shepherd. Jesus says that his sheep know his voice. Jesus says that his sheep follow his voice, they follow where he leads them.

There are times when we are led and guided by a still small voice that speaks to us in our conscience. We hear that voice and we are tempted let it be our comfort. We wonder if that voice is one that can be trusted.

The world would tell us it is. It can. It should be trusted. More than anything else, follow your heart. Follow your gut, let your conscience guide you.

Your heart can be deceived. Your conscience can be broken. Your gut… well mine just wants to look for food. These can be useful, but they are far from fool proof.

To follow Jesus, to be comforted by Jesus is to know his voice. To know his voice is to hear him and listen to him.

Jesus commands his disciples in Matthew 28 to teach all things that he has commanded. We know the voice of the shepherd by hearing the words his has commanded to be taught. In other words if you want to know the voice of the Shepherd you have to tune in to the channel where he speaks. You need to know your Bible. You need to study and meditate on the Words your Good Shepherd has given to you.

Listen to his apostles. They wrote down his words to preserve them for you. His Spirit inspired those Words as they were written so that the Words are His Words. You must know your Bible. Not because you have to. Not because they are magic words that will make every bad thing go away. Not because you are afraid God will punish you if you don’t. You have to know your Bible because it is your life. It is the voice of your shepherd as he speaks to you. If you don’t listen, if you don’t take the time to hear you wont know when he calls. You won’t be able to discern that still small voice and know when it is true and trustworthy or when it is lying to you to mislead you. You won’t know how to proceed when you come to that fork in life's road. You will be frightened and terrified when you find yourself in the valley of the shadow of death. God speaks to you in his Word. His spirit whispers to you from the scriptures. You must listen. You must learn to hear. You must be ready to receive. God wants only to give.

And give he does. Restores you soul. When your soul is empty. When your soul has been spent on addressing the challenges of your life God comes to you to restore you. He fills you up so that you are not in want, so that your cup is running over. As he brings you into the pleasant pastures and the quiet waters your are fed and nourished. He guides your feet to the well worn and easy to follow path of righteousness. He sets a table for you where he feeds you, even before the face of your enemies.

And those enemies, most of the time they chase us. We run and are pursued and we get tired and weary from constantly escaping them. Oh, but your Good Shepherd handles those pursuers for you. He takes care of them so that they are no longer a problem. And instead of enemies, sin or satan or death or fear or wicked men, you are pursued by goodness. You are chased down and captured by mercy. And they don’t stop. They are relentless and tireless in their chase even to the last days of your life.

And you are safe. Safe from your enemies. Safe from those things that accuse you, that bring you stress because your Lord has spoken his Word to you. You have heard his voice. You have learned to follow. And he has led you to his house. Yes to his house, little sheep.

How many of you keep your sheep in the house? You have pens and barns where they stay. As cute and cuddly as they are little lambs can make quite a mess. They are animals, cattle, best kept in the barn. But not the Lords sheep. His sleep at his side, quietly held in his arms like a father cares for his child.

You are Christ’s little lamb. He saves you preserves you, provides for you, and keeps you ever in his care.

In the name of Jesus.

Amen.

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April 30, 2012 @ 8:30 am

Easter 3

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April 16, 2012 @ 10:59 am

Easter 2

It seems that the Republican Party finally has decided upon a candidate.  The race between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney has been tightly contested, but the past weeks has consistently shown a front runner.  it was announced this past week that Santorum would put his campaign on hold effectively conceding the race to Romney.
Through these months of campaigning there has been much debate in the media as to which candidate would get the party nod.  Santorum seemed to have the values vote with strong convictions on many of the key social issues.  Romney has a better economic track record.  The thing Romney was said to have going in his favor was something called  "electabillity".  Romney just seemed more like the kind of guy that people would vote for.
Ronald Reagan famously said that "politics is entertainment".  Politicians these days try harder to create impressions than they do to define positions.  TV news gives us sound bites and twitter feeds instead of position papers.  And why not? That is what most Americans want.  They vote for political candidates the same way they vote for their favorite TV talk show host.  They sit down in front of the tv. Watch a few episodes, and decide which one they like the best.  What's the criteria?  Electability.  People just seem to know what they like.
The point of bringing up politics is not to talk politics.  The goal is to point out that it has become common these days for people to make important choices based, not on information, but on impression.  Whether it be politics, a career choice, enrolling in a university, or even choosing a spouse.  If we make these decisions based on impressions, I wonder if we make important religious and even theological decisions the exact same way.
Religious content, theological content is no longer that important.  People just care that you are Christian or that you call yourself Christian, what you believe doesn’t matter.  Confession of faith doesn’t matter.  We decide they are all about the same and we just take a little from this, a little from that, mix it all together and away we go.  If choosing a president or spouse without taking the time to understand what you are getting into can be bad, choosing a religion or a theology just based on impression can be disastrous – even deadly.
If we want to know where to begin in understanding Christian theology, our text from 1 John gives us a place to start.  John begins with what was from the beginning, what he heard and what he saw and what he touched with his hands concerning the word of life, what he heard and saw and touched concerning Jesus.
John was an apostle of Jesus Christ.  John was Jesus' disciple during his earthly ministry.  John sat at his feet while he walked from village to village, town to town, teaching and preaching about the Kingdom of God.  John saw and John heard a lot, specifically a lot that came out of the mouth of the Son of God who was begotten from the Father from the beginning.  John saw this Jesus, the Son of the Most High God, This Word of God incarnate be arrested and tried.  John was in the courtyard of the High Priest and witnessed his trial.  John walked with him as he carried his cross to Golgotha.  John stood at the feet of his cross as he suffered and died.  John ran to the tomb ahead of Peter and saw the place where he lay on Easter morning.  John talked with Jesus and ate with Jesus after he had been raised.  John watched Jesus ascend into heaven.  John was in the upper room with Jesus when he sent the Spirit.  John taught in the temple.  John saw his eyes "that which was from the beginning".  He saw him die, saw him be raised and touched with his hands the author of life and redemption of our souls from death.  And John shared what he touched and saw and heard; John shared Jesus with those whom Jesus came to save.
The thing that is important here for us to notice is that John begins with the testimony about Jesus.  John begins with those things that he saw from Jesus, heard from Jesus, even those things that he touched – after all the resurrection was a physical event, the fact that it occurred meant John had something to touch. And these things about which John testified are those things that create fellowship.  Because that is what John talks about next. He talks about fellowship; Fellowship with God and fellowship with each other.
Now fellowship, being joined as one together with God is a significant thing.  It is fellowship with God that was the key benefit of living with God in the Garden of Eden.
  • It was fellowship with God that was lost when Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden.
  • It was fellowship with God that was regained when God lived in the camp of the Israelites in the Tabernacle and then in the temple, although this was a fellowship that required blood and sacrifice.
  • It was fellowship that was made perfect when God was incarnate, taking on human flesh and blood to walk and talk with the people who disobeyed him.
  • It was fellowship that was rebuilt when Jesus stood in for us and the propitiation for our sin so that God's just anger was satisfied with the necessary blood of sacrifice.
  • It is fellowship then that is offered to people who receive the blood of that sacrifice as their own - his death is my death and through that death I have life.
  • The Christian faith is all about fellowship with God.  Fellowship lost.  Fellowship restored.  First with God and then with one another. How much do you know about that fellowship?
John, together with all the Apostles and Prophets writes to you about that fellowship.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness
The message, the Fellowship message, has to do with sin, with confession & absolution, with the truth, with forgiveness, with satisfaction, with restoration - to God and to each other.  How much do you know about that message?  How much do you study that message?
As was said before, we tend to live our lives by our impressions, make decisions based on things we feel or think we know without really taking the time to test those things.  Yet for all those impressions, we still have one or two things that we make to be our priorities.  We all have “our thing”.  We all have our hobbies and interests and goals and priorities.  What's yours?
Maybe we can approach that question with this one: What do you start your day with?  What’s the most important thing you have to do, that you have to get to, that you need to get in your head and fill up you day as you go about your day?  What occupies your time and your thought?
  • Is it Politics - whose running for president, the latest thing Obama said or did or did not do, the supreme court, obama care?
  • Maybe its Sports - Urban Meyer, Thad Matta, Jared Sullenger, or perhaps even Tom Izzo?
  • Finance - the stock market, the economy, the price of gasoline, the price of feed?
  • Entertainment - Smash, American Idol, The Hunger Games, Brad & Angelina, Leno or Letterman?
These things are not bad things.  But not one of them can offer you life.  Not one of them will cleanse you from sin. Not one of them will offer you salvation. The daily news cycle changes at a breakneck pace. We feel like we have to consume every piece of news that is printed or produced or we will be completely out of the game. But do you even remember what was in the papers a month ago let alone a week ago without stopping to really think hard to remember. What about Jesus?  What about the word of god. What about that unchanging truth that hold steady and immovable even in these uncertain times. What about the love of God that is real every single day?  What about the objective and true body and blood of Jesus given to sinners to eat and to drink for forgiveness life and salvation?
Jesus gives us more.   Jesus us  gives us things that are better.  Not just impressions.  Not just to appease.  Not just entertain.  Not even just to inform.  Jesus gives words of life.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for  “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25 ESV)
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:21-23 ESV)
We are products of our time.  The age in which we live conditions us to decide without even considering any criteria.  We move through life existing on our impressions.  But into this age God has breathed his Word of life.  Let’s not just leave it to an impression.  Let’s grab hold of it.  Take it.  Receive it.  Digest it.  Study it.  Pray over it.  Meditate on it.  Pray for God to work in you through it.  Not just because it is important.  Not just because it is information.  But because it is life.  It is Jesus.  It is His Spirit whispering in your ear. He won't let you down and he will tell you what you need to hear.
That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
Complete our Joy. Receive the fellowship god offers in the words he has inspired for you.

Amen.

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April 9, 2012 @ 7:43 pm

Easter Resurrection

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April 9, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

Palm Sunday

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