Monthly Archives: June 2018

God’s Kingdom Comes…06.17.2018 Sermon

Mark 4:26-34 * June 17, 2018

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus, our savior and Lord. Amen.

First of all, on this 4th Sunday after Pentecost, we also celebrate and give thanks for all of the dads in our life. Those that have been and continue to be fathers toward us in so many grace-filled ways. Happy Father’s Day.

We have two parables from Jesus before us today as we continue our journey through this season after Pentecost.

Do the parables of Jesus reflect what God does or what we do? Hang on to that question for a few minutes. Do the parables of Jesus reflect what God does or what we do?

And for clarification purposes – I’m using the terms reign of God and kingdom of God to refer to the same thing in today’s sermon.

Image result for god's kingdom comeI spent a couple days this week at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. So I decided that it would be appropriate to quote a professor from the seminary in today’s sermon. New Testament professor Matt Skinner reminds us about this general idea of Jesus’ parables. “Parables are comparisons, meant to cast two things alongside one another to provide analogy, contrast, or reflection.”  Skinner believes. He goes on to share that, “Jesus’ parables … have a way of reordering conventional assumptions and values. They don’t explain how one is supposed to recognize the reign of God, but they make it clear that we will need to adopt or receive new ways of perceiving.” []

The first parable in today’s gospel is unique only to the gospel of Mark. I think this is probably the case because it just might be the most boring of all Jesus’ parables. The seed is sown. The seed grows. The crop is harvested. Everything happens as it’s supposed to happen. Oh well…

I mean – the seed doesn’t grow into a BMW or become an apple tree instead of a head of grain. It simply does what God made it to do. And all of this happens while you and I are away taking a nap as the parable implies.Image result for mustard seed

About today’s first parable, Professor Skinner says this. “It is the nature of God’s reign to grow and to manifest itself. That’s what it does. God’s reign, like a seed, must grow, even if untended and even if its gradual expansion is nearly impossible to detect.”

God’s reign – God’s kingdom – gradually expanding through dozens of children who are participating in Day Camp and Vacation Bible School at Good Shepherd this summer. Seeds planted. God growing them. You and I enjoy the harvest of young people living out their lives with the love of God at the center of who they are and everything they ever will be – simply because God has planted us to be together in Christian community through Good Shepherd.

The second parable today is a bit more complex than the first. The seed planted doesn’t just grow into something that we can harvest or gaze upon its beauty. This seed grows into something that will also provide shelter and security for other parts of God’s creation – “birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” The parable offers.

But the second parable’s seed is not seen as good by all. A mustard plant in Jesus’ time wasn’t a cash crop. In essence, it was kind of a noxious weed. Only bigger. And much more annoying. Think crabgrass that you can never seem to get rid of in your yard or a seemingly endless number of dried up thistle bushes rolling across the prairie.

Back to professor Skinner, while reflecting on the mustard seed and the kingdom of God, Skinner offers this insight, “the reign of God apparently isn’t much of a cash crop. Yet it grows. It is not easily eradicated. Good luck keeping it out of your well-manicured garden or your farmland. Better be careful what you pray for when you say, “Your kingdom come…”

As we celebrate Father’s Day this week, I’m also mindful that this day isn’t a day of celebration for everyone. For some, thinking about your father brings forth feelings of abandonment and abuse. For others, thinking of your father brings joy and comfort. And for others still, thinking about your father brings forth sadness and grief because your father is no longer alive and has already joined the great cloud of witnesses.

Image result for hugThe father of one of our daughter’s closest friends died very suddenly this past week. Throughout our daughter’s lives, Wendy and I have tried to plant seeds of God’s kingdom. As parents, whether these seeds are growing or not is something we ever really know for sure. But God does. And this past week, we witnessed our daughter’s care and compassion for their friend following the death of her father in amazing and life-giving ways that we never dreamt possible. Our teenage daughters are becoming the “greatest of all shrubs” so that God’s love shines through them even when we least expect that it is possible for God’s love to shine. So that God’s love can give comfort and peace and shelter as they hold onto their friend in her time of greatest need.

I began today’s sermon by asking the question – Do the parables of Jesus reflect what God does or what we do?

Author Jeanne Choy Tate believes that “the parables aren’t meant to be understood, at least not fully,” she writes. “Their many possible meanings allow us the flexibility to apply them to the seasons of our lives.” [Christian Century, May 23, 2018, pg. 23]

I think there is truth in that statement. Because the parables are not about what we do, but about what God does. What God does through us as God’s kingdom comes.

I’ve witnessed God’s kingdom coming as seeds are being planted at one of our church’s seminaries. Seeds that will grow into the philosophers, theologians, teachers, pastors, Christian movement leaders of tomorrow.

I’ve witnessed God’s kingdom coming as seeds are being planted in young people at Day Camp and Vacation Bible School. Seeds that will grow into abundant harvests of God’s love that has no end.

I’ve witnessed God’s kingdom coming as seeds are being planted in my own family. Seeds that are producing mighty shrubs that provide shelter to dear friends during their time of unimaginable grief and pain.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s parables remind us that the good news of Jesus Christ does not remain buried in the ground like a dormant seed.

Through your savior Jesus, God is planting seeds in you each and every day. Seeds that will bring forth God’s kingdom in the world today – even though this world seems darker and more broken with each passing day – God’s reign is at work.

Whether you know it or not, or can even begin to grab on to this truth of God’s love for you today – God’s kingdom is growing and shining forth through you. Growing in you in amazing, transformative and life-giving ways.

Don’t be afraid to keep growing brothers and sisters. Seeds are being planted as God’s kingdom comes. May your continued growth in the kingdom bring blessing where God plants you. May we always keep growing. Amen.

“Grace & Sabbath” 06.03.2018 Sermon

Mark 1:21-28 • January 28, 2018

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

This weekend begins the longest season of the church’s year – the time after Pentecost or Ordinary Time. It’s a season of the year when we will spend a significant amount of our time with Jesus and his disciples in the early days of their mission to share God’s grace wherever they are.

I’m also fully aware of the fact that for many families in our congregation this is not a season known as the time after Pentecost – it’s a season known as summer traveling sports.

Image result for youth soccerI recently heard a story of a youth soccer coach who canceled a game because there was only one referee instead of three. It was a regular season game with 12-year old boys. He refused to use parent volunteers, as was often done in situations like this. Who knows why this man started coaching youth soccer, but somewhere along the line he lost his purpose for coaching kids. He missed the point that youth soccer exists so kids can have fun, exercise, and play soccer, regardless of how many referees you have at a game or whether or not those refs are parent volunteers.

It’s easy for us to get so caught up in what we are doing that we forget why we are doing it.

This weekend was the annual Synod Assembly of our Western North Dakota Synod. It’s an annual gathering of every congregation in the synod. Synod Assembly gives us a chance to refocus on the point, our shared purpose. Refocus on why we do what we do as a church. And, as we are renewed in that focus, we return to our congregations and communities to show others all that God’s grace has done and is doing.

One of the highlights of Synod Assembly each year is a video piece that is produced specifically for this event. It highlights much of the work that we do together as part of a church known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. A church of more than 3.5 million Lutheran Christians in the United States alone that gather together in more than 9,000 congregations.

Since only 9 members of Good Shepherd who were able to serve as voting members at Synod Assembly have seen this video before today, I thought it’d be good to share it with all of you on this Synod Assembly weekend. It relates exceptionally well to our time together in worship today and the mission and ministry God is calling us into at Good Shepherd “to share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children.”

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton begins this year’s Synod Assembly video by asking the question “What is distinctly Lutheran about our witness to the gospel?” The video then reflects entirely upon that question and what she most often hears.

Our understanding of grace as Lutheran Christians, as this year’s Synod Assembly video reminds us, is that God’s grace does not depend on us. One of the key theological lenses by which we have lived out our faith as Lutheran Christians over the past 500 years is that receiving God’s grace is not up to us. It’s not about us and never has been. Never will be either.

God’s grace is a pure and free gift to us from God.

In the 16th Century, church reformer Martin Luther – the reason why we call ourselves Lutheran today – went so far as to proclaim this about grace. “Grace does so much that we are counted completely righteous before God.” Luther wrote, “For grace is not divided or parceled out, but takes us completely into favor for the sake of Christ our intercessor and mediator.”

As Jesus heals the man who had the withered hand on the Sabbath day, the good news of Jesus Christ – God’s grace given to us, is on full display. Freeing the man once crippled to new found freedom in order for him to be able to share God’s grace in ways never possible before.

One of the roles of the Sabbath day was to set God’s people apart. In a reflection on this gospel story, one theologian said that “You could tell who the Jews were because they kept the Sabbath. So what sets Lutheran Christians apart?” They asked. “If someone walked into your home could they tell you were a follower of Jesus? If someone watched you go through your day would you appear somehow different or set apart from those who were not Christian?” [ – lectionary illustration]

Image result for graceBrothers and sisters in Christ, here is the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ for us today – God’s grace is too big for any of us to contain.

It’s by God’s grace that you are here today.

And its’ by God’s grace that you will be sent from this time of worship today.

And it’s by God’s grace that you have been set apart to share God’s love with others you meet this week.

God’s grace is not limited only to people who you already know or who believe the right way or the same way you do.

God’s grace comes to all.

As people of faith, people just like you and me, we have joy knowing whom to thank for that gift. The gift of God’s grace. Amen.