Monthly Archives: November 2019

“Who is Jesus?” 11.24.2019 Commitment Sunday Sermon

Commitment Weekend • Christ the King • November 24, 2019

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

So, one appropriate greeting for today in the church is, Happy New Year! Because, this is, technically speaking, the last weekend of the year for the Christian church. Christ the King Day is our New Year’s Eve so to speak. It’s kind of interesting, isn’t it, that Lutheran Christians celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another by hearing scripture readings about Jesus bloody and gruesome death on a cross. Doesn’t seem like much of a festive occasion, does it?

Today also marks one of the great celebration days in the life of our congregation. We celebrate all that God is doing and all that God will continue – hopefully – to do in our congregation over the next year. Today, we prayerfully make our financial commitments to our shared work.

Commitment weekend in the life of a congregation like Good Shepherd has nothing to do with your pastor standing before you and begging you for more of your hard-earned money. Commitment weekend has everything to do with celebrating the work God is already doing through the congregation we love and the ways God is inviting us to be part of that work through our financial gifts. Financial gifts that are God’s in the first place by the way.

At the heart of all this – one theologian asked a question this week that I’ve found absolutely spot on. They asked “Who is Jesus?” As you hear that question, what do you hear? If someone asked you this week, “You’re a Christian, aren’t you? Don’t you go to that crazy Lutheran church by the Y? Who is Jesus anyway? Why do you waste your time with all of that Jesus stuff?”

This theologian didn’t just ask the question “Who is Jesus?” and then stop. They tried to dig a little deeper into it, especially as it relates to the gospel reading before us today. A gospel reading that seems incredibly out of place given the time of the year and the fact that this week is Thanksgiving, and Advent and Christmas come immediately on the heels of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Here’s what they wrote – “Jesus’ true identity seems to remain a mystery for most of the disciples. Jesus can teach, preach, heal, cast out demons, challenge authority and more, but still they do not comprehend. You might say it is a case of mistaken identity as the disciples and other followers seem to be hoping to discover something very different from the real Jesus. It is the criminal executed with Jesus who in his dying desperation says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Clearly, the criminal has no other hope, still in this moment he acknowledges Jesus’ true identity.”

They concluded their thought by bringing this question of Jesus identity to today, “Modern followers of Jesus,” they wrote, “resemble those ancient followers in many ways. Everyone has their own image of Jesus, the gifts we want Jesus to bring us, the ways we want Jesus to fix those things in our lives that cause pain or suffering. In our anxiety we want Jesus to be our magical everything in an instant.” [THANK YOU to the writers of the sermon illustration section of for this wonderful insight on which this sermon is built]

Hanging on a cross, brothers and sisters, Jesus isn’t a genie in a bottle waiting to grant you your next week. But Jesus is the King, the savior of the world, preparing the way for you. For me. And for everyone who ever has or ever will claim to be a follower of this King.

The simple question – “who is Jesus?” – is why I believe we intentionally set aside a day in the church year to celebrate Christ as King. And asking each other the question “Who is Jesus?” is why I believe making a prayerful financial commitment to the congregation that we are members of each year is such an important act of discipleship.

I spent about 30 hours in Chicago this week. Around 8 of those hours were in Chicago’s O’Hare International airport. As I sat in the airport, I couldn’t help but look around and ask “I wonder who these folks, running frantically through the airport, think Jesus is? Do they know? Have they ever experienced Jesus before? Especially this Jesus hanging on a cross. Jesus who says to a scumbag criminal hanging next to him “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Would they financially support or give of their time for the work of that Jesus? I kept thinking, am I – even while wearing a clerical collar in one of the largest airports in the world – showing anyone around me a little bit of who Jesus is?

In a few minutes, you and I will be invited to share our weekly tithes and offerings. Tithes and offerings are Good Shepherd’s only source of financial support for the work God is doing here. We will also be invited today to prayerfully consider what our financial commitment to this work might look like over the next year. Both – our weekly offerings and tithes; and the yearly financial promise we make before God – are among the most significant ways we live out our faith as disciples of Jesus as our answers to the question “who is Jesus?” take shape.

Since I started serving at Good Shepherd in 2002, the annual ministry financial plan, or church budget, of Good Shepherd seems to always work itself out by the end of the year. I trust that the Holy Spirit is part of the reason why that happens.

At the same time, I struggle with the way it happens. I struggle that folks wait to give anything to God’s work through their church until the last minute. As if God isn’t blessing them in March or June. They wait to see if they need to give anything at all or if the church budget can be balanced without their giving and they can just keep it all to themselves.

I struggle with this because I see first-hand, literally hundreds of missed mission and ministry opportunities God places before us each year that we can’t do because we can’t financially support them at the time God presents them to us during the year. I can’t help but imagine what it would look like if a congregation like Good Shepherd – or any other Christian community for that matter – fully embraced the incredible potential that God places before us to show others who Jesus is. Especially if our giving was a reflection of the abundance God has blessed us with and not just because the church needs to make a budget.

Think about it this way. There’s been a chart in your bulletin throughout November that highlights what I believe the Spirit is trying to say to us today. There are a little over 1,600 households who consider themselves members of Good Shepherd. About half of those households give less than $1 per year to support God’s work through our congregation. If every one of those 1,600 households increased their giving by just $5 per week – about the cost of a cup of coffee or a cheap glass of wine – we would see an increase in our potential to grow our mission and ministry by nearly $400,000. Just imagine the impact an additional $400,000 a year could have on God’s children. God’s children, who maybe for the first time in their life, would be able to experience who Jesus is, simply because you and I made a decision to forego one cup of coffee a week over the next year.

A few months ago I wrote an article called the 4 Gs of Discipleship. This was something first introduced to me by Pastor Tim Johnson. You might remember Pastor Tim when he did an Intentional Interim here. Over 40+ years of serving in pastoral ministry he shared these four truths of discipleship with every new member he ever had the privilege of meeting.

He would start by stating that if their only role in joining the church was to take up space, he didn’t believe they actually wanted to become members of the church or live as disciples of Jesus. His four Gs of discipleship are that disciples of Jesusgather together as a community of faith in many times and places; they grow alongside their brothers and sisters in Christ throughout their journey of faith, they don’t just grow until Confirmation is finally over; they go into the world to show everyone they meet who Jesus is; AND, they give to support the ministry and mission God is calling the congregation they are joining to live out in the world.

On this Christ the King and Commitment weekend, we are reminded that all four Gs of discipleship – gather, grow, give, and go – are central to our life of faith. After all, we are disciples of Jesus who not only ask ourselves “Who is Jesus?”, but we also try to live our answer to that question in ways that demonstrate who Jesus is for us in all that we say and do.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe that is what’s before us today as a congregation. Who is Jesus? How do the gifts of our hands, feet, voices and financial resources demonstrate that we know who is Jesus is, that we’re seeking to more deeply experience what it means to know Jesus every day and that we are willing to share who Jesus is with everyone God places along our path? Who is Jesus for you? Amen.

“God of the Living” 11.10.2019 Sermon

Luke 20:27-38 • November 10, 2019

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

First of all, thank you, once again, for your continued prayers for healing. I’m feeling pretty good. Better than I’ve felt in months. Healing reasonably well. I’m guessing I’m back to about 60% of full speed.

And second, I give thanks for the incredible staff of this place, for my colleagues Pastor Bob and Pastor Julie, for picking up the pieces while I’ve been less than available to them. And thanks to Pastor Julie for giving voice to a sermon I had prepared to offer a few weeks ago before discovering I had pneumonia and should probably avoid sharing that with all of you during worship.

A recently married couple was diligently working in the kitchen to prepare dinner for a party they were hosting that evening with some friends. The husband watched curiously as his bride prepared to place a beautiful ham in the oven. Prior to placing it in the oven, she carefully cut off both ends of the ham. Her husband asked, “I’m no expert in cooking hams, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone cut off the ends of a ham before cooking it. Why did you do that?”

His wife answered, “You know what, I don’t know. I’ve never cooked a ham before, but that’s the way my mom always does it when she cooks one.” Now she was curious too, so she called her mom and asked her why she always cut off the ends of the ham before she cooked it.

“Now that you mention it, I don’t know why I do that,” her mother replied. “That’s just the way your grandmother always did it. Other than that, I honestly don’t have a clue.”

The plot thickened for the young couple. They had to get to the bottom of this ham cooking mystery. So the young bride called her grandmother and asked her why she always cut off the ends of the ham before she cooked it.

“Well sweetheart,” her grandmother said, “the first oven we owned wasn’t big enough to put a whole ham in, so I had to cut the ends off to make it fit. After that, I guess it just became a habit!”

Anybody else relate to this young couple and their ham cooking mystery? Doing something without knowing why you are doing it, but you continue to do it anyway because that’s the way you’ve always done it before – regardless of whether or not it is the right thing to do or serves any actual purpose what so ever.

On the surface, today’s gospel reading might sound like a teaching about marriage or having children or widows or the ancient world’s view of women not as actual human beings, but as property to be passed from one man to the next. One can only assume that Jesus isn’t the first rabbi that the Sadducees have tried to trap with their question. But Jesus doesn’t fall into the trap of answering the question in the same way it has always been answered. And his answer to this trick question is not what anyone is expecting. And really, truth be told, when does Jesus do anything that we actually expect?? That’s kind of why we call him Savior and Lord.

So, as we try to unpack the gospel story before us today a little, it might be helpful to take a look at just who the Sadducees are. After all, they were not just a small sect of religious leaders in the ancient world who were sad, you see.

They are mentioned occasionally in the New Testament, often closely connected with the Pharisees. The major difference between the two is that the Sadducees do not believe in life after death. The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection. The Sadducees get stuck on the resurrection of the dead because they only believed that the first five books of the bible – the Torah or Pentateuch as we call them today – were authoritative. They were a conservative religious group who are among the religious elite. The upper-class of religious leaders so to speak. One thing that the Pharisees and Sadducees do have in common, even though they disagreed on life after death, they did agree that this Jesus was a threat to their power and control over the temple and society and he needed to be stopped.

So, the Sadducees question to Jesus really has little to do with a hypothetical marriage problem between seven brothers and one woman and more to do with trapping Jesus. Since the Sadducees only view the first five books of the bible as authoritative, books of the Bible whose authorship is most often attributed to Moses, Jesus responds by showing them that Moses and his experience while speaking to God through the burning bush is actually a resurrection story. A resurrection story about a living God that Moses speaks to as the same God who is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

Jesus’ response does not answer the question about who will be married to who after they are dead. Jesus’ response is about the resurrection of the dead and being named as children of God here and now.

The answer Jesus gives the Sadducees is about God, whose very presence means life. His response is about God’s promise of resurrection in the face of death, and about life in the face of and in spite of death. Jesus telling his first followers 2,000 years ago, and you and me today, that our God is a God of the living, not of the dead.

And if it isn’t enough to just hear about this in a scripture reading during this time of worship, God also shows us this truth every single day if we’re paying attention to it.

Like last weekend’s All Saint’s Day worship. We lit candles of remembrance for the 25 saints who have died in faith in our congregation over the last year, we offered prayers of thanksgiving for the saints who sit among us right now, and we gave thanks for all the saints who will come into our lives in the future. God of the living, not of the dead.

Or the seven, yes seven, celebrations of the sacrament of Holy Baptism taking place in our congregation this week! In the sacred waters and holy words of promise from God, we are received into the eternal family of all the saints in light. Baptism is not just a five-minute liturgy during worship with a few pictures to help us remember the day. Baptism invites us into a resurrected life that guides us throughout this life and anything, everything and anywhere beyond this life. God of the living, not of the dead.

Or how about the beauty of God’s creation on the North Dakota prairie that hearty deer hunters are experiencing during this weekend’s sacred and holy holiday known in our state as opening weekend for deer hunting season. As those hearty souls enjoy God’s good creation and all that it has to offer, they see first hand that God is a God of the living, not of the dead.

Or what about the gratitude and thanksgiving we will offer on Monday this week with the far more important holiday than deer opener that honors those who have or are currently serving in our country’s military. Veteran’s Day reminds those who live in this country that our God is a God of the living, not of the dead.

All of these things and so many more are reminders to you and me that our God is a God of the living and not of the dead.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are children of the living God regardless of how our family traditions teach us to cook a ham! And as children of the living God who try each and every day to be followers of Jesus, the risen savior of the world, you and I are invited to be about things that bring forth life.

Life shouldn’t consume us with worry about what happens when we die.

Because life in Christ is always pulling us toward a resurrection that will happen one day when the savior of the world returns and is happening all around us right now if we are willing to allow ourselves to truly see it and experience its beauty! Our relationship with the one true God that we worship and praise is always and will forever be a relationship that leads to life. Amen.