Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sermon on Acts 1:12-26, the 7th Sunday of Easter, "Apostles of Jesus""

Sermon Outline: 
  1. Faith in action—Acts readings, how they worshipped, lived, prayed, fellowshipped, witnessed of Christ. Just celebrated Ascension Day, first business for the disciples is to choose a 12th apostle to replace Judas. “With one accord they were devoting themselves to prayer”—unity of mind and spirit: Phil 2:1-2 “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
  2. Peter addresses the company of believers (~120), tells the events around Judas, the betrayer. Driven by despair to suicide. Though very unpleasant, it points us to a very important truth about sin and repentance. Judas had been filled with overwhelming guilt and grief, when He realized Jesus would be condemned to death. Tried to make it right, but could not. Sought forgiveness from the corrupt priests, but instead of turning him to God’s grace, they turned him back on himself. Enveloped by dark despair.
  3. What Scripture calls a “worldly grief” instead of a “godly grief.” How does the example of Judas (and also the apostle Peter!) illustrate this difference between a worldly grief and a godly grief? 2 Cor. 7, Paul is speaking about a grief that the Corinthians were experiencing: he talks about a godly grief that leads them to repentance. Vs. 10: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Judas’ was consumed by a worldly grief that lead to death. Devoid of any hope or faith, and so never became true repentance. Repentance does have sorrow or godly grief as its first part—but second and vital to true repentance is faith that looks to God for forgiveness. Crucial difference between Judas’ regret, and Peter’s repentance.
  4. So what about that godly grief illustrated by Peter? He was also sorrowful over his denial of Jesus. But he looked to Jesus for forgiveness, had hope that he could be (and he was!!) restored. His godly grief led to repentance—acknowledge sin in order to be cleansed by God. So also for us, never to succumb to worldly grief, such that our sorrow drowns out all hope. Grief or sorrow itself is not bad, but becomes worldly when it despairs of any hope. Ex. we know that sin grieves God, that it is an offense against Him (“I have sinned against heaven and against you” or “against you, you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight (Ps 51:4)). Sorrow about hurt we have caused, may not be reparable. But repentance turns away from the sin, and looks to God for His mercy. And in that turning, discovers no longer a fearful judge, but a merciful Savior in Jesus Christ, to grant you forgiveness. If we turn instead to ourselves, or try by our own devices to clear ourselves of guilt, we’ll see only more guilt, or fall into despair or hypocrisy. But to look at Jesus is to know God’s fatherly heart toward us, and find His forgiveness.
  5. God doesn’t want us stuck on grief, but to unload it on the cross! Matt. 11:28-29, “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.” Ps. 32:1 “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Psalm 51:8-12 “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
  6. Choosing a replacement for Judas—mark the high criteria set for the candidates! Eyewitness of Jesus ministry, not only of His resurrection, but all the way back to His baptism. Very important because of the great responsibility—apostles were sent out as Jesus’ representatives and eyewitnesses. All suffered for the sake of the Gospel. 12 men, but we know so little about them. Even Matthias is only mentioned here in the Bible. Their ministry was not about themselves, but about lifting up Christ before the eyes of the people. Two candidates qualify: Joseph, and Matthias. Decision made first with prayer(!) that God would show which He had chosen. Prayer marked their unity and “one accord, back also in vs. 14. They were seeking out God’s will, and not their own.
  7. Finally cast lots—random way of choosing—both qualified candidates. Matthias was the new apostle. Called to the ministry and apostleship. The ministry of the church continues through pastors who carry on the mission of discipling all nations, and proclaiming Christ. Not called apostles because we have no direct commission from Christ, but missionaries, evangelists, pastors, teachers of the word, continue in the ministry. In all events of the early church’s life, even in the tragic death of Judas, we are reminded to look back to Jesus Christ as our Savior, the one who delivers us from the grief and sorrow of sin, into the life of hope and comfort and forgiveness under His grace. It’s also in Him that we find the unity of heart and mind to live like the early Christians, working together in “one accord” and being devoted to prayer and the teaching of the apostles. This was the life of the early Christians then, and it is our life now—the life in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      After Jesus’ Ascension into heaven (Acts 1:1-11), the 11 apostles of Jesus reconvened to choose a replacement for Judas. Describe their unity: what gave them “one accord” (v. 14)? Acts 2:42-47; Phil. 2:1-5
2.      What is significant about the brothers of Jesus (see Mark 6:3) joining in with the disciples and Mary after the resurrection? Read John 7:5.
3.      How does Judas’ bitter end show us a contrast between regret and remorse, and the repentance that leads to faith (as for example Peter’s denial)? Matthew 27:3-10. How was this the fulfillment of various OT prophecies? Ps. 69:25; 109:8; Zech. 11:12-13; Jer. 19:11
4.      What was different about the sorrow of Judas vs. the sorrow of Peter? 2 Cor. 7:5-13. What is the good result of a “godly sorrow”?
5.      How do the Scriptures describe this sorrow over sin? Ps. 38:3-8; Ps. 6. How does the Scripture describe the sublime comfort when sin is forgiven? Matt. 11:28; Ps. 32:1-2; 51:7-12; Acts 3:19-20
6.      How did the disciples make the decision to choose a new apostle? What rigorous criteria did they apply in choosing the two candidates? Why? Acts 1:21-23. Why was being an eyewitness so important? How did they make the final choice? Acts 1:24-26.
7.      What faith lessons can we take away from the example of the early apostles?

Sermon on Luke 24:44-53, for Ascension Day, "The Joyous Farewell"

Sermon Outline:
1.      What is it that makes farewells with a loved one so tearful and emotional? The distance, separation, longing to see them, time away. Contrast to Jesus’ farewell. Worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. What made this different?
2.      1) Jesus has promised that He is not “absent” from us. 2) Jesus has been exalted to His rightful position of honor and glory—a joyful “well-done” to His divine rescue mission here on earth. 3) Jesus left us with an important purpose, with much still to do!
3.      Matthew 28:20b, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” How? In various ways: His Word spoken to us, John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Jesus remains in us if we remain in His love and love one another. He will make His home or dwelling with us. Is it also possible to drive out Christ and His Spirit? 1 John 3:8 tells that “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil”, and goes on to say (v.10) that whoever hates his brother is not of God, and in v. 17 questions how God’s love can remain in a person who “closes his heart” to his brother who is in need. Jesus remains with those who keep “his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 John 3:23).
4.      How else is He with us? In baptism we are “clothed with Christ”, buried with Him into His death and resurrection. In the Lord’s Supper He says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And Paul tells us that 1 Cor. 11:26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Remembering is not just a mental activity, but tied to the very action where we commune in His true body and blood, and proclaim His death until He comes.
5.      Present in His Holy Spirit: John 16:7-15 “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” All of Jesus’ teachings would be recalled and continue to be taught through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Not a creator of new and different teachings, but all that Jesus had said and given from the Father.
6.      Second reason for our joy: Jesus’ exaltation to the rightful place of honor: Psalm 47:5-6 “God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.  Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!” Psalm 110:1 “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Eph. 4:8, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” Jesus was rewarded for successfully accomplishing His rescue mission on earth, for His innocent suffering and death. God exalted (raised Him up) to the highest place and gave Him the name at which every knee shall bow.
7.      Final reason for the joy of the disciples, the joyful farewell—Jesus left them with an important mission and purpose! Matt. 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Luke 24:47, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” There is a world out there to reach for Christ! We continue that great mission and purpose today, to make disciples of all nations, to bear witness of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Joyful farewell, because we know He will return one day. He is present with us, by Spirit, Word, and Sacrament. Rightful honor for us to praise and celebrate. His mission will continue till He returns, and we will ascend together with Him one day. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sermon on Acts 10:34-48, for the 6th Sunday of Easter, "Confessing Jesus"

Sermon Outline: 
1.      Paul seizes a golden opportunity—open invitation to speak the Gospel (cf throughout Acts). Cornelius’ household—major encounter with Gentile “God-fearers” ready to receive the Word. Believed in God of the Bible, did not yet know Jesus. Are we looking for, praying for open invitations? Again like Philip last week, Peter “opens his mouth” and begins telling about Jesus! Why were they doing this? Why so much “Jesus talk?” It was given to them to testify/bear witness.
2.      What’s “witnessing” all about? Not about Peter’s story, our story. Not marketing (Paul says in 2 Cor. 2:17: “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”). An open and honest statement about Jesus. All about Jesus: Very creed-like: God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power. Doing good and healing, God was with Him—death on the tree, raised by God in three days. And we ate with Him! Not talking about before He died, but after He walked out of His grave alive! Not “alive in our hearts” or a warm memory or inspiring example, but flesh and blood, heart pumping, lungs breathing Galilean air, eating, tasting, drinking, hands on and feeling, ALIVE! Don’t you think it’s of first importance for you and for everyone to know that this man defeated death?!
3.      Even more so because raised to heaven to be God’s judge of living and the dead. He’s the inescapable figure that everyone will encounter in death. Son of God, judge of all. No neutrality toward Him. Hinge of history, hinge of death and life. Good news—He’s an impartial judge. Not a “respecter of persons.” But also means He weighs good and evil without favoritism. Objective—no family favorites, political favors, rich man’s immunity—all are found guilty of sinning and falling short of the glory of God. Sees not the outside appearance, outer “righteousness” but the heart. Problem—hearts are the source of sin: Matt 15:18-19: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
4.      No favoritism; but is pleased with all who fear Him and do what’s right. (Justification and sanctification language—“fear Him”= faith, recognition of God’s power and ultimate authority; answer to Him. “Do what’s right” (Pono bumper stickers) more than outward obedience—an obedience moved from the heart. We’re always failing, but striving to obey His commands. Love God, love neighbor. Set apart (sanctified) from the world. Wrestling with sin (even sometimes, by the grace of God conquering), not giving it free reign.
5.      This impartial judge also gives forgiveness to all who believe in His name! Come with your sins, your guilt, and turn it over to be washed away! Leave it behind on Jesus’ cross, knowing it is paid for on His death! More than “fair”—He’s merciful. Peter’s Gospel cadence—God’s anointed, powerful miracles, death, resurrection, judge of living and the dead, forgiveness! Witness, confession of Jesus. Cross of Jesus. Without that message we’re left in our sins. Without the cross what is our hope? What is our goodness (nothing but hypocrisy and self-righteousness)? But with the cross of Jesus for us, we’re free.
6.      Word took powerful effect. God’s Word is always effective--“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth,  making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it .” Holy Spirit poured out on the people. Keep examples before our eyes so as not to forget the power of the message about Jesus. The Spirit does all the work Himself, through the Word. Not by our cunning or cleverness, but His Word.
7.      Speaking in tongues miracle. Same as at Pentecost. Not to be separated from or replace baptism. “Who can withhold water?” Confirmed their faith in Christ, joined to the Jesus in the church, His body.
8.      Seek those open invitations. Pray for them. Confess Jesus—say the same words—same story. It’s not our story, our witness, but Jesus’ story—His life, cross, death, and resurrection. Faith confessed in our creeds, you’ve memorized. This Word is powerful to create faith, change lives, and set us on the path to heaven, where we’ll joyfully face Jesus our judge confident of the verdict of innocence granted by His forgiveness. Forgiveness is God’s final word on sin for those who believe Jesus. Trust in Jesus? God’s verdict’s in! You’re forgiven! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      Read Acts 10:1-33. What were the events that led up to Peter’s sermon in verses 34ff? Who was Cornelius, and how did this encounter happen?
2.      Describe God’s impartiality and how it contrasts with human favoritism: Acts 10:34; Job 34:19; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Rom. 2:9-11; Eph. 6:9; James 2:1-9. What things tend to influence us toward favoritism? God shows no favoritism among those who “fear him and do what is right,” regardless of their nation. What is the “fear of God?” Read Exodus 20:20 after the giving of the 10 commandments. How is the word “fear” used in two different ways in this verse?  Also see Deut. 6:13-14; 8:6;  Prov. 9:10
3.      How is verse 38 a testimony to the Trinity?
4.      Why did Jesus appear to those whom He chose? Luke 16:30-31; 1 Cor. 15:3-11. What simple truth did Jesus’ eating and drinking with them after His resurrection reveal?
5.      How does Jesus’ appointment by God to be the “judge of the living and the dead” make Him an inescapable figure for every human being? Not only does history hinge on His life, death, and resurrection, but our eternal future hinges on Him as well. There is no “neutral” position towards Him.
6.      What is confession? How did Peter bear witness or testify about Jesus? How is this the heart and core of Christian evangelism? 1John 5:6-12
7.      How can you be more aware of opportunities around you to witness?

Monday, May 07, 2012

Sermon on Acts 8:26-40, for the 5th Sunday of Easter, "No reason to be stuck!"

Sermon Outline:
1.      Ever been stuck? Places: in traffic, in a long line, in an airport. Situations: caught in trouble with no apparent way out, stuck for ideas (when writing a sermon perhaps?), between a rock and a hard place, left to deal with someone else’s mess or problems. Emotions: fear, anxiety, or doubt freezes you from taking action; an emotional wound cripples you from moving on; guilt or shame puts you in a self-imposed retreat into isolation. Knowledge: can’t solve a problem, lack the know-how; fail to comprehend the situation. Spiritual dimension.
2.      Pres. Newton remarked that Jesus is “the master of getting stuck people unstuck.” Not always by snatching them out of the situation though! Often we learn only through hardship and experience and failure. Prunes, shapes, matures us.
3.      Ethiopian eunuch was “stuck” on a confusing passage of Isaiah. Searching to understand, but a block and a puzzle to him. A worshipper of God, wonderfully receptive and open to hear God’s Word. God sends ready Philip on a mission to help this man get “unstuck.” Isaiah 53:7-8. Jesus made no resistance, no complaint, no bitter cursing and hatred of His enemies—silently bowed His head for slaughter. Faced the cruel injustice with humble acceptance of God’s will. Didn’t get “stuck” with the cross—He wasn’t just the “unlucky one” who drew the shortest straw or was the last man out. Not just left holding everyone’s problems and messes because there was no one else to do it. He willingly, of His own choice and determination, took the cross, obeyed God with resolute words: “YOUR WILL BE DONE!” He took the sad and sorry mass of our sins and guilt on Himself and raised no complaint, no resistance, no self-pity. His pity, His compassion was instead turned toward His tormentors. Toward those who scorned Him. Stuck in pride, arrogance, disbelief. Toward those who abandoned Him. Stuck in fear, uncertainty, cowardice. Toward those who were stuck in guilt and shame, knowing they had not spoken up for the innocent, and had watched Him march the long path to His cross.
4.      Isaiah 53 describes this remarkable and unparalleled man, often called the “Suffering Servant.” God’s own Servant, He calls Him. A few verses later, in Isaiah 53:11 it describes how “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” God’s Righteous One, His servant Jesus—anguished in soul, but satisfied in knowing that He made many righteous by bearing their sins. Jesus’ satisfaction out of this terrible ordeal, was the knowledge that He was forgiving the sins of many by bearing the awful load of guilt. Puzzling chapter for the Ethiopian, but no better place for Philip to open his mouth and begin from this Scripture to tell the good news about Jesus! Like an incredible wave of joy, the good news struck this puzzled man, and dislodged him from his confusion! Unstuck! The good news of Jesus is that powerful force that strikes us (in a good way) and transforms our immobility into joyous motion.
5.      You’ve all been stuck in one way or another. See others? Recognize them? How can you help by opening your mouth and telling the good news about Jesus? You don’t have to have the solutions to all that has them “stuck”, but you can point them to Jesus, who is the master of getting us “unstuck.” Cuts the sticky cords and web of guilt and sin that entangle us, so we can fall into His arms. Picture of the exhausted man, holding hammer and nail, held up by the risen Jesus. Something in your life that is holding you back from coming to Jesus—listen! Tune in with your ears! There is no reason to hold back from coming to Jesus! What’s to get in your way? Jesus has bulldozed a path through your sins and has come to you in the hearing of His Word. Away with fear and whatever holds you back. Courage = fear baptized.
6.      Ethiopian heard the Word and believed it eagerly. Realized there was no obstacle. Nothing holding him back. Jesus won salvation for him. As soon as he saw water: “What prevents me from being baptized?” Answer: nothing! Eagerly was baptized and joined with Christ His Savior, for the forgiveness of his sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah 56 promises the eunuch and the foreigner who seeks the Lord, that they’ll be joined to God’s people and will have something better than sons and daughters to his name—God would give them an everlasting name. God’s name and salvation—better than descendants. But in all likelihood, this eunuch did have many spiritual “descendants” as he carried the good news of Jesus back to his homeland, and is claimed by Ethiopians as the ancestor of one of the oldest Christian church in Africa and the world!
7.      Are we ready and willing to serve the Lord, and share His good news? Half the battle is doing what Philip did, and “opening your mouth.” Afraid what will or won’t come out? The mission hymn “Hark the Voice of Jesus Calling” says, “If you cannot speak like angels, if you cannot preach like Paul, you can share the love of Jesus, you can say He died for all.” Everyone can at least share the love of Jesus, and tell people that Jesus died for our sins. It takes no special training or expertise to do that. But we can also model the examples of Philip and the Ethiopian. Like Philip we can be ready and waiting for the call of the Lord, willing to serve and make use of the daily encounters that aren’t truly chance—but arranged by God’s design. Ready to speak the Word. Like the Ethiopian in eagerness to study and understand—have someone teach and explain. To rejoice in salvation and move forward in faith. Bible study for us—growth in the Word.
8.      What happens when Jesus gets a person “unstuck”? They become a useful servant in His kingdom. Move forward with Him in faith. Trusting and following. Hearing His call and answering. Loving and seeing the needs of those who are “stuck” around him or her. Jesus has done all this for us! What’s to prevent us from sharing the good news? In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      Describe how you or someone you know has been “stuck” in various ways as mentioned in the sermon. While you don’t have solutions, how is telling about Jesus the best gift you can give?

2.      Did you know that another Ethiopian eunuch performed an act of kindness to a prophet in the OT? Jer. 38:7-13. What hardship or stigma faced a eunuch? Dt. 23:1. How was hope and honor foreshadowed for eunuchs and foreigners in Is. 56:3-5; Ps. 68:29-31; Zeph. 3:9-10? How had King Solomon (and ultimately God) long intended for the Temple to be a place of worship for all nations? 1 Ki 8:41-43

3.      Read Isaiah 53 (vs. 7-8 quoted). What was remarkable about God’s Suffering Servant, described in this prophecy the Ethiopian was reading? How was Jesus willing to undergo this? Hb. 12:2; Lk 22:42; Jn. 10:15-18

4.      How do sin and guilt “paralyze” us from coming to God? How did Jesus come to us instead? Is there anything that should hold us back? Any obstacle? What benefits does baptism give? Rom. 6; Acts 2:38-40; Ti. 3

5.      How can you be like the evangelist Philip, ready to tell the good news? 1 Pet. 3:15; Col. 4:6; 2 Cor. 5:11-21. Who do you see who is “stuck” in your life?

6.      What becomes of us when Jesus gets us “unstuck”? How does He do it? What change and impact does it have in our lives, and in our service to His kingdom?