Advent Lutheran Church of Anoka


SUNDAY SERMONS


July 12, 2020            Welcome to Worship!

Greeting:  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.   Amen

Prayer of the Day:  Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your Word.  By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy, live according to it, and grow in faith and hope and love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen

Lessons:  Isaiah 55:10-13   Romans 8:1-11     Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Sermon:      Dear friends, grace and peace to you   

          Isaiah speaks a word of Hope.  How important is that, to God’s people held captive in Babylon for 70 years!  Without the Jerusalem Temple, they were cut off from their accustomed worship life and the comfort it gave them.  Sound familiar? How important is hope for us, as our world has been turned upside down by Covid 19, a serious economic downturn, and massive social unrest around racism in our country.   We hunger for better days, for a return to freedom and peace.

          Even in these extraordinary times we hope for moments of joy.  No graduation ceremony could be held, but she graduated with honors.  No visitors were allowed at the hospital, but he made it through a risky surgery.  You won’t be able to hold that baby for a long time to come, but you’re a grandma for the first time. You can live a long time in between these happy moments, but they are what you live for.  Grandpa Clarence is 93 years old and terminally ill and hangs on by pure willpower to see that grandchild enter the world, or see that grandson graduate from college – the first to do so in his family.  When you look back upon your life, you won’t remember March 3rd, 2003 – the day you woke up, went to work, came back home again, ate supper, checked your emails, and went to bed.  Thousands of days went by like that.  But you’ll remember the highlights, the moments that gave you joy.

Our text from Isaiah is all about joy.  Mountains and hills are bursting into song.  Purple mountains majesty pickin and grinnin’, rapping, singing a full throated Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee….   Trees are clapping their hands.  Thorns and briers are pulled out by the roots and replaced by cypress trees and evergreen shrubs.   Imagine a garden that never needs weeding!  -- A lawn free of crab grass and dandelions.   To top it all off, Isaiah says this will be an everlasting sign that will not be cut off.  This is prophetic language.  Isaiah is peering into the joyous future God is preparing for us….  But is that all he’s doing?  What about here and now?

The first part of the lesson talks about the Word of God.  It’s like the rain that comes down from heaven to water the earth and bring forth life – crops that we depend upon to survive, plants that animals depend upon to survive.  The Word is a gift freely given, and it’s right at your fingertips and bouncing around in your ear drums.  But it’s given for a purpose, and it shall not return to God empty.   The word ‘empty’ is generally not a good thing.   You write out a check, only to discover that your bank account is empty.  You get half way to the next gas station in the desert, and discover that your gas tank is on empty.  We could also talk about lives that are empty – lacking any perceived value or purpose.  That feeling afflicts many elderly people.  Your working days are over, your family is too busy to visit you, and about all you have to do is eat and sleep and worry.  I like to tell people that life itself is pleasing to God.   As long as you’re drawing breath, you have a purpose in trusting and praising your Creator and Savior.  All our earthly days are practice for that eternal purpose.

But here and now we find joy in God’s Word.  First it reminds us who we are and whose we are.  We are children of God.  When Jesus says, ‘Let the children come to me and do not forbid them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.’   Does that mean you have to be a runny-nosed toddler to enter the Kingdom?  No, it means that you enter by means of a child-like trust.   And that in itself is a joyous thing.  Not every child is so fortunate, but I can remember those days of childhood, when I never had to worry about having meals on the table, or clothes to wear to school, or a safe home to live in.  I could rest assured that my parents would provide those things.  I’m sure a lot of us could say, “we didn’t know how good we had it.”    Well we still have it pretty good.  Our heavenly Father provides enough and more.  Sure there are people who have it better than we do.  There are people who are a lot worse off than us.   But God has shown throughout our lives that we can rely on Him to send the life-giving rain, and everything else we need to live healthy and productive lives.   We belong to a loving and giving Heavenly Parent, who is worthy of our trust and praise.   You can bask in that promise.  God will not forsake us.  He says so in His Word.

Secondly, the Word gives us strength to live and serve in a challenging world.  Those stories of Jesus’ encounters with needy people, belligerent people, dangerous people help us understand our call to discipleship.  We too will face rejection as we share the Word.  Jesus experienced it and went on in faithful service to His heavenly Father.  We learn from Him to be steadfast in our witness. We too will have truly meaningful encounters as we share the love of God.  ‘Before Covid,’ or BC as I’ve come to call it, our doorbell rang, and I met the nicest gentleman. He is one of many military veterans struggling to survive, needing a little help with food. And he’s black, which doesn’t help in this society.  We talked for a half hour about his life story.  Yes, I gave him some food.  But he shared with me a story of sacrifice and struggle, faith and hope that enriched me.  We are blessed to be a blessing, but when you share the love of Christ it does not return to you empty.  It gives you goosebumps to be an instrument of the love of God.   Read those stories of Jesus’ compassion in the Bible, and put yourself in the shoes of those people who gave and received. 

Finally, the Word of God makes us people of hope.   The Apostle Paul writes in I Thessalonians 4:  “We do not want you to be uninformed about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”  Funeral services have been disrupted during the pandemic.  Small family- only services have replaced the packed church followed by lunch.  That’s been hard on people.  Still, it’s better than simply having a loved one cremated or buried with no funeral, no belief in life beyond the grave!   How sad and empty is that!  The promise of the resurrection is freely given to anyone who will listen and believe.    In the short term most people are very responsible—they have jobs, retirement savings, an exercise routine, a healthy diet….   But they forget about what is arguably the most important part of life--- a living relationship of trust with their Creator and a solid belief in God’s promise of everlasting life.  They’ve opted for a life separated from God.  Crowds of people are choosing that as the final outcome of their life.   Not only that, but they are promoting their godless views, urging others to abandon their beliefs.  It’s all based on the premise that they can judge what is true and what is not using logic or common sense.  But the Universe is filled with mysteries we will never solve and wonders beyond explanation.  To think that our small minds can make a decision about the existence of God is an outlandish case of arrogance.  Hope is grounded in a humble walk with God.

We are people of hope, and that’s nothing to take for granted in what often seems like a hopeless world.  God sends the Word into that world like summer rain, claims us as His, equips us for service, and draws us close in the hope of sharing eternity with Him.    AMEN

 

Prayers:  Lord, you provide a bountiful and beautiful world.  Help us trust in your loving care.                                                            Hear us O God,

Give us strength for hard and challenging days, knowing that you are beside us. Be with nurses and doctors, police and protesters, the powerful and the homeless.    

                                                                             Hear us O God,                                                             

Lift up all who are bowed down by illness, poverty, depression, anxiety.  Help all your people find comfort in your Word of hope.        Hear us O God,

Lord’s Prayer:  Our Father….   Amen

 

 

Benediction:  The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace. Amen

 

Greeting: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.


Prayer of the Day: O God, you have prepared for those who love you joys beyond understanding. Pour into our hearts such love for you that, loving you above all things, we may obtain your promises, which exceed all we can desire; through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


Lessons:   Acts 10:44-48   I John 5:1-6    John 15:9-17


Sermon:   Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace….

            The Herb Brokering song goes like this: ‘Love, Love, Love, that’s what it’s all about… Everybody sing and shout. Cause that’s what it’s all about.’ My grandkids were impressed when I sang that to them.   The Beatles sang – “All you need is love…love is all you need.”   Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Do we need a clearer word than that? We are created with love in mind. Little babies want their tummies filled, but they also want to be held and talked to and comforted. They crave the love of Mom and Dad. When Jesus commanded us to love each other, he was just stating the obvious: We are made for love. Is there any better feeling in the world than finding your first true love?   The hormones are raging. It’s all flowers and butterflies and ice-cream….and a kind of blissful blindness to each other’s true natures…which is why a long courtship is a good idea before tying the knot. You want to see your beloved at their best, and at their worst. At the other end of life, the elderly person in the nursing home craves a hug, or someone to hold their hand. Human touch becomes as important as mealtime. What a treat, to have someone come and take your blood pressure or roll you over to prevent bed sores! Human contact. So good. So needed.

            I think many of us felt a sense of loss this past year as we went into isolation, lock down. That’s especially true if you live alone. When the washing machine or the water heater broke down, you sensed the risk of having a repair person come into your home… but how good to hear a voice beside your own within those four walls. Somehow the TV and the occasional zoom meeting just wasn’t the same as meeting people in person. You miss a lot when people aren’t physically present. For most of you, reading my weekly ramblings online or viewing the services on You Tube had to suffice for worship. But that’s not the same as joining with fellow believers in singing a good old hymn, even if you’re singing it into a mask.   In the book of Genesis God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion fit for him.” From the very beginning, God knew that we humans need each other.   We’re meant to be together.

       So what’s gone wrong? Why are we so bent on alienating each other, excluding some people, harboring grudges against some people? Why would we build weapons that can kill off most, if not all, the people on the planet? If love is ‘what it’s all about’, if love is ‘all we need’, if love is Jesus’ command, why on earth is there so much discord and outright hatred? Just read the comments people leave on websites and you’ll have your fill of vitriol. People send poisonous messages to complete strangers who don’t share their opinions. Or how about the teenage girl who posts that a fellow student should kill herself? That doesn’t exactly fill the shoes of Jesus’ love command. How did a thirteen-year-old come to be so bitter and resentful? And what about places like the Middle East that have been torn by violence and hatred for unending centuries?

       It turns out that every one of us has a split personality, practically from birth. On the one hand we really cherish the love of people. On the other hand, we feel driven to compete with each other, judge each other, be offended by each other, and hurt each other. The Bible calls it “sin.” If you don’t like that word, tough bounce! It’s a real thing. Paul tells us that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’  Not only that, we fall short of courtesy, empathy, and common decency. We reserve “love” for a small circle of people and don’t much care about the rest of humanity. We conjure up stereotypes as an excuse to dismiss poor people, Asian people, short people, blonds, old people, politically liberal or conservative people.  We don’t have to try very hard to dislike or even hate human beings who aren’t all that different from us.

         When Jesus commands us to love each other, I think he knows that’s an uphill climb, like summiting Mt. Everest. He suffered the resentment and plotting of the scribes and Pharisees. He endured the ingratitude of the 5,000 – who chased him around the Sea of Galilee just to get another freebee meal. He knew that his final trip to Jerusalem would be final indeed. He’d be apprehended like a criminal, abandoned by his followers. The crowd would cry for his blood. The Romans would relent and hang him on a cross to die. Jesus tread water in a sea of sin during those last days in Jerusalem. He went there in love for every child of God. He promised Paradise to the thief beside him. He forgave those who were killing him. He gave his mother to John, and John to his mother out of love. They will be family. Do you puzzle over the meaning of the love command? Look to the cross of Jesus. There it is. Pure, amazing, humbling love.                                                                                                     Oh, I know it’s not possible to love all seven billion people on the planet. Even if you’re an avid traveler, you’ll never set eyes on most of them. Unless you’re Jesus, anything beyond a dozen people is asking a lot. That’s if you are talking about loving a person you know well, warts and all, without condition. Jesus loves us that way. But for us, I think it’s possible to love your cherished dozen, and then work toward loving the rest of the seven billion. Heaven would rejoice if we could all pull that off. Instead of dwelling on the differences between us, how about embracing the fact that we all want pretty much the same things – a loving family, good health, enough to eat, shelter from the cold and the wet, a sense of belonging, safe neighborhoods, a sense of purpose, and a world at peace. When you look at other people, imagine you are looking into a mirror, because you are! You are seeing a child of God, an image of yourself, made in the image of God himself.   How can you not love that?

       Add up all the wars, all the bitterness, all the hatred, all the oppression in human history and then consider John Lewis’ words: “in the end, after all the struggle is over, love will be the only result.”   That’s God’s heaven, where love is what it’s all about.    amen


        

Benediction:  The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.  The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.   Amen