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:

Gracious God, throughout the ages you transform sickness into health and death into life. Open us to the power of your presence, and make us a people ready to proclaim your promises to the whole world, through Jesus Christ, our healer and Lord. Amen.


Lessons:  Isaiah 35:4-7a     James 2:1-17     Mark 7: 24-37


Sermon:   Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you

           

     Each Sunday we gather as God’s beloved, and we gather as people called to share the News of abundant life in Christ. The first word of our lesson from Isaiah captures the essence of our calling as people of God: the little word SAY. “Say to those of a fearful heart, be strong, do not fear. Here is your God.” Ever since 9/11/2001 we’ve been told: “If you see something, say something.” That of course is meant to prevent terror attacks. If everyone ignores the guy who just walked out of the mall leaving his backpack behind, it could end badly. But let’s consider those words from the point of view of a person of faith. ‘If you see something, say something.’ Have you experienced or witnessed a miraculous recovery from illness? Have you heard a child say their bedtime prayers? Have you known a person who was awakened by the Holy Spirit to the grace and power of God? We are people who have seen the mighty works of God. We see them vicariously through a long line of saints, whose lives were filled with the Spirit of God and works of the Kingdom. The disciples witnessed Jesus curing the sick, teaching the crowds, walking on water, casting out demons, and raised from the dead. We read God’s Word and see what they saw… The Apostle Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus so he could SEE and SAY. And boy did Paul ever SAY something – he went around the whole world as it was known to him proclaiming Christ crucified and risen, the message of life and hope. We also see the works of God directly today – as people are uplifted and given hope by the love of God’s people in times of need, despair, hopelessness. 

     Again, Isaiah implores us: Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.” In Hebrew it’s literally ‘those with racing hearts.’ It sounds like a panic attack or tachycardia. When an overpowering enemy had the walls of the city surrounded in Isaiah’s time, there would have been a lot of racing hearts. The poor folks inside those walls were facing death as the worst case scenario, and enslavement as the best case. When a Syrian refugee is bringing her children across hostile territory by foot with no food or water, their hearts have to be racing. When the school principal comes on the P.A. and announces an immediate lockdown – ‘this is no drill’ – hundreds of little hearts are racing. It’s fear that makes our hearts race. We are biologically programmed to have racing hearts when faced with danger, so we can either run away quickly or stand and fight. When the danger is past, your heart can settle back down. The trouble is that our bodies today never shut off the fight or flight response, because we are under constant stress. On the road you’re constantly watching out for idiots who think it’s the Daytona 500, pulling out right in front of you or following six inches behind you at 70 mph. At work you’re being asked to do more and more with less and less. Even in retirement you face stress in paying bills, worrying about grandchildren, etc. With the daily news there’s no end to stress and distress. It’s today’s shooting, today’s flood or wildfire, today’s pandemic death count, today’s food recall. Take a few days off from the news every once in a while. You can feel your heart rate slow down, your muscles relax, your body let go of the stress.

     So, to begin with, we must say to ourselves - ‘Here is my God. Be strong, do not fear…. ‘ If you’ve seen something of God’s love and power, say something to your own heart. Perhaps you saw a person face death with the confidence and hope of faith. It blew you away how calm they were as life slipped away. But they were just crossing the threshold from life into life, and they had joy in their hearts. You witnessed that. Now say it to yourself. There was my God at work! Owning that for yourself is vitally important if you’re going to witness to others. They will either see a phony or a credible ambassador of Christ. If Christ is in your heart and in your bones they can’t miss it. That’s how the Christian faith spread so rapidly in its early years, through believers who embodied the spirit of Christ and the story of Christ’s saving love.          

     Then you’re ready to speak to a family member, a friend, a stranger about the hope and joy in your heart as a believer in Christ Jesus. You’re ready to do what Isaiah tells us to do… to SAY SOMETHING about what we’ve seen and felt and witnessed of the love of God…. In my experience, it’s the little kids and the elderly who are most open in sharing their faith. The home bound folks who really appreciate having Holy Communion brought to them inspire me. These are great mentors in faith, these wise old saints who have been through so much and still treasure their relationship with God. They are not afraid to put their faith into words. Seriously, what do you have to lose if you tell someone that your faith in God helped you through a parenting crisis, a tough illness, or a time of grief…. He might call it nonsense. But then again, he might start thinking about his own empty life. You crack open the door a little so the Holy Spirit can do its work. You have nothing to lose in telling your grandchildren how important your faith is—even if their parents have abandoned Christianity. If the neighbor across the fence is put off by your invitation to worship with us, at least you did what Jesus commands us to do… I firmly believe that God can use us to change other people’s lives, but we have to open our mouths and speak for that to happen. After all, our faith is built around the Word of God. And words have a hard time passing through sealed lips. If you want to keep silent about some dark family secret, that’s up to you. But don’t stay silent about the best think that’s ever happened to you – your baptism into Christ and God’s promise of abundant life. If you’ve seen something of God’s saving love, then for goodness sake SAY SOMETHING. AMEN


Prayers: 

All-knowing God, you see us as we are, warts and wrinkles, good intentions and weaknesses combined. Help us to better see and know You as Creator and Savior.      Lord in your mercy….. hear our prayer


Keep us safe from all the dangers around us. Bless the work of medical professionals, police, firemen, and soldiers. Be with children who struggle to learn in the midst of a pandemic and teachers who struggle to teach. Lord in your mercy….. hear our prayer


Give us strength and courage for the work of your Kingdom. Help us reach out with your love and your message of hope. Lord in your mercy….. hear our prayer

       

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