Grounded in Christ — Sent to be a Blessing.

Zion Lutheran Church

United With Christ

Baptism Romans 6

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:4-5)

Joined to Jesus, we go nowhere without the promise of God’s presence in our lives. This is the promise made to us in our baptism. That Jesus died for us and in baptism the old us dies with him. We are “united with him.” No promise in life can mean more than the promise that God has committed to always be with us in all things and in all places.

It is easy to take that for granted. In fact, the Apostle Paul knew the risk of knowing this. To promise us that God would love us no matter what also meant risking that without the fear of losing God’s love, we might not care much about what we do. After all, does it matter in the big picture what we do, if no matter what, God will still love us?

Paul wants us to know that it matters a lot. It matters, not because God’s love is dependent on it. But it matters because God wants our love back and God wants us to want to please God. In fact, our response is to be the true desire to bring joy to God and carry out God’s will and work in the world.

Paul calls this side of our baptism, “newness of life.” How can we who have died with Christ be raised to the same old us? We are a new creation in Christ. Do our lives reflect the old us or do they reflect the new us of the baptized people of God?

Our baptismal covenant is a call to join God in the work of loving the world. It is a call to discipleship and transformation and the kind of new life that only Christ can bring.

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Baptized into the Body of Christ

Baptism Water

So those who welcomed Peter’s message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:41-42)

The good news about God’s love for us in Jesus Christ is an amazing revelation for many people. We have all known people who have reminded us of Eeyore from the Winnie the Pooh stories – always seeming to be down and with a cloud over them. Sometimes we have probably been that person ourselves!

When the crowds on that first Pentecost discovered that even though they had been part of rejecting and crucifying Jesus – the Son of God who had come to love them into new life – they were stunned. Had they known what they were doing they felt they would surely have chosen another path. But it seemed to be too late. Jesus was dead.

But Peter’s preaching reminded them that with God it is never too late. Resurrection brings new life to people who need it most. And as the Spirit moved among them, thousands of people believed and rejoiced at the message. About three thousand of them were baptized that day.

As part of being baptized, these people joined the apostolic community. This community of faith was committed to proclaiming and living out of the good news that God had offered new life in the resurrection of Christ. So they gathered to learn and care for one another, to share in communion together, and to pray for each other and the world around them.

We often think of Baptism as “me and God,” that since I am baptized I am promised eternal life in Christ. While that is true, a key part of baptism is “us and God.” We are brought into a community of faith where we gather and support each other, are nourished by God, and called to be people of prayer. Baptism is about more than just us as individuals. It is about our recognition that God is more than my God – God is our God. When we live that way, the church becomes the church. We are God’s people. We are given the life we need in Jesus. We discover too, that we need and are blessed by each other as well.

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Praying at All Times

Prayer D

“Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)

Prayer. What is it and how does it work? In fact, does it work? Almost everyone has wondered these things about prayer at one time or another.

Prayer is an incredible gift from God. There is much about prayer that helps us understand the nature of God and the nature of the Christian faith.

First, prayer puts us in a position of significance. When we pray for other people, we stand in that space between the person or persons we are praying for and God. We are granted and accepting the role of priest on their behalf. God has allowed us a role that is powerful and focused on bringing help to someone who needs an ally.

But second, prayer puts us in a position of humility. While we intercede for someone else, we also therefore sit at the feet of God. It is God who made the world and everything in it. It is God who has made us and claimed us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. When we come before God in prayer we are struck by how amazing God is and how humble we truly are.

It is in this tension between power and humility that we discover the meaning of prayer. In praying for others we accept some responsibility toward our neighbors. Their problems are our problems and if we can be helpful, love calls us to do so. But we also recognize that we are not God and that we are dependent on the love and grace of one far more awesome than we can even put into words.

Prayer is an expression of our belief that the God who made us also loves us. It is also an expression of the love that we have been given for one another. We stand in a relationship with God and each other. We share our concerns for each other with the God who is concerned for us all. That is an enormous responsibility! It is also an enormous privilege. And that should bring comfort and hope to all of us.

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Equipping the Saints

Ephesians4.11-16_Equipping

 

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-12)

Somewhere things got out of balance. There are a lot of theories about how it happened, all of them likely to have some merit. But for all the reasons that it happened, the consequences of this have taken their toll on the health and vibrancy of the church.

The thing that got out of balance was ministry. The Bible is clear, Jesus’ own ministry was clear, our Lutheran theology is clear: everyone is a minister! But something got out of whack and as a result we began to define the “Minister” as someone who had gone to seminary and worked full time for the church. This is not at all what we teach. But somewhere inside many (all?) of us we seem to believe it.

So this lesson offers a very important corrective to this misconception. All the roles in the church with titles (like “apostles” or “prophets” or “pastors”) are there for the sake of the whole church. And they are not working instead of the whole church. In fact, it is his or her job to be sure the church has what it needs so that everyone can minister. And while ministry includes work within the church, it is equally important to help people use their faith and callings as parents, neighbors, employees and citizens in their daily lives. Ministry can and does happen anywhere and everywhere that God’s people are involved.

What needs to happen in the American church is that congregations need to teach ministry as the norm for what it means to be involved in a congregation. If someone does go to seminary, he or she should already be a trained minister before they get there. That’s the congregation’s job! Being a leader in the church is about learning how to equip and train people for the ministry they already have. And the work of the church should be shaped by this calling to help equip everyone for the work of ministry and the building up of the body of Christ.

So, take a few minutes to reflect. What and where do you do ministry? How can the church help you do it better? Share your thoughts and ideas with your church leaders. If we do this well, all of us will be better ministers and God will be glorified in new ways in the work we do.

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Wheat or Weed?

wheat-tares_sermons

“Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:30)

Jesus tells a story about a man who sows seeds and then finds that there are not just good plants growing but also weeds (also called “tares”). The workers are outraged and want to know what to do. It is their instinctive desire to go pull up the weeds and get rid of them immediately. The own says, “No.” They are to wait until harvest time because pulling up the weeds now will almost surely also damage the wheat. The result may be less weeds but it will also result in a smaller crop. It is better to wait.

This story puzzles the hearers. In fact, later in the same chapter, the disciples ask Jesus what it means. The answer is not obvious. Like many parables, thinking about this brings many more questions than answers.

The kind of weeds in the story look a lot like wheat plants. You can see a comparison in the picture with this article. Like many grassy plants, part way through the growth cycle everything looks pretty much the same. And unlike some crops, like tomatoes for example, it is hard to tell the weed from the crop and things are so close that you can’t pull up a plant without damaging the plant next to it. You just have to live with the mess for a while.

But at harvest time, the wheat produces grain and the weed plants don’t. The result is that you can easily tell them apart, Harvest time is a better time to do the sorting. Not now. Later.

The parable reminds us that the world is a complex place. We live right next to people who have different agendas and bear different fruit than we do. It is tempting to root them out. Much of the anti-immigration sentiment that we often hear today comes from this desire for us to sort things out and have a pure field (whatever that means). But this parable reminds us that we need to be more careful about rooting out those people and things we don’t like. We may do a lot of damage in the process and not be helpful in doing what God is doing.

In the end, you can tell more about a person by what they are for than by what they are against. This parable reminds us that in the end, God wants us to bear fruit. When we do, we will easily be seen as grain in the field by the God whose world it is. While some situations call for us to rise up and oppose the bad, we know that in all situations we are to stand strong and work for the good.

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Citizens of Heaven

Citizens of Heaven

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:3)

The letter to the Ephesians is thought by many to be a circular letter. That means it was written to be circulated to more than one recipient. Each copy would have a different town identified in the copy. The one that we have that made the Bible was to the people of Ephesus.

When the Apostle Paul wrote this letter, he was excited about the church and what it represented. God had done something amazing in Jesus and connected eternity and the world. By faith, people were joined to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As a result they received the very best of all that God had to offer. This was not because God wasn’t already offering it. It was because without faith, we lack the eyes to see and grasp all that God is doing

The arrival of Jesus changes that. Once we encounter the God who comes to us in Christ, we discover the goodness of God and the sacrificial love that God gives to us. We discern that in the midst of the various struggles of life, God continues to work and brings life out of death and hope out of despair.

The result is that we live our lives as both residents of the world and also as citizens of heaven. We see the temporal and impact it with the love and grace of Jesus. We see the eternal and trust that no matter what we encounter here, it will not be enough to destroy the promise of “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

You are free to live a life of praise and thanksgiving. Why? Because your faith in Christ tells you that God has promised you everything that eternity has to offer. So rejoice, even when times are tough. Because of Christ, there is always a light shining into our future.

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The Trinity

Trinity D

Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”  (John 14:16-17)

The above text is the one of the pieces of Jesus’ last evening with his disciples. It is near the end of Matthew’s gospel as the soon to be crucified Christ prepares his disciples to continue his work. People are to discover through the followers of Jesus that the God who made the world, redeemed the world and continues to work in the world is looking for allies. Followers of Jesus are to continue his work. This verse is one place where the doctrine of the Trinity is pointed to within the pages of scripture.

The Trinity is often lifted up as a difficult concept to understand. And of course, it is. But it has been said that the Trinity is not so much a puzzle to be solved, as it is a mystery to stand in awe of. The Trinity is not about intellectual mumbo jumbo. It is about a God of love who is too amazing to fully comprehend.

This week, we look at the Trinity and we will do so intellectually, artistically and contemplatively. In each way we discover a bit more about how amazing God is. And at the same time we also discover how much more there is to know than we will ever fully understand.

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Beloved, Let Us Love One Another

1 John 4-7

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)

We often want to take credit for being kind and loving. It makes us feel good about ourselves. Who doesn’t want to feel good about himself or herself?

But scripture paints a different picture of how humanity works. Good and loving things do not originate with us. As much as most of us want to take great pride in being “good people” or “truly loving,” the Bible says that all goodness and all love originate with God. In fact, the next verse following the one above tells us that, “God is love.” We do not love because of us. We love because of God.

This can be especially helpful when we see love in other people. Like us, if love is present it does not start with them, it starts with God. So, when we see love expressed in meaningful and helpful ways in the lives of others, it can be a great chance to witness. Instead of saying, “Thanks. You are such a nice person,” we can instead say, “Thanks, I really experienced God working through you.” Witness like this is simple, gracious and allows us to give credit where credit is due.

So, watch for examples of love wherever you are. And when you see love in action, instead of thinking what a nice person it is, celebrate what a wonderful God we have!

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Testing the Truth

Truth Test

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

When 1 John was written, Christianity was new and on the margins. There was no reason to claim the name of Jesus to gain credibility with most people. The name of Jesus carried now real weight in a world where most people were not Christians and where in many cases, it was illegal to be one. So, when the author tells the audience to listen to see if someone brings something in the name of Jesus, it made a lot of sense as criteria. Why would anyone link himself or herself to Jesus unless they really had something from God in Christ to say?

Fast forward a couple of thousand years and things are very different. Christianity is the biggest religion in the world with over a billion adherents. In our country, even thought religion is generally declining, Christianity is far and away the biggest and most powerful religious force in our society. Today, especially in some circles, claiming the name “Christian” will get you and audience and even some clout. So, today there is incentive to use the name of Jesus, even if your message isn’t from God.

That’s why the above verse is so important.  Jesus has already warned that there will be many false prophets in his name. Today, with the internet, you can find all sorts of “Christian” messages that make Jesus cringe. You can find “fake news” that starts with rumors and Internet bait, but can even find its way to major papers and network news. If we aren’t careful, almost everything we pass on may be false!

So scripture reminds us that we need to take the time to sort through things. If something seems too good to be true, it likely is. If something tries to get you to fall back into judgment and condemnation of others, it is probably not from God. If something announces that God in Christ loves you (and the people you struggle to love as well), then that probably sounds like the gospel. Odds are good that it might have come from God.

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The Need for Grace

Savior Needed

“If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10)

We all want to feel good about ourselves. Our instincts and our culture both base our self-worth on being good, useful and morally upright. Often, when someone we know dies, we comfort one another by saying, “They were such a good person.”

But scripture reminds us that all of us are sinful. All of us make mistakes, think and act based on our own desires rather than God’s, and often ignore the needs of others while taking more than enough care of ourselves. Most of us try to do the right thing most of the time at what we do. But most of also all too easily ignore all that we don’t do. In fact, it may be that our sins of omission are often greater than the sins we commit.

That’s why confession is such a central part of what it means to be a Christian. The ability to own our sins allows us to rely on God’s grace. It reminds us that God is God and that we aren’t. It points us to our need for the love of God that comes to us in Christ. And when it goes well, it shapes us to be more gracious and less judgmental with others when their sins cause us pain or annoyance. To admit to needing grace is a humbling thing. Humble people are less likely to beat up others when they make mistakes.

Oddly enough, our imperfections are not the disaster we often make them out to be. In fact, if we would all simply admit that we are fallible and need grace, many of our attitudes and relationships would change almost immediately. So, don’t resist admitting that you need grace. It is the path to grace and because of grace we discover that in the end – love wins.

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