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A Transformed World

September 3, 2017

In a very short time, will not Lebanon be turned into a fertile field
and the fertile field seem like a forest?
In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll,
and out of gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind will see.
Once more the humble will rejoice in the Lord;
the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
The ruthless will vanish,
the mockers will disappear,
and all who have an eye for evil will be cut down—
those who with a word make someone out to be guilty,
who ensnare the defender in court
and with false testimony deprive the innocent of justice.
Therefore this is what the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, says to the descendants of Jacob:
“No longer will Jacob be ashamed;
no longer will their faces grow pale.
When they see among them their children,
the work of my hands,
they will keep my name holy;
they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob,
and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
Those who are wayward in spirit will gain understanding;
those who complain will accept instruction.”

Isaiah 29:17-24

For those people who like to be informed or ‘connected’ with today’s events in the world, there are many possibilities. We have at our disposal the most modern forms of communication the world has ever known. It’s hard to imagine what will come next.
But at the same time we are in serious danger. The danger comes from not having control over that huge stream of information that surrounds us every day. And many times that technology is used by the powerful to influence the masses and change the way they think and see the things that really happen. Thus it is good advice to not believe everything we see and hear in the media as absolute truth. Rather, it is a relative, exaggerated, manipulated and often distorted truth. That’s why it’s also good advice to take more time for reading the Bible and for interaction with human beings of our society than for media and social networks. There we will see ‘in truth’, the facts of our world.
If we spend more time paying attention to the media and social networks than on reading the Word of God and attending to the needs of our neighbours, then, as Christians, we are not leading a wise life.

In the media everything seems to be wrong. For a whole month I have tried to analyze the morning news that came to me. I noticed that 90% of it was negative news. And of this, 90% of it was news that had little and nothing to do with my everyday life and the community in which I am living. And most of this news was viewed from a partial and doubtful point of view, or was even biased.
But do bad things not happen? Yes, of course bad things happen. But the good things also happen. Yet they are not published. And maybe the good things could even surpass the amount of bad things that happen daily, but not according to the media. Regardless of this, what I discovered that month, was that every morning when I went to the media to “see what was going on in the world”, I ended up discouraged, negative, almost sad and gloomy. This, over time, affects not only the mental health of a person but also their way of observing and considering the world, and it undermines their faith and trust in God. And the worst thing for many –even Christians– it seems to only be the main source of “spiritual food” they receive every day.

And the question today may be: But is it not necessary to listen to what the media and the news say? Yes, of course you can, but today more than ever you have to be extremely observant and careful. All of the information we receive must be taken with a grain of salt, and weighed against the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. And we have to keep in mind where we spend most of our time: listening to the news or meditating on the word of God? What is the foundation for our mood? What makes us sad or happy? What gives us the strength to live? What is the greatest influence in our daily lives, everything that comes from God, our fellowship with God or what the media “preaches” to us? This is an urgent question for today’s Christian.

But let’s look at the whole paragraph of the Bible reading for this Sunday’s sermon. If we do, we see: it speaks of a powerful transformation of our society, beyond the distortion or trend of the media. It is a reality that our world is permeated with evil, but also with very good things. The text says that here nothing will be as it was again. But it is a global change towards the good that no one other than God in person can carry out. The message of this transformation into the good is very important. We will do well to listen carefully and trust him, especially in these times of terrorism, distortion of news, wars, economic crises and other shortcomings.

The prophet Isaiah announces this message of salvation in three phases and with each of them is even clearer. It’s like when you adjust the lenses of binoculars, the visual sharpness changes: every time we adjust the lenses, something things become clearer. There are three levels of sharpness with which Isaiah shows us the great transformation of God and His salvation that is to come.

First, Isaiah paints a somewhat blurred landscape. He says: imagine the mountains of Lebanon. These are actually rugged wooded mountains full of rocks, large tree roots and scrub. No one can even think of planting grain there or of intending to harvest fruit. But after a while everything will be different: instead of rocky land, there will be fertile land for farmland, a lovely garden, a paradise, more beautiful than anything you have seen. What grows in the gardens will appear in the thicket of the bush and mountains.

Yes, it means that God will start to act. Just as he once created the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve with their spectacular trees and fruits, so God will transform the sin-covered land and heal it and make it fertile, tillable land again. That’s God’s promise; we can already be happy for this! But we can better recognize the wonderful change with the image of the garden in the following sentences; Isaiah describes to us even more brightly what God will do.
He no longer speaks of an unclear landscape, but rather of people. Suddenly the deaf will hear, the blind will see, the poor will rejoice in the Lord, the needy will rejoice over what they receive from God. This text tells about the ruthless and mockers that will be exterminated. It should be noted that: it is not that there will be revenge and satisfaction because our enemies were eliminated, but it is that the oppressed and suffering will breathe with relief.

With this announcement of salvation we can know God’s heart. God only has in mind what is good for us. God wants to help all who suffer and promises that the shortcomings will come to an end. Illnesses and hopelessness will end, suffering and misery will be transformed into joy. We will do well if we stand up to these promises of God’s salvation and not worry about everything in our world as presented by the aggravated and distorted media.

More than anything when you are sick or discouraged or poor or sad or oppressed or burdened by anything: keep in mind that God announces a great change, a 180º turn for the better and that he will take care of it himself.

Let us continue looking in more detail. Isaiah prophesied: “In that day the deaf may hear the reading of the scroll.” What ‘scroll’ do you mean? There is only one scroll, or book, that is simply called ‘the book.’ It is the Bible. There we see that, first of all, it is not a question of a physical deafness, but of a spiritual deafness that God wants to heal. Here it is said that the people who until now have not attended to the Bible, suddenly will recognize the spiritual riches of the word of God that is found in the Bible.
So also God heals spiritual blindness; it is the time for the Gospel: “and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.”
And in the end for the oppressed and sad they are not only prophesied a little joy, but Isaiah promises them:
“Once more the humble will rejoice in the Lord; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.”
The ruthless will vanish, the mockers will disappear, and that sheds light on us: there is no talk of ISIS terrorists or even any other kind of ruthless hidden by a mantle of democracy, but of ruthless who are not flesh and blood. God will overcome Satan and all his demons that keep us from God and lead us to perdition, condemnation.

We have almost reached the third level, with the clear image of God according Isaiah’s prophecy. But there is more to see. Isaiah rejoices over the message of God’s joy:
“Therefore this is what the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, says …”
When we speak of redemption, it is the deliverance that has come into the world through Jesus Christ. Isaiah prophesied that the descendants of his contemporaries will already see the deeds of God. Yes, 700 years later the descendants of Israel experienced Jesus’ mighty preaching, His incredible miracles, how He redeemed humanity from the power of the devil on the cross and rose up as victor over all evil in His resurrection. There the new covenant was established, there the great turning took place, and this is the magnificent good news and new era of the kingdom of God. Now humanity is able to come to repentance, now the Holy Spirit allow them to believe from the heart, now they can recognize God’s love, now they are led from their wrong and sinful ways to the good paths of God, as Isaiah prophesied:
“They will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel. Those who are wayward in spirit will gain understanding; those who complain will accept instruction.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we now see more clearly: the transformation of God has already taken place, for Jesus has risen from the dead and we live with him and through him in the kingdom of God. We know that the devil no longer has power over us believers, and we believe that with God we are safe and secure. He can still frighten us, but we do not need to be worried, even if the world around us goes crazy and is evil, God has redeemed us and will give us the promised eternal life. We are baptized, and if anyone is baptized and has truly understood what this baptism is all about, which is to say, that they have also had the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, then from there on in their life ‘nothing will be as before’- everything has been transformed through the joyful light of the gospel. Death cannot separate us from God’s hand – even if we die young or old, in a violent or natural way. God will lead us there, where, in the end, our natural eyes will be able to see with total clearness and accuracy the love that he does have. Amen

12th Sunday of the Holy Trinity

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“I want an updated Bible!”

August 4, 2017

3rd Sunday of Holy Trinity

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable:  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders  and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:1-10

In today’s pattern of thinking, you can see that there are many who approve and cheer love between people as an important virtue in itself. Many, if not all, regardless of whether they are Christians or not, value love for one’s neighbour. Many affirm that the most important thing is to love. This includes affection, good values, being virtuous, doing good and being a good and loving person. And many do not know that all those values or virtues have been instilled in our current society mainly by Christianity; more concretely, by Jesus’ teachings.
This message of love has taken root so well over the last two millennia that everyone tries to love everyone to the point of not discriminating against anyone, regardless of race, religion, social levels, gender, etc. Many truly do not know, including non-Christians who defend and ‘preach’ this way of life, that all this has arisen in our modern society in an exclusive way by all these centuries of Christianity, even though many today are not so keen on Christianity. Most people who reject Christianity do so because of bad experiences with the church as an institution (which is nothing more than an institution formed by human beings) and others, unfortunately, because they have not had Christian parents or mentors who have been able to teach them the faith properly and lovingly. Still others reject Christianity because faith was lost, or they just turned away from faith, just like that.
Nonetheless, the widespread common believe that “we must love everyone and not discriminate against anyone” seems to be the most important slogan today. And for us Christians, this is of course understandable, and it is clear to us that this command comes from our Lord Jesus Christ, whom we want to obey.

In today’s Bible reading, we find that Jesus was approaching sinners. In other words, he was showing his great love to everyone without making distinction of social or religious status. But on this Sunday we would also like to describe what a sinner is, or what sin is. Jesus uses this expression; he does not deny the existence of “the sin” but he affirms that “there will be more joy for one sinner who repents than for ninety-nine just who need not repent.” He acknowledges that sin and the sinner still exist. He makes a difference, therefore, between the one who sins and the one who does not. For him it is clear that these two types of people are not alike.
We have spoken many times about what sin means. In our society, and mostly for non-Christians, the word sin sounds like an old-fashioned expression. Like something from the past, outdated and retrograde, even among certain church members. It seems that the word sin can only be used within some churches or backward theologies. For us, it is not an outdated word. It is a word that continues to have importance. Sin simply means separation from God, to be away from God’s laws and the benefit of His fellowship.
And what does this separation mean? Or how can we realize that we are living apart from God? The only way we have to test it is the Word of God– collected in the form of a book we call the Bible. And we especially read the Bible in the light of the message of Jesus Christ. When we don’t live our lives according to the word of God, that is, according to what the Bible asks of us, we are living a life according to our wishes and not in the way that pleases God, that is, according to His will.

There are many who call into question what the Bible says and think they have authority over it when they interpret it for their own convenience or supersede it with other philosophies or principles. There are many who call into question the Bible, saying that the Bible needs to be adapted to our times. It’s as if they, or this generation, are the authorized keepers that can give another interpretation or omit parts of the Bible they find inconvenient. I have even heard: ‘God doesn’t intervene in the world by means of “simple books” – referring to the Bible – They say that God appears, manifests Himself in other ways. And that is true, God is manifested through His Holy Spirit, but that doesn’t contradict that He has also mainly manifested to human beings in the written form through what we call the Bible, where the authorized Will of God is expressed. Many criticize that the Bible is written by men. That is true, but those men have been inspired and motivated by the Spirit to leave the word of God in writing, and even at a later stage, to decide which books of the Bible should remain there, for being still faithful to the same Holy Spirit of God.
Let us not confuse the spirit of this world with the Holy Spirit of God. Every time we come to the Bible with faith and respect, we will receive a message that goes beyond our human nature.

In this society, there are many who allow themselves to be carried away by the spirit of this world, thereby becoming fake Christians, that is, people who believe they are Christian, but on their own terms and not in the manner of the Word of God. They believe themselves to have more authority than the apostles themselves, and to be able to define what parts of the Bible are still the Word of God and is not anymore.
For Jesus, sin was something clear. It was to be separated from God because of a behaviour that went against His Word. Jesus never discriminated against anyone; he was there, he approached sinners, but with the intention that they repent and turn to God. And he understood this, obviously, because he is God, but also because of his love for his neighbour. That is the love that Jesus commands us to put into practice:
I read the other day a saying that I liked: “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love”. Billy Graham–
We have to see the entire world as our neighbour and worthy of love. But we mustn’t necessarily approve of everything that people do that doesn’t coincide with the will of God. Jesus did not approve of sin:
He threw the merchants out of the temple that wanted to take advantage of the people and desecrate and disrespect the temple; He accused Judas of betraying him; He faced the corrupt life of Zacchaeus the tax collector and the disorderly life of the Samaritan woman; or the morally wrong life of the adulteress. While he accepted all of them, he also forgave them “of their sin” and told them more than once: “Go now and leave your life of sin”. He also said: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”. (Lc 5:32)
The society in which we live, however, is often pseudo-Christian and tells us to do all that makes us feel good, to do your own business, to enjoy life, that the most important thing is to feel happy and to love the whole world, and to embrace peace, happiness and love. And that is all true; it does not contradict Jesus’ promises when he assures us a “life to the fullest” for all who follow him. But that life to the fullest is based on a new life in Christ; it is based on his teachings.
When Jesus speaks: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent”, He is speaking not only of a conversion, that is, of beginning to believe in Christ as the Son of God, but also speaking of a change of life, of behaviour. It is not enough to say: I believe in God, we must show it, live it out. This is evident in what Jesus says about identifying true Christians: “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matt. 7: 16ff.)
And if we would ask Jesus today, “Where can we get the information to know what are the things you want us to change and “repent?” He would surely tell us: “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:21). Where are those commands? They are in the Word of God, the Bible, which is the foundation of our faith.
Throughout the history of salvation, we see in the Bible and church history that God worked and manifested through his Spirit in personal lives, in families, and in congregations that were faithful to his word. It has not been otherwise.
May God allow us to remain faithful to his Word that still stands and isn’t watered down. We ask that through our obedience to it, which is the only way that the Holy Spirit can work in our midst, our lives may be filled with God’s wisdom and the true love of his Son Jesus Christ. Let’s ask for forgiveness of those sins of which we are conscious so that God can transform our lives. And we ask that God’s favor and joy in heaven for our life to become a reality.

Amen

Discovering the faith of our ancestors

June 28, 2017

Sermon preached as part of the celebrations for the “Heimattag” of the Transylvania Club in Kitchener

2nd Sunday of Holy Trinity

“Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:  “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.  The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

 

 

Matthew 22:1-14

With this comparison, or more exactly, parable, Jesus tells us about a royal wedding that is an occasion for great joy. A king is inviting people! And given the context of the parable, we might even say: It is the king of kings who is inviting us, the almighty Lord of heaven and earth! Think for a moment, what would happen if one day you found an invitation to a royal wedding in your mailbox? It would be printed with golden reliefs, have the royal family crest and your name would appear there: You are being invited to a royal wedding! Or better yet: a royal limousine is parked in front of your house; a royal servant, wearing royal robes and white gloves, passes the envelope to you.
Jesus said: “He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come” How great! Those who preach the word of God are like those messengers, and in this sense, so is everyone who proclaims the Gospel by means of sermons or testimonies of Jesus Christ at the request of God.

There is no doubt that you will accept this invitation and circle the date in your agenda. It may even happen that someone hesitates and says: But I cannot accept that invitation! In this case, the king will be patient and generous: he will send another magnificent servant later, also with the limousine (perhaps they may even come several times) and he will want to know if you have changed your mind and if you are willing to go and honor him with your presence. Jesus told them, “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready”. I can smell the rich aroma of the roasted meat of the royal wedding party; I imagine there will be salads of all kinds and sauces of all kinds and garnishes and soups and appetizers and desserts and cakes. And He said, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (Jn 6:51)

But there remains a worrying question. What attracts me to attending a royal wedding and wedding party? And in relation to the parable, this question becomes even more distressing because there are people from the street who are invited; even the homeless and socially marginal are invited. Where are we going to get the right clothes for a wedding like that? And the good news tells us: If you do not have anything appropriate in your wardrobe, do not worry! The king will even give you something appropriate. He does not want to see anyone dirty or poorly dressed at his wedding; everyday clothes will not do. That is why, at the entrance of the wedding, he will give out appropriate clothing: dresses, tuxedos, neckties, silk handkerchiefs, ornaments and other related things. And God has already given you all this in his kingdom when you received him and you were baptized: “The blood of Jesus Christ and his righteousness are my clothes and my adornment,” are the lyrics of a song. In baptism, God gave us his garments of salvation. We could never get such clothes on our own.
Through this parable, Jesus wants to tell us about the great joy that comes with being a child of God and belonging to his kingdom. That’s as beautiful as taking part in a royal wedding. And the best thing about this invitation is that it is valid for all people without exception, both for the good and the bad. Jesus said, “So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Thus, “many are called,” which includes all people of the world.

But not everyone will reach eternal salvation. God knows that only a few will accept his invitation, and they will attend and they will stay; they are the “chosen ones.” Jesus chooses these people. That is why it is said: “Many are called but few are chosen.” But the parable also has a dark side. Not only does Jesus tell us about the great joy of the kingdom of God, but he also tells us about the great gravity of it. From the same nuptial joy, suddenly there arises hostility, and at the reception a cruel expulsion takes place.

And so it happens: some guests despised the great honor that the king was granting them, despite his repeated invitation. Jesus said: “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them”. The king is so beside himself that he even declares an inclement war on the guests who despised his invitation. Jesus says that: “The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” Whoever prefers their day-to-day affairs than to God, whoever turns his back and despises his invitation, whoever makes fun of Him or persecutes his servants, has earned his anger. You will not have to be astonished if God punishes inclemently.

But there are still some problems with some guests who have wanted to participate in the party. Jesus says:
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?”
The king asked him kindly; maybe even expected an apology. Instead, the guest fell silent. The guest did not address his host. He did not give him the slightest answer. We believe that he also despised the king, as well as those who at first did not want to attend. And he also got the anger of the king:
“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
Apparently this guest either rejected the wedding clothing or took it off later, perhaps because they were uncomfortable for him or because he did not like them.
Not everyone who is baptized remains forever in baptismal grace; not all who are baptized maintain the faith of salvation wrought by the forgiveness of Christ. Our ancestors were able to cope with the hardships, shortages and sufferings of the past, for they had accepted this invitation from the king, that is, they were already part of the kingdom of God, they were among the guests who enjoyed the favor and protection of God. We call all this the blessing of God. When we withdraw ourselves from God, from his fellowship, from His word, from the church, we also gradually drift away from the blessing of God.

Our ancestors were able to cope with many difficult situations, not only because of their ability to work and their good Germanic virtues and traditions, but first and foremost because they remained in a real relationship with God and did not merely carry out religious traditions.
I’ve had the privilege of working in Argentina for almost two decades with congregations of Volga German origin –in fact, I even have a daughter in law of Volga German heritage– and I can bear witness through the countless conversations with hundreds of German Volga elders who have told me of their and their parents’ hardships and sufferings in Russia since the beginning of the twentieth century. And they have all told me one thing: ‘we could face it all; we have always been able to overcome everything because we had God on our side’. In addition to the familiar Bible that was read every day in the house, and of course personal prayer, there would also be a song of praise from their “Gemeinschaftsliederbuch”. –Until today, I have kept a personal copy for myself as a treat from one neighbour, one of the old ladies of my former congregation—

It was not their will, their tenacity, their steadiness or their abilities that helped our ancestors to continue, to migrate, and to thrive in an unknown and even discriminating country. It was the foundation of their faith in God and His blessing. The title of my sermon is ‘Discovering the Faith of Our Ancestors.’ For those who didn’t know this, it may be a discovery. For those who know it but have stopped practicing the faith, have stopped having a relationship and fellowship with God where they put God in the first place in their lives, it will be a re-discovery. I know that among the Transylvania Germans it has also been like this. I also know of the Volga Germans and many other ethnic groups. I know of those who have accepted God’s invitation to believe, to trust and to have the Word of God as the authority for their lives, to have the church as the main meeting place and, of course, to have a daily relationship with Jesus. They have been able to endure, to get ahead and to thrive thanks to the blessing of God. And that is the best legacy of our ancestors that we can re-discover: their faith in the living God. Their devotion to God enabled them to succeed despite trials and miseries. When a people loses sight of all this it begins to fall and to lose the help and support that comes from God. When a people put God first, God begins to bless those people and even their related ones and to heal that land. This applies not only to a particular ethnic group but to entire countries. And we can confirm this from the Bible when we are told: “Remember the Lord your God, because it is He who gives you the power to produce that wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:8)
Many forget that all that our ancestors achieved did not come firstly via their will, hard work, and persistence, but because they put God first. As we read in psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain”.
If we live in a very prosperous country and we are very positive and hard working people, but we forget God and we reject his invitation, everything begins, unfortunately, to gradually decay and to be corrupted in the absence of God’s favor.
And thus, Jesus, through this parable, tells us about the great joy of being invited to the kingdom of God, but also of the great seriousness that it implies. Jesus did not threaten his listeners, nor force them. God doesn’t force anyone to believe in Him; it is always an invitation, like the parable of wedding. He simply tells a story. And the same parable applies to us today. It tells us about the joy of being invited by God and of the serious consequences of despising that invitation. The invitation is still standing, even today, in the same way as it used to be. There are still enthusiastic messengers of God who continue to invite both good and bad to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And what does this mean for us? Let’s find out for ourselves. What Jesus did is simply to tell this parable in the same way that I did. It is in us to experience what happens when we accept Christ and we begin to see Him again and walk in His paths. Our ancestors knew it very well and they experienced it also.
Amen

E. Pellini

The Resurrection of Our Lord

April 18, 2017

Easter Sunday


After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

 

Matthew 28:1-10

The Resurrection is the great miracle upon which the whole of Christian faith is founded. Remove the Resurrection and you remove the heart of Christianity.

Despite the all of the years that this message has been proclaimed, we are not tired of its newness or of its radical nature. In fact, if we tired of it, “our faith would be in vain,” since it is the core of the Christian faith. I also cannot help but admire the fact that Jesus chose women to be the first witnesses of his resurrection. This should not be surprising, since reading the Gospels we find numerous clues of their presence and their importance in the communities of the first centuries. Neither the gospels nor the earliest letters have been able to erase the women as faithful disciples and first witnesses of the message.

The Gospels point out the fear that arises in the witnesses of this event; In Mark it is such that women say nothing of what they have seen; In Matthew fear almost kills the guardians and is also recognized in the two Marys while they go to share with the rest of disciples what they witnessed; In Luke it makes them lower their faces in respect as the messenger asks them why they are looking for the one who is alive among the dead; In John it is not so obvious, because what seems to blind Mary Magdalene is not fear but pain (she confuses Jesus with the gardener and asks about the body). I think it is an important fact as a very human sign of embarrassment and emotional breakdown to events that go beyond what we can understand, that do not happen daily and that shows an out of control and divine power. But it is not a fear that produces despair or immobility, but joy and movement. So the Church begins to spread.
Finally, note the fact that there are no witnesses to the resurrection itself, not even when Jesus was coming out from the tomb. There was simply an empty tomb.

Like Jonah in the belly of the great fish, the “three days” of waiting, which come to an end on Saturday night, are a time of darkness and uncertainty. But even there God is not absent from those who believe and hope in his faithful love.
Like Jonah being returned to the fresh air of the shore after those three days in the dark, Jesus is ready to meet his brothers and sisters. In the Gospel, it will not be in the capital of the kingdom, but in Galilee of the Gentiles, the land that had housed the carpenter, his family and his disciples, the land despised by the religious system of his time. There, Jesus announces to the women in his first manifestation after his resurrection that he will find them.
Here it is announced: the empty tomb; the military power (the guards) immobilized (the guards perhaps even faint with fear); extraordinary events like an earthquake and a heavenly messenger sitting on a large stone; And of a Jesus who lives and looks forward to meeting his people.

And we want to recall once more some of the evidence of the resurrection for those who may need it today:

First of all, Jesus’ absence from the tomb: the place of the tomb is well-known. Many theories have been put forward to explain the fact that Jesus’ body was absent from the tomb the first Easter Day, but none of them are very convincing. First, it’s been suggested that Jesus didn’t die on the cross and he recovered in some way in the cool of the tomb. But, if any of you have seen Mel Gibson’s film ‘The Passion’, e.g. you know what it means to undergo a Roman flogging and crucifixion. People didn’t survive that. A stone weighing one and a half tons was put in front of the tomb. In addition, there’s a fascinating piece of evidence.
John, chapter 19, verse 33 ‘But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead. So they did not break his legs’. (breaking legs was to speed up death by crucifixion). Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water’ (Jn 19:33).

It appears that there had been a separation of the clot and the serum, which we now know is good medical evidence that he was dead. But they didn’t have that medical knowledge at the time; they were simply writing it because that’s what happened.
Then people have said, `well, maybe the disciples stole the body, and then they began a rumour that Jesus had been resurrected.’ But leaving aside the fact that the tomb was guarded, it’s psychologically improbable. Here is a depressed, discouraged group of people — look at what they had to go through for their beliefs.
A friend of mine, who’s a scientist, became a Christian because he said he could not believe that the disciples would have been willing to be tortured and die for something that they would have known, if they had taken the body, was not true.

Others have said, `well, maybe the authorities took the body.’ That’s not probable at all, because if they had the body, all they had to do when people were saying, `Jesus is risen from the dead` was to say, `No, he’s not. Here’s the body.’ Look how quickly we were shown the bodies of Saddam Hussein’s sons when they were killed—because they wanted us to know they were dead.
Other people say, `well, maybe robbers stole the body.’ That’s the least likely of all, because — we don’t talk about the `empty’ tomb, because the tomb was not empty. Jesus’ body was absent. When the disciples got to the tomb they found the grave-clothes, which were the only valuable thing, the only thing for robbers to take — they had collapsed like a caterpillar’s cocoon when the butterfly has emerged; and the headpiece that had been around Jesus’ head had been folded up and put in a separate place. And when they saw that, they believed.

The second piece of evidence: First, the absence of Jesus’ body from the tomb. Secondly, his presence with the disciples — he was seen. Sometimes people say, `well, hallucination.’ Well, people do hallucinate, but it is highly unlikely that even two people would have the same hallucination. Jesus appeared on eleven separate occasions, on one occasion to more than 500 people at one time. 500 people could not have the same hallucination. And then look at the nature of the appearances. Hallucinations are subjective; they have no objective reality. It’s kind of like seeing a ghost. But look at these appearances:
‘While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking that they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and he ate it in their presence’ (Luke 24:36-43).
I knew of a person who became a Christian because of this. He said he could not believe that a ghost would eat broiled fish!

And then the third piece of evidence is the immediate impact. Here were a group of disciples who were discouraged, depressed, fearful, hiding — and something occurred that totally changed them so that they went around telling everybody, `We’ve seen Jesus! Jesus is alive!’ And then you get this historical phenomenon we know about, which is the birth and growth of the Christian church. And it’s an extraordinary, observable fact, because beginning with a group of basically fishermen and tax collectors there is this explosion in 300 years right across the whole known world. It’s a story of a peaceful revolution with no parallel, really, in the history of the world.

The fourth piece of evidence is Christian experience down the ages. Countless millions of people down the ages have experienced the risen Jesus Christ. And it’s people of every civilization, continent, nationality, every economic, social, intellectual background, from all
walks of life: they join in this common experience of the risen Jesus — millions of Christians all around the world today are experiencing this relationship.

From my experience, through reading the New Testament, I came to the conclusion that it’s true. But for years I didn’t decide to really believe — Sometimes people think, `If I become a Christian, my life will be miserable from now on!’ And people try to put it off, many people try to find ways to not become a Christian, or be committed to Christ’s church. But when they say, `Yes,’ at that moment they experience what they were unconsciously searching for all their life. They experience something that gives ultimate meaning and purpose to life — a relationship with Jesus. And for many this is the last place in the world they expect to find it. It is at that moment they really believe with head and heart.
We Christians, we are far from perfect. We mess up, we have many failings; but when we start to experience the love of Jesus Christ and his power, a relationship forms with him that convinces us that he really is alive and we don’t need more scientific evidence.

And this is the most important. If you can believe, you will not need our human standards to confirm that something is true; just as Jesus said to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29). That evidence is based on a relationship with Jesus Christ; the moment you decide to accept Christ, to believe in Him as God and Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in your life and gives you certainty of faith. Then you begin to read the Bible (God’s word) daily and pray and you can experience the living and real presence of the risen Christ. You must do this for yourself.

Today we invite you to believe in that Christ, if you still need more proof and more evidence. Today you are invited to accept Christ so that the Holy Spirit may dwell in your person and in your life. God wants to be alive in you, in your family and in your church. But for that you have to bow to God and decide to believe in Him and surrender to Him. Amen

Spiritual Bread

March 26, 2017

 Sunday Laetare

For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.  Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”  He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?  Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!  The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.  Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.  He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

 

 

John 6:55-65

Do you want to live? We all want to live. And everyone wants to become something in life. Even those who are tired of life want to, at least, live if only in better conditions. Those who are satisfied with their life wants to live without the sufferings and afflictions that come with the years.
Everyone wants to live. And they all strive to get the best possible conditions for life and uphold them. This may not be as clear in Western society, since we have all of the things necessary for life readily available. As a result, we may focus more on how to live, on living well, and that we can have fun. It is different in other countries: there people must still fight to obtain the basic things and necessities for survival. The essentials correspond to food and drink; they are rightly called “supplies”. If you want to survive, food is always needed. You cannot live without food, at least not for long.
It is remarkable that foodstuffs come to represent life itself. These are logically plant or animal products. Take, for example, bread: At the beginning it is only a seed of wheat or rye. It is sown in the earth and it develops all the power contained in its interior and it becomes a stem of cereal. The fruit then grows on the stem. Then the plant is cut, ‘it is killed’; its fruits are threshed, ground and mixed with other ingredients and finally baked. From a living stalk of cereal there arises the edible bread that we use to live. The same happens with other edibles: they come from plants and animals and often plants and animals must die so that we can live through their products.

For people in Jesus’ time, this was common in their daily lives. They also wanted to live. And since most of them were poor, they really had to work hard to get their daily bread. They had to ‘go after’ bread everyday like many people in modern day poor countries. Jesus’ contemporaries were very aware of their own history and that God is the origin of all things necessary for life and that ultimately everything depends on him, even if they have enough or not. Their daily bread was considered to be a gift from God. With amazement, we still hear the old story of how the Lord led the people of Israel in the wilderness for forty years and fed them: with manna, with bread from heaven.
A couple of thousand of Jesus’ contemporaries wanted to see a similar miracle. They had followed Jesus into the wilderness to listen to him. Many perhaps just waited to see a miracle. Jesus had preached for many hours and the people were hungry. But there was no food in that lonely place, especially for such a large number of people. There Jesus performed a famous miracle that revealed him as the Son of the Heavenly Father. Just as his father had once fed the children of Israel with manna, now Jesus, with a few loaves and fish, also fed the multitude. The people were so impressed that they wanted to make him king, but Jesus suddenly disappeared. They searched for him and found him elsewhere. And there he began to preach, and a part of this sermon is what we have heard in our text.
In this preaching Jesus addressed the general human need, their desire to live and that all have the necessary bread. This fundamental situation was used by Jesus as a parable for something more important. What was important was clearly expressed by the introduction: “Amen, amen, therefore I tell you”; in other translations: “certainly”. And then the words that impacted people followed (and also touch many people today). Jesus said: ‘If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man nor drink his blood, you will not really have life.’ Do you want to live? Then we must eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood. Jesus also compared himself with manna, the bread of heaven in the desert: “Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

These words are not about survival, nor of the prolongation of life until a certain age. Daily bread fulfills this purpose, for that is our food. Here we are concerned about much more; we are talking about eternal life, which is the life received when we are in relationship with the Heavenly Father. For only in fellowship with the Creator will we find the meaning of our life and live a life to the fullest, as our Creator set it. Only in communion with the Creator does our life lose its temporal limit; death can no longer kill.

Do you want to live with God, to live forever? That can be done when you have the right food. That is, the bread of heaven; this is the true food and the true drink of which Jesus speaks. He said, “For my flesh is true food and my blood is a true drink.” Only he who eats the flesh of Jesus and drinks his blood will have eternal life. Only those who do so will be found not guilty on the day of the final judgment and will rise, the others will go to condemnation. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
Eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood – if you think about it, it does sound shocking, doesn’t it? It seems to be a kind of cannibalism. Many of those who listened to Jesus found these words weird, were disappointed in him and turned away. Eat your flesh and drink your blood – But why? Jesus explained why this should be so. He said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.”
The Heavenly Father is the source of all life; without him or separated from him there can be no life. The only-begotten Son is of the same essence as his father and comes from the Father, which is why he also brings fullness of life with him. Only those who are related to the Son will have a part in that true life, in the life of the Son and also in the life of the Father. That is to say whoever lives in Jesus. Or the other way round: where Jesus lives. That is only possible when that person receives Jesus inside of him, in a certain way, he “eats” and “drinks” him. Let us listen again to the words of Jesus: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” Here we can discover another point of comparison with our provisions: from the biological point of view we live by means of food, which comes from this world. From the spiritual point of view, we live from the food that comes from the true fullness of life, that is, from heaven, from the Father, in the figure of his son, in the form of his flesh and blood. And just as the grain must first be cut down and killed, to become bread, and just as the cattle must first be slaughtered, to become BBQ, so also the Son of man must first die, that his flesh and blood may come to become true food that allows us to live for eternity. This took place on the cross, where the Lamb of God was sacrificed for us. This sacrifice comes from Jesus himself and has been foretold with many words and images. Among them is also our verse of the week:
“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”(Jn 12:24).
But how can this happen? How can we eat flesh and drink the blood of Christ? We can do this through the sacrament. Here Jesus said something that even goes far beyond Holy Communion. He said, “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man or drink his blood, you do not really have life.” If that had been said only in reference to the sacrament, we would have to assume that young children do not have spiritual life, since they do not take part in the sacrament. This statement would contradict everything the Bible says about baptism. We need to understand the words of Jesus in a broader sense: here “eating his flesh and drinking his blood” means:
…to believe in him! His flesh and blood come to us through grace, through the preached Word of God and the administration of the sacraments. Right now, in this moment where we hear the word of God, we are eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood, if we truly believe in his word. This also happens during the forgiveness of sins. Through confession, we eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ.
When a person is baptized, they eat and drink the flesh and blood of Christ. During the sacrament it is also very clear since, through the miracle of this sacrament, the body and blood of Christ are truly represented by the bread and wine. Anyone who partakes of the sacrament while accepting it with faith “eats” his flesh and “drinks” his blood in the biblical sense. Then it is a spiritual food for salvation, for eternal life, which differs from eating with the mouth. Do we want to then live? Then let us eat his daily bread, let us strengthen ourselves with this food! Do we want to live forever? Then let us eat the bread of life of Jesus Christ: Let us believe in him and strengthen ourselves with the means of his grace. Amen.

A Real Offering

March 19, 2017

Sunday Oculi

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:41-44
The topic for today according to the Lent’s time reflection is: “ready to surrender”. We want to see if we truly value the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross to save us. We want to value everything God does for us and because He offers us the forgiveness of our sins without us deserving it.
Perhaps with this preaching text you may think: ‘the pastor is going to preach today about money! It is perhaps a good opportunity today to preach that the members give more for the church since it always needs it!’ If that is your thinking today I have to say that you are wrong. The preaching text for today I did not choose it. This corresponds to the preaching text for this Sunday Oculi and if you have the Losungen you can check it in the German evangelical lectionary that we follow every Sunday. On the other hand today’s topic about the widow’s offering goes far beyond than simply giving money. The central message for today is not just about money, it goes much further. Jesus wants you to give him your life, your whole being to him. Jesus wants our church to stand up and say: ‘we want to follow Jesus not only with the money we have and with all the material gifts with which God has blessed us abundantly, but also with our whole being. We want to put Christ and His commands in the first place in our lives’. That is the main message for today.
But nevertheless let us see the wonder that an insignificant money offering given with surrender, love and faith can make:
‘One Sunday morning, the pastor of a church went outside to meet a group of children who could not enter Bible School because the building was very crowded. One of those children was a little girl named Jenny, she was six years old. When the minister saw her, he took her in his arms, put her on his shoulders, and took her to the church looking for a place so he could participate in Bible School.
The next morning, as he walked toward the church, the Pastor saw Jenny again and stopped to talk to her. He told her that he hoped that one day the church could build a new, large building in which there would be enough rooms so that all the children who wished to attend could be accommodated.
Two years later, little Jenny passed away suddenly and the Pastor was asked to preach at hers funeral service. After the service, Jenny’s mother gave the minister Jenny’s small purse, with fifty-seven cents. She told him that Jenny had been saving her cents to help the church build a new Bible School building. The Pastor took the fifty-seven cents and took them to his church and told the congregation about the little girl he had been saving money to help build the new Christian Education building. The people were so inspired and moved by Jenny’s gift that they began to give faithfully and generously until they built a wonderful building with enough rooms so that all the children they wanted could attend’.
I’m sure Jesus would say that Jenny gave more than anyone else to build that great church. She gave everything she had.
The Gospel of the widow’s offering is well known to many. And we can even find different explanations and applications for different moments in our lives and communities.
In verse 44 there is a brief description from Jesus that says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” .
If the widow put everything she had, what she would live from? Was it that the widow was about to die or did she have some other help? Where would her help come from? From whom does all proceed? Shouldn’t she have to say rather to herself and to God: ‘I need this money to live and that is why I cannot give it today!’
Verse 42 shows how the widow gave. So, what were two very small copper coins actually worth back then? So a small copper coin called a lepton was worth 1/128th of a denarius. A denarius was a day’s pay for an unskilled manual worker, so in modern money, assuming $100 a day is an equivalent salary level, then the two leptons were equivalent to about two dollars.
What can you do with two bucks these days? Not much, perhaps, but you can do something – and a poor person can probably make $2 go quite a long way. It was just the same in those days – a lepton could have bought you a loaf or two of low-grade barley bread, or enough raw barley for you to make a dozen or so loaves of bread – enough to last you for a couple of days.

Maybe next to the widow dollar would be the $ 10 of the merchant, the $ 100 of the owner of a factory, or the five of a worker, maybe 100 times more than what the widow gave. One may think she gave nothing. But she didn’t have a fixed salary. She did not receive a pension, although the Law of Moses ordered to take care of the widows. (Ex 22: 21-33). If she gave something, it really was a contribution, but something that cost her and that is a true offering.
The question is how we could transfer it to our days. Today there are pensions, social assistance, insurance, etc. Poverty today in our country is an exception, although today there are many who speak of a “new style of poverty” that has to do with a standard of living that was beyond compare in ancient times or even with other less developed countries in our today’s world. Not affording to have a television set, because one cannot buy it today is considered a sign of poverty. If we compare the situation of the widow with ours, we should give at least a ten percent of our income each Sunday. But can we compare this way? Is it not more important to rescue the widow’s attitude and to inspire every one of us today?
“The widow did not know what tomorrow will bring. Even if she had had a little money, she wouldn’t know if she would have money the next day to buy food. She lived in constant insecurity. In this insecurity she gave himself completely to God. She trusted God; she threw himself into his arms. She gave God what she could give. She did not keep with anything, because she simply trusted that God would reward her for her trust.
We must also make it clear that sometimes we might be in danger of thinking of God on ‘tit for tat’: that is, God helps me, because I give him something. That way the thing does not work. God doesn’t allow himself to be pushed. God rewards us according to our faith in him and our surrender in the first place. God doesn’t act like a money market desk. God helps but those who first believe in Him and have already surrendered their lives to Him. It is understood that the widow brings her offering in the first place because she knows that everything (100%) comes from God and comes with a grateful heart and with confidence. Whether she gives that offering or not is not the most important thing for her. For the same gratitude and for her deep trust is that she can give everything she has. Now we could ask the question:
Do we have reason to be grateful, as well as the widow? Can a worker be grateful? The widow had lost her husband-but why should she thank God? The unemployed lost his job-why should he thank God? In each case we must see that life is longer than the actual situation. What happens to us at the moment is not everything. On the contrary: the fact that we have life is already a huge gift. The fact that we can live relatively safe, that is to say that we don’t have to be living in the street (literally speaking) is a reason to give thanks to God. God is working in our lives, even if it is not always visible. How can we express our gratitude to God today?

 

The widow’s offering is not only about money, but also, especially, with offering a gift for a sacrifice of love that costs us. What can we as Pilgrim Church be giving God that goes beyond our comfort zone and convenience for the growth and spreading of the gospel from our church? What do you think would be for us members of the Pilgrim Church the widow’s offering that God is asking us to test our faith and for him to begin to truly bless us?
However, we don’t have to stop thinking that God too can be drawing our attention to every one of us so that we begin to take care of our Pilgrim church with more love to him as we trust the material things that God gave us and gives us for His work. He is waiting not only for us to sustain our church even more abundantly with money but also with our time, our prayer, our commitment, our positive thoughts and faith, with the words of faith we declare about the church, with the content of our conversations!
God can begin to bless this church very richly, and even to make it grow wonderfully, but it is up to us to begin to do the wiser things for this church according to what God asks and those things who please God, not only that please people.
I as a pastor and a member I am interested in our church growing and multiplying, and for this I want to serve God with my money, my talents and above all things with what God is asking me to undertake as a priority in this church. I know that some people may don’t like the way I could approach my ministry. But I want to please God more than men as we read in the Scriptures (Gal 1:10) And I want the best for this church, I want God to bless this church but for that I have to be obedient first to him. And I hope that the majority of the faithful believers of this church can accompany me if they really want to see the Spirit of God working in this church.
God is asking surrender to him if we want to go forward, God asks us to put him and his church first, God asks us not to look so much at our wishes and preferences and personal comforts, but to think how many more families can get to hear the gospel from our  church every Sunday, if indeed what we do, we do it for him and not only to satisfy our desires that sometimes might not match the will of God. We need more people, more members like the widow in our  church, not only with money but especially with their total devotion and love for Jesus and His church.
Are you ready today to surrender to God through this congregation that God gave you, as the widow did? Do you want to give God today something that costs you?; According to our answer God is going to bless this church.
May God give us wisdom and courage from above and not from the world, so that we can continue see a church alive and wanting to grow. Amen.

How to Increase Our Little Faith?

February 1, 2017

jesus-peter
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.  After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone,  and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.  Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-33

Today’s story calls us to have more faith. Jesus’ exhortation to Peter was: “You of little faith.” Jesus was not speaking to the rest of the disciples. The other disciples did not show faith at all. They did not decide to go out of the boat. The only one who took action was Peter. The only one to decide to do something bravely was Peter. He also became scared and doubts arouse in him and he then lost his faith.
Jesus’ exhortation is also addressed to anyone of us who has sometimes exercised faith. We can never have little faith if we have never exercised our faith. If you’ve never exercised your faith, you will not have any faith. It is a good thing to have ‘little faith.’ It is a sign that you’ve tried to at least believe, to do things. When we try to do things, especially for the Lord, we are showing faith.
The sad thing is never trying. It is a sad thing to be discouraged. Discouragement makes people inactive and passive; they do not undertake anything anymore. When we don’t undertake anything, our faith starts to die. When faith is dead, it is very difficult to believe the word of God, the Bible, and especially to believe the stories of Jesus’ miracles, wonders and signs. A good parameter for today’s message could be: how do you feel, spiritually, when you hear these out-and-out wondrous stories about Jesus? Do you feel excited? Do you feel comfortable every time you listen to stories about miracles? Or do you feel uncomfortable and resistant to believing that it could be true nowadays? Do you feel uncomfortable when you are addressed with supernatural things every time you are at church? Do you think that you have to scientifically explain every supernatural thing you hearing from the Bible in order to accept it?
If it is so, it may be sad; maybe we are falling in Peter’s category, and our faith is starting to be weakened. It is sad, but we don’t have to be ashamed. We have to take action to fix this. We have to try to solve this spiritual problem. And the only way to start solving this spiritual situation is to use the spiritual aides that will help us to improve our spiritual life before it is too late.
One of the first things we have to undertake is praying. How often do you pray? Normally, we have to pray to our Lord on a daily basis. If you are asking me, “Why daily?”, I can answer you with another question. What would you answer if I asked you how often you had to eat? You would surely answer, every day! Why? You won’t answer: because the human being has to be fed. You will answer: because I’m hungry! The same happens with prayer. We the people that pray will answer: ‘because I’m hungry spiritually and I need God’s Spirit in my life.’ But if you’ve never experienced what it is to be fed or nourished spiritually, you will never experience what it is to be hungry spiritually. Maybe you have heard about people that are suffering from bulimia and anorexia. It is a modern day ailment that pushes people to not eat, consciously or subconsciously, in order to avoid ingesting food. Doctors have discovered that these people don’t feel hunger anymore. They experience the lost of hunger for food or physical hunger pangs. And that is the reason they start to lose weight in a considerable and fast way, even without noticing it.
Do you know that the same thing is happening on a daily basis with many people, but spiritually?
But what are the consequences of it? When people begin to starve spiritually, it is firstly reflected mentally, their mood, their vision of life, their enthusiasm for life, and the way they speak; they always speak pessimistically and negatively. And with time this spiritual weaknesses will also be showed in their body; from weak mental health comes weak physical health. We Christians know that a person’s spirit has dominant control over all the other aspects of the human being.
Prayer is related with our connection with the spiritual realm, that is, with God. Reading the Bible is part of our spiritual connection with God. Many people think that reading the Bible has something to do with learning, studies or the intellectual part of the human being. It is of course natural to think so, books are related to these. But in this case, this very particular book it is just a way to be connected with God’s Word. Every time we go to this book with reverence and trust, we receive God’s word in a spiritual way, not intellectually.
And the third thing we have to take care especially is one of the most fundamental; it is to be connected to God through the community of faith. It is so sad, I can see it especially in many young people, young marriages, that they don’t pay special attention to this part. Many think that community life, that is the church life, is something that has to do with religion, costumes, family, obligation, or even an old fashioned way of life. They may even compare going to church to belonging to certain associations or clubs. That’s a pity. And there are two valid reasons for this; the first one is a spiritual one: the influence of the devil. And this is a real spiritual presence that constantly takes us away from God. And the second one is that we ourselves fail to teach our children and grandchildren, and we ourselves fail to fully understand what it means to be part of a Christian community because even for us it is not quite clear.
Let us remember that going to church is a direct commandment from God, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” It is a commandment with promise of assistance from God, and even comes with the peril of losing God’s blessing for not being part of His gathering. And at the same time it is a way to be connected with God and to receive the very best and most powerful of God’s strength for our spiritual being, through the special presence of Christ in the church, and through the sacrament of Holy Communion and the preaching of the gospel. And for this there is a direct communication of Christ: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Mt 18:20)
Dear brothers and sisters, maybe you are thinking now, ‘Oh the minister is telling us this again and again, the same old thing. Things we already knew.’ Yes, indeed. You already know all this. But the new or every time renewed truth of this is, that we have to be aware, that we have to constantly take care of our faith, and the only way to take care our faith, and to increase our faith and to search for God’s strength for our lives is to come over and over to the same old and very well known teaching from Jesus: take care of you prayer life, take care of your Bible reading, take care of your community life, your fellowship at church and God will increase your own faith in a way that may even surpass Peter’s faith.
Maybe you are thinking that the minister is right in all these observations, but still it sounds to you a little bit like at “to do” list in order to achieve closeness with God and the kind of faith that I could be needing for changes in my life. Sometimes sermons can sound a little bit old fashioned or even demanding.
If it’s so, I’m sorry, but it is not my intent. And neither is it God’s intention for us to feel bad because we don’t have the kind of faith we should have. The very same apostle Peter’s was exhorted by Jesus: ‘You of little faith’ But one thing is true, and we have to be honest with Jesus if we want change in our lives, in our own church and as a consequence in our families, we have to take action. The same kind of action Peter took. The other disciples stayed passive in the boat, we don’t know why. But Peter acted and he was able to show faith, to walk with Jesus, to be part of Jesus’ miracles and even to increase his faith.
How many times have we been in the boat with the waves and the wind swirling around us, fearful of what is going to happen next? We cry out in fear, but more often than not, we fail to heed the words of Jesus, ““Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”.” We turn to God when we are in need, but do we do as Martin Luther says, “call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” We are quick to go to God when we need help, but it tends to be a rarity when we go to God and give Him thanks for the many blessings He has showered upon us.
What kind of actions, are we going to do for Jesus and for our own sake? We are invited to take action by praying, reading the word of God and taking care of our fellowship life through the church. Amen.