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Thanksgiving?

October 7, 2016

By Rev. Enzo Pelliniimg_6289

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.  Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down,  and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied,  then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock.  He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.  You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today”.

Deuteronomy 8:7-18
—-

On this day we especially want to think on the subject of thanksgiving; and there are many who will think of thanksgiving and celebrate on this date. The question is, “What the origin of this celebration?” What should we be thankful for? Who should be thankful to? And why? We are fortunate because God gives us the possibility, twice a year, once according to European tradition and again under Canadian tradition, of celebrating Thanksgiving Day.

Thousands of people are emigrating from their homes and seeking refuge, especially in Europe; we have seen and read about it in the news lately. They come from countries where they did not live well at all. They are on their way; displaced to countries where they think they will do well. At least that is their hope. They look like the Israelites in the time of Moses. They were fleeing slavery in Egypt, where they had fared very badly. And they were on their way to a country where they would do well. Thus God had promised. And this promise is in today’s reading. Moses prophesies to the Israelites in the name of the Lord that in the Promised Land they will have all riches that they long for: water, wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, honey, and cattle, copper, silver and gold…
And this is also true historically for many of you here who immigrated to Canada after the destruction of Europe during the Second World War; and people did not just settle in Canada, but throughout the entire American continent. Many of us, or our ancestors, were not only migrants but also refugees. And God gave them a better place as well, like in the story told in today’s reading.

And God has given us prosperity and blessing in our country. While some lament, complain and feel that they are poor, we who are sitting here today are rich compared to the thousands of refugees that are wandering in Europe and many other parts of the world. And as Moses told them about the prosperity that Israel would have in the future, so we can say that God has given to us richly in every way.

A Christian who suffers shortcomings knows what to do: to pray. You must ask God for help. But a Christian living with prosperity often forgets what to do: they should thank God.
Moses said, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” How good that we have a date in the church calendar to give thanks for the harvest! And even here in our midst we can celebrate twice! At least we will be able to remember twice a year what to do with the prosperity we have: Praise God and thank Him!

A Christian thanksgiving is not just singing and prayer. In our reading of the Bible we see there that all has to be included. Moses summed it up with the phrase: “But be careful that you do not to forget the Lord your God.”
Thank and think are words that are not only similar in their spelling, but also their meaning when it comes to Thanksgiving. In this sense these two verbs are related. Not only should we not forget God, but we must also think about God. And those who realize to thank for all the good they have should think on three important aspects:

Firstly, we must think about whom it is that has given us prosperity. Perhaps you can say: Everyone knows that everything comes from God. But it is not always so with everyone. Many of our contemporaries think that they have achieved everything through their hard work; and many attribute to themselves the right that a large portion belongs to them. This mistake is not new; and Moses had warned them and said, “You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me. But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”

Secondly, we must remember that God has given us our earthly riches. Moses makes them Israelites remember about God’s salvation: God had delivered them from the bondage of evil powers and fed them with manna, which is food from heaven, in the wilderness. In the new covenant, manna corresponds to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our manna, our bread from heaven, for he is the true bread of life, he freed us from the bondage of the devil. When we hear his voice and accept his holy meal, we are strengthened in our faith for eternal life. Our external prosperity is the temporal blessing of God, and he can even withdraw it tomorrow, but eternal life is an unforgettable gift for all who believe in him. And that is what we think of on Thanksgiving Day, the harvest and Canadian Thanksgiving, the blessing of the harvest and the thousands of even more valuable heavenly gifts God has given us through his only begotten Son.

Thirdly, we must reflect on what God has entrusted us with. It would be wrong to thank God for all his earthly and heavenly gifts, but not respect His commandments. That would be bad gratitude and would show a lack of confidence in him. That’s why Moses urged the Israelites: “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.” That’s why we want to remember the Ten Commandments, and especially the greatest commandment of love, that we must love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves. That’s why the topic of giving always comes together on the day of thanksgiving.

Today’s slogan of celebration is: “All good gifts come from God.”
There are so many things that are taken for granted by us: a roof over our head, clothes, enough food, and drinkable water. And only when we lack these things do we realize that we have lived very well until then!

A pearl diver sought worldwide for the most expensive pearl. One day, not knowing how, he found a great, beautiful and expensive-pearl, like the one he had dreamt of.
When he saw it he was sad, because he realized it could never be his; because he did not have enough money. And then the owner of the pearl appeared. He realized his sadness and said, “You can have that pearl.” — “But I never could pay it.” —- “But wait, just give me what you have.” If you have a lot, give me everything you have. If you have little, give me the little you have. Only what you have, that’s the price of the pearl. Do you want it? “

The man nodded happily. Then the pearl seller went on: “What do you have?” – “Oh, I do not have much, I do not know exactly. Maybe five thousand dollars in my bank account, for reserves.”- “Well, said the pearl seller, then it is mine. Do you have something else? “- Yes, some cash in my wallet, to move.” – “Well, it also belongs to me. Do you have anything else? “- ” I do not know if I have more.” – “Well, where do you live?” – “Oh, I live in our house ” – Do you have a house? Then it also belongs to me. – “Oh, then we will have to live in our weekend cottage!” – Oh, do you also have another weekend house? Good, it also belongs to me — “Oh where will we sleep? We have to sleep in our trailer.” – Oh, do you also have a trailer? And a car? — Yes, but nothing fancy”— “That also belongs to me.” – But then I’ll be on the street with my wife and children!” – ” They also belong to me. “But, that’s all that I have!” — And you also belong to me. And now I give you this pearl, but listen: I allow you to have the house that belonged to you, although it is now mine, you can continue living there. But do not forget that that is my house; you are now the manager of that house. You can go on living there with your wife, but that is my marriage. Now live by my rules with your wife and your children. You can also have the weekend house and the car and what you have in your wallet, I give it all to you to manage.”

Yes, it is so. And perhaps we should repeat again and again, regularly and out loud in front of our family, the prayer of grace that we all know well. But do we do it?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “We prevent God from giving us his great spiritual gifts prepared for us because we do not give thanks for daily gifts.”
We must think carefully regarding this: “All good gifts, all we have comes from you, O God.” Yes everything we have comes from God. He gave us these things that we manage. He entrusted them to us so that we manage them responsibly.

Of course God is deserving of our thanks, but He is asking firstly for our life, our complete surrender to Him, this is the first step towards a genuine, honest and grateful heart.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God wants the best for us. He wants us to live with prosperity; He wants to give to us richly. So let us also thank him richly and not forget these three things: first, we have to thank for everything; second, that he also gives us, in addition to the earthly gifts, even more precious heavenly gifts; third, that we must remember his commandments and advice.
Let us also thank him for entrusting to us a church. And this is not just a special responsibility to maintain and promote the growth of a church, but also a privilege we have, just because God still allows us to do it.
Let us think that we have a congregation that we must maintain with the same measure of prosperity that God has given us. That’s what God asks of us, and He expects us to also be faithful also in this respect.
Give thanks to the Lord for he is good and his love endures forever! Amen.

Searching For A Church Renewed by the Spirit

September 28, 2016

 

18th Sunday of Holy Trinitychurch-old

For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by their peers.

Therefore, let us strive to promote everything that leads to peace and to mutual edification.

 

Romans 14:17-19 (NIV)

The essence of the Christian community is love. That’s why the gospel for this Sunday talks about the greatest commandment, to love God and one’s neighbour. Needless to say, because we have already explained it in previous messages, that this love is certainly not the concept of “love” that the world has today. True love is ‘agape’, that is, pure love, a selfless love that doesn’t seek benefit for oneself but for the other. The Greek word ‘agape’ (love) seems to have been a Christian invention. A new word for something new (this word was almost never recorded before the New Testament). Agape originates directly from the revelation of God in Christ. It is not a form of affection, although it is an intense affection, but rather the supernatural fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). It has more to do with the will rather than feeling (for Christians must love even those they dislike-Mt 5: 44-48) It is the basic aim of all those who want to be like Christ.
—the pure love of Christ should be spread and should be the guiding principle for every rule, every regulation and the statutes of churches.

Why does the Apostle Paul speak specifically about food and drink? It seems that the meat that could be bought in Rome came from pagan slaughterhouses; before the animals were slaughtered they were dedicated to the pagan Roman gods. Some Christians in Rome thought the meat was consecrated to idols; they thought that those who consume it would be promoting idolatry. Others said that as Christians they were free to eat anything and they did give much importance to where meat came from. These simple questions could be given too much weight and lead to deep disagreements within the church.
There are many more things like these issues of the early church that have occurred throughout the history of the Christian church, even in our own history!

Until hundred years ago, in many Lutheran churches, you had to go dressed in black to receive Holy Communion. And those who did not dress like that would receive a bad reputation.

In many other churches, men sat to the left of the altar and women on the right, separated. In many other churches, women were expected cover their heads. This tradition continues to this day in some churches. In many other Christian communities, it is customary to receive the sacrament once a year; in others it is done every Sunday, as requested by Martin Luther.

In other churches, some hymns are sung and others are not. In other churches, organ music was preferred and other kinds of instruments were not allowed. In some Mennonite churches, as we know from our area, no musical instruments are allowed.

I remember once, in one of the congregations where I served, they had organized a luncheon. Luncheons were quite sporadic in this small rural congregation, and they were the only way to get extra income for the entire community. A good profit was obtained. All other surrounding sister congregations were invited. One of the members of one of the congregations proposed for entertainment and fundraising purposes that the community have a bingojuy. After lunch, each of the participants contributed with some money and the winners got small prizes. That way it contributed to the church and people were entertained. But one of the brothers from the local congregation became very angry with the outside brothers who came and said they were not Christians since they brought games into the church. He said that they were against the holiness of the site of the church. He told them: ‘they have sowed the tares among our wheat’.
He even came to mention, perhaps out of context, the verse in the Bible where Jesus rebukes merchants in the temple and says, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17) There, from listening to the words of that verse many got confused about whether they had done something wrong or not; others, on the contrary, felt that there was nothing wrong with that and that Jesus’ words referred to those who drew their own benefit at the expense of the church.
But here’s a good example:

I remember the story of a good brother who opposed moving the church altar in the little church (which had no parish hall) to install a simple stage so that children could put together the Christmas manger and could offer a Christmas play on Christmas’ Eve. He opposed so strongly that it caused discomfort in the congregation, even though the Christmas play was to be performed.

Or I think of how many parents, which in some respects includes me and my wife, who wonder about whether or not children should celebrate Halloween. For us, it is a well known party, but it is not celebrated or rooted in South America’s customs. Some think that it is a harmless costume party that is great fun for children. My own daughter told me the other day: ‘for me the two most beautiful holidays are Christmas and Halloween’. But others fear the dangerous influence of superstition, witchcraft and the worship of spirits included in the origin of this celebration that only serves to confuse and blur the true faith.

The liturgy, that is, the order of the worship service of churches, has always been a matter of discussion and controversy within Christian communities, even from long before the reformation. People have often argues over the way to celebrate the worship service to God every Sunday. There are many who think that since they have been brought up in a church with a particular liturgy since childhood, and they have only heard the liturgy that way, that that’s the only way to worship God in church. But there are other brothers and sisters of the same denomination elsewhere who worship a little different, to the same God but with other hymns, other words, other instruments and other music. We are all worshiping equally and with the same authenticity to the same God. And changes in the churches are always necessary, like the same changes we make in our own lives, our clothes, our car, our house, our friends and our acquaintances. Changes are a part of life. And the church also needs to change because the church also needs to be alive and grow and to be renewed and refreshed to give again and again a place for the Holy Spirit of God, who likes to clean and renew the hearts of everyone one of us again and again.

The most important thing we have to consider to address these issues in the life of the church is the commandment of love of Jesus Christ, and especially the words of the apostle for today: “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The church should arrogate to the search of justice within and outside the church. Justice is a very important word; justice means the equality that comes from the love of God and neighbor. Peace is harmony among Christians without confrontation or resentments. And joy in the Holy Spirit, if these two virtues are present in the church we will have a place where the Holy Spirit of God is manifested with the joy we seek in Christian churches.

We must be careful before saying that an opinion is correct and the other is wrong. The apostle tells us (in Romans 14 and 15) that each of us is free on these issues. Those who feel bad about eating meat from the Romans, they may become vegetarian, but they should not despise other Christians who are eating meat freely. And those who eat meat should not belittle others who reject meat for reasons of conscience. All must be respected.

And so the apostle concludes: “Therefore, let us strive to promote everything that leads to peace and to mutual edification.”
And this is not just talking about a cute slogan for society, but is talking about a practical strategy to implement in our own church.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”

May God allow us to strive for and to promote everything that leads to peace and to mutual edification in our church.
The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Faith is not a private matter

September 20, 2016

17th Sunday of Holy Trinityevangelizando

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.  As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”  For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,  for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Romans 10:9-17 (NIV)

One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: “Jump! I will catch you.” But the boy protested, “Daddy, I can’t see you.” The father replied, “But I can see you and that’s all that matters.”

What’s the point of this story? It helps us understand the difference between faith and trust. We often try to explain the difference between a person’s faith in God and trust in God; concretely believing in God and trusting in God are two different things.
There are many who have faith in God or even believe in the existence of Jesus Christ and are willing to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but they don’t have enough confidence to put their lives and everyday problems in the arms of Jesus.

Today’s text speaks not so much about confidence, but especially about faith as a fundamental belief. There are many people who already believe in Christ, but they fail to have enough trust to see God’s works and miracles in their life. And there are others, who are good and decent people that find it difficult to simply believe in the existence of God and to believe in Jesus Christ as God and Lord. Many used to say, “You have to believe in something.” Yes, but in what? in superstition, in healers, in esotericism, in cabal, soothsayers, in our will and human capacity?
Is that what it is to believe? Is that the kind of faith of which the apostle is speaking in today’s reading? Of course not; he is talking about a very concrete faith, a particular faith; he is speaking about confession of Jesus Christ as Lord, as the authority in your life and as the Son of God himself.

There are many who say— I don’t know where they got this—, that faith is a private, personal matter. But today the apostle tells us something different, he is telling us: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” He is not talking about something private that we do with our hearts or intimately through our thoughts; he is telling us to proclaim it with our mouth, that is, to speak up and be heard in front of others that we believe in Jesus Christ. That is called declaring or confessing, as when we confess the Apostles’ Creed during the service. This applies to the church too. Churches have to have members who publicly and openly declare their faith to others, otherwise it is not the kind of faith for which Christ is asking, rather, it is nothing more than a tradition, or a habit. Faith in Christ must be public, shared, inviting and proclaimed.
Faith must be proclaimed not just during worship services but on every day of the week and with everyone. There may even be many people who attend church but then cannot confess their own belief in front of other people. They cannot tell others that they believe in Christ, and that is very sad because there it is shown that theirs is no true faith, and then church becomes a mere matter of religious tradition, but not faith.

For many of us, believing in Christ is not a problem. When we read today’s reading the apostle says: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” This is not a major problem and we can say yes, of course I believe, and I am even willing to declare so publicly and to proclaim it. But do you know that for many people this is difficult to hear and to accept it is a huge step. They are still not able or spiritually mature enough to declare it with their own mouth and even just to believe it, because they still do not really believe it in their own heart. They are not yet ready to believe that Jesus Christ is truly God, the Son of God, and much less to affirm that Jesus Christ may eventually become their authority, that is their Lord.

And why is that? Because they are not yet ready to believe. When are these people going to be ready to believe in Christ? It is only up to them. They alone have to decide. Salvation is a very personal matter. We cannot save others. Everyone must decide for their own life what to believe. For us believers it is very easy to understand this. But for other people to accept this confession is a vital dilemma. There are even people who cannot go to church, or participate in the life of the church, because they are not yet ready to believe internally. There are still spiritual blockages that prevent them from being free in this sense.
We often wonder: what can we do to make others believe? Perhaps there is not much we can do. All we can do is to gently invite people to church, but nothing more. Another thing we can do, and this is very powerful, is to pray for the conversion of people; we can even pray for the members of our family, for them to truly believe in Christ so they can accept Him and decide to put Christ first in their lives.

The apostle tells us today that one of the most concrete ways that a person can believe and invoke the name of the Lord and be saved is when they have the chance to hear the word of God: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

It is a great blessing that we can preach freely the word of God today. For many of us today, these words are perhaps not so amazingly important because we already believe in Christ and it seems natural that a preacher preaches this. Yes, we may have other needs, other spiritual hunger. But do you know that it is still very important for many people to hear this word today. Every day, at the same time that we are gathered here and now, there are people who are being persecuted, tortured and killed simply for hearing the word of God, for reading the Bible, for courageously declaring themselves disciples of Christ in front of people that are not. To be able to hear the word of God, to be able to open and read the Bible is a great blessing. We here in Canada and some other countries, have received a blessing from God to freely preach the word of God. If we can value this and give our churches the importance they really deserve, God will continue to bless and do more. But if we don’t have respect for the word of God and do not put Christ and His church in the first place in our lives, unfortunately, God’s blessing will slowly withdraw from society; with the consequences that we all know very well will take place.

One of the special reasons why God blesses countries, such as Canada or the USA, is because these countries were founded largely by Christian people, believers who confessed Jesus Christ as God and Lord. It was the case for our ancestors or the first immigrants in these countries. And we enjoy that spiritual lineage, this spiritual heritage or blessing that is still giving us the favor of God. But now it is up to us that are alive today to continue invoking God’s blessing for our people, our families, our churches, our cities and our country. The moment we stop believing in Christ, and we do not hold God, the church, and the preaching of His word as the most important of Sunday’s events, then our spiritual life begins to decay. We stop being hungry for spiritual things and it all starts to fall apart in the same order until to reach the same bases of other countries.
Even in the Biblical times it happened: ‘But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

It is very important that we arrange a good place for preaching the word of God and that each of us put the church, where the Word of God is preached, first. This way the church can continue to preach the word of God. We read in the Bible: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33)
If there are things that are missing in your life and you cannot find them, if there are blessings that you miss in your life, if prayers are not being answered, if there are situations that cannot be solved that appear to be stuck, if there are things that seem to be falling apart, if repeated incurable illnesses happen, if there is poor quality of life and sadness in the heart, perhaps this is a sign from God to begin again to think it’s time to put the things of God in the first place in your life. Let us not neglect the word of God, the preaching and the church and we will see that we not only are believers, but also saved believers and will have the blessing and favor of God for many more generations to come in this country. We read: “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
Remember that God is asking for our belief to be public, that we declare our faith not only with our hearts, in the interior, but also with our mouth, that is out loud in front of others, even those who may not believe, even in front of those who are our family. Let us put the Christian community in the first place in our life, even before our family and our traditions and free time so that God may work miracles among us.
That’s a beautiful promise from God for every one of us this morning.
May God richly bless us according to our willingness to believe in Him in private but also in public, showing Him in front of others.

Amen.

A significant change

September 15, 2016

12th Sunday of Holy Trinityconversion-of-st-paul

“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

Acts 9:1-20

“When I was directing revival services in Egypt, tells Mr. Stuart Holden, I asked a Highland regiment officer how he became a Christian.
His answer was: “There was a private in our company who was converted in Malta before our regiment left for Egypt.
For this reason we all made fun of him. One night he returned from his sentry post, tired and wet, but before going to bed he knelt to pray. While he was praying I threw my two boots at his head but he kept praying without reply.
When I woke up the next morning I found my boots well polished at my bed. That was his answer to my misconduct.
This way of responding produced in me a terrible contrition and on the same day I gave my heart to Christ and was saved.”

Saul persecuted the early Christians. He handed out justice to them. He sent them to be tortured or killed because he did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God. In the church, being converted means that I accept that Jesus is the Son of God and I believe in him as Creator and Almighty God. That’s all; it seems simple, doesn’t it? But for many people it is not. Nor was it for Saul.

Conversion for many is a misunderstood word or concept. They believe it has to do with religious shows, or with extraordinary or magical manifestations. Conversion is simply a spiritual change that leads to a change of thinking and then to a change in behaviour.
According to what the Bible tells us, Saul experienced a remarkable conversion. But that does not mean that all conversions must be that way. That bad man called Saul needed a miracle to become a believer. That is why we often hear of miraculous conversions in people who were especially far apart from God.

And what about us? Those who have been raised in the faith since childhood; are we all converted? Or do we need a conversion?
We can answer this question today with certainty.
The best way to realize if we are truly converted is to answer these simple questions: Do I believe in God? If the answer is affirmative, we proceed with the second one: Do I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? If we say yes, we can move to the third question: Why do we know that Jesus is the Son of God? Because the Bible tells us. Then we come to a logical conclusion: The Bible is the Word of God. Do we believe this? If the answer is yes, then we can move on to the next question: So if the Bible is the Word of God, the Bible is a book of divine power, isn’t it? Do we believe this? If we believe the Bible is a book that has divine power, what is the best way to take advantage of that book? Simply by reading it. And so we can continue to develop more and more questions that will lead us to two conclusions.
The first is: If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then we are converted.
The second is that if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, we start to act according to what God wants of us without realizing it.

Often we crave for changes in our lives. These changes do not come often for people even if they have a Christian education or have attended church for their whole life. This is because there is has been no real conversion. I suspect that every one of us here today is converted. But if by chance there is a person here today that has not yet been able to answer these important questions I invite you to do so and to maybe have the option of being a converted person.

As I said, many times we need a superhuman power in our lives that allows us to solve our problems. If we need changes in our lives, in our families or in our church that may require a superhuman or the miraculous power (of God), we must approach the Word of God and the fulfillment of his Word to the fullest extent of our abilities.

When a person has turned to God, it can be manifested in the simplest of acts.

A milkman who had a habit of watering down milk had been converted. Everyone could verify this, not because he himself changed, but because the milk changed.

A woman who was a long time customer of his noted this and one day asked if he had acquired better cows or straw bales.

“No ma’am, he answered, I have the same cows and they graze in the same fields; the reason for the improvement of the milk is that when I was converted a few weeks ago, the milk also changed.”
Thus, the fruits of true conversion manifest.

You may be wondering this morning: How can I be a converted person? To experience a conversion does not necessarily require an extraordinary event to happen. Conversion means a renewal or start of a relationship with God. I need to be able to say with conviction and honesty: I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I believe this because it was conveyed through His Word, which is that thick book, called the Bible. Therefore, this book is a divine book. We must begin to read it. How many of us have Bibles? How many of us have updated Bibles that are written in the same language we speak every day? For sure everyone. Where is the Bible in our homes? On the table, on night table or perhaps stored in a library, dusty from lack of use? It’s not important to read the Bible to achieve or have knowledge or information or study. It’s important to read the Bible in order to receive the power of God that we are longing for when we cry out to God for help. This way God can answer our prayers. The Bible is not just any book; it means a connection with God.

The same applies when attending church. Many think that coming to church is an obligation, or a duty, or a tradition or custom. Or it may even be that the church is a chance to meet people and socialize. No, the church may seem like ‘a building’, but it is not. The Bible says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:20). Whoever comes to church with this understanding will win; those who don’t come, or even those who don’t come with this attitude will lose the blessing and power of God.
Conversion, as seen in the experience of the Apostle Paul, means a change of thought and mindset. Every time we change our thoughts it involves a change of behavior and a change of life too. When this begins to happen in our lives, God begins to be present in us with all His power. If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, we are converted and that’s a radical change of life.

I recently read something very funny and sad at the same time: “Some people think that Paul’s conversion was caused by epilepsy —because many want to find a human, logical explanation to supernatural stories narrated in the Bible due to their lack of faith— Well, before epilepsy he was a blasphemer, after epilepsy he began to pray and from that moment he became a saint and a missionary and noble man, then that epilepsy may continue!, the powerful healing epilepsy!

May God allow us to leave this church on this day knowing what it means to be converted. Going to church for our whole life does not necessarily mean that we are converted. For much of his life Paul was a pious and devout Jew. He was religious and followed the letter of the law but still did not believe in Jesus as the Son of God. It was when he experienced this extraordinary event that he could begin to believe in Christ.

A mutilated marble block was abandoned in the yard by a frustrated sculptor and remained there for a long time, exposed to the weather and half hidden by the grasses that grew around it.
But one day the famous Michelangelo found the marble block and saw what it was.
After acquiring the sculptor’s failed work, he began to work on it, transforming it into the admirable statue of the young David with his sling in hand, in the act of throwing the stone that struck the giant Goliath. Such a marvel of art was achieved from a piece of broken marble.
Who can say what the great artist of the Universe, the Divine Sculptor of human character, can make of a broken and imperfect heart that is placed in His hands? The practical question is whether we allow it.

Do we allow without resistance to be meekly shaped by the pierced hands that bought us at the price of His own blood? I wish, above all things, that we can get out of this church with the confidence that we are converted or for us to have the opportunity to give ourselves to Jesus Christ in thought and heart when we get home. That way, we will not only be saved but a fundamental and radical change will begin to work in us and in each of those around us. Believe in Christ and start to read His word and you never will live another experience like that.

Amen.

Our face back to God

July 23, 2016

8th Sunday of Holy Trinitygirasol

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

 

Ephesians 5:8-14

The sunflower is one of God’s beautiful creations. It is a beautiful plant and its seeds can be used for many things: grain for bread, cooking oil or even biodiesel.

A man wanted to grow a sunflower. He filled a pot with special soil and planted sunflower seeds inside. He took care of it with awareness and watered it every day. But all the effort was in vain: Nothing happened, no sunflower flourished, not even the smallest sign of an outbreak. What had happened? In short: the man had placed the pots in the dark basement! There the plants lacked the most important substance a plant needs to live: They had no light! For more than one person may strive to grow a flower, but without the light that God sends down from heaven it won’t bloom.

We humans are like these plants; if we want certain things to be fulfilled we need that light that is God’s love. This light is reflected in us through Jesus Christ, who has come from heaven to illuminate and enlighten this world and to make us fully grown human beings in the way God wants us to be. Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world’ (Jn 8:12). There are also many other verses in the Bible that bear witness that God is our light and that he shines through His only begotten Son. Every one of us who flourishes under that divine light will be part of what is called the “children of light”. The light of God’s grace has come into our lives through baptism and continues to shine through the good news of Jesus Christ that forgives sins and gives eternal life. It’s like with the sunflower; though we strive to be children of light, we cannot do it without the light of Christ’s love. And now the apostle Paul writes to us that we should behave the way that corresponds to the children of light, “live as children of light” so we are told at the beginning of our text for today. This is the root for everything else.

What is everything else?
Everything else is those things we are asked to do in the Gospel, the way we have to behave, the change of mentality and attitude, the different mindset and changed feelings we need to have.
That is the practice of Christianity. Is there a practical part of Christianity? of course. But often we are confused and think that Christianity is only a belief, an idea, a philosophy, a tradition, a habit or a legacy. Many think they are Christians or Lutherans because they were born or raised that way and they have never questioned what that means.
I am a pastor because I am a Christian first. While this is my job, my full-time occupation or my profession, or vocation, or calling or whatever we would like to call it, but I am a Christian first.
And the same should happen with each of us, we are Lutherans or members of a certain church, but we are Christians first.

Being a Christian means that I have accepted to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and I have also accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord, that is, someone to whom I owe obedience as a boss and that the Bible is the word I should accept, believe and really fulfill if I consider Him to be my Lord. If I have still doubts about whether I have to believe the word of the Bible or not it is because I still have not accepted it as the word of Christ, and therefore Christ still has not become my Lord, and that means that I still have a step to take in order to be a Christian.

Observance of things, actions, good deeds and good works doesn’t lead to heaven because there is no good person. Neither does any person, rather than another, deserve to go to heaven for their actions (Rom 3:10). If we have the privilege of going to heaven it is only because Jesus Christ wants it. He gives eternal life to those he chooses. Accessing that eternal life is only possible by fulfilling certain conditions. The most important thing is to accept Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior, and consequently, as God and Lord. Everyone can go to heaven but not everyone will. That depends on your decision. For that reason we can say that salvation is free, but as mentioned in previous sermons, it is not cheap; it requires the decision to believe in Christ and accept Him as God and Lord. If we have done it in our lives we already have salvation.

Now there is a second part: the good works, good deeds. After accepting and believing in Christ and accepting that the Bible is His Word, and therein lies His will for our lives, then we have to search in it daily to see what God wants to tell us through it.
Therefore, the Bible is not a requirement, it is a reality. If we are really Christians for the love of God whom we say we have accepted and love, we will go to it with devotion and enthusiasm, seeking what God wants us to do for him. For the immense gratitude that we have been granted eternal life gladly we will want to carry out and do what God asks of us there.

Once, a person talking about reading the Bible, said: -“Pastor, I know the Bible, and I’ve read it all. Every time I’m reading something I realize I have already read this part; I don’t need to read it anymore.” I was sad by that answer. Firstly, because I knew it was not true. I read the Bible daily and have studied it and learn new things every day. And secondly, I was sad because that person was not showing himself as a Christian, in fact, he never went to church, and I never saw him doing the things that the Bible asks. Therefore, belonging to a church and having read the Bible that way does not necessarily make me a Christian nor give me salvation.

That we can achieve all of what the Bible asks of us is another subject. That we can fulfill it perfectly is another matter. Surely we will try every day and we will fail because we are weak and sinful. For this, we are given the act of confession of sin and forgiveness. But, we must keep in our hearts the passionate desire to obey and every day after failure rise again with renewed love for God, wanting to fulfill his will.
We can never know what the will of God is if we don’t read the Bible. So reading the Bible is not a nice habit, but an imperative need.

The Bible is not a requirement but rather a reality that shows that we are children of light.
When we are Christians we become children of light. Just as the sunflower turns to the sun, we turn our faces, our spirits, our will, to Christ and his word and want to do everything possible to fulfill it.
When we turn to God, when we turn our faces to the light of Christ, it is what the Bible calls repentance. There are two kinds of repentance. First and foremost, when we accept Christ as Lord and Savior in our life for the first time and decided to be baptized and become Christian and secondarily other repentances happen every day when we realize that we are not perfect and we cannot fulfill the word of God to perfection.

I recommend for you to read, for example, chapter 4 and 5 of the letter of Paul to the Ephesians this week, and that you read it several times and see what God is telling us this week. Take the Bible as the word of God. That is to say that God wants to talk to us this week with the words of those chapters of Ephesians and that those words are for us, especially here and now. If you do this you will see the closeness and topicality of the word for your life in particular.
Then let us try to put into practice those words and we will see a change in our lives.
Being a Christian is to practice Christianity, in action, works, genuineness, and to that the apostle speaks today when he tells us:

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them”.
Turning our heads to the light like the sunflower means to turn all of our senses back to Christ. The Bible calls this turn repentance, when we confess the dark things to the light of Christ: “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”
May God give us the clarity of the light in our lives, our families and our church. Amen. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Amen.

Four important things

July 12, 2016

7th Sunday of Holy Trinitysanta cena
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who was, who is and who is to come. Amen

Acts 2:41-47


In the world there are the four points of the compass, a table has four legs, the Gospel is based on four evangelists and the Christian life is based on four columns:
the doctrine of the apostles, communion (in the sense of community), the breaking of the bread and prayer.
So states the book of the Acts of the Apostles and this shows us the church of early Christians. People who had converted to the faith on the day of Pentecost and asked to be baptized, lived in communion in this first exemplary congregation in Jerusalem. Of them it is said: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” And even if two thousand years have passed since then, these columns of Christian life still have the same value today. We also have been baptized, and as stated last Sunday, we have also accepted the word of God by faith.
Let’s think a little more about these four columns, so that the foundation of our Christian faith may be strengthened and even more genuine!

Firstly, the text talks about the doctrine of the apostles, that is, (witness, preaching, statement of faith) all that is passed on to us in the New Testament. And since the apostles considered the Old Testament as the true word of God, we can consider it in a broad sense to also be the doctrine of the apostles. The Bible is the first and most important column of our Christian life. It is not only an interesting and important book, but it is God, the Lord Himself, who speaks to us through it and we must pay all honor, all faith and all obedience to it. That is the root of our faith. It is what the witness of Jesus announced. Through the word of the Gospel the Holy Spirit creates the faith.

The apostles’ doctrine of the Bible has a good interpretation in the Lutheran confessional writings, for example in the Small Catechism. There it is said to keep clinging to the doctrine of the apostles. And this we don’t want to overlook especially in a time where apparently ecumenism makes us think that we are all the same and preach the same. Nor is the aim to make differences, but to keep clearly clinging to the original doctrine of the apostles. And when there are people who teach something else (that is something other than the Bible) we will not continue as if nothing happened. Again: Here it is, the first and most important column of the Christian life!

We should add that, we want to not only be a church with confessions but a church of confessors. We do not want to be the guardians of the Lutheran doctrine and tradition or any doctrine of the sixteenth century, but we want to confess the Gospel first. We happily wish to bear witness of the great works of God and Jesus Christ, each person in the place where he or she is. We want to remain in the doctrine of the apostles – and this doesn’t mean that merely the Bible and confessions have a privileged place among other books, but that we ourselves may give the testimony of the things we have received from our Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles. And because this is God’s will, God will add people to the congregation as he also did in Jerusalem.

And now the second pillar of Christian life is communion. It is more accurately translated as “taking part in common.” This means not only to join or to gather, but is about living out things in common; we take part in something in common. And this way we can understand what church and the congregation are all about: it is the “communion of saints”. It is the communion of those who have been saved by the blood of Jesus, who believe and were baptized. It is the communion of those who take part in the Lord Jesus Christ. To really remain in this communion, it is the second column of Christian life. Whoever wants to follow the apostolic example of a ‘Christian’ cannot do it without communion. And that is only possible through membership in a visible community or congregation, when we regularly get together with other Christians under the word of God. This happens in worship services and in every get together, where we meet in common with the Lord and want to be blessed by him there.

When we look more accurately at the example of the early church, we begin to realize that it far surpasses our modern practices, and even embarrasses us. “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts” it says there. Today we already feel very good if we go to every Sunday worship service. And they were together—they knew they were a body under a head that was Jesus Christ. They knew that many human points of view and traditions only have a secondary place.
Dear congregation: it is a great help when there are discussions among church members, when sometimes there is no agreement in the church meetings: let us think what it means to take part in that kind of communion and that we don’t get together for something small but in the very name of the mighty king Jesus Christ. If something this great unites us, why should we be separated by worldly issues?
When we have understood this, we will be able to stand together like the early Christians.

Their communion was not only limited to the worship service. They took care of each other, practicing brotherly love. They did not just serve the mission but also practiced deaconry (that is neighborly service or diaconia). It was an extreme form of service that may not possible to put into practice today: they lived a kind of ‘honest socialism.’ And they shared the materials that they all possessed. We also consider that many of them were poor people and some amongst them were slaves, perhaps also the unemployed who lived far from their homeland and after Pentecost had remained in the community in Jerusalem. And there the rich people sold their possessions and brought the money into a common box from which they all lived. But they did it for love and by choice, not by force. The most fascinating and admirable was that they all felt like a big family, where no one forgot the other, not even on the financial side. From the financial point of view, in our time everything is different, but how would it be if we could live within our time a little more of that ‘loving and honest socialism’? If we might have more time for each other when the other needs it? For many today, time is more expensive than money. When we freely give away time for the communion of saints, we can express very well our love and gratitude to Jesus.

The third column of the Christian life is the breaking of bread, the sacrament. It is the top aspect of communion, the top aspect of taking part in common in Jesus Christ. Yes, the sacrament corresponds to the most important things in Christian life and the life of the congregation. In the congregation, nothing is closer to Jesus and His love than his body and blood in the sacrament. The sacrament is something very important; that doesn’t mean that it should take place very occasionally, so that it remains as something ‘special’. Also here we learn the early Christians did something different. We read that after the daily worship service in the temple they brought the bread “and they broke bread in their homes.” We also know from other places in the book of Acts of the Apostles that breaking of bread was understood to be part of every worship service, at least every Sunday when a main worship service with the Lord’s Supper, a “Mass,” was celebrated (in Latin means: ‘table’) Martin Luther stated and established this as well. Now it is welcome that in our church the sacrament is considered to have primary importance and that we try to celebrate it more and more often. I can also see that joy for the sacrament has grown. If we take the example of breaking of bread from the early church, then we will recognize that we still need to celebrate it more often!

The fourth column of Christian life is prayer. We don’t need to say much more about it, because every Christian knows how important prayer life is. I just want to show that here also the fervent example of the early Christians can serve us. They still kept the good habit of the Jews and their three fixed moments of prayer a day. They also gathered to pray in times of crisis to intercede together—and often they did it for the whole night! Also, saying grace at the table was taken for granted. “…and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” says the text. Of course, it would be wrong to make prayer a duty or obligation. However, we want to motivate ourselves with the example of the first Christians to gently establish fixed times of prayer during the day or take up the habit of saying grace with ‘our own words’ and devotionals with our family.

Dear brothers and sisters, it is not needed to emphasize among Lutherans that one will achieve salvation only by the exercise of these four columns. Nobody needs them for salvation because Jesus Christ has given us salvation through His sacrifice and His precious blood. These columns explain rather, how you can receive the blessing of God and how you can live in gratitude after having understood the sacrifice of Christ for you. It is therefore good and important to hold on to these four columns, so as to remain in the faith, live it out and to grow in it as individuals and as a congregation. Let’s hold together faithfully and consistently in the same way that the early Christians held to the doctrine of the apostles and to communion (community), to the breaking of bread and to prayer.Amen.

Life after Baptism

July 5, 2016
fuente baptismal

Early church baptismal font

6th Sunday of Holy Trinity
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:3-11
—-

Martin Luther said “there is on earth no greater comfort than baptism” and he proved this in his personal life and experience. Luther admitted that when he was in the distress of affliction and anxiety he comforted himself by repeating, “I am baptized! I am baptized!”

In saying, “I’m baptized!” Luther affirmed, and rightly stated, that he belonged to God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By this we learn that who you are, and whose you are, are important components of baptism.

There are many who wonder: which is the accurate baptism, infant baptism or adult baptism? This has been discussed for centuries and has given rise to the separation of Christians and the origin of different churches. We as Lutherans have inherited infant baptism. Although Martin Luther, as well as the Apostle Paul, emphasized: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4: 5) and although baptism is one, it is a requirement that it be the result of repentance. “Repent, and be baptized all of you in the name of Jesus Christ “(Acts 2:38).

Most of us have been baptized as children. According to the Bible, the most accurate is that baptism happens when you can remember it, that is, when one is aware of what one is doing. Why we still maintain this tradition of baptism of children? I know why and yet I do not know why. I know from church history and all possible explanations as to why infant baptism began to be put into practice. But I am not convinced about it from what I read easily in the Bible.

Still, if we may decide to be faithful to the Lutheran tradition or what we read in a simple way from the Bible, there is something that we must be clear: we must be aware that we have been baptized and that baptism has been made after a repenting of our sins. If having been baptized allows me to have full awareness of repentance and my faith in Christ and that drives me to live according to His commandments and to remain joint to the church, then little can be said about the way in which baptism has occurred.
If baptism was just one more example of a rite, costume or tradition and I do not consider myself as obedient to God and as being part of his Church, then something is not in order with that baptism. Should I be re-baptized? Maybe yes, and maybe not. Maybe yes, if you consider it appropriate within you; maybe not if you decide by faith, to tidy up your life with God and decide to believe in truth in Jesus Christ and surrender your life to Him by obeying his word.

In our churches, it’s needless to say, we also accept people who want to be baptized as adults, even those who consider it necessary to do it again for matters of faith and conscience. We don’t deny any form of baptism. But we must also recognize that salvation must be united not only to water but also to faith: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Eph 2:8)

How has my life been since baptism? It is difficult to say how my life has been since baptism because most of us have been baptized as children. Then, we do should be able to answer the question: how has my life been since I’ve been baptized and have recognized and accepted Christ as my Savior and absolute Lord of my life? Of this we should have consciousness. If this moment is missing in your life, then no one can tell you that a new baptism and conversion is not valid and necessary for salvation.

As we said last Sunday, churches that obey the word of God are being blessed with the presence of God, that is, with His power and blessing; it is likewise for people who lead a life in obedience to Christ.

Are we aware that through baptism we have died to sin?
This question is not trying to tell us that we have become perfect people without sin. The question is intended to call attention and raise awareness to the fact that there are things that God asks us, through His word, to do, there are things to be put into practice in our lives if we are to say we are Christians.

I have two important questions to ask this morning. I would like us to reflect on these questions and possible answers during the week.
Why do I feel the need to come to church?
And the second question is:
Why are other members that also consider themselves to be ‘members’ but do not feel the need to come to church?
We all know that God is everywhere, that church is every day where we gather in the name of Christ, “For where two or three are gathered in my name.” But it is also true that we want to gather every Sunday on the day of rest to worship God and to share the bread, and the wine (the body and the blood of our Lord) and share the message of His word.

Why do some people have no need to be part of the ‘communion of saints’? They may think they are part of it because they come once a year or even less, but in fact they do not show it.
What is missing in these people than is present in others? I don’t want you to answer me now, but each of us can intimately answer this question.

When the apostle speaks of dying to sin, he is talking about to die to that part of us that continues to maintain a lifestyle that does not respect the word of God. This part keeps us from growing in faith and the communion of saints. That is proof of whether or not our baptism has really born fruit.

What do we do with these people? We cannot do anything. Those people will have to decide what to do with their life before God alone. The only thing we can do is pray for them and invite them whenever we can. Is it counterproductive or fruitless to invite people who don’t want to come to church? I do not know. But something I am clear about is that we do have to invite those who do have a need of God, and have spiritual needs and are desperate for help. But you not only have to invite them to church on Sunday, remember that each of us are the church. Perhaps that person is looking for a word of encouragement from the Bible (that we read daily) or we can try to pray together with that person. If we conduct ourselves in this way, each of us, our evangelizing power is multiplied by the number of members we are.

It doesn’t matter what the causes are why those who have already been baptized are not coming. They will be held accountable before God someday. What matters is that I do understand why am I here today in the church, the communion of saints, and what I think about my baptism.

If my baptism has been the fruit of repentance and has led me to a new life, then my baptism is of the form God asks for. If after my baptism I’m living a life where I put God first, then I’m living a new life in Christ. If I am aware, through daily reading of the word of God, what things are considered sin by God and what is not and I try to live in the things of God, then I’m living a new life in Christ after my baptism.

If that part is missing in your life today, it may perhaps be the occasion to ask for God’s forgiveness for your sins and to decide to be baptized or renew your faith relationship with Christ in order to truly live a new life of faith in Christ with every good thing that this means for your present and future life.

Faith is a relationship, a communion, a contact with God and a round trip to God through daily prayer, Bible reading and participation in the church and the sacraments; it is to live out Christ every day even with those who don’t believe in Him. If that is happening in your life, then there is no doubt that God is blessing you with his Holy Spirit and you are living a new life. Churches grow and thrive with this kind of Christian.
Let us ask God to awaken in this in every one of us and in each of those who consider themselves Christians because they have already been baptized. It is this conviction for the new and true life that leads to salvation. Amen