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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.

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He Is Waiting For Your Love

December 25, 2016

chrsitmas-treeBy Rev. Enzo Pellini

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

John 3:16-21
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If you came to the Church today because you usually do it every Sunday, or if you came to church today because someone insisted you come to church or invited you cordially, because today is Christmas’ Eve and you have to come to church at Christmas!, or you do not know why you are here today in the Church, because you don’t usually come to Church throughout the year, I want to declare to you that the fact that you are here today, no matter what the reason, it is not a coincidence, it is not just by your own decision that you are today here. Someone blessed your life this evening and is giving you the opportunity to be among the community of believers who gather in the name of Jesus Christ. You’ve come with everything you have, with problems, with unresolved situations that you would like to finish so you can start a new kind life; so you came to the right place. If you are willing to accept a wonderful invitation on this night, I assure you that you will find the answer to what you have been bitterly looking for until today. But now everything will depend on you. Let me tell you about it.

There is an old German Christmas song that says ‘Alle Jahre wieder’ or every year again. Every year again we read the same reading of the Gospel of Luke Chapter 2 about the history of Jesus’ birth. We don’t know exactly when Jesus was born, because no date appears anywhere in the Bible. But centuries ago we decided to remember the birth of Jesus especially on this date and tomorrow too.

Everything else, the ornaments, Christmas shopping, Christmas meals and family get togethers, are only accessories, the icing on the cake, during the festivity we call ‘Christmas’ or the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’ birth. By the way, Christmas means ‘a mass for Christ’ or we could say today a “service day for Christ.”

Every year, again and again, we want to repeat precisely this message: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

Surely many of us that had the blessing of a good upbringing in the faith already know this verse by heart. I know it by heart in my mother tongue; I also learned it in several other languages because I needed to. Yet whenever I read these words from the Gospel of John, I discover something new. Why? Because every time you read these words from the Bible, the Holy Spirit of God, which is related to the reading of the Bible, —when we do so with faith and reverence— reveals other things to me. That is why I’m maturing, I’m growing in faith or I’m strengthening in my faith. That’s the reason why Christians read the Bible and get together with other believers. The Holy Spirit is God himself; the invisible God who rules the universe. Anyone who wants to nourishment and formidable power from that Spirit will only have to approach him with faith and reverence.

A well-known TV presenter, when she repeated subjects on her television program, used to say: ‘don’t worry that we are talking about the same topic today, because the public is always being renewed.’ The same happens in the Church; the public that we have every year is always a little different. But the same is not true for the church; we do not say ‘don’t worry that the reading is from Luke 2 again.’ That is because the message is always new and refreshing because of the Spirit. Every Sunday the message is always new and challenging despite the same thing being told to us again and again:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. That’s refreshing, isn’t it? Why is that? If you still haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, that is, as the authority in your life and as the one who will give you paradise beyond your life, you haven’t truly believed in him yet. Remember that the devil, who is for now the Prince of this world, also believes in the existence of God and Jesus Christ, but he doesn’t obey God or have respect for his word. There are many others who say they believe in God, but like the devil, they don’t obey God or Jesus Christ through his word, the Bible. And if that surprises you today, then this reading will be really something new for you; something fresh and non-repetitive. Maybe it feels a little routine for you if you’ve accepted it already. For those who have already accepted to believe in Christ it is perhaps routine, like the German song that states: ‘every year again’? No, because every time we go to the Bible we learn something new, and the Spirit speaks to us in other aspects of our lives.

The meaning of Christmas is to be able to find out precisely this: If you have already accepted to believe in Christ as the son of God, the Savior of the world, who is full of amazing love and grace and who wants to grant you abundant life in this life and eternal life beyond this world? God is love, and he sees everything good and loving as part of His creation and He wants us to live in His love. But above all things, he wants us to love Him firstly and then also our neighbor. If we decide to love our neighbor, but we forget to love God, then there is something that we’re doing wrong.

When we read the verse for today’s message: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”, it says to us that when we decide to believe in Christ as God’s son and respect His will as expressed in the Bible, we are loving God. Then the fruit of this love will also be expressed in love toward our neighbours. But we shouldn’t forget to believe in Him, which is to love Him and to show that love every Sunday when we gather in the Church to worship Him and to nourish ourselves with his word in community. He promises us in the Bible: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”. (Mt 18:20)

May God grant us tonight a new sign of His grace, his infinite love to invite us to live a more abundant life on this earth and the gift of eternal salvation for every one of us if we decide to believe in Him, which is nothing other than loving Him. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. Amen. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Accepting His Gift

December 18, 2016

By Rev. Enzo Pellini

4th Sunday of AdventJoys is coming

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.  Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

 

Christmas is the time of presents. The purpose of the presents is to make others happy. This, however, does not always happen. Some are disappointed by the present they received and think silently: “What am I going to do with this gift?” It can also happen that, over time, the person may find it useful and be happy. For example, when an uncle gives his little niece a piggy bank, the girl may at first be disappointed because she would have preferred a doll or other toy. However, she later finds out the true value of the gift and becomes excited.

The most valuable things are the gifts God gives us. Actually, our whole life is a gift from God, what we are and what we have, except for everything that comes from our sinfulness or the devil himself. And God gives us all things with the intention that we may rejoice. We are often surprised at why God has given us this or that. The gifts of God sometimes don’t meet our expectations and it can happen that we feel disappointed. It is good, in any case, to learn the art of receiving from God, to accept what God gives us, which may be even better than we expected. God’s goal is to rejoice. “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:11) Let us pray and let ourselves be surprised with joy at the gifts that God has for our lives.

Mary was surprised and gifted by God in a special way. Yes, gifted, for thus says the angel Gabriel: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” He could also have said: “You were rewarded by God!” The intention of this greeting is contained in the greeting of joy, for “I greet you” also means: “Rejoice.” And the angel adds the following: “You have received the favor of God.” That means: “God is going to give something away.”
It is a rather surprising gift, yes, an awesome gift what Mary receives from God. And it is a supernatural gift: she, a virgin who has not yet met a man, will be pregnant and will have a child. That son will be nothing more and nothing less than, the Son of David, the messiah that the people of Israel had waited for centuries for.

It is indeed an awesome thing that, the same angel Gabriel brings the message from God to Mary. Receiving messages from God was something for men. And as a single girl she received less respect than a married woman. Besides all this, she was a simple girl from a family of workers. Worse still, she lived in Galilee, the region which the pious people of Jerusalem and Judea no longer wanted to regard as holy land. Just like this Maria speaks to the angel Gabriel! It contradicted all human logic and expectations about God. But this testifies precisely to God’s way of acting: God likes to identify with the dispossessed.
I like Bonheoffer’s quote that is in our current bulletin: ‘And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly. . . . God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken’. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Nevertheless, this gift of God is not a sudden whim. God works many times in a way that is incomprehensible and surprising to the judgment of many people. However, his heavenly and eternal outlook happens in a perfectly planned way. The angel Gabriel tells Mary about God’s plans: “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” And there we hear the words of the prophet Nathan; that God had given David a thousand years over his descendants. This promise was repeated by God through different prophets; now it is fulfilled in Mary. Yes, God decided to send this son of David, this redeemer, to the world when the world was still young. For Mary it was unexpected, for God it was the fulfillment of his plan of salvation, a plan of salvation that would cover the whole history of the world and that would have its climax in the second coming of Jesus Christ to the world.

The Holy Spirit will manifest this, Gabriel explains: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Mary also received a miraculous sign that it was indeed a work of God and there was no mistake: “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” because there is nothing that is impossible for God.

One might think that Mary with this gift would be more scared than the content. Back then it was always more difficult for unmarried, pregnant women. And it may also be that all this divine news could have failed. She may not have been inwardly prepared to have a child. But Mary, however, willingly accepts this gift. Quickly, she learns the art of letting herself be given away by God. She says: ““I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

This story would not be included in the Bible, if it had been a personal gift from God to Mary. But it is something more. It is a gift from God to all mankind; it is a gift from God to all of us. Jesus will be called “The Savior” and this name is within God’s purpose: Everyone can access salvation through him. He will be a king over the house of Jacob, as announced by the angel. The house of Jacob makes us think of the people of Israel. But their physical descendants are not thought of as spiritual. All those who, like Abraham, trusted in God, are his children and form the true Israel, the true house of Jacob. In this way, this gift that Mary receives is a gift from God to us. Yes, dear brothers and sisters, we have received a gift through Mary, this Savior and King.

God always gives us this gift in a renewed way. Jesus comes again and again to the world, that is to say, where his word is preached and his sacraments are shared. To this day, the Holy Spirit continues to give away messages from God. The word of God and the sacraments (baptism and the Holy Communion) are the channels through which the Holy Spirit comes to us with Jesus and gives us the optimal and most precious gifts that God wants to give.

Dear brothers and sisters let us act like Mary and joyfully accept this gift! We may not always recognize its value and feel disappointed. It may be that some members of the church think during this time of the service that: ‘going to church is not worth much.’ They may even find preaching or liturgy somewhat boring. But think: Here we receive the best and most precious gift of God in a way we cannot understand according to our human standards. Here Jesus Christ Himself comes to us through the word and the sacrament. Here God wants to give to us so that we can rejoice forever, even beyond death.

Let us learn the art of accepting the gifts that God has for us. Let us appreciate the value of these heavenly gifts. If we know what has been given to us through Jesus Christ, then we will realize that: everything we receive in life is a good gift from God in the name of Jesus. Even if they surprise us or throw away the plans we had for our life or at first may disappoint us: Let us be surprised by God; It is interesting to live like this. And we cannot do anything smarter than to always say, “Here is the servant of the Lord.” Amen

Undeserved Grace

November 1, 2016

Reformation Sundayla-reforma

by Rev. Enzo Pellini

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—  he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith.  For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Romans 3:21-28

Today we commemorate Reformation day. What reform are we referring to? And for what church? In fact, most Protestant Christians recognize that the task carried out by Martin Luther 500 years ago, due to a personal and spiritual need and because he occupied a clerical position of importance, led to a schism in the Christian church that was known until that time as the western Christian church.

Clearly, Martin Luther was the first person, by God’s will, that had great influence on many people so the church could revise and amend certain aspects that did not agree exactly with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For this reason, the first people faithful to Luther’s ideas and those who shared his concerns and vision for church reform were incorrectly called Lutherans.
Luther never wanted a church to bear his name. In any case he said, if Christians should need a name, they could be called ‘evangelicals’ because its doctrine would be based on the ‘Evangels’ or the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But, we know the outcome of this story that what was a spiritual concern soon created a schism in the church that came to play a role not just in the realm of religious, but also on political and economic levels.
This even led other reformers elsewhere in Europe to also have the courage to seek changes in the church, since the church had become an ecclesial and political regime throughout Europe.

We can talk for hours about the history of the Protestant Reformation. We can agree or disagree with the consequences of history that we today call Lutherans. But it is most important that we rescue the essence of the reform started by Martin Luther: to return to the source. This is what it means “to reform”. The church must return again and again to its essence, the original message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All other books and traditions, customs and history of the church are good and important to our lives, as long as they are not contradicting the gospel of Jesus Christ. The most important name we must remember from Martin Luther is being able to call ourselves ‘evangelicals’, because we want to follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

One of the founding verses of the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is contained in the reading for today’s preaching, precisely in verse 28: “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”
We do not know whether or not the church of Luther’s time was aware of the words of this verse from the Epistle to the Romans. Like Edison, for example, who found that he could use the power present in nature and channel it to create the first electric light bulb, Martin Luther was a kind of Middle Ages genius too in the religious sense. He rediscovered, from a simple and honest rereading of the gospel that God saves man for free, without works and sacrifices, unlike what many still, unfortunately, do not understand.
And this was nothing new; it had been preached by the apostle Paul over a thousand years earlier.

But are we now aware of this? In the past this verse was used as a fight slogan against the papal church of Luther’s time, which used to preach fairly different from this. But today, what does this verse really mean for us? It may even have an enlightening significance for each of us here today.

What does this mean: ‘we are justified by faith’? Let us consider these phrases deeply. The apostle uses a legal term, or legal jargon: to justify. To justify means to be found righteous. This means if a jury finds a defendant ‘just’; it means that it finds him innocent. When a jury or judge in a judgment declares a defendant innocent or not guilty, that means that that person has been ‘justified’. And Paul is thinking of the judgment day that will take place at the end of time. In the same Bible we read that there will be a final judgment: “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb 9:27) Jesus himself says: “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. (Mt 25: 32ff)

But God, unlike any human judge or jury, is a God who exercises just and perfect justice and is a God of love. The only condition God requires of every human being to be found righteous (or not guilty) in that trial is to have faith in Jesus Christ. Having faith in Jesus Christ means that you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that God Himself sent him to the world that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16). That is what it means to have faith.
That is the main condition to be found just in the final judgment. That is the main condition for salvation and to be with God in his kingdom. Works, merits, or superhuman sacrifices to obtain God’s favour and approval are not necessary for going to heaven.

Of course God wants us to be holy, that is, becoming more perfect, more honest and dedicated with our will and doing actions that please him. But that is a process, a path that takes years of our lives and in which a few will be more fit and better than others. But those accumulated merits do not serve as a foundation for salvation. Salvation is achieved in an instant, it is free, and it is given by God’s grace. It is a godsend for those who choose to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as their personal saviour.

There are many evangelicals who today, 500 years after the Protestant Reformation, still do not understand this because perhaps no one has ever presented it to them in a simple way.
This is the main intention of the reformation, to reach everyone with the simple and direct word of the Gospel. This was one of the Martin Luther’s intentions.

Do you think that you’re saved and you will inherit eternal life as a gift from God? If you are sure and if you already believe it, then you can understand the message of the Protestant Reformation very well. You have even understood the apostle’s verse for today: we are justified by faith. We are saved when we believe in Jesus Christ. Do you have that confidence in your heart? Because if you really believe in God and love Jesus Christ with all your heart and confess that he is the Son of God, you must now rest assured that you are already saved.

The good works we will do in life will come as a consequence of loving God, reading the Bible and accepting that what is contained in it is His will and that is what God wants you to do for your life to please him. But it is not your works that will take you to heaven.

If today we can leave the church with that assurance in our hearts and with that joy, we will not only understand the words of the apostle, but we will have understood the simple intention of Martin Luther that prompted him to preach to reform the church.

The church, if we want to be faithful to Luther, must constantly be reformed in order to present more and more directly and honestly the source, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church must rid itself of all obstacles for achieving faith so that people may nourish themselves by listening to the simple word of Christ’s gospel.

Let us ask God on this day to give us the courage to put the gospel message first in our church as the teaching and doctrine we want to take care of the most. Amen

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
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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.