January 31, 2016: E Pluribus Unum: Out of the Many, One.

Let us pray: Dear Savior, only in the Christian Church are we: one nation under God. Only in Your Church are we like-minded, sinners searching for the freedom that comes from eternal salvation. Only in Your Church do we speak of grace, Your undeserved love given to us, which fosters faith and hope that does not disappoint. Today teach us to value and uphold Your kingdom and be great citizens of it! Amen


TEXT: I Cor. 12: 27—13:13

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

How do you define a nation on this earth? What criteria describes a nation-state? Isn’t it these three things: borders, language, and culture? Every nation has territory it controls and in which its people live. Borders mark that territory. Every nation should have, must have, a common language that everyone communicates in. Otherwise the people don’t understand each other and chaos ensues. And every nation must also have a unique culture, shared values, common history, similar moral character as that is the glue that binds them together as one instead of balkanizing them into fiefdoms. Historically, America has been a melting pot of many diverse groups that blended together around these principles. Thus on the great seal of the United States on the back of a dollar bill is that Latin expression: “e pluribus unum” or: out of many, one.


America was founded by people who believed in God. America was founded by people who maybe didn’t always go to church, but who espoused most of the basic principles of Christianity. Already in the Declaration of Independence, that Hancock and Adams wrote, these principles are laid out: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The Creator God is acknowledged right there. And three governing principles are also spelled out: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So, for all those immigrants who came to America for a new life from around the world, borders, language and culture were the fabric of America. Those three things defined us as a people, a “city set on a hill” a “new Jerusalem” as many wrote. And those terms were taken directly from the Christian Bible. They are synonyms for the Christian Church—all the believers in Christ.

Although “e pluribus unum” is not a Christian terms per se, it does describe God’s Church here on earth. From the many races, creeds, backgrounds, and nationalities of sinners seeking salvation comes the One Holy Christian Church. Today St. Paul describes that Church and its make-up in our lesson. Note well that this entire section of Scripture applies to, and is the apostle’s definition of, God’s Church. I know the 13th chapter of I Corinthians is usually thought of in terms of marriage, earthly marriage, but that’s not the contextual application of it that Paul employs here. No, He uses that chapter to further enlarge and define the governing principles of God’s Church and what the Body of Christ runs on. Those are: “faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” So, just as we have one God in three Persons, so God’s Church is run on three main principles. Yes, in the Church everyone revolves around our singular God.


The Corinthian Church was composed of diverse people. There were Jews, Greeks, Romans, tribal peoples, and other nationalities from around the Roman empire. Some were slaves, others workers, others business people, and still others thinkers and educators to name a few. They had former heathens in their midst who had worshipped at the altar of Diana of Ephesus, consulted the oracle at Delphi, and sacrificed in Roman temples. But all these people had learned the hard way that those supposed “gods” were false gods who gave them nothing. False gods who actually inhibited them from finding life, liberty (eternal freedom from guilt and shame), and the pursuit of lasting happiness. Then they had learned about, or heard about Jesus Christ. The Spirit had worked saving faith into their hearts. Their human diversity was thrown aside in favor of unity in God’s grace. Paul now says to them: “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

Then he goes on to remind them that they have found a new diversity of Godly gifts in the Church of the Almighty. “And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.”—That latter class being those who spoke unique dialects and languages which could reach the fringes of the empire and truly communicate with them about the hows and whys of God’s salvation. And even those diverse tongues could now speak a common Church language to others about how God had sent His Son into this world to suffer and die to save them. How God raised Christ to life again after death to show that His sacrifice for their sins was complete and totally acceptable to the Heavenly King. And how by faith they could have this Godly gift as their own.


Then comes the application of how to use these diverse offices and gifts within God’s unified kingdom, I Corinthians 13. Paul focuses especially upon the chief gift or tool that God has given His people: love, or grace, or the truth that God loves us freely in Christ irrespective of any human attempts to earn or curry His favor. Without that kind of love or driving force behind what we do, the Church will cease to be One Body and will dissolve into chaos. You know his rationale, maybe by heart: “If I have not love I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal…if I have not love and give all to the poor…I gain nothing….love is patient, kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it does not dishonor others, it is not easily angered, it never rejoices in evil but rejoices with the truth…it always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres…love never fails.”

In other words, God’s love for us in Christ is the chief building block of His Church. Childish human understanding of this gets us nowhere. Trying to carry out His offices and duties in the Church without it is always doomed to failure. Our good intentions will crash and burn without it. And then he concludes with this: “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

E PLURIBUS UNUM: OUT OF THE MANY, ONE. That describes God’s Church. We’re one in Christ. Our border isn’t a visible line on a map, but is contained in each repentant heart. Our language isn’t a human tongue, but words given by the Spirit which make human hearts come alive because His life-giving power stands behind them. And our culture is rooted squarely in all the truths of God’s Holy Word without “human wisdom” thrown into the mix. This describes each of you: God’s City Set on the Hill for all the world to see. Amen

January 24, 2016: 3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Let us pray: Dear Savior, our old Adam or Eve, our original sin is probably best revealed by our self-love. And our self-love ultimately limits or even destroys those around us whom we love. That’s because we constantly try to remake those people in our own image. Lord, give us the Godly insight necessary to shape and mold our lives more into Your image, to appreciate the gifts You give to others, to learn from them, and thus to grow beyond the confines of our flesh. Amen


TEXT: I Cor. 12: 12-21, 26,27

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

The Germans have a word for it: doppelganger. It means a twin, a counterpart, a double who looks and acts exactly like you. I suppose the closest equivalent in our language would be a clone. If the world was filled with clones of you, what would that be like? Well, I suppose you’d literally see yourself “coming and going!” All kidding aside, it would be a very limiting world, wouldn’t it? The problem is: all of us attempt to create clones because we love ourselves more than anything else.

I went to school with a fellow who was very opinionated and thought he was always right. He wasn’t very tactful, either. When he got out of seminary and was assigned to his first church, he didn’t last long. He alienated key parishioners with his hard-edged, blunt speech. I recall him telling me that he had a council member who volunteered for everything and always tried to control events in the congregation. One day he told him: “Don’t try to hog the show!” Tact was not this fellow’s strong suit. Needless to say, that pastor soon left that church and today I believe he’s totally out of the ministry! But, his point mirrors what St. Paul is getting at in our lesson. The parishioner tried to turn everyone into his own clone to push his weight around. Unfortunately, that pastor tried to do the same. It’s a universal problem.


Most of us know this lesson from St. Paul quite well. God’s Church is one. It is made up of diverse people who form one body with Jesus Christ as the Head. Through baptism we are all given the same Spirit, Who re-births us and instills faith into our hearts. We all feed our faith on the same spiritual food—the means of God’s grace. “Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many” as Paul says. So, all Christians should possess the same goal: heaven. And all of us should seek after having the same moral character and the same Godly values born of God’s grace. And yet, God has made us distinctive with varying gifts and abilities. We’re not all clones of each other. Or, in Paul’s language: some are feet, some are hands, some are eyes, some are ears, etc. We all look different and act in distinct ways, and yet, we all have unity in the Spirit. That’s a really good thing, too. For it makes us all stronger. Feet need eyes to guide them. Hands need ears to give them directions over what to pick up and what to avoid. If you hear water bubbling on a stove and smell something burning, it’s best not to grab it, right? Likewise, all these unique component parts are joined together in one body and protect and build up the whole for the betterment of each part.


Every parent here knows that their children are all different. Some like music, others like sports, and still others are computer-centric. Some kids are introverts and others are extroverts. Some are naturally kind, others have to be taught and molded so as to not be aggressive or pushy. Of course, the job of the parent, or the pastor on a larger scale, is to recognize the Godly gifts given to each person and to mold those gifts into something useful without wiping out the individual’s personality.

All parents, all people, are infected with self-love. All are tempted to try to create little clones of themselves whether the other person wants this or not. In the case of parents it always ends up in disaster as the child later rebels. In the case of friends, similar outcomes occur. And in the case of parishioners, the strength of the many gets reduced to the strength of the one and congregations can collapse. That’s what Paul is getting at in our lesson.


Think back to when you fell in love and got married. You were attracted to that special person. You accepted them as they were and they you. But over time you both tried to re-make, to re-engineer each other. You tried to make them into a clone of what and who you know best—YOU! And ultimately, you ended up eroding the attraction that brought you together in the first place! This is an ongoing problem for all of us. And no, I’m not talking about each other’s sins. Pointing those out is part of your Christian duty. After all, Christ is the head of our body and our lives. What I’m talking about and Paul is talking about is our self-love, our pushy arrogance that we’re always right and everyone should be, and think and act just like we do. Or as the apostle says: we then all become ears, feet, eyes, or hands. We became self-limiting.

Listen to the closing words: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” You and I are Christ’s hands, His feet, His eyes, His ears, His all on this earth. We need Him, since He is the brain of this operation we call: life. But, He also needs us to carry out His will. His will is that “all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” He achieved such salvation for us on the cross. The Head died so that the Body might live! I know that sounds impossible to our ears, but that’s the truth of Christianity. And in His infinite wisdom, our Head sent the Spirit to quicken us, making us alive in Him, so that we could physically mold and shape ourselves and others in His holy image and live forever, too. So…..try to recognize your skill set and put it to Godly use. Try to recognize the skills and gifts others have—children, teens, young adults, middle-agers, and oldsters—and value their Godly gifts. Incorporate all of that into God’s mix, into His Body. Be open to other’s opinions. Don’t image that you have a corner on the Godly gifts market. “Be kind and forgiving, as the Lord has forgiven you.” And you know what? When God’s people operate in this fashion, the longing for making self-limiting doppelgangers will get flushed away by the flood of the Holy Spirit’s ever-enlarging gifts in the form of appreciative souls who actually are much like you. Amen

January 17, 2016: 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we rejoice over the fact that You are in total control of our lives—not just in the “big issue” areas, but also in all the finer points, as well. That means You’re not just with us when a baby is born, a marriage is begun, or a death occurs; but also with us when we eat breakfast, brush our teeth, haul out the garbage and pump gas. Lord, that’s a huge comfort! And it just goes to show that You really meant it when You said: “Never will I leave, never will I forsake you.” Amen


TEXT: John 2: 1-11

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

Well, the Powerball fever has subsided—for the moment. The politicians in Washington are done with their latest bout of self-congratulations known as: The State of the Union address. The stock market gyrates up one day and down the next. The NFL playoffs are bouncing TV ratings. And winter has finally come to New England. The ordinary has once more invaded our lives. Living an ordinary life is kind of nice. It means you don’t worry—too much, your stress level stays in a static low, and you sleep a little more soundly. It also means that God is busy and active—keeping you out of trouble. Isn’t that what most people long for—living their lives in rest and quietness, with just a bit of the extraordinary around the edges? After all, experiencing an adrenaline high 24-7 burns you out and brings on a lot of pain when you finally crash.

Our lesson, which outlines Jesus’ first miracle at Cana, is tender, loving, compassionate, and shows the blessing of having an ordinary life with a bit of the extraordinary thrown in for good measure. Think about it. Jesus and His disciples are invited to a wedding in Cana. His mother, Mary, is there too. Apparently one of Christ’s cousins was being married and Aunt Mary and Jesus were given invitations. Because of Christ’s rise in prominence, the disciples are included.—The more the merrier. Like most aunts, Mary pays attention to the behind-the-scenes goings on. She discovers that the wedding wine is about to run out. This will cause consternation to the bride and her groom and bring shame on the family. We all know how tempermental brides can be about their weddings! Also, remember that wedding receptions in those days lasted a week, so the guests drank wine (remember the water was suspect) during that time. The usual format for this was to give out the great wine first and by the end of the week use up the so-so stuff. Everyone did it and hoped no one would notice! But to run out meant all the festivities would end too soon on a sour note—literally. So, Mary asks her Son to help.

His answer to her seems a little off-putting: “Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not get come.” But, like any good mother, she knows her Son and His kind heart. So, she ignores His tone and tells the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”


I really like this text and always have. It reveals an intimate side of Biblical life and the intimate heart of Christ. In the big picture of procuring the eternal salvation of human beings by God’s Son dying on a cross to save them eternally—well, this seems a bit innocuous. Here Jesus is concerning Himself with the small, the minutia of life. We often think of such things as beneath Christ. We often imagine He’s too busy with “big stuff” to help with the little stuff that makes up the bulk of our lives. But this lesson shows that He’s not!

Well, you know what happens next. Jesus quietly turns about 150 gallons of water in the best wine that any human ever tasted—after all, God Himself made it! The party is saved. The family honor remains intact. Everyone is happy. And the chief steward sums it all up in that comment to the bridegroom: “but you have saved the best till now.”


I realize that the chief truth of this lesson is that Jesus is truly the Son of God. For only God can engage in miracles. But, that’s not the only point. For the Christian, the best is yet to come. In fact, because of Christ’s love for us, the best always awaits. Of course, that “best” is heaven. Likewise, each day is one more moment of our existence in which Christ can trot out the best and shower us with its blessings. A good night’s sleep is mundane, but it gladdens your heart. A hot shower is glorious, even though most take it for granted. I always feel better when my paper arrives early instead of late. A brisk walk with the dog fuels my psyche and my creativity. Yes, in the ordinary events of life comes the extraordinary. God gladdens our hearts with all those little things so that we can cope with the tough stuff and keep our blood pressure within reason.

I purposefully have avoided talking about all the grotesque events and issues in our modern world which weigh us down every day in this sermon. Quite frankly, I’m sick and tired of using up my life thinking about the madness of modern man and his mockery of God’s glorious plan for our lives. I much prefer to focus on the simple, the ordinary, and because of Christ’s love—the sublime blessings that we reap every day. This text reminds us of all that and more. So, “give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever!” Amen

January 10, 2016: Jesus’ Future Was and Is: You!

Let us pray: Dear Lord Christ, today cause us to remember our baptism in which we were united with You and made members of Your eternal family. Cause us to rejoice over our new-found freedom from sin and Satan. But above all, cause us to remember and to count the cost of this freedom which You paid for in full with Your life. Amen


TEXT: Luke 3: 15-17,21,22

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

With the advent of the new year, it seems everyone is issuing predictions for the future. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could see into the future and knew, really knew, events and outcomes before they happened? Think of all the money you could make by placing sure-fire bets on the market? Think of the grief you could avoid if you knew something bad was about to happen to you and if you simply stayed in bed that morning you could avoid it? Almost since time began people have tried to predict the future. In former ages people used soothsayers, oracles, and others to discern events before the fact and plot their strategies accordingly. Of course, more often than not, they were sorely disappointed.

Today is the baptism of Christ Sunday. Today we recall His baptism, which inaugurated His public ministry; and also our baptism into His kingdom of grace. What a glorious day our baptism was and still is! To be reborn by God’s Son and made an heir of eternal life is miraculous! When we celebrate a baptism here at church, it is always a very happy day for that reason. But, what about Christ’s baptism? Did He experience that same kind of joy, those same emotions? Well, let’s find out.


John the Baptist has been engaged in his ministry of preparing the way of the Lord for about 3 months. Although they didn’t have Twitter and social media, the word still spread like wild-fire about John. He was a fiery preacher, a celebrity. So, “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah.”

The Messiah, the long-awaited Savior from sin and heartache was the real focus on those Jewish folks. They had been anticipating His coming for 1700 years since the time of Abraham. And even before that, since Adam and Eve, God’s people had passed down God’s promises to them about the Messiah. The pressure had built up to a boiling point—they wanted to know if NOW was the time! Humble John answered them this way: “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Unlike most humans, John didn’t want the spot-light for himself. He was humble in spirit as we see in his answer. He didn’t care about his 3 months of fame. No, he cared about Christ! And here he reminds all that Christ was coming very soon and His advent on the scene would be far different than most expected. The Messiah would be strong and powerful. He would examine each person’s heart for evidence of repentant faith. John says our hearts would be akin to wheat awaiting separation from the chaff. Once the wheat was smacked around and opened up with the flail, it would fall to the ground of the threshing floor. The heavier wheat would remain on the bottom while the lighter chaff would be caught by the wind and blown aside. And then the wheat would be gathered up for use while the worthless chaff would be gathered up and burned. The wheat is the Christian’s heart, while the chaff is the unbeliever’s heart. The fire is hell. Too be sure, for most this was an unsettling message. It wasn’t a “feel good” prescription for their future.


But, still they came to be baptized. They longed for salvation. “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'”

God the Father and God the Holy Ghost were both well pleased that Christ now willingly assumed the mantle of His ministry. They were well pleased that Christ now publicly agreed to suffer and die in our place to save fallen humankind. This was their eternal plan and now it was about to reach its fulfillment. Like Christ, they knew the future. They knew everything that awaited Jesus. They knew how He would be rejected by His hometown, shunned by the powers-that-be, mocked by worldly celebrities, called a demon by others, have His earthly family question His sanity, be captured by soldiers, beaten, tried in a kangaroo court, and nailed to a cross.—All this Christ was now agreeing to do to save our souls. Jesus also knew all this in advance. And yet, He willingly agreed to it out of pure love for lost, forlorn sinners like us. When you think of Christ’s baptism that way, it is amazing!

But, that is the nature of depth of the Triune God’s love for us! None of us would ever agree to such a thing knowing exactly what the future held. But, Jesus did! If you’ve ever needed a more clear definition of grace, well, the baptism of Christ says it all and more, doesn’t it?

What was Jesus’ future? What was He thinking about at that moment in time when He bowed His head and water flowed over it in baptism? I’ll tell you what: JESUS’ FUTURE WAS AND IS: YOU! That’s right, you. The life you live, the things you say—everything about you is and was His future. He agreed to do this, to be baptized, to save you!

So, the next time Satan comes calling and temptation comes knocking at your door, remember that. And then also remember that as His baptized child you have the power to send Satan packing and to say: NO WAY to temptation. Yes, you really are Christ’s future! And His future is right now. Amen