From the Pastor: June 2011

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

There is an old joke that goes like this.  How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?  Answer: None, Lutherans don’t change.  Yes, sadly there is a stigma about us Lutherans that says we are quite resistant to change.  But it’s not just Lutherans who are stubborn when it comes to change.  People in general resist making changes in their lives because change can be uncomfortable.  But change is entirely necessary—uncomfortable or not.

We’ve all been changed.  When the waters of Holy Baptism washed over us, we were changed from unbelievers, dead in our trespasses and sins, to believers who are children of God having the new life of faith and forgiveness through our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have been declared by God “not guilty” of our sins through the death and resurrection of Christ.  We have been given the Holy Spirit who works a total change of our whole life so that we strive to do good works.  (Good works are everything that the Christian does by faith in what we say, think, and do.)  But sometimes we become complacent and lazy.

In his book Stewardship is More Than Time, Talent, and Things: A New Agenda, C. Neil Strait says, “Many people take a dim view of responsibility and accountability.  They view such ideas as hindrances to personal freedom that do not fit into the modern interpretation of freedom and behavior.  Responsibility and accountability appear too often to be prisons for the secular spirit.” (19)  I asked our Wednesday evening Learning Event class about this.  “To what extent do you find this to be true or false in society?  In the Church?  In this congregation?  With yourself?”

God has given us both responsibility and accountability in our lives as His people.  He has entrusted us with His creation.  Everything that we say we have actually belongs to God.  It is on loan to us to use for His glory and the benefit of other people.  We are to use the things given to us as our Lord and Master would use them, since we are caring for them on His behalf.  In other words, we are responsible for the gift of time, talents, and treasures that the Lord has given us to use on His behalf and we are accountable to Him for their right use.

God expects more from us that simply coming to worship for one hour on a Sunday morning.  He expects us to get up out of the pew and work in His Kingdom using the time and abilities He has given to us as He would have us use them—in loving service within the congregation and outside the congregation.  As Strait again commented, “Faithfulness is not just a duty, it is a lifestyle.  It is a response that recognizes that the blessings of God come from proper discharge of responsibility and accountability.” (21)

So here is where the rubber meets the road.  As we did in our evening class on May 11, I am asking all of us (me included!) to take a heat-felt look at how we are doing in the areas of responsibility and accountability as we use the Lord’s blessings in our lives.  And when we do, we find that we need to change—as individuals and then as a congregation.  We need to take our responsibility as managers and users of God’s thing and bring it to the forefront of our lives.  Living a Christian life of stewardship and mission has to become a lifestyle for us, and not just something that happens on Sundays or when we come to church for an event.  For this congregation to change and grow it takes each one of us to change and grow first.  And that is accomplished by the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23 tells us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”  And Ephesians 2:10, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  As we grow in faith through the hearing of God’s Word and receiving of Christ’s Sacrament, we grow in Christian living because the Holy Spirit is at work in us through the Word and Sacrament increasing in us love for God and love for neighbor, increasing in us responsibility and accountability.

Don’t you think it’s time for change?  Don’t you think that it is time for us to grow in our Christian responsibilities personally and as a congregation?  I do.  Those 15 or some members who have attended the Learning Events do.  Let us pray that the Holy Spirit work the miracle of growth in faith and in Christian living among each one of us so that this congregation might become an even strong outpost of mission and love in our community.  Let’s grow in faith and in love together, supporting each other, being accountable and responsible to each other and the Lord so that we can accomplish much in the Kingdom in the name of Jesus.  To do so, be faithful in your worship attendance.  Come and join your brothers and sisters in Christ in a Bible class and especially at our Learning Events.  Take bold steps of faith and volunteer to serve and to help and to love.  Opportunities for growth and service abound in our congregation!  Use them for your blessing, for the benefit of others, and to give glory to your only God and Savior.

Pastor Coons

Sermon for November 22, 2009

Jude 20-25 (Last Sunday in the Church Year—Series B)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 22, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Epistle lesson from Jude:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Sometimes life is characterized by the phrase, “Hurry up and wait.”  You rush to get to your doctor appointment on time only to sit there and wait.  You scurry to get out of the house only to sit in traffic and wait.  You get to the restaurant for dinner and have to wait.  It seems like life is made up of one wait after another.  So what do you do while you wait?  Doctor’s offices put out magazines for your reading pleasure.  Perhaps you bring your own book, or the daily crossword puzzle, or, if you are like my wife, you bring the cross-stitch that you are working on.  As you sit in traffic, you can listen to the radio.  You can talk on your phone if you are hands-free, but please don’t text or talk holding it.  When we have to wait at a restaurant, my son likes the anticipation of when the vibrating, light-flashing notification device will go off.  But you can only wait so long to “Daddy, is it going to flash now?” asked over and over.  So somehow we manage in our hurry up and wait world.

As Christians, we are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to come again like He said He would.  Jesus promised, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:3)  At our Lord’s Ascension, the angels reminded the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?  This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)  So what do Christians do while they wait for Jesus’ return on the Last Day?  Our Epistle lesson answers that question for us this morning as to what you and I do while we are waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The first thing that believers in Jesus do while they wait for His return is that they keep themselves in the love of God.  This is done in two ways: (1) building yourselves up in your most holy faith, and (2) praying in the Holy Spirit.

Believers are not just to sit around twiddling their thumbs while they wait for the mercy of Jesus to be revealed at His Coming.  There’s simply too much temptation, sin, and trouble to do that.  Christians, as you and I well know, are constantly being attacked by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  We are constantly being bombarded with temptations to sin, continually pelted with false gods to worship in the forms of money, power, and popularity.  The devil prowls around us like a lion seeking to devour us and chew up our Christian faith.  There has to be some way of keeping ourselves in God’s love in the midst of all this.  And there is!  God Himself keeps our faith from stumbling and growing weak during our time of waiting so that He will present us blameless in Christ before His glory on the Last Day.

To be kept in the love of God while we wait for Christ means to be where God can love us as His children, to be where God can shower His gifts of love on us.  It is God’s love and God’s gifts given to us that build us up in our Christian faith so that we can stand strong and firm against the temptations of the world, the devil, and our sinful flesh.  In order for God to do this, we must be connected to the source of His love and gifts.  We must be “plugged in” to His Gospel Word and Sacraments.

God’s Word of Promise, the Good News of our forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus Christ, is the means He has chosen for building up our faith in Christ while we are waiting for the mercy of our Lord in His Second Coming.  It was through the Word of Promise that saving faith was first created in our hearts when the Lord joined that Gospel Word with water in Holy Baptism.  As Luther rightly says in the Small Catechism, “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word. . . . It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. . . . Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water.  For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism.   But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit. . . . [Baptism] indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”  Our Baptism keeps us in the love of God and builds us up in our most holy faith so that we can wait for our Lord’s return and overcome the temptations that surround us.

So does the Lord’s Supper.  Our Lord’s Word of Promise “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” shows us that as we eat and drink the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine that forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words.  “These words, [‘given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’], along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament.  Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’”  (Small Catechism)  The Lord’s Supper keeps us in the love of God and builds us up in our most holy faith so that we can wait for our Lord’s return and overcome the temptations that surround us.

Of course, it is the Word of Promise itself that is active in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  It is the Word of God combined with water, bread and wine, that does the great things that it promises in giving us faith in Jesus as our only Savior, in giving us the forgiveness of sins Jesus alone won on the cross for us, and in giving us the eternal life Jesus secured for us by His death and resurrection.  It is that Gospel Word that we receive in the Bible itself, which is God’s Word.  We are kept in the love of God and are built up in our most holy faith as we read this Word daily and hear it proclaimed from this pulpit.  “For the word of God is living and active.” (Heb. 4:12)

As we are built up in our faith through God’s Word and Sacraments, our prayer life is also built up.  By the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments, we remain connected to our heavenly Father as men, women, and children of prayer.  As we wait for the mercy of our Lord we are not anxious even though we have the devil, the world, and our flesh at us constantly.  Rather, in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving we let our requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)   “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Rom. 8:26)

So there is much that God does for us while we wait for the Coming Again of His Son, our Savior Jesus.  Through His Word and Sacraments we are kept in the love of God.  Through the Spirit’s leading of our prayer life we are kept in the love of God.  Our most holy faith is built up and made stronger as we meet God where He chooses to come to us with His love and His gifts of forgiveness and eternal life.

But there is more left for us to do while we wait.  Our faith cannot help but to respond to God’s gifts.  As we wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life in true faith we act on behalf of others.  We who are kept in God’s love in Christ through Word and Sacrament have mercy on those who doubt God’s Word and Promises in Jesus.  We save others by snatching them out of the fire, showing mercy on them by not accepting their sin as the norm.  How do we do this?  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we share our most holy faith with people.  We show them their sins and their need for a Savior.  We then give to them God’s Word of Promise that Jesus is the world’s Savior from sin and death.  Through God’s Word, people are led to repentance and faith in Christ.  As the Lord grants us opportunity, Christians share the message of salvation with boldness, for it truly comes from the Lord and He truly works through that testimony, leading those who repent and believe to eternal life.

In the Lord’s Kingdom, we have a lot to do while we wait for Jesus to come again.  Keep yourselves in the love of God as your remain connected to Him in Word and Sacrament.  Let His Gospel received in Baptism, Word, and Supper build you up in your most holy faith.  Pray in the Holy Spirit.  Let your faith in Christ respond to His great love by having mercy on those who doubt by introducing them to God’s Word.  Let God’s Word show people their sin and their Savior, Jesus.  Let your faith respond and save others by snatching them out of the fire as you tell them God’s Word so that the Holy Spirit might lead them to repentance and faith in Jesus.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

Sermon for November 15, 2009

Daniel 12:1-3 (24th Sunday after Pentecost—Series B)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 15, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is the Old Testament lesson from Daniel 12:

At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Do you remember the late 1960s television variety show Hee Haw? Remember the four hillbillies sitting there with their jugs of moonshine singing: “Gloom, despair and agony on me; Deep, dark depression, excessive misery; If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all; Gloom, despair and agony on me!”

That’s almost the feeling one gets as the Church Year draws to a close and the Scripture readings focus our attention on the End Times. There’s certainly the feelings of gloom, despair, and agony present in the very real and very frightening scene that is shown to us. Just listen again to Jesus’ words about the days preceding the End, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place but the end is not yet. . . . There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”

The beginning? It gets worse? Yes. The disciples are told that they will be handed over to councils. They will be beaten, delivered over to death by family members, and be hated by all for Jesus’ name’s sake. Add to this the words of Daniel, which Jesus also alluded to, that there shall be a time of trouble as has never been since there was a nation till that time, and never will be! Gloom, despair and agony on me; Deep, dark depression, excessive misery!

Don’t believe it will be that bad? Take another look at the world around you. We are witnessing the signs of the coming trouble and distress. The world is plagued by war. Our nation is involved in conflicts. There is the ever present threat of terrorism. Haven’t we seen this year our share of earthquakes and tsunamis, fires and floods? What about the recent shooting at Ft. Hood? Consider the H1N1 virus, its spread, the lives it takes, and the fear it causes. Think about these things and Jesus’ prophesy in Luke 21, “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.”

As the Day of the Lord’s Coming and the End of this present age draws near, things are going to get bad. It will be a time of trouble such as never has been seen. Lawlessness will increase. (Matt. 24: 12) Jesus calls this time the “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved.” (Matt. 24:21-22) This is something pretty serious. It’s something we need to be alertly aware of as believers in Jesus because this time of trouble will affect us too. Believers will not escape it; we will not be exempt when the intense trouble comes. We will have to endure to the end. “Gloom, despair, and agony on me!”

But that’s not the message from our Old Testament lesson. God’s people are not left with deep dark depression and excessive misery. Yes, God’s people will endure the time of terrible trouble, but we do not endure it alone. Yes, believers in Christ will face the great tribulation, but we do not face it by ourselves. That is the message of Daniel 12. Such suffering will be only for the time appointed by the Lord. For “at that time,” at God’s right time, God will again deliver His people, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book, the Book of Life.

Here is good news. God has a record of His people. We can be certain that we will not be eternally lost during this time of despair and trouble. Through Holy Baptism and faith in Christ as the Lamb who was slain for the forgiveness of sins, your name and mine are inscribed into God’s Book of Life. We are completely known to Him as His people in Christ Jesus. Jesus died for our sins on the cross winning our forgiveness. He rose again from the dead guaranteeing our own resurrections to eternal life. In Baptism, God claimed us as His own children as He put His holy name on us. He recorded our names in His Book of Life. Our faith in Jesus has been sealed with the precious blood of your Savior. Of that there can be no doubt.

Because we are His people in Christ, God dispatches His holy angels to have charge over us. “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people,” the Lord told Daniel. In the Scriptures Michael is the guardian archangel of God’s people. We learn from the Book of Revelation that he is in charge of the heavenly warfare in defense of God’s people. As God’s’ people, we have His angels watching over us. Hebrews 1:14 reminds us that all angels are “all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” That’s great comfort to know now and in the time of the End. The Lord’s heavenly armies are defending us, guarding and protecting us and our precious faith in Christ. So we pray to our heavenly Father as Luther taught us, “Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.”

But there is an even greater comfort to come “at that time.” At God’s appointed time, we will be delivered. The tribulation will come to an end. The suffering of God’s people will stop. “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16)

Our Deliverer will come again in this way to lead home His Church. Those who have died with saving faith in Jesus Christ will be raised up from the sleep of death to everlasting life. When the dead in Christ have been raised then “we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thess. 4:17) This is the Lord’s promised victory for all His people who have saving faith in Jesus Christ. It is resurrection and new life. As St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raise imperishable, and we shall be changed.” At Christ’s return, at the Resurrection on the Last Day, Christ will clothe us with the imperishable and the immortal. We will shine like the brightness of the sky, like the stars forever and ever! We will be radiant, clothed in the glory of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior.

Jesus promises this will be so for those who live by faith in Him. You and I will be those coming out of the great tribulation. The Lord will guard and protect our faith. We will emerge from the terrible trouble victorious with Christ. We will be those who have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb of God who has taken away our sins. We will be “before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter [us] with His presence. [We] shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; . . . and God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.” (Rev. 7:15-17)

Because of Jesus Christ our Savior who died and rose for us winning our forgiveness and salvation, we are going to make it through to the End no matter what trials may come. Our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. God’s holy angels are sent to guard and to protect us and our faith in Jesus. There’s no gloom, despair, or agony for us. We are God’s people in Christ Jesus. We are forgiven. We have eternal life. And we will shine like the stars on that Day when Jesus comes again and raises us all to the glory of His heavenly Kingdom prepared for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.