Wednesday, March 28, 2001

Don't Be Afraid To Speak Up

Mid-Week Lenten 4
March 28, 2001 
Matthew 10:32-33

"Don't Be Afraid To Speak Up"
Seminarian Jon W. Smithley


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Dear friends in Christ, our sermon text for tonight is from the Gospel of Matthew, the tenth chapter, verses 32-33.

and Jesus said, "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But, whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

Thus far our text, let us pray. Merciful Father, we implore you on Christ's behalf, to strengthen our faith this night through your Word and through your Holy Spirit. Forgive us we pray for not speaking up for you and your Gospel when you have provided us opportunities to do so. We pray in Christ's name, Amen.

Picture yourself on a camping trip with some of your friends. One evening around the camp fire, while you are roasting marshmallows, the conversation turns to 'religion' and someone says, "It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere." Others voice their agreement. What will you say?

Maybe you are a housewife getting acquainted with your next door neighbor, a woman about your age with three small children. In the course of the conversation she says to you, "We don't send our children to Sunday School or Church. We don't think its right to force religion on them. They can choose whatever religion they like when they're old enough to make their own decisions." What will you say?

Or perhaps, you are a young person and your friends say to you, "anybody who wants to get ahead in this world has got to look out for himself first, you know take care and do what’s best for Old Number One." What would you say?

One of the biggest fears that we have is the fear of what others may think about us. Do they think we're different, or odd, or weird. We fear that we might lose out on certain advantages if we speak up regarding our Christian faith and our commitment to Jesus Christ. Even Peter was so afraid at times of what others might do to him that he denied Christ three times, just as Christ had predicted.

Further more, In Exodus chapter 4, God sent Moses to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. God promised to be with Moses in all that Moses would do. God even gave Moses signs that Moses would not be alone, but that God would indeed be with him and even bless him as he confronted Pharaoh.

However, Moses responded to God by saying, "O LORD, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue. Please send someone else to do it."  And the LORD said to Moses, " I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."  But Moses did not speak to Pharaoh, instead his brother Aaron did. Aaron acted as the mouth of Moses because Moses feared Pharaoh. Moses was afraid to speak up.

Yes there have been times even in our own lives when we have been afraid to speak up for the Gospel of Christ and our own Christian faith. We were afraid that our words would come out all jumbled up and that we would come off as being silly. But you know what, we are not silly, we are God's children, wholly and dearly loved. God too will help us to communicate the Gospel truth and message when opportunities afford themselves. God will and has indeed equipped us with all that we need to speak up for the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have the Holy Spirit who dwells in and with us, and He will certainly teach us what to say.

In our text for tonight, we learn that whoever acknowledges Christ before men, Christ will acknowledge them before His Father in heaven. We don't have to be afraid to speak up!

Now there is more than one way to speak up for Christ and His Word and even for the faith that God has given to us.

1. We speak up for Christ when we make it clear that our relationship with Him is of utmost importance in our everyday life.

I believe that faithful worship is an expression of our trust in Jesus Christ, our faithful Lord and Savior. No, we should not go to church for show and tell, but to be fed by the Lamb of God and His Word and Supper. There is no merit in our attending Church, it's more about God blessing us, giving us His Forgiveness, and strengthening us in our Christian faith. It's more about looking at God and seeing His power and glory in our lives. It's about worshipping Christ with all the other saints here on earth and those already in glory! It's about putting Christ first though it costs everything!

2. We speak up for Christ when we respond to statements like those of the campers, the woman next door, or the young people. We speak up for Christ by sharing our faith with others. Listen to these precious words given to us in 1 Peter 3:15:

'But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.'

Our hope is in Jesus. He indeed is our Hope. Christ is the everlasting hope that has brought you and I complete forgiveness of all our sins. We are indeed redeemed by the precious blood of the Lamb. 

3. We speak up for Christ by talking about our Lord's faithfulness, his death on a cross, his resurrection three days later. We speak up for Christ when we share this wonderful message of hope, forgiveness, and eternal life. This is a message for all: our children our relatives, our neighbors, even for our enemies.  

4. We speak up for Christ when we confess our faith in the liturgy, in the Creeds, the Lord's Prayer, and even when we partake of the Lord's Supper. Loyalty to Christ cannot be separate from loyalty to His Word. They go hand in hand. I might mention here, that we citizens here in the U.S. seldom have any fears about being able to worship Christ in our churches on Sunday mornings, but that is not true for many people in our world. In some countries, Christianity is against the law, punishable by death.

5. Finally, we speak up for Christ by living in ways that honor him. We life our lives differently from what the world says. We live in ways that put Christ first. We live in ways that put other people and their needs first. We live as servants of the cross, humble and Christlike. We submit to Christ and His will as a result of our God-given faith. We live in and by God's grace, and thus true life is found only here.

In conclusion, dear friends of the cross, let us look to the cross for our strength. Christ is our defender, He is the

One who strengthens us and our faith. It is here that we make our confession, that Jesus is Lord of all! It is here that we acknowledge Christ before all others, and thus He will acknowledge us before his Father who is in heaven. It is here that if we find ourselves not acknowledging Christ before men, that we repent, confess our sin, and then receive the gracious forgiveness of Christ. In the end, it does matter, how we live our lives. In the end, it does matter what we teach our children. And besides, is there anything more important to parenting than raising our children in the training and instruction of the Lord? God's Word is the final authority on that. God gave these words to Moses and thus to us for our benefit:

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deut. 6:6-7). In the end, let us live for Christ and not be afraid to speak up. Let us leave this night knowing that we are loved indeed by Christ, forgiven in Him of all sins, and strengthened to do His will. In Jesus name, Amen.

Now may the peace of Christ keep and guard your hearts and your minds this night and forevermore. Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Don't Be Afraid to Be Accepted

Mid-Week Lenten 3
March 21, 2001 
Luke 12:4-7

"Don't Be Afraid…To Be Accepted"


It was a dreadful thing Judas did - betray his own Master. But he was sorry for it. He showed his remorse by returning the 30 pieces of silver. Yet he must have thought his deed was unforgivable. Despair overwhelmed him, and he destroyed himself.  The issue at hand was not Judas' acceptance of himself but rather God's acceptance of Judas.

The matter that concerns us tonight is not whether we have accepted ourselves, but whether God has accepted us.  The question, which begs to be asked tonight is this: "does God really accept me?"  Our text for this night affirms that He does!

If you and I can be confident of this fact, that God really accepts us, then, we'll have much less difficulty accepting others and ourselves. God's encouraging words for us on this night is this: Don't be afraid…to be accepted!

I'm sure that all of you are familiar with the great king Solomon of the Old Testament.  He wrote three books of the Bible. He wrote the Song of Solomon when he was young and in love. Proverbs when he was middle aged and finally the book of Ecclesiastes when he was an old, old man. This third book of his trilogy can be best summed up with the words, which occur throughout the book "Vanity of vanities all is vanity".

Now to some, that statement of wise King Solomon, that all is vanity, that's a bothersome statement, and yet, that is the voice of experience.  Solomon wrote his book toward the end of his life, as he reviewed his final years of life. As he reviewed all of his life's existence he had to admit to himself that a vast majority of his time and energy was spent with many vain and selfish endeavors which he had hoped would have gotten him noticed.

Today, some 3,000 years later not too much has changed. In our time, as well, many people spend an exceptional amount of time and effort trying to become noticed. The motive is simple; if others notice me, I'll also become accepted, or at least, I'll have an easier time at being accepted!

True, every day we as human people are confronted with many a vein attempt at becoming noticed.  Folk may ask, "do people notice me?" "Are my clothes right?"  There is much that people do to fit in.  Some may act a certain way around other people, they engage in their conversations, do things that they do just for the satisfaction that others will stand up and take notice.

As the wise old yard reminds us "it's not always what you know but who you know that counts.  That's a common phrase that carries the understanding that if we associate with the right people, at the right time and at the right place, then those personal goals that we so desperately want to achieve will be accomplished.

For example, the student, that just so happens to have an uncle who is the president of the local bar association has a better chance of getting into his choice of Law schools then other candidates. We might cry out "foul!" and raise charges of nepotism and dishonesty but that's what how the world views acceptance on a grand scale.

While we can see all around us, many people exerting a great deal of energy, sometime by flattery, other times, through cunning; so that others will sit up and take notice, and thus becoming accepted. There are plenty more, who in possible more subtle ways, try to be noticed and accepted by God. 

In our pride, we Christians can be tempted to reason and think that by our church going, or by our involvement in the life of the perish we will somehow gain a greater acceptance; if not by others, possibly by God. Certainly He will see the sacrifice that we bear for the sake of the good of the gospel we might reason.  But the reality is that by our own actions and our own works, no matter how "good" they appear to be, they can not make us acceptable, not in the least before a just and holy God.

We have nothing to offer before God. We certainly can not flatter Him for we are each and the same declared to be sinners, for the greatest to the least of us each is declared to be a fallen sinner. There is not one person here this night that can claim that they have no sin. For there is not a single just man upon this earth, that does good and does not sin.  Each of us, have gone our own separate way. We have all like sheep gone astray from our Lord and His ways.

Tonight, let us remind ourselves of the eternal consequences for our sin. For the wages of our sin is death, and as Jesus reminds us in our text for this night, "Do not fear him that has the power to kill the body but rather fear Him who has the power to cast into hell."

Strong words these are. Yes, they come from the mouth of the Savior. What He is relating to us is the fact that he has the power over death and hell and those who fail to believe in Him will find themselves completely and totally cup off from Him if they refuse to believe.

But God in Christ has done something about our sin. He has fashioned a plan by which we can become accepted by God be becoming acceptable in His sight.

God has accepted us. He accepts us as Jesus Christ has lavished His mercy upon us.  Jesus Christ became human on our behalf and endured the cross of Calvary for each of us. In His suffering and death he secured our acceptance and now regards us as friends.

Now, how can we be sure of this acceptance? How can we be assured that the Father welcomes us?  Consider the birds of the air, the Savior reminds us.  If He hasn't forgotten the sparrows He won't forget about us as we are of much higher value.  If He has numbered the very hairs on our heads then He certainly knows each and all of our needs. 

What this says to each of us is that nothing in our life, great or small, is beyond the realm of God's love and care. He knows how hare it is for us to accept some people, especially those who have hurt us. He is able to aid and comfort us and to heal and to strengthen us.

Our Lord, by accepting us, while we were unacceptable, while we were "yet sinners" enables us to extend His compassion, and His love to other people in our life.

How can we measure such love and acceptance?  There once was a little girl who had a ragged old Teddy bear, one, which the stuffing had come out over and over again.  The girl's mother had tried repeatedly to sew it up but it was no use. Finally, the Teddy Bear was put out in the garage in a box marked "Good Will" But the little girl would always manage to find that old Teddy bear and drag it back into the house. She loved it for what it was. He dolls and toys just weren't the same!

That's the type of love Christ has for people life you and me. We have all sinned again, and again, and again. The stuffing has come out of us repeatedly!  But God has sewn us up with His love, and healing tenderness. When we see all that God has done and continues to do for us, we can see that He cares for us.  Jesus has in fact accepted us. He loves us, and what's more…He likes us.  That's why we don't have to be afraid…to be accepted!

Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Don't Be Afraid to Admit You're Wrong

Mid-Week Lenten 2
March 14, 2001 
1 John 1:8-9

"Don't be afraid to admit you're wrong"
Seminarian Robert W. Armao

            It's your fault!  You're to blame!  It begins early in life-putting blame on someone else, refusing to say, "I'm wrong, it's my fault."  You get into a fight with your brother or sister and blame him or her for starting it.  You flunk an exam at school and you immediate look to place blame on the teacher or their instruction.  You engage in cut-throat tactics at work only to have them backfire and you look quickly to recover by designating blame to someone else or another department.  Your marriage is in turmoil and instead of searching and reflecting on your own thought process you blame the other person.  One of the hardest things for us to say is, "I was wrong, it was my fault, I am to blame, forgive me."

            Caiaphas and the Sandhedrin certainly could identify with those feelings of blame and accusation.  Jesus, who had done nothing wrong was sentenced to death because this group of men decided to place blame on someone else.  Why?  They were envious and fearful of losing the alleged power base they felt they had established throughout the region.  Regardless of whether the accusations were fair or not, Jesus was the one who it fell upon to take the fall for their fear, mistakes, and ingratitude.

            Our text for this evening speaks to the fear of admitting that we have done wrong.  John is saying to us: Don't be afraid to say you're wrong.  When we admit that we have done wrong we are being honest with ourselves and humanity at large.

            Yet, Adam blamed Eve and Eve the serpent and so began the long, spiraling lie of deceit that unfortunately has shaped this world.  Our pride is at stake after all.  To admit responsibility for a blunder might mean risking something or giving something up at the expense of a tremendous loss.  This is the logic created by not taking the blame for our actions.  Often times we try to shield ourselves from our mistakes, and we might pretend that if no one saw them, they would simply disappear within a few short hours or days.

            Even if we overlook our sins, we often have a tendency to not only overlook them but to minimize their potential impact.  By refusing to call sin sin we overlook the damage that it may cause.  A  business person, Shop Steward, Teacher who sees something happen, scolds the offending party and then pats themselves on the back with, "I am glad I don't act that way," is just as guilty as the party who caused the problem in the first place.

            Often we might compare ourselves with others-like the Sunday School teacher who concluded a lesson on the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican by saying to his or her class, "Let us thank God that we are not like that wicked Pharisee."  But, we are like that Pharisee.  Looking at other's sin instead of our own.

            We love to boast of our accomplishments-nothing is wrong with winning, with doing well, with playing our hardest, with competing fairly in life, yet success breeds its own ugliness.  If we are constantly telling others of what we have done, or how our ideas were top notch, or that we had the finest crop production in the area we are running on the road of self-deception, minimizing sin, and overlooking the true blessings which God has given to us.

            The fact is that "there is not a righteous man on earth who does not sin and who has never sinned" (Eccl. 7: 20; Job 15: 14; Rom. 3: 23).  Sin need not be horizontal at all times it can certainly be vertical as well.  It need not be sin against our neighbor but also against our God (Gen. 39: 9, Psalm 51: 4; Rom. 14: 12). When we deny or excuse not only others but ourselves from sin we are saying there is no need for Christ's death at Calvary.  There is no reason why we need to consider his hanging on the tree, taking our sins with him to that cross of destruction.  In fact, we reject the very gospel He came to bring and to give.  We make ourselves out to be beyond God's protective care, saying that we can handle whatever comes along.  By so doing we reject the life saving work of Christ our Lord.

            If we are going to be people of character, of integrity, and be completely honest with ourselves, then we will certainly have to confess our sins before that same blood stained tree.  We can deceive ourselves all day long, but to admit sin, to confess it, to seek repentance, is what God would have us do.

            But there is still a better reason than my telling you to ask for forgiveness to admit to our mistakes.  When we confess our sins to God our Father, forgiveness is granted.  We are given a reprieve from the death sentence we all so richly deserve.  The only way to forgiveness is through a penitent heart.  Our confession, the one we make before God in this household of faith doesn't earn or cause God to forgive us.  Rather it indicates our state of mind and that we are now prepared to receive God's forgiveness.

            God forgives man not because of what we say but because of what he promised us.  His promise hung on the cross, and it is through his son,  Jesus Christ, our Savior, that God can look upon man and see his beloved son, and grant forgiveness.  He never grows weary of hearing from his children or listening to our confession, because through Christ he sees us as redeemed creatures worthy of forgiveness.

            God is righteous; He has agreed to forgive all of our sins for Jesus' sake (1 John 2: 2).  We need not be defense attorney pleading our case before God, Jesus became our advocate.  The guilt and consequences of sin were taken and laid open at Golgatha, never again to be opened up to placing blame and casting the shadow of guilt.  Our sins were washed clean by Jesus' blood, and when we were baptized we received what became of Christ three days after he was laid to human rest, that being the glorious resurrection.  We too shall rise with Christ, without the wounds of sin or guilt of its consequence.

            We might be saying that we need this now in our lives.  That we need to feel refreshed, for it has already been that type of week for us.  The real presence of Christ is with us always, when we hear his word preached, open our scriptures, or partake of the feast of the Lamb, we are receiving His presence.  He is with us.

            He forgives and forgets fully the sins that coarse through our lives.  The hidden sin that we seek to bury deep within our souls is known by God, and forgotten and forgiven by our gracious Father in Heaven.  He forgave us and forgot our sins a long time ago, as well as our current or future sins.

            Let us not be fearful of saying that we have done wrong, that we are in need of His absolution.  Such an admission frees us to live the type of life God intended for us, free to serve and honor him.  AMEN!

Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Don't Be Afraid To Be Alone

Mid-Week Lenten 1
March 7, 2001 
John 16:32

"Don't Be Afraid…To Be Alone"
Seminarian Jon W. Smithley

Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!    Tonight's Sermon text is John 16:32 which reads:

(Jesus said) "But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone.  Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me."

Please join me as we pray.   Gracious God our heavenly Father, we thank you for all things, and especially for the salvation that is ours in your beloved Son, Jesus Christ.   We pray now that you would open our hearts and our minds to thy saving Word. Teach us, we pray 0 Lord, to walk according to You and your Word, for it is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. In the precious name of Christ we pray, Amen.

Dear friends in Christ, If you were to take a close look at our daily lives and our daily schedules, each and everyone of us would see that we're quite busy.   There are those days when we have so much on our "plate" that it's hard to find even a moment to relax and just catch our breath.

And sometimes, it may even feel like we are losing this rat race here on earth.   I wonder if this is actually what God has called us to do with our lives?   I wonder, if this is maybe a human concept or rationale that we adhere to, to find ourselves always busy and never alone?   I wonder if we live our lives this way, because we're afraid to be alone.   After all, loneliness does rank near the top of all the things we dread.

Loneliness takes the form of many and various forms.  Think of the elderly man in a nursing home who has outlived all of his contemporaries and somehow is forgotten by his family and relatives.   Think of the widowed grandmother who never hears from her kids or grandkids.   What about the single-mom who has to place her kids in daycare and work 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet?   What about the college kid who has a hard time fitting in or making friends soon after they leave home? Loneliness can be one of the more complex fears in our lives. Often times, loneliness is accompanied by many other factors: grief, depression, fear itself, unhealthy stress, and in some extreme cases, suicidal thoughts.

I believe that loneliness really stems from the fact that because of sin, man's perfect relationship with God was severed when Adam and Eve fell from grace and fell into sin.   See, really everything in life does have a theological component to it; we just don't know it.  We, too reap the deadly benefits of our first parents.  We too are born sinful and unclean. We too inherit and are born with the fear of being all alone.

Besides, we are actually made with an internal and inherent need for the support of our family members, and the love and compassion of others.   It's for a good reason that Jesus says over and over  "Love one another,"   "Be kind and compassionate to others,"   "Love as I have first loved you."   Jesus knew what He was talking about, contrary to popular belief.   You see, Jesus was fully Divine and at the same time, fully man; yet another mystery we don't fully understand, but yet we do understand by faith.

What Jesus is basically telling us is that we are to fear not.   We don't have to be afraid to be alone!  That's right, Don't be afraid to be alone.  Yet we struggle with this more than we need to, but that's what we humans do best, struggle with those things we really need to let God handle.   Besides, God has already handled everything for our good and benefit. In fact, what hasn't God handled in the universe?

In our text for tonight, Jesus says directly to His disciples that they will scatter each to his own home.  It was fear that caused the disciples to go their own way and forsake Jesus. We too act just like the disciples, don't we?  Sometimes, we learn well the mistakes of others by making the mistakes ourselves.  We too forsake Christ when we choose to do what we want over what He wants.  Our actions and behaviors isolate us from God, the very condition that leaves us alone and afraid.

This is the very condition that God doesn't want us in.  God doesn't want us to be separated from Him or from His love. That's why God the Father did something about our dreadful and helpless situation.   He sent His Beloved Son Jesus Christ who bore all our sins and hell itself so that we don't have to so that we don't have to be afraid.   That's right, we are indeed free from all sin and its ugly consequences.   We are not alone. Jesus is our faithful companion. Because Jesus bore on the cross the forsakenness of God, God will never forsake us.   We know this to be true for in Hebrews 13:5, God has said, "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you."   I think we can all take a sigh of relieve here.   God has paid for all our sins with the very blood of Jesus Christ and now we know that God is never going to leave us.   That my friends is Good News, very Good News.

It even gets better though.  When we do stray and wander, God doesn't leave us for the wolves.  God pursues us and brings us back into His flock and care.  God does this through His Word, through the Holy Spirit, through the Sacraments, through pastors and His servants and people.   God takes care of us, better than we could image or even do ourselves.   God is always with us.   As Christians, we have been brought to faith by the work of the Holy Spirit and have the Spirit's presence within us.

God has indeed made us His own.   We belong to God, we are his children.   Thanks be to God for His unending riches and glory in Christ Jesus.

When I said it gets better, I meant it.  God is with us in every situation and circumstance in our lives.   He will be there when things are good, and when things are bad.  In the very next verse of John 16, verse 33, Jesus says to you and to me these very words: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the World."   This too is Good News, very Good News.   In Jesus we have peace.  Let me say it again, in Jesus we have peace.   In this world we will have trouble Jesus even tells us this beforehand.  Let us ask in faith, for God to give us His strength to endure and persevere through that which will be troublesome.  And now take heart, Jesus has overcome the world for us.  Jesus has indeed overcome all sin, death itself through His death and resurrection, and the mean old Devil.   Satan is a defeated foe, let's live as those who have the victory, for the victory is ours in Jesus Christ.

Just as I have said that God is with us always and in every situation and circumstance, God will be with us in every stage of our lives.   He is there in the miracle of conception, the awe and nervousness of delivery, the "terrific" two's, something I'm learning about right now.  God is with us in all our homework and projects, all our long hours at work or on the road.  God is with us when we are middle-aged and even when death may be experienced in our family and even in our own death, whenever that might be.   The One, who holds the stars in His hands, also holds you and me in His hands.

That is why we worship the One who created all, the eternal Creator, the Alpha and the Omega.   In this season of Lent with our focus on repentance, let us not forget two things about the cross: With Jesus hanging on the cross, we see first hand the love that God has for us.  No doubt about it. It doesn't get any more graphic than the crucifixion of Christ.  But also we see what it is for man to be alone and separated from God. Jesus did that so we would not have to experience that type of separation for eternity.  Christ substituted Himself for the very punishment we so deserve.  As we cry Abba Father, let us thank Him who gave His very Son on our behalf.

It is with great joy that we remember Christ's very words in Matthew 18:20:  "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."   Christ is always with us, to the very end.   We indeed, do not have to be afraid to be alone because we are not alone.   Christ the crucified and risen, our very Redeemer, lives and is with us each and every day.  Let us fear not and just believe.  Amen.

Now may the peace of Christ that passes all understanding keep and guard your minds and hearts to life everlasting.  Amen.