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Pastor Michael Cofer
John 8:31-36

Thank you all for inviting me to speak at your church today. Wittenberg is on the cusp of growing chilly at this time of year and I apologize if I have brought with me a hint of our less temperate climate. For those of your who might not recognize me, I am professor Martin Luther. I hope you will not think me prideful to assume that you know who I am, since you have my name stamped all over this lovely church of yours.

Though I must say, I am much embarrassed that anyone would call themselves a follower of Luther, and in some ways it makes me feel as though I have failed. If you bear any admiration for my teaching, or any brotherly love for me, then please follow Christ alone, and not some bedeviled sinner like me.

Well, lest we waste any more of our precious time together, let’s lay aside that issue and move on to something of much greater import than how we label ourselves. Rather let us talk about truth. Every generation since Adam and Eve were persuade by the words “did God really say…” have struggled with this notion of truth. Pontius Pilate, when face-to-face with our Lord (the living embodiment of truth) asked “What is truth?”

Scholars and philosophers have chased after it with reckless abandon and have brought to bare the full force of human wit, and are left asking the question, “what is truth?” and yet they are confounded because truth is mightier than any eloquence and the Spirit is greater than genius. That is why the scriptures tell us that the mysteries of God have been hidden from the wise and revealed instead to children.

It is an inborn desire in all human hearts; to know and cling fast to the truth. I have studied a thousand books, and yet there is only one of them that can speak into the heart and kindle the fires of faith and hope and truth. Before to the Word of God, all worldly wisdom must bow in reverence.

I must tell you that one of the great joys in my life was to watch the passion and devotion which consumed the common folk for the word of God. Of course you well know that before I translated the Bible into German, nobody but scholars and priests could read it. Regular folks with regular jobs had to just leave it to the “professionals” to tell them whatever they needed to know about God. But when they got the Bible in their own hands in their own language… They devoured it. They carried it with them, when they could. They committed it to memory… It became part of their daily vocabulary.

I wonder, how many of you own your own, personal copy of the Bible? Wow… That is incredible. So many of you. Surely you must be passionate about the word then. Surely, if almost every single person, even many of the children, have their own copy of the scriptures, you must know them very well. I can only guess that they are on your lips every day.

You know, I should tell you a secret. You will not know the truth simply by reading the bible. Now, hear me out. There are many people who read the Bible, and it does not strike their hearts at all. People throughout history, including my time and I could guess even in yours, have misused and abused the holy scriptures for their own purposes, or have read into it folly and error where none ever stood. Such a person may be an attentive reader, and yet be closed completely from the truth.

Our Lord said in the gospel of John, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” As you can see, knowing the truth does not come through cloistered study, but in living – in bearing the mantle of a disciple. It is through obedience, not cunning, that a person learns the truth.

And where there is truth, there is freedom. Yet, a strange duality emerges. Freedom follows truth which follows obedience. A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. And yet, a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all. What does this mean?

Every man, no matter their station in the world, is compelled by one of two masters. Christ tells us plainly that, “everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” I believe it. I find, with the apostle Paul, that when I sin I am appalled at it.

It is not merely the outward act that shames me, it is knowing that the sin began first in my heart and grew out from there to my will, and finally was given life in my words and deeds. I have tried all manner of things to rid myself of the disease of sin. I have fasted and prayed, attended daily confession, did acts of penance even to the point of damaging my own body. And none of it could free me from my bondage to sin.

And why should it? What slave can set himself free? But Christ offers the gift of freedom to us. He can do what we could never do. He alone understands our slavery and has the power to liberate us. That is the power of the cross.

I believe that Jesus Christ, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

In Christ you have been set free. Not so you can go back to living the way you always have, but so that you can begin anew as a free person. Should we run back to the devil, who despises his servants and wishes them harm? Certainly not! Rather, we should serve our Heavenly Father, who calls us His children, who loves us, and who desires for us eternal life.

Everyone who sins is a slave to sin, but if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. This is most certainly true.

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Pastor Mark Nieting
1 Thess. 2:1-13

Having AFRIZO here on Wednesday was an incredible blessing, and having two of the men, Emmanuel and Michael, in our home was wonderful, even though it wasn’t near long enough. It was very obvious that these fellow Christians have a passion for their Lord Jesus……their faith is certainly contagious! I got a real boost from listening to them sing and from their personal stories.

We learned that 80% of Kenyans are Christians! 10% are Muslims and other pagan religions. The Gospel of Jesus is making a difference in the lives of millions of people the way in Kenya. The difference is that while the church is GROWING in Kenya…..and many other parts of Africa, it is not growing here.

Are you surprised to know that there are more Lutherans in East Africa than there are in the United States? Are you surprised to know the Christian faith is also growing by leaps and bounds in India and in China? It’s SO exciting to know that the Church of Jesus Christ is alive and growing around the world, despite persecution and poverty. And there is plenty of persecution against the church. It started in Egypt, where dozens of Coptic Christians, one of the oldest branches of the Christian church in the world, were murdered by radical Muslims.

I watched a You-Tube video by a missionary named Francis Chan. He was telling stories about Christians he encountered traveling in Asia. One woman, nine months pregnant, was run out of her village when people found out she was a Christian. She had her baby in the jungle and couldn’t go home.

Another man showed Pastor Chan the scars on his back from the beatings he got when his neighbors found out he was a Christian. They tried to beat him to death after they killed his entire family. Another man, and this is a frequent event in India, had his house burned down. Still others lose their jobs.

Pastor Chan was incredulous. After all, stuff like this doesn’t happen to Christians in America, does it? Yet time after time these Christians would simply shrug and say, “It says in the Bible that this is going to happen to us!”

We may not have these specific problems in our country, at least right now, but I do think we have another that’s as bad or even worse. At the risk of sounding somewhat judgmental, I believe there are literally millions of people in our country who SAY they are Christians, but it’s far from obvious in their everyday lives. They may spend a lot of time being AROUND the things of God, they may have a Bible on the coffee table at home, they may check the box “Christian” on religious surveys, but there doesn’t appear to be any evidence OF their faith!

It’s what St. Paul warns about in 2 Timothy; about people who have a form of “godliness” but it has no impact on their daily lives. It doesn’t seem to have any impact on the way they live! St. Paul might call them “Christian atheists!”

What is a Christian atheist, you might ask? It’s someone who says they believe in God but for all practical purposes they live as if God doesn’t exist, period!

I cannot remember all the times I have been told by people that their faith is a very private thing; a very personal thing, something that they can’t talk about. I’ve been told that by people who have cars decorated with all sorts of political bumper stickers. I’ve been told that by people who have team flags flying on their front lawns, and pins in their lapels. At a glance I can tell that they are Democrats, Giants fans, love America, belong to the Rotary Club, root for Kyle Petty, want to save the whales, adore Elvis and drink Pepsi……but as for their faith in Jesus, there’s not a clue in sight.

Why is this? The faith into which we have been baptized and which we confess weekly in worship says that Jesus Christ is the ONLY Name under heaven, given among men, through which there is salvation, and yet far too many of us move around in life as if we expect to be beheaded if share anything about Him other than when we hit our thumbs with hammers! WHY is it so hard for so many of us to talk about our faith, even to our own families and friends?

-Perhaps we are simply so comfortable in our faith that we take it for granted, like the air we breathe and the water we drink; that Jesus has been, and always will be a part of our lives…..that He’s no “big deal?”

-Perhaps it’s because we don’t want to appear to be “soft” or “dependent” on someone other than ourselves?

-Maybe it’s because someone has convinced us that Christianity isn’t “cool?”

-Could it be that we’ve engaged the message our culture loves: that all religions are equal and we’re all going to end up in the same place, no matter what?

Have you ever been rescued, say, from drowning, from a burning building, a sinking ship, quicksand in the jungle, rescued in the nick-of-time and saved??? IF that has happened to you, what’s the result? Easy: you share the story, over and over again! You live thankfully and joyfully! It becomes your STORY!

Once we understand, not just in our heads but in our hearts, the magnitude of what Jesus has done for us becomes a very real JOY that fills us and overflows out of our lives and our lips, as it did from the young people of Arizo Wednesday evening! It becomes our story, a story worth retelling.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ IS a personal thing…..because WE are persons created by God and redeemed by Jesus Christ! The story of Jesus is a personal story witnessed by thousands of people who told thousands of others and through their written testimony shared it with billions more. The Written Word of God has it’s own power but it’s magnified even more when one person shares it with another person…..when it becomes OUR story.

That’s why Jesus tells EACH of us to “make disciples of all nations.” It wasn’t a command to pastors or evangelism committees. It’s to each of us, and it comes best and is received best when it flows out of our lives into those around us as a result of the joy of our own salvation!

It’s you and me…..whenever God opens a door…..sharing “Moments of Hope” with the people around us……..and changing lives forever. Amen.

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Pastor Michael Cofer
Matthew 22:15-22

They say there are two certains in life: death and taxes. Both seem to be faced with an almost equal dread. I don’t know of anyone — except maybe Warren Buffett — who was excited by the prospect of paying taxes. Let’s face it, part of the success of the Tea Party movement is their strong stance against taxation.

I have to say, I felt a little disappointed reading our Gospel today. Jesus had the perfect opportunity to forbid paying taxes… And he blew it!

Not really though, because what he said is far more meaningful, and frankly a brilliant move given the situation. So let’s get the context straight. As you well know, the Pharisees would do anything to trap Jesus… even enlisting the help of folks on the opposite side of the religious or political divide. We don’t know tons about the Herodians, but they were clearly a pro-Rome political group. Pharisees weren’t necessarily a policital party, but they were the experts in the religious law.

Now I want you to imagine a denarius. It was a silver coin with the face of Caesar engraved on it, and an inscription that said he was the son of “deified Augustus,” and on the back he is proclaimed the high priest. Got that image in your mind? If you were an orthodox Hebrew, you know what you might call that? A graven image. An idol.

There was a bit of controversy in Jesus’ day as to whether Jewish people could handle Roman money. So in the mind of th Pharisees, paying taxes could be called idolatry, and in the eyes of the Herodians not paying taxes would be criminal, or even rebellious.

It was a pretty good trap, I think. I’m sure I would have tried to avoid the topic if I were in Jesus’ sandals… Or done some sort of non-committal, politician answer. But Jesus never wastes an opportunity to teach, and he can’t be intimidated by anyone, so he faces down the Pharisees with a simple, direct statement, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar, and to God what is God’s.”

I’m pretty sure that means I have to pay my taxes. But is that all there is to learn from this passage? Definitely not. In fact, I think that a bigger question opens up: what does it mean to give to God what is His?

Well, as a starting place, let’s ask the question “What belongs to God?” If we confess that God is the maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible… I think we have to admit that everything belongs to God. They are His stars. This is His earth. This is His church. We are His people, made by Him in a very specific way that makes us each unique. Everything blessing we enjoy comes from Him. It is all His.

But I can’t very well give God the universe, can I? Maybe I should just give all of the stuff I own to God. Maybe that’s what Jesus means… Pay my taxes, then give the rest of it to God. Then I’ll have nothing, and I won’t owe any money to Caesar, and I can just starve to death and go to heaven.

Whoa…. Back the train up. That isn’t the kind of life and/or death that Jesus is advocating. God gave us our lives and our stuff and this world, and we ought to take good care of it. The trick is that none of that stuff can become an idol.

See, God isn’t all that concerned with material gifts. If we give to Caesar (or Washington) what bears Caesar’s (or Washington’s) image, then perhaps we should give to God the thing that bears God’s image. God doesn’t want our stuff; He wants us. He wants us to love Him the way He loves us. Wants us to live like we’re His children. He wants us.

But it isn’t that cut and dry, is it? Because, I don’t know about you all, but I can get awful wrapped up in my stuff. Money can do some really great things, but it can be a huge source of anxiety, or on the flip side it can offer a false sense of security. Whether you have too much of it, or too little, money will often occupy way too much of our attention.

That is part of the reason that tithing and offerings are so important. It is one way that we remind ourselves that God is in charge, and that He will provide. God doesn’t want to tax you 10% on what you make… that’s not what tithing is about. It’s about checking your priorities on a regular basis.

But, let’s not stop at talking about just money. Because God wants you, and you are much more than my bank account. God made you uniquely, and has positioned you exactly where He needs you to be.

Giving God what’s His means exploring and growing and stretching into the person that He has made you to be. When God knit you together in the womb, He had in mind a fantastic person: someone who abounds in love and grace, someone who excels in their talents, someone who walks closely with God.

Giving God what’s His means cultivating the art of thanksgiving. Take the time to enjoy and appreciate your life, your family, and this world. God knew what he was doing when He made those things, and they are dear to Him. For Christians, thanksgiving is the practice of looking at God’s creation and saying along with Him, “It is good.”

God loves you so much. He is the proudest parent you know. And the thing He wants most in all of the world is for you to love Him too.

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Rev. Mark Nieting
Matthew 22:1-14

Take one trip through your basic cable guide and you’re guaranteed to stumble over a number of (so-called) reality shows all themed around WEDDINGS. Just to name a few, there’s “Say yes to the Dress, Cake Boss, Platinum Weddings, My Big Redneck Wedding, Engaged and Underaged (on MTV, of course) and my favorite, Bridezillas! American culture seems obsessed with all things wedding, and cable is cashing in big-time!

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us a wedding-themed parable in which people have the opposite attitude towards weddings. If WE are “wedding obsessed,” then those Jesus describes in Matthew 22 are “wedding-phobic!” The story, on the surface is simple: a wealthy king has invited his most special friends to the marriage of his son. But instead of jumping at the chance to attend what will be a fantastic feast, EVERYONE on the guest list RSVP’s with a big, fat NO!

The King sends another round of invites to the same folks and the response is an even more emphatic round of “NO!” The King is so upset that in round 3 he sends his troops out and DESTROYS those who “disrespected him.” [THAT would make for a great TV episode, wouldn’t it?] Finally, the King sends his servants to bring in ANYONE they can find, and it’s not long before the hall is filled with a huge crowd.

For most of Jesus’ first century audience and all who paid attention in Sunday School, this part of the parable has a very obvious meaning, especially when it’s connected to the last two parables which were also directed at the Pharisees who rejected Jesus’ every invitation to be a part of the Feast in the Kingdom! The entire Old Testament had been one long invitation and one long time of preparation and when the Bridegroom, in the person of Jesus, finally showed up, the “special people” could have cared LESS! In fact, they crucified Him instead.

We, beginning with the first disciples, are the “other ones.” We’re the “found ones,” the ones to whom the invitation has now been extended. We’re the ones who were pulled in from the alleys and the highways! The invitation came when the Holy Spirit introduced us to Jesus. We were “dressed for the wedding” at the moment of our baptism. Our sins are forgiven and our status is secure. We’ve RSVP’d for the resurrection at the end of the world, when the REAL party starts!!

I have a simple goal for this morning’s message. I want each one of us to get the absolute MOST out of the Invitation that we have received. It’s a wonderful thing to have received this invitation and we don’t want to lose out on any of it. The first thing….and it sounds so SIMPLE…is to ENJOY the fact that you have been invited! If the promises of God are true, and the Gifts He has given us are real: like FORGIVENESS of our SINS, like the POWER of the Holy Spirit living within us…..we ought to be the happiest, most JOY-FILLED people on earth!

Far too often there are way too many followers of Jesus who walk around looking like their invitation to heaven got lost in the mail! We get upset about all sorts of little stuff. We gripe and complain about things that in the big picture are really nothing at all. We live like the Bridezillas we love to mock on TV, We make mine-fields out of ministry opportunities and rob others of their joy at the same time. I see that happen far too often on Sunday mornings even here at Hope! That’s NOT what the Bridegroom had in mind when He invited us to HIS party! He wants us to live like we LOVE being there! In fact, the parable goes on to say that if we’re not “well dressed” for the occasion, we just might get tossed out!

Being invited to the Marriage Feast of The Jesus and His Church is the ultimate in all invitations, and we ought to be BLOWN AWAY by the fact that we are a part of it! This parable is our call to LIGHTEN UP AND ENJOY THE PARTY! Maybe that’s what David was saying when he wrote, “Restore to me the JOY of my salvation,” (Ps 51:12), don’t you think?

The second way we “maximize our invitation” is to invite others to join us at the feast. Jesus couldn’t have been clearer: no matter who you are or what you’ve done, HE wants YOU to be there. God wants the Heavenly Halls to be FILLED with people celebrating with Jesus, forever. A while back the entire world was invited to watch the “Royal Wedding” of William and Kate, and hundreds of millions tuned in. For a lot of social climbers, it was the invitation of a life-time! I really doubt that anyone who received one turned it down! God is planning a party that’s a gazillion times bigger and a bazillion times less boring, and …… who are YOU inviting to be there with you? Will you let them say NO, at least without an argument?

Will your kids be there? Will your spouse be there, sitting next to you? Have you invited your neighbors? When was the last time you invited ANYONE to come with you to church, so they could meet Jesus and receive His invitation? We KNOW that once the bridegroom comes and the door is shut, that’s it. It will be too late after that for ANYONE….no matter how much we love them.

I pulled this invitation out of our mail basket at home: it’s for the wedding of some friends that is scheduled for October…. FIRST! Oh, oh….there’s no way Pam and I are going to get into that one….it’s already past, and the door is closed. Do we really want any of our dear friends to have that experience, eternally? So let’s get cracking, folks…’s now, or it may be never!

Finally, the third way we can maximize our enjoyment of the invitation we have received is to allow GOD to be the judge of who “gets in!” It’s not up to you or to me to determine who is “worthy” of God’s grace and who is not. Our only tasks are to REJOICE in the fact that we have been invited and then, out of that joy, to INVITE, and to KEEP INVITING people around us. Amen.

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Rev. Mark Nieting (on LWML Sunday)
Luke 12: 8-12

About 150 years ago General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia moved into the great state of Pennsylvania, towards the little Lutheran town of Gettysburg. As the Confederate army moved north, one German Lutheran lady, Hannah, was her name, felt called to DO something. She grabbed her broom and started marching down the middle of the road towards the “enemy. When the Confederates were confronted by this “Army of One Lutheran Woman,” to their credit, they merely brushed her aside and marched on.

Years later, at a quilting party the Lutheran ladies were reminiscing about that event and one of them, Mrs Bomberger, asked, “Hannah, what in the world did you expect to do with your broom against that great Southern army?”

“Vell,” she said, “I din’t tink I vuld schlow dem down, but I vanted dem to know vut site I vus on!”

This morning we celebrate Lutheran Women’s Missionary League Sunday, giving thanks to God for the ministry of women who for years have been visibly and vocally on the side of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and letting the WORLD know “vich site dey is on!” There are tens of thousands of them across the United States and around the world, all linked to the heritage of faithful Christian women.

The CHURCH has been blessed by faithful women since the beginning, when a group of them went to the tomb that first Easter to anoint the body of Christ and came back with news of His resurrection. For the most part, Scripture is silent about their conversation, but there’s NO WAY we can believe that THEY were silent! Christian women, from the beginning, have lived out the promise Jesus made in this morning’s Gospel lesson…..if I might paraphrase a bit: when God wants you to talk about your faith, the Holy Spirit will give you the right words!

Looking off this pulpit this morning, it seems very obvious to me what side YOU are on. After all, you are sitting in a Lutheran church offering your praise and your prayers to God who created you, to Christ who redeemed you, and to the Holy Spirit who called you to faith! It’s the essence of faithful Christianity in action.

The theme of the International LWML this year is Being with Jesus: Living on the Edge. Sitting here on cushioned pews in our comfortable sanctuary (and looking at our beautiful new cross) might not seem very “edgy” to any of us. After all, we live in a nation where the phrase “In God We Trust” appears on our money. Our national pledge says “One Nation Under God.” Our congress begins each session with prayer and our Supreme Court starts each session with God save the United States and this Honorable Court. Doesn’t sound too edgy to me!

We must never forget to thank God that we have the right and the freedom to exercise our Christian faith, something not allowed in vast portions of our world.
Yet the very freedoms we enjoy and yes, even take for granted have, at times, lulled us to sleep as a church and as Christian individuals. At the risk of sounding judgmental and even a bit trite, the examples are legion. If EVERY Christian parent refused to let their kids play sports on Sundays, the leagues just might get the message. If EVERY Christian student who graduates from a public school gives thanks to God in their yearbooks and their speeches, the Supreme Court might just get the message. If EVERY Christian voter would examine every candidate’s positions and how they align with the teachings of our faith, things might truly change….for the better!

Living our faith isn’t always EASY to do! Don’t we, at times, feel like salmon swimming upstream? Going with the flow… NOT living on the edge. It’s getting swept along with the tide. We KNOW that at the very root of all of this is Spiritual Warfare. It’s the same old Satanic Serpent hissing away, just as ‘he’s’ done ever since he deceived Adam and Eve with his message. He’s subtle, but he’s persistent. And he’s deadly……..eternally so.

That’s why this promise Jesus made to His disciples in Luke 12 is so important. The time will come, He reminds us, when we will be called to STAND UP for Him. The time will come when our Priorities will be called into question.
The time will come when we will have to let Jesus….and the world….know just what….just WHOSE side we are on.

Your side was chosen at the time of your baptism! That’s when God chose you, washed your sins away, and placed His Holy Spirit into you! You have been “on God’s side” ever since! HE knows that…..and, HE wants each of us to let the WORLD know that! That’s why Jesus made this promise….that when the time comes for us to “tell the world what side we’re on,” the HOLY SPIRIT will be right there, giving us the right words to say.

It’s time for us, for each believer to say to the world around us, “What do you have to offer me that’s better than Jesus? What foundation do you have for life that is more solid than Christ?” What the world has to offer is empty promises and a dead end life…..what Christ offers is forgiveness of sins and life everlasting with the God who created us!

It’s time for those of us who ‘live on the edge’ under the cross of Jesus Christ to say to the world around us: Your way is the wrong way. Your way creates hunger that can’t be filled. Your way creates children who are never satisfied. Your way leaves a moral vacuum that denigrates women and destroys teens. Your way offers a land where Jesus is banished, where corruption overflows, and where there is no eternal hope. It’s time for us to claim that promise of Jesus, who WILL give His people the words and the courage and the will to stand for HIM.

It’s time, as the LWML has known for decades, to let da verld no vut site ve’re on!
We stand with Christ! amen

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Pastor Mark Nieting
Matthew 21: 28-32

We are now well into a new school year; we’re now into a new year of Christian education here at Hope; and we’re recognizing a number of our staff, especially our school staff, for many years of ministry this morning, so it’s easy to see that for Hope as a congregation TEACHING the faith is important.
As a church, as pastors and teachers, as parents and grandparents, we all have expectations for our children. We want them to do well. We want them to be the best they can be. We want them to be successful in life, to be able to provide well for themselves, to stay active in their faith, and maybe even make a few bucks so they can take care of US in our old age (tongue in cheek, please, on this one!) Seriously, there’s nobody in this room that, when watching the baptism of a precious little child, thinks to themselves, “Well, there’s not much hope for this one, probably end up on Skid-Row, that’s where he’ll be!” Nobody goes there!
And, as parents, don’t we want our children to be obedient? When we give our kids instructions, we want them to respond……not when the program is over or they reach the “next level” of their video game….but now! That’s part of the parental expectations we have for our kids that will lead to their being successful in life…..and we all want that for them!
Success and obedience come at a price, don’t they? Every parent and every teacher knows that there are times, and sometimes quite a few of them, when it becomes necessary to exercise a little “tough love” in order to move our kids to the next level. The test comes back B minus… we settle for that or push harder? The paper has mistakes in grammar: do we allow it to be turned in or do we demand a re-write? The memorized Bible verse is vaguely recognizable, but is it word for word, as the pastor expects? Do we make them turn off the TV until they’ve got it right, or are we afraid of the confrontation? Do we really want them to “walk the walk”, or are we settling for “talking the talk?”
ALL human beings…..children AND teens AND adults need the freedom to make our own choices…..and we’re not going to choose wisely all the time. It’s part of growing up. It’s part of learning. And to be honest, it’s a good thing to fail once in a while! It may teach more lessons than successes ever can!
All this is leading up to Jesus’ parable in our text this morning; a story about a father who is parenting two very different children. The father’s expectation of both sons is perfectly clear: Go into my vineyard and work! He says it with authority and he expects results.
Jesus lays out two scenarios in this parable: one works out well in the end; the other starts out well and ends up nowhere.
The first son refuses outright. “No,” he says, “I won’t go!” Yet, after he cools down a little and has some time to reflect on his decision, he thinks better and heads off to the vineyard to get some work done. He was wrong at first, but shifts gears…..the word “repents” fits well here…..and ultimately gets it right.
The second son is more devious. He puts on the “good child” face and agrees right away with his father’s request. “Yup, dad, great idea you had there, me working in the vineyard! I’m heading right out, dad! Watch me go!” But in the end, his actions didn’t match his words. He never comes close to a grapevine. He promises a lot, but in the end he produces nothing.
We all know what’s coming, because, after all, this is a parable, and Jesus told parables to make points! Jesus asks his listeners: Which of these two sons did the will of his father? It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Walking the walk earns a whole lot more respect from the father than simply talking the talk. All the talk in the world wasn’t going to get the second son into the vineyard OR into the Kingdom of God! He needed to “walk the walk,” even if it meant turning around, even if it meant admitting he was wrong, even if it meant starting over!
WHY do we say NO to God? Why do we say NO to growing in our faith? Why do we insist on living life on our terms? Why do so many parents fail their children by not following through on the promises they made to God (and to their children) at the time of baptism? What is it that fuels our refusal to “say yes to God?”
It might be because we’re stubborn; we’re afraid; we’re doubtful; we’re convinced that WE are right; or we simply want to do what WE want to do. Given the choice of “laboring in the vineyard,” of forgiving someone who wrong us, visiting a sick friend, reconciling with an estranged friend, attending Bible Classes or even making sure our kids are going to Sunday School or Confirmation; given the choice of Kingdom things…..or, say…..playing with our trains…… which would many of us choose?
Back when Pam and I were dating we used to take LONG Sunday afternoon drives in the mountains of western North Carolina. On one particular “motor,” way out in the boonies of WNC, I decided to try a new road because I was SURE I knew exactly where it came out…….just a mile or two from Hot Springs NC. So onto the road I went, even after Pam asked if I was SURE I knew where it went. Hey, I’m a guy….am I right about directions? Absolutely! My way is best!
You already know how this is going to come out. The pavement turned to gravel. The power lines ended. The road narrowed. But I was SURE I was right. I was headed to Hot Springs NC for a lovely dinner. Pam piped up from time to time asking me to turn around. Do you think I did? After all, I WAS RIGHT. Another half hour and in the distance there was a small sign, which I KNEW would welcome us to Hot Springs. It welcomed us, all right, to DEL RIO, TENNESSEE: a good HOUR’S drive off the mark! Why is it that we are so stubborn?
Could it be that we think we’ve already done “our share” in the Kingdom? Clearly the Father doesn’t offer his son an ‘early retirement program!’
Could it be that the Kingdom is not a true priority in our lives? Clearly the Father knows that His way is the only way!
Could it be that we think the Father expects….DEMANDS us to be perfect?
Every day you and I make decisions……little ones, big ones, ones with small consequences and occasionally decisions with eternal consequences. Jesus knows what it is like for us to struggle with the Father’s will…..He did that Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, when His Father asked Him to go to the cross. That’s “vineyard work” God will never ask US to do.
Jesus didn’t take option 1: to say no and later say yes.
Jesus didn’t take option 2: to say yes and later say no.
Jesus certainly didn’t take option 3: to say no and keep on saying no!
Jesus TOOK the FOURTH OPTION. He lived out the FOURTH SCENARIO: He said YES to His Father; He talked the talk; and He DID it; He walked the Walk, all the way to the cross, the grave, and back through the empty tomb.
Making God-honoring decisions in a God-dishonoring world isn’t easy in our own lives…and it can be even more difficult as Christian parents when the choices of, as an example, playing soccer on Sunday compete with the vows we make at the baptisms of our kids. They won’t win us popularity contests in the world, but when we make God honoring choices and follow through with God honoring actions, even if we have to change our minds and reverse our actions to follow GOD’S DIRECTIONS, we will be blessed by God!

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Rev. Michael Cofer
Matthew 20

What an incredible day this is!  It is one of those exceptional and rare days when our whole congregation comes together as one to worship and pray and celebrate what a great God we have.  And not even the threat of rain can take away our joy because barbecue awaits us! No! Because God is here in this place and He is speaking to us today.  

Today we heard a parable from Jesus about workers in the field.  Some came early and stayed… Some didn’t show up till the last minute.  But the landowner welcomed them all equally.  How perfect is that reading for “Back to Church Sunday?”  So, on behalf of God, let me just say to you, whether you’ve been with us every week since Moses taught Sunday School or whether you’ve been away for a while, or if you’ve never been to church before… Welcome.  We’re glad you’re here.

After all, there is too much for us to do without your help.  That’s right there in the parable… The landowner is watching the progress of the workers in the field, and he can see there’s no way they’ll be done at the end of the day. That’s why he keeps going back to the marketplace to hire more folks.

I think that’s a good reminder for us.  We need as many people working the fields as possible, because we can’t do it all ourselves.  What is it that Jesus said?  “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” What He means is this: there are too many people out there who don’t know Jesus’ love and forgiveness for us to try and go it alone.

Some times we lose sight of that.  We think, “This is my field, and my church, and my pew… I’ve been here forever, I deserve to have things my way.”  Maybe some of you had one of those moments this morning… I’m glad I haven’t seen someone from the eleven o’clock service arguing with someone from the eight o’clock service, “I sit here every week!” “Yeah? Well so do I!”

We all have times when we confuse our preferences with what’s right.  Isn’t that the very attitude that Jesus is warning us against in this parable? Everyone got paid the same, no matter how long they’d been there.  But the early arrivers felt like they were better or more important.

But Jesus is clear… We are all equally important to the kingdom of heaven.  We are all needed.  There is way too much for us to do, too many people who need loved, for any of us to stop working or to turn away help when God brings it.

That means that sometimes the more mature and experienced Christians have to inconvenience themselves for the less mature.  It’s not a matter of tenure and seniority; it’s about adopting a Christ-like attitude.

Having said all that, I think this parable speaks to the new folks as well.  There are a couple verses I want to reread for you…

“And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.'”

This is that hour.  If you have been idling on the sidelines, because no one has asked you to work, today is the day.  We need you. We need you to be in your community and your workplace and your home to talk about Jesus, and to live a life of love and forgiveness.  We need that, and so do you.  But we also need you to work with us here, to commit to being part of this family, because God is calling us to do more than we can get done on our own.

This is that hour.  Jesus could come at any minute, and that’s it.  So we have to work in the kingdom today as if there is no tomorrow.  No benchwarmers, no armchair quarterbacks.  Each and every one of us is valuable to the mission of God.  Because, after all, the church isn’t just for the people who are already here.  It isn’t country club for Lutherans.  The church is here for the people who aren’t.  We are here for them.  I believe most of you all know and believe and trust in Jesus as your savior.  Most of you have no doubt that Jesus died and rose and because of that, you’ll be in heaven one day.  But what about them, out there?  Who will tell them?

You will.  It’s the eleventh hour and God is calling you, today, to come work in His field.

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Pastor Mark Nieting

Every generation, it seems, has unforgettable moments. There was “The Redcoats are Coming,” followed by “Remember the Maine”, then “Remember Pearl Harbor,” and most recently the events of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Flight 93, which we collectively remember as:“9-11”. Events like these produce vivid and deep memories. The images are burned onto our psyches both nationally and individually. For some time afterwards, the divergent energies of our country blend back together into a national purpose, a unified sense of horror, grief and the will to respond.
We all know where we were and we all know what we were doing when “9-11” happened. We were impacted, challenged, and changed in those few short, horrible hours. We KNOW what happened that day and we know what responses our nation has carried out since. But for us as individuals…..especially as Christians, questions remain. What do we DO with all this emotionally….and spiritually? How do we process this? Those of us in the military may be called upon to take action to restore order and justice in the world….but on a personal level things are far different. We are called to forgive.
It is “God-Thing” that all three Scripture lessons in our Lectionary for this Sunday focus on the topic of judging and forgiving. God never passes up a “teachable moment,” and 9-11 was certainly one of those. Let’s look at each lesson.
Genesis 50 is the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers who had sold him into slavery. Remember his words? “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” They may not have been Joseph’s thoughts while he was looking up from the bottom of the well or when he was in prison in Egypt, but God moved him to forgiveness.
In Romans 14, Paul instructs us that it is God who judges; that one day, all of us will be called upon to give an account of our thoughts, words and deeds to God. Until then, Paul urges us, we are to do what we can to live in peace.
Finally, the Gospel for this Sunday is the very well known challenge Jesus offers us by way of the disciple Peter in Matthew 18. After He taught the disciples about forgiving their enemies, Peter asked the question that most of us probably ask from time to time: how many times do we HAVE to forgive? Most Pharisees taught that forgiveness was to be extended MAYBE three times, so it’s no wonder that Peter thought his magnanimous offer of seven times would earn him a pat on the back from Jesus.

Peter didn’t get a pat on the back. Instead, Jesus “upped Peter” from forgiving his “neighbor” SEVEN times to SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN TIMES. In other words, “keep on forgiving,” On the surface that might sound just as absurd today as it must have to Peter. Forgive an enemy? Forgive him 490 times? Forgive a terrorist? A jihadist? 490 times? How do we forgive men who drove airplanes into buildings and erased the lives of thousands of our fellow Americans, even friends and family members? How do we forgive someone who’s already dead? How do we forgive someone who has inflicted so much hurt on people we love……or even someone who has hurt US terribly…..and, importantly, do we have to?
There we have it: two questions that form the core of the message this morning and throughout our lives as Christians: #1: Do we have to forgive? And, given that we know the answer from the words of Jesus’ own prayer, ‘forgive us our sins AS we forgive those who sin against us,’ #2: HOW? How do we DO IT?
Before we address those issues, let’s back up to something even more basic: just exactly what IS forgiveness? We say it all the time and we receive it regularly, but given what Jesus says about how extravagant we are to BE in extending it, let’s be clear what forgiveness is. The Greek word ‘forgive’(aphiami) is used 142 times in the New Testament. It can be translated ‘to let go, to release, to send off, to hurl away, to divorce, and even to abandon.’ It’s has forms as both a VERB….indicating an ACTION that one takes, and a NOUN…..indicative of a condition one can have.
Forgiveness is far more than a “nice thing to do,” like when we tell two fighting boys to “shake hands and make up!” It’s deep, it’s powerful, it’s deliberate, and it’s real. It’s a GUT-WRENCHING WILLFUL act of dismissal, where we RIP away from us, we RELEASE from inside us even the deepest debts owed to us and the deepest hurts done to us and even the most unforgivable atrocities we can ever imagine. It’s not easy; it’s something we can’t fake. It’s hard. Ask the father of the Prodigal Son. Ask the Master who forgave the debt of Millions. Ask Jesus.
Let me be perfectly clear. Forgiving someone for what they have done to us doesn’t mean we declare that what has been done is acceptable. It’s not an application of political correctness that says anything and everything goes. It doesn’t mean we condone the sins. It’s not an invitation to repetition.
Forgiveness doesn’t let the offender(s) off the hook…the truth is, forgiveness isn’t even ABOUT them! It’s about US! My forgiveness of those who hijacked those planes, of those who killed my fellow Americans doesn’t bring them absolution before God. It doesn’t release their guilt………it releases ME! It releases me from the joylessness that comes from a desire to hang onto a grudge, to turn bitter, or to seek revenge. Forgiveness is necessary because of what it does for US. If it has a salutary effect on the offender, fine…..and God can work with that through His Holy Spirit. But it’s all about what it does for us!
Jesus calls us to forgive, and keep on forgiving…….forgiving till it HURTS, because that’s exactly what He does for us. No one ever said forgiveness is easy……but it is necessary! Our forgiveness is a participation in God’s larger act of forgiveness…..something that we need on a daily basis.
The late Pope John Paul II forgave his would-be assassin, but he didn’t lobby for his release from prison, which did finally happen. Ronald Reagan did the same. We can forgive someone who steals from us, but when they’re caught, we aren’t obligated to let them keep the money…..or let them steal from us again! We are, however, obligated to forgive them!
Dear friends, I HAVE heard a lot of Christian people who are struggling with the very issue of forgiveness when the hurt is personal or when it touches a certain sensitive chord inside us, say things like this: “There are a lot of things I can and I will forgive, but NOT this, or not that. THAT……. I can’t bring myself to forgive! ” Sometimes it’s accompanied by a rather vehement wish of where we want that person to spend eternity… know what I mean, don’t you? I’m asking you right now to examine your heart honestly; have you ever said, thought, or felt anything like that? Do you still hold those feelings even today?
This is what happens when we go down that very dangerous road of being unforgiving. It’s then that we apply our own judgment to the situation and to the person needing our forgiveness. It’s then that we have shifted from being a “mutually forgiven sinner” into our own version of judge, jury and executioner. It’s then, and you’re not going to like this, that we join the ranks of the Pharisees. It’s then that these words of Jesus sting us: “If you do not forgive men their sins, then your Father will not forgive your sins!” (Mt 6:14) That is serious business, friends!
Using the parable of the prodigal son as an illustration, it’s then that we have moved from being the forgiven son of the forgiving father into the unforgiving older brother who looks down his nose at his brother who has returned and whom the FATHER has already forgiven! It’s then that we continue to condemn our “sinful little brother” AND our father for offering him forgiveness when we refuse. And because of his unwillingness to forgive, he cuts himself off from his father’s love….and misses the entire party!
Jesus illustrates His lesson in another parable: the unmerciful servant. This servant is forgiven an almost UNIMAGINABLE debt simply by pleading for mercy…….and then, almost immediately, he refuses to forgive one of his coworker an amount almost miniscule by comparison.  He experiences forgiveness…..but can’t bring himself to share it! The resulting actions by the Master leave no room for equivocation: if we do not forgive, we are not forgiven. Do you see any wiggle room? I don’t, because it’s not there!
God knows, and I don’t say this lightly, that from our perspective there are certain sins that seem so much more horrible, so much more “personal” that we truly DO struggle to forgive, and I think it would be fair to say that (almost) everyone in this room has struggled…..or continues to struggle….to forgive SOMETHING!
Some of us have been abused in various and many ways. Some of us have been betrayed. Some of us have been abandoned by those we love. Some of us have experienced far more than anyone should…….and our sinful, and yes, selfish human nature demands JUSTICE! It’s then that Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Prayer call out to us: forgive us AS we forgive others!
That’s when God reminds us over and over again that WE are ALL sinners. The playing field is perfectly level at the foot of the cross. There is no sin….save the rejection of the Holy Spirit’s work within us….that is not forgivable by our dear Lord Jesus……no matter how terrible, no matter how uncivilized, no matter how brutal. Where there is repentance, there is grace! It’s grace I need, because I am a sinner. It’s grace you need, because you are a sinner. It’s grace every human being needs, because we all “chief of sinners.” And the true JOY of the Christian faith is that we can offer the forgiveness of Christ to others, knowing that we too will receive it from Him!

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Pastor Michael Cofer
Matthew 15:21-28

Can you believe the way Jesus talked to that poor woman in our Gospel reading? I mean, in my time, I’ve said some insensitive things… but Jesus called that lady a dog. A DOG. And not even in the, “you are loyal and affectionate” kind of way. Not in the “I want to post pictures of you doing tricks on my face book” kind of way. He acted like that woman didn’t deserve a bit of his time.

Once again, the Jesus I read about doesn’t act like the Jesus I think I know.

So you have to think that something weird is going on here; there is more to the conversation than first meets the eye. To get the full effect, let’s back up to the beginning of the chapter. Jesus and the Pharisees are having another showdown, this time about ritual purity. The Long and short of the conversation is that the disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate, and the Pharisees were trying to have a “gotcha” moment with Jesus.

Well, Jesus took the opportunity to not just defend himself, but to actually teach about the nature of purity. He said, “It’s not what goes in a man’s mouth that makes him unclean. It’s what comes out of his mouth that makes him unclean.” Of course nobody, not even the disciples, are sure what to make of that, but it ends the argument.

So the disciples questioned Jesus about this, and here’s what Jesus said: “What goes in your mouth – the stuff you eat – runs through your intestines and eventually comes out the other end. But what comes out of your mouth – the words you say – show what’s really on your heart. And if the stuff that comes out of your mouth is unclean, then it shows that your heart is unclean too.”

After that poignant thought, we are immediately spirited away to Tyre where Jesus meets a Canaanite woman – a gentile. There was probably no appropriate setting for these two folks to have any semblance of a conversation, but here she is throwing herself at his feet, begging for Jesus’ help.

Truthfully, we’ve seen this scene numerous times. Jesus travels around and needy people find him and ask him for his help, and he does it. Only this time… he doesn’t. He doesn’t do anything at all. She’s begging him, and he doesn’t say anything at all. It’s weird. Very un-Jesus-like if you ask me.

After having read this through a few times, I think I know what Jesus is doing… I think he’s waiting for the disciples to make a move. He just got done talking about how the outside isn’t important, it’s what’s in your heart that counts, and now here’s this woman. On the outside she is supposedly a heathen, but she is doing what the most devout Jews could not… she is bowing down at Jesus’ feet. And out of her mouth come words that show where her heart is at.

Okay… so we’ve got the scene set, and it’s the moment of truth. The woman is bowing down at Jesus’ feet, asking for help, and what do the disciples say? Do they say, “Master, help this woman, she’s in such great need?” Nope. They say, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

“Send her away.” How callous and ignorant can you be? No really… I had to ask myself that question, because I know there have been people in my life who need love and compassion and encouragement and healing… but I don’t give it. I sigh, and maybe moan about how high-maintenance they are or some other lame excuse. I wish it weren’t so, but I’ve definitely had those moments when I say, “Jesus, I don’t want to deal with this right now.”

So… I have a lesson to learn here as well. But the story gets weirder, because Jesus doesn’t just rebuke the disciples and help the woman; He kind of messes with her for a little bit. Not once, but twice he refuses to help her, going so far as to call her a dog. And still, she wouldn’t give up.

You know what though? I think Jesus is cheating a little bit… because he could see right into her heart from before she ever opened her mouth, and I think all this back and forth isn’t for her benefit. I think Jesus is trying to teach the disciples a thing or two about prayer. I think Jesus is actually quite proud of this woman, and he wants to show her faith as an example.
See, what this woman had going for her was humility and persistence – both of which are the building blocks of a healthy prayer life. Persistence is something that is easy to take for granted. You might be tempted to think, “God hear me once, what’s the point in asking again?” But persistent prayer isn’t about badgering or nagging God. It’s about developing a lifestyle of leaning on God and looking to Him in all situations. Persistence in prayer is how a relationship with God develops and grows.

Humility, starts with a basic recognition of who God is and who we are. He isn’t a waiter that we can demand things of. He’s not Santa Claus, rewarding us for our good behavior. He’s not an employer paying out well-earned wages. We come before God as beggars, plain and simple. He owes us nothing, but gives us all good things in the proper time. It’s this attitude of humility that says, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
And where there is humility there also will be gratitude. What other response can follow receiving what you don’t deserve? The proud hearts of the Pharisees and even the disciples were puffed up and hardened by a sense of worthiness and entitlement. But when we can admit to the generosity of God, to the undeserved mercy His grace gives to us, it’s impossible not to be moved to thanks.

Not only thanks, but you also want to tell the story. Time and again, when Jesus heals someone, they just can’t keep the story to themselves. That’s a good thing, because it’s the kind of story that the world wants and needs to hear. “God loves me, as messed up and unlovable as I am. He cares for me daily, even in miraculous ways. And God loves you, too.” It’s as simple as that. No gimmicks or scripts. Just an honest response of gratitude for God’s undeserved grace.

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Pastor Mark Nieting
Matthew 14:22ff

The story of Peter’s walking on water – or his attempt to walk on water – is known to just about everybody. It’s inspired a number of jokes involving golfers, priests or rabbis walking on water, or at least knowing where the stones are!

It’s a wonderful story that I hope will connect in some way with every one of us at Hope this morning, because this story isn’t just about Peter. It’s also about you and me, and about Jesus’ calling us to get out of whatever boats we’re hanging on to. So as we consider it, I hope you’ll ask yourself, “Where am I in this story?” Am I still in my boat? What IS my boat? Have I stepped out of it and begun to walk toward Jesus on the water?

Matthew, Mark and John all record the story. Jesus had just finished feeding the 5,000 when he made his disciples to get into their boat and head back across the Sea of Galilee. Meanwhile, Jesus went up a mountain to pray. When evening came, a great storm blew up. The waves battered the boat and the wind pushed them farther and farther from land. Matthew doesn’t say anything about them being afraid – not yet, anyway. Most of them were seasoned fishermen who spent their lives on this sea and who figured they’d be okay as long as their boat held together. So they kept on rowing and bailing through the long, dark night, trying to outlast the storm.

Sooner or later, every one of us passes through a great storm. It may be a storm that batters your marriage and you can’t seem to make any progress against it. Or it may be a storm that blows one your kids far away from where you want him or her to be. It may be a storm of some terrible disease in your body or in the body of someone you love. Or the storm of depression that threatens to drag you under. Whatever the story and whatever the storm, they make us hunker down as the skies grow dark and the winds start blowing – the storms of war and what that can bring, the storm of the economy, the storm of unemployment, the storms of terrorism and an uncertain tomorrow for all of us.

Maybe you think you’re tough enough to handle it. Maybe, like these disciples, you’ve been through storms before and you’ve got yourself a pretty sturdy boat and a pretty sturdy self. You tell yourself you’ll be all right as long as you cling to that boat (whatever it is). But according to our story, salvation isn’t found in the boat. Salvation is found in the one who comes to us from outside the boat, in the midst of the storm…….salvation is found in the form of Jesus, who is always WATCHING us.

By the wee hours of the morning the disciples had been fighting the storm for at least six hours now. They had to be exhausted and they were still nowhere near getting back to Capernaum. Somewhere between 3 and 6 AM [the old expression “it’s always darkest before the dawn” comes to mind] they see Jesus coming toward them, walking on the water. That’s when they get really scared. Interesting, isn’t it? It isn’t the storm that terrifies them. It’s the unpredictable Lord who shows up in the storm. At first they think they’re seeing a ghost. That’s what fear can do to us. Jesus is always watching us. And He always waits for the right time to come to us!

Jesus gets closer and finally He says what He always says when He shows up, “Don’t be afraid. I am here!” Whatever the storm is, He’s always nearer than you thought. No, he’s not in the boat, not yet anyway. He’s out there – where the wind is raging and the waves are pounding. Jesus isn’t usually found in places of safety and security. More often than not, Jesus is found in the teeth of that terrible storm, in that dreaded worst-case scenario, in that one thing you and I most want to avoid. He’s in the Valley of the Shadow of Death far more often than He is in the Green Pastures!

Let’s face it……if our lives were all “Green Pastures Moments” would we even call out to Him? Would we feel a need for Him? I’m reading a wonderful book written by a US Navy Chaplain, Lt Carey Cash. The book is called A Presence at the Table. It’s the story of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in the battle for Baghdad in 2003. These Marines, baptized by the dozens before the battle, got involved in what Oliver North called “the worst day of fighting for U.S. Marines.” They discovered in that battle what they may never have discovered back home: God’s presence could be richly experienced even in the presence of enemies.

That’s both SCARY….and WONDERFUL. Tf Jesus is out there – where it’s not safe, where all heck is breaking loose – is that where He wants US to be too? We signed on to be his followers, didn’t we? That’s what FAITH IS! And he’s out there – in the scariest places we can imagine, and when He calls us, we’re going to have to get out of the boat.


So, where are you in this story? Here are a couple questions I’ve been asking myself this week. First, what is the boat I’m in? What is the boat I cling to for safety? Our “boat” is whatever gives us a sense of stability and security. It may be our job or our financial portfolio. It may be our health or our home. It may be our family or our friends, or even our routines! What exactly is that boat for you?

And the second question is: How might the Lord be calling me to step out of that boat? It may be that the Lord is calling us to come to him, to leave our comfort zone and take a risky step of faith. It might be as huge as a career change. It might mean getting into a personal ministry – spending time with some junior high kids or helping some senior saints manage their finances or going on a mission trip. It might involve facing some broken places in your past or dealing with some hurts in your present relationships. It might be simply asking a friend or neighbor to join you in church on Sunday. It might be asking you to move to the middle of the pew! Whatever it is, it means stepping out of what seems like safety and security and stepping into what seems like miracle territory – walking on water.

Peter says, “Lord, if it’s really you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says, “Come.” And, bless his heart, Peter takes that first step out of the boat, and then another. And things are going great. But then Matthew says, “He noticed the strong wind.” He takes his eyes off Jesus and sees the next big wave headed for him. And very quickly it dawns on him: “What was I thinking? No WAY this is going to work!” Have you been there with Peter? I certainly have.

To be perfectly honest, I feel like Peter every time I get out of that boat there – that pew I sit in Sunday mornings – and step up into this pulpit to preach. Every sermon is an exercise in walking on water for me. After all these years, I find the first few steps aren’t very difficult. It’s about now, when I’m pretty well into the sermon, that I notice the strong winds. Or in this case, I notice the stifled yawn, the glazed eyes, the blank expressions. And that’s when I become frightened, and feel like I’m starting to sink.

I’ll bet some of you have your own version of this story. You step out into a new job, but the work isn’t what you thought it would be. The move has been harder on your family than you imagined. This deployment has been longer and the kids have acted out more. The wind and waves hit and you start to sink. Or, you’re married, believing with all your heart this is the one, but then the arguments flare up and the mistrust sets in. The wind and waves hit and you start to sink. Or, you agree to help with a church ministry, thinking that’s where the Lord called you, but the task is harder and takes longer than you planned. The people serving with you turn out to be all too human. The waves hit and you start to sink. Or you’ve made a commitment to tithe and you’re doing it and then something happens…..and the wind and the waves hit and you start to sink.


There was Peter, walking on water and doing fine. Until he took his eyes off Jesus. Until he noticed the strong wind. Until he noticed the waves at eye level. Until he started to sink and cried out, “Lord, save me!”

And before Peter could get the words out of his mouth, Jesus was there – reaching out and catching him. Can you imagine the scene: Peter gasping for breath, and the Lord holding his arm and saying to him, not in anger but in love, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

If you’re a follower of Jesus, it’s a pretty sure bet that at some point in your life he will call you to step out of your boat, out of your comfort zone. That’s the way he works, with individuals AND with congregations. And when we respond to that call, when we begin to walk on water, that’s when fear hits us. We take our eyes off the Savior and that’s when we begin to sink.

But all we have to do is cry out to Jesus who immediately reaches for us. We were never in the danger we thought we were. Jesus is closer than the wind and waves. If we try to walk on water sooner or later we’re going to fail. But it’s not really failure – as Jesus is near. Failure is when we’re too afraid to try.

Remember two things about this story, will you? Remember, first, that Jesus comes to us across all the different storms of life. No matter how dark it seems, no matter how alone we feel, Jesus never forsakes his own. At the moment we need him most, he will be with us. I know some of you are facing difficult storms right now. I pray that you hear the voice of Jesus saying to you, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

And second, remember it takes the power of God to walk on water. You can’t do it on your own. Are you a water walker? Here’s how you can tell. By identifying what you are doing today that you cannot do apart from the power of God. Think about that. If you cannot identify anything in your life that requires God, then you are demonstrating you really don’t need God. If that’s the case, you’re still stuck in the boat.

If you’re trying to do something that can only be done in the power of God, then you’re a water walker. What’s a Water Walker Look Like? Like a Christian mother (or father) trying to live out the promises you made in baptism – to raise your children in the nurture and love of the Lord. Like walking up to a new person on Sunday morning and getting to know them. Like not giving up on your marriage but believing it can get better and taking the first steps toward seeing a counselor or a pastor for help. Like letting go of your cherished dreams of personal success and finding the courage to serve other people, to help make them successful. Like giving a full tithe to the Lord’s work here when there are plenty of toys on your “to-have list.”

Those are just a few examples. And if you’re doing any of them, then you’re a water walker. And you can only do it by keeping your eyes on Jesus. He’ll be there for you when the wind and waves knock you over. He’ll catch you when you start to sink. And he will never, never let you go.

But first, you have to get out of the boat.

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