Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ascension Service -- May 1

Our circuit churches are celebrating the Ascension of our Lord for the second year in a row at Zion Lutheran Church in Painesville, Ohio. Pastor Jonathan Schroeder of St. John's Lutheran Church in Geneva, Ohio, will preach the Word that evening. Divine Service--Setting One from Lutheran Service Book will be used, beginning at 7:00 p.m.

For more information, go to:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Rev. Jonathan Schroeder's Sermons Online

A very talented pastor and friend, Rev. Jonathan Schroeder, has now made his sermons available in audio format on his church's new website.

Click on this link to go there:

The series on prayer is highly recommended!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What Matters To You?

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2: 42

What matters to you? That’s kind of a big, broad question, isn’t it? But let’s deal with it a little. What matters to you? One quick way to figure out the answer is to take a look at what you spend your time doing, because the bottom line is, we make time for what matters to us. So, what matters to you? Is it family? Work? Your own happiness? What matters to you? Being respected? Being well-liked? Being a winner? Having a big circle of friends? Having just a few really close ones? What matters to you?
One of the best parts of celebrating our 50th anniversary as a congregation is that we get to hear how much it mattered to the original members of St. Paul’s that they could have a place to receive God’s gifts and to praise and serve Him. When you review our history, you can’t help but learn just how much it mattered. The time, the work, and the resources spent on bringing St. Paul’s to life send a simple message. It mattered. It was deeply important to our first members that this church exist. We have much to learn from their example.
We also have much to learn from an even earlier group of Christians, who predate the first members of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church by about 1,925 years. In Acts 2 we hear about the very first generation of people who believed that Jesus had died and risen for them. The term “Christian” had not even been invented yet. What’s great about the picture of the first believers in Acts 2 is that it reveals what mattered to them. It stands to reason that what mattered to them should matter to us—after all, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. So let’s see how we match up with the Acts 2 Church.
First off, we hear that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. What is the apostles’ teaching? Think of the creeds that we use in worship, which you may know by heart. These are the non-negotiables of the Christian faith, centering on Jesus Christ, who was crucified, died, and was buried, and on the third day, rose again form the dead. The first believers devoted themselves to getting this message right. They understood that, handled rightly, the gospel of Jesus rescues sinners from eternal suffering and gives life to the fullest. It was also necessary that they learn to defend their faith against attack. We don’t know what program of study they followed—just that they were devoted to the teachings handed down from Christ himself.
How about you? Have you devoted yourself to the apostles’ teaching? If we were to examine your life’s schedule right now, would it reveal that learning the truth of God’s Word matters to you? If someone quizzed you on what you believe and why, would you feel confident in giving them Biblical answers? We cannot afford to be Biblically illiterate or to think that, because we went through a confirmation class at one point in our lives, that we’ve got it all figured out. Devotion to apostolic teaching is just that—devotion. Dedication. If it is true that we are more devoted to being comfortable or indulging in a favorite pastime than we are devoted to getting into God’s Word, then we need to change direction, plain and simple. Why would we knowingly cut ourselves off from the Word the gives life? Does learning about Jesus matter to you?
Next, we hear that the first Christians devoted themselves to the fellowship. “Fellowship” is one of the Christian buzzwords that gets thrown around quite a bit, but what does it really mean? It means that these people were devoted to a sense of togetherness. They were committed to seeing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, a true family of faith. Now don’t misunderstand, we’re not talking about some kind of hippie commune here—a bunch of people with their head in the clouds. This fellowship is something real, something God has put together. It is the collection of his baptized people, and the forgiveness of Jesus is the glue that holds it all together. In a way, being part of the fellowship is looking around the room and recognizing, “Wow! The Lord forgave and adopted you, too, huh? Let’s serve him together.”
How about you? Are you devoted to the fellowship? Do you see the people sitting around you right now as your family in the Lord? Does what happens to them matter to you? Have you had past experiences that make it hard for you to care? Take those to Jesus. Ask Him for help in opening up, because there’s so much support available to you here. And I am sure that you have a lot to offer in return. The awesome mystery here is that when the fellowship is working, when we care and pray and help one another, we are bringing the compassion of Jesus into each other’s lives. That turns abstract concepts like “grace” and “fellowship” into things that we sense and feel, and that’s powerful.
The third thing noted in Acts 2 is that the believers devoted themselves to the breaking of the bread. It is reasonable to assume that means more than just “they were devoted to eating” (although that might prove them to be Lutheran after all) but that they were devoted to the breaking of the bread (and the drinking of the wine) that happen in the Lord’s Supper. And of course they would be devoted to this! They had learned the lesson of the Last Supper and the walk to Emmaus. They knew Jesus was present in His true Words and at the table. They would have needed and desired the strength they received from the body and blood of their Lord.
What about you? Are you devoted to the “breaking of the bread”? Does receiving the body and blood of Christ with the bread and the wine on a regular basis matter to you? Is coming to the Lord’s Supper something that you look forward to—or is it just kind of part of the program? Do you crave this connection with Jesus? In this eating and drinking, Jesus pours out his gifts to us. Forgiveness is poured into us. And, when we stand at the rail, we stand in a common faith—faith in the apostolic teachings about Jesus; faith that He is building fellowship among us. Let’s not sleepwalk, but be awake to the tremendous benefits of being devoted to the breaking of the bread.
Finally, we note that the people of the Acts 2 Church devoted themselves to prayer. Prayer is simply defined as “speaking to God in words and thoughts,” which can be accomplished in one of two ways: either by yourself or with a group. Without question, the first Christians were committed to their individual prayers. The fact that prayer is mentioned here in verse 42 allows us to think of it in terms of group prayer also. In other words, they devoted themselves to praying with each other and for each other. And when you expand the picture just a bit, it starts to look awfully familiar. What activity do you know of that Christians participate in that features apostolic teaching; fellowship; the breaking of bread; and prayer? Sounds like a worship service to me. It sounds like the 1st generation church was dedicated to being together to receive God’s gifts (through apostolic teaching and the breaking of the bread) and to respond to God in works of faith (namely, prayer and fellowship, or caring for one another). Does it sound like what mattered to them matters to us?
Our devotion to Jesus and the things that mattered to the first Christians can be sadly lacking. Many, many things compete for our devotion, and many times other things win it. But in His great patience, the Lord gives us yet another chance today to make a move towards Him. Because here in this place described by apostolic teaching and fellowship and breaking of bread and prayer, you hear the truth: Jesus Christ has already moved towards you. Your sin, your wasted time, the pain you’ve caused yourself and others, it’s all forgiven. Jesus paid your bill at the incredible cost of his own life because you matter to Him. He rose to life on Easter, and made sure you would always be able to hear his Words, and there would always be a place where he could touch you and forgive you with his body and blood. He made sure that you could be surrounded with people who share these blessings with you. Why? Because you matter to him.
So, what matters to you? Amen.

Monday, April 7, 2008

When Jesus is at the Table: the Emmaus Experience

While He was at the table with them, He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they knew who He was. Luke 24: 30—31a

There is a pattern and an order to most things we experience. That order gives us structure; a sense of security; within that framework we can safely encounter new things. Let me give you a few examples. When you’re watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, what do you expect to have happen? You expect Mr. Rogers to come through the doorway, singing, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” you expect him to hang up his sport coat, take off his dress shoes, and change into his cardigan and sneakers. You expect him to speak directly to you about the day’s theme, you expect him to feed the fish, visit with his friends, take you on a tour of a factory or an artist’s studio, and, of course, visit the Land of Make Believe. Finally, you expect him to change back into his coat and shoes and make his exit singing, ‘It’s Such A Good Feeling To Know You’re Alive.” It’s the same show every time—but it’s not. It’s the same structure—but within the framework there is endless variety—try 998 episodes worth of variety.
Or consider the order of baseball game. I don’t recall going to a baseball game wondering, “Are they going to play 4 innings or 25 innings tonight?” Normally, you go to a professional baseball game expecting 9 innings to be played. You know things are getting ready to roll with the singing of the national anthem. The players are introduced. You expect the teams to alternate between hitting and fielding. In the middle of the seventh inning, you expect to stand and sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” and if the game isn’t tied after the bottom of the ninth, you go home. It’s the same game every time—but of course, it’s not. It’s the same structure—but within the framework there is an endless variety of plays and outcomes, which statisticians have tracked for decades.
Or think of a normal school day. There is a pattern and a routine to the way teachers and students move through the day. There’s no guessing when recess or lunchtime is. You know when your favorite subject and your not-so-favorite subject is coming. It’s the same school day every time—but it’s not. It’s the same structure—but within the framework there is an endless variety of lessons to be learned, in and out of the classroom.
And so we come to church on Saturday night/Sunday morning and you come to expect a Confession and Absolution, a Psalm, a series of readings from the Bible, usually Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel. You expect an explanation of God’s Word for children and adults, you expect the opportunity to give an offering and to pray to the Lord, and most of the time you expect to participate in something we call the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. Along the way there are liturgical songs—portions of the Bible set to music—such as “Create In Me A Clean Heart, O God,” “Lamb of God You Take Away The Sin Of The World,” “This Is The Feast Of Victory For Our God,” and many others. Along the way there are hymns—songs that teach the faith and give voice to our praise of God—many of which we have come to treasure. It’s the same service every time—but it’s not. It’s the same structure—but within the framework there is an endless variety of stories and themes that center on the mighty works of God and the living presence of Jesus Christ in His Church.
Order serves us well. (Just think of what can happen when your getting-ready-in-the-morning routine is interrupted.) But it must be said that order and routine can also make us so comfortable that we are lulled to sleep. Nowhere is that more true than in worship. We’ve all the experience—let’s admit it—of being in a worship service, while at the same time you’re mentally making your grocery list, or wondering if kickoff is at 1:00 or 4:00. I would suggest the antidote to unconscious worship is simply to keep on asking “why”—to continually review together the purpose of our time spent in worship. Why do we interact with Jesus in the way that we do? The answer to that question is found in today’s Gospel reading. May our awareness of the Biblical framework for worship enhance and revitalize this time we spend with Jesus.
The Emmaus experience described in Luke 24 is far more than just a neat add-on to the Easter story. It actually forms the foundation for how we experience Jesus in our lives! Here’s what I mean: look for the pattern that emerges. The risen Jesus walks with two men, and during that walk, He explained the Old Testament to them. He went through Moses and the prophets, describing how these writings were pointing to Him! Later on, these men would say, “Didn’t our hearts burn as he explained the Bible to us!”
Then, later that evening, Jesus sits down at the table with them and—listen carefully to this language—“he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.” Then their eyes were opened, and they knew who he was.” They recognized it was Jesus at the table with them.
Did the pattern pop out at you? The first part of this experience was instruction in the Word of God. It made their hearts glow with wonder. But this experience was only complete when they moved to the table, and Jesus gave thanks over bread, broke it, and gave it to them. Now, Jesus was not only someone they learned about, but someone who was with them. Then he disappeared, he vanished from their sight, as if to say, “Now that I’m risen and will soon be returning to my Father, this is how I will come to you until I return at the Last Day. My Words will be with you; and my body and blood will be with you in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine that happen at the table. You will know me in these ways that I am leaving behind for you.”
Do you see the pattern? In the first part of our worship, the Bible explains who Jesus is; in the second part, Jesus Himself comes to our table. With the Emmaus experience, Jesus laid out how He was going to give himself to us. He is still doing it. And that’s what we’re really doing here.
A pastor once asked a group of very young children, “Why do you go to church?” One little girl responded, “We go to church to be with Jesus.” Now before you say, “Oh, what a cute story,” and then forget it, just understand this: That little girl was absolutely right. I urge you, in a time where there are Jesus options everywhere, from Internet and TV to the Christian bookstore and concert hall, to look for Jesus where He said he would be! At Emmaus he demonstrated He would be in His Word, and in the breaking of the bread. He continues to come to us through this pattern to save us from the depths of hell. He comes to us through Word, Bread and Wine to forgive our sins yet again! Within this framework, the risen and living Son of God touches you, forgives your sin, breathes faith and life into you, renovates your heart, resets your values and welcomes you to your place in His kingdom!
So I ask you: Why do you go to church—to be with Jesus? Please, let that be your answer. Amen.