Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"His People" -- OSL Chapel Message

His People. That’s been your (Our Shepherd's) theme this year, and I’m sure you’ve had the chance to talk about what it means to be “His People.” God’s people. People who belong to God because of what Jesus has done. People who belong to God because of the Holy Spirit’s action in giving us faith. I’m sure you’ve covered all of those ideas, so this morning, I just wanted to introduce you to some of His People. We’re going to take a trip around the world this morning, and it starts in Burkina Faso. That’s in Africa, in case you were wondering.

Let me introduce you to a man named Joakim. Joakim lives in Africa, but he speaks French, and one day he met a man who as it turned out was a Lutheran missionary. That Lutheran missionary asked Joakim to help him learn the French language. Joakim agreed. So the missionary and Joakim got together and took turns reading from a French-language Bible. They had been doing this for a while when the missionary asked Joakim if he was a Christian. And this is what Joakim said. He said, “I was a Muslim until the first day that we read the Bible together. I had always thought that Jesus was a prophet like Muhammed and that Islam and Christianity were basically the same. I thought Jesus was a law-giver like Muhammed. I never heard that Jesus came as a Savior to pay for our sins. I had always tried to be a good Muslim but my sin haunted me. Now I know that Jesus came to die for me and because of what He has done, I can be sure that I will go to heaven.” That’s Joakim. One of His People.

Then there’s Renee, a young lady from Taiwan, who was involved with an international student ministry at University Lutheran Chapel in College Station, Texas. She came to many Bible studies, English conversation classes, and hospitality events, so there were high hopes that she would come to faith and be baptized. But then, when she and her husband and infant son returned to Taiwan in 2006 without that happening, the people at University Lutheran Chapel were disappointed.

Then one day the folks at University Lutheran Chapel got an e-mail. It was from Renee. She wrote to tell them that she had recently been baptized in Taiwan. That’s Renee, there, in Taiwan, off the coast of China. She’s one of His People.

I would also like you to know Slava Ostanin. Slava lives and works in Novisibirsk, Russia. He brings the Good News of Jesus to people who are in jail. He also reaches out to young people who have committee crimes and have been recently released from prison. He shares Jesus' love for them through conversations, giving them the printed Word of God in the Bible and other Christian literature, and giving away clothes, shoes, and basic necessities. He also sends those sorts of things to prisoners in other cities. Slava is doing some very hard work under rough conditions. He’s one of His People, too.

Let’s spend a few moments in Japan. In Japan, not only is professional baseball a big sport, so is high school baseball. Every spring there is a national tournament with televised games which are played in a major league stadium in Osaka. This year, Seibo Gakuen’s baseball team made it to the tournament for the first time in their school’s history. (Seibo Gakuen means Holy Hope.) They were just hoping to win the first game, but they went on to win the next four games as well and ended up coming in second place in the entire country. It was an exciting time for the players as well as for the school. And I want to tell you about a long standing tradition that they have at Seibo Gakuen. Since Seibo is a Lutheran School, every time they get a run, they sing the first stanza of the well known hymn, Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus. The words of that famous hymn echoed throughout the stadium during the course of the tournament. What an awesome witness their tradition turned out to be. Needless to say, the teachers, students, and the baseball team of Seibo Gakuen, or Holy Hope Lutheran School, are His People.

There’s one more person I want to talk about today. That’s you.

Just like Joakim, the first person I told you about, I hope you know that Jesus came to die for you and because of what He has done, you can be sure that you will go to heaven. Is the story of your life going to show that you believe that, too?

God makes us His People through baptism, just like Renee was baptized, the second person I told you about. God chose you when you were baptized! He wants you! He picked you out! How does that feel? Good? Yes, it feels good! So good, that we want other people to feel the same way!

You can be like a Slava Ostanin in Russia, helping out people that no one else would help. You can be His People like the students of Seibo Gakuen, Holy Hope Lutheran School, sending out the message of Jesus loud and clear.

You’ve heard a number of true stories this morning about real people who are His People. Some of them are very different from you. Others are probably quite a bit like you. What is your story going to be?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Are You A Kingdom Seeker?

But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6: 33

Today Jesus offers you yet again the antidote to worry and anxiety; the solution to stepping off of the treadmill of a mundane, humdrum existence. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” He says, “And all these things will be given to you as well.” Are you seeking the kingdom of God first, or in practical terms is that more of an afterthought for you?
If you’ve done a pretty poor job of kingdom seeking, now is the time to turn that around. And I have great news. You’re in the right place. You are hearing the Word today. It is the Word of Jesus(and the Holy Spirit active in that Word) that can change us and point us in a new direction. The Holy Spirit brings us right to Jesus Christ, because when you’re seeking the kingdom of God, you’re seeking Jesus. Jesus pours out the forgiveness he earned by his suffering and death right here in His Church. If your kingdom seeking has been so-so, there is forgiveness for you. If your ultimate concern has not been the true God, there is forgiveness and new life for you. If you’ve been trapped by your own misplaced priorities, there is freedom for you in Jesus. But let’s not use our freedom to fall right back into our old ways. Let’s use our freedom to seek the kingdom and the righteousness of Jesus, trusting in the promise He makes that when we do so, “all these things” will be given to us as well.
This is where God-given faith really carries us. First, faith trusts that Jesus has removed all our sins. He said, “It is finished.” Faith also trusts that Jesus rose from the grave to unlock heaven and let me in. Faith also trusts that when Jesus says things like: ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well,” He means it! Faith prompts and pushes us to actually try living that way, and to see what happens. Faith trusts that when my ultimate concern is Jesus, He will provide me with the things that I really need. I won’t have to chase after them. I won’t want to chase after them. I’ll want to chase after Him, knowing He’ll give me things that really matter. He’ll give me an abundance of the things I need to serve Him, so I can get on with it.
And please understand, you don’t have to be a missionary or a pastor or a teacher to be seeking first His kingdom. If you are a father, be the best father you can be to your child with the discipline and love of the Lord. If you are a mother, serve your children in love and grace. Husbands and wives, bring the forgiveness of Jesus into your relationship and submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Students, commit yourself to your studies and prepare for the life that God is calling you towards. Workers, do your tasks as if you were doing them for Jesus himself, and let your labor be an unspoken song of praise to God. This weekend we have opportunity to remember those who laid down their lives in defense of our nation, and we can say without reservation that their service to country was also service to God. Whoever you are and whatever you do, there is something that you can do well. Part of seeking first God’s kingdom is taking that “something” you do well and doing it for the Lord; to serve your neighbor; to convey the compassion of Christ to world desperate for it. When you chase after that, Jesus promises, you won’t have to worry about having the things that really matter.
You’ll have what really matters already.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reformation Service Planning Underway

The pastors of NE 7 circuit congregations (Lake, Ashtabula, and Northern Geauga counties) have initiated plans to conduct a Reformation-themed service on Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 7:00 p.m. The service will be held at Zion Lutheran Church in Painesville.

Please reserve this date on your calendar and check back for more information as it becomes available.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Matzke on Media" Site Update

Dear Readers,

As much as I enjoy writing, there just isn't enough time to do it as often (or as well) as I would prefer. Therefore, I've shut down "Matzke on Media," and when I have the opportunity I will mix a "cultural review" into the "Lake County Lutheran" site.

I can't stress enough how important your comments are to me--they let me know someone is actually reading, and I am genuinely interested in your point of view. In truth, the plug was pulled on "M.O.M." because I had a grand total of one comment left since January. That's not enough to keep this writer motivated, unfortunately.

So please keep visiting LCL and please leave a comment or two! And thanks for reading!

Good Search -- Easy Fundraiser

Since you're on the Web, chances are you use search engines. "Good Search" is a search engine powered by Yahoo that donates a little bit ($0.01 per search) to your designated charity or organization. It is incredibly simple to use. Just go to their site and follow the easy directions. (I've added them to "LCL Links" on the sidebar.) Please consider Our Shepherd Lutheran School or St. Paul's Lutheran Preschool as your recipient!

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Good Mystery

For Trinity Sunday, I wanted to write a sermon that avoided cliche, yet said something worthwhile about our Triune God (with an empasis on Law and Gospel). How did I do?

There’s something to be said for a good mystery. When somebody says that, you know what they mean. There’s some story that has captured their imagination, with a number of twists and turns and usually, then a satisfying, if not a happy ending. Some of my favorite TV shows, movies, and novels have had a strong element of mystery to them. Maybe you’re the same way.
However, you either like mystery, or you don’t. You’re either OK with not knowing something, or it bothers you. Are you one of those people who goes to the movies and spends your time asking the person next to you, “What’s happening now?” Truthfully, it’s human nature to want to know “why;” to want to have things explained; and if something doesn’t fit into a nice, tidy box; if it doesn’t “make sense,” we have a strong tendency to reject it out of hand. This happens in every part of our lives, including the spiritual part, and that’s a problem. It’s a problem because the Bible describes a reality that, on the surface, doesn’t “make sense.” It describes a God that doesn’t fit into anybody’s box. A person who is uncomfortable with mystery is a person who is going to be uncomfortable with faith. Are you that person?
In some ways, we all are. We don’t like it too much when we hear about a God who demands things. Who is He to tell me what I can and can’t do? We don’t like too much when God doesn’t act the way we think He ought to. When He’s late on answering a prayer. When he lets some lowlife “sinner” slide. Sometimes the problem is not so much that God is a mystery--the reason why He does things is a mystery to us, and we think we know a better way. I believe a lady named Eve bought into this very temptation: It’s a mystery that God wouldn’t let us eat from that one tree; what’s He hiding from us? I’ll show Him.” Adam didn’t say a word when the fruit was tossed his way, either. In our sinful nature, we hate the fact that God doesn’t always let us in on things, we resent Him for it, we really think we know better than Him, so we take a bite. And we think we’re onto something.
Here’s the tug-of-war: we think we ought to be able to define our own reality, but we’re not able. We didn’t make this reality. Someone else did. He gets to define reality, set the rules, create the way things run. We don’t like God’s mysteries because they humble us. There are things we will never know, never understand, and never control. Part of what it means to repent is to let go of the need to figure out every last little thing, as if our figuring it out makes it true. Even better, repenting means we let God define reality and stop trying to do the job ourselves.
When we repent this way, we’re then ready for God to tell us who He is. We won’t be threatened by mystery, because we realize there’s no other way. Think for a moment—imagine you are looking down at an anthill on your driveway. You’re watching the ants go back and forth, doing their ant tasks. Now imagine that you had an overwhelming urge to explain yourself to those ants. You really want those ants to know who you are and what you’re about. How could you, a human being, possibly communicate in a meaningful way with these insects? Good question. Here’s the analogy—if that’s the gap between you and the ants, imagine the gap between God and human. There’s no comparison. Except…
…we hear in Genesis that man and woman were created in the image of God. Even in our fallen state, we bear more of a likeness to God than the ant does. More than that, God can communicate with us through language. He can tell us things. We can listen and react. And the most important thing God tells us is that He closed the gap between God and human. He did that in His Son, Jesus. Now that’s absolutely a mystery, but that’s what He says, and remember, we’re letting him define things.
He also says that He is to be known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He says that through the Son, Jesus, He reconciled the world to Himself, not counting sins against people. He says that the Holy Spirit gives us what we need to embrace the mystery of a Father who would give up His Son; the mystery of a Son, a King who would not cling in fear to his throne, but instead come down to become one of the ants—the Creator becoming one of the creatures! The same Holy Spirit gives us what we need to embrace the mystery of God and man together in one Jesus—the mystery of God and man dying as the ultimate sin sacrifice—the deepest mystery of Jesus—alive after dying. And perhaps most mysterious of all—all of it was done for your benefit; for your rescue; for your redemption; for your life after dying. The Holy Spirit works in your heart and mind to convince you that there is a terrible price to be paid for your sin. The Spirit also moves you to trust that Jesus alone is responsible for paying that price, seeing you out of hell and into heaven. He is God—knowable and lovable. This good mystery is our life and joy forever. Amen.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rev. Gerald Matzke's Circuit Sermon

The following message was presented by my Dad at today's circuit meeting. Good Stuff!

“Undershepherds by the Holy Spirit’s Call” John 10:1-10
Since seminary days have you had anyone try to summarize or evaluate your sermons? We have our confirmation students do a sermon summary that answers a few questions about Law and Gospel content and application. Those are certainly interesting. You read what some of the students claim you said and you wonder where they got that from. I just started an adult Bible Class on Law and Gospel and at the end of the first lesson, the study suggests that the participants listen to a TV preacher and try to pick out Law and Gospel, an interesting challenge. One person in my class didn’t do that but took notes on my sermon this past Sunday in the early service, just before Bible Class. He also asked His family to do the same. As he looked at what they wrote and compared it to what he wrote he was surprised at some of the differences. It brings up an good point that is true about most people. Not everyone is going to hear all that you think you said to them. You may have thought that your well constructed sentences couldn’t possibly be misunderstood but something happens when those sentences reach ears that might not be ready to hear and understand what you have to say. Those who hear often come from very different circumstances and what they hear can be colored by background, education, or even what happened at home as they were getting ready to come to church.
When we as preachers hear the Gospel lesson for today, one of the things that probably stands out for us is the fact that even the followers of Jesus didn’t always understand what He was saying to them. Does that mean He did a bad job of teaching? I don’t think so. They may not have been ready to hear what He had to say. He even used a good illustration but it fell on ears that weren’t quite tuned in to His point.
If Jesus, true God and sinless true man, could not always get His point across, where does that leave us? I know it happens to me and I’m sure that it happens to you as well. Our messages are not always as crystal clear as we think they ought to be. While we have to take into consideration that our hearers are all different, that doesn’t always account for our lack of clarity. Who of us can honestly say that we spend an adequate amount of time researching, molding and crafting every sermon that we present? If you do, I hold you in great esteem. With the press for time due to hospital and shut-in calls, meetings to prepare for, counseling sessions, weddings and funerals, and the occasional drop-in visitor who just wants a few minutes of our time and leaves an hour and a half later, what ought to be our number 1 priority of the week becomes a poorly prepared dish that sat on the back burner too long. It shouldn’t be surprising then that multiple interpretations of your sermon are floating around in the minds of the people in your congregation.
What can we do? We can look to Jesus and His example of teaching. When the disciples didn’t understand, He started over again and used a different approach. We don’t always have that luxury. We don’t always have that divine wisdom either. As attention spans are getting shorter in our fast paced age, we generally have one chance to make our point and we better do it well the first time. If we keep comparing ourselves to Jesus though, we are only going to beat ourselves up until we have very little energy to go on. We can look to Jesus though. Not for an example, but for forgiveness. When we fail to do our tasks adequately and we honestly know that we could have done better, we need to bring that burden to the Lord and cast those burden on Him because He cares for us. Just as we preach and teach forgiveness, we also need to call ourselves to repentance and look to Jesus alone for the forgiveness that we so desperately need. In Sunday’s Gospel lesson we heard, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” When we are thirsty, we too can come to our Savior and drink. There we find the forgiveness that we need and the power of the Spirit to be refreshed and renewed for our continued service in the calling that we have received through that same Spirit.
We have been called, enlightened and sanctified by the Spirit to be undershepherds of the Good Shepherd. When the Spirit works in and through us, great things can happen, just as we heard in the Old Testament lesson and the in the lesson from Acts. We are given wisdom to understand and apply the Scriptures for those in our care. We are given courage to preach the word in season and out of season. We are given the privilege of proclaiming God’s Word, a Word that has power to change hearts and change lives. In spite of our weaknesses and in spite of the factors beyond our control that cause people to miss or misunderstand the things we say, the Spirit still works through God’s Word to accomplish God’s purposes.
May that assurance be a comfort to us as we seek to serve our Good Shepherd. May the Word and the Sacraments be our strength as we shepherd the flock in our care. Amen

Monday, May 5, 2008

Standing Firm in the Faith

God’s Word comes to us from Peter’s first letter, the fifth chapter, beginning at verse 6: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

It’s been suggested that 1 Peter is actually a sermon manuscript; a message from the apostle Peter to a group of newly baptized Christians. It’s an interesting theory. Peter certainly takes a strong stand regarding baptism in the third chapter when he writes, “baptism now saves you.” And so we turn to the apostle’s baptismal sermon today for some practical advice. That’s especially appropriate this weekend as five of our young people confirm they are living in their baptismal faith. And of course, the apostolic advice we receive here is good for all of us. May the Spirit of the living God help us take these words to heart.
Right away, Peter says: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” Humility, being humble, is kind of confusing. On one extreme, we aren’t built to be humble. We are built to crave the spotlight. We are built to want to be “The Man.” (Or “The Woman,” I guess.) We are built to win and to take the credit. There is an old Mac Davis song that says, “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.” But obviously, me-first pride is a mistake and is sin. At the other extreme, though, there is this idea that being humble means that I shouldn’t like myself—that I have no self-worth—that there’s no reason why anyone should value me. But that can’t be how God wants me live, either. The fact that Jesus died for me is proof that he values me. The truth is, in Jesus we see what humility really is.
When Jesus came into our world, He didn’t come with a me-first attitude. Nor did he come saying, “I’m no good and I can’t do anything right, but I’m going to be your Savior.” Being humble for Jesus meant that here was the Son of God; the second person of the eternal, Almighty Trinity, obediently willing to serve us; indeed, to give his life away for us. Paul writes in Philippians that Jesus took on the “nature of a servant.” The way Jesus saved us from eternal death shows us that being humble means being willing to serve. It has nothing to do with deflecting praise or putting ourselves down. Being humble is being happy to set our own needs aside for the moment to help someone else. As baptized Christians we will look for opportunities to serve others. This is not normal behavior. The voices around us tell us that you’ve made it when there are people serving you. Being humble in a Christ-like way flips that around; it means you are looking for people to serve.
The next bit of advice Peter shares is this: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” At first, this sounds like one of those “easier said than done” Biblical truths. Stress, anxiety, worry—this is what we are used to. You may have learned to accept anxiety and worry as just part of the grind of living. God’s Word holds out another way. And it’s not just an empty, “don’t worry about it.” Peter writes: Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. Throw your worries on the broad shoulders of the Lord. He has your best interests in mind! Trust Him to manage things. Trust Him to work things out. I love the story of the little boy who was mindlessly stepping off the curb of a busy intersection. He would step up, and then lose his balance, step down, not paying attention to anything. The boy’s father finally had to snatch him by the arm and yank him out of the path of an oncoming bus. The boy’s response? “Dad, why’d you hurt my arm?” There are plenty of painful times in our lives, and sometimes we lash out at the Father who just yanked us out of harm’s way. But he didn’t do it to hurt you. He cares for you. He knows what’s best for you. A baptized Christian trusts that God always makes the right call, even when there’s pain.
With concern for each of us, Peter then writes: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” The fact that you are a baptized Christian makes you a target. We need to be aware of this. We need to be alert. That doesn’t mean we live in constant paranoid fear of the devil—however, we have to realize that Satan would love for you to lose your faith. And here’s how that predator works—in the animal world, a predator approaches as quietly as possible, trying not to be detected. The predator selects the weakest and most defenseless prey he can find, selects just the right angle, and strikes. The devil is not going to charge straight at you like some big dragony demon, bellowing, “Worship me!” He’s going to come at you silently, in a friend’s suggestion that religion is stupid; He’s going to sneak up on you in a teacher’s insistence that evolution is fact; He’s going to quietly suggest to you that missing church is no big deal and that there are better things to do than studying the Bible. He’s going to slink up behind you with the quiet thought that the hard time you’re having is proof that God doesn’t love you after all, and when you are weak in the Word and wandering from the pack, then he’s got you.
But can the devil just grab you like a lion grabs its prey? Not if you’re standing strong in God’s promises! Not if you’re standing strong in your baptismal identity! Peter says of the devil: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” Now please take note: Peter does not say “standing firm in your faith”; he says “standing firm in the faith”. Sometimes the way we say things makes it sound like we have faith in our faith! Let’s be clear: baptized Christians have faith in Jesus; not faith in their own faith! Having faith in my own faith is self-centered, and leads to ideas such as: if I just believe enough, my wish will come true; if I would’ve just prayed for the right thing the right way, then it would’ve happened for me. In the end, we just end up looking back at ourselves. True faith is not self-centered, it is Christ-centered. True faith relies on what Jesus has done and on what Jesus is currently doing. So when Peter says “Resist him, standing firm in the faith,” he means firmly believe in Jesus Christ to give you protection against Satan’s attack. With the focus on Jesus, we are reminded that He made Satan a lame duck by dying and rising again. With the focus on Jesus, we are reminded that he descended into hell for the same reason a conquering army rides into their enemy’s vanquished capital city: to announce victory--to demonstrate power. This is who is on your side when Satan is stalking you. Standing firm in the faith is really just a matter of remembering who it is that is on your side. It’s Jesus. Do all that you can to know Him well—that happens through worship, studying his teachings, and humbling yourself to serve those in need.
Peter finishes this portion of his baptismal sermon by saying: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” This is an important promise. Please pay attention to it. Peter is saying that after those attacks come, after the hard times rock your life, the God of all grace will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast, steadfast meaning “determined” or “committed”. After the storms come, and even during the storms, He is sending you his strength—sending you his forgiveness—sending you new life, new attitudes, new hope. That’s the God and Father you have. We don’t deserve this treatment at all, if we think about our sins, our lack of trust, and so on. But that’s why Peter calls him the God of all grace. Grace is receiving kindness we don’t deserve. Much more than merely kindness, you are loved by God. You are his prized possession. When you were baptized, He wrote his name on you to prove it. May each of us live our lives in a way that brings honor to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.