When we have a romantic view of discipleship, we imagine ourselves giving up everything for Jesus as the world admires our faith and people express their heartfelt gratitude for our sacrificial service. But the cost of discipleship will likely be the scorn of a world that sees you throwing away your future to help people who can give you nothing in return. Discipleship may mean sacrificing for others who will have no appreciation for what you have done – much like Jesus, who was ridiculed as he died on the cross.
Jon Walker in Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, page 41.
I have to admit that from time to time it’s nice to receive a pat on the back for a job well done. Perhaps it was a particularly poignant sermon or an appropriately astute newsletter article that tripped someone’s trigger, and brought them to share words such as “Wow! Now THAT was a sermon!” or “I cannot remember the last time I read something so deep and meaningful.” Surely, to hear verbal platitudes pleases me, but then the Holy Spirit hits me right between the eyes with, “Come on, Steve. What happened to your daily prayer of ‘All for you, Lord. Today is all for you.’?” It’s so tempting to want to receive credit that we – I – often forget for whom we perform our daily tasks, be they preaching a sermon or writing an article or operating a drill press; every action we make is intended to be to the glory of God.
So, discipleship – our sharing and giving of the gifts and talents received at our Holy Baptism – in part begins with the understanding that there will be times in our lives when no one – not one person – will say, “Thank you” or “Bless you” or “I appreciate so much what you have done.” For those of us who fall on the Touchy-Feely range of every possible personality test, this is not good news. We thirst for the attention. We hunger for the adulation. We would rather die than go unnoticed.
Thirst. Hunger. Die. Oh, yeah. Someone else did that for us, right? Someone whom we attention seekers often ignore, that same one whose very person we fail to praise for our reconciliation, resurrection, and relationship with God. At what point in the four gospels did anyone – ANYONE – come up to Jesus as he was hanging from the cross and simply say, “Thanks”? Even those who wept cried out of their own sense of loss and, while that was certainly to be expected, even his own mother failed to realize that her son – the Son – was continuing to fulfill the covenant made by Jesus’ Father long ago: We are a humanity who needs saved.
For those of us who crave attention even just a little bit, join me today in pledging to God our selflessness and our humility. Shall we be honored to be chosen by God for the tasks that lay ahead for our congregation, synod, and ELCA in such a way that we commit to a purer discipleship? What do you say? I know I need to do so.
To God be the Glory for all God has done,
An assembly that finds meaning in new and diverse musical expressions will be expanding its own identity and its own proclamation. In the contrast provided by these new expressions, an assembly begins to understand itself in new ways. Its own proclamation becomes more complex as it engages a growing richness of meaning (73).
The Sunday Assembly Companion text to the Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal (2008)
I thought it was time to comment upon the work of God in the new Early Service. In a word: Wow!
When we took the survey back in Fall, 2015 there were 19 people who responded they would attend regularly the Early Service. Since then, that service has produced a weekly average attendance of in the mid-20s, and recently we received a new member to the congregation from that service. Members continue to volunteer countless hours in selecting music, in preparing the non-bulletin screen format, and in running the tech during worship. We have had success signing up worship assistants, and the Altar Guild has been kind enough to make sure the Table is dressed before we begin worship at 8:30 AM. We’ve chosen to go without an acolyte, crucifer, and I wear my black uniform-of-the-day in lieu of the traditional alb and cincture. All in all, the atmosphere is friendly, and the work of the Holy Spirit is evident as the congregation is feeling more comfortable with continuous communion and the more upbeat liturgical music from the ELW (see above). About the only thing we haven’t experienced in the Early Service yet … YET… is a baptism!
The companion text to the ELW – the official hymnal of the ELCA – provides us with good commentary: this assembly has begun to understand itself in new ways. Because of the high use of technology, we expect glitches from time to time. Occasionally, we struggle to find a sound level that satisfies both music leaders and the congregation. Religiously, the service runs over by five minutes; however, the weekly Announcement sheet, the music selection, and the enthusiasm of the congregation have made technical and time boo-boos pale in comparison to the rich worship experience this service offers.
I wish to offer a big thanks to the congregation for the discussions, planning, and heart that went into the development of this service. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the Early Service is meeting the worshipping, evangelical, and spiritual needs of a growing family of Christian sisters and brothers in Christ, and that is why we are here.
To God be the Glory for all God has done, Pastor Steve
This monthly column is written to those who are suffering today, and I mean suffering in a big way. If you are not suffering, be thankful; then, share this article with someone who greatly needs the assurance of God.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living;
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:13-14
These final verses of Psalm 27 are intended to give the reader / listener confidence and courage. The twelve verses before these two implore of the Lord …when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!”(v. 7); however, the author knows that the Lord is righteous enough to …hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble (v.5). The author has a realistic hope in God because the author has a realistic understanding of the human frailty of a heart weakened by fear.
What makes you fearful? What circumstances do you face routinely that serve to bring destruction to your sense of a healthy relationship with God and with others? “I’m not good enough for God” one will say; another will quip sarcastically “I have no idea what God sees in me, because I don’t see anything in me.” Yes; sadly, these are actual comments I’ve heard over the years from people. They just don’t seem to have a handle on how to love themselves.
As a former instructor in behavior modification, I know that the mind is conditioned beginning from birth to react to positive and negative images, words, reinforcements, and even facial expressions. Children who live in a violent home develop differently from those who live in a peaceful home, for example. Enter in such factors as race, demographics, poverty, health…well, let’s just say there is no wonder how deeply all these factors play in human development.
Yet, God is our constant. Yes, I could tell you that your suffering would end if you would just pray harder or would ask for more faith, but then that wouldn’t be either the biblical or Lutheran response you would deserve. Rather, find your strength – your confidence – in the One who dwells in you and with you in the land of the living, and whose love for you will flood your heart with courage if you will but wait for the Lord.
Believe in one of the very basic tenets of our Lutheran understanding of faith: it can and will sustain you. Turn to God in prayer; ask not for a quick fix or for answers that don’t matter in the long run. Rather, ask for the strength to withstand your suffering and for the patience to make it through just one more day. Ask God not for your problems to go away but for the Spirit of Truth to come to you in the form of a helpful friend or of a kind member of your family. Know that you are not alone in your grief; know that the Lord’s very understanding of humanity includes Jesus’ knowledge of human suffering. In fact, I would say that no one in history understands human suffering more than Jesus does.
Turn to those who have loved you before. Turn to those who have provided for you before. This is not a time for pride, and this is most certainly not a time for hiding. Be bold in the Holy Spirit and be confident in the Lord by asking for a loving response from your family here at Redeemer. We love you; always remember that.
Let your heart take courage,
We know spring is turning to summer when we hear the call of the umpire standing behind the catcher at home plate. From the professional level in packed stadiums down to T-ball in local parks, baseball is in full swing. Families gather to watch their sons and daughters take a whack at the ball as it comes hurling (or in the case of T-ball, arching) toward the batter. The question for every batter during every pitch is a singular one: “Should I swing at this pitch?”
A few weeks ago I used baseball in one of my sermons to point out that God is the batter and we are the bat. We cannot take credit for the work of God, but we can be thankful that God has chosen us – God’s team – to perform the work of God in the world. As such, as God’s bats we are part of something powerful; we are utilized by God to right the wrongs in the world all the while singing God’s praises and sharing the story of God with others.
But just as the shepherd is also the sheep, for a moment transition from being the bat to the batter. Let me ask you again: “Should I swing at this pitch?” We are approached with opportunities daily to take a swing at Sin with courage and conviction. In God there is to be no hunger, no thirst, no loneliness, no despair, and yet Sin has thrown curve balls at humanity since the first game in the Garden of Eden. We find ourselves tempted to back away in fear, or to look away in apprehension, when what we need to do is to grind our cleats into the dirt, position ourselves appropriately, and swing away.
Be that player; be THAT Christian. With God’s help, stand up to temptation with the full knowledge that it has no power over you because God in the person of Jesus Christ has already won the game! Victory is ours because at a baseball game 2000 years ago one player – one and only one – had the courage to step up to the plate for humanity when no one else could. Out of love, obedience, and respect for this Christ (who, by the way, is already in the Hall of Fame), the Father, and the Holy Spirit, step courageously up to the plate, too, and take a swing.
Do that, and soon you will realize that in Jesus Christ you can never strike out!
To God be the Glory for all God has done,
“He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!”
Can there be any more exciting, hopeful words spoken in worship than those spoken on Easter morning? The Tomb has been emptied by the rising of the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ words have come true: he told us he would suffer, die, and rise again in three days. We bear witness to this greatness every year, so this year I want to ask you a question.
“With whom have you shared this exciting and hopeful news?”
Our delight is in Jesus Christ, and that delight is intended to be shared with the world. You would tell everyone about that great game you saw on Saturday, right? You would pull people together at the water cooler at work and share with them the plot of that exciting movie you just sat through, right? Well, how about sharing news that is greater than any ball game recap or movie review?
The Cross is a reminder for us; death no longer has any power over us. The Empty Tomb is a reminder for us, too: God makes good on God’s promises, for we are the people of the Resurrection! We received that good news in our baptism, and we continue to receive that good news each week in Word and Sacrament. Our LAMB (Lutherans Are Mission Builders) project is picking up steam; people are telling me that they have witnessed more than ever before, and a few have even shared with me they actually have invited others to worship. You can also be a LAMB by praying, helping, giving, loving, and forgiving. It’s all Good News.
So, this April, make a point of remembering every day that an empty tomb outside of Jerusalem has given us the hope of our own resurrection. Doesn’t the rest of the world need to hear this message, too?
To God be the Glory for All God has Done!