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Sunday, July 26, 2015

07262015 8th Sunday After Trinity - We are children of God...heirs of God!

Sermon Audio (Will be posted soon!)

July 26, 2015
We are children of God…heirs of God!
“Congratulations, you have just won, the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes!”  For years these words were dreamed of by many people throughout our country.  Television commercials were filmed, media hype was in full gear on television, in the mail, newspapers and even magazines.  Everybody knew what Publisher’s Clearing House was and that you were going to win at least a million dollars.  At that time, it was a large sum of money.  There were even some people who would on the day the winners were announced would keep an eye out at their door, because, they wanted to be the big winners.  Unlike today of seeing the post on Facebook that the ‘prize van’ has been spotted in the neighborhood, the excitement was so tangible before cell phones and the internet that if someone saw balloons or the ‘prize van’ in their neighborhood, people would run out into their yards, chasing the van, hoping to be the heirs of the prize being given. 

In light of this, why are Christians not as excited about eternal life?  Why are Christians not as excited about coming to church, where we hear the Word of God or receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life from God?  Why are Christians not as excited about being the heir of eternal life from Jesus Christ?  Why are we not as excited about church as people were for ‘Publisher’s Clearing House’, the fair, a new restaurant or even Friday night football under the lights or watching a wrestling match at the Max?  Simply it may be we do not clearly understand that we Christians, we who gather at church, whether here at Emmanuel or any other Christian church, “We are children of God…heirs of God!”.

Paul, the author of the Letter to the Romans and our epistle this morning gives a little insight to our heritage and puts flesh on what being an heir of God means.  Some would even say, Paul rolls up the proverbial newspaper and whacks Christians on the nose.  We don’t like the feeling of being ‘outed’ for what we have chosen to do and what we make a priority, yet Paul goes so far as to say, “we are obligated” as Christians.  Yet, we probably wonder and ask, what are we obligated to as Christians?  We think of school and making sure our children get to school as an obligation or ‘requirement’, paying our taxes or bank and land payments, making sure the pivots that water the corn is an obligation to our employer, our job and our lifestyle, but our obligation here in the church is not ‘law based’, but Gospel based.  We live by grace, how can grace and the forgiveness of sins have an obligation associated with it?

Paul wants us to understand we should be excited about church and about bringing others, not out of obligation, but out of the sheer joy of what we will receive, eternal life as heirs of God.  Last week, it was stated by Paul earlier in Romans that we receive eternal life, for since “we are children of God…heirs of God” we receive the greatest gift of God entrance into heaven for all eternity. 

Yet, as a free gift we should want to share it with others and have a desire to bring others to hear the good news.  But it is sometimes hard for us, because we don’t want to be seen as an evangelist or ‘fundamentalist Christian’.  Just as we love to tell our friends, neighbors and family of the impending birth of a child or grandchild, the Good News of Jesus Christ should have the same urgency and joy.  We should feel a clear desire to get up and tell others about what God is offering us through His Son Jesus Christ.

If we don’t feel this way, don’t want to share the message of the Gospel, don’t want to share what Jesus Christ did on the Cross of Calvary, don’t want others to hear about free salvation offered by Jesus Christ we then must not love our neighbors, family or friends.  But I don’t think this is our intention, nor our personal belief.  But our not telling others is exactly what the devil wants us to do and be, not tell the Good News.  The devil wants us to be apathetic and not share the gift of God for all of mankind.

Recently, I was reminded of how important our mission and ministry here at Emmanuel is for not only the church, but each of us individually and what an influence we can have upon others.  So profound is the mission and ministry of Emmanuel that it was clearly demonstrated by an event that began in our Vacation Bible School.

One of the craft ideas that was used for the Pre-Schoolers was painting Crosses.  This may seem like a no brainer, the painting of a cross at VBS, but in the end it had a profound impact.  When the activity was first conceived, there were enough crosses that each of the children could make more than one.  An idea was thought up by Michele, my wife.  What about having each of the children make an extra cross and they be taken to Wheat Ridge to be given to the residents.  One thing led to another and the activity was completed by the kids during the week.  The kids were excited and loved having the opportunity to paint a little more.  So Friday afternoon the week of VBS, Michele took, the crosses, with one of the children who helped make the crosses and two other campers from VBS.

As was told to me later, the residents at Wheat Ridge loved the gift of the crosses.  These simple gifts made by the small hands of the Pre-School group made the residents feel they were connected, to our Vacation Bible School here at Emmanuel.  Not only were they connected, they were purposefully thought of and were remembered with the cross and what it stands for, eternal life offered by Jesus Christ.

What makes this more poignant, is that the idea was originally meant only for the members of Emmanuel who live at Wheat Ridge.  However, once word spread around Wheat Ridge, which was surprising since the residents don’t move as fast, of the gift of the crosses, residents who saw the three little girls stopped them in the halls and were asking if there were enough crosses for them to have one as well.

The cross decorated by the children, though simple to make, showed how important our connection with the residents at Wheat Ridge is for the message of the Gospel.  How profound the message of Jesus Christ is and what an impact it can have when we take the time to share the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone we meet.  We are called to this mission and ministry to share in the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for all of mankind, but especially including all of mankind knowing the truth that “we are children of God, but especially heirs of God” who are offered eternal life through Jesus Christ.  Let’s share that Gospel message and the love of Jesus Christ for all of mankind and be the Church.  AMEN.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

07232015 Funeral Sermon Sylvia Mae Hybl

Sermon Audio (Will be posted soon!)

Funeral Sermon
Sylvia Mae Hybl
July 23, 2015

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

If you were to travel to the desert southwest, it is clear that not only is it dry and a desert, but everything, from the vegetation, the animals and even the people have struggled being controlled.  From trying to establish a life, a home and even a living, it is clear that everyone living there struggles, whether with making a living or even being controlled by the situations they encounter.  Sylvia loved the Southwest.  When travelling there to help her friends, Sylvia felt at home.  But there was a reason why the Southwest was her favorite place.  Sylvia like a lot of us gathered here today struggled throughout her life.  We who gather struggle with health, jobs, relationships, school or a reality or a past that we had no control over.  But in the desert, the struggle that Sylvia personally felt was diminished.  Sylvia felt free to be the person that God had made her to be.

Today, we gather, not in a desert, but as family and friends who have encountered death very clearly and closely with our loss of Sylvia.  Sylvia no longer struggles.  She is accepted and she has been welcomed.  For today we gather to celebrate the fulfillment by God of the promise made to Sylvia in her Holy Baptism.  Though life seemed to continuously knock her down, Sylvia was promised by God very clearly an offer of grace that could not be duplicated, nor equaled by any here on earth.  For when God by the hands of a Shepherd He chose washed Sylvia with Water and the Word of God in Holy Baptism, God offered Sylvia eternal life and salvation by her baptism into Jesus Christ life, death and resurrection.

With Water intimately connected to Word, God offered to Sylvia the gift of eternal life.  When we spoke only a few short weeks ago, we both knew that Sylvia’s time here on earth was short.  We laughed, we cried, we talked of the times at Spillville and the fireworks, our summer visits by all of her family, siblings, nieces and nephews, and all of the people she held dear.  We also talked about the truth she had heard from her birth of what Jesus Christ offered her in Holy Baptism.  And that when the time came God would fulfill His promise to her with her entrance into eternity, her entrance into the church triumphant, her entrance into the place prepared for her by her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

For Jesus words found in the Gospel of St. John I just read are true.  God has prepared a place for Sylvia.  But God prepared it, not because she deserved it, but clearly and specifically because of His great love for Sylvia and for all of mankind.  You see, Jesus Christ prepared a place for Sylvia, because He wants to relieve the struggles we carry today.  We struggle with relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we struggle with our weight, we struggle with how we are treated by friends, family and especially our society, but God in preparing a place for us makes good on the promise made to each of us in our baptism into Jesus Christ life, death and resurrection.

You see, Jesus said it plainly, “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself”.  And God has received Sylvia into His Holy Hands.  God clearly and firmly now has lifted all the struggles from Sylvia and now she rests with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  For the struggles she dealt with have been paid and atoned for by Jesus Christ innocent death on Calvary.  No longer does Sylvia have the pain associated with her body, nor the weight of the world she carried for all the cats that she loved throughout the years.  Sylvia no longer bears the burdens of sin, because Jesus Christ lifted all of that from her shoulders and offered her eternal life with the forgiveness He won for her and for each of us on Calvary.

So now Sylvia today clearly rests in the place prepared for her and one day for each of us, by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Yet, this only occurs, because of something Sylvia firmly believed.  You see when Sylvia lived in Arizona, she enjoyed singing in the choir.  One Easter her choir sang a song that clearly proclaimed not only the preparation of a place for each of us in God’s Kingdom, but a clear truth we who gather here today need to hear and sing from the roof tops.

On that Easter Sunday, the choir sang, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”.  That Easter Ballad clearly states our belief in Jesus Christ and what He did in His rising from the grave.  He was triumphant and conquered even death for each of us.  But especially stanza 7 states, “He Lives my mansion to prepare; He lives to bring me safely there.”

Today God fulfills this for Sylvia and one day for each of us.  May we not only believe Jesus Christ lives, but He offers us the greatest gift of grace for all of mankind with His life that He lived, His death where He conquered that which confronts us today, but especially His resurrection that we have been baptized into.  For God’s gift of grace is freely given for each of us and may God’s Gospel comfort each of us, but especially Virginia, Dick, Chuck and Gloria and all the family who come to say goodbye to Sylvia as she now rests from her labors in her Lord and Saviors arms.  AMEN.

Now may the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds and may we find comfort and peace from our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ Who holds Sylvia in His Holy Arms.  AMEN.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

07192015 7th Sunday After Trinity - We are given the free gift of God...eternal life!

Sermon Audio (Will be posted soon)

July 19, 2015
We are given the free gift of God…eternal life!

Today we gather here at Emmanuel, not in a prison, but as prisoners set free.  Let me explain.  You see we who gather here today who have been baptized into Jesus Christ life, death and resurrection are no longer in the shackles of the devil, bound by our temptation to go against God and His Word.  We when Water and Word were poured over our heads and the sign of the cross made over our hearts were set free.  Like a prisoner who has been in the jail cell, solitary confinement and not seen the light of day for years, we have been set free by the Blood of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, Jesus Christ.  We have been set free out of the great love of God for all of mankind, but especially for each and every one of us and we have been given our freedom.  But it is not any ordinary freedom, in our freedom, “we are given the free gift of God…eternal life!”

The gift God has given us former prisoners is the gift that leads to life eternal.  When God made us whole through Water and Word, the bonds of sin were loosed and we have been set free.  The darkness that surrounded us and hemmed us in was the prison we felt in our hearts and it no longer has dominion over us and we are free in Christ having been given the “free gift of God…eternal life!”  And this gift is given because of God’s love for us manifest in what Jesus Christ did on the Cross of Calvary that offers us freedom and eternal life.

But our society and you might ask, “I don’t feel free, so what proof do you have?”  The proof of our freedom comes from what we receive from the Altar of God.  From the Altar, when we partake of Jesus Christ Body and Blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins, we receive eternal life.  Our partaking of God’s Holy Supper prepared for us and first instituted for us on Maundy Thursday by Jesus Christ, it is a foretaste of the feast to come of eternal life.  With our taking the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ on our lips we partake of the Mystical Meal that God has prepared and it is “the free gift of God” for the people of God.  We receive from God the gift of His Son and salvation for each and every one of us.

No longer then are we prisoners, but with our receipt of Jesus Christ Body and Blood, we become inheritors of eternal life and salvation and no longer are bound in any prison of the devil’s making.  Yet, the devil is wily and tempts us with all of his tricks to not only question God, but doubt even God’s existence and God’s love for us.  When we lose our crops to storms, winter kill, hail and dry weather, the devil seeks to get us to question God.  Consider Job who lost everything, family, goods, livestock and ultimately disease on his own body, it was not caused by God, but it was caused by the devil.  Because the devil believed Job would deny God.  But Job didn’t and we shouldn’t doubt or deny God either, no matter what we lose, encounter in our daily lives nor what might happen to us.
For God wants us to trust Him and believe that what we receive from the Altar is not only the gift of God, but a clear and manifest gift of eternal life.  For God’s gift given offers us a clear relationship with Him in a very tangible way that all of us so desperately want.  The relationship we want we are offered daily, but we sometimes don’t do the simplest thing and seek to find the relationship God seeks to have with us.

There was once a young man named John, who loved his Father and only wanted one thing from his father.  It wasn’t a relationship, but a car.  As John neared graduation like most kids, John dropped hints every chance he could that all he ever wanted was a new car.  His father was well to do and money was not an issue.

The day of the sons graduation came and the son was excited.  Through all the pomp and circumstance, the son, only thought of the neatly wrapped present laying on the table at home.  After the ceremony and greeting all the friends and well wishers, the son finally arrived home and found his father waiting with the present in his hand.  Hurriedly, the boy unwrapped the present.  It was a box.  Inside the box he thought would be the keys to his new car.  He opened the box and to his utter shock and dismay, wasn’t the keys, but a Holy Bible, with his name embossed on the front cover.  With the Bible on a card, a simple statement, “Enclosed is My Gift to you!  Love, Dad”.  In utter shock and amazement believing that what the Bible said was the gift, John threw the bible at his father and ran out of the house and never returned.

Many years later, the father passed away.  The son heard of his Father’s passing, but didn’t even bother to show up to honor his memory, even though he lived in the same city.  Days passed and one evening, while home alone, there was a knock on his door.  Having remained a bachelor obsessed with his life and trying to make up for the disappointment he felt from his family, he rose from his chair to find a man in a business suit at his door.  The man asked to come in and seeing no harm, John invited him in.  After the pleasantries were shared, the man simply stated, “I was asked to come here and give you this.”  Handing a box to John, he immediately recognized it as the box from his graduation, 50 years earlier.  He tried to give the box back, but the businessman continued, “I have been instructed to give you this box and to tell you to open it and the book.”

Feeling stunned, the now graying man, slowly opened the box and saw the Bible with his name embossed as he had fifty years earlier, with the same card with the message from his father that still revolted him even today.  Carefully he now lifted the Bible out and held it.  As he went to reach for the cover, a piece of ancient paper fell onto his lap.  Immediately he recognized the paper, it was from the local Ford dealership in town.  The paper John now held in his hands was a bill of sale that stated in large red stamped letters, “Paid in Full” for a brand new Cherry Red 1965 Mustang Convertible.

At that very moment, the mistake that John made became crystal clear.  With his throwing the Bible back at his father, he had slammed the door on the prison that had become his life and existence for the next fifty years.

So to for us today, we are being offered from the Altar of God, the key to eternal life found in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  For the Free Gift of God of Eternal Life is offered for all of mankind, but especially including all of us gathered here today.  Will we receive it like the John first did the gift of the Bible and live in bitterness for all eternity?  Or will we see it as the offer of grace of our Father in heaven and be set free from our self-imposed prison?  AMEN.

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07182015 Wedding of Mikail Freeman and Katera Johnson

Sermon Audio (Will be posted soon!)

July 18, 2015
Christ Binds You Together!

I have before you two today a cord.  It’s not just any cord, it is a special kind of cord used to connect an MP3 player, phone, computer or any kind of electronic device to our sound system.  It may seem strange to have this in front of us today as we celebrate your wedding, but you two are technologically savvy and this cord is a great metaphor for us to consider today.
You know we connected with each other and did all of our pre-marital counseling via computers.  We were connected via the electrons, we could see each other, but this cord is more tangible, it carries electrons.  Technology is great, but there is a better and greater connection you two have and are affirming here this afternoon gathered with your family and friends and especially in the sight of God.
John in his epistle which I read earlier, inspires each of us with these words, “love one another, for love is from God”.  How true this is, but God’s love for all of mankind and for you two here in God’s house declaring Your love is manifest for all of mankind simply in His Son Jesus Christ.  You see the love God has for all of mankind is clearly demonstrated by Jesus Christ.  John wrote, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into the world so that we might live through Him.”  We live and love through Jesus Christ and this is the essence and real meaning of Jesus Christ life and what He did.  Jesus Christ clearly demonstrated His love for us on the Cross of Calvary.
But you two Mikail and Katera have a clearer and more profound connection with God’s love.  Just as this cord connects an iPhone or CD player to the sound system and we were connected by the information super highway to complete the pre-marital counseling, God is connected to mankind, but especially and intimately connected to you two today.  God is connected by the fact and reality that God binds you two together in Holy Matrimony.
Remember when we were together, I described the binding nature of God in Jesus Christ as the third person in this relationship.  How in a few minutes you will join your hands together in front of your family and friends as you kneel before the Altar of God.  Then I using the symbol of my office, the stole, will bind your hands together and this the binding of your hands with the stole will represent Jesus Christ binding you two together. 
Alone as husband and wife you encounter a world that will try and break you two apart, whether it is your own independent streaks, your feeling that you can handle the waves of the world, with job, family or individual situations or circumstances, but these storms of life will break you apart.  But if you put on Christ and continue to be connected to each other and Him.  And remember you are bound by Christ in Holy Matrimony.  And remember in your being bound to each other and united by Christ, nothing will be able to separate you from God.  God through His Son Jesus Christ will demonstrate what true love is.  God will remind you of His love for you and bind you two together as husband and wife united, not as two, but the three, Mikail to Katera and Christ encircling both of you in the palms of His hands.

For it is Jesus Christ binding you together, connecting you together and being shared with one another that His love will radiate from you and your marriage as a clear demonstration of God and the truth that God is love.  Because John concluded our reading with the truth when he said, “if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.”  John’s words are my prayer for you.  I pray that you remain connected to one another, better than this cord for the sound system, but that the binding of Jesus Christ may remind each of you of His love for you and His binding of you two together, perfected in Jesus Christ binding the three of you together as husband and wife in His perfect love.  AMEN.
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Monday, July 13, 2015

07122015 6th Sunday After Trinity - We are to walk in newness of life!

Sermon Audio (Will be posted soon)

July 12, 2015
We are to walk in newness of life!
If you were to have read the epistle lesson this morning from Romans 6 and were asked to answer the following question, what would your answer be?  What do you think the main point of Romans 6:1-11 really is?  Is it A.  Jesus died so I can sin as much as I want.  B.  I’ve been baptized so I can live however I want.  C.  I’m freed from sin so I am not bound by my sin by my own doing.
Let me be a little more demonstrative.  (Uncover Answers)

If we were to poll you the members each of you probably would pick different answers.  And that is exactly what Paul was aiming at when he was writing to the Romans.  By inspiration of God, Paul was aiming directly at the root cause of each and every one of our lives, including my own, our fallen humanity, in essence our sin and our personal belief that we don’t sin.

When Paul was writing to the Romans, he was clearly aiming at a previous understanding of church in Judaism, which he was well acquainted and had been their ‘bull dog’, police and religious enforcement, in essence the ‘FBI of Judaism’.  For in the Old Testament, it was ‘works’ or the ‘offering of a burnt sacrifice’ that would please God.  But with Jesus Christ coming, living among men, healing the sick, feeding the poor, teaching the truth found from the Old Testament and ultimately dying on the Cross of Calvary, the works of the Law were fulfilled.  And we who gather here this morning are set free from the bonds of sin, death and the devil, by Jesus Christ, not by our own works.
So you see, each of the answers, I gave were imperfect, just as I am.  For each of the answers, pointed to what we do and have no accountability or responsibility to anyone, even to God.  For our responsibility is found in what Paul continues with.  We who have been baptized are called to a new idea, a new concept, a new calling. [Remove ANSWERS]   In, with and through our baptism into Jesus Christ life, death and especially His resurrection, we are called to live a new life.  “We are to walk in newness of life!”

Our newness of life is made new through our baptism into Jesus Christ.  When the Water and Word is poured over our heads, we are changed, we are made new and now we are to walk as children of God, brothers and sisters with Jesus Christ.  And our responsibility is three fold.  We are responsible to God, we are responsible to each other and we are responsible to the church.

Clearly we are responsible to God, because He is not only the Creator, but God the Father is the Author and perfecter of our faith.  And it is into His Son Jesus Christ life that we have been baptized.  When the Water and Word was poured over us, God clearly held our parents and our sponsors responsible for our faith life.  When we were confirmed, we took on that responsibility.  But the ultimate responsibility of the fulfillment of all law for all who have been baptized was taken by Jesus Christ.  For the responsibility Jesus Christ had for us and for our lives, He clearly shouldered.  Our sins, past, present and future God placed on the shoulders of Jesus Christ.  For as Paul said, “For the death that He died, He [that is Jesus Christ] died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.”  So you see even Jesus Christ was responsible to His Father in heaven for what He did and what Jesus Christ shoulders for each of us.

The responsibility we have to God continues in our responsibility to each other.  Adam and Eve’s son Cain tried to skirt the responsibility of his brother Abel, saying, “am I my brother’s keeper?” and we likewise try and not be responsible for our fellow brother’s and sisters in Christ.  Whether we do this by not confronting them when they go against the will of God, an action in the church or publically or even privately wrong a fellow brother or sister in Christ.  We sometimes even turn a blind eye when someone acts a certain way with the response, ‘that’s just how they are’, or even our children when they clearly disrespect, mistreat or are downright mean, whether to other children on the playground or even we their parents.  But God is clear, we are accountable.  Just as we are accountable for our children, we are accountable for the fellow heirs of the kingdom of God, but we do not do this alone.  Paul wrote this letter to the Romans as a missionary and wanted the people to seek and save the lost.  We are called to spread the Gospel and let the Gospel ‘break our sinful streak’.  We are called to proclaim it to the ends of the earth, because this is our responsibility, in the World, the United States, the state of Kansas, Sherman County and especially here in Goodland.
Because our responsibility which begins with God, spreads to those sitting around us or living next door even and especially spreads to all of us here in the church.  We gather here in this house of worship, proclaiming that God is love and God loves each and every one of us.  We also heard last week that we are to be a blessing in order that we can as Paul says, walk in newness of life.  For our newness is in light of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ and His death in order to set us free.  We are free to be God’s children, in mission for God’s purpose to spread the message of Jesus Christ.

No better explanation or example of this can be found than in why Emmanuel was founded.  There was a need for Lutheran services here in Goodland in the late 1800’s.  In 1921 a new initiative was sought for Lutheran services and our congregation held its first service.  We were a mission congregation just as Paul was hoping to inspire the Romans with his epistle.  Our heritage is clear and well documented and the founders of Emmanuel took responsibility not only for the leading of services, but outreach in the community.  God has blessed us, with the Word we have heard, the buildings we come and worship and teach in, but especially the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  As we turn the page and continue our history here at Emmanuel, let’s not abdicate the responsibility to others, but clearly as we do every year with the harvest of wheat or corn, go out into the fields of Goodland, harvest the crop that God has planted with the Word of God and be the church of Jesus Christ.

For the church of Jesus Christ holds high, not only the Cross of Christ, but the banner of the Gospel of Salvation for all of mankind, especially including each and every one of us gathered here who hear of God’s love for us and baptize our children into Jesus Christ, life, death, but especially His resurrection.  For God loves us so much He is love and we are inspired to love one another and ‘walk in newness of life.’  AMEN.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

07052015 5th Sunday After Trinity - We are to be a blessing!

Sermon Audio (Will be posted soon!)

July 5, 2015
We are to be a blessing!

When Emmanuel built the Education Wing, the congregation was busting at the seams with adults and kids.  Every imaginable space was being used from the loft here in the sanctuary, the rooms behind the stage downstairs, the overflow where a lot of people love to sit to the fellowship hall that bustled with Sunday School classes with dividers.  At the time building on a new addition to Emmanuel seemed the only thing that could be done in light of the fact that the sanctuary of our church had been built only 20 years earlier.  Pastor Clifton Osborn wrote the following in the booklet for the Dedication of the Educational Unit:
“God has blessed us.  We pray that this building will be a blessing to those who follow us….I thank God for the great unity displayed in this program.  Truly the love of God is at work in this congregation.”

Pastor Osborn clearly embodied the belief of Peter as he wrote our Epistle this morning.  Emmanuel was on the verge of large growth and needed the room to grow, expand and offer more for the ministry to and for the saints here at Emmanuel and for all of Goodland.

When Sky Ranch was here we used the educational wing, we channeled our forefather’s and followed the call Pastor Osborn clearly spoke of as we did exactly what Peter calls us to be.  “We are to be a blessing.”

And the blessing we are to be not only began with the building of the church in 1948, the education wing in 1968, but continues even today with our current state of our congregation.  We are a congregation that is different from 1968.  Some of the people are the same, a few more miles on each of us, some have entered the Church Triumphant, but we are ultimately the same.  For our identity is not in our outward appearance that for some like me is graying, but our identity is in what God has done for each and every one of us.

When we were baptized into the Body of Christ, the church, we were changed, reformed, reshaped and reborn as Children of God.  We identify with Jesus Christ and what He has done for each and every one of us.  We can then identify, emulate and be what Peter says, “Be a blessing”.  Our identity as followers of Jesus Christ not only connects us through our baptism to Jesus Christ, but changes each and every one of us.

Our identity also connects us to each other.  Not only are we identified with the church when we are out in the community.  We carry Jesus Christ with us where ever we go and in whatever we are doing.  As I have stated since Pentecost, God is love and we are to love one another.  Whether shopping at Wal-Mart, eating at McDonald’s or Steak and Shake or even playing cards with our friends.  People are watching what we do, what we say and how we act and this is why Peter says clearly we are to be a blessing.  When we are cursed, bless.  When you are talked bad about, bless.  When you have the opportunity to minister, bless.  For in our blessing others, we show our connection not only to Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 222 West 13th, Goodland, KS, but especially to Jesus Christ, in Whom we have been baptized.

Why should this matter?  Well this weekend is a prime example of why it should matter.  Last night our country celebrated July 4th with all the pomp and circumstance, fireworks going til even midnight, comradery with our family, friends and neighbors and a clear identification of our heritage.  Today we sing songs of our native land.  Our identity as American’s is clear, why can and do we not have this same identity as Christians, heirs of Jesus Christ and our baptism into His life, death and resurrection?

Peter inspires us clearly, we need to be a blessing and God can do this through each of us, we only need to fulfill what Pastor Osborn said since we are the legacy that can be a blessing for countless others with our church, our educational wing, but especially the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for all of mankind.  For our God is a God of love and we can share God’s love for each of us and with others as we bless each other and our community for God’s Glory.  Let’s be the blessing and love as Jesus Christ loves each and every one of us.  AMEN.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

06282015 4th Sunday After Trinity - We are adopted as sons and daughters!

Sermon Audio (Will be posted soon!)

June 28, 2015
We are adopted as sons and daughters!

The year was 2002.  Having been married for nearly three years and trying to have children the news we heard on September 13, 2001 from the fertility doctor was still raw.  It would cost us upwards of $40,000 to attempt to have a child.  And with a job in education, the cost was way more than we could afford.

We prayed after that faithful day and determined there may be other ways of having a family.  We thought, there are plenty of children in the world who do not have parents, why not adopt and create an instant family?  It would be easier we thought, but then it happened.

After filling out all the paperwork, making sure all the required forms were complete, the medical exams were complete and the background information about our past lives was complete, we thought we were ready for the next step.  Then it happened that faithful day in April 2002.  I was rushed from a routine doctor’s appointment and instantly put into the Intensive Care Unit.  For the next three days I was hooked to blood pressure cuffs, oxygen sensors, pulse and heart monitors and had more blood taken than I can imagine.  I walked on a treadmill and was stressed to see what was wrong with me.
With that one stay in the hospital the hope Michele and I had of having a family of our own was dashed upon the rocks of reality.  During some of our preliminary information sessions, they said, if one was ever hospitalized, for other than routine procedures, that would be an automatic disqualifier.  So we even by adoption would not be able to have a family of our own.  It was a tough pill to swallow and one that wasn’t fully and completely resolved until March 14, 2009 and you know the rest of that story.

During those next seven years, I was reminded of the passage we have heard this morning from Paul in our epistle.  Paul, writing to the Romans explains a truth we need to hear and clearly understand as Christians.  We are promised that in our baptism, we are adopted as sons and daughters of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ claims us and since we are adopted we become children of God in and through our baptism through Water and Word.

With the Water connected to the Word of God, we are intimately connected to the love that Jesus Christ has for all of mankind.  Just as we have been reminded since Pentecost that God is a God of love and He loves us unconditionally, Jesus Christ as God’s Son loves us just as much even to giving Himself on the Cross in order that we might have eternal life.

Since we who gather here today are adopted into the family of God, we are also heirs of eternal life.  And as heirs we cannot earn God’s love, nor can we earn our salvation, but each of these are gifts freely given unto each and every one of us without cost.  God’s love for us is clearly shown by Jesus Christ life, death and resurrection.  What we get to do is share it.  Not just share it with our friends, but share it with everyone we meet.

This week we have had Sky Ranch here at Emmanuel for our Vacation Bible School.  Like in years past the staff has been high energy, high octane and high impact upon the kids we have coming for Day Camp.  This year 54% of the kids here for our day camp were from families of members of Emmanuel.  That’s 20 of the 37 who attended this year, both pre-school and school age kids.  The theme for this year was “A Love That Never Ends”. 

In one sense all of the kids that came this week were adopted and loved by the leaders, counselors and you the people of Emmanuel and have been taught about God’s Love.  This sharing of God’s love is not only clear and manifest in the children, but has impacted our church.  We have had fun and have made fun of ourselves, from my being given the gift of a cow bell to help people know I was coming, to enjoying the kids faith development, this has been an awesome week.  But the greatest opportunity is adopting each and every one of these kids and each of us gathered here and showing all of us the love of Jesus Christ.

May we as a congregation continue to show love for one another and share what Jesus Christ has done for all of mankind.  For God’s love never does end as we are adopted into His family and feel and share the love of God with everyone we meet.  AMEN.

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

06212015 3rd Sunday After Trinity - Hold Firm in Your Faith

Gospel Audio (Will be posted soon)
Sermon Audio

June 21, 2015
Hold firm in your faith!
Have you ever seen a ships captain looking out from the bridge of a large ship.  The best tool the captain has are his eyes, but like most of us, our eyes can only see a short distance unaided.  This is why most ships carry a pair of binoculars.  The binoculars help the captain as well as the officers on the bridge to scan with their eyes both close to the ship and all the way to the horizon.  This increased vision allows decisions to be made by the captain and crew to insure not only the cargo he is carrying on the ship will be safe, but to insure that others will not come to any harm by getting in the way of the large ship. 

So to on the farm, farmers always when on the tractor or going to check wells always keep an eye on the horizon in all directions to see if there is rain coming or if a thunderstorm with hail and high winds is bearing down on our winter wheat crop or stand of corn that could easily be blown over.  Everyone always is looking to make sure what we have will not be damaged or destroyed.
Since Trinity Sunday we have heard the clear message from God that “God is love” and our opportunity and calling is to love as God first loved us.  The vision that God has of all events far exceeds our own and He doesn’t need binoculars, but the sentiment and lesson we can take away from our lesson this morning is that we need to be like the ships captain and you the farmer here in Northwest Kansas.  It doesn’t mean we need to get a pair of binoculars, but it does mean we need to “be on alert”.

Peter one of the authors of the New Testament lived his life in love for his brother’s and sister’s in Christ.  He preached and proclaimed, “God is love” and taught constantly as he travelled and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And His message was clear, “Be of sober spirit, be on alert”.  The reason for being on alert was that he knew the devil was seeking to ‘wreck’ and ‘destroy’ the life of anyone that would fall victim to his leading them astray.  The devil is closer to leading us astray than we might like to think.

Peter wrote, “Your adversary, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”.  The devil is trying to get all of us to question God, question God’s love of us and even question that God is love.  The devil is filling our heads with lies, deceit, questions and desiring us to lose interest in God.  For some he is clearly succeeding like the young man who took nine lives in Charleston, South Carolina this week.  Closer to home, in recent visits members of the congregation have even noticed how our worship attendance here at Emmanuel is being affected.

You might say, how can the devil do this?  Easily, when we place our own wants and desires above God’s glory, we fall victim.  When we chose activities that bring us satisfaction to our human longing, or our own glory instead of God, we fall victim.  When we spread rumors about friends, neighbors or even about our church family, we fall victim.  All of us daily fall victim, because we are in a constant battle to do what is right.  Hence why Peter said, “Be on alert” and why I began with the image of binoculars.

Peter continues with what we need to hear and do, “But resist him [that is the devil], firm in your faith”.  We need to resist the draw that the devil has on our time, our talents and even our treasure.  We can resist, but we cannot do it in and of ourselves.  We are incapable of resisting the arrows of deceit, the arrow of want, the arrow of being known and seen as an expert.  In and of ourselves we are incapable of overcoming evil.  But God has the cure.

The cure Peter states clearly for us to hear, mark and inwardly digest and lay claim to because of our baptism into Jesus Christ life, death and resurrection.  God in His great love for us through Peter consoles us with this truth, “the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”  That statement, though a mouthful contains the greatest measure of grace we need to hear and remind each other of each and every day.
God is a God of grace.  God has called each of us in and through our Holy Baptism into Jesus Christ.  We are connected to Jesus Christ for all eternity and He will not let go of us.  And God makes us the promise to “perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish” each and every one of us.

We are perfected in Christ, we are confirmed in the faith given to us from generation to generation, we are strengthened for the daily battle with the devil and established as God’s children.  When we lay claim to these four truths we then can follow God’s call on our lives.  We can hear clearly Peter’s desire for us, we can stand “firm in your faith”.  God then can work through us and we then can cast “all our anxiety on” God and as His children trust Him in all aspects of our lives.

But our society daily questions, how can we trust God?  How can we see God at work?  Our society even asks if God is real or exists?  And this is what the devil wants to get us to do, to question God.  So I stand here today to remind all of us gathered here this morning of the truth.  God is love, He loves us unconditionally.  God wants us to ‘hold firm in our faith.’  And God gives us the strength to do this.  The proof we need we have from two very distinct places.

First, it comes from God’s Word that we have heard read today in the lessons.  And second it comes from the meal we are about to partake of from the altar.  When we receive Jesus Christ precious Body and Blood, we receive the food we need to ‘stand firm in our faith’.  And God’s gift of His Son, Jesus Christ promises to each of us to enable us to stand firm in the faith that has been passed down from generation to generation.

And today we Emmanuel Lutheran embark again upon our passing down this same faith.  You see, Emmanuel Lutheran Church was one of the founding churches for Sky Ranch just over 50 years ago.  Two years ago three members of our congregation celebrated up at Sky Ranch the Year of Jubilee.  Peyton and Powell Sieck and Autumn Mays joined with youth from across the United States to celebrate the legacy that Sky Ranch has been fulfilling in spreading the Gospel message.  The following week, we as a congregation joined together with staff from Sky Ranch and our own children here at Emmanuel to celebrate the year of Jubilee.  And today we embark again on another week of Vacation Bible School here at Emmanuel with the Sky Ranch counselors.

Today we as a congregation ‘stand firm in our faith’, proclaiming the love of God for all of mankind, and inviting all to join us in spreading the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is the legacy that our congregation continues to proclaim, because of God’s grace and love offered by His Son Jesus Christ.  May we continue this legacy and be the church that God can use to reach Goodland proclaiming God’s love for all of mankind, including God’s love for all of us gathered here today.  AMEN.

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06142015 2nd Sunday After Trinity - Let us love in deed and truth!

Sermon Audio

June 14, 2015
Let us love in deed and truth!
One of the favorite past times of some in the congregation is to go target shooting.  Matter of fact, two of our members compete in target competitions.  I enjoy target shooting as well with both handguns, rifles and shotguns.  While in college my best friend whose Dad reloaded both shotgun and rifle would invite me over and we would shoot for hours and our sore shoulders would be proof of a good time.  When shooting there would always be a target, whether pie tins, pencils or if we wanted proof the paper targets.  When we would use paper targets they were meant as a means for focus, both for the shooter to concentrate on and for after one was done shooting to see if we could hit what we were aiming at, whether clays with shotgun or orange targets for rifle.  When we would go and get the target it was very clear if we had ‘hit the mark’ or missed.  This was before I wore glasses full-time and I was a pretty good shot.

Unlike target practice, Christians who want to tell what Jesus Christ has done, don’t have a clear ‘target’ when it comes to the opportunity we have to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the main message of love.  Last week we heard clearly three important words, and I repeat them today, because as I said last week, we need to daily hear them.  “God is love”!  Since God is love we have the opportunity to love one another.  But this is a challenge no matter if you are retired mechanic, school teacher, husband or housewife, a farmer, someone who works in an office, a parent or a child.  Loving others is hard work.  So hard of work is ‘love’ that some people don’t even try.  They relegate relationships to things they will do later or only with select people, because it requires ‘work’.

In the church at-large, we are not immune to not wanting to have the ‘talk’.  There have been many times and situations in the history of the church at large and Emmanuel that a ‘talk’ or simple phone call or conversation would have resolved the issue and changed the direction of not only the chat, but ultimately the direction of the church. 

Because of the belief that God is love and doesn’t give us a ‘cognitive recalibration’, Christians at times chose the path of least resistance of not engaging when someone either gossips or spreads a falsehood.  And we the church have paid for this, from the time of Constantine when he legalized Christianity to today.  When we take the path of least resistance or say things in a tone, but are hurtful, we destroy the potential and possibility of having the trust needed between brother’s and sisters in Christ.

What occurs is that the society we live in, therefore says, ‘I want nothing to do with being a Christian’, because Christians are hypocrites, gossips and what occurs is that Christians lose credibility.  Society says, ‘they talk about God and forgiveness, but don’t treat people decently, I want nothing to do with organized religion’.  A recent Barna poll stated that “51% of North American Christians…possess attitudes and actions that are more like the Pharisees than they are like Christ.” [Carey Niewhof “The Top 10 Things Pharisees Say Today”, July 1, 2014]  We cannot dispute polls, but how can we Christians and especially the church respond?  How can we respond and emulate the love of Christ for all of mankind?

First, we can even though the world hates us as John says, still love in deed and truth.  We are called to love as God first loved us and gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  When we love unconditionally and without spreading gossip or heresay we then can place our head on the pillow at night knowing we have loved not just in thought, but clearly in word and deed.

Second, we can tell the truth in love, but without the attitude and tone.  Just as when sworn in at the court when we are called to testify, we can make the pledge to in love for God and our fellow man.  We can keep tone out of our voice.  So easy do we lapse into a tone, that all of us need to talk to the person next to us as if we are talking to Jesus, the author of our faith.  When we do this our conversations, attitudes and tones will be transformed.  And our conversations will be joyous and loving and emulate God’s desire for us to tell the truth in love. 

And finally, we can firmly believe we are following what God is calling us to accomplish for His Glory.  Loving our neighbors as ourselves, loving by leading lives of honor and integrity we honor God more fully and honor Him and the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary.  We then both in deed and truth and by our tone can be clearly heard, understood and feel love from and for each other.

When we love each other we then change not only the trajectory of our conversations, we change our relationship and clearly emulate what Jesus Christ showed us on the Cross of Calvary.  In today’s world we need more of this, not just here in Goodland, Kansas, but all around the world.  One example of loving in spite of circumstance was related recently in an article I read.

With recent events in the Middle East and the continued threat of ISIS a story was shared by Jim Denison of the true impact of love by a Christian.  Denison tells of an ISIS fighter who enjoyed killing Christians.  This isn’t any ordinary story, but one that shows how the love of Christians can and does pay eternal dividends.  Denison writes:

“An ISIS fighter who says he "enjoyed killing Christians" has told missionaries that he has been having dreams of a man in white.  The man told him, "You are killing my people."  Before the fighter murdered one Christian, the believer said, "I know you will kill me, but I give to you my Bible."  He killed the Christian, then took his Bible and began to read it.  Jesus appeared to him again, calling him to become a Christian.  Now the man is asking missionaries how he can become a follower of Christ and be discipled.

Muslims the world over are having such dreams of Jesus.  God is miraculously at work around the world”.  [“ISIS Fighter  Who Enjoyed Killing Christians Dreams of Jesus” Jim Denison, June 9, 2015]

God is at work in our world today.  God is at work right here in Goodland and especially here at Emmanuel.  When we ‘love in deed and truth’, God uses us to change people.  God can use each and every one of us to change the world.  Let’s be the agents of change and allow God to use us as His missionaries to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  For Jesus Christ message is simple that He came lived among us, died on the Cross and rose from the dead in order that all could have eternal life out of His great love for all of mankind.  Including all of us gathered here today who believe God loves us and we can ‘love in deed and truth.’  AMEN.

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Sunday, June 7, 2015

06072015 - First Sunday After Trinity - God is Love!

Gospel Audio (Will be posted soon!)
Sermon Audio (Will be posted soon!)

June 7, 2015
God is love!
When was the first time you heard, “I Love you!”  Was it from your elementary, middle or high school sweetheart?  Was it from your Father or Mother?  Was it from your child?  No matter where or from whom you heard first, “I love you” it affected you.  Whether your pulse began to race, your palms started to sweat or your face turned either pale or a bright red.  When you heard those words, “I love you”, you reacted.

On the polar opposite, when was the last time you heard or said, “I love you”?  Was it on the phone with your child, grandchild or spouse.  Were those the last words that were spoken and clearly heard from your child, spouse or parent?  Were those the last words you heard as they went out the door?  Or entered the church triumphant?

Undoubtedly when we hear those three short words, totaling 8 letters and 2 spaces, the meaning can and is vastly different and profound no matter the situation.  It is clear those words not only can quicken our heart beat, but also fill us with regret, because we didn’t say those three words often enough.  Or we would do almost anything to hear or say those words just one more time.

The first time I took the opportunity to say those words to Sarah was when I first held her in my arms after her birth.  Michele was still in recovery from surgery and I was able to go up into the nursery in the Neonatal ICU at Duke University and hold her for the first time.  Surrounded by the sounds of monitors and many baby bassinettes holding small little miracles, I was able for the first time as I held her say as a Father “I love you”.  Those words changed me and daily, I try and tell both Sarah and Michele, “I love you.”  But I didn’t learn this from just my parents, nor my spouse, but from none other than God Himself.

You see, simply, “God is love!”  And we daily need to hear those three simple words from God Himself.  Helen Musil in our Mark bible study one day gave me a very good and gracious gift, it was a cognitive recalibration.  Out of her great love for God and I hope and pray her love of me as her pastor she reoriented me to the reality that we need to hear daily and every Sunday the message from God to us His children, “I love you”.  God loves us clearly and unmistakably.  John, the Son of Zebedee, one of the 12 disciples and Apostle’s of Jesus in his letter of 1st John clearly relates this fact and truth for his readers and for us today.

Hence, why John said, “God is love”!  Hear that clearly, “God is love!”  Let’s let that sink in a minute.  “God is love!”  Remember John continues, “and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”  Simply we, Jesus followers are called to love.  I know there are individuals who call Emmanuel Lutheran their home church, because they grew up here, have been members here their entire life and expect to be buried from here.  As members of the Body of Christ, we are “Called to love”.  We don’t have to agree all the time, but we are called to love one another.  Jesus said it clearly, we are called to love one another and be willing to die for each other in order to save our brother or sister in Christ.  This is sometimes a hard pill to swallow.  But if we are to ‘abide in love’ and we want to ‘abide in God’, and the truth that “God is love”, then it is clear, we are then called to love no matter the circumstance and no matter the disagreement nor the person.

When we accept this challenge and opportunity of ‘loving one another, as Christ loved us’ God offers us a gift.  The gift we receive from God when ‘God abides in us’, is our “love is perfected with us”.  God makes our love that flows from Him through each of us perfect.  As part of the gift from God, God makes our love perfect.  Though we are weak and cannot by our own reason or strength do what we want, God makes us and our love for others perfect.  Hence we are ‘perfected in love’.  And this love is perfected, not when we reach heaven, but when “we are in this world”.  Though we are in this world as Christians, we are not ‘of’ this world, because our home is heaven and we are preparing for our entrance to be with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And our love is perfected by God as the greatest gift to us to share with others.

And Jesus Christ makes it very clear for each of us that we are “commanded to love”.  Jesus command isn’t to strike fear into our lives, but to help us to walk in faith in Him and His love for us and we then can love one another.  We are commanded to love, because sometimes we have a problem doing what we should and love one another.  We let our worries crowd out God’s command.  We turn from God and don’t trust God and we even sometimes think we know better than God Himself.

In most families, children at a young age are not only learning from their loved ones the ‘ropes’ of the family, but clearly what to do and not do.  When children start to do something they shouldn’t most parents immediately respond with either a stern look, a harsh word or a command ‘not to do’ what they are doing.  Jesus in similar fashion is issuing a command to us Christians.  Jesus is clearly telling us what we need to do.  We are commanded to love our brothers and sisters in Christ!  Love everyone no matter the cost, no matter the pain, no matter even if you are right or wrong.  We are called to love as Christians and disciples of Jesus Christ.

For when we heed the call to love as Christians and God’s love is perfected in each of us because of His command, we receive the greatest blessing.  And this blessing is not only found in what we receive from the Altar of our Lord’s precious Body and Blood, but what we receive from God Himself.  We receive the love of God, from God and are showered with the love that surpasses all human understanding.  A love so deep and profound that it overcomes all things and connects us intimately with Him.  When we make this connection of God’s love for us like the power lines that give us electricity that ‘runs our lives’, we are offered the greatest opportunity to make a deeper and more profound connection not only with Him but with one another, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

There is no better place that the love for our fellow man is emulated than a place that I visited while on vacation.  In Pueblo, Colorado, the Center on Values borders the river walk.  At first when I heard about it, I thought it would be a great place to possibly visit, but wasn’t sure if we would be able to on our vacation, so I put it out of my mind.  As we walked down by the river we happen to pass by and saw it was open.  When I walked into the building I was shaken to my core.

The Center on Values tells stories, but not just any stories.  Encapsulated on the walls that surround the entire room are pictures of all the Medal of Honor heroes from any action.  Unlike most monuments to heroes of our time each of the pictures showing the individual were taken by one photographer and tell and portray the individual and their story in the most unique and poignant way.  Each story is one of love, for their fellow soldiers and their country they served with honor and distinction.

As I gazed upon each photograph and statement under each picture, it was clear that each individual who wore the Medal of Honor was an individual who loved, not only their family, but especially their brothers and sisters in arms and their country.  I left the Center on Values in awe of the heroes honored there, but also with a clearer picture of Who I believe in and Whose I am.

Upon further reflection, I have two simple, but profound questions that I would like for we the members of Emmanuel to consider in the coming week.  Clearly, we the members of Emmanuel call Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, Who died for all of mankind and love Him.  What if we loved our neighbors, friends and even our God as much as the heroes who earned the Medal of Honor?  What would we be capable of here in Goodland, Kansas?  AMEN.

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Sunday, May 31, 2015

05312015 Trinity Sunday - To God be the Glory

Gospel Audio
Sermon Audio

May 31, 2015
To God be the Glory

 As I entered the room, the people gathered around the bed had tears running down their cheeks.  The bed wasn’t like what I get into at night, it was metal, functional and looked uncomfortable.  The wires that were draped over the sides running to the machines were clear sentry’s with an unmistakable purpose, to signal when the battle was over.  The faces of the people that were huddled around the room and especially the bed were drawn and showed signs of the weariness that words could not heal nor take away the pain they were feeling inside.  But this wasn’t just a sterile hospital room, this wasn’t just a place that would witness the final hours, minutes and seconds of relationship between husband and wife, father and daughters, brothers and sisters.  This humble room was where God’s Glory would be fully revealed and the promises of God would be clearly and unmistakably fulfilled.  This was where God meets man and this is holy ground.
The people gathered around the bed are not unknown to me.  I have played games with all of them, I have eaten meals around the table with each of them.  I have worshiped God both in their church and mine.  This is my family gathered together, huddled, holding each other and helping each other because of the reality that confronts us now, death is about to intimately touch and visit us.  Laying in the bed is someone I am more like than I can truly comprehend or understood.  Laying in the bed, dying from four types of cancer is my Uncle Don.

Though we grew up in different times, had different experiences as well as parents, what my Uncle taught me in death has stayed with me for the last twenty two years.  Simply it is what Paul concluded our epistle with today.  Paul wrote, “To Him [that is To God] be the glory forever. Amen.”
Paul in his epistle clearly understood how death does separate loved ones.  Even when Paul finally encountered and understood on the road to Emmaus the Person Jesus Christ when he saw Him face to face, that place of his encounter with Jesus for Paul was holy ground.  Jesus Christ had died outside Jerusalem and right in front of Paul’s eyes Jesus stood and spoke to him.  From that moment on, Paul’s very existence changed from being destructive of human life and Christianity, to a life epitomized in what he wrote in Romans.  “To Him be the glory forever.  AMEN”

Some of us have not had this ‘mountain top experience’ of clear personal encounter with the divine while here on earth.  But we have encountered death in our lives, whether of children we never met, spouses that we built lives and experienced love with, parents that carried us and nurtured our very nature and even siblings or friends that died at a young age or even after a long life.  Death has touched each of our lives.  But for Christians, death is not an enemy, but a doorway to walk through in our lives and an opportunity for us to look beyond death and not just repeat Paul’s words, but know the connection we have with Paul and all the saints of all time and place.  Paul understood this and hence why he stated clearly for God’s glory to be forever.

But how can we have ‘God’s Glory forever’ here at Emmanuel?  I do not have the answer.  Let me state that again, so everyone can clearly hear my personal confession.  I, Darian Hybl, Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Goodland, Kansas, do not have all the answers.  I cannot by my own reason or effort explain what or why.  I cannot foresee what will happen in the next month, year, three years or five years.

This is a very humbling and hard pill to swallow.  What I have to do is like Paul, die to self.  I have to die to my knowledge, my ego and my ability, because with them, all I have done, and will do is drive people away from God and the church.  Like Paul, who captured Christians and dragged them to the authorities and to have them executed, all I am personally capable of in and of myself is the destruction of the church.

Hence, why Paul’s statement is so profound for me and for us today.  On this day that we celebrate the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit with the confession of the Athanasian Creed, I need to stand with Paul and say clearly and emphatically, “To God be the Glory”!

You see, in order to stand with Paul and make this confession that we all will do in a few minutes, I have to do something I learned from my Uncle Don, who died of cancer.  My Uncle Don loved to fish, and he was good at it.  He could horse fish out of the side of a stream bank that had been fished hard on opening day of trout season.  He could walk up to a part of the stream and tell exactly where every fish was and if there were multiple fish.  In less than 100 feet of stream he could catch his limit of 7 fish and easily go back for more, because he was that good.

While visiting him eight years before he lay in the hospital bed, I went out fishing with him to learn some of his tricks and tips, because I wanted to learn how to be a better fly fisherman.  We came to a stream that flowed out of the bottom of a lake not far from his house.  For those of you who don’t know, the coldest water is at the bottom of any body of water and the water flowing from this lake out of the bottom into the stream was about 35-38 degrees.  As I had learned from my father, get close to the stream and make a good presentation of the fly.  With clear determination I got as close as I could without getting wet and cast the fly.  It landed perfectly.  My uncle stood back and watched.  I held my breath and waited.  The fly floated closer and closer and finally went down stream past me, so I did as any fisherman does, I tried again and again, and again.  But I couldn’t get any fish to rise.

With the wisdom of many years, my Uncle Don, looked at me and said, ‘you have good technique, but you are in the wrong place’.  Being right next to the stream I looked at him with great pessimism and in a teenage tone said, where should I be, in the middle of the stream?  And he said simply ‘yes’.  You see I had to die to all the knowledge I had up to that point and be humble and in one sense get out of my comfort zone, on the side of the stream and get right in the middle of the stream.  I had to get wet.  As I inched into the water my ankles began to lose all feeling.  Not only were my shoes wet, my pants were drenched and I was getting cold.  For the next ten minutes I stood in the middle of the stream with cold water streaming between my legs and faithfully casting my fly to every part of the stream that I could reach in search of the illusive trout that was supposed to be in the water.

Each time I would cast and follow the fly, my teeth would chatter because I was thigh deep in the coldest water I had ever experienced.  My Uncle Don watched every move and would on occasion give me little nuggets of direction and advice to catch the illusive trout.  Then it finally occurred.  I was concentrating on my casting technique, and just happened to look down.  Lo and behold right behind me swimming right up between my cold legs was none other than a….mink.  At that moment, I was supposed to be fly fishing by picking up my fly for another cast up stream, but I froze.  Right underneath me was one of the most elusive creatures in the wilderness world.  And because I had been so concentrated on ‘fly fishing’, I was now blessed to have one of God’s creatures swim up behind me and between my legs like I was a part of nature that he called his world.

In utter disbelief I stood there trying not to breathe to hard, trying not to move, chatter my teeth or shake my legs and scare the mink.  And as quick as the mink swam up and between my legs he swam up stream in search for his next meal. What I experienced in that short window of time was nothing other than exhilarating.  My Uncle Don watched the whole experience from the shore and was in utter disbelief of how close I came to such a wild animal.  As I stood there in the stream I stood on nothing other than holy ground. 

The reason I tell you this story is because I didn’t deserve the experience that even my Uncle Don had never had in all his years of fishing, hunting and trapping.  The place where I stood in the middle of the stream of extremely cold water was holy ground.  In that one moment, being as close to the wild mink as I was I saw and experienced the greatest nature experience I have ever had.  Clearly at that time, I felt closest to God and nature all at the same time.  What it also did was cement an experience between me and my Uncle Don.  For me it epitomizes what Holy Ground was for Paul and what and why he meant for people like us to join together and confess our faith.  Where we stand or sit today when we confess our faith is holy ground.

Years later as I entered his hospital room, I stepped again onto holy ground.  In that place, where my Uncle met face to face with His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and was taken home, Paul’s acclamation of “To God be the glory forever and ever.  AMEN.” was surely felt though probably not spoken.  But God’s presence was palpable and tangible for everyone gathered around the hospital bed and in the room on holy ground.  Even for us today God’s glory surrounds us daily and this is a fulfillment of His promise to and for each of us gathered here this morning.  God’s glory is a constant and what we need to do is be active in what we are supposed to be doing and God will show up when we least expect it, like the mink that swam through my legs.

For when God shows up His plan and purpose is simply for His glory to be revealed.  Whether standing at the bedside of a loved one close to death, in the middle of a stream with a wild animal swimming between your legs or even here at Emmanuel as we work on the kitchen remodel or confess our faith in the Athanasian Creed.  God clearly shows up and we can celebrate the certainty of His presence with and for us today.  For God comes not only to gather us up into His Kingdom, but to clearly unite us in the faith we confess.  For this faith points to what God has done for each and every one of us on the Cross of Calvary.  May we today be emboldened to confess with Paul and all the saints of all time and place in the words of the Athanasian Creed what God offers each and every one of us through His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ, eternal life.  AMEN.

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