Monday, January 23, 2012

Christ Calls Us to Be Fishers of Men (A sermon based on Mark 1:16-20)

Do you like to go fishing? It's almost required to like fishing if you live on the Kenai Peninsula. Well, today Jesus invites us to go fishing with him. Having caught us himself, he invites us to go fishing for people and help him catch them for the Kingdom. And we don't have any pressure to catch people like commercial fishermen are pressured to catch fish. But instead we can enjoy the adventure like a fun trip on the Kenai River or a charter out of Homer. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Mark 1:16-20 and get excited about the trip as Christ calls us to be fishers of men!

Christ Calls Us to Be Fishers of Men

A sermon based on Mark 1:16-20

Sunday, January 22, 2012 – Epiphany 3B


My dad used to own ¼ of a fishing boat that was docked in the Puget Sound in Seattle. And on that ¼ of a boat (really, on the whole thing, just ¼ as often) Dad used to take my brother and I fishing quite often. Armed with rods, fish finders, drinks and snacks, we were in pursuit of the elusive king salmon. We didn't always catch something, but we did always end up having a good time either way and a lot of memories were made even if we came back empty handed.

But that wasn't the case with Peter, Andrew, James and John. They weren't hobby fishermen, but professionals. Which meant that, a) they were probably a whole lot better than my dad, my brother and me, and, b) if they didn't catch something that day, they were in a lot of trouble. They had nothing to sell in the market which meant they had nothing to eat.

On one particularly bad morning, when they were skunked, catching nothing after fishing all night, they suddenly had quite the change of luck. Though they hadn't caught anything all day, with the right tip (a divine tip from Jesus) they caught so many fish the nets broke. That's in Luke's version of the events that day.

But this morning we'll take a look at Mark's account of that day, which leaves out the catch of fish. He focuses on the greater blessing of the disciples—not the great number of fish they caught, but how Jesus caught them. He called them to be his disciples. And that meant that he called them to a life of total commitment. But it also meant that he called them to a life of glorious service.

Listen now to Mark's account of The Calling of the First Disciples and hear how Jesus calls us to be his disciples; his fishers of men. Mark 1:16-20 reads…


16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.


I.              He Calls for a Life of Total Commitment

In John's gospel, we find out that these men already had become Jesus disciples in the sense that they were believers. They believed that he was the Messiah, the one promised throughout the Old Testament, the one to whom John the Baptist had been pointing. But now, Jesus takes that discipleship one step further. Now he calls for a career change. And it wasn't an easy change to make.

Pay attention to the details. In verse 20 Mark points out what James and John left to become Jesus disciples. It says, "…they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him." We don't know about Simon and Andrew, but James and John were in the family business, "Zebedee and Sons Fishing Co." And it seems their business had been doing pretty well too since Zebedee was able to afford hired men. James and John had great jobs, were making a decent living, got to work with their dad, and could look forward to taking over the family business one day soon. But now, they gave it all up.

James and John gave up the wealth, they gave up the financial security, they gave up their family and left it all behind. And we can imagine that Peter and Andrew gave up similar comforts and blessings to make Jesus their number one priority. But why? What would cause them to throw away everything they'd worked for? Why would they abandon their plans, their familiar environment, their comfort zone, to travel along the Galilean countryside?

And without hesitation too! "18 At once they left their nets and followed him." And "Without delay… they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him." What could make them respond so suddenly, so decisively, so quickly?!

Well, I'll tell you what I don't think it was first. I don't think it was because these men were better educated than most, that they could recognize the true Messiah when others couldn't. I don't think it was because they were more spiritual or pious, the rest of the gospels rule that out. I don't think they left because they had an adventurous spirit that wanted to see the rest of the Promised Land. They seem rather timid at times. In fact, I don't think it was anything in them.

While these men did leave everything behind to follow Jesus, don't praise the disciples for such sacrifice and obedience. Instead, praise God. For it was his Word, the gracious call he gave to become his disciples, that moved the disciples to respond the way they did.

Though they had already met Jesus before and believed the truth that he was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, now they had an opportunity to follow Jesus around and learn what exactly that meant. They had the opportunity to watch Jesus drive out demons, heal incurable diseases, raise the dead to life, and countless other displays of his divinity first hand.

They were privileged to hear Jesus himself preach the good news of God—the best sermons ever! What a wonderful opportunity they had! And it was all by God's grace.

When most disciples chose the Rabbi they would follow, the Rabbi Jesus chose the disciples that would follow him. Just like we heard last week with Philip and Nathanael, he took the initiative, not the other way around. He called them. He enlisted them to follow him and learn from him over the next exciting and unforgettable three years of their lives and forever. That gracious call he extended moved them to respond… at once… without delay.

It's understandable that Mark leaves the miraculous catch of fish out of his version of The Calling of the First Disciples because the faith that Jesus created in his disciples—a faith that took everything in their lives and put it all underneath Jesus in their list of priorities—that faith that Jesus created is by far the greatest miracle that took place that day.


Now how about us? Are we really any different than Peter, Andrew, James and John? We too were once minding our own business, looking only to our own interests, mending our nets, caught up in the shuffle of the day to day, destined for eternal destruction. But in his grace, God acted. He chose us. He took the initiative. He called us. And he took up his net and caught us.

But Jesus idea of fishing for us was like catch and release. He didn't catch us to gut us and throw us in a cooler, but to set us free. But not like when fishermen catch a fish and throw it back in the water. God didn't throw us back where we came from. He caught us by creating faith in our hearts—faith in Jesus' death on the cross in our place—faith that releases us from our sins. So now we're released from the guilt we feel because of our sins. We're released from the eternal death in hell as a result of our sins. And we're released from the despair of wondering how we can ever do enough to make God love us. We have true freedom because Jesus caught us and released us.

In light of such grace God has shown us then, we, like the disciples, can't help but respond. We can't help but gladly and eagerly put everything in our lives underneath Jesus on our list of priorities. We can't help but gladly and eagerly giving up every comfort, luxury and security of this life in order to follow him. We'll gladly give back to God our wealth, giving not just 10% to the offering plate, but 100% in service to God. We'll gladly give back to God our time, serving him not just once in a while when we're asked to volunteer, but every day, all the time, using every opportunity to express our thanks and praise to him. We'll gladly use all the blessings God's given us to thank him for the greater blessings of forgiveness, life, heaven itself. Or else, we'll leave it all behind. And when we do, what a glorious life that is…


II.            He Calls for a Life of Glorious Service


Now, when Jesus called the disciples to leave everything behind, everything they had grown to love, he wasn't calling them to a life of poverty and gloom. He wasn't calling them to a life of monasticism, where they were to try to eliminate every source of joy in their lives. No, he was calling them to experience some of the greatest joy they would ever know in a life of glorious service…

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."

Jesus called the disciples to a career change. These men who were formerly fishermen would take part in the exciting work of being men-fishers.

A friends of mine did something similar. He's a second-career pastor who was a lawyer for quite some time before he decided to become a pastor. When I first found out, I jokingly said, "Boy, the two careers you've had seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. From telling lies to telling the truth. But seriously, that's quite a carreer change. How have you been able to make the transition?"

He didn't get mad, but patiently replied, "Well, it really hasn't been that hard at all. I used to work with the written word of the law, which can't be changed, only interpreted. It was my job to understand that law to arrive at the truth. Then I would stand up in front of an audience and try to convince them of the truth that would save a man from prison.

"Now I work with the written Word of God, which can't be changed, only interpreted. It's my job to first understand that Word for myself to arrive at the truth and then to stand up in front of an audience to try to convince them of the truth that would save them all. So, really, it's been a pretty easy career change."

And it may have been an easy career change for the disciples too. They needed courage, persistence, hard work and determination, they needed the ability to think on their feet and quickly adapt to their environment, and they especially needed patience as fishermen—all useful qualities to have as men-fishers. But finally, they didn't need to worry about what skills they did or didn't have because it wasn't up to them. Jesus promised them they would have the skills they would need. He told them, "I will make you fishers of men."

And what exciting work it was for the disciples! Luke tells us that after some of Jesus disciples returned from a mission trip they were thrilled at the opportunities they had. "Lord," they said, "even the demons submit to us in your name!" (cf. Luke 10:17) They had the opportunity to see hardened hearts soften and turn to Jesus in repentance and trust. They had the opportunity to see people come to faith, escape and eternity of torment to find Jesus and an eternity of glory! And not only did they get to see these things, but they got to be a part of it!


And dear friends, so do we! God calls us to the same glorious life of service. He doesn't leave us here on earth after we come to faith so we can just sit around and enjoy ourselves. If that were the case, why not take us to heaven where we'd enjoy ourselves a whole lot more? No. He leaves us here with work to do. We are to be his fishers of men. Jesus addressed not just the twelve, but all disciples of all time, when he gave the Great Commission to "go and make disciples of all nations…" And we get to be a part of God's exciting work!

Now that it may take patience, like when my dad took us fishing out on Puget Sound. Often we would sit on the boat for hours on end without a single bite. But Dad would always reminds us, "Boys, that's they call it fishing, not catching." It might take that sort of patience as we fish for people too. We won't always have hundreds of visitors waiting in line to sign up for the Bible information class. We won't always get the one we were after, that we thought we had on the hook and almost into the boat. We might have a bad day or week or year, and say with Peter, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything." (Luke 5:5a)

But, thankfully, it's not up to us. Jesus promises us that we have all that we need to carry out his work. He tells us, "I will make you fishers of men." And because Jesus doesn't call the qualified, but instead qualifies the called, we can also say with Peter, "But because you say so, I will let down the nets." (Luke 5:5b)

And really, God does all the hard work anyway. We get the easy part. One of things I used to hate about actually catching a fish (which thankfully didn't happen too often) was Dad's rule "You catch it; you clean it." But with God it's different. One of Dad's T-shirt he'd wear fishing read something like, "Jesus' Fishing Charters—You catch 'em, he'll clean 'em." We simply throw the bait out there by sharing the message of Jesus life and death in our place. He'll reel 'em in. He'll take 'em off the hook and he'll do the cleaning.

Just like he cleansed us of all of our sins by his blood, shed for us on the cross, he'll clean them too. He did the hard work of going to hell in our and their place. He does the hard work of bringing us and them to faith in him. He will take away their every sin by that faith. And having been cleaned by God, they too will have heaven awaiting them.

Not only do we get the opportunity to see hardened hearts soften and turn to Jesus in repentance and trust, not only do we get the opportunity to see people come to faith, escape and eternity of torment to find Jesus and an eternity of glory, but we also get to be a part of it! Thanks be to God for calling us to be fishers of men! How exciting! What a glorious life! In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen!

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How Disciples Are Made (A sermon based on John 1:43-51)

If given a choice to lead or follow, which would you take? I think most of us would prefer to lead. We like to be in charge. But Jesus calls us to follow him. And in thanks for the way he leads us and even carries us to heaven, we're eager to follow him in his Word and to lead others to Jesus too. As Jesus calls us saying, "Follow Me," we're eager to follow and tell others "Come and see!" Come and see how disciples are made as you read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on John 1:43-51...

How Disciples Are Made

A sermon based on John 1:43-51

Sunday, January 15, 2012 – Epiphany 2B


The story is told of a young woman who wanted to go to college. But as she read the question on the application that asked, "Are you a leader?" her heart sank. Being honest, she wrote, "No. I'm not really a leader," and returned the application, expecting the worst. But to her surprise, she received this letter from the college: "Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower."

We don't naturally follow, do we? We like to lead. We like to be in charge. We like to call the shots. But that's not what Christianity is about. Oh, sure, there are opportunities to be leaders, but we're really called to follow. We're called to follow, not some earthly leader, but Jesus. Those who follow him are his disciples. But if it doesn't come naturally that we follow, then how are disciples (or followers) made? In the words of the disciple, Philip, "Come and see…"

Listen now to John1:43-51, the Gospel Lesson for this Second Sunday after Epiphany and learn how disciples are made…


43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me."

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."

46 "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked.

"Come and see," said Philip.

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false."

48 "How do you know me?" Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you."

49 Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."

50 Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that." 51 He then added, "I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."


I.              Jesus Says, "Follow Me"


So, how are disciples made? Well, let's start with Philip. How did Philip come to know Jesus? What does John say? Jesus found him. Not the other way around. Jesus took the initiative. Jesus called Philip to be his disciple.

How about Nathanael? How did he come to know Jesus? Again, Jesus took the initiative. Sure Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus. But Nathanael wasn't buying Philip's story. You see, being a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false, he knew his Scriptures. And so he assumed that Jesus couldn't possibly be the Messiah because he was from Nazareth. And, as we heard last week in the verse the King Herod discovered in his "Bible study," the Scriptures clearly said the Messiah would come from Bethlehem.

But when Nathanael was confused and could not believe in Jesus, Jesus came to him. And by demonstrating his omniscience, indicating to Nathanael that he saw, that he knew, exactly where he was: under the tree, that he knew exactly what Nathanael was doing, exactly what he was thinking, he proved to Nathanael who he was.

When Philip and Nathanael could not have known who Jesus was, when they could not know their escape from sin and hell, Jesus revealed himself to them so they could confess, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God!"


And really, is it so different for us? Jesus took the initiative with you and me too. Jesus has called us to follow him. But sometimes we follow him like we follow a "friend" on Twitter or Facebook. We "Like" Jesus and we check in on him from time to time to see what he's up to. We go to church occasionally or scan our Bibles to see his most recent "wall post." But then we leave, go back to our business and follow our own pursuits. Because we, like those 1,452 college applicants, think we're really the best leaders.

We don't really want to follow. We don't really want to follow Jesus when he tells us to quit that particular sin we find so appealing. We don't really want to follow him when following means we might get ridiculed. We don't really want to follow Jesus when it might be inconvenient or I might have to give up something I consider my own.

And for refusing to follow him, we deserve to be left in the dust.

But thankfully, when Jesus said, "Follow me," he didn't mean "Follow my example." He didn't mean "Follow in my footsteps as you do exactly as I do, as you love perfectly, as you give 100%, as you obey all my commands."

No! When he said, "Follow me," he meant it sort of like the way a firefighter leading someone out of a burning building cries, "Follow me!" "Follow me to safety! Come this way and I'll show you the way out that your life may be spared."

Sort of like… but not exactly… Because even that we couldn't do. So Jesus did more than just show us the way out of the burning building; he carried us out. He picked us up and rescued us from hell. Jesus found us. Not the other way around. Jesus took the initiative. Jesus called us to be his disciples and he called us to safety.

And how'd he do it? Look at the last verse. Speaking to a true Israelite, who would know his Scriptures well, Nathanael would certainly have picked up on Jesus' clear allusion to Jacob's ladder, that stairway that Jacob saw in his dream with angels ascending and descending:

"I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

How does one get into heaven? The Son of Man, that is, Jesus, is the ladder. When we couldn't climb up to God, he descended to come down to us. And Jesus followed the law perfectly. He followed the Father's will. He followed the plan. And becoming sin for us, he took our sin away. And when he calls to us by his Holy Spirit, "Follow me," he creates the very faith in our hearts that put our trust in him, making us willing to follow him out on a limb and put our entire trust in him and in his work for us.

Far more exciting that having Jesus read his mind, Nathanael would see Jesus rescue him from hell and carry him to heaven. Through Jesus, disciples are made. Through Jesus, saints are made. Through Jesus, we are saved. And now, through us—his saved, sainted, disciples—other disciples are made…

II.            We Say, "Come and See"


How are disciples made? Jesus calls them. But how does Jesus call them? Through other disciples. Most likely, Philip heard about Jesus through Andrew and Peter. That's why John includes that detail, "Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida." In fact, if you back up just a few verses in John 1, you'll find that Andrew and Peter were called to be Jesus' disciples only the day before, when John the Baptist (another disciple of Jesus) pointed them to him.

How did Nathanael come to meet Jesus? Philip brought him. So, the Holy Spirit brought John the Baptist, who brought Andrew, who brought Peter, who possibly brought Philip, who brought Nathanael, also known as Bartholomew. And according to historian, Eusebius, and church father, St. Jerome, Nathanael took the Gospel to India and shared the good news with people there.

See how God works? While he could have sent angels to share the Gospel with trumpet blasts or sent his Holy Spirit directly to individual hearts, that's not the way he usually operates. Usually he works through people, like John and Andrew and Peter and Philip and Nathanael… and you.

How do your neighbors come to faith? How do your co-workers believe in Jesus? How do your family become true disciples? Well, Jesus still calls them. You can't create faith in their hearts. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. But how do they meet Jesus? Through you.

So what's the strategy? It's the same as Philip's. And what was that? Well, he didn't study for six months first, then say, "Here, Nathanael, let me prove to you who Jesus is." He didn't say, "I can answer every objection that you might have." No. He simply said, "Come and see." "Come and see for yourself. Come, meet the man. Let him convince you. Let him call you."

You don't need to prove to others that Jesus can help them. You don't need to argue the point. Don't need to have every Bible verse in the Bible memorized, or a rehearsed speech down pat. And you don't need to have an answer for every objection they might have. All you need to do is invite them to meet Jesus for themselves. Just do like Philip did and say, "Come and see. Come and see this Jesus in whom I believe. Come and let him convince you by his love."

So, here's your challenge: Right now, think of someone who needs to meet Jesus. Maybe it's someone who already professes to know him, but still doesn't really follow him. Maybe it's someone at work or someone at school. Maybe it's someone in your family or someone at home. Now, here's what I want you do… And here's what we're eager to do in thanks to Jesus for making us his disciples and rescuing us: Invite them. Invite them to worship to come and see Jesus. Invite them to watch the webcast of our worship or Bible study. And follow up with them to see what they thought. Invite them to come to our next movie night to begin the dialogue of faith. Tell them, "Come and see," and introduce them to Jesus.

And the cool thing is, you won't be doing it alone. The same Jesus who saw Nathanael sitting under the fig tree… sees you. He will be with you, at your side, strengthening you and encouraging you, reminding you that through you, he makes disciples. So you tell them, "Come and see." Then Jesus will tell them, "Follow me."

Don't be upset if you have to say, "No. I'm not really a leader," but thank God that you are a follower of Jesus. You are his disciple. Now go. And make disciples. In Jesus' name, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

You Are a Part of God’s Family! (A sermon based on Ruth 4:13-17)

Ruth was a Moabitess. The Moabites were Israel's enemies. And as such, Ruth had no claim in the promises of God's chosen people. Naomi, her mother-in-law lost everything. She lost her family. And she began to lose hope. But God in his grace provided a family for Naomi again in Ruth and Boaz and their son, Obed. God in his grace provided a family for Ruth and brought her into his family and made her one of his chosen people. And though we, like Ruth, had no part of God's family, though we, like Naomi, were once surrounded by death, God brought us into his family. God brought us new life. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on the account of Naomi and Ruth and rejoice that, like them, you are a part of God's family!

You Are a Part of God's Family!

A sermon based on Ruth 4:13-17

Sunday, January 8, 2012 – Epiphany (Celebration)


The young woman found her prince charming! The young farmer was loving, kind, and compassionate and faithful to the Lord. They soon married and started a family of two small boys and the woman thought she had found heaven on earth.

But then, the economy plunged. Famine struck and the crops wouldn't grow. In a desperate attempt to survive they up and moved to another country where things weren't so bad. And they struggled on as best they could.

And then, her whole world was shaken when her husband died. She was thankful the boys were grown now and could take care of her—physically and emotionally. They both married fine local girls and began to start new lives in that foreign country, but while they were still young, both of her sons died too.

She had lost everything. She lost her money. She lost the farm. She lost her family. And she began to lose hope. All she had left were her two daughters-in-law and she knew she couldn't support them. And she couldn't expect them to support her. She wasn't really their mother. She was a foreigner. They'd soon remarry and get on with their lives. But not her. What would happen to her, only God knew.

Of course, this is a true story. The young woman was Naomi, no longer so young. Remarriage was out of the picture. But one of those two daughters-in-law we know well. Ruth refused to leave Naomi's side, but would return home with her and would care for her.

And in this amazing story of Naomi and Ruth and Boaz, we see how God in his grace provided a family… for Naomi, for Ruth and for Boaz, and… through that family, he provided a family for us. Through that family tree of Naomi and Ruth came the Savior—a Savior born, not just for Jews, but for Moabite women like Ruth, for German people like me, and for all of us Gentiles (that is, non-Jews). Through that Savior, God brings us into his family.

Listen to the happy ending for Naomi, recorded for us in Ruth 4:13-17…


13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: "Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth." 16 Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, "Naomi has a son." And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

I.              Excluded By Our Sin 

At one point it seemed to Naomi that she really had lost everything. She lost her family, her finances, her home, her property, and her hope. She was in such despair that she changed her name to Mara (which means "bitter") saying God had made her life so bitter for her.

And though we're not told that she committed any particular sin to prompt such actions from God, the truth is that her struggles were a result of sin. The famine may very well have been an act of God's judgment against a rebellious Israel in this time of the Judges. Death is a result of sin. And no matter what the cause, did Naomi really have any right to complain against God? She was a sinner and as such, she deserved hell. She deserved to lose more than her family, but also her eternity.

Likewise, Ruth (who's sometimes perceived as the heroine of the story) had no part in God's kingdom. She wasn't an Israelite, but a Moabite—from Moab, named after the patriarch born to Abraham's nephew Lot and Lot's daughter. They were not a godly people, enemies of Israel, constantly fighting against them. As a Moabite, Ruth had no right to be a part of Israel's family and as a sinner she too deserved to be excluded and left out of God's family.

And friends, harsh as it may sound, it's the truth that we deserve to be left out too. We all know the feeling of being excluded from a group, of being left out, and left sitting on the sidelines. And I think we all know what it's like for that exclusion to be, at least in part, our own fault.

Susan was having fun with some friends and made a few jokes about Carla and her weight problem. Little did she know that Carla had just come up behind her and heard every word. Not only was she was she excluded from Carla's party that weekend where all their friends would be, not only did she lose a friend in Carla, who'd been nothing but kind to her, but worst of all, Susan knew it was her fault. She deserved to be left out.

And, so do we…

We weren't born into God's family, but were by nature enemies, hostile to God in a way much worse than any Moabite ever was to an Israelite. (Romans 8:7) We wanted no part of God's family and nothing to do with him. And that attitude evidenced itself in our thoughts and actions, and all too often that sinful nature that's so hostile to God still resurfaces and shows itself in our lives by the selfish things we continue to think and do…

Our selfishness not only splinters families and causes problems in our relationships with one another, but they separate us from our God. For our grumbling against God for letting life be more bitter than we'd like even though when we deserve so much worse, we should be left out of God's family and excluded from God's heaven for the things we've said and done and thought toward him. After all, whatever we do to the least of God's children, we do to him. (Matthew 25:40,45)

But thank God that like Naomi, and like Ruth, even though we deserve to be excluded from God's family by our sin, we're included in God's family by his grace…

II.            Included By God's Grace 

Can you imagine how much Ruth's life had changed? The change from Moabite to Israelite must have been quite a change! Though she was once an enemy of this people, she now became one of these people. And now as she had promised Naomi, Naomi's people became her people, Naomi's God became her God! And not only was she now an Israelite, but the great-grandmother of King David and the ancestress of Christ! Turning from the gods of Moab to the true God also meant she, who was once excluded, was now included in the promise. She too had a Savior in her own descendant.

And imagine what a blessed change Naomi had! She went from having no family, but Ruth, to having a kinsman-redeemer—a son-in-law who would provide for her and care for her and sustain her life in her old age. She went from having lost two sons, to getting a son again (even though it wasn't hers naturally, but only by the law). And what joy she must have had to hold that baby boy in her arms and to become his nurse! How God brought life back to Naomi who had been so surrounded by death!

And through Ruth's descendant, Jesus, what blessings are ours! We who were once excluded from God's family by our sins, are included by his grace! Through Ruth's son, Obed, came his son, Jesse, who had King David. And from King David and that royal line came our kinsman-redeemer. "Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer!" And Jesus has become famous throughout Israel and throughout the world!

A kinsman-redeemer was one who would rescue and defend his relatives when they would be forced to become slaves, give up their land, or lose their inheritance. He must be a blood relative, able to pay the price of redemption, willing to redeem his relative, and must be free himself.

Jesus became our blood relative. He became like us in every way that he might rescue us and buy us out of slavery. He was able to pay the price of redemption and he was the only one able since the blood of God is the only price big enough to pay for the world's sin. And he was willing to redeem us at any cost sacrificing his very life even for us Gentiles, who by nature aren't a part of the promise!

Do you remember how the book of Matthew begins? It has that long list of names that may look like the credits at the end of a movie. But in that long list Matthew makes it a point to include the names of a few women. Ruth, the Moabitess, is included in God's plan of salvation. Rahab, probably the Caananite prostitute from Jericho, is listed as the mother of Boaz. Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah by whom he had Perez is listed there. All are included though they're sinners and outsiders and have no right to be in the line of the Savior. Yet there they are—included by God's grace.

And what comfort we find in that list of names. Because they're included, we know that we too, sinners and outsiders, who ought to be excluded by right, can be included as well. We're included not by anything we've done, but purely by God's grace!

And just like Boaz did for Ruth and Naomi, our kinsman-redeemer has renewed our lives and continues to sustain us even beyond our old age—into eternity. Through him, we who were once left out of God's family and excluded from God's heaven, have a family again. God is our Father. We who were once orphaned have been adopted and grafted in to the family. Christ is our brother. We who were once alone have a kinsman-redeemer! Life has been restored! We are sustained!

And now we have opportunity to bring others into the family. Those who are orphaned because of their sin—we can share with them how their sin has been removed by their kinsman-redeemer too, how they can be included, how they can be a part of God's family with us. We have opportunity to "Tell how the Father sent his Son to save us. [To] Tell of the Son, who life and freedom gave us. [To] Tell how the Spirit calls from ev'ry nation His new creation." (CW #556, v.4) "Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer!" In Jesus, who's included us in his family, amen!

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Our Eyes Have Seen God's Salvation (A sermon based on Luke 2:25-35)

A gift card, an engagement ring, a newborn baby... these are all big gifts in little packages. And those are the kinds of gifts God likes to give. A newborn baby is the package for God's greatest gift to mankind: A Savior from sin. Ink on paper is the wrapping for his gift of faith. Bread and wine are how he gives us his body and blood. Huge gifts in small packages given by the Holy Spirit! These are the best gifts we were given this year! In Jesus, through the Word, our eyes have seen God's salvation! Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Luke 2:25-35 and be confronted by the Christ of Conflict in order to be comforted by the Prince of Peace...

Our Eyes Have Seen God's Salvation

A sermon based on Luke 2:25-35

Sunday, January 1, 2012 – Christmas 1B


            When I did my internship as a vicar in Austin, Texas my in-laws came to visit from Wisconsin to spend the holidays with me and Becky. And in order to save costs on travel for four, they chose to drive, rather than fly. And with four people and all their luggage in their small Toyota Corolla, they warned us that they wouldn't have room to take much back to Wisconsin with them. "Gift cards," they suggested, "would make great gifts."

So, when they arrived and saw the gigantic present under the tree (from me to them) they grew worried. They would have to struggle to make room to get it home. Someone would have to hold it on their lap. But when the gift was opened, they all realized the joke. The gift was so small it could easily be stuffed in a bag or even under the seat of the car. I took a small gift and put it in the biggest box I could find.

It's not a difficult thing to put a very small gift in a large package. It's a trick I like to play every year. But it's not as easy to do the opposite. It can be very hard to fit a large gift in a very small package.

But this week I was reminded once again that it is possible, when my big brother got one of the best presents he could get in a very small package. Only 17 inches long, his wife gave birth to her firstborn, a son. And Caleb Andrew Guenther, was born.

And this morning we see that that's exactly what God did. He gave us the largest and most important gift—the best gift ever. And as Simeon found out, God put it in a very small package: another tiny baby, a firstborn, a son… This morning let's visit Mary and Joseph while at the temple in Jerusalem forty days after Jesus was born.

Why at the temple? Well, in the Old Testament law God told the Israelites that when he struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, he set them apart for himself. All of Israel's firstborn males belonged to him. If the child was not given into the service of the Lord, the parents needed to redeem him with a payment. Because Mary and Joseph were God-fearing Jews, who wanted to keep God's law, 40 days after Christmas, they left Bethlehem to make the short trip to Jerusalem, to the temple, to do for Jesus what the custom of the Law required, to redeem baby Jesus.

            When they arrived they found an old man there, a devout Jew who still held on to the promise of the Savior, a man by the name of Simeon. He was waiting here with anticipation for the promised Messiah, the Consolation of Israel, to come. You see, this man had received a special revelation from God and had been told that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah first. Just as children wait for Christmas morning and count down the days, in eager anticipation, until they can finally tear the wrapping paper off those presents, so Simeon must have waited; watching every baby boy who came to Jerusalem, wondering if he might be the one.

            But on this particular day, the Holy Spirit came to him again and moved him to go to the temple. How excited he must have been. He went and watched and waited there. Then, just as Mary and Joseph entered the temple courts, holding the infant baby in their arms, Simeon knew that this baby was the one! He saw in those arms more than just a newborn baby. Revealed by the Spirit, he knew that this little infant, in such a small package, was God's greatest gift! He was the long-expected Messiah they had all been waiting for! He was the salvation which God had prepared for all people! He was the Christ of Conflict who would confront many, causing them to either rise or fall! He was the Prince of Peace who would comfort and console his people! Let's read what happened in Luke 2:25-35:


25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." 33 The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."


I. Confronted by the Christ of Conflict


            Simeon knew his prophets well. He knew that it had been foretold long ago by prophet Isaiah that the Messiah would be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall… a trap and a snare. Causing many to stumble, fall and be broken, to be snared and captured. (Isaiah 8:14-15) How would this little baby Jesus do that? He would confront the people and demand a response. There are only two options: They would either believe Simeon's words and by faith  trust that he was the promised Messiah, or they could reject him. There was no middle ground. There is only one right answer to the question, "Who do you say that I am?"

Christ came with a confrontation. "You are horrible sinners, you brood of vipers. You have not kept the law of God perfectly as God demands, you whitewashed tombs. You deserve nothing but death and punishment in hell. In fact, that's what you will suffer without one who can rescue you from this doom. You need me, your savior from sin."

To most, that confrontation was very offensive. How could the Pharisees be horrible sinners?! "Doesn't this man see all the good we do? Doesn't he know that we not only keep the law, but add additional laws to ensure that we keep all of it?! Who does he think he is?! This man is no Messiah. This is not what the Messiah is about."


Sadly, most rejected him. He was not the Messiah they had expected. Israel, God's chosen people, expected a political Messiah who would come in strength and might. Who, with miraculous signs and displays of his power, would forever banish the Romans from their land and usher in an era of peace and prosperity for every Jew. This little helpless infant hardly looked like that powerful and mighty king.

And as an adult he still seemed weak and helpless. It seemed that he couldn't even stop a few men from mocking him, beating him, and torturing him; he couldn't prevent them from nailing him to a cross to suffer and die a slow, painful death. Look at the end of verse 35. Simeon told Mary, "a sword will pierce your own soul too." The messiah would suffer a death that would pierce Mary's soul as she watched her beloved son suffer such agony. What kind of a Messiah is that?! The Jews felt they didn't need a savior from sin, but a savior from the Romans.

Simeon said that the Messiah would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles." But to the Gentiles, who always looked for wisdom, he was no light for revelation! Were these philosophers and scholars really expected to believe that a man dying on the cross would make any difference at all? That this humble and lowly baby could solve life's problems? Were they really expected to believe in the fairy tale of an everlasting life of bliss in some heavenly place?! They felt they didn't need a savior from sin. They needed a new scholar.

Simeon prophesied that Christ crucified would be a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. He said in verse 34, "This child is destined to cause the falling… of many in Israel." He prophesied that those who rejected him would fall. It would be better for Sodom on the day of judgment than for those who saw the miraculous signs of the Messiah and spoke against him in rejection. Their hearts would be revealed for the self-righteous hypocrites they were.

            But those who believed Simeon's words, who trusted in this Messiah, who recognized their own sinfulness and their need for a savior from sin, who fell on their knees in repentance, those, Simeon said, would be raised up. "This child is destined to cause the… rising of many in Israel." He knew the Psalm which read, "He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of their people." (Psalm 113:7,8)

Today, Christ still comes in confrontation. There is no middle ground. Christ still says, "He who is not with me is against me." There are still only two options: Be offended. Reject him. Struggle to win heaven on your own. Find the solution to the filth of your sin somewhere other than Christ and someday fall eternally in the torment of hell. Or, believe Simeon's words; that this little baby Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, our Savior. Recognize your sin and your need for a savior. Fall on your knees in repentance and trust in him and be comforted. Receive forgiveness of sins, peace, joy, and life eternal with him when you literally rise up from the dead. What will it be for you? Don't let it be anything less than what Simeon found.

            Simeon, moved by the Holy Spirit, chose the latter. He saw in this little baby more than a crying infant. He saw his savior from sin. He was comforted by this prince of peace.


II. Comforted by the Prince of Peace


Holding the Christ child in his arms, Simeon said, "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

Simeon was now ready to depart. He was ready to die and leave this vale of tears and sorrow. He was no longer troubled. No longer afraid… of even death itself! He could go in peace. Peace of soul; knowing that through this child, this Prince of Peace, everything was now peaceful between God and him. Through the sacrifice of this little baby all of his sins were forgiven. He would soon stand spotless before God's throne. He had peace of mind; knowing that whatever else life might throw his way mattered little in comparison to the gift God had sent in this little baby. God had sent the salvation which he had prepared for all people; for Gentile, for Jew… for Simeon. He was now set free from sin, death, and an eternity in hell. He could depart in peace, according to God's word.


You too, like Simeon, have seen with your own eyes God's salvation which he has prepared for you. The Holy Spirit has revealed to you that this little baby, in such a small package, is the Messiah, your Savior from sin. You can depart in peace. Peace of mind, knowing that God will work all things for your eternal good. And peace of soul, since this little baby, your Price of Peace, redeemed for God 40 days after Christmas, has redeemed you from all sin, from death and from hell.

Look at verse 33, "The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him." Like Mary and Joseph, marvel at what you've heard about this child. That though you deserve nothing but eternal suffering in hell, in this little baby, God has prepared your salvation. Wonder with amazement as you hear this gospel truth, as you see what Christ has done for you, as you taste his body and blood in the Lord's Supper, as you realize and appreciate the peace you have through him.

Like Simeon share what your eyes have seen! One of the early church fathers during the reign of Nero, the Christian persecutor, was Polycarp, who like Simeon, was advanced in years. He, like Simeon, shared his faith with all those around him. For such witness, he would be burned at the stake unless he would deny his Lord. But rather than save his life, he made one last bold and clear witness to his faith. He said, "Eighty and six years have I served Christ, who has never done me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?"

Because he saw in such a tiny package, in this infant child, God's greatest gift to mankind, the salvation which God had prepared for him, he could depart in peace. He could make a bold confession of Christ, that others too might be confronted by the Christ of Conflict. That they too might be comforted by the Prince of Peace. That they, like Simeon, like Polycarp, might someday pray, "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word." Amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Resolved to Change A sermon based on Hebrews 13:1-8

How are your New Year's resolutions? Broken them yet? Or maybe you resolved not to make any more resolutions. It seems too often we resolve to change our lives, but then fall back into our same old, sinful patters. But when we were helpless to change our situation God resolved to rescue us from our sin. Now we are sinless and perfect in God's sight with nothing left to be done. And in thanks to him we resolve to change our behavior and our lives. And with his help, that's a resolution we can keep. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Hebrews 13:1-8 and find new resolve to live for God who resolved to save you...

  Resolved to Change

A sermon based on Hebrews 13:1-8

Saturday, December 31, 2011 – New Year's Eve


 "How many WELS Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?" I'm sure most of you already know the punch line: "Change?! We've always had that light bulb!" We Lutherans are sometimes known for our resistance to change. But, of course, it's not just Lutherans. We humans are resistant to change because change brings something new, something unknown, something uncertain and scary.

But the truth is, whether we resist it, or welcome it, we all go through change. We can't avoid it. Just think of the changes you've gone through in 2011. Some of you have moved and changed your location and your home. Others have changed the size of your families with new additions by birth or subtractions through death. Others have changed jobs, changed your budgets, changed your diets, changed your medications, changed your daily routines. Change is inevitable. Everything is subject to change at any given time.

Everything that is, but Jesus. Jesus is always the same. He is the immovable, unchanging rock. So when life whips us around like a ship tossed by the sea, we have the certain anchor of Jesus. No matter what life throws at us, we always have forgiveness. We always have our salvation. We always have heaven to look forward to. We always have peace.  Those things will never change. And in thanks to God for giving us this unchanging certainty we can resolve to change the way we live and live for him in thanks. Listen to the word of encouragement that the author to the Hebrews gives us in chapter 13 of his epistle…


1 Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"  Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.


 So, have you all made your resolutions? What have you resolved to do? Quit smoking? Lose a few pounds? Become more organized? Procrastinate less? (Or are you waiting to make that resolution later tonight when you get around to it.) I'm not sure where the custom of making resolutions began or why, but I like the custom. I think we should all resolve to improve the way we live. In fact, I think we should all make such resolutions, not just once a year, but one a week or even once a day. And in fact, we do. Every time you hear those wonderful words proclaimed in worship, "God, our heavenly Father, has forgiven all your sins," or "Take and eat or drink, this is the body or blood of Jesus Christ given for you, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins," ...I hope that when you hear those words you resolve to quit doing the sins you've just been forgiven of. 

But perhaps a more probing question is not "Have you made your resolutions?" but "Have you kept your resolutions?" You know, the ones you made a year ago? Have you quit smoking? Lost the pounds? Become organized? Have you kept your resolutions to quit sinning? To be more loving to one another... and to complete strangers? Have you remembered those who are imprisoned and mistreated? Even in your prayers? Have you honored marriage and kept the marriage bed pure? How about in your words? In your thoughts? Have you kept your resolve to be content with what you have?

How resistant to change we are! We resolve to change... to do better next time! But we don't keep our resolutions. The next time comes around and we change our minds and don't change our attitudes or behaviors at all. In fact, the truth is, that if it were only up to us, to our will power, to our commitment to do better, to our strength and our resolve, well... we'd never change at all. And we would deserve to have God change his mind about loving us and say, "I don't want to save you anymore. You don't even appreciate it. I don't want to love you. I've changed my mind. I'll love you when you love me first. And I change my mind about giving you heaven for free. You abuse my gifts. Instead I'll give you the hell you deserve." Then we would remain damned sinners incapable of changing our thoughts and actions, incapable of changing our fate and would spend an eternity in hell where our torment would never change.

But thank God that his love for you never changes! "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." God's love for you was so great that he resolved to fix your problem of sin. In fact, as much as it seems like an oxymoron, his love for you is so changeless that he was willing to change for you. How did he change? The God of the universe took on flesh and blood and became fully human so he could be under his own law to live a perfect life in your place! And when he resolved not to sin, he kept his resolution!

He changed to become fully human that he might die for us. And when he resolved to go to the cross he "set his face like flint" (cf. Isaiah 50:7) so determined was that resolve! And thank God he didn't break that resolution! There, on the cross, God took the hell that we deserve to take away every one of our broken resolutions and every one of our sins. When no amount of resolve on our part ever could ever change us, God made a resolution to change us from the hell-bound sinners that we were to the sinless and perfect saints that we have become, and he kept his resolution.

That truth kept us grounded in 2011 and it will give us the strength and courage we need to face the changes that we'll meet in 2012 and beyond. Because that assurance of forgiveness, of peace with God, of the assurance of heaven will notcannot! ever!change. God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." That line is sort of a motto God has. 

When Jacob, Isaac's son, was relocating and changing his position (running for his life from his murderous brother) God promised him in Genesis 28:15, "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.As the children of Israel were terrified by the powerful enemies that occupied the land they were about to enter as they changed jobs from nomads to soldiers, God promised in Deuteronomy 31:6, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." When Moses' aid, Joshua, got an unexpected promotion and was now in charge of this rebellious group of Israelites, God promised him in Joshua 1:5, "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you." When King Solomon was intimidated by the thought of taking over his father's kingdom and all the changes that would take place, God promised him (through David) in 1 Chronicles 28:20, "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished."

The author to the Hebrews told them to remember these spiritual ancestors who lead the way for them, "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." Why? Because the God who promised never to leave those leaders made the same promise to them: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." And through the author to the Hebrews, he promises the same to you and me.

God's grace to you will never change—never! No matter what life throws at you, a change of jobs, a change of family, a change of health... you always have the forgiveness of sins. You always have salvation. You always have heaven to look forward to. And you always have peace. Those things will not and cannot ever change no matter what! You can always recite Psalm 118:6 with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" That will never change!

And so I can predict (with absolute certainty) that even if you lose your job, your health fails, your wealth is stripped away and all your friends and family all leave you, if God should allow you to suffer like Job, you will still have a great 2012! Because, in the words of Job (cf. 19:25-27 paraphrased), you know that your "Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after [your] skin has been destroyed, yet in [your] flesh [you] will see God; [You yourself] will see him with [your] own eyes!

So how do we respond to God's unchanging grace and his immovable promises? We resolve to change the way we live! We, "Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have…"

We resolve to thank God by continuing to show brotherly love to one another. While a brother or sister may have a quirk or two that drives you nuts, you still love your sibling. It's the same way in God's family. Resolve to love each other and express that brotherly love in your actions. 

Then resolve to love not just your friends. The heathen do that. Resolve to love and serve even those you don't know. Resolve to treat strangers, those imprisoned, and those mistreated, as if they were angels in disguise, as if they were God himself! Show them hospitality. Show them kindness. Show them Jesus' love. 

Resolve to uphold God's good gift of marriage. Resolve to put away impure thoughts. Resolve to love your spouse, not just in words, but in actions. The emotions will follow. Resolve to be content with the countless blessings God has showered on you and to keep your life free from the love of money. 

And by God's grace, we can keep these resolutions. We can find contentment, not in our wealth, but in our changeless Savior. Because no matter what changes for you in 2012, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, in 2012 and forever. Yesterday, in days past, he took care of our salvation when he died on the cross and removed our every sin. Today he remains with us always and gives us his Word, his body and his blood. And he will be with us forever in this life and in the eternal glory of heaven that's ours through him. Rejoice in what God has resolved to do for us! And in thanks resolve to live for him. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen. 

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611