Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Our Risen Savior Still Acts: Giving Life by Sending His Spirit

The dead coming back to life isn't just the stuff of zombie fiction. Through Jesus it's reality -- in fact, it's our reality. We who were once spiritually dead in our sin have been brought to life through the work of the Holy Spirit by Law and Gospel. And it's the work that Jesus is still doing today: Bringing the dead to life by sending his Spirit with Law and Gospel. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on select verses of Acts 2 and be afflicted by the Law and comforted by the Gospel that you might live by the Sprint...

Our Risen Savior Still Acts:

Giving Life by Sending His Spirit

A sermon based on Acts 2:32-33, 36-41

Sunday, May 27, 2012 – Pentecost B


Can you imagine seeing what Ezekiel saw? Dry bones rattling on the ground… sinews and muscles and flesh growing around the bones… and at his prayer, the dead, lifeless bodies, arose! With breath in their lungs and life in their bodies! What an amazing miracle!

What a vivid object lesson! In a spectacular way, God showed Ezekiel this important truth—that he, by his Spirit, brings the dead to life. A few hundred years later, on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, God gave another vivid object lesson. What looked like flames of fire suddenly appearing on the apostles' heads and instantly they had mastery of languages they'd never studied. And the Spirit of God gave them clarity. The light-bulb came on—or rather the flame of fire—and they got it.

But the greater miracle that took place that day took place as a result of the Spirit working through Peter's sermon that followed. God brought about 3,000 lifeless souls that resembled dead, dry bones to vibrant spiritual life that day.

Today we jump into the middle of that sermon and we how the Spirit worked through Law and Gospel to bring dead souls to life. And we're encouraged that our Risen Savior still acts in the same way today. He still sends his Holy Spirit to give through the proclamation of Law and Gospel. Listen as we read select verses from Acts 2 …


32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear…

36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call."

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.


There are two main teachings of the Bible: The Law and Gospel. The law of course, is what God demands, the standard which everyone must meet to have God's favor, the standard which no one can meet on his or her own. The gospel—literally, the "good or excellent news"—is what God has done. He has met all the requirements of the law for us in Jesus.

It is though Law and Gospel that the Spirit works to bring life. The old preacher's adage puts it this way: It is our job to "Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." But really that's the job of the Holy Spirit. Like Peter did, we preach the Law and through it the Spirit afflicts those comfortable in their sin. Like Peter did, we preach the Gospel and through it the Spirit comforts the afflicted. Let's take a closer look…


I.              He Afflicts the Comfortable

In Peter's sermon, he began by preaching harsh Law: 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear… 36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

"You killed the Messiah! You killed the one that everyone was waiting for! You killed the Son of God that proved his divinity by his miracles and by his resurrection from the dead!" Wow! Harsh Law, right? Can you imagine how uncomfortable that must have been?

A friend of mine got an email from his office manager that detailed a new company policy. He replied, detailing what a dumb policy change it had been. He then went on to complain that the boss that implemented it should really have checked with the managers and other employees before doing something this stupid. He asked his manager, "Is there any way that you and the other managers could keep this moronic boss in check to keep this from happening so often?"

It wasn't until later that day that his coworkers informed him that he had hit "reply all," sending the email not just to his manager, but to everyone in company… including the boss. Awkward! Let me tell you, he had a bad day that day.

Well that awkward moment that my friend felt, must have magnified a hundred times over for Peter's audience. The men and women gathered before Peter that day didn't just go up against a boss. They went up against God himself and against his Messiah! And they didn't just send out a stupid email. They killed him!

And Peter called them on it. "You crucified Jesus, the Lord, the Christ!"

Can you imagine how uncomfortable that must have been? Well, yes, you can. You no doubt have felt that same awkward moment, not when you found out you send out a harsh email, but when you were confronted in your sin.

You may have squirmed a bit when your spouse called you on your selfish and childish behavior. You have been flushed in the face when your teacher caught you cheating. You may have been embarrassed when your pastor pointed out your sinful, self-serving behavior.

I hope you have. And I hope you do feel that same sense of guilt and shame that that crowd did when they were confronted in the truth. Because that conviction is the first step in making things right—not just with the boss, or your spouse, or your parents, or your parents, or your teacher—but with your God.

You see, every sin, is really committed against him. Disobey your parents, disobey God who says you ought to give them honor and respect. Disrespect your boss or your president and sin against God who says they represent him. Hurt your spouse and hurt your God who's made the two of you one. Your unloving words, your disobedient actions, your apathy, and your failure to live up to your potential, is all rebellion against God. And it is damnable.

Sound harsh? It is! But it's true. Your sin—just one of them—damns you to hell. Like a balloon that is popped with just one pin-prick, perfection is popped with just one sin. And even before you act, who you are by nature damns you to hell.

Notice that Peter's audience wasn't just those who were present at Jesus' crucifixion a month and a half earlier. It was Jews from every nation under earth. Jews who were in Egypt and Rome and Arabia on Good Friday. But Peter said that they killed Jesus! They were responsible for Jesus' death by their sin. And so are you.

One man put it well when he said, "When the story of Christ's death was first read to me, I cursed Judas and Pilate, the Jews and the soldiers. But when I understood it, I cursed myself, for I, too, have crucified Christ."

That understanding is important. If you were comfortable in your sin before the sermon started, I hope that right now you now feel afflicted. I hope you are cut to the heart! Because it was your sin (and mine) that brought about Jesus' death. Even if no one else in the world had ever sinned, Jesus still would have had to die for you.

And that's important to understand because by that message of harsh Law, the Holy Spirit leads you to repent—to cry out in sorrow and grief and shame, "What do I do?!" And when you are brought to repentance, where do you turn? Where do you go when you're afflicted by your sin? God, through Peter, tells us…


II.            He Comforts the Afflicted


In Peter's sermon, once he afflicted the comfortable with the Law, he comforted the afflicted with the Gospel: 38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call."

Now some want to point to the word, repent, and say there was a condition the people had to first meet before they would be forgiven. But that's not the way repent is used here. The people didn't have to produce greater sorrow over their sin. They had already been cut to the heart. Here repent is meant, not in its narrow sense of turn away from sin, but in its broad sense of turn to Jesus.

This is all Gospel! Peter might just as well have said, "Believe and be baptized!" There was no prescription given of what they must do first. There were no amends that needed to be made. No penance that must be done. No reparations given. They were to be entirely passive and just receive God's blessings.

"Be baptized." "Receive the gift." "The promise is for you and your children." Not just for scholars. Not just for monks. Not just for the Pharisees or the Chief Priests. But for all whom the Lord would call. They did nothing. God did everything. He sent the Messiah whom they killed. He redeemed them with his blood by that very death. He sent the Spirit through Peter's preaching to afflict them when they were comfortable and to comfort them when they were afflicted.

And through all that God did, a miracle resulted! The Holy Spirit led them to believe and accept the truth that Peter taught and the dead were brought to life!  "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day."

But it wasn't just for them on that particular day. No! Peter said "The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off…" That is, for all who are far off geographically—thousands of miles away from Jerusalem, even all the way to Alsaka--and for all who are far off chronologically—thousands of years later—even to you and to me.

The Holy Spirit has held up mirror of the Law and has shown us our sins. He's led us to see that we are helpless on our own and need more than just a guide or a band-aid, but a Savior. "What can we do?" But the Holy Spirit answers in the Gospel, "Do nothing. He did it all. Be entirely passive and receive God's blessings. "Be baptized." "Receive the gift." "The promise is for you and your children."

Believe that the promise that is for you and for your children, for all people of all time! And receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Receive him and the gifts he brings: Faith, and through that faith, forgiveness, and through that forgiveness, peace.

Then by the peace that God alone gives may he give you strength to live a life of thanks to him. Save yourself… not from sin, or from death, or from hell. That's already been done. But save yourself from this corrupt, crooked, twisted generation that surrounds you. Don't be like them. But be as God wants you to be: selfless, humble, loving and kind, eager to serve others, ready to show love.

Give thanks to God, for his Law, for his Gospel, for his Spirit who's given you life when you were nothing more than a pile of dry bones spiritually speaking. And live for him. Serve him gladly in all you do. Guard your faith. And share Law and Gospel with others that they too might be afflicted by the Law when they're comfortable in their sin, that they might be comforted by the Gospel when they're afflicted by their guilt. And through you and through the Word that you share, our Risen Savior will still act, giving life by sending his Spirit. In his name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Our Risen Savior Still Acts: Through Us, His Martyrs

Have what it takes to be a martyr? You do, actually. You've seen what your Savior has done for you. That makes you equipped to tell what he's done. That's literally what "martyr" means: a witness. Having witnessed God's great acts in Jesus, we take the witness stand and tell others of God's great acts in Jesus. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Acts 1:1-11 and rejoice that our Risen Savior still acts through us, his martyrs...

Our Risen Savior Still Acts:

Through Us, His Martyrs

A sermon based on Acts 1:1-11

Sunday, May 20, 2012 – Ascension B


In 1563 a man by the name of John Foxe first published his book that's made every list of Christian Classics—The Book of Martyrs. In it he describes the persecution and violent death of countless Christians from the stoning of Stephen to the murder of his own contemporaries under "Bloody" Mary of England. Many Christians around the globe, in places like India, China, and Afghanistan, are still martyred today—that is, they are killed for what they believe.

But did you know that the word "martyr" didn't originally mean one who dies for what they believe? In our text for this morning the Greek word, "martures," is translated, "witnesses." And in this sense of the word, every Christian is a martyr. We might not all be killed for our faith, but we are all witnesses. And that word, "witness" has a double meaning. First it's one who has seen something take place—"I witnessed the accident." The other meaning, is to testify what was seen—"I witnessed in court."

Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, he reminded his disciples that he would continue to act… through them! They were to be his witnesses—his martyrs! And the directions he gave them didn't apply just to them, but they apply to us too. Our Risen Savior still acts… through us. Every Christian is a martyr because every Christian is a witness—we have seen what Jesus has done. And we now testify about what Jesus has done. Listen now to our call be martyrs in Luke 1:1-11…


1In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."  6So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"  7He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 9After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11"Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."


I.              We've Seen Jesus' Acts


As Luke set out to write his second volume to Theophilus, he begins where he left off in the Gospel of Luke—with Jesus ascension. (Luke 24:50-53) But here Luke goes into a little more detail. Here he tells us more of what Jesus said to his disciples right before he left, including that final point of instruction Jesus gave his disciples. "You will be my witnesses," he told them, "in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

An old fable says that once Jesus arrived in heaven the angel Gabriel asked him, "Now what?" To which Jesus replied, "Now they go and tell everyone what I've done for them." "But," Gabriel replied, "What if they don't do it? What if they grow lazy? What if they lose their zeal? What then?" And Jesus answered, "I've made no other plans. I'm counting on them."

Now, it's only a fable, but the point is true. Jesus made these disciples his witnesses. But what made them qualified to carry the gospel message? They were witnesses, ones who would testify, because they were witnesses, ones who had seen what Jesus had done. In Luke 24(:46-48) the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples and told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."

At his ascension Jesus time with his disciples had finally drawn to a close. And even though they only spent three short years with Jesus, just imagine what an exciting three years they must have been! Just think of all those disciples saw!

 They saw Jesus do countless miracles, walking on water and calming storms, healing the blind and lame, the deaf and mute, the crippled and the leprous. Some of them saw Jesus shining in his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. They saw him arrested and beaten and one even watched him be crucified. And all eleven saw the resurrected Jesus alive—physically! They even ate with him! Luke reminds us, "After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God." And now they saw the finale as they stood there watching Jesus rise into the sky—"taken up before their very eyes [until] a cloud hid him from their sight." What amazing things these disciples saw! What spectacular things they witnessed!

"Well, sure!" you might be thinking, "They witnessed some pretty amazing things! But what about me?! I didn't see any of that! I haven't seen any healings apart from those phonies ones on TV. Transfiguration? I missed that one! Were you there when they crucified my Lord? I wasn't. Nor have I ever seen the resurrected Jesus standing before me. I'm not a witness to any of that!"

But friends, you are witnesses of all of that and more. Today we finish what's been called the festival half of the church year—that half of the year where we celebrate the major events of Christ's life—from his birth at Christmas to his death and resurrection at Holy Week and beyond and now finally to his Ascension.

Over the past six months we may not have seen Jesus physically standing here among us. But we have seen him clearly. In fact, even more clearly than the disciples had up to his ascension. We saw him born in a lowly manure-scented barn as the King of the Universe humbled himself for us. We have seen the miracles he performed to demonstrate his divinity as well as his compassion for mankind. We watched during Holy Week as he suffered hell to pay for our sins—our sins of failing to witness boldly for him and every sin! We've seen the resurrected Savior show himself to us to assure us that our forgiveness is sealed in heaven!

Friends, we can't say that we haven't seen Jesus. We have seen all these things and more! We are witnesses of what Jesus has done. And we can continue to witness all he's done as we read and study and hear and learn his Word.

But then, dear friends, having witnessed all these things, we don't just stand around looking into the sky. We share the message with others. And we don't need any special training or education because these are no more necessary for the Christian witness than they are for the witness in the courtroom. People are not called to the witness stand because they have training or education, but because they have seen or experienced something that's important to the case being tried.

Because of the things we've witnessed, because we've seen for ourselves what Jesus has done for us, we have all it takes to witness—to testify about what Jesus has done for others…


II.            We Tell Jesus' Acts


As Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples must have been thinking, "Now what?!" Back in verse 6 we get a glimpse of their confusion when they ask Jesus, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" "Now," they asked, "are you finally going to drive out the Romans for us? Now will you bring judgment on all who have opposed you?" And in a sense, Jesus told them, "Don't worry about it." Instead of worrying about things God hadn't revealed, they should focus on the task at hand. And in verse 8, Jesus gave them their task again as he reiterated that Great Commission.

He said, "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

This verse really lays out the outline of the rest of the book of Acts. If you haven't done it in a while re-read the book of Acts sometime and you'll see how it's all about the witness of Jesus' apostles. From here—the Mount of Olives—the disciples would spread the message where they were already at—in Jerusalem. Then the message would spread even further to the outlying regions of Judea and Samaria. Finally, through the apostle Paul and others, the gospel began its quick journey around the globe.

How did these men, who only weeks earlier were found cowering behind locked doors, accomplish such an amazing feat? Well, they didn't. Jesus promised them, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you." And that's exactly what happened. After Pentecost, they were empowered to boldly say, "We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard," (Acts 4:20) and, "We must obey God rather than men!"? (Acts 5:29) In the Holy Spirit and clarity in the gospel that he brought they found the courage to get busy and share what they had seen.

And notice what Luke said in verses 1 and 2: "In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven…" Did you catch that? He wrote about what Jesus began to do. In other Words, Jesus wasn't done. Not even after his Ascension! It was Jesus who would continue to act through them and give them the strength and the words to speak. In him they even found the courage to be martyred—killed in some pretty horrible ways—for Jesus.

And friends we not only share the task of witnessing with the disciples, but we share the same power they had. We too have the Holy Spirit living and working in us and through us. We too have clarity in understanding the gospel. We too have Jesus acting in us and through us. We too have courage and "cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

And we too witness in our "Jerusalem," starting right where we're at in our existing areas of influence, as we share the gospel with our friends and family. We witness when we pray together around the dinner table, read a family devotion and teach our kids about Jesus and about faithful worship attendance. We witness when we say no to temptation when our friends are heaping on the peer pressure.

And we witness in our "Judea and Samaria," a bit out of our comfort zone with people who are different than us, as we share the gospel with our neighbors and co-workers. We witness when we politely ask the boss to give us a schedule that allows us to worship our Savior. We witness when we sacrifice our time and energy to help out a co-worker seeking nothing in return. We witness when we visit our neighbor in the hospital and tell him we'll pray for him, or even when we simply say hello and act friendly across the fence.

And we witness to the ends of the earth, not necessarily as traveling missionaries, but through our Synod, which sends missionaries out on our behalf. We witness when we give our regular offerings to God—offerings used to reach souls here in Kenai and through our synod and our webcast around the world—giving not because we must or out of guilt, but because we've witnessed what Jesus has done for us. And we want to share that amazing gospel with others.

On October 15, 1940, 480 German aircraft dropped 386 tons of explosives and 70,000 bombs on the city of London. While Londoners sought shelter in their basements, the city of London with all its historical buildings burned out of control. But Winston Churchill intervened. "'To the basement,'" he cheered, "must be replaced by 'To the roofs!'" And the people answered with courage. When the nightly attacks resumed, with little to no protection, risking (and often giving) their lives, they took to the streets and rooftops, serving as firefighters in order to save much of the city.

Can you imagine what would have happened if the disciples hadn't taken to the streets with the gospel message? If they'd instead went back into hiding behind locked doors? Where would we be today? But they didn't. They did become his witnesses, risking (and often giving) their lives, they took to the ends of the earth, serving as witnesses of what Jesus has done to save countless souls. And through them and their work, the Gospel of God's love and forgiveness through Jesus has come down to you and to me today. And through them God has saved our souls.

Likewise, countless souls in future generations may not have the same opportunities to hear the gospel if you don't witness. But the promises of Jesus, the things he's done for us that we've witnessed, and the Holy Spirit he's sent us give us the courage to risk our reputations, our careers, our very lives if necessary to witness for Jesus. For our Risen Savior still acts, through us, his martyrs. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Our Risen Savior Still Acts: He Still Raises the Dead

Does it sometimes seem like your life is full of mundane, boring tasks. Well, that's okay. When done in thanks to our Savior for the new life that he gives us, those "little" things can make a big impact in the kingdom. And we do gladly serve our Savior in the little things and the big to show our gratitude to him for raising us from the dead. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Acts 9:36-42 and be encouraged to live for our living Savior...

Our Risen Savior Still Acts:

He Still Raises the Dead

A sermon based on Acts 9:36-42

Sunday, May 13, 2012 – Easter 6B


I'd like to begin this Mother's Day sermon by sharing with you one of my earliest memories of my mom. I must have been 3 or 4. It wasn't long after I was potty trained. I know that. And my mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday. Now, I have no idea what planted the thought in my head, but I was absolutely certain that the one thing in the world that would truly make me happy was… ready for it? Pink and purple underpants. J Seriously. I wish it were something else. But my mom won't let me forget it.

So mom, loving mother that she was, desirous to see her little baby happy, scoured the stores. She searched high and low… to no avail. The only underpants that had either color weren't made for little boys. J But mom wouldn't give up. She enlisted help. And my request became well known.

And soon one of ladies at church, a dear friend of the family, volunteered to make a pair of pink and purple underpants. You may know her, actually, since after she left Renton, WA, Darlene Zolldan moved with her husband, Jerry, and their kids to Anchorage where they attended Faith for a number of years.

But I tell this story, not just to embarrass myself, but to demonstrate the love of a mother for her son, and the love of a dear Christian woman for some weird little boy in the congregation, each showing their faith in a small way. That's the kind of lady that mom is. That's the kind of lady Darlene Zolldan was. You see, on July 9, 2009 Darlene went to be with Jesus. But not before making a baby blanket for Josiah and making a big impact on me by living out her faith each day in little ways.

This morning we hear of another lady, named Tabitha, who lived out her faith in the seemingly little things she did—making clothes for other people in the congregation (though I doubt she made pink and purple underpants). J She did this act of kindness out of love for her Savior who brought her to life… a couple of times!

And so do we. Out of thanks to our Risen Savior who still acts by raising the dead, we too live out our faith in whatever calling we've received. Listen now to Acts 9:36-42 and be encouraged to live out your faith in your living Savior…


36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, "Please come at once!"

39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, "Tabitha, get up." She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.


I.  He Raises Us to Life in Him


What an introduction Tabitha receives! "In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha… who was always doing good and helping the poor." With an intro like that, you'd think she was a huge philanthropist, giving away thousands of dollars every day. Or maybe a miracle worker, healing the sick and curing the diseased. Or maybe a great teacher, explaining the truths of God's Word to others. But she wasn't a wealthy benefactor like Lydia, or a healer like Peter, or an apostle like Paul. She was a seamstress. In fact, the Greek word translated as "robes" in the NIV is usually used to describe a linen garment worn next to the skin. In other words, she may have made underwear for those in need of new underpants. J  She may not have been what most would consider a super-Christian, but Tabitha used the gifts that God had given her to serve to God's glory to the best of her ability. And she's described with a beautiful epitaph:  "Tabitha… was always doing good and helping the poor."

But what do you think caused her to serve in this way? What kept her going as she continued to use her skill to carefully craft garments for those in need? What motivated her to continue to do what might have at times seemed mundane? It's because God raised her from the dead.

"Wait a second!" you might object, "Tabitha made all those clothes before she died!" Well… before she died physically, yes. But you see, Tabitha, like every other person born in the natural way was born dead—dead in her trespasses and sins. But by his grace, God made her alive in Christ. He created faith in her heart—faith in Jesus as her Savior from sin. And through that faith he forgave her every sin, made her perfect and holy in his sight, and gave her spiritual life. All of that is indicated by the short phrase, "In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha…" Her works in making clothes for others were fruits of her faith.


And friends, you know that God has done the same for you. You see death literally means "separation." We usually mean the separation of body and soul when we talk about death, but God's Word talks about death in a number of other ways as well. Death can mean a separation of the soul from God.

This is how his Word describes us by nature in Ephesians 2:1-12: "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world…" (Ephesians 2:1-2) Our spiritual death was evidenced by our actions. We didn't do the mundane gladly, but with much grumbling and griping. We didn't give glory to God in what we did, but served ourselves. 

And if left in our natural condition of spiritual death, we would have died not just physically with a separation of body and soul, but we would have died eternally—forever separated from God and his blessing in an endless hell. That's the kind of death the Bible speaks of in Ezekiel 18:20: "The soul who sins is the one who will die," and in Romans 6:23: "The wages of sin is death."

 But that's not the end of the story for us. Paul went on in Ephesians 2:4-5: "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…"

Do you think Tabitha being raised from the dead (physical death, I mean) is a spectacular miracle? Well, no doubt, it is. It's not every day that dead people come back to life. But it pales in comparison to the real miracle of God bringing spiritually dead people to life through the Gospel! He did that for Tabitha—that's her first resurrection. And through her second resurrection, he did it for countless others. (Luke reports: "This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.") And by God's grace, he did it for you!

God has brought you to faith in his Son, crucified and died—body and soul separated on the cross, and soul separated from God the Father and forsaken by him—to pay for your sins. You believe in Jesus Christ, raised to life—physically alive again—to guarantee your victory over sin and even death! For one day soon you will die—your body and soul will separate—unless Judgment Day comes first. But you will not stay dead. Jesus promised, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25-26) Even if your body and soul are separated, your soul will never again be separated from God! For our Risen Savior still acts! He still raises the dead! And God has brought you to life!

But the life he gave to Tabitha and the life that he gave to you aren't meant to be used to serve oneself. But Jesus brings the dead to life that they might live for him. And that's just what Tabitha did…


II.  He Raises Us to Live for Him


Now, isn't it interesting who God chose to raise from the dead? He didn't raise James from the dead when Herod killed him. He didn't raise Peter from the dead when he was crucified. He didn't raise Paul from the dead when he was executed. Instead he raised a seamstress that has received no mention before or after our text for this morning. She didn't do anything particularly heroic. She just made clothes for the poor.

But that's exactly how God operates—through the ordinary, the plain, the seemingly mundane. He operates through ordinary bread and wine, through plain old water, through regular ink on paper and through vibrations in the air that hit the eardrum. And God doesn't use the wise man, the scholar, or the philosopher of this age. He doesn't just use celebrities and professional athletes and famous politicians. He uses schmucks like me and ordinary people like you. He uses seamstresses like Tabitha and women of faith like Darlene Zolldan.

And don't think we have to do giant things in the kingdom to make a giant impact. Changing a diaper and bathing the baby, preparing a meal and cleaning the dishes, tucking in the kids at night, and all the normal, ordinary, mundane things moms do, are wonderful fruits of faith when they're done in thanks to Jesus for giving new life.

Attending meetings regularly, working faithfully, giving generously, studying dutifully, serving selflessly… in whatever your calling in life—whether as mother or father, son or daughter, husband or wife, student, employee, or employer—as you do whatever it is that you do to the glory of God—even if's nothing more glorious that making a pair of pink and purple underpants—you will be making an impact in the kingdom—an impact that will last for eternity.

And you know that someday soon God who has raised you from the dead to a new, spiritual life in him, will raise you from the dead physically, and give you eternal life in him. So, in thanks to him for that incomparable gift, keep living for him. As the apostle Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15(:58), "Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

And through the seemingly ordinary and mundane tasks that you do in thanks to him, God will continue to work the miraculous. Your works of service will become known—maybe not all over Joppa or all over the Peninsula, but maybe all over your family or all over your work place. And maybe some will wonder what makes you tick? What makes you serve others so selflessly? And maybe they'll come to know that you serve out of love for your Savior and out of thanks to him. And maybe someday it will be said of you that your resurrection has become known all over and, as a result, many people believed in the Lord. For through us, our Risen Savior still acts. He still raises the dead. In his name, dear friends, amen.


In Him,

Pastor Rob Guenther

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

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Our Risen Savior Still Acts: He Still Opens Our Hearts

Are you eager to give your time and your money away to the church? Are you eager to spend your energy serving others instead of yourself? An early disciple named Lydia was. But what made her long to serve Jesus? It wasn't anything in herself. It was Jesus who opened her heart to believe the Good News of her salvation. And it's Jesus, our risen Savior, who still acts today by opening our hearts to receive his grace and to respond to that grace by our fruits of faith. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Acts 16:11-15 and be encouraged by our Savior who still opens our hearts...

Our Risen Savior Still Acts:

He Still Opens Our Hearts

A sermon based on Acts 16:11-15

Sunday, May 6, 2012 – Easter 5B


When Heather was tweleve years old, she went to the dentist for her regular checkup. But she got a small cut while she was there and that's when the bacteria made its way in to her bloodstream. The bacteria infected her heart and did permanent damage to her valves. But after four open heart surgeries, Heather's now just fine. Today she's twenty-six years old and teaches the first grade. Her life changed—her life was saved!—because her heart was opened up and fixed.

When Lydia was living in Europe she too had her heart opened up and fixed. And her life was saved because of it. Through the preaching of the apostle Paul and his companion, Silas, the Holy Spirit opened her heart to believe the Gospel. And her life was changed. She couldn't help but respond in overwhelming gratitude.

And our Risen Savior still acts. Using his surgical tools of the Word and Sacraments, he still opens up hearts and fixes them. He still saves lives by opening hearts to receive his grace! He still changes lives by opening hearts to respond to his grace. Listen to how he did it for Lydia and be reminded how he does it for us still as we read Acts 16:11-15…


11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us.


I.  He Opens Our Hearts to Receive His Grace


We don't know too much about Lydia outside of this account. But I believe that God chose to honor her by having her name recorded in the pages of Scripture because of the wonderful example that she left us. Originally from the Greek city of Thyatira, well known in the ancient world for the rare purple dye extracted from a mussel that grew there, Lydia brought he trade with her when she left for Philippi. But since the dye was so rare, supply and demand made purple cloth very expensive, the color worn only by royalty and the very wealthy. And it made Lydia wealthy herself.

But what did Lydia do with that money? She generously used it to host four traveling missionaries: Paul and Silas, Timothy and Luke. And though I'm sure they were polite about it, their original response was, "No. We will not take you up on your offer." But Lydia persuaded them. Literally, she prevailed upon them. She wouldn't take no for an answer. But she was eager to spend the wealth that she'd earned to support the work of the Church.

But why? What made her so willing, so insistent even, to give up what she'd worked so hard to get? Well, in short, it was because God changed her heart.

Even though she was from a Greek city, somewhere she heard about the true God. "A worshipper of God" was a title given to a Greek who had converted to Judaism. Apparently there weren't too many Jewish men in Philippi or none bold enough to lead since there was no synagogue and there were no men present at the river. But Lydia gathered faithfully with the other women to worship Jehovah. But apparently she didn't yet know about her Savior.

And honestly, she couldn't know about her Savior—not on her own. She had no way of knowing that God had already sent the Messiah in the person of Jesus. But Paul and company told her by God's grace. And she had no way of believing that the message they shared was true—not on her own. You'll notice that our text doesn't say, "Lydia decided to accept Jesus into her heart." It doesn't say, "Lydia chose to believe." It doesn't even say, "Lydia then had faith." Lydia's not the subject of the sentence! But notice who does get the credit: "The Lord opened her heart to respond to [the] message."

Though she wasn't a part of God's family by nature, God chose her to become his own. God sent the missionaries to Philippi. God gave Lydia the ability to hear and understand what they said. God opened up her heart that she could positively respond to the message Paul proclaimed. And by opening her heart God brought her into his family.


Now I'm pretty sure that most of us here aren't Jewish either—not a part of God's natural family. And the fact that we were outsiders was evidenced by the way we behaved toward God.

You see, I'm also pretty sure that most of us here have far more vibrant colors in our wardrobes that Lydia even dreamed of having. I'm sure that we have far greater wealth—even the poorest among us. After all, Lydia never had motorized vehicles, running water, or computers and TV's. Nor did she ever dream of such luxuries. But we have incredible wealth.

Yet how do we use that wealth? Do we eagerly spend it on whatever supports the mission of the Church? Do we eagerly open our very homes to complete strangers in order that the Gospel might be spread? Do we refuse to take "no" for an answer and do whatever it takes to give generously of the blessings God's given? Not that often, do we?

And why not? Because our hearts were diseased. They were selfish. They were full of self-serving sin. And we were like dead branches, cut off from the tree that gives life. Like fruitless branches doing nothing good, fit only for the fire.

But God in his grace wouldn't take "no" as an answer from us. But with his relentless grace he pursued us. He sent someone to share the message of Jesus with us. He performed open heart surgery—opening our hearts to respond to the Good News that our every sin is paid for by Jesus' blood shed for us on the cross!

And now we're like dead branches grafted in to the living tree. When I went to Israel my tour guide showed us some trees that looked like they'd all been cut off at the trunk about three feet off the ground. But into the tall stump of a trunk, branches from other trees had been grafted in. Branches that had been cut off and destined to die, now had life. And that's what God did for us! We who were once dead, lifeless branches, have been grafted into God's family tree, just like Lydia was.

And it wasn't because we chose God or decided to believe in him, but just like it was for Lydia, it was because God opened our hearts through the Word like he did for Lydia, through the waters of Baptism like he did for Anna and Nevaeh. And we still have life because he keeps our hearts open by keeping us connected to those means of grace, so we're always connected to the Vine that is Jesus. And now we have life! And that life isn't stagnant. What lives produces fruit…


II.  He Opens Our Hearts to Respond to His Grace


Just look at Lydia again. She must have been industrious to become a dealer in purple cloth. She must have been quite wealthy as a result. And she must have had a pretty nice home—one that could easily accommodate another four fully grown men and their appetites without any advanced notice or preparation. She must have been successful to have a household—either of kids or servants—and manage them along with her business. But what did she do with her hard-earned wealth? She gave it away!

She recognized that one fruit of faith that she could produce was to spend her money, not on herself, but on the mission. And she was eager to do it. She was insistent. "No, no." I'm sure Paul said, "That's really quite a generous offer—to house all four of us—but we really couldn't put you out like that. In fact, we have this policy, you see, that we never burden those we minister to. We never want anyone to get the impression that we only do what we do for financial gain. But again, thank you. And we'll see you in the morning."

"No!" I can imagine Lydia firing back. "I'm not asking you. I'm telling you. I'm not giving you an invite here. You will stay at my place—all four of you. You will eat the best food I have to offer. You will drink my very best drink. You will sleep in the best beds that I can find. I absolutely insist and I will be offended and hurt if you refuse me." "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded [them]. She prevailed upon them, so insistent was she that she could demonstrate her faith and respond to God's grace. Why? Because God had opened her heart to respond to his grace.


And friends, it's no different for you. Just look at all the colors in your clothes this morning! And think of all the things you own that Lydia, with all of her wealth, never dreamed of! You most likely have more items in your home that are used for your hobbies and leisure time activities than you have tools for the work you do to support yourself. You have more food in your cupboards and refrigerators than Lydia could have imagined.

And you are blessed with other, non-material, blessings: health, gifts and abilities, friends and family, free time. Those are wonderful gifts of God that we take for granted way too often! And then we have the even greater spiritual blessings that God has given us—Spirit-given understanding, the forgiveness of our sins and the peace that it brings us, heaven itself with the mansions that God has prepared for us there!

And all these gifts—and especially these latter, greater gifts—move us to such overwhelming gratitude that we cannot help but produce fruits of faith. We simply must show our God how thankful we are for all he's done and for all he's given, for opening our hearts and grafting us in to his family tree! For by his great grace to us he continues to open our hearts to fill them with appreciation and gratitude again that must respond to his grace in works of service.

Do you know why they grafted branches into those stumps in Israel? It was so that all the water and nutrients that had been going to heal and grow the entire tree, now went right into the fruit, making it grow bigger and faster and more delicious than ever. In fact, one man had successfully created a tree in his back yard that grew lemons, limes, oranges, and mangos—all in the same tree! (And he was thinking about trying to add an avocado branch!) But they grafted the branches to the stump to give those branches life so that those branches would produce fruit.

In the same way, God has grafted us into his family tree not just so we can sit around providing shade, but so what we can produce fruit—big, flourishing fruit that looks delicious to God! And you have produced that kind of fruit!

You have given generously of your hard-earned dollars. Though in this month's Grace Notes our treasurer notes that we still have $7,000 in outstanding obligations, in the previous month's newsletter that figure was $21,000! And our $7,000 shortfall is after paying off $14,000 in unexpected debt earlier this fiscal year! So in a certain sense, we're $7,000 ahead in offerings we expected to receive! You are giving very generously!

Count up the hours of time that members spend at church, volunteering their time to play the keyboard, to attend important meetings, to clean the building, to teach Sunday School, to count the offerings, to run the webcast, and to do all the other things that need to be done around here and I'll bet the number is in the thousands per year! You do give generously of your time!

And its not just here! Consider the hours you spend in humble serve others: cleaning your home, showing love to your spouse and kids, encouraging your co-workers, carrying more than your fair share of the work or changing a diaper without complaint. You've shared your faith. You've invited your friends to worship! And these are all wonderful fruits of faith! When I look out at the people sitting in the chairs this morning, I see a whole lot of Lydias—a whole lot of saints who won't take "no" for an answer, but must serve others to serve their Savior out thanks to him!

Now don't stop! Keep it up! Not because you have to, but because you long to. Because you'll go crazy if you can't find some release for your overwhelming desire to thank Jesus for all he's done for you! For by his grace, you are connected to the true vine. In him you have life! And as your remain in him and he in you, you will bear much fruit. You'll draw water from the Living Water and get the  nutrients your faith needs from the Word. And rejoicing in his grace, your faith will grow and you'll produce more and bigger fruit! You won't be able to help it. You won't take "no" for an answer, but will find a way to thank God for opening your heart to receive his grace and for opening your heart to respond to his grace. In the name of Jesus, the true vine, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

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