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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:1-17; Mark 4:26-34

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Have you ever seen a mustard seed? It’s so incredibly tiny that you must look real closely to see it. It’s so small that should you have dropped one, you wouldn’t even attempt to find it because it would be nearly impossible. There’s something to be said for our mentality of “bigger is better.” We value things that are large and easy to show off; thus, we also devalue things that are small or miniscule.

Just because something is small doesn’t mean it will stay that way. The mustard seed might be the smallest of all seeds, but it will grow into a large tree. We have many stories and experiences that should teach us not to underestimate small things. Just because we view something, or someone, as small and feeble doesn’t mean they can’t outperform our expectations.

In our Gospel reading this week, Jesus gives us two parables concerning the kingdom of God. Perhaps the lesson Jesus seeks to teach us is not to underestimate God’s kingdom. It will grow in ways which we are not aware of; and it may seem small but will be larger and more prominent than any other.

It doesn’t matter how much we try to understand church growth, find the right formula, instill the right culture, we’re still just as clueless as ever. By examining church growth, we find that there are no magic bullets to always grant growth. I.e. what works in one place is never guaranteed to work elsewhere. For we often show our own disdain for the Word by trying to replace our hope in traits, programs, or people to grow the church. 

Consider the work of the farmer scattering the seed. We can encourage growth. We can seek to help growth. But growth just happens on its own. “He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how,” Mark 4:27. When we share the Word, we can’t guess whether it will yield growth or not. Rather, we scatter the word knowing that the word can grow. Growth is dependent on two things, the seed of the Word and its reception by one who hears. The word is nothing else but the word of Christ. It’s speaking and witnessing to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For when we speak of Christ and how he takes our sins upon himself and goes to the cross for us, the seed is scattered into hearts and minds so that faith may grow. And so also the mustard seed, when faith is shared, when Christ is proclaimed, the Church grows. The tree of the Church sends out its branches far and wide so many may come and find shelter and life within its shade. So, let us trust that the word will grant the very growth which God desires from it and that by the word alone, the Church will grow into all nations, granting salvation unto eternal life!

Pastor Sorenson

Prayer:

Blessed Lord, since You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I’ve been lucky so far in my life not to need eyeglasses, though my vision could certainly be better. It is amazing how much eyeglasses are able to improve vision, from blurry to clear. By simply wearing glasses over our eyes, we’re able to see and interact with a whole new world, at least that’s how it might feel. Glasses afford us the opportunity to look at things in a whole new way.

Faith is just like wearing glasses, in many ways. We look at things differently, even more clearly than what we had before. Without faith, it’s like we’re impaired, only seeing the blurry outline of things that are around us. For there’s more to see by faith than what is distinguishable to the naked eye.

In our Epistle lesson this week, Paul reminds us to see beyond the blurry world in front of us. We often become blinded by our present struggles and afflictions that we stop looking at things for what they are. As Paul writes, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen,” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. By faith, we’re to see that there’s so much more than the life before us. There’s more to life than the physical world and its struggles. There’s faith also that can open our eyes to what presently can’t be viewed.

This isn’t to make light of our present struggles and challenges. There’s no doubt that there are many things facing us as the Church, as a country, and specifically as individuals that look and seem undefeatable, inevitable, and enduring. There are many things in this world that seem to squash our hope for a better life and future. But as Christians, we can’t be blinded by them. We must put back on our glasses of faith and look at them for what they are. Temporary. The struggles of this life, no matter how immense, are but temporary in the timeline of eternity. 

“So we do not lose heart.” 1 Corinthians 4:16. We do not shrink from our struggles; for by faith we can see the true reality of our life in Christ. As Christians, we look to Christ and his life for us. We see Jesus cross the impassible chasm of our sin. We see Jesus heal every illness that seemed incurable. We see Jesus teach us the impossible. We see Jesus die on the cross for us so that by his death, he may conquer the unconquerable. By Jesus’ death on the cross, we’re to see victory in defeat, life in death, and forgiveness for every sin. This is why we must speak and bear witness… for we know that there is still hope no matter our circumstances because Christ has died and is risen for us! By this faith, we can see life in a whole new light. We can see life in Christ that shall be unto eternity!

Pastor Sorenson

Prayer:

Almighty and eternal God, Your Son Jesus triumphed over the prince of demons and freed us from bondage to sin. Help us to stand firm against every assault of Satan, and enable us always to do Your will; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Deuteronomy 5:12-15; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I love a day off as much as anyone. There’s nothing better than knowing on any particular day that I don’t have any work or responsibilities claiming my day. A day of rest is a day where we’re meant to do as little as needed. Psychology even shows us that this is necessary for our physical and mental health. Too many busy days in a row isn’t good for us. We need rest.

This is the reason for the third commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” God gave it as a reminder for us to take a break, to rest and relax. We need a constant reminder not to overwork ourselves. Yet, it’s meant for much more than simple rest. For resting doesn’t mean a day to lay in bed or sit on the couch all day. Resting is so much more.

In our Gospel lesson this week, the Pharisees accuse Jesus and his disciples of breaking this great commandment of God. For the Pharisees had come up with numerous rules that had to be followed in order to keep the Sabbath. “And the Pharisees were saying to [Jesus], ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” Mark 2:24. For the Pharisees, resting entailed following all of their rules. Don’t walk too far. Don’t lift too much. Don’t do any work whatsoever. By trying to keep the law, the Pharisees perverted the law. Rest isn’t meant to become a burden or obstacle.

Just like the Pharisees, we regularly pervert the law to our own intent. We twist the intent of the law to our own benefit. We’ve made the law so that it burdens, hinders, and kills. This was the case for the man with a withered hand. The Pharisees insisted that the Sabbath meant they couldn’t do anything to help. Likewise, we regularly treat the law as an excuse not to do the right thing. For so Jesus asked, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” Mark 3:3. The Pharisees’ silence to Jesus’ question condemns them.

Keeping the Sabbath holy isn’t a command to rest and do nothing. It’s a command and call to hear God’s word and respond in faith. Proper rest isn’t found in doing nothing, but by being with the one who does everything for us. Jesus corrects the Pharisees when he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath,” Mark 2:27-28. The rest we need most of all is rest for our souls, rest that can only be found in God. For Jesus keeps the law perfectly to show us the true intent of God’s law. The law was given for life, defending and protecting it! Jesus fulfills all the demands of the law upon us by his holy life and even more by his sacrificial death. Jesus dies so that he may forgive us our sins and grant to us eternal life! This is what it means that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. He is our Lord that has fulfilled every responsibility, every demand of the law, and now gives us rest for our soul!

Pastor Sorenson

Prayer:

Eternal God, Your Son Jesus Christ is our true Sabbath rest. Help us to keep each day holy by receiving His Word of comfort that we may find our rest in Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

Holy Trinity

Isaiah 6:1-8; Acts 2:14a,22-36; John 3:1-17

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

How can you describe something that has no comparison? How can we teach that which we don’t understand? How can we know God when he is beyond our comprehension? This is the great difficulty this week. This Sunday, we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday where we focus on God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As much as we wish we could say, “This is exactly who God is”, we realize that’s impossible. For God doesn’t fit in a box no matter how hard we try.

This means that whenever we talk about God, we grasp only a part, a fraction, of who He is. For the Church has learned to speak in two different ways. We talk about who God is in his essence (almighty, eternal, omnipotent, etc.) and what God does (Creator, Savior, Sanctifier). While these two ways have yielded plenty of ink through the centuries, they still leave unanswered questions.

This is the same issue that manifests in the conversation in our Gospel reading this week. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “born again”. Nicodemus however, doesn’t understand. He’s confused because he’s thinking in an earthly mindset with heavenly wisdom. As Jesus says, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” John 3:12. There are many things which we will never understand because they’re beyond our comprehension.

The issue isn’t just because we’re limited in our comprehension. The issue is that we’re limited by our sin. Our struggle with knowing God comes from our distance from God. Our sin has built a wall between us so that the most we can possibly see is a glimpse. Throughout the Old Testament, Jews knew well this truth. Man cannot see God and live, as Isaiah echoes, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah 6:5. When man comes into the presence of a holy God, it spells trouble for man.

This is part of the mystery of this Sunday. God is Trinity. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God. Yet, there are not three gods, but one God. God sent his Son into the world to make known himself to us! “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man… For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:13, 16. God breaks through the wall of our sin by sending Jesus to us, by being present with us in flesh and blood. By Jesus coming into our world, we have been given the new birth in the Spirit. The Spirit works in us faith to believe in Jesus; and through that faith in Jesus, we are one with the Father. While we may not know everything about God, this we do know. That God has sent his Son, and given the Holy Spirit, that we might be one with God and have eternal life! Holy is the Lord God who gives to us eternal life: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

Pastor Sorenson

Prayer:

Almighty and everlasting God, You have given us grace to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity by the confession of a true faith and to worship the Unity in the power of the Divine Majesty. Keep us steadfast in this faith and defend us from all adversities; for You, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen!

Pentecost

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Have you ever taken on a project too big for you to handle? Maybe at the start it seemed manageable, but once you dove in, things quickly got out of hand. You realized that you couldn’t do it all yourself and needed someone to help you. Not just generic help, but a helper. A person. Maybe for the extra hands or for the benefit of their presence. Once you found someone to be that helper, the project was then able to be finished.

This Sunday, we hear of our personal helper, the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that it was advantageous for him to leave, to ascend into heaven (John 16:7). If Jesus didn’t leave, he couldn’t send us the Spirit. The Spirit would come as our helper, the helper we need. For Jesus had begun a great work in us. As we remembered last week, Jesus ascended that he may sanctify us, that is, set us apart.

Sanctification though is a long road, and a difficult one at that. Being set apart, being different, brings with it many struggles and challenges. No sooner does Jesus speak to us, we’ve turned around and jumped back into the crowd to be just like everyone else. Sanctification is too big a task for us to take on our own. We need help. We need our helper. For the Spirit also comes to convict the world, to show the world it’s sin (John 16:8). The Spirit reveals that unbelief dwells in our heart. For unbelief is the greatest sin.

But for every problem, there is a solution and a helper. For where unbelief once dwelled in our hearts, the Spirit has now come to dwell. For Jesus knew we needed a helper, one who could finish the great work of our sanctification. For when the Spirit comes, Jesus tells us; He will guide us into all truth. So, on Pentecost, Jesus sends the Spirit as a guide, a helper, a sanctifier. For so the Spirit would come to sanctify the people, not by working in them a magical change, but by testifying, witnessing, pointing back to Jesus. The Spirit would remind us of the truth of our sin, of our unbelief. But He also comes to remind us of the truth of our righteousness in Christ! The Spirit’s work is one of bearing witness and glorifying the Son, Jesus Christ, whose death on the cross is the solution to even the greatest problem, unbelief (John 15:26; 16:14). For so the Spirit works in us, by keeping and guarding us in God’s word. By God’s word, the Spirit teaches us, reminds us, comforts us, and sanctifies us to be a holy child of God!

Pastor Sorenson

Prayer: 

O God, on this day You once taught the hearts of Your faithful people by sending them the light of Your Holy Spirit. Grant us in our day by the same Spirit to have a right understanding in all things and evermore to rejoice in His holy consolation; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. 

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Acts 1:12-26; 1 John 5:9-15; John 17:11b-19

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

How are Christians to interact with the world around them? This has been a question the Church has tried to answer for centuries. We know that the world is opposed to God. To be a part of the world means being opposed to God. Thus, we don’t take part in many worldly festivities. On the other hand, God doesn’t want us to run and hide. We don’t section ourselves off from the world simply because we don’t partake in it.

This is one of the many paradoxes of the Christian faith. Two statements that are seemingly opposed but must both be held as true. Christians are opposed to the world and separate from it, but Christians are a part of the world. If we’re to ever understand what the bible teaches, sometimes we learn that we must hold truths in tension.

As the Church celebrates the ascension of Jesus on Thursday (forty days after the resurrection), we remember how Jesus prepared his disciples and us for his departure. Our Gospel reading for this Sunday shows us how Jesus prayed for his followers, those who believe in him. His prayer includes even the church today! “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one,” John 17:14-15. Jesus’ word separates Christ’s Church from the rest of the world. Jesus prays that his church, his followers of all ages wouldn’t be a part of the world, because he wasn’t part of the world.

When there’s tension in the faith, there’s a good chance that we will mess it up. The temptation for every Christian is to veer off the path to the right hand or to the left. Our two main responses to Jesus’ words are either to separate entirely from the world, or to merge entirely with it. These are the two errors that we must avoid. As Christians, we don’t abandon the world. We don’t abandon those who don’t believe because we were sent to share our faith with them. On the other hand, we can’t give in to all the world’s ways. We can’t bury our head in the sand and act like everything happening in the world is in accord with God’s word. We must be cognizant of the evil and sin that lurks around every corner in the world.

As Christians, we are in the world, but not of the world. Jesus was not of the world, but he was sent to the world. Jesus came to us to tell us about all the evil and sin that remained. Though he was in the world, Jesus would remain distinct, separate from the world as it’s savior. Jesus went to the cross to show us the opposition God has to our sin. But it was by the cross, by God’s wrath outpoured there, that he now sanctifies or purifies us. By Christ’s cross, by his word spoken to us, he purifies us of the evil in the world that we may have life in heaven. This is our faith, that we are no longer members of this world or the kingdom of this world, but of Christ. Yet, for a time, we still remain here. We still live in a sinful and fallen world that we may testify to the grace, mercy, and forgiveness given to us through Christ!

Pastor Sorenson

Prayer:

O King of glory, Lord of hosts, uplifted in triumph far above all heavens, leave us not without consolation but send us the Spirit of truth whom You promised from the Father; for You live and reign with Him and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

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