Thursday, December 17, 2009

Can HE be the Savior?

The incarnation of Jesus—the one called Immanuel, “God with Us”—distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. The birth of Jesus marks the start of a different relationship between God and man. In most other religions God is God and man is man but in Christianity God becomes man to save man. No other God is like that in the entire world.


Can such a God really be our Savior? That still question loams before our world more than 2000 years after the birth of Christ. Christmas brings Christ into focus for even unbelievers and those of other religions. Can HE be the Savior? Can HE be your Savior?

A popular Christmas hymn, Gentle Mary Laid Her Child, begins with the same question, “Gently Mary laid her child lowly in a manger; There he lay, the Undefiled, to the world a stranger. Such a babe in such a place, can He be the Savior? Ask the saved of all the race who have found his favor.”

Christ is still a stranger to the majority of our world. Once again this Christmas people from every nation, every ethnic group, and every culture are waiting for an answer from those who have found his favor. The answer is plain; the answer is simple—Yes! Yes, Christ can be your savior!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Faith of our Fathers!

Recently, we sang the patriotic hymn “God Bless Our Native Land” during one of our worship services. The congregational singing was lively and loud indicating that we really do want God to bless our native land. I believe we do but I not sure we always understand why it’s important to seek God’s blessing. It is God’s blessing alone that allows this nation to remain the land of the free and the brave—a place where we can worship freely.


For most of us, this is our native land and we’re proud to be Americans. We were born here and so were our parents and our grandparents and maybe even their parents and grandparents. But, are we really thankful for our “native land?” As we head toward another festive holiday season, have we counted our blessings or have we taken them for granted? Recents events have cause many Americans to re-evaluate their lives and their faith. Our churches are fuller than ever before. I hope they remain so!

As Christmas Day approaches I pray that many will pause to give thanks to God for the religious freedoms we enjoy in the United States. Our family did so this past week during our Thanksgiving meal. I can’t imagine sitting down to a Thanksgiving meal without first giving thanks to God in worship and praise. Christ sacrificed so much at the Cross to win our religious freedom.  The Pilgrims and Patriots sacrificed so much of their lives to insure our religious freedom. May we never take our freedom for granted.

Prior to September 11th, 2001 some seem to take our religious freedom for granted. Many had forgotten to be thankful for our faith and freedom. Do we need a reminder of how much we really have to be thankful for in our lives?

A few years ago prior to Thanksgiving Day, I attended a meeting of the Sons of the American Revolution. It’s a patriotic group made up of those of us whose forefathers actually fought in the American Revolution. Mine did! At that meeting, one of our members presented a brief history of the "faith of our fathers." He read a letter from one of his ancestors who was a Pilgrim and he himself belongs to the Society of Pilgrims.

This member of the Sons of the American Revolution is named after Charles Allerton, a Pilgrim, who actually sailed on the May Flower and survived that first bitter winter in New England. Only 102 survived the trip across the north Atlantic and only 50 of them survived the first winter! His ancestor survived and wrote a letter describing that first Thanksgiving meal. It made me ashamed to thank of how much thanks they gave for so little and how little thanks we give for so much.

I pray this holiday season that we may all take time to be thankful throughout the Christmas season. We do have so very much to be thankful for here in the United States. Through us the “faith of our fathers” will live on to another generation. Throughout the history of our nation the Pilgrims and the Patriots sought God’s blessing on our nation by worshiping together at every opportunity. I pray that we may do the same and that we may always remember to be thankful—thankful for Christ, thankful for America, and thankful for freedom.

On a personal note, let me extend holiday greetings to each of you from Linda and myself. We wish you a most joyous and blessed season. We consider it a rare and wonderful privilege to celebrate Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, and New Years with you once again. We pray that the peace of Christ may dwell in you richly during the coming year and that the freedom of the gospel may remain in your hearts always.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pastor Merritt's message entitled "of First Importance from 1 Corinthians"

http://intranet.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/Crossroads/2007-02-12.mp3Of First Importance--Hear Pastor Merritt's message

Give Me Oil in My Lamp! a message by Pastor Merritt

November 22nd, 2009

The title of my message is “Give Me Oil in My Lamp!

The text is from the Gospel lesson—

1"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.

Dearly loved by God;

Part 1: Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning!

As I read through this gospel lesson this week, a simple little song popped into my head the tune stuck with me all day long and brought back memories of long ago summer camps. Maybe you remember this same little song—

Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning
Give me oil in my lamp I pray
Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning
Burning, burning; Keep it burning till the light of day.

And, as that song went around in my head it occurred to me that we often make things more complicated than they really are. Take our gospel lesson for instance! Jesus’ parable, a simple story drawn from everyday life intended to illustrate an important lesson, is straightforward enough.

In this particular parable, the original listeners would immediately have understood that the ten virgins were the bridesmaids who were responsible for preparing the bride to meet the bridegroom.

Everybody knew that! It was common knowledge. Jesus uses this illustration of the bridegroom and the ten virgins as an example of the way in which the followers of Christ (the bridesmaids) are tasked with making sure that the Church (Christ’s bride) is ready to meet the bridegroom (Jesus) when he comes again. Not very complicated is it?

Everybody also knew that the custom of the time was for the bridegroom to go to the home of the bride’s father on the night of their marriage. Here, he would receive the father’s blessing and be given the daughter as a bride. The couple, attended by the bridesmaids, would then process to the bridegroom’s home for a marriage feast and celebration with family and friends.

So it is that Jesus uses this illustration to demonstrate that he will soon go to the Father’s house to receive the Father’s blessing and collect his bride (the Church) to enter into the marriage feast. While Jesus is away at the Father’s house, the bridesmaids (you and me) are charged with preparing the bride (the Church) for the marriage while watching for Jesus’ return to begin the marriage feast. Prepare and watch, again fairly simple!

We also learn from this parable that only half of the followers of Jesus will be ready when he returns. Only half will have done what was expected of them while he was at the Father’s house. Only the wise virgins will have prepared the Church for Christ’s return.

From this illustration it is stunning to learn that half of those who claim to be friends of the bride (the Church) will be totally unprepared when Christ returns. Their lamps will have gone out, they will not have oil; time will have run out and they will not to enter into the marriage feast. One half of all who claim to know Christ will not be acknowledged by Him! Just think about that for a moment!

We learn from Matthew 25 that there are dire consequences if we fail to prepare and watch. Quickly we realize how grim the consequences are: The unwise virgins (half of those who claim to be followers of Christ) are not allowed into the marriage feast, are not acknowledged by Christ, and the door to heaven is locked forever. Next, in the parable of the talents, the unfaithful steward who failed to use the gift given him by his master, who buried his talent in the ground, is thrown into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Finally, when the sheep are separated from the goats, when the true believers are separated from the pretenders, when the ones who actually did what was expected of them are separated from the ones who did nothing, the ones on the left, the goats, are cursed and thrown into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. If that doesn’t get your attention on this last Sunday of the church year, I don’t know what will! Christ’s message is simple and clear.

Let’s go back to where I started with that silly little song and see if we can make even more sense of this parable:

Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning,
Give me oil in my lamp I pray.

Part 2: Give me oil in my lamp I pray is good theology—

In this little prayer, we acknowledge that the oil comes from God to begin with and has nothing to do with what we’ve done. The oil in the parable represents the grace of God that is given to each believer in abundant measure. The oil represents the fullness of God’s mercy, of God’s compassion, and of God’s forgiveness.

Mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, received through the Word and Sacraments, keep our lamps burning brightly as we wait for the Christ’s return and there is never a shortage of oil. God’s grace is available to all.

The wise virgins represent those believers, who receive God’s grace at every opportunity; who have adequate oil in their lamps; who even have extra oil as they wait for his return. They will not run out. They are prepared!

The foolish virgins represent those who have professed Christ but then despise preaching and His word. Their lamps once burned brightly but now they have run out of oil and their lamps have gone out.

Think of all the people you know who once were active in faith, involved with the church, and committed to Christ but who are now inactive, uninvolved, and uncommitted. The oil of grace, God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness is always available but they have chosen not to avail themselves of it.

Part 3: Keep it burning till the light of day—

A burning lamp is the sign of an active faith; a faith that is involved and committed; a faith that keeps shining through until Christ comes again. When your lamp goes out darkness enters into your life, into the lives of those around you, and into your world.

The foolish virgins slipped into the darkness of sin because they ran out of oil. Without God’s continued mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, a great darkness upon us, not around us but inside of us. Jesus explains it like this—

"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-24)

Great darkness surrounds you when the light of Christ, your lamp goes out! Maybe the words to this little song are important: ‘Give me oil for my lamp keep it burning, burning, burning; keep it burning till the light of day.”

It’s just when our sin is the darkest that Jesus comes to us with words of encouragement and hope—

"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)

"I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. (John 12:46)

We never need stay in darkness. If there is something preventing you from receiving the oil of grace; God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, I urge you to receive it today, to put light back in your lamp, to have that extra measure of oil to see you through till the light of day. Your sin is forgiven and you are empowered to live a life of faith.

And, here’s something else to think about, Jesus tells us—

14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Reminds me of another little song—“This little gospel light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let shine all the time, let it shine. Put it under a basket, no, I’m gonna let it shine……………….” But that’s a sermon for another time!

Part 4: Burning lamps!

A final thought or two: a burning lamp equates to an active faith which leads to faith in action. Jesus could not be clear than he’s been in Matthew 25. The faithful steward invests what God has given them. It reaps a return for the Master. The good and faithful servant serves others and in doing so serves Christ himself.

John puts it this way, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:16-20)

James put it a different way: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (James 2:14-18)

Burning lamps, active faith, and faith in action! In last week’s gospel lesson Jesus reminded us that the darkness of despair closes in on the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick or the imprisoned when our lamps go out, when the gospel is not shared in word and deed. But, when the gospel is shared, this is what we learn from Jesus—

35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40And) the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

Mother Teresa, known for her great mercy and compassion, was asked after winning the Nobel Prize, “What is the gospel?” In front of the rich and famous, the world’s leaders, she humbly replied, “The gospel is written on your fingers?” With that she held up her hand and demonstrated, “You-Did-It-To-Me.” Mother Teresa added, “At the end of your life, your five fingers will either excuse you or accuse you of doing it to the least of these. You-Did-It-To-Me!”

You did it to me! Together, as the Church we are committed to doing what needs to be done at home and abroad; proclaiming the gospel, forgiving sins, feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, sheltering the strangers, clothing the naked, treating the sick, and visiting the prisoners all on Christ’s behalf.

Through Christ and because of his gospel we are empowered to turn chaos into compassion, misery into mercy, darkness into light, and death into life. With lamps burning brightly, we are the Church, prepared as Christ’s bride, watching for His return, active in faith with our faith in action.

And, now, because this is LCMS World Relief and Human Care Sunday, let me take just a moment to thank you on behalf of our Synod. Over the years, I’ve seen many people living in darkness, without hope and helpless, first as a police officer, then as a missionary, then as a parish pastor, and now as the director of disaster response for LCMS World Relief and Human Care.

Examples are our recent work together in: Fort Hood, TX, American Samoa, Eldora, IA, Baja California, Atlanta, GA, Sumatra, India, Alaska, the Phillipines, and in Beulah, ND.

Christ’s vision for his Church is one of selfless service to others rather than selfish service for our own benefit. Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, so we come to the poor and needy to serve, not be served, and to give our lives in the service of Christ’s gospel. To let our light shine!

A touch of mercy, the gospel of hope and forgiveness, only takes a minute to deliver but its effect lasts an eternity. Moments of mercy turn a lifetime of misery into a meaningful eternity! Listen again to those words and let them sink in: Moments of mercy turn a lifetime of misery into a meaningful eternity!

Christ’s mercy toward us motivates us to be merciful to others. No one ever need suffer again in the cold and dark of despair and sin, lost and alone. There is the shining light of the gospel as our lamps burn brightly!

Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning,
Give me oil in my lamp I pray,
Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning, burning, burning,
Keep it burning till the light of day.

Let me close with the chorus to this little song:

Chorus

Sing Hosannah, sing Hosannah
Sing Hosannah to the King of Kings
Sing Hosannah, sing Hosannah
Sing Hosannah to the King!

Benediction

23Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thanksgiving Thoughts!

Most of us are familiar with the traditional story of the first Thanksgiving where William Bradford proclaims a day of Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock to celebrate the Pilgrim’s survival. With the help of some friendly Indians, nearly half the Pilgrims had survived that first terrible year in the New World. Now, they gathered to thank God for life and for a harvest so abundant that it would see them through the next difficult winter. In 1621, they were thankful like we often sing at Thanksgiving—

“Come, you thankful people, come; raise the song of harvest home. All is safely gathered in ere the winter storms begin.”

They were thankful to have survived but what most folks don’t know is that this feast at Plymouth Rock was not the first Thanksgiving celebrated in America.

The first recorded thanksgiving actually took place in Virginia more than 11 years earlier, and it wasn’t a feast. The winter of 1610 at Jamestown had reduced a group of 409 settlers to just 60 sick souls. The survivors prayed for help, without knowing when or how it might come. When help arrived, in the form of a ship filled with food and supplies from England, a prayer meeting was immediately held to give thanks to God.

They held hands and sang Psalm 100—

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues to all generations.

Perhaps, it would serve us well to follow their example this Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Christian Care in Times Disaster or Crisis


Showing mercy/compassion to everyone connects the hurting and helpless with the gospel of Jesus. Disasters span the globe: no nation, no state, no community, no person is exempt. From Taiwan to Texas, from Mexico to Minnesota, from India to Indiana, an unparalleled opportunity stands before us to share Christ by sharing Christian care in times of disaster. Christian Care crosses the boundaries of culture, language, social class, skin color, or religion to reach the heart of men, women, and children.

Tragedy at Ft. Hood

"The tragic killings at Fort Hood continue to bring to the forefront of our society the world’s need for Christ’s bountiful mercy and compassion," Merritt said. "The united prayers of the people of God seek comfort and peace for the victims, survivors, and communities affected by this shocking attack. LCMS World Relief and Human Care joins our nation in grieving for those who were lost and offers the consolation of the Gospel to their family, friends, and the entire Fort Hood community."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Genuine Love results in genuine Action!

“Genuine Love results in Genuine Action!”
Romans 12:9-21
Rev. Glenn F. Merritt

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The title of my message is Genuine Love results in Genuine Action!

My children of God and friends of Jesus;

I’m the luckiest guy around. As the director of disaster response for LCMS World Relief and Human Care, I respond to disasters your on behalf and your genuine love results in genuine action for those in need. I’m the luckiest guy around!

Let me give you an example—

This summer, I was in Iowa visiting with folks affected by the massive flooding. One family really caught my attention. Not only had they lost their home and all their possessions but also the husband and wife lost their jobs as a result of the floods. Their three adult children, two with disabilities, lived with them as well as an infant born out of wedlock to a friend of the family. Their situation was desperate and growing worst by the minute.

FEMA and the Red Cross had done all they could do and now they had nowhere to turn, that is until I showed up with her pastor representing you—the members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. On your behalf and working through their local congregation, together we provided this LCMS family with 6 months of transitional housing, with gift cards from local businesses for food and clothing, and with funds for the immediate medical needs of their family.

Your Genuine Love resulted in Genuine Action. For 15 minutes the adult daughters hugged me and thanked me. I received the hugs that you deserved (you can claim them later if you like) but do you see what I mean? Your caring, concern, compassion, and generosity led to love in action. What a great job!





The other night I read a Bible passage that made a lot of sense to me--

Don’t just pretend that you love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy in your work, but serve the Lord enthusiastically. Be glad for all God is planning for you. Be patient in trouble, and always be prayerful. When God’s children are in need, be the one to help them out. And get in the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night.

Spring tornadoes followed by heavy rains sent rivers over their banks, killing at least 24 people, leaving thousands homeless, destroying businesses, and washing away farmers' crops. 83 counties in Iowa were declared state disaster areas; in Wisconsin, 30 and more in Indiana 29, Missouri and Arkansas.

Speaking of inviting people home for dinner or giving them lodging, a couple of weeks ago I was on the Texas Gulf Coast following Hurricane Dolly. I ran into a retired couple whose mobile home had been destroyed by the storm. There was a gapping hole 20 feet long in the ceiling and the floors in the living room and kitchen had collapsed from water damage. They were living in their van with the motor running 24 hours a day so they could have air conditioning and charge up the wife’s oxygen machine. She was unable to walk due to chronic respiratory disease and her husband was in worse shape. They were living on diet root beer, peanut butter, crackers, and a few MREs they had gotten from the National Guard. They were helpless and hurting with nowhere to go, no family to help until you showed up.

Together we helped a local pastor move them into an air-conditioned efficiency apartment, get food and medicine, and get their clothes laundered. Get this—they were not even members of the church yet she held my hand, thank God for the help, and said, “Nobody has ever been this kind to us, you must be an angel.” Maybe we are all angels; ministering spirits bring goods news to those in need.

I never get tired of doing what I’m doing. Together we’re doing a lot of good. The pastor and I shared the gospel and now this couple is joining our Lutheran church in San Benito! Just think about it—Genuine Love results in Genuine Action, which brings in a harvest of souls. It like Paul wrote to the Galatians:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

The result of God’s love found in his grace given through Jesus Christ is action. Genuine Love results in Genuine Action! Our response to the hurting and helpless in our world, especially the household of believers, is a direct reflection of God’s love. It isn’t easy to love as Jesus loved us. Sacrificial love is hard. It takes ‘sacrifice’ but such sacrificial love is the litmus test of our faith.

Love for one another is the proof positive of faith and discipleship. Love always sacrifices for the sake of others.

Of course, we know the story of God sacrificing his Son. Remember this verse—“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Here, the Father—our loving heavenly Father—allows his Son to die to save us from the dreaded enemies of sin and death. God’s actions had nothing to do with our love—“not that we loved God”—and everything to do with his love—“but that he loved us….”

The love of the Father is made visible through the sacrifice of his Son. The love of the Son is made visible through his sacrifice at Calvary. The love of both the Father and the Son are made visible through our sacrifice for others. Genuine Love results in Genuine Action for the Father, for the Son, and for Christians.

Paul Harvey tells this story—“A man was finally enjoying his greatest pleasure. He had gotten the sports car he had wanted all his life but now his wife wanted to drive it. Being a Christian and knowing that he shouldn’t be selfish he agreed and she drove away.

A few blocks from home she got into an accident and totaled the car. Can you imagine how she felt? She was physically okay but had to fill out the paperwork before leaving the accident scene. When she reached into the glove compartment to get the registration and insurance cards, she noticed an envelope clipped to them. She opened the envelope, and read this note, written in her husband’s handwriting: “Honey, remember it’s you I love, not the car.”

Remember, it’s you Christ loves, not all your possessions, not all your money, not all your good deeds. It’s you, that’s the gospel! It’s you he loves!

Amen!

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus may our lives always exemplify your life of love. Send your Holy Spirit to guide and direct our words and actions that we may love as Christ has loved us. Motivate us by your gospel to love others in response to your great love for us. Amen

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reaching the Unreached

A Harvest for the Helpless

A Harvest for the Helpless!
Rev. Glenn F Merritt
October 17-18, 2009
Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, St Louis, MO
Grace, mercy and peace be multiplied to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
The title of my message is “A Harvest for the Helpless!” The text is a portion of the Gospel lesson as read earlier:
Luke, chapter 10, verses 1-3
1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2 And he said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.
My dear Christian friends;
Today as we celebrate the feast of St Luke, we learn from his writings that God’s grace through Christ is a message is meant for all people. In his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke teaches us the importance of fervent prayer, joyful proclamation, and deep concern for the lost and helpless.
Luke is the loyal comrade who stays with Paul when he is imprisoned in Rome and after everyone else deserts Paul, it is Luke who remains with him to the end (2 Timothy 4:11). Luke was a physician born at Antioch in Syria as Greek and Gentile.
It is not at all surprising then that Luke's gospel would show a special sensitivity to the Gentiles. In Luke’s gospel, we find parables and stories laced with God’s forgiveness for all, Jew and Gentile alike.
Luke's unique perspective on the ministry and message of Jesus can be seen in the six miracles and eighteen parables not found in the other gospels. Only through Luke do we have the parable of the Prodigal Son and the story of Pharisee & the Publican—teachings on unwarranted forgiveness and sincere repentance.
Luke is the one who tells the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man who ignored him. Only in Luke do we hear the story of the forgiven woman disrupting the feast by washing Jesus' feet with her tears. Throughout Luke's gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God's mercy.
Luke records how Jesus to welcomed and ate with sinners; how Jesus interceded for those whose faith wavered (Peter who denied him), how Jesus offered eternal life even to the world’s worst (the thief on the Cross); and, how Jesus came to seek and save the lost.” Forgiveness and God's mercy to sinners is of first importance to Luke as he urges us on to “A Harvest for the Helpless!”
Part 1: I know what it’s like to be helpless, do you?
After getting out of the Air Force in 1966, I went to work on the 5600 level of a phosphate mine in western Montana. One day the miners in the main tunnel, called a drift, hit an underground lake plunging me (and others) into ice cold water and total darkness for over 28 hours. As I struggled to keep my head above the rising water, I was left helpless and on my own. No friends, no family, no help, no rescue!
Slowly, I felt my way up dark mining shafts, called stopes, trying to find a way out, a way to the next level, a way to save myself, only to be disappointed time and again. There was no way out! Hours passed as I searched alone in the cold and dark. Rescue, Rescue, Rescue was my only hope.
When you are trapped you feel was lost and alone, cold and fearful, without hope and helpless! I never wanted to know that feeling again but I’ve been helpless other times too! Lots of times!
Part 2: Have you ever know the helplessness of sin?
I have and it’s a feeling more dreadful than being caught in a cold dark mine shaft! When the darkness of sin closes, we are truly helpless! We are plunged into a cold, dark mind shaft. Search as we may, there’s no way out; try as we might we’re trapped, lost and alone; at a spiritual dead end with rescue our only hope.
Sin brings us to an emotional, spiritual, and physical darkness that chills us to the bone, that leaves us lost and alone, fearful of God and separated from our family and friends. It’s, easy, so easy, to find ourselves up to our chins in sin and there’s no way out; there’s no way out unless someone rescues us.
Now Christ’s words recorded by Luke, echo in our ears, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Just when we’ve given up; when we were totally helpless; when there was no hope, God rescued us. He sent laborers to bring about “A Harvest for the Helpless!” You and Me!
Think about it! The Apostle Paul writes, “For, there is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:23)
‘A Harvest for the Helpless!’ is first and foremost about you and me! The harvest is plentiful and we are the harvest! Somebody, somewhere, sometime, some place prayed to the Lord of the harvest to send out a laborer to bring us safely into God’s storehouse of mercy and peace; to give us hope and a future; to harvest the helpless; and to rescue you and me. Yes, the harvest is plentiful and we are it! The Harvest of the Helpless begins with us!
Part 3: But it doesn’t end there.
In a strange turn of events, God plans that the harvested, you and me, become the harvesters of the world’s helpless! And, there are plenty of helpless out there, living without hope; at a life’s dead end; nowhere to go; trapped in the cold and dark of despair.
The darkness of despair is the kind of helplessness that closes in on the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick or the imprisoned. These are ones that Jesus talked about in Matthew 25:
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'
Again, Christ’s words in our text echo across the reaches of time, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Part 4: A harvest for the helpless waits only for more laborers!
The words of an old hymn keep going around and around in my mind—
Hark, the voice of Jesus calling,
“Who will go and work today?
Fields are ripe and harvests waiting,
Who will bear the sheaves away?”
Long and loud the Master calls us,
Rich reward He offers free;
Who will answer, gladly saying,
“Here am I, send me, send me”?
I can’t get them out of my mind. I’ve seen too many helpless too many times; first as a police officer, then as a missionary, then as a parish pastor, and now as the director of disaster response for LCMS World Relief and Human Care. Site examples: American Samoa, Eldora, IA, Baja California, Atlanta, GA, Sumatra, Winnie, TX, India, Alaska, the Phillipines, and in Beulah, ND.
I’ve seen the helplessness of despair causes people to think that no one cares; that there’s no hope, that there’s no possibility of rescue.
Oh, I know that you remember the story of the U.S. Navy submarine that was rammed by a ship off the Massachusetts coast many years ago. I’m sure your pastors have used it! It true! The entire crew of the submarine was trapped hundreds of feet below the surface. Every effort was made to rescue them but all without success. They were alive but losing hope.
Near the end of the ordeal, a diver descended to the sub and pounded on the hull of the sunken vessel. In response, he heard this message tapped out in Morse code—“Is there any hope?”
Is there any hope?
Thousands of people, people just like you and me, are lost in the cold dark waters of life. They, too, are tapping out, “Is there any hope?”
There is hope!! There is a harvest for the helpless! There is the gospel and there is Christ! It’s easy to give up without hope but Jesus Christ is their hope—just like he is our hope—all it takes is laborers to bring in the harvest. That’s all!
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
By now you’ve probably figured out that I survived the darkness of that mine disaster more than 40 years ago. Three men didn’t survive but I was rescued when a burst of light broke through from up above and guided me to safety and to life. Life is such a good thing when you’ve been a prisoner of death. Saved to save others!
Christ’s vision for his Church is one of selfless service to others rather than selfish service for our own benefit. Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, so we come to the poor and needy to serve, not be served, and to give our lives in the service of Christ’s gospel.
A touch of mercy, the gospel of hope and forgiveness, only takes a minute to deliver but its effect lasts an eternity. Moments of mercy turn a lifetime of misery into a meaningful eternity!
Christ’s mercy toward us motivates us to be merciful to others. No one ever need suffer again in the cold and dark of despair and sin, lost and alone. There is hope!
Our nature as Christians is to be merciful, sharing the gospel in word and deed, not with ulterior motives, but purely because of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. If you’ve received mercy, it’s the most natural thing in the world to share mercy! There’s a lot of talk about being merciful and sharing love out there but all talk and no action brings few results.
John puts it this way, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:16-20)
James put it a different way for those who don’t get it: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (James 2:14-18)
Together, as the Church we are committed to doing what needs to be done at home and abroad; proclaiming the gospel, forgiving sins, feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, sheltering the strangers, clothing the naked, treating the sick, and visiting the prisoners all on Christ’s behalf.
Through Christ and because of his gospel we are empowered to turn chaos into compassion, misery into mercy, darkness into light, and death into life. There’s no turning back, we are the Church! You did it to me! You did it to me! You did it to me!
Yes, the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
Father, all that we’ve done or ever will do is done because of your love for us. In Christ, we’ve been harvested so that we might reach out to harvest the helpless and hurting for an eternity with you. Strengthen us for the work ahead; give us eyes of compassion and hearts of mercy as we serve you and our Savior in all things. Bless us with the power of your Holy Spirit that we may never tire of sharing the gospel and serving others. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

“One Moment in Time”
Rev. Glenn F. Merritt
Sermon Delivered
September 11th, 2001
Grace Lutheran Church
Hamilton, Montana


There are no words which can adequately describe or define the tragic and treacherous events of today. This date will live on in the history of our nation as a day when apathy and complacency toward God were crushed by acts of terrorism too terrible to comprehend. No civilized people in the world can condone the awful attacks of hatred on the innocent and indefensible victims of today’s heinous crimes against humanity. It is not only for the victims whose lives were viciously and deliberately taken that we mourn but we mourn also for those who have survived and for those who have surveyed the carnage.

This is one moment in time that will stand forever as a monument in time to the overt evil that pervades both our world and our lives. No heighten security measures, no strengthen defense measures can effectively stop the forces of evil because we are not fighting against flesh and blood but rather against the powers, against the authorities, against the rulers of this dark world, against the evil spirits that are in the heavens. Here in the throne room of God the battle against the agents of evil will be won or lost. Here at the altar of prayer the outcome of the earthly battle will be determined.

At the same time, I urge you not to forget that the outcome of the eternal battle of good verses evil was determined at Calvary’s bloody cross almost 2000 years ago. There the forces of evil were defeated to insure our eternity. However, we who live in such trouble times must continue through the power of prayer to fight the fight against the forces of evil. In this time of national tragedy we cry out with the voice of the Psalmist,

To you I call, O Lord my Rock; Do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit.

Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help,
As I life my hands toward your Most Holy Place.
Do not drag me away with the wicked, with those who do evil,
Who speak cordially with their neighbors but harbor malice in their hearts.

Repay them for their deeds and for their evil work;
Repay them for what their hands have done
and bring back upon them what they deserve.

Since they show no regard for the works of the Lord
and what His hands have done,
He will tear them down and never build them up again.

Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy.

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusts in him, and I am helped.

My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.
The Lord is the strength of his people,
A fortress of salvation for his anointed one.

Save your people and bless your inheritance;
Be their shepherd and carry them forever.
(Psalm 28, NIV)

Here we are reminded that the battle is not ours but God’s. He himself is our strength and our shield and he will do the battle for us.

One news commentator today said, “In times like these people simply do not know where to turn.” I beg to differ. In times like these God’s people know exactly where to turn. We turn the God who listens to our cry and hears our prayer. This is hardly the time for the faithful to be faint of heart.

Again it is the Psalmist who reminds us,

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
Though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
(Psalm 46, NIV)

The World Trade Centers may have collapsed today, the Pentagon may be in ruins tonight, but God is always in control. He is our ever-present help in trouble, our refuge and our strength during these tragic and trying times.

Tonight, we turn to the Lord for comfort and counsel. This very moment, we are joined by countless other Christians across the nation in seeking refuge and strength in God. It is tragic that it takes the terror of terrorism to drive godly people to our knees in prayer but God too can use this for our good.

Perhaps, the images of untold horror burned into our hearts and minds today will lead us to constantly seek God’s counsel and aid in prayer as we walk into an uncertain future.

All is not lost, all is never lost, when God is in control and He is in control even when our world seems out of control. The prophet Joel reminds us,

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

The nation of Israel had grown apathetic and complacent toward God. He allowed calamity to come upon them so that his prophets could call the nation to repentance and faith. Could God be doing the same for our nation tonight? Will we return to the Lord and rend our hearts in repentance as Joel suggests?

Certainly and without any doubt, we are deeply troubled and sorrowfully saddened by the terrible events of today. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We mourn with them, we empathize with them, we pray for them. We grasp this tragedy from afar but hold them close in our hearts. We regret their lost and reach out to touch their lives with the love of God and of His people.

At the same time, we would be remiss if we failed to recognize that we too have grown apathetic and complacent toward our God. We’ve not prayed enough for His guidance, we’ve not asked enough for His assistance. We’ve gone our own way until today. Now, everything can change as quickly as the World Trade Centers were turned to rubble if we’ll spend just one hour in committed connected prayer.

This one moment in time can only stand as a monument to overt evil if we allow it to. This one moment in time can stand as a monument to God if we will rend our hearts and return to him. He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Tonight, we trust not in our own wisdom and strength but in that of God as we pray for peace within our nation and our world. Tonight, this watershed event allows us to re-focus on the love of God which is found in Christ. It is Christ’s precious gospel that will change the hearts of men forever and for now. As we focus, not on the horror of death and destruction, but on the joy of the gospel, we find peace and comfort and consolation. We find the answers we are seeking in Christ. May such be ours tonight, peace and comfort and consolation and answers to ease our broken hearts.
God bless you all and God bless America! Amen.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Magnificent Mercy

August 28, 2009
Magnificent Mercy Shown in the Face of Misery
By Rev. Glenn F. Merritt

Four years ago today the landscape of America was changed by Hurricane Katrina. Her name and her power are written in the hearts and minds of the entire nation. The scarred landscape and cities of the gulf coast (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida) are still being rebuilt while thousands of people struggle to rebuild the landscape of their lives.
On this fourth anniversary of that terrible storm, the recovery is far from over. The face of misery painted by Katrina has cut deeply into the fabric of our lives. Katrina’s name and power are etched into in the hearts and minds of an entire nation. The image of thousands of people suffering in the aftermath of the storm jumps into our minds and we are moved to mercy for the many who continue to struggle. The face of their misery is changed as we continue to show mercy.
Over the past four years, the magnificent mercy of Christ has been shown by thousands of LCMS volunteers and donors. The members of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod have joined hearts and hands to repair the fabric of life torn apart by Katrina. Working together with the Synod, LCMS districts and congregations, agencies and organizations, individuals and groups have touched the lives of those affected by Katrina with magnificent mercy.
Donors have donated nearly $14 million plus untold millions of dollars worth of supplies and building materials. Volunteers have selflessly provided physical labor plus emotional and spiritual care across the Gulf Coast. LCMS Recognized Services Organizations and independent ministries have helped coordinate a massive response of personnel, goods, and equipment throughout the recovery. Our districts, churches, and schools have helped facilitate the renewal process by partnering together with congregations, schools, and professional church workers who were affected by Katrina. Working together, these and others have risen to the occasion once again to reach out to the helpless and hurting.
The magnificent mercy of Christ shown by so many has helped to diminish the face of misery seen by so many in the past four years, but the work is not complete. Not all needs have been met, many are still suffering the after effects of Katrina.
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod must stay engaged at every level, working with partners as we continue to provide care and support to the needy. The work is not done. Opportunities still abound for volunteers and donors to offer mercy until the face of misery is completely replaced by Christ’s magnificent mercy.
Contact LCMS World Relief and Human Care for more information about opportunities to volunteer and give to help make recovery a continuing reality along the Gulf Coast.
Rev. Glenn F. Merritt serves as director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care’s disaster response ministry.

[BOX]
Katrina Recovery: Progress and Continued Needs
LCMS World Relief and Human Care partner, Recovery Assistance, Inc. (RAI), has been a leader in the LCMS’ Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. RAI works to restore faith, home, and community to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina in the Name of Jesus Christ. In four years, RAI volunteers completed major repairs on over 2,700 homes and minor repairs on over 3,900 homes.
Your continued support of RAI’s work is needed to help repair the 2,500 homes currently on its waiting list. In recognition of the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, RAI is offering “K4” resources to share news of the progress and need. Find bulletin inserts, a PowerPoint presentation, a video, and more on its website: www.raiministries.org.
Shades of Darkness, Bursts of Light!
Matthew 25:31-40
Rev. Glenn F. Merritt
LCMS World Relief & Human Care

Dear Christian friends,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

I know what darkness is. Do you?

I know what Darkness is (the first shade)—

After getting out of the Air Force in 1966, I went to work on the 5600 level of a phosphate mine in western Montana. One day the miners in the main tunnel, called a drift, hit an underground lake plunging me (and others) into ice cold water and total darkness. While I struggled to keep my chin above the rising water, I wondered if I would ever see the light of day again.

Slowly, I felt my way up dark mining shafts, called stopes, trying to find a way out, only to be disappointed time and again. Hours passed, alone in the cold and dark, my only hope was rescue. That darkness was a shade of darkness I had never known before and I never want to know again.

So, I know what darkness is. It’s being alone and lost, cold and fearful, without hope and helpless! But, there is another shade of darkness that is even more dreadful and I know that one too. It’s the darkness of sin!

The Darkness of Sin (the second shade)—

Sin brings darkness into our lives! Our eyes may see the light of day but on the inside it’s dark, oh so dark. Perhaps you’ve been there; maybe you’re there this morning! Sin plunges us into the darkness that chills us to the bone, leaving us lost and alone, fearful of God and separated from our family and friends. It’s a mind shaft filled with cold and dark and there’s no way out unless someone rescues us. We’re up to our chins in sin and we’ve all been there!

“For, there is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (St. Paul, Romans 3:23)

Sin is a shade of darkness like no other darkness known to man! I’ve known it and I never want to know it again. Unrepentant sin leads to such a great darkness inside. Jesus puts it this way—
"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-24)
Sin fill us with a great darkness but there’s yet another shade of darkness in our world!

It’s the Darkness of Despair (the third shade)—

The darkness of despair is another shade of darkness that closes in on the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick or the imprisoned. It’s a darkness sets in when a personal tragedy, a crisis, or a disaster darkens your doorway. I’ve seen that darkness too many times first as a police officer, then as a missionary and a parish pastor, and also as a father. When our 21 year son died suddenly of an asthma attack three years ago I experienced shades of darkness I’d never known before and I never want to know again.

When the darkness of despair sets in it’s so easy to feel like nobody cares, like there’s no hope of rescue. Disaster, crisis, and personal tragedy, are cold, dark places with fear lurking at every turn. Today, the helpless and hurting are scattered across our nation and around our world hoping and praying for rescue but who will help them?

Everybody needs a burst of light to break the darkness in their lives—

By now you’ve probably figured out that I survived the darkness of that mine disaster 40 years ago. Some men didn’t but I was rescued when a burst of light broke through from the main tunnel above me and guided me to safety and life. Life is a good thing when you’ve been a prisoner of death.

God promise to his people in is always hope, a way out, a burst of light when darkness closes in. When your world seems cold and dark, when you feel lost and alone, when your tunnel life fills with waters death, there is hope; there is hope in Christ.

God promise was revealed in one huge Burst of Light—

The King of the Kingdom of Light shattered the darkness of sin & death and gave all mankind the light of life declaring—

"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)

Jesus said, "I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. (John 12:46)

Are you staying in darkness? Is something preventing you from delivering that touch of mercy, from living in the light of Christ, from sharing the gospel and engaging in merciful ministry? In and through the gospel of hope and forgiveness, Christ gives us the privilege of being light in this sin darkness world.

What a privilege it is for you and I to be the of Light of the World—

It’s true, Jesus said, “You are the light of the World. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) Christ’s vision for his Church is one of selfless service to others rather than the selfish service for our own benefit. Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, so we come to the poor and needy to serve, not be served, and to give our lives in the service of Christ’s gospel.

A touch of mercy, the gospel of hope and forgiveness, only takes a minute to deliver but its effect lasts an eternity. The motivator for mercy is mercy! Christ’s mercy toward us motivates us to be merciful to others. Our nature as Christians is to be merciful, sharing the gospel in word and deed, not with ulterior motives, but purely because of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. If you’ve received mercy, it’s the most natural thing in the world to share mercy!

Mother Teresa, known for her great compassion, was asked after winning the Nobel prize, “What is the gospel?” She replied, “The gospel is written on your fingers?” With that she held up her hand and demonstrated, “You-Did-It-For-Me.” Mother Teresa added, “At the end of your life, your five fingers will either excuse you or accuse you of doing it to the least of these. You-Did-It-For-Me!”

What a great philosophy of life, what a great example of faith, but more importantly what a great testimony of Christ’s words in Matthew 25 which are about bringing light into darkness, bring a touch of mercy to the hunger, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick, or the imprisoned. We are the light of the world as we shatter the darkness of tragedy, crisis, and disaster with Christian care for the helpless and hurting.

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

You did it for me! Through Christ and because of his gospel we can turn chaos into compassion, darkness into light when a personal tragedy, a crisis, or a disaster strikes.

LCMS World Relief and Human Care is committed to being the Church by upholding Christ and by doing what needs to be done around the world; the feeding of the hungry, quenching of the thirsty, sheltering of the strangers, clothing of the naked, treating of the sick, and visiting of the prisoners all on your behalf.


Amen.

A Ministry of Presence

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A Ministry of Presence: The Power, Privilege, and Practice


By Rev. Glenn Merritt

The Power of Presence— Story reprinted with permission
from the Summer 2009 issue
of Caring Connections.


In the midst of terrible devastation, hope dawns new at Peace Lutheran Church in Greensburg, Kansas. As the pastor recovers church records from a bent and battered file cabinet, one of the elders sifts through shattered stain glass and splintered pews for anything salvageable. Nearby the elder’s wife finds photo albums and sits down to remember yesterdays at Peace. Another elder joins her and together they reflect on memories of days gone by.


The power of presence was evident on May 7, 2007, as I stood in the massive debris field that was once the small town of Greensburg, Kansas. The presence of God was evident in the character and courage of the residents as they returned to survey the incredible destruction of their homes and hometown. At the same time, the presence of emergency services personnel, the National Guard, and of state and local officials brought a sense of order and calm to chaotic circumstances. Later on, the presence of the President of the United States was unmistakable as he held hands, prayed, and lifted the spirits of those affected by this terrible tragedy.

Being there, holding hands, and lifting up spirits are important, to be sure, but a ‘ministry of presence’ must bring more than a mere pat on the back or a well-meaning prayer. A ministry of presence embraces the presence of Christ by meeting the emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of the helpless and hurting.

The power of our presence at disaster scenes finds its source in Christ’s enduring presence in our own lives. It is an awesome responsibility to stand in the stead of Christ offering whole-person, Christian care.

Christ’s presence after his resurrection demonstrates the power that his presence has to console and comfort the needy. Christ’s powerful presence is the preeminent paradigm for our ministry of mercy which can dispel the darkness of fear and uncertainty about the future.

Jesus’ disciples were lost in the tragedy of his death when he came to them with calming words, comforting them his presence. According to John, when they saw him they were glad.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20:19-20 ESV)

It was the power of Christ’s presence that moved his disciples from the tragedy of death to the triumph of life. That same power is realized today in the ministry of the church through those who stand in his stead to transcend the critical events that affect the lives of people.

The Privilege of Presence—

It is a privilege to be present in the name of Christ. A ministry of presence is a ministry with the gospel as its matrix. A ministry of presence helps transform victims into survivors, a necessary step on the road to recovery and renewal.

I stood in the ash of a home consumed by wildfire in Southern California. The pastor and his wife spoke through tear-stained eyes as they shared their incredible story of survival and surprise. In a flash of fire, they were left with no place to live, no furniture, no clothing, and personal effects. It was all gone. There was nothing left to salvage or save.


While it is a privilege to be with people and listen to their story, empathy without action is not ministry. A ministry of presence does more than listen.

We are reminded—

17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

The desolation and despondency often felt by victims of disaster or tragedy is not easily broken. There is more to the ministry of presence than just being present with the brokenhearted.

A ministry of presence replaces moments of misery with moments of mercy. Moments of mercy are delivered by those privileged to stand in the stead of Christ at the crossroads of tragedy and triumph. The privilege of presence includes service in tangible ways.

Not everyone agrees as seen in the following statement—

"The purpose of a ‘ministry of presence’ or the ‘art of hanging out’ is to provide a ‘non-anxious presence,’ to potentially be an ‘active listener’ while holding an outreached hand, offering a cup of coffee, or mucking out a home. To engage a person impacted by disaster is to ask them to tell their story."1

But, there is always a story behind the story. Often the burden is too heavy for families to carry alone. Active listening may not be enough if it is followed by inaction. Many people are already living beyond the edge personally and financially before a disaster strikes. While the destructive nature of disasters emphasizes the crucial importance of faith, family, and friends, the "art of hanging out" may not be enough. It is true that few victims want to be alone emotionally, spiritually, or physically in the aftermath of a disaster or tragedy. A holistic approach to ministry acts to address every aspect of need during critical events.

It is worth mentioning here that professional church workers are often overlooked and overwhelmed and when a disaster affects their community. They too can fall between the cracks with catastrophic career results, a topic worth exploring in future articles.

To summarize, the privilege of presence is an awesome responsibility as well as a call to action. In his insightful book, Christ Have Mercy, Rev. Matthew Harrison writes,

"Disasters are not a time for "bait and switch" or "hidden agendas." They are a time to be charitable, considerate, and a time to realize the people affected are very vulnerable and must be treated with the utmost love and respect. This does not mean refusing to give "a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15).

And St. Peter continues, "yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." (I Peter 3:16).

And there is nothing hidden! Lutherans are about faith in Christ and deeds to show Christ’s love and mercy. We openly confess that word and deed go together, as they did for Jesus Christ (Luke 5:17-26) and his apostles (Luke 9:2ff.) when they assisted those in need."2

This is where the power, privilege, and practice of presence converge to meet needs.

The Practice of Presence—

The privilege of presence naturally leads to the practice of presence. This occurs precisely at this intersection of greatest need when emotional, spiritual, or physical needs must be addressed not with word only but also with deed.

"In disaster, first and foremost, Christian care sees to the basic needs of those affected: food, water, clothing, and shelter. This first line of care reflects the First Article of the creed, where God is the giver of "clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home," family, property, and "all that I have." Because every person, regardless of race, color, creed, or confession, is a precious creation of God, for whom He cares, Christian care provides disaster victims with what they need "to support this body and life."3

To practice presence means to provide food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, shelter to the needy, healing to the sick, and comfort to the lonely. (Matthew 25) It is a comprehensive approach to ministry that meets people at the point of their greatest need with caring, comfort, and concern.

The practice of presence assures the needy that they are not alone as they walk through what could otherwise be a lonesome valley. It is one thing to care about the needs of others; it is quite another thing to actually meet the needs of others.

"15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." (James 2:15-18)

In both of the personal examples shared above, the needs of these families were addressed without delay with assistance for transitional housing, gift cards for food and clothing, dollars for urgent personal and medical needs as well as pastoral care and counsel.

The call of the Church is a call to action. The Church does not refer the needy to others for assistance. Faith in action attaches momentous words to courageous deeds. God supplies the need when the Church practices the presence of Christ in the midst of disaster and tragedy.

Finally, as a closing thought, Luther comments on the importance of the sacrament in our ministry of presence—

"There your heart must go out in love and devotion and learn that this sacrament is a sacrament of love, and that love and service are given you and you again must render love and service to Christ and His needy ones. You must feel with sorrow all the dishonor done to Christ in His holy Word, all the misery of Christendom, all the unjust suffering of the innocent, with which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing: You must fight, work, pray and, if you cannot do more, have heartfelt sympathy. That is bearing in your turn the misfortune and adversity of Christ and His saints.4

Fight, work, pray is a good way to summarize what a ministry of presence is all about. Then, when you can’t do anymore, have heartfelt sympathy for those in need. The power, privilege, and practice of presence always bring hope and help to the hurting.



1 Long-Term Recovery Manual, (Arlington, VA: National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, Rev. 2004) 60.

2 Matthew Harrison, Christ Have Mercy, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2008) 142.

3 "Christian Care in Times of Disaster," A Training Manual for District Disaster Response Coordinators and Teams, (St. Louis, MO: LCMS World Relief and Human Care, 2008) 23.

4 Martin Luther, "The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, against the Brotherhoods," Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1960) 54.



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Printed on: 9/21/2009 9:46:09 AM CDT

Sunday, June 7, 2009

All for Love!!

“All of the Love of Jesus!”
Acts 11:19-30, 1 John 4:1-11, John 15:9–17
Rev. Glenn F. Merritt

In the Guinness Book of World Records there is listed the shortest sermon ever preached. It was given by John Albrecht, an Episcopal priest in Michigan. One Sunday, he stood in his pulpit to preach, paused for a moment, and simply said “Love!” Then, he sat down and they sang a hymn.

Some of Albrecht's members thought it was the best sermon he had ever preached.

That may be true but you won’t be quite so lucky today. No single word—even a word as powerful as “love”—can ever replace a sermon. Entire books—lots of them—have been written on how to love, when to love, why to love, and who to love. No word in the English language—in any language—is used (or should we say misused) more than often than the word love.

Love is also one of the most used words in Scripture.

Love is commanded more times than almost any other action in the Bible, more often even than obey, follow, or believe. In the Bible, the Psalms speak of loving more than any other book. In the New Testament, John writes about love more often than anyone else. His gospel and letters are full of love, like in our gospel and epistle lessons—“Dear friends, let us love one another,” and “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

Oddly enough, Acts is the only book of the New Testament that doesn’t even mention love, let alone command us to love. Maybe the early church didn’t really need a reminder to love each other. They just did it. And, that brings us to our topic for today. What they did for each other, they did “all for the love of Jesus”--Not only their love for him but more importantly his love for them.

Our theme is “All for the Love of Jesus!—how we love because of Jesus’ love.
Let us pray:

Lord Jesus allow our lives to exemplify your life of love. Send your Holy Spirit to guide and direct our words and actions that we may love as Christ has loved us and as the early Christians loved one another. Motivate us by your gospel to love each other in response to your great love for us. Whatever we do, Jesus, may we do it all for the love of your name. Amen

Dear Christian friends;

In our first lesson from Acts, chapter 11, we learned that God caused the Church to explode in growth after Pentecost. It was an explosion of power and joy but most of all an explosion of love. Something great, something different, and something loving was happening in Antioch so the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to check it out.

In Antioch, “he saw the evidence of the grace of God and was glad.” The evidence of God’s grace is love—love for God and love for each other. This is what Barnabas saw.

The new believers at Antioch were was well stocked with love so much so that when a famine broke out in Judea and the believers in the Jerusalem were hurting and hungry, they new church responded with love in tangible ways. They did more than love with words. They put their money where their month was. Barnabas calls this response—“the evidence of the grace of God.” Love is the evidence of the grace of God.

Barnabas understood this all too well. He had grown up on the island of Cyprus as a displaced Jew before coming back to Jerusalem. He became a believer, and showed love—the result of God’s love found in his grace—in a concrete way by selling land and giving the money to the church for the poorer members of the faith community.

His heart burned with a desire to carry God’s love to those described by Paul as “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” (Eph 2:12)

So, through the Church, God sent Barnabas to strengthen the new church in Antioch. Barnabas looked up Paul in Tarsus and brought him along to Antioch. Together they taught the Christians God’s Word for a year.

The Antiochean believers responded with grateful gifts of love for those who were hurting and helpless just as God have loved them and saved them when they were hurting and helpless. To accomplish this God sent a prophet named Agabus to foretell about the famine that would occur in the Roman world. This gave the Christians a chance to prepare the gift of love that later they would send to their brothers and sisters in the faith.


After studying the Word, the believers at Antioch expressed their mature faith and love by sacrificing of themselves. No wonder they were called Christians after Christ who sacrificed himself for the whole world. Those who have been loved by God through Christ notice others in need and love them in Christ.

Still, it hard to summarize what Jesus has done for us in his great love and what we do in loving response by a single word.

In fact, the loving acts of our Savior could never even be summarized in a single book as John says at the end of his gospel, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that world be written.” (John 21:25)

But, in our Gospel lesson, we do learned a little bit about Christ’s love for us. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (V 9) Jesus loves us just as the Father loved him. The Father’s great love motivates Christ to love us greatly so that when we receive the Son’s love, we receive the Father’s love. John mentions this in his first epistle when he says “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)

This is why John would later say, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11) And, why Jesus would say, “Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

But, we all know that it isn’t always easy to love as Christ and God have loved us.

There was an old couple sitting in their rocking chairs on their front porch. They had been married more than 50 years, but things had gotten a little rocky in their relationship. Things were not right between them. So the wife says to her husband, “Dear, things haven’t been good between us lately. Maybe we should get off these rocking chairs and get down on our knees and just pray that the good Lord would take one of us home.” He agrees and she mutters under her breath “Then I can go and live with my sister.” It isn’t always easy to love with a Christ-like love.

Still, such love is the litmus test of our faith. John reminds us—“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

“God is love!” How many times have we heard that or said that without really considering what “love” really is and what it truly means to love one another? Love is the epitome of God and as you know, an epitome is a part that represents a whole. Everything we need to know about God is found in his love. Everything the world needs to know about us should be found in our love. It reminds us of the old campfire song “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.”

In John, chapter 13, Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

This is to say that love for one another is the proof positive of faith and discipleship. Love is not what we do, it is what we are. Just as God is love; we are love!

Love is not something you can define, give a description to, or write a “how to” book about; it is something you are. “God is Love!” Define God, describe God, write a “how to be like God” book and you will find that really one word is all that is necessary—LOVE!

Still, how did God show his love for us? Some are not sure he has but he has in a real tangible way. He gave us his Son!

In an episode of the television series Mash, Hawkeye is on a bus which comes close to a group of North Korean soldiers. The bus drives off the road and hides behind some bushes. They are still within hearing of the North Korean soldiers, so Hawkeye tells everyone that they must be very quiet. He insists that a young Korean mother keep her infant from crying or they will be found and killed. She stops the crying and the danger passes. It is not until they are a few miles down the road that Hawkeye the mother had smothered her son to save them all.

He can’t believe it! It’s a dramatic story of love.

There is another love story even more dramatic. It’s the story of God’s love. Our epistle tells it like this—“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Here, the Father—our loving heavenly Father—allows his Son to die to save us all from the dreaded enemies of sin, death, and the devil. His actions had nothing to do with our love—“not that we loved God”—and everything to do with his love—“but that he loved us….”

The love of the Father is made visible through the sacrifice of his Son. The love of the Son is made visible through self sacrifice at Calvary. The love of both the Father and the Son are made visible through our sacrifice for others but such sacrifice must always be for the sake of the gospel—all for the love of Jesus!

It is always His Love/ Our Response as John says, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11) Why? “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

Now, what shall we do in response to such a great love? John says, “Believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ, and love one another.” (1 John 3:23)
It’s important to believe in Jesus and to love in Jesus’ way.

Paul Harvey tells this story—“A man was finally enjoying his greatest pleasure. He had gotten the sports car he had wanted all his life but now his wife wanted to drive it. Being a Christian and knowing that he shouldn’t be selfish he agreed and she drove away.

A few blocks from home she got into an accident and totaled the car. Can you imagine how she felt? She was physically okay. But you know how it is. She had to fill out an insurance report on the accident. When she reached into the glove compartment to get the forms and auto registration, she noticed an envelope clipped to the insurance forms.

She opened the envelope, and read this note, written in her husband’s handwriting: “Honey, remember it’s you I love, not the car.”

Remember, it’s you Christ loves, not all the possessions he allows us to use.

The Gospel clearly describes this kind of love as real love—fruit that will last into an eternity. Here John links together the Father’s love for Jesus, Jesus’ love for his disciples, and the disciples’ love for one another. Jesus’ love for his people is the clear motivation and the supreme model for the disciples’ displaying their love for one another.
In the context for this day, our love grows strong enough to be concerned about our neighbors’ eternal welfare. This love is an intentional goodwill, an active good that will work for another person. This love encourages believers to evangelize the world by sharing the power-filled message of Christ and his resurrection. We are not meant to keep this message to ourselves.

The Good News of Jesus and his resurrection spreads farther and farther according to our lesson from Acts. More and more people believe and turn to the Lord. Philip preached to the Samaritans and taught the truth of salvation to an Ethiopian. After relating in elaborate detail the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius, Luke turns to a brief account of the establishment of the first predominantly Gentile church.

He writes, “The Lord’s hand was with them….” The result? “A great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (v 21b). It is utterly amazing that “the establishment” of the apostles and the Jerusalem Christians didn’t stifle the young and burgeoning Antioch Church.

“When Barnabas arrived (in Antioch) and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” And the Antiocheans responded to the needs of the hungry and persecuted Judean Christians by sending an important gift to purchase food. God’s love in action!

Our text today helps us identify the divine dimension of love: its origin is God. At the same time, it describes the human dimensions, the effects God’s love has on us as we relate to one another.

From time to time we hear of an individual who has performed a supernatural feat. There is the true story of a woman who was driving with her child. She swerved to avoid a dog and struck a tree. She was thrown clear, but the child was pinned under the car. She panicked, and with adrenaline pumping, she raised a corner of the car up enough for her child to escape. Normally, of course, she never would have been able to raise the car. But in her love for her child, she was able to do something superhuman.

In the same way, by ourselves we are unable to love others as we ought. But empowered by the love of God, we are able to perform spiritual feats of love for others.

God of Mercy, God of Might!

God of Mercy, God of Might!
1 Peter 4:7-14
Rev. Glenn F. Merritt
LCMS World Relief and Human Care

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (English Standard Version)

7 The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. 8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.
10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 11 Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in the faith, and fellow redeemed by the blood of Jesus;

Teach us the lessons Thou hast taught: To feel for those Thy blood hath bought, that every word and deed and thought may work a work for Thee!

In sickness, sorrow, want, or care, may we each other’s burdens share; may we, where help is needed, there give help as unto Thee.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9-10


George Barna, in his 1991 visionary book entitled ‘User Friendly Churches,’ wrote this about successful churches. “Successful churches took a different tack, involving people in real ministry. They tended to believe that the most desirable form of ministry was outreach, not inreach. …they taught their people that the best way to solve their own needs and problems was by focusing on serving others.” (User, page 46-47)

Barna’s vision of the church wasn’t all that visionary. Christ’s vision for his Church has always one of serving. Only in serving others do we serve the Gospel. The righteous ones of God feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, love the lonely, clothe the naked, help the sick, and visit the imprisoned. The righteous ones bring mercy, mercy forever to a helpless and hurting world.

Christ’s vision for his Church is one of selfless service to others rather than the selfish service for our own benefit. Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, so we come to the poor and unfortunate to serve, not be served, and to give our lives in the service of Christ’s gospel.
• Christ’s mandate and example of love for the whole person remains our supreme example for life in this world, and for care of the needy, body and soul.
• Christ’s Palestinian ministry combined proclamation of forgiveness and acts of mercy, care and healing (Luke 5:17-26).

“Jesus proclaimed the Gospel and cared for the needy because that’s who He is as mercy incarnate. Mercy responds to human need and suffering, whether spiritual or physical. Proclaiming Jesus and loving the neighbor has to do with who and what the church is as the body of Christ.”

• Love, care and concern for those in need (diakonic mercy/love) are actions motivated by the gospel, when faith (the faith by which we believe) apprehends the righteousness of Christ and his merits, unto eternal life.
• The gospel thus laid hold of, produces love.
• Love seeks and serves the neighbor.
• Love for the neighbor, while an action mandated by the law of God, is a reflection of the very being of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (1 John 4:7).
• This love finds its source and motivation in the deep gospel matrix and totality of the true faith (the faith which is believed).

But, how do we serve and how can we serve in the best possible way?

Jeff McMullen, one of the original people hired to play Ronald McDonald, had the light of life but his job got in the way. Maybe some of you here today can identify with Jeff, maybe your job or school or something else has darkened the light of Christ in your life.

As Ronald, Jeff would visit orphanages and children’s hospitals to brighten up otherwise dreary days for the kids but he always left empty, unfulfilled because he wasn’t allowed to hold any of the children (liability concerns). Often his heart went out to the kids as they reached for him. He learned that the secret was never to look them in the eye. It was easier that way. Never look a needy person in the eye!

One day, after a long day, as he headed down a quiet hallway he heard a little voice, “Ronald, Ronald.” Slowing he entered a room to find a tiny boy curled up in his father’s arms. The boy’s breathing was labored, his body was withered, and his voice was quivering. “Ronald, Ronald, will you hold me?” he asked.

He knew he couldn’t but then it happened, Jeff’s eyes met Billy’s and Jeff knew what he had to do. Job or no job, he sat down and cuddled little Billy until he fell asleep. Moments later, the tiny boy died but not before Ronald McDonald had touched him.

A touch of mercy takes only a moment but lasts an eternity!

All are redeemed, both far and wide, since Thou, O Lord, for all hast died. Grant us the will, and grace provide to love them all in Thee!

But, there are so many needs, so many opportunities out there that a single Christian or a single church like Faith can’t cover every base.

God has placed before The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod unique opportunities for service in our world and community. Together, we have a share, a place, a part, in Christ’s vision for his Church.

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:34-36)

Christ’s vision for his church is always one of faith in action. James, the leader of the early church in Jerusalem writes, “What good is it my brothers, if a mean claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is death.” (James 2:14-17)

Jesus was a man of action and by his actions he fulfilled God’s vision for the salvation of the world. At the same time, he healed the sick, fed the hungry, and freed those who were held captive by their own sin. He took up our infirmities, he carried our sorrows…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

The Son of Man gave his life as a ransom for many and encourages us to do the same: “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command…This is my command: Love each other.” (John 14:13-14, 17)

Christ’s vision for His Church is one of selfless service for others rather than selfish service for ourselves. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16 18)



The darkness of despair is another shade of darkness that closes in on the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick or the imprisoned. It’s a darkness sets in when a personal tragedy, a crisis, or a disaster darkens your doorway. I’ve seen that darkness too many times as a police officer, as a missionary, as a parish pastor, and as a father. When our 21 year son died suddenly of an asthma attack three years ago I experienced shades of darkness I’d never known before and I never want to know again.

When the darkness of despair sets in it’s so easy to feel like nobody cares, like there’s no hope of rescue. Disaster, crisis, and personal tragedy, are cold, dark places with fear lurking at every turn. Today, the helpless and hurting are scattered across our nation and around our world hoping and praying for rescue but who will help them? The Bible tells us—


But, how do we serve to the best of our ability when we have limited resources—time, talent, and treasure?

Once again, Brana writes, “The stark reality is that every church has limited resources, and has been called to accomplish a specific mission. Despite the urge to be all things to all people, the successful churches resisted that impulse to be the answer to everyone’s every problem by focusing on their vision for ministry, by reaffirming their commitment to quality, and by recognizing their limitations.” (User Friendly Churches, page 51)

Later Brana writes, “These churches recognized the numerous opportunities for addressing needs in the community and the world, but they restricted their outreach to those ministries to which they felt called by God, and for which they had sufficient resources to do an excellent job.” (User, page 56)

If the people of this community were asked to identify one or two unique qualities of Faith Lutheran Church and School, what would they be? What are the ministry strengths of your church and school? And, more importantly, what were the ministry strengths of the early Church? Again, Christ summarizes them in Matthew 25—you fed me, you gave me to drink, you invited me in, you clothed me, you looked after me, you came to visit me.

All of these things add up to one thing—Christ’s people active in faith. Together, we as The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod are the Church fulfilling Christ’s vision for the future.

A man was walking on the beach and found a magic lamp. When he rubbed it, a genie appeared and told him that he would be granted one wish. Immediately the man asked for a copy of the newspaper with the stock market report that would be published one year from that day. Suddenly the paper was in his hands and the genie disappeared. With greedy eyes the man scanned the columns and saw stocks in which he could invest and make millions. Pleased with himself and his plans, he turned the page and noticed the obituary column. His name was on top of the list!
All too soon your name and our church will be at the top of the list standing before the Son of Man in his glory, all the angels with him, and he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory to separate the sheep from the goats and you will hear: "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:37-40)
Why? Because when they saw those in need they responded with acts of charity. Without their knowledge, when they helped “the least of these, my brothers,” they were helping the king himself. The works emphasized here must be seen as works flowing from faith that do not gain heaven for anyone, but which clearly reveal the genuineness of faith.
Those on the left are cursed to “eternal fire” for their failure to respond to the needs of the poor and wanting. Therefore, they fail to respond to the needs of the king. They, too, were ignorant of the king’s connection to the poor. Their lack of action displays an unauthentic faith. Note that if anyone presents heaven as eternal and hell as temporary, this parable (vss. 41, 46) presents hell’s punishment as eternal.

The acts of mercy in the text are done without consideration of reward. Though rewards appear to be given in heaven to those who have it as a matter of grace, rewards are God’s business, not the business of Christians living by faith active in love.

“As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal 6:10).

I challenged you to serve, to fulfill your destiny as Christians, to put your faith into action in clear, concise, and convincing ways, and to step into the future, Spirit-filled and excited about the challenges to change.
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:8-11)

Sin brings darkness into our lives! Our eyes may see the light of day but on the inside it’s dark, ever so dark. Perhaps you’ve been there; maybe you’re there this morning! Sin plunges us into the darkness that chills us to the bone, leaving us lost and alone, fearful of God and separated from our family and friends. It’s a mind shaft filled with cold and dark and there’s no way out unless someone rescues us. We’re up to our chins in sin and we’ve all been there!

“For, there is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (St. Paul, Romans 3:23)

Sin is a shade of darkness like no other darkness known to man! I’ve known it and I never want to know it again. Unrepentant sin leads to such a great darkness. Jesus puts it this way—
"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-24)
Sin fill us with a great darkness but there’s yet another shade of darkness in our world!

Is something preventing you from delivering that touch of mercy, from living in the light of Christ, from sharing the gospel? I remember a song we used to sing about that—this little gospel light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.

In and through the gospel of hope and forgiveness, Christ gives us the privilege of being mercy in this sin darkness world.

I know that you remember the story of the Good Samaritan; how the religious person and the spiritual person walked on by the man who had been robbed and beaten without even a hint of mercy. But Jesus tells us, “a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity (had compassion) on him.”
I’m sure you’ve heard that the Greek word for pity/compassion is εσπλαγχνισθη from splagchnizomai which means ‘to have a yearning in ones bowels’. I guess we would say it means, ‘to hurt deep inside for someone.’ The Good Samaritan ‘hurt deep inside’ for this man he didn’t even know and he touch him with mercy.
A touch of mercy, the gospel of hope and forgiveness, only takes a minute to deliver but its effect lasts an eternity. The motivator for mercy is mercy! Christ’s mercy toward us motivates us to be merciful to others. Our nature as Christians is to be merciful, sharing the gospel in word and deed, not with ulterior motives, but purely because of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. If you’ve received mercy, it’s the most natural thing in the world to share mercy!

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Mother Teresa, known for her great compassion, was asked after winning the Nobel prize, “What is the gospel?” She replied, “The gospel is written on your fingers?” With that she held up her hand and demonstrated, “You-Did-It-For-Me.” Mother Teresa added, “At the end of your life, your five fingers will either excuse you or accuse you of doing it to the least of these. You-Did-It-For-Me!”

What a great philosophy of life, what a great example of faith, but more importantly what a great testimony of Christ’s words in our text!

You did it for me! Through Christ and because of his gospel we can turn chaos into compassion, darkness into light when a personal tragedy, a crisis, or a disaster strikes.

LCMS World Relief and Human Care is committed to being the Church by upholding Christ and by doing what needs to be done around the world; the feeding of the hungry, quenching of the thirsty, sheltering of the strangers, clothing of the naked, treating of the sick, and visiting of the prisoners all on your behalf.

The first Christians were totally devoted to Christ and to one another. This too was in keeping with Jesus’ teaching, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) Any church not characterized by these things can not have the character of Christ and can not share in his vision for the future of his Church.

Let us pray—

O God, whose infinite love restores to the right way those who err, gathers the scattered, and preserves those whom you have gathered, of your tender mercy pour out on your Christian people here at Faith Lutheran Church and School the unity of the Spirit that, all schisms being healed, your flock, gathered to the true Shepherd of your Church, Jesus Christ, may serve you in all faithfulness and holiness; this we asked through our Lord and Savior. Amen

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