The 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 13, 2021
Pastor Delvin Strecker
Sloane, could I get you to come up here and join me for a few minutes? Have you ever at school had a teacher give you some seeds and put it in a little cup? Had that happened? Okay. What happened to that seed that was in that little cup? It grew up. What did it grow up to be? It was a marigold that you had planted, okay? And after you planted that seed into the ground, did you have to do anything to that seed? You had to water it? But after you gave it water, did you worry about it? That it might not grow? No, you trusted, didn’t you, that that seed would grow, yea? And it did, didn’t it? Okay. That’s the way God wants us to think about our faith. Somebody plants a seed in us and so people that planted the seed in us they can’t really do much about the seed once they plant it and we have to trust God that seed in our heart will grow and that we will come to believe in Jesus, okay?
Heavenly Father, we give thanks that we have had seeds planted in us and that seed is growing as our faith is also. And we give you thanks for your son and we ask this all through his name. Amen.
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
Dear fellow protected people of God. I am going to repeat that. Dear fellow protected people of God. In all three of our lessons today we have different ways that the kingdom of God is presented to us. And again the reason for much of the imagery that we have is because people in the Old Testament time especially and also the time of Jesus knew what an earthly kingdom was like. They had had kings they had grown up with and all their neighbors had kings. And so a kingdom to them was again a certain area ruled by a king.
But along comes God and he talks about the “kingdom of God” but it is completely different than anything they know about. So there are struggles as to how do we get people to understand that the kingdom of God is different.
In our Old Testament lesson today God uses through the prophet the image of a cedar tree. He says the cedar tree is a place for protection and the birds and the animals can find protection in there. So, again, for the first image we have is that the kingdom of God is a place, not physically, but a place where God protects his people. By believing in him and trusting in him he says, I am like a giant cedar and I am here to protect you. Notice in our psalm, again, we have the same imagery of the cedar, that the cedar again is an image of the kingdom of God and it is an image of protection.
But there’s also something in there for us older ones. Did you notice what the psalmist says? They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be green and succulent. Guess what? We don’t get to retire from the kingdom of God. Even in our old age; God expects us to be succulent, to bear fruit, to be at work for the kingdom of God. You know there are times I think when I visit people that are older, I don’t feel like I contribute anymore, I use to be so active in the church, and now I don’t have my place anymore. Can you pray? Can you sing praises to God? Can you love? Can you love your children, can you love your spouse, can you love your neighbor? You are still bearing fruit.
In our second lesson it talks about the fact that we need to walk by faith and not by sight. Folks that’s another part of the kingdom of God. Notice that the images are different. But it is still the same thing that we’re going to get to that I talked with Sloane.
You see we fuss about the kingdom of God and we worry and we fret, and we worry about this program – is it going to survive? Is the church going to survive? And do we have to have a pastor to survive? Notice that Jesus in his image of the kingdom of God. It is like seeds, you plant it and then it says, does the farmer worry? No, he goes to bed, he goes to sleep, he gets up. That’s the same thing. We plant the seed, then it is up to God. It is not up to us. No matter how much we fret and fuss and worry about the kingdom of God, he says, it will grow. It will. We have to trust it. We have to have a walk by faith, not a walk by sight.
So the Old Testament image of the kingdom of God as being a cedar, Jesus completely goes a different direction to give people an image of the kingdom of God. He uses the lowly mustard. Mustard in Israel is like bind weed here, or tumble weeds, or whatever – it is an unwanted weed. And it has little tiny seeds – and from that little tiny seed comes a bush. A mustard bush is about 4 or 5 feet tall and about 6 to 8 feet wide. And again animals find protection. But Jesus says even from the lowliest little seed the kingdom of God can grow. In fact Jesus later on remember he used the term that all it takes is the faith the size of a mustard seed to enter the kingdom of God.
Walk by faith and not by sight! That’s what the kingdom of God is. It is the faith we have to believe that our God is at work in us and through us, using us to plant seeds. We think it is our job to grow the seed and God says, No, that’s my job. You have to trust me. And so therefore when we are at work and we say, but oh we didn’t have very many turn out for this or whatever. That’s not it. The thing is how much seed did we plant? That is walking by faith.
Notice also in our Gospel that it talks about the fact that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. This is a place that we can come and we can make a nest. And we can be comfortable. And we can be taken care of by our God.
In the kingdom of God all can find shelter. So what do we do? We plant the seeds, we walk by faith, we trust God to grow it. Just like Sloan said, put that seed in there and water it and then it grows. Amen.
THE HOLY TRINITY
May 29-30, 2021, 5:00 p.m. & 8:15 & 10:45 a.m.
Pastor Jim Strasen
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Salina, Kansas
“Eternal Life” John 3:1-17
INTRODUCTION—The number three is a good biblical number, the number that signifies completeness. That may not come to mind when we think of the number three. We may instead think of deaths coming in threes, or we may think of other sets of threes, like the Three Musketeers, the Three Stooges, Three Blind Mice, the Three Little Pigs, the Three Bears, the Three Billy Goats Gruff, the three basic tenses of past, present, and future, the singing group Three Dog Night or other singing groups, like Peter, Paul, and Mary, the three-dimensional universe, and the like. Atoms are made up of three parts: protons, neutrons, and electrons. You get three wishes. Three strikes are either an out or a turkey, depending on the sport. Three goals are a hat-trick. Three is the first number that forms a geometric figure—a triangle. There are three primary colors. The third time is the charm.
According to Benjamin Disraeli, the British Prime Minister in the nineteenth century, there are three degrees of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. The octopus has three hearts. Camels have three eyelids. Three is the third Heegner number, the fourth (or fifth) Fibonacci number, the fourth open meandric number, and the only prime number that is one less than a perfect square, all of which you are probably overjoyed to learn.
So, to speak of God as being revealed in three persons is not totally foreign to us. That does not mean we understand the concept of the Holy Trinity, three persons in one God, any more than we understand Heegner or meandric numbers. It simply means that we add it to the list of threes that we already acknowledge exist. Doesn’t our belief in the Trinity mean something more than this?
I. LIVED IN RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.
If we break the concept of the Holy Trinity down to a basic number, three-in-one, then our belief in the Trinity means nothing. It is simply some cold fact. It is like comparing the Trinity to the different forms of H2O, ice, water, and steam. That is how some people see God, as some cold fact, maybe a meaningless fact, maybe a basic truth that sets boundaries for our life. God is the Creator and sets certain rules, laws, like the Ten Commandments. When we go beyond these boundaries, we overstep the lines, we sin. This puts us outside of God, outside of life.
Such scientific analysis of God misses the point of who God is and what God does. We can also compare the Trinity to a person who can be understood in at least three different ways, as a daughter/son, as a wife/husband, and as a mother/father, all at the same time. This picture gives us a greater sense of the Triune God as being a living, breathing relationship. In this sense the commandments are seen as gifts to help us order our relationships. When we ignore the gifts, we break the relationship, the result being the loss of life.
When Isaiah sees the Lord in his vision in the first reading, he is immediately aware of that he is unclean and lost. The seraph touches his mouth with a live coal and he is cleansed. This is a relationship image, made personal in Jesus, who touches the unclean and the sick and heals them.
Jesus makes God personal for us. The whole Trinity revolves around Jesus. The Father’s love becomes flesh in Jesus who dies on the cross and rises from the dead. The Spirit always points to Jesus in sanctifying us, cleansing us of our sin, making us holy. In baptism all that God does happens for us. In those waters we are forgiven, restored into relationship with God.
II. LIVED IN RELATIONSHIP WITH ONE ANOTHER.
There is that part of God that is beyond our understanding, all-powerful, impersonal. We see this picture in Genesis 1, where God creates with a word, from a distance. We see another picture of God in Genesis 2, where God creates by personally shaping the earth and forming its creatures and people. This is the God of relationship, whose primary purpose is to give life that is lived in relationship with the earth and its creatures and people. When people disobey God and break relationship with God, this causes a brokenness that affects all of creation, a brokenness that means death, the end of life lived in relationship with God. So, God works to heal this brokenness. Jesus is the means by which God does this. Jesus says it himself, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Eternal life is life lived in relationship with God. It is a life that has no end.
But life lived in relationship with God is also life lived in relationship with people. You cannot love God if you do not love one another. And boy howdy, do we have trouble with that! Hatred and racism seem to be at an all-time high, here and throughout the world! Acts of terrorism, hate crimes against people of color and those who are just different, all kinds of abuse, we see this lack of love almost anywhere.
The thing is, we see it here among us, too. It is easy to sit back and criticize those who are so hateful and fail to see how hateful we have become. We complain about the inability of our legislators to work together, but we have the same problem. It is difficult to sit down and talk without getting angry. It is easy to put people into one basket or another and blanketly condemn them as Democrat, Republican, conservative, liberal, extremist, or even sitting on the fence.
We have trouble understanding people so different from us: people of other faiths, people with different sexual identities, people with mental or developmental issues. It is tempting to see them as a category and not as people who need love, acceptance, and worth, like everyone else. This brokenness is seen in our relationships, even in the church.
B. CHILDREN OF GOD.
But God has done something remarkable in Jesus Christ. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus God has restored us as children of God. And now God is all about helping us live as children of God. Listen to Paul: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
Paul sounds as if eternal life is what we will inherit when we die and are raised with Christ on the last day. That is one way to speak about it. There is another way, which Jesus mentions, in John’s Gospel. Those who believe in Jesus “have” eternal life—present tense. We have died and risen with Christ in baptism. We have new and eternal life now. Our final resurrection is so certain that we can speak of it as a done deal. Jesus’ victory over sin and death has already happened. And our judgment, our verdict of “innocent,” has already been declared in baptism. We have eternal life. This is the life we lead now as God’s beloved children.
CONCLUSION—God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifer—is all about creating life, restoring sinners into relationship with God and one another, offering eternal life to all people. You, like Nicodemus, may have trouble grasping the concept of being born of water and spirit, being born anew. But you understand forgiveness. It is God’s gracious gift to you in Jesus Christ. It is the gift that gives you eternal life as God’s child. It is a gift you can use in your relationships with others as you live this eternal life. AMEN.
The Sunday of Pentecost
May 23, 2021
Pastor Delvin Strecker
Grace and mercy and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
Dear fellow people blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Today, Pentecost, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the first reading this morning Marty told us the story of the original Pentecost and on that day, there was this mighty, rushing wind, this sound that brought everyone’s attention to the fact that something unusual was happening. We have celebrated so many Pentecost Days, all of us, that this day really doesn’t bring any surprise, or amazement, on our part. But yes, the Holy Spirit is at work. There is that rushing wind going on throughout our lives and throughout the world, but many times I think we’re too busy that we don’t see it and hear it.
Last night at the 5:00 worship service I baptized three young men, teenagers, who heard the voice of the Holy Spirit and came and said we want to be baptized. Most of us came to baptism as babies, and for them to hear the Holy Spirit is an amazing thing because many of these young men their lives are cluttered with so much. But guess what? So are our lives.
So what difference is the Holy Spirit to make in our every day lives? First of all, we need to turn to our good old friend, Martin Luther. What did he say in the Third Article? “I am not by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ will come to him, but it is the Holy Spirit that calls and gathers and enlightens us.” The Holy Spirit is the one that keeps our faith alive. It is the Holy Spirit that keeps whispering in our ear. And the other thing is, I think we forget, we forget so often, that it is the Holy Spirit that comes and lives and dwells inside of us. And every time that we come to the Lord’s table, not only do we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, but we also receive his Spirit.
A part of the eucharistic prayer that I use, I will use this morning, talks about the Holy Spirit comes into the gift of bread and wine and into us. The Holy Spirit, for us Lutherans, I think is often kind of pushed to the side. We do more preaching about Jesus. But the Holy Spirit is so important.
Notice that Jesus says, one of the things that the Holy Spirit will do it says is, you are to testify. We’re not able to testify because we have the gift of the Holy Spirit. So what are we to testify to? Jesus set up specifically three things … he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement. And what is this sin? It’s the sin that people don’t believe in Jesus. He says about sin, because they do not believe in me. So you see our testimony, the Holy Spirit at work in us, is to point out to others that it is a sin not to believe in Jesus.
Notice the next one says about righteousness. We are given gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, and again we use on our confirmation days. The gifts are of wisdom and knowledge and fortitude and the list goes on, and the fruits, this is the righteousness – this is peace and love and joy, folks the joy in our lives comes as a result of the gift of the Holy Spirit. We’re given those as a gift of the Holy Spirit and we’re to use those gifts to testify to the world.
Notice the last thing is that the world has been judged and it says that the leader of the world, the ruler of the world, has been condemned. That’s the important part of the Holy Spirit. But you know we kind of think that we drag the Holy Spirit up on Pentecost Sunday, and again, notice in the Psalm, that the Holy Spirit has been buried. Genesis 1 we see that the Holy Spirit was there hovering over the waters. The Holy Spirit came, we hear, and lifted the spirits of the Israelites on their journey through the 40 years in the wilderness. It was the Holy Spirit that came to Elizabeth and Mary and their babies and they leapt for joy.
For you see Pentecost Sunday was just a little bit different way of receiving the Holy Spirit, that becomes the fire. The Holy Spirit came into them physically and look what happened. Ordinary, uneducated men were able to elegantly proclaim the power of God. The mighty power of God. The mighty deeds of God. And folks, that’s what we are called to do.
We are called to make Pentecost not just one day in the year. But Pentecost is every day of the year, to realize what a special gift, not only does Jesus reside in us, in our hearts and our minds, but so does the Holy Spirit.
I’d like for you to think of something here for just a minute. Notice in that second lesson it talked about creation has been growing in labor pains. We ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groaned while we wait for adoption and redemption for our lives. It is through the Holy Spirit that we can believe, that we, we have a family, a church family, a family of God, we’ve been adopted, and that is such joyous news that it should excite us to say – hey, everybody, you, too, can be adopted by God. You, too through the waters of baptism can be joined to Christ and given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
We trust that Jesus interceding for us, but notice also it says – that the Holy Spirit also intercedes for us. That again should get us excited to know that God, every day, lifts us up in prayer, and it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to pray. And you know, so often, and I especially have my confirmands start confirmation class, and Amelia is sitting here, and they struggle to pray out loud, in front of everybody. (I think it’s a Lutheran thing.) I have to say as a Pastor when I first became one – Pastor, pray. You know at times you go “wow, what do I say?” But it is the Holy Spirit comes to us and gives us the words to pray, that’s the amazing thing.
Notice it says a lot of times it doesn’t have to be words, but sighs, a mere sigh can be a prayer. So on this day, we celebrate the gifts and the fruits that we are given, we are celebrating the prayer life that we have all because of this wonderous gift, this joyous gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen.