Standing at the Grave

Matthew 28:1-10     Easter Sunday     April 20, 2014

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory, the author of the letter to the Colossians writes.   After reading this passage many times, and several commentaries, I’m still not certain what this means, exactly.  Is all of my life hidden? From whom and why?  What will life be like “with [Christ] in glory?”  There are more questions than answers.  That our life is hidden with Christ in God says that there is part of our lives with God that remain a mystery, things that seem to be against what we perceive to be reality.  In other words, we walk by faith, not by sight. As Lutherans, we live with this mystery.  We even declare it.  In preparing to receive the body and blood of Christ, we will together in community proclaim out loud the mystery of faith.  “Christ has died, Christ has risen.  Christ will come again.”

We do not know how the resurrection happened.  Jesus was alone in the dark tomb; there were no witnesses to it.  There is no accurate and clear way for us to speak of the resurrection, only for people like you and me—people who are puzzled, and curious and questioning, to experience the risen Christ.  We cannot explain resurrection.  Resurrection explains us.  It isn’t about human capacities or possibilities.  It is wholly about God’s.  If we ever thought that we might bring about resurrection, or exert some control over it, just read Matthew’s gospel.  When Jesus died, the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  Those who were keeping watch over Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, and they were terrified [Matthew 27].

Earthquakes are terrifying, in part because we have no control over them.  We don’t get many in Williamsburg.  In September of 2011 (Don’t you just love the internet?) In September of 2011, Williamsburg experienced a small earthquake that lasted 20 seconds.  Windows rattled, buildings slightly swayed, and some foundations were cracked.  Those who felt it were concerned, and some people were frightened.  Things changed.  Since 1900, Chile holds the record for a 9.5 magnitude quake in 1960.  The effects were profound, and the world changed.

After Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body and carefully wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb.  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary watched as a great stone was rolled to block the door of the tomb. They returned to the grave on the first day of the work week, when everyone was attempting to return to normal after the torment of the weekend.   Suddenly, there was a great earthquake, and an angel of the Lord descended from heaven.  The irony of the situation is that the live guards outside the tomb became dead-like, while a supposedly inside-the-tomb dead man was alive.  Even as the ground shook, the angel said to the two women, “Don’t be afraid.  He is not here.  Jesus has been raised.”  The effects were profound, and the world changed.

An angel who looked brighter than high-intensity-discharge headlights coming right at you on a very dark road, a second earthquake, and a missing dead Jesus.  Don’t be afraid?   The angel instructs the two Marys to go quickly and tell the disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and that Jesus would meet them in Galilee.  They left the tomb with fear and great joy.  I didn’t think I could understand fear and great joy existing together, and then I thought about my now son-in-law Peter standing at the altar waiting for my daughter Kelly to process down the aisle.  Fear and great joy.  As the women ran on their way to tell the disciples, Jesus met them, saying, “Greetings!”  They grabbed his feet and worshipped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.”

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, we have the picture of all of our lives.  Living with both fear, and with joy, all the while grabbing onto Jesus’ feet.  We live with fear of not doing enough, and with joy at all God has entrusted to us.  We live with fear of losing our partner, and with joy of being together now.  We live with fear for our children.  Will their testing of the world get them in trouble?  And we live with joy at God’s gifts we see in them.  We have fear for those who are not able to buy food, or afford their prescriptions, and with joy that we can make a difference in their lives through serving and advocacy. We live with fear for the future of the church, and with joy at proclaiming the gospel.  We live with fear for the future, and with joy for the blessings of this present moment.

When the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid.  Jesus has been raised,” they left the tomb with both fear and great joy.  Their fear was not taken away, but they were able to go forward, to continue on with the mission that God had given them, to proclaim the good news in spite of their fear.  And they met Jesus, the risen Christ, on the way.  This is the definition of courage.  Having courage does not mean that we don’t have fear.  Having courage means that we go on despite our fear.  Because we encounter the risen Christ on the way, we go on.  David Lose writes, “For while some preach that coming to faith in Christ should smooth all the rough places of life and still the tremors of this world, I believe that the gospel give us the ability to keep our feet amid the tremors and enable us not just to persevere but even to flourish when life is difficult.[1]

He reminds us of the story of the funeral service of Winston Churchill:

At the close of the service that Churchill planned himself, a single trumpeter stood at the west end of St. Paul’s Abby and sounded “Taps,” the song that signals dusk and the close of another day and is frequently played at the end of a military funeral.  But after a moment of stillness that followed the last plaintive note of the song, another trumpeter stood at the east end of St. Paul’s, the end that faced the rising sun, and played “Reveille,” the song of the morning and the call to a new day[2].

On the cross, the world did all it could to Jesus.  At Easter, God did all God could to the world.  The earth shook, and everything changed. What we perceive to be reality and what is God’s reality are not always the same. This is the mystery, –that God makes the cross to be about life, not death.  That God can take our pain and sorrow and suffering and death and turn it into new life.  Just as God broke the darkness with the moon and the stars, God brings light out of dark places.  Just as God brought the Israelites out of slavery, God brings freedom out of bondage.  Just as God raised Jesus from the tomb, so, too, can God bring new life from death.  When we cannot see a way, God can.  In and through the cross, God shows us that nothing is beyond hope, and no one is beyond God’s grace and mercy and love.  We will not be separated from God by sin and death.

Fear, and despair, and doubt are part of our lives, but the crucified Christ has been raised!  Death does not have the last word.  God does.

~ Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin


[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=3174

[2] [2] Ibid.

 

Setting Lazarus Free

John 11.32-37     Lent 5     April 6, 2014

 Lazarus had been dead for four days. According to Jewish tradition, people’s souls linger around their dead bodies for three days.  By the fourth day, the body begins to rot, and the soul no longer lingers.  “Lord, there is already a stench…” Martha had exclaimed.  By the fourth day, I hear the song of the coroner who examined the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz; …she’s not only merely dead, she’s really, most sincerely dead!  Lazarus was really, most sincerely dead by the time Jesus arrived, as dead as the dry bones scattered in the middle of the valley in which God set Ezekiel.

Lazarus was dead by the time his friend had arrived. After Martha and Mary had sent word to him that Lazarus was ill, Jesus remained where he was for two more days.  While it isn’t clear why he delayed going to Lazarus, the timing is such that Lazarus could have been dead about the time that the messengers arrived to tell Jesus that his friend was ill.  Two days after receiving the message, Jesus told his disciples it was time to go to Bethany, they protested.  They had just been in Jerusalem at the Festival of Dedication, what we know as Hanukkah.  There the religious authorities accused him of blasphemy, saying that Jesus was making himself God.  Jesus and his disciples then narrowly escaped stoning, and now the trip to Judea seemed treacherous to them.

When Lazarus’ sisters heard Jesus was coming, the ever-practical Martha went to meet him. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she said.  Was Martha’s statement a confession of faith as much as it was an accusation?   Jesus looked her in the eyes and assured her, “Lazarus will rise again.”  Consistent with the belief of many Jews, Martha answered with her faith in future resurrection, “He will rise to life again at the resurrection on the last day.”

We know Jesus’ often quoted response; “I AM the resurrection and the life.”  There God is, with promises and possibilities.  In the midst of hopelessness and crisis that is out of Mary and Martha’s control, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life!” This is not future tense.  It is present reality.  Christianity is not insurance for later.  It is for living now.

On the way to the tomb, hearing Lazarus’ family and friends sobbing, Jesus also began to weep.  Was it his own grief at the death of Lazarus, or his empathy for the family?  Or was it that people seemed to have no faith in him?  Whatever the reason, he took a deep breath and told them to take away the stone that was lying in front of the cave.  The first thing Jesus did after the stone was rolled away was to give thanks to God.  Then he commanded, “Lazarus, come out!”

Listen as the story continues:

     The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.

Even though Lazarus was no longer dead, he was bound.  He was tied up, unable to do much of anything.  Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but he told the people surrounding him to unbind him.

Reflecting on this story, Stephanie Jaeger writes:

…I believe that God also calls us out of the tangible tombs of entrenched poverty, poor education, and limited opportunity.  So I like to call this story “The Unbinding of Lazarus.”  Jesus cries to his friend in the tomb, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus comes out of the dark cave alive again—yet still bound by strips of cloth.  Lazarus is alive but not free.  He is not freed until his family and friends follow Jesus’ instructions to “unbind him, and let him go.”  The story of Lazarus doesn’t just reveal God’s power to renew.  It also reveals our power and our calling to participate in the unbinding of our brothers and sisters[1].

Unbinding happens when Jesus’ call to life moves us to stretch our ministries.  We unbind people and let them go when we forgive them.  It’s true that we also free ourselves when we forgive others.  We unbind people when we feed the hungry and house the homeless.  We help free people when we work toward justice, and medical care for all; when we advocate for education to help break the cycle of poverty.  We set people free when we understand their autism, their depression, or their mental or physical disability.  While we might be tempted to think that these are issues that aren’t part of our life, if one person isn’t free, then we are bound, too.

I have a friend whose son is locked in jail for drugs.  When he is freed, he will still be bound to the demons of addiction, the lifestyle, and the friends he knows unless someone helps him cut those ties and walks with him to a new way of life, and someone gives him a job.   Then there’s the single young mother I read about.  She has breast cancer, and continues to work the two jobs she needs to be able to afford food and shelter.  Her young child comes with her for her weekly treatments, each 6-hours long, because she can’t afford childcare.  My realtor friend in Pennsylvania had a couple make an offer on a home only to hear that the owners would not sell to them because they are gay.  Jesus says to us, “unbind them!”

The raising of Lazarus is a sign that points to God.  Its truth is not necessarily that Lazarus was physically dead, and physically raised to life again.  Its truth is that when we can see no possibilities, and nothing other than darkness, God can bring hope and new life.  When God breathes life into dry bones, and calls people out of the their tomb, we are called to cooperate with God, and do our part to free them.

~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin



[1] “Living by the Word.” Christian Century.  April 2, 2014, 20.

 

 

There is God

 

John 9:1-41      Fourth Sunday of Lent     March 30, 2014

Podcast: http://www.saintstephenlutheran.net/?p=5450

 

What a story we read in the gospel of John!  Here’s something striking.  Do you notice that the man who’s blind doesn’t come to Jesus?  He’s not “seeking God.”  He doesn’t take any initiative to make Jesus respond to him.  Instead, it is Jesus who sees him.  It is Jesus who takes the initiative.  Jesus acts out of compassion.

Then everyone else in the story is trying to figure out “what happened” and “why?”  That starts with a question Jesus’ disciples ask about the man who has been blind from birth.  You see, in that culture, if someone suffered from illness or disability, it was assumed that the person had sinned or had inherited his ancestors’ sin, so the illness or disability was punishment for that.  Do you remember that Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  I love the way Jesus simply dismisses the whole sin-illness-disability equation!  All that is important to him is to work the works of him who sent me.

And so, Jesus sets to work.  In Jesus, God comes to us, into our flesh and blood, in such physical ways!  Do you remember the startling description of this?  Jesus spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes.  Jesus tells the man: “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent).  Then he went and washed and came back able to see.  (I have to tell you that one of the thrills of my life was to stand right where the pool of Siloam was during Jesus’ day, when I was in Jerusalem several years ago.)  

When the man comes back from the water able to see, people want to know, “What happened?” and, “Why?”   The dialogue that follows in this chapter is funny stuff!  The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”  Some were saying, “It is he.”  Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.”  He kept saying, “I am the man.”   But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”  He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”   They said to him, “Where is he?”  He said, “I do not know.”

What Jesus has done is going to cause a big problem.  Do you remember?  Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.  Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight.  He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”  Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.”  But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?”  And they were divided.  (Here’s another indication that the Pharisees – those leaders of the Jews – were not a monolithic bloc of opponents to Jesus.  Some of them were open to what he was doing.)

And the story goes on – with the Pharisees trying to figure out, “What happened?” and, “Why?”  They call the man in for questioning.  They call the man’s parents in for questioning.  They call the man in for questioning again – and, this second time, the man who can now see even begins to make fun of the Pharisees who are blind!  This is a very funny story.

It’s the “why” question that’s most interesting to me this time through this story.  Why does Jesus heal the man?  Here’s what seems to be true: it is simply because Jesus sees the man and has compassion on him in his brokenness.  Jesus is doing the works of the Father who sent him.  By the end of the story, those who refuse to see what Jesus is doing discover that they have suffered judgment!  But, as we read from the gospel of John a couple of weeks ago, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.[1]  God in human flesh and blood is simply acting out of compassion.

*  *  *

            Because God became human flesh and blood in Jesus, we can say this: wherever we give or receive compassion, there is God, in that human encounter!

*  *  *

Whenever you are suffering, whenever you are broken, and someone acts with compassion towards you, there is God, bringing compassion to you in your flesh and blood.  How can we can say that?  It is because Jesus has come as human flesh and blood while, at the same time, God!  God the Son in relation to God the Father who sent him.  In Jesus, God and humanity are in relationship.  And now Jesus the Christ, risen, has drawn us into his body.  We gather as his body.  We eat and drink his body and blood!  There can be no more intimate, physical relationship between us human beings and God.

*  *  *

            It’s all through the Bible: when two or more human beings are present to each other in Jesus’ name in compassion and in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and all the other fruit of the Spirit,[2] there is Jesus, present in that human encounter, which means: there is God!  According to the Bible, this is never a private, “me and God” thing.  It’s always and only in community – at least, according to the Bible.

And so, what about when you and I open ourselves to each other, in our need for prayer, in our need for healing (whether that be physical or emotional healing), and when we respond to each other with compassion?  There is Jesus, present in that human encounter, which means: there is God!

What about when this happens around the coffee pot in the Gathering Space, and before a meeting in the Conference Room, and outside in the parking lot during conversation before we’re getting into our cars?  There is God creating holy space in place and time.

What about your places of ministry?  What about whenever you and I encounter anyone who is hurting, in need emotionally, or in need of food or drink or clothing or shelter?  What about when we don’t turn away but respond to that person with compassion?  There is Jesus, present in that human encounter, which means: there is God!

Stephen Ministers experience this in a profound way.  When a Stephen Minister is matched up with a “Care Receiver,” there is deep giving and receiving of God’s compassion.  Stephen Ministers often receive more blessing from God than they are able to offer.  (If you’d like to know what’s involved in becoming a Stephen Minister, just ask me!)

But, really, we are all presented with such holy encounters.  If you are simply alert, conscious of God’s presence in our flesh and blood, you come to see that there is opportunity for these holy meetings to happen many times every day.  It is God who creates holy space in time and place.  There is God!  We simply become agents of God’s compassion for us to give and receive.  What joy there is in that!

In the name of God, who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Pastor Andy Ballentine


[1] John 3:17.  The passage continues: “Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.   And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:18-21)

[2] Galatians 5:22-23.

We Who Announce Peace, Good News and Salvation

 

Service of Installation for the Rev. Cheryl Ann Griffin at St. Stephen Lutheran Church

Isaiah 52:7-10     March 23, 2014

 

“Furthermore it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us….

“To obtain such faith God has instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments.  Through these, as through means, [God] gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel.  It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe.”[1]

On September 17, 2005, in this worship space, Cheryl Ann Griffin was ordained into that “office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments.”  I am so pleased to officially welcome her back now, as pastor of St. Stephen Lutheran Church, serving with me!  And I have very much enjoyed working through the verses from Isaiah that she chose for this Service of Installation.  Listen:

How beautiful upon the mountains

are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,

who brings good news, who announces salvation,

who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

The prophet is speaking to God’s people who have suffered terrible devastation beyond anything any of us have known.  Two generations earlier, the Babylonian superpower destroyed the holy city of Jerusalem – even the temple; even the very inner sanctum of the temple, where they understood that God had lived!  The Babylonians scattered the people of God into other nations.  For two generations they have been in exile.  They have been living among people who do not know God.

But now, proclaims the prophet:

How beautiful upon the mountains

are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,

who brings good news, who announces salvation,

who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

“Zion” is Jerusalem.  This is the announcement of the reign of God, restored, re-centered in Jerusalem.  But here’s what is so intriguing about this passage.  There is no evidence that any of this is happening!  It’s true that the Persians have now conquered the Babylonians, and Cyrus is a benevolent ruler of the new superpower.  Cyrus will allow God’s people to return to Jerusalem, if they wish.  But the temple is only a pile of rubble.  Much of the city is, too.

And so, these are words of great hope!  In these words the prophet is speaking God’s imagination, what God will make happen!  These are words so full of hope that the prophet uses the present and past tenses to describe something that hasn’t happened yet!

Listen!  Your sentinels lift up their voices,

together they sing for joy;

for in plain sight they see

the return of the LORD to Zion.

Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem;

for the LORD has comforted his people,

he has redeemed Jerusalem.

The LORD has bared his holy arm

before the eyes of all the nations;

and all the ends of the earth shall see

the salvation of our God.

Are these words of hope for us, too?  We understand Jesus the Christ to have brought the kingdom of peace, good news and salvation.  We proclaim that God “has comforted his people” and has brought redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.  And, our ancestors built a great “Jerusalem” of their own: the great “institutional church” of the 20th century.  (Do you remember those days of yore when you weren’t even considered to be good citizens if you weren’t “good church people?”)

How much of that 20th century “Jerusalem” is in ruins – as our congregations dwindle; as fewer and fewer congregations are able to afford a full-time pastor?  What important words these are from the prophet, of great hope; these words giving voice to God’s imagination, what God will make happen, what God is creating among us!

In every congregation that I know about, there are fewer members who worship weekly.  (Now, many who consider themselves “active members” show up a couple of times a month.)  Here at St. Stephen, Sunday morning teachers of children have to plan one-shot teaching lessons because there are no children who are there every week.  The days are long-gone when a church staff member could spend hours in the office planning a great program, publicizing it for weeks, and then unlocking the doors to welcome the people who would stream in!

Do you know that pastors are educated in seminary to assume that people will come in the doors of the church building automatically, without any effort on our part?  The old model was for a pastor to spend all day in his or her office (unless there was a pastoral emergency), preparing budgets and programs and doing “running the church” administration for the people who are flowing in through the doors!

For one week short of 13 years, here at St. Stephen, I have found that the “running the church” stuff is more than a full time job.  But what is the good of that, if fewer people are actually coming through the doors?  About a year ago, I came to a decision.  It’s not what I could have decided.  I could have decided to play out the string!  (I’m sure there would be enough members in the congregation who will live long enough for me to get to retirement.)  I could have decided to simply leave a dwindled congregation to a successor.  Instead, the people of St. Stephen have supported something audacious: to call two pastors to lead St. Stephen, with no hierarchy between us, so we can split up the preaching and teaching and the Christian Education direction and the youth work and all the “running the church” administration for this reason: to free up hours each week for both of us to be outside the doors of this building, so that we can be in relationship with those who God loves, but who don’t see any need to be part of a church congregation.   Instead of waiting for folks to come into our doors, Pastor Griffin and I will be spending hours outside the doors of this building, not only visiting members, and not only inviting back members we don’t see any more, but being present to those who have no connection with any congregation.

Do you know the primary reason for engaging in such relationships?  It is because that’s where we find Jesus, in the flesh.  We can’t do this as a means to an end.  We cannot be out there “selling” St. Stephen – because the generation that is staying away in droves will be repelled by manipulation.  And we might not see much difference in Sunday morning worship attendance.  (The reason people don’t show up on Sunday mornings for what we’re doing right now is that they don’t want to!)

But who knows where the Holy Spirit might create a response?  Who knows what the Holy Spirit might create, in addition to what we’re doing now, here at St. Stephen?  Who knows where we might discover the need for alternative faith communities to grow up within what we’re doing now?

Here’s something important.  By being “out there,” Pastor Griffin and I will not be doing this for the members of St. Stephen.  We’ll be modeling what St. Stephen folks must be drawn to do, as well, for our congregation to thrive into the future.  Listen to some words from a colleague who had a missionary conversation recently with someone who’s not a member of her congregation.  Pastor Diane Loufman wrote:

“One young man whom I hadn’t met before asked me many questions about faith and God.  He asked me if God would forgive someone like him; he asked what happened to people in other parts of the word who don’t worship Christ; he asked about baptism and confession and ashes.

“When I invite long-term members to share their faith I know many of you think about the old-fashioned evangelism of knocking on doors and telling people that Jesus Christ died for their sins.

“I don’t know if this way ever effective in drawing people to Christ, but I can guarantee it was good at driving people away.

“Christians are usually good at talking and telling people what we have to offer, but the greater conversation is one in which we listen and discover what the other has need of, is interested in, is passionate or worried about.

“I didn’t say anything to the young man other than ask him his name and tell him mine before the questions started coming.

“I know some of you are saying, ‘Yes, but you are a pastor.’

“The only difference between my calling and yours is I’m called to preach, baptize, and give communion and even there one sees how lines are not always tightly drawn.

“Think about the questions the young man asked.  Each one of us who was raised in the Lutheran church knows how to answer those questions.  We know that God is a God of forgiveness, grace, love.  Each one of you could have answered as I did: ‘God didn’t come in Jesus to condemn but to love.’

“Each one of you could have come up with a Bible story like the two criminals next to Jesus on the cross and told it with the ending that Jesus says: ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’

“Each one of you could have told him that baptism is entrance into the death and resurrection of Christ; that it is entrance into the community of faith and that it is a gift from God.

“Each of you could have said that ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday remind us of our mortality and how that affects how we live our lives this day.

“In other words, each one of you could have shared your faith, and each one of you could have given the invitation as I did: ‘Come and see.’”[2]

“Come and see,” of course, is what Jesus says in the first chapter of John.  That’s all our invitation needs to be into our church communities!  Isn’t that right?

The prophet Isaiah proclaims:

How beautiful upon the mountains

are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,

who brings good news, who announces salvation,

who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

It is Jesus the Christ who has brought the kingdom of peace, good news and salvation.  “Come and see,” we say.  We hope for a response!  But the grace is that it is not up to us!  The grace is expressed in the words of the Augsburg Confession, Article V: that it is “the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel.”  It is the Holy Spirit who does that!

Our call is to share our joy that is rooted in the peace, good news and salvation of Christ – in relationships of love and trust, and while serving those who are in need.  The key are those relationships of love and trust.  (You’ve nurtured such relationships your entire lives!  Otherwise you would have no relationships with other people!)

Our call is, simply, to invite: “Come and see.”

Any response, any faith that is created, is created by God!

What will God create, here at St. Stephen and in all our congregations, in the generation to come?

In the name of God, who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Pastor Andy Ballentine



[1] The Augsburg Confession (German Text): Article IV, Concerning Justification; and Article V, Concerning the Office of Preaching

[2] In “The Courier,” March, 2014, St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, Wilmington, Delaware.

(If you would like a copy of an earlier sermon, e-mail Pastor Ballentine or Pastor Griffin and s/he’ll send you a copy!)