Sermons

The Importance of Going to Church by Rev. Roger Rohde (2-26-17)

The Importance of Going to Church

Exodus 24:12-18

Some may view the theme of today’s sermon as a topic that has no

relevance to one’s life. Church going is considered unnecessary by the majority of

Americans today, and it is considered optional by many people who are members

of Christian congregations. That’s what makes today’s message important for us

to hear and to share with others.

This Sunday might be referred to as mountaintop experience Sunday. The

Psalm used in our Introit, the Old Testament Reading, the Epistle Reading and the

Gospel Reading all refer to mountaintop experiences. Mountains frequently

played a significant role in God dealing with His people. It was on Mount Ararat

that Noah’s ark came to rest and God established a covenant with Noah. It was

on one of the mountains in the region of Moriah where God asked Abraham to

sacrifice his son, Isaac, and then provided a ram instead. It was at Mount Carmel

where Elijah challenged the false prophets of Baal and the Lord demonstrated His

power by fire. It was at Mount Moriah that the first temple to the Lord was built.

It was at Mount Horeb that God met Elijah in a still small voice and gave him

direction for his life. Our Epistle and Gospel Readings for this Sunday speak of the

mountain on which Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John with

Moses and Elijah being present. It was upon Mount Zion that Jesus instituted the

Lord’s Supper, and it was at Mount Calvary that Jesus’ laid down His life to save all

mankind.

The mountaintop experience has always been important to the relationship

of Christ to His people. Today as we reflect upon Moses going to a mountaintop

to meet with the Lord, we can behold the importance of people going to church

for that is God’s mountaintop experience with His people today.

Going to church begins with a person beholding his need for God’s help. If

someone believes that they can handle life apart from God, why would they come

to church? Jesus Himself said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician,

but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to

repentance” (Mark 2:17).

We don’t go so see our medical doctor just for the fun of it. We don’t go to

the doctor’s office because we enjoy him poking around on our bodies, drawing

our blood, and running all kinds of tests. We go to our physicians to check the

state of our wellness and/or because we have a physical problem that needs

attention.

Jesus is telling us that we are to go to church because we are spiritually sick

and are in need of His forgiveness, love, comfort, and direction. God offers us all

of these things as we come to meet Him in His house where the Word of God is

taught and His Sacraments are administered. Yet, if a person does not believe he

needs these blessings of God in his life, why would he come to the Great

Physician’s house where these gifts are offered?

This is why in our liturgical order of worship we have a personal confession

of sins taking place early in the service. It is critical for our spiritual growth to

humbly acknowledge and confess that without Christ in our lives we are lost

people, headed to the pains of eternal punishment in hell. God instructs us in

James 4:7 and 8: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will

flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you.” Is that not what

every mountaintop experience in Scripture was about – people being drawn

nearer to God because of their spiritual need for His blessings? If you are satisfied

with where you are at, you will feel no need to draw nearer to the Lord by going

to church where God wants to meet with you for a mountaintop experience.

Going to church centers on being molded and shaped by God’s Word.

When Moses went up on the mountain, God presented Moses with His laws and

commands. God was shaping the life of Moses and the people of Israel with His

Word.

One of the reasons people stay away from church these days is that people

really don’t want to hear what God has to stay, because that would mean they

have to change their lifestyle. God presents His Word to us not to rob us of an

enjoyable lifestyle, but to make our lives rich and eternally blessed in Christ. The

Lord says of His Word: “If you continue in My Word, you are My disciples indeed.

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:31).

Notice here that God’s Word is designated as the means by which people

can know true and eternal freedom. It is through the Bible that we learn about

Jesus’ death in payment for our sins and His resurrection by which He conquered

death and the grave. It is in the Bible that we learn we belong to God and that no

circumstances or situations can separate us from His eternal love. In Christ we

are set free to live with peace in our hearts and joy in our souls for all eternity.

Church is that place where God’s Word is taught and proclaimed for the

benefit of people. This is why God calls us to not neglect meeting together as

some are in the custom of doing, but to assemble together around His Word and

His Supper for the sustaining and strengthening of our faith.

The common excuse of many is that they don’t have to go to church to hear

God’s Word or study it. That is true. We can and should read and study our

Bibles at home. We can hear sermons on the radio, television, and internet. Why

then should we go to church?

Two things come to mind through today’s text. One, going to church

removes us from the distractions of this life. What God did with Moses on the

mountaintop He could have done on the plain. But would Moses have been as

focused on the Lord? In our text God tells Moses to leave everyone else and go to

the mountaintop. As a result Moses’ focus was totally on the Lord and Moses

beheld the Lord’s glory without distraction. This is also true with regard to Jesus’

transfiguration before Peter, James, and John in today’s Gospel. The

transfiguration of Jesus could have taken place anywhere with a lot more people

experiencing it, but God set apart this mountaintop experience so that those He

gathered together would be totally focused on what Jesus wanted them to learn.

Interestingly enough God uses church buildings to remove people from the

distractions of daily life and be totally focused on His glory and divine truth. That

is why the Lord originally established the building of the elaborate temple in

Jerusalem, and that is why God has blessed us with this beautiful sanctuary today.

Look around you and notice what is found on every window and door, on the

altar, and within the communion rail. Everything in this place is meant to point us

to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. I can’t tell you the number of times

non-members have enter this place with the response, “WOW!” This church

building is so designed that when we enter it the presence of God can be seen,

sensed, and experienced. This place removes us from life’s distractions to see,

hear, and taste of the goodness of the Lord.

A second reason to go to church is that by so doing, we may show that we

are putting Christ first in our lives. To be sure, one can go to church as the

Pharisees did with a hypocritical heart. The Pharisees went to church to make

themselves number one in God’s eyes and hence received none of the blessings

that may come from going to church.

However, when people go to church with a humble and repentant heart,

they are testifying to the importance Jesus has in their life. What we love most

we will do no matter how busy we are. What is important to us will receive our

attention and display itself in our actions.

When we look at our text, it is striking to notice the amount of time Moses

was on the mountaintop. Our text states: “When Moses went up on the

mountaintop, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount

Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the

Lord called to Moses from within the cloud….And Moses stayed on the mountain

forty days and forty nights” (Exodus 24: 15, 16, 18). It almost sounds like a

doctor’s appointment when you wait in the waiting room and then in the

examination room before the doctor final comes in to see you. Six days Moses

waited for the Lord and on the seventh day God imparted to him the laws and

commands of God. Obviously Moses waited for the Lord, because the Lord was of

utmost importance to him.

Going to church and giving the Sabbath to the Lord is important for it leads

us to remember the creative and redemptive works of God. All we are and all we

have are because of the gracious nature of God toward us. We are His children,

headed to heavenly bliss, all because of Christ’s death and resurrection. Using

our Sabbath Day to get away from worldly activities and focus on the person,

work, and teachings of God is a witness to our faith in the Lord and His place in

our lives.

What shall we say about the importance of going to church? We can say

with certainty that God has designated our coming together for worship around

His Word and His Table to be a mountaintop experience in which He wishes to

bless and enrich our lives. Through our coming together He wants to shape and

comfort us through His Word so that when we return to daily living we will be

refreshed and strengthened to see everything in the light of His eternal plan and

promises. May we join David and say: “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us

go into the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1). Amen.

Into Your Hand I Commit My Spirit – Roger Rohde

Into Your Hand I Commit My Spirit

Psalm 31:5

Rev. Roger Rohde

 

In recognition of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to take place in

October of this year, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod has suggested that

congregations take a look at the man who was at the heart of the Reformation,

and whom God used to bring the church back to the Biblical teaching of salvation

by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. The first of these observances took

place last November when we noted the birth of Martin Luther and recalled his

spiritual leadership in making the Bible to once again be the sole source of

authority in the church.

Today we recall the day that Martin Luther died.  Martin Luther was called

to his eternal home on February 18, 1546 at 3 a.m. It is not his actual death that

we want to focus on this morning, but the faith he and all God’s people can have

as they face the reality of death through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In November of 1545, Luther, at the age of 62, had finished presenting a

group of lectures on the book of Galatians. He finished the lecture series by

stating: “I can do no more, for I am too weak.”

The next weeks found Luther resting from his labors.  He rested until a

family made up of three brothers called for his pastoral assistance. The brothers

were fighting over property, money, and power. On January 23, 1546, Luther

traveled to Mansfield to offer pastoral care and spiritual direction to this

situation. The journey was not easy for it was in the midst of a German winter,

and Luther had to cross a river that was swollen and icy. Luther became

physically weaker. In mid-February the family feud had been settled in a court of

law. It was now clear that Luther’s health was failing.

On Monday, February 15th, Luther preached at St. Andrew’s in Eisleben.

Luther ended his sermon rather abruptly, as he announced to the congregation:

“This and much more might be said concerning this Gospel, but I am too weak

and we shall let it go at that.”

Luther was taken to a home across the street from the church.  He rested

there for the next two days. Around 8 p.m. on Wednesday, February 17th, Luther

went to a window in the place he was staying and spoke his usual evening

prayers. Around 10 p.m., Luther went to bed and prayed the words of our text:

“Into Your hands I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful

God.”

This is the prayer of God’s people because God’s people recognize their

dependence upon God. When Luther died, a scrap of paper was found in his

pocket that expressed Luther’s faith and life. The words were written in Latin and

German. Translated Luther had written: “We are beggars.  This is true.”  Luther

rightfully understood that without Christ he was nothing. He knew he had

nothing to offer God, neither physically nor spiritually. Luther confessed as we

confessed today: “I, a poor, miserable sinner confess unto You all my sins and

iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal

and eternal punishment.” In the prayer of our text, God’s people acknowledge

their sin and entrust themselves to Christ their Redeemer.

Luther went to bed on February 17, 1546 in the sure confidence that

through Christ Jesus his sins had been paid, death had been conquered and Satan

had been defeated. Luther fell asleep for a few hours resting in the Lord’s eternal

care. That’s what true believers in Christ do.  God’s people commit themselves to

Christ’s care and rest in the assurance of His eternal embrace.

About 1:00 a.m. on February 18, 1546, Martin Luther woke up from his

sleep in great pain. He quoted the following Bible passages to bring him comfort:

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that

whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Psalm 68:20 –

“Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from

death.” Luke 2:29 – “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,

according to Your word.” Luther then repeated the prayer of our text three

times: “Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord,

faithful God.”

From Luther’s example we see the eternal truth of Scripture being played

out: God’s people live in the certainty of eternal life in heaven through Jesus

Christ, their Savior. Some would say that such certainty is arrogance.  But is it?

Notice Luther’s certainty of heaven did not rest with the labors of his hands, but

upon what Jesus Christ had done for him and all people at Calvary. God’s people

rest their assurance of heaven on Jesus’ death and resurrection. Luther noted

that the eternal security of heaven rests in Christ not in men when he wrote in

the Smalcald Articles of 1530: “The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our

God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:24-

25). He alone is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world (John

1:29), and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all (Isaiah 53:6)…. Upon this

article everything that we teach and practice depends…. Therefore, we must be

certain and not doubt this doctrine.”

Dear brothers and sisters, do we know and are we experiencing the

comfort that comes in committing ourselves to the Lord in faith? Jesus is our

Savior. He is our God Who became like one of us that He could pay the debt of

our sin and bless us with forgiveness, life, and salvation. To commit ourselves to

the Lord through such a prayer as found in today’s text is to acknowledge our

helplessness and Christ’s eternal deliverance.

In Luther’s final moments of life on earth his doctor, Doctor Justus Jonas,

asked him: “Reverend Father, will you remain steadfast in Christ and the doctrine

which you have preached?” Luther replied, “Ja!”  Luther departed this life of a

heart attack. Yet, the certainty by which Luther lived and died was the certainty

that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor

the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all

creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus

our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Is this the certainty by which we live our lives and face the reality of our

death? Are we entrusting our spirits to Christ Jesus, acknowledging our sins and

limitations, and resting in the abundant grace of God in Christ Jesus by which we

alone can enter God’s heavenly kingdom? God bless us with such a faith as we

pray: “Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful

God.” Amen.

“Changed to be Growing” by Rev. Neil Wonnacott

Epiphany 6 “Changed to be Growing” 02/12/17
Let us pray…the text for our message comes from 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, which was read earlier for us.
A baby needs a change. Don’t worry, moms; I’m not suggesting I’ve noticed one of your little ones needs immediate attention. I’m just making a general statement, something we all know to be true. A baby needs a change. Now and then, actually pretty regularly, every baby needs a change. We’ve all been there; we’ve all done that. And many of us have been on the other end, doing the changing. A baby can’t change himself. Oh, they grow out of it. But in the meantime, if babies are going to grow up and be healthy, they need a change.
In our text for this Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, St. Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that they’re babies, still spiritual babies. And if they’re babies, you know what that means: babies need a change. If they’re going to grow up spiritually, they need a change.
Fortunately, St. Paul also tells the Corinthians—and us—that
God Gives Us the Change We Need to Grow.
You know how babies are; they need a lot of changes. And this, our text, won’t be the first time we’ve been changed. Already, for many of us years ago,
I. We’ve been changed!
A. The fact is, every Christian has already been changed.
Every human being is conceived and born in sin—an adorable little baby who nevertheless inside is a spitting, spiting hater, enemy of God.
But when a soul becomes a believer in Christ Jesus, a new person is created inside who loves God, trusts God above all things. That’s every Christian. That was St. Paul and the Christians in Corinth.
There had been a great change in Saul: from his former way of life, from pursuer and persecutor of the Way to proclaimer and planter of the way, the truth, and the life.
There had been a change in the Corinthians. They had heard and believed the Gospel that changes people, so that Paul can now address them as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1:2). This change had happened largely through the ministry of two men, Paul and Apollos: “servants through whom you believed” (v 5). Each had preached the Gospel that changes people so miraculously.
B. So how are we like the people of Corinth? We are changed already
by the Good News!
We’ve been brought to faith in Christ—many of us by Baptism as babies.
Before we even remember, the Holy Spirit created that new, believing person in us. Already back when we were needing many changes a day, we were changed!
In certain areas of my life, I’m not a big fan of change. A simple example: when the furniture is arranged in our home, its place has been determined. It doesn’t need to be moved twice a year or every five years or ever!
II. But we’re still babies who need a change (v 1).
A. Change was still needed in the congregation at Corinth (vv 1–4).
Change was needed so there could be growth: from mother’s milk to solid food, from people of the flesh to people of the Spirit. There were still those sinful rivalries in the church—factions for Paul or Apollos, members against one another, though Paul and Apollos themselves weren’t divided at all.
B. So how are we like the people of Corinth? We are changed already
by the Good News, and we still need to be changed!
Are we jealous? Do we have rivalries? That’s behaving only in a fleshly, human, not spiritual way. These sins that separate us from God and one another—even in the church—are evidence that we’re still babies! This leads only to death.
We, too, are people of the flesh who need to hear that one became flesh for all people.
III. The Son of God made the change we need.
Christ, the unchanging God, nevertheless did become flesh for all jealousy, for
all strife, for all who are behaving only in a human way. And since “each will receive his wages according to his labor” (v 8b), we rejoice in what our Christ Jesus has done:
1. For the wage of His labor on the cross is full and free forgiveness.
2. And the wage of His labor in (and out of) the grave is life new and never-ending.
3. Even more: these wages, these gifts, of Jesus’ cross and His open tomb are delivered to us in the simple water and strong Word of Holy Baptism and the Supper of our Lord’s very body and blood.
This is the food we babies need to grow. Hunger and malnutrition are serious issues in the United States and around the world. Some 8.5 million Americans experience hunger on a daily basis, while 17 million children worldwide suffer from acute malnutrition, a deadly condition.
Without sufficient food, without sufficient nutrients, and without sufficient protein, there will be growth failure. One form of growth failure is “wasting” it is characterized by rapid weight loss. Another form is “stunting,” which is a slow and cumulative debilitating process.
St. Paul addresses spiritual malnutrition in 1 Corinthians 3. The Christians in Corinth should have moved from mother’s milk to solid food (3:2). The fact that there were still jealousy and rivalries among them demonstrated that they needed the one food that nourishes peace and harmony—the same food we need to be fed—the rich nutrients of the Gospel: forgiveness, life, salvation. And God gives us this food, even as we’re still babies.
This is how God changes us. Only God can give this change!
IV. And when God changes us, we grow (vv 5–6).
Let’s say He gets us ready for kindergarten. That’s the place where bigger
babies, kinder, children, are planted, watered, grow.
There is growth beyond divisions when Paul and Apollos—and the man standing in front of you—are seen correctly—not as something in themselves, but as the Lord’s servants. There is growth after watering and planting. Servants do this work yes, the servant called to be your pastors, and these servants wait with patience (vv 7–9).
And, just as God gives growth in His creation, so He is the source of growth in His new creation, the Church. For the Church is God’s field! God is always about change. God is always about growth.
In many parts of the country, it’s not even close to planting time Fields and gardens have not been plowed or tilled to receive seeds.
But even though it’s February, it is planting and watering time. The Epiphany season—a time to consider and commit to Christ’s mission for his Church—is always a time for God to give growth.
And the Church faithfully sows the seed of Christ’s Gospel and faithfully waters what is planted, that the harvest will be greater and greater.
For this truth must be affirmed and celebrated (v 7b): It is “only God who gives the growth.” Yes, God makes the change. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life eternal. Amen.

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