When we think about the enormity of what God has done in creating, redeeming and sustaining us, it’s easy to imagine that we can’t do anything for God in return. Martin Luther insisted vehemently that there is no action we can do to save ourselves, and that God’s grace is a free gift, graciously given by God. No human work can earn us salvation. But once God has claimed us, we are called to God’s holy purposes in the world. This second Sunday of Easter, the Scriptures all carry a common theme of setting us to work for the kingdom.
The first task that we need to occupy ourselves with is to praise the God who saves us. The Psalms are filled with directives to praise God. The concluding verse of the Psalm for this week reads: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” (118:29). God is indeed very good. A logical first step as we reflect during this Eastertide on Jesus’ salvific work is simply to be grateful and give thanks.
When Jesus reappeared to his disciples after his resurrection, they were overjoyed and overwhelmed to see that he truly had been raised from the dead. Jesus didn’t just appear to them and confirm his resurrection, however. Rather, he charged the disciples to carry on his mission in the world. Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” and then he breathed on them the Spirit (John 20:21-22). These little verses after the resurrection usually receive scant attention, but they always blow my mind: Jesus sent his disciples out on a mission, just as God had sent out Jesus! But what was that mission?
This week’s verses from Revelation help clarify what our risen Lord wants his disciples to do. Jesus “freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God” (1:5-6). The role of a priest then, as now, was to lead the people in service to God, especially through the presentation of sacrifices. We Christians are to live in such a holy way that our bodies are living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1). This means, on the one hand, forgoing the shameless pursuit of destructive pleasures and, on the other hand, escaping people or systems that defile, degrade, devalue or abuse our bodies that Jesus died to redeem. We serve God by putting our bodies to holy service to God and our neighbor.
No human work can earn us salvation. But once God has claimed us, we are called to God’s holy purposes in the world.
The book of Acts contains many examples of how the early church members used their individual bodies to work for the good of Christ’s body, the church. Some waited tables (Stephen in Acts 6:2-5); some fasted and prayed (Barnabas in Acts 13:1-3); others used their bodies to travel the world and preach the good news (the disciples and Paul).
In this week’s reading from Acts, Peter and the other apostles are preaching in the temple courts, despite already having been arrested and told not to do so. When the Sanhedrin questions why they’re preaching a forbidden message, Peter says they must obey God rather than humans (5:29). He goes on to say that God exalted Jesus as prince (ἀρχηγὸν) and savior (σωτῆρα) (5:31).
We think about Jesus as savior, but Jesus is also our leader who goes before us to show the ways in which we are to follow him. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, but it is nonetheless a kingdom, with a king who demonstrates what we are to do. In Acts, the disciples happily emulate Jesus in being tortured for their faithfulness to God (5:40-41). This is another way, albeit exceedingly rare in the United States, to present our bodies as a sacrifice to God.
God has already redeemed us. In the future, God will resurrect our bodies. In the meantime, we are to use the resources God has given to us to get to work serving God’s kingdom.
Why I am insisting so much that we be in a relationship with others and God in community? Why is it so important for us, as believers, to have honest and truthful conversations? To listen?
“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:19-20
Because we can learn aspects of God’s heart through others we simply cannot learn alone.
In relationship with others we learn about God’s heart for unity, grace, humility, and love in new and powerful ways so needed today in our world. It is time to kill our individualistic culture.
In fellowship we encounter people with various gifts, perspectives, and past experiences that are different than our own. In community we can discover God’s heart to use others for the building up, healing, and sharpening of ourselves.
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:13-16
God longs for you to give yourself fully to the community around you.
He longs to use you for the healing and building up of others.
And he longs for you to embrace humility and receive help and sharpening from others around you.
“From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:16
Investing in community gives you the opportunity to be used by God to be built up in love with a group of believers. It positions you to receive help from fellow believers who are pursuing Jesus. And it equips you to pursue freedom and life in areas where you might not have achieved victory without the help of others.
Pursue wholehearted community today, not because fellow believers are perfect, but because you, as an imperfect child of God, need help from fellow, imperfect children, to encounter the fullness of abundant life God intends for you. Have grace for others. Love when you are unloved. Help when no one else will. Build up the body that Jesus loves that the world might better know the loving and available God we serve.
Our mission GATHER, LEARN, GIVE!
Many non-Lutherans wonder why their Lutheran friends or family members wear ashes on their forehead at the beginning of Lent. Are they showing off? Are they trying to stand out? Is it some weird secret church ritual? What does it mean? Should I get them too?
There are three reasons why Lutherans go to church to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. First, the ashes remind people of their sinfulness. Second, the ashes remind people of their mortality. Third, the ashes remind people that they have been redeemed. Let’s unpack this a bit.
Since ancient times, God’s people have used ashes as a sign of humble repentance (e.g. Jonah 3:5-9; Job 42:6; Daniel 9:3: Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13). This tradition was carried on by the early church and remains an important tradition today. When one willingly goes up to a pastor and receives ashes on his/her forehead, they are admitting that they are sinners in desperate need of salvation. They are admitting that they have sinned not only against their neighbors, but against God Himself. The ashes show demonstrate that without God, all people are spiritually dead. The ashes remind the wearer of their need to repent and confess in order to be turned back to God. The ashes demonstrate our pleading that the Lord would purify us. The ashes serve as a tangible and visible sign of our failure to love God as much as He loves us.
The receiving of ashes on Ash Wednesday also remind people of their mortality, which is the direct result of God’s condemnation of our sin. God said to Adam, “You are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Ashes serve as a solemn reminder that the price of sin is death. Man cannot escape death. Often, people today feel as if they are invincible. It’s easy to feel like we’re at the top of the world, capable of doing anything that we desire. We keep ourselves busy doing “good” things, but fail to recognize that in reality we are dead men walking. People don’t like to think about death. Our culture has seemingly sterilized death. We make every attempt to avoid death. Death is uncomfortable. And, that’s why ashes are so important. They are the physical reminder that God created man from the dust of the earth and one day all men will return to the dust of the earth. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. The ashes force us to remember that we are merely mortal and that God alone is sovereign and reigns for all eternity.
Ashes also tell us the good news of the Gospel! You see, ashes aren’t just smeared randomly or haphazardly across people’s foreheads. The ashes are given in the shape of the cross. In receiving the ashes, we remember that our Lord Jesus took on the fullness of our humanity. He who was sinless became our sin. Jesus the Christ was crucified on a cross. He was crucified for you. He descended into hell where he endured the fullness of the wrath of God on your behalf. Then Jesus conquered death through His resurrection. He was resurrected for you. In doing so, He has taken the ashes of our past and created in us new life, allowing us to live forever in the holy presence of God! He has redeemed His children, making us clean and new. Through the cross of Christ, the power of death has been destroyed. Through the cross there is life. The cross-shaped ashes on our foreheads proclaim the good news that sin and death have been conquered through the cross of Christ.
In many Lutheran Ash Wednesday services, the Lord’s Supper immediately follows the receiving of ashes. We, who were once dead in our sins, we who deserve to die, come to the Lord’s Table literally wearing the cross of Christ. Here, at the Lord’s table, those who have humbled themselves before the Lord, who have admitted their sin, who know they deserve death, are instead given the new life that is only found through the body and blood of our loving Lord Jesus. Here, at the Lord’s table, those marked with the cross of Christ are raised up, strengthened through God’s mercy, love, and grace, and sent forth into the world to proclaim the good news!
This year, Ash Wednesday is on March 6th. You are encouraged to find a local Lutheran church so that you, too, can join in this special occasion in which we humbly come before the Lord, repent of our sinful ways and receive the free gift of our Lord Jesus Christ. Interestingly, the ashes Lutherans receive are traditionally made out of the palm branches used previously on Palm Sunday, a day when people rejoiced and praised Jesus only days before they turned on him and yelled “Crucify Him!” (Matthew 27:22; Mark 15:13; Luke 23:21; John 19:6) This serves as a powerful reminder that people are sinful, death is real, but Resurrection Day (Easter) is coming! Come, all are welcome. All are in need of salvation. Let the Lord use the ashes of your past to create in you a clean heart and new life in Him.
There’s no one right way to write a faith statement. For some it will natural to write out a faith statement. For others it may make more sense to be creative with video, art, dance or music.
This is an example of your faith statement: Have fun thinking about how you can best express your sense of God’s work in your life.
The following are some suggestions or ideas to consider as you work on your faith statement:
1) Don’t begin by thinking, “How long does it have to be?” The answer is however long it takes to tell your story.
2) Be honest; don’t worry about saying the right or wrong thing. Your faith statement isn’t graded or corrected, it is an opportunity to express yourself without fear.
3) Be creative; some believers have written poems, songs or children’s books. Some have created an art piece along with a written description on what inspired you to create it.
Other ideas might be to play a piece of music or share a dance along with a written description on what inspired you to create it.
Here are some topics to consider as you work on your faith statement. Just pick one to think and reflect on as you write yours.
1) Let others know:
· What impact has Jesus had on your life?
· What does confirmation mean to you?
· Why is faith important to you?
· Have you ever been transformed or changed through your faith?
2) Think about and share:
· How do people know you are a Christian?
· How would you like to change the world because of your faith?
· Do the relationships you have reflect your faith?
· How does the way you spend your time show your faith?
· Why do you want to make a difference in our world?
3) Share a story of your life that helps illustrate what your faith is all about or how your faith in God has been shaped.
4) Give personal examples of times in your life when your community and faith helped you through difficult times or to grow in faith.
5) Write about how your faith and view of God, Jesus and being part of the church has changed since you started Confirmation in seventh grade. What has led to these changes in your faith? Is faith more important to you now? Why?
6) Share the questions or struggles you may have about your faith. Are you going through a difficult time in your life? How can your faith help you?
7) Who has helped you grow in faith? What have your parents done for you? Why have they raised you in the church?
8) Share a Bible story or Bible verse that is special to you? How has the story or verse helped you to grow:
· In your faith?
· With your relationship with God?
· With your relationship with your family?
· With your relationship with your friends?
9) How do you see yourself living out your faith in the future? How do you think God and your faith in Jesus will shape your life four months (a year, ten years) from now?
10) What help or support do you need from your classmates, parents, family, pastors, godparents, friends and members of the church to help you grow in your faith and keep your Affirmation of Baptism promises? Be specific.
11) Where do you need help from God to have your faith grow?
12) What do you have to offer to others to help them grow in their faith and relationship with Jesus Christ?
13) What feelings or emotions do you have when you think about your faith?
Remember that faith is a lifelong journey. This faith statement isn’t meant to be a final document, but a kind of journal entry along your lifelong journey of faith as you prepare for the ceremony of Confirmation.
Affirmation of Baptism Promise
Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
I do and I ask God to help and guide me.
The time spent in confirmation classes is intended to continue, more intentionally, the exploration of faith, faith and life, and faith and the church so that believers can make that affirmation of baptism statement of faith in the hope and trust that God will continue to lead and guide them in all the aspects of their lives now and in the future.
First, the congregation should develop a card, postcard, brochure, or flyer that members can hand or mail to people as they invite them. The printed material should at least include the church location, worship times, and website address. Yvon Prehn, a church communication specialist, warns against getting bogged down in design details because “people are not wowed into the kingdom.” Rather all material should offer useful content and be easy to read and understand.3
Special events and holidays offer another opportunity for members to invite people they know. Some congregations designate a particular Sunday as Invite-a-Friend Sunday, Open House Sunday, or Special Recognition Sunday (such as honoring teachers, first responders, or
others in the community).4 Congregations can createcards or flyers for these special worship events for members to distribute or mail. Mass communications—the church website and
social media channels, direct mail, yard signs, door hangers, church banners and signs, radio and print ads, and community ads (such as bulletin boards, ads in movie theaters, or sponsoring events)—are additional broad strategies for reaching people. The goal of these efforts is to show the congregation as a place that welcomes newcomers. While no one media strategy produces the desired results in today’s context, some experts argue that there is a growing preference for
printed materials. In fact, even though many congregations have invested in digital marketing strategies, a recent study found that direct mail outperforms all digital communications combined by 600%.5 Still, an up-to-date and easy to navigate church website (optimized for mobile phones) serves as a primary source of information to which print pieces can direct.
the Bible became accessible to more people, how church structure works changed, and it led to a break from practices that did not come from Scripture. As we observe the 500th anniversary of Reformation, we are reminded how one person can start a massive reform. While the Reformation began 500 years ago, we are a church that continues to reform, reshape and renew in many ways. Reform isn’t just one thing. It shapes our theology, our life, our worship, our thinking and our doing. Our gathering is a catalyst for reform. You will hear and see things that will spark something new in you. How will you reform your congregation or community? Look for ways to engage in new insights to continue reform into the future.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.