Recent Sermons

Take Courage It is I
Sermon: August 13, 2017
Job 38:4-18; Romans 10:5-17; Matthew 14:22-33

       Each week we read three lessons from the Scripture using the lectionary series appointed for the church. Over a three year cycle we have read through almost all of the Bible. We believe Scripture reading should be a central act of our worship service. The Bible holds a central place in our faith. We say that it is God’s revealed word. It is food for our souls, a balm to sooth our pain, a guide for our understanding, a sword for our confrontation with evil, a judge for our own sins, and above all the word of God’s redemptive love for His people.
This year beginning with the Advent Season we have been reading through the Gospel of Matthew. We have followed Jesus from His birth, to His baptism by John in the Jordan, His temptations, and the beginning of His public ministry. We’ve read of the crowds flocking around Him, the jealousy and animosity of the Jewish leaders, and the various things He said and taught. Now, in Matthew 14 a multitude of over 5000 is fed with five small loaves of bread and two fish. Today’s lesson is something of an interlude, a 12 hour period, where we see something of the dynamics going on within Jesus and His disciples.
It begins after the crowd had been fed, Jesus dismissed them to return to their homes, and told the disciples to start back across the Sea of Galilee. I say it is a twelve hour period because the text tells us that when the disciple’s boat was in trouble it was the fourth watch of the night. By the Roman reckoning that would be between 3 and 6am in the morning. Jesus’ dismissal of the crowd was in the early evening, say 5 or 6pm. So about a twelve hour period. I call attention to this because when we read the Bible things seem to happen quickly, while, in fact, hours or days elapse between verses. We will see why this is important and what it says about the people involved. We get a glimpse into their hearts making God’s Word so much more real and relevant for us.
The account begins with Jesus going up on the mountain to pray alone. We know He did this frequently, but the time frame here would indicate that He was praying for perhaps 6 to 7 hours. Some may conjecture that He took a nap for part of that time, but I doubt that was the case. I’ve heard of people praying for lengthy periods of time, but I’ve never been able to do it myself. But when we think of Jesus getting alone with the Heavenly Father for that length of time it causes us to reflect on His nature and what He is going through for us. Thank about this. It is impossible for us to know all that went on in the heart and mind of this One who was truly man and truly God. Yet, meditating on this a bit opens up a whole new appreciation for the grace of God poured out to us.
St. John assures us that Jesus is God, and the author of all creation. He is God’s divine Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, eternally existent. Yet, out of love for creation the Son became a man, fully human. He became one of us to bring about God’s plan for redemption. St. Paul wrote, “being in the very nature of God, (He) did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!”(Philippians 2:6-8)
Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, had willingly set aside His godly attributes accepting the limitations common to each of us. Out of the deepest love He experienced all of the pains and pressures, joys and sorrows, that face us in this fallen world. He also knew the perfection and beauty of God’s Kingdom, and all the good that God truly wanted for mankind. Yet, He saw around Him the tragedy that sin had wrought. This was the burden Jesus carried, and what He took into His time of prayer on the mountain. He prayed for the people He loved, and for their growth in faith. For the nation, Israel, His people by birth, that God had used for centuries to bring His good will, and whom He grieved over because of their hardness of heart. He prayed for His own physical strength, and resolve to continue the redeeming task for which He had come. He knew it would lead to His suffering and death.
I only highlight this so we think more deeply, and come to appreciate more fully what God has done for us in His Son, Jesus Christ. Not just the cross, but the burden He carried for us all throughout His time on earth.
Now, to continue with the account. The weather had turned foul as it can quickly do in the hills around Galilee. His disciple were struggling at the oars in these early morning hours, fearful for their safety. The text tells us that Jesus came walking on the water. The wind was raging, the sea stirred up to a foaming caldron, and visibility limited. The disciples seeing Jesus thought it was an apparition, a ghost. This terrified them the more, and they cried out in fear. Jesus called out, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”(vs.27)
The text tells us that later on, after Jesus got into the boat, that everything became calm. But it is important to note that this was not the first thing Jesus did. The storm was there when He was on the mountain. The storm was there when He took His first steps on the water. And the storm was still there when He invited Peter to get out of the boat and come. The storm raged until Jesus finally got into the boat.
Did He know the storm was coming when He sent the disciples away on the Sea? We don’t know. That text doesn’t say. But we do know that He didn’t still the storm. The disciples were experienced fisherman, and they knew well when things were beyond their control. Fear raised in their hearts, and now seeing the “spirit”, fears changed to terror.
Even the 2000 years that separates us from them doesn’t change the human emotions we feel when life gets out of control. Every storm cannot be anticipated or planned for. We’ve been there in that boat in the sea, wondering where the Lord is, and why the storm is not stilled.
Martin Luther said that there were three aspects in our Christian life that help us to grow in an understanding of our life with God. The first is prayer – earnest God seeking prayer. The second is meditation – reading, studying, and thinking seriously about the Bible, God’s Word. And the third was suffering – the trials, and testings we go through in life. Perhaps this third aspect gives us some insight as to why Jesus didn’t or doesn’t immediately still the storms of life. His invitation to Peter was “come”. In your faith step out of the boat and come. It is in the storm that we cry out “Lord save me”.
It is just here, in the midst of the storm, that He says, “Take courage! It is I.” Here is where looking at the original language of the text is important. The simple little phrase “It is I” are two Greek words “ego emai”. They are words Jesus used a number of time in the Gospels to refer to Himself. They are the words that almost got Him stoned to death when He said to the Pharisees “before Abraham was born ego emai.” That is “I Am”. Jesus was taking the most sacred and holy name of Almighty God for Himself. Yahweh in the Hebrew. It is the name God told Moses to tell the captives in Egypt who was sending him to them.
Jesus said, “Take courage”. The I Am, the eternally existent God, is with you. Do not be afraid. In the other account of a storm at sea when Jesus was asleep in the boat, He questioned why the disciples were so afraid.(Matthew 8) Even if we perish the eternal I Am is there. This has always been what has caused the martyrs through all the centuries of the church to go to their deaths with a joyful song on their lips.
Of course, uncertainty, pain, and fear attend us in this life. The storms do not stop when we want them to. Jesus understood this as He prayed for those hours on the mountainside. He was underlining to His followers what the Psalmist had said hundreds of years before, “He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”(Psalm 121:3-4)
And so we find ourselves in all the storms of life. There are storms inside with temptation and sins; with questions, doubts, and fears. There are storms on the outside of trials that seem endless. Yet the word of the Lord is still the same. “Take courage! It is I.” Ego emai, I AM, I will never leave or forsake you. I will ask you to get out of the boat while the storms are raging, but I will bring you through to calm seas. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen
Pastor Irvin F. Stapf, Jr. Christ Lutheran Church, AALC


Invitation To The Banquet
Sermon: August 6, 2017
Isaiah 55:1-5; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21

Last week I said I felt the need to speak about all the conditions that are tearing our society apart. Sometimes I get overwhelmed at the sin that has gripped the world and the battles the devil is winning. We do need to be aware of the spiritual battle Christians face, to know where we stand, and to be more urgent in prayer. Sin has been in the world since the Fall, but it is becoming more intense, open and universal. Our prayers for the Lord’s return are urgent.
However, there is something else in the world that has been here ever since Jesus came forth from the tomb on Easter Sunday. He brought with Him an invitation to a banquet. And not just any banquet, but one over which Jesus, Himself, presides. The Prophet Isaiah describes what has been put into our hands. An invitation on cream colored card stock with gold lettering.”Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (55:1) This is Jesus’ invitation to all, and He doesn’t skimp on the preparation or the food. Even when He fed the multitude on the hillside over Galilee all ate and were satisfied. There were even leftovers for people to take home for the next day.
In Revelation 19 the banquet is spoken of as “the marriage supper of the lamb”.(vs.9) Nothing can be more glorious, and it is held out as a promise for those who love Him.
Isaiah 55:12 declares “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” If such a banquet is true then the expression of Isaiah is very fitting. We walk forward in joy and are led by the hand in a depth of peace. This is what the Lord wants for each one who lives in Him. It is why peace is the central message of the benediction used at the end of each sermon, and at the end of each service. God wants us to come to His banquet table and know His peace.
Peace is the Hebrew word Shalom. It is one of the richest words in the Old Testament. It was the word the priests used to bless the people, and the word the people used to greet one another, and do to this day. It is a word that conveys the desire for complete wholeness to the hearer. It means that the full covenant blessing of God is being extended, and that one is wishing the other the full enjoyment of all of God’s promises. It is what Jesus was giving to the disciples on Holy Thursday when He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”(John 14:27)
The people of all nations want peace, as do their governments. Of course, they all want it on their own terms. Peace can’t be found by politics and armies. It can’t be found just by saying we should following the golden rule, or try more to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. Somehow pride, self interest, greed and the rest of the sins that infect mankind block every effort. Have you ever read of the preparations for one of the major peace conferences? The country’s representative will argue for weeks beforehand about the shape of the meeting table, and the seating arrangements. Each group has to be seen as a power player. Or those working in the law firms, or in the halls of congress, image is everything. Ok, that may be understandable in the natural world, but it only underlines how deeply mankind is infected with sin. The one thing that people truly want is the one thing they are unable to achieve.
Isaiah chapters 54 and 55 are marvelous images of what God wants for us, and what He will ultimately achieve. However, those chapters are preceded by chapter 53, the appearance of the Suffering Servant. The peace that we so desperately desire can come only by being brought back into a right relationship with God. God saw us in our need reaching out when we were incapable of reaching out to Him. He must provide the way to peace. Isaiah was shown the only true path when he wrote, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, …. he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”(vss.4-5) It is Christ’s work alone that prepared us for the banquet table and the full measure of peace that is served.
Jesus told a parable about a king who was giving a wedding banquet for his son. The gold embossed invitations had been given, and the hour had come. Some of the invited guests began to make excuses. They had other commitments. They had business transactions to conduct. There were pressing family matters. This angered the gracious king, so he sent his servants out into the streets and neighborhoods, even some of the roughest in the town. Finally the banquet hall was filled. The king came in to greet his guests, but there was one man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. We might think this excusable considering that they had just been called off of the streets. But this was not an excuse. It was the custom of the king to provide a festive garment for each guest who came. So there was no excuse. This fellow had simply refused the kings gracious gift. He was escorted from the table into the outer darkness. The banquet continued with great joy for those who wore the beautiful robe of righteousness provided by the king.
The good hand of our Lord is extended to us in Isaiah’s words. “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”(vs.3)
When one faces a difficult situation, or illness in the family, or sees the pressures that confront us in society, there is the constant tendency to think ahead. What if this happens? What should I do if it goes this way? These are the questions insurance companies make their money on, but they are questions we simply cannot answer. We simply do not know, and there are a hundred directions life can take. Yet, the invitation is still there. “Come to Me.” There is nothing wrong with being prudent, and doing some proper planning, but there is much that we must leave in God’s hands. We have to trust that the invitation to the banquet is absolutely true.
When one sits down to a festive banquet they don’t worry if the food has been properly cooked, or if there will be enough to go around. All that is left in the hands of the host.
In this world we have not yet come to the table, but the invitation is in hand. It has been delivered to you by God’s Spirit, Himself. Paul said that we have the Holy Spirit as our guarantee. We have seen His hand working in many ways throughout our lives. We have been given the wedding garment of Christ’s righteousness. We can come, stand before the King, and be seated at His generous table. We don’t know what is ahead, and we cannot answer or prepare for all of the “what ifs”. But we have the certainty of all that God has done for us throughout our lives, and we can trust Him to lead us through whatever stumbling blocks may yet get in the way until we are seated at his table. This is the truth to which we hold, and in which we can be at peace. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + Pastor Irvin F. Stapf, Jr. Christ Lutheran Church, AALC Germantown, Maryland

The Recipe For Life
Sermon: July 30, 2017
Deuteronomy 7:6-9; Romans 8:28-39; Matthew 13:44-52
      The Romans eight passage read as our Epistle today is a wonderful and reassuring text. It is often used at funerals emphasizing that “nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(vs.39) This is a comfort and a great word of hope in a time of great pain, sorrow, and a myriad of unanswered questions. But it is a text that is not limited to funerals. It is a word we can trust for all times of life.
Today’s reading began with the oft quoted verse 28, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I’ve often heard people quote just the first part of this verse, “we know that God works all things for good”, as a panacea for many difficult situations. However, one must look at the whole verse with its conditions, “for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” This states its truth for those who seek to abide in a love relationship with their Lord, and desire to live a life according to the purpose He established. These two things are important, in love with the Lord, and seeking to live in the purpose He established for life.
I’ve talked a lot about the need for us to see the big picture of life as God has intended. That means knowing that it is God who has made us, made all mankind, and understanding why? We need to understand something of the purpose for which God chose to created the cosmos, and us who inhabit this little planet called earth. Understanding this purpose must lead us back to looking at the values He established for this life. It is not a question of just having a life any way we choose. Thus my title, The Recipe For Life.
A number of years ago Audrey was away for a weekend, and I had charge of the kids. They were probably between six and twelve at the time. Now, you have to understand something about me. I hate to waste food. It was a Saturday morning and I was making pancakes for breakfast. It just so happened that we had had peas for supper the night before and there were leftovers in the refrigerator. Not wanting to waste them, I mixed them into the pancake batter. Well, you understand that chocolate chip pancakes are very acceptable, and maybe even blueberry pancakes, but pancakes with little green things staring up at you don’t go over so well. Mama heard that very clearly when she got home.
In a good recipe one cannot make any substitution they feel like. And life is the most complicated recipe there is. It was designed by God, Himself. But somehow mankind has felt they can make any substitutions they like. But the ingredients, the values, God devised are the ones that make His recipe for life good as He intended.
President Trump crated a firestorm on Wednesday by seeking to remove transgender people from the military. I think his governing by a Twitter account is pretty silly, but beyond that there are many issues involved. I really don’t know one way or the other whether it hurts the efficiency of our fighting force, or whether there is a great increase in the medical costs. They are issues the Generals must resolve. But it is the firestorm of protests that is important. It shows the vast cultural acceptance for the LGBT community. These variations of life have become widely acceptable as just another style of life equal to all other. But they are not the purpose for which God created us.
Jesus once cautioned his followers to “be as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves”.(Matthew 10:16) That is an important word for today. We are in a spiritual battle and Satan is a real enemy. There are demonic forces of darkness fighting against the truth of our Lord. The Apostle Paul wrote that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”(Ephesians 6:12) And St. Peter advises us to “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…”(IP.5:8-9) It is why in last weeks Gospel lesson Jesus highlighted the truth of the wheat and the tares, the good and the evil grow together in this present world. The darnel, or false wheat, Jesus said is sown by an enemy, meaning Satan, the
enemy both Paul and Peter caution against. The tares are a sleep inducing poison, and our society has largely been put to sleep to the danger. Every lifestyle is accepted in a false sense of love.
We are not against anybody. We are not bigots. We are people who seek to hold to the right recipe for life. We are called to love all people, and do good even to our enemies. Our task is to act in love as much as God gives us the grace to do, and at the same time hold to and share the values that God has given for the good of all life. In other words, to love the sinner and hate the sin. But this has become problematic in our day. The demand for tolerance, means that we accept all values and all lifestyles as equally good. This God does not do, and neither can we.
The devil’s attack began many centuries ago to weaken the Christian faith. This is far more than recently taking prayer and Bible reading out of schools. It aimed at removing any mention of Jesus from society, of denying the seriousness of sin, and removing the need for an atonement. Christians in general don’t appreciate the incarnation, why God had to come among us Himself, and the absolute need for the cross of Calvary. For a large part of America,                        Christianity is a Christless feel good faith regardless of how much they may talk about the love of Jesus. With sin and Jesus set aside, the central focus of Satan’s attack is now in sexuality and gender. God created mankind in His image, male and female. He ordained marriage to be a one flesh relationship between a man and a woman, two people truly being one. He established this union for procreation so that mankind would share in God’s creativity. He made it to exist in a bond of love and order in the family unit. All of this, and this is something vital that many don’t understand, all of this is intended to reflect who God is, to teach us His nature, and the nature of the Holy Trinity. It is to bring us into a marriage-like union with Jesus Christ. Through our natural, God-ordained relationships, we are to learn of the relationship God desires for us to have with Himself. He created us to be in an eternal fellowship with our Creator.
Satan hates this! From the first time Lucifer learned of God’s plan to create mankind he determined to oppose and destroy it. That has been his goal ever since he first rebelled in heaven. He has won many battles in this world. Contraception has allowed intimacy to be removed from marriage and made a recreational sport. It has elevated personal lifestyle above marriage and family, and if, God forbid, one should become pregnant there is always abortion. Divorce has become easy; cohabitation the normal with or without a later marriage; the gay lifestyle and gay marriage is accepted by the majority; and now one’s gender is not something God determined at birth, it is fluid and open to choice. Satan is winning these battles, but by God’s grace we know that he will not win the war.
Where does that leave us. For myself, I often feel overwhelmed. We are seeking to hold onto the Pearl of great price. We are the wheat in the midst of the tares. We can feel like a bunch of weak old fashioned folks trying to shout into the wind. But God does not leave us without help. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” The battle is ultimately the Lord’s. He tells us in today’s Matthew 13 parable that there will be a final separation of the good from the evil, but we have a part in this.
We must first be clear in our own minds about the true values God calls us to follow. That means being in, and understanding, God’s Word and His plan for the life He created. We are called to show love for all people, gays and transgenders included. We don’t hate anyone. We must not. They are ones for whom Christ died. Where we have the opportunity, we can speak of what we believe and seek to show others the good way God intends for all. We need to be willing to suffer and take ridicule for our stand on the truth. And above all we can pray, pray for our country and its direction; pray for its people that hearts would be turned back to the Lord; pray for those we know who are struggling with behaviors that are not in God’s will; pray for ourselves that our hearts would be opened more to the Lord; pray confessing our own sins; and pray for the Lord’s soon return for He alone will bring the grace we all long for.
Beyond all this, we take Paul’s words for our own. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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.”(vss.37-39) Amen.
     Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus .  Amen
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Pastor Irvin F. Stapf, Jr. Christ Lutheran Church, AALC Germantown, Maryland

2 Corinthians 4:18

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