Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Summer Update!

Sunday Services will move to 9 am June-August.
No Summer Sunday School.
Adult Bible Class will follow Divine Service.

There will be a special Voters' Meeting to approve refinancing the building loan with LCEF on Sunday, June 7th after Divine Service.

We will still have Divine Service at 10:30 am on May 31st.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (B)

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
1 John 5:9-13
Life in the Son
Seventh Sunday of Easter B, 24 May 2009
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Life in the Sun. Comfort. Warmth. Rest. Fellowship with friends and family. Music. And food—you can’t forget the food. Life in the s. u. n. is like that. Americans love summer. And there’s nothing like the last day of school. We tend to think of summer as freedom—even as grownups when we still have to work. We love life in the s. u. n., but do we really have freedom and real life apart from the s. o. n.?
9If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.
Your father in heaven knows best. St. John told us about God’s divine testimony in the epistle lesson last week, in the three verses just before today’s epistle: 6This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7For there are three that testify: 8the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.
Jesus still comes by Water and by Blood. He washes you, His children, in Holy Baptism. He feeds His children in His Holy Supper. And the Spirit is active in the Church of all ages, even today, as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all your sins and the sins of all believers. Jesus won forgiveness by water and by blood. Today, His Spirit delivers that forgiveness by water and by blood.
Faith holds on to Jesus. Sometimes it is with all the strength we can muster—both hands. Other days, it seems like we’re hanging on by the nail of our left pinky. Even so, faith holds on to Jesus. It would be of the law to measure faith. Instead, the Church asks, “Do you have a Savior?” and faith responds, “Yes. His name is Jesus.” Weak or strong in the eyes of the world or even our own eyes, faith holds on to Jesus for dear life and eternal life. Faith believes.
10Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.
Unfaith calls God a liar. Unfaith thinks it knows better, so it makes up what it wants to believe about God, salvation, and life. Faith believes God. It asks questions about the Word of God and seeks answers in the Word of God, but faith does not doubt. Faith does not reject the gifts of God. Faith does not resist the work of the Holy Spirit.
An evangelist (Dwight Moody) told of a time he visited a man who had neglected attending church and Bible class. “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. I read my Bible. I’m fine on my own.” [The] Pastor (Moody) remained silent as the two of them sat by the fire. He picked up a pair of tongs and reached into the fire to pick out a hot, flaming coal. He set the coal off on its own to the side on the stone floor. The man and Pastor (Moody) conversed about other things for many minutes before pastor brought the conversation back to spiritual things. Pastor (Moody) picked up the cold coal with his bare hand. “Mr. Smith, Why don’t you pick up one of those coals in the fire barehanded?” “Are you kidding,” he said, “They’re hot when they’re all together. That one all by its lonesome cooled off.”
I want to encourage you, in as clear a way as possible, that God’s Gifts are why we go to church. Receiving those heavenly treasures while still in this world is and should be the most important thing in your life.
Your first vocation is that of baptized Christian, in the Word, and while living in the world, not of the world. This is in accordance with the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. If a person puts their faith and trust in something other than the One True God, as He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures, that person has a false god, a mere idol. Your first vocation is that of baptized Christian, regularly and eagerly receiving the Lord’s gifts.
Your second vocation is family. You were born into one. You may have been adopted into another. You honor your father and mother when you care for them in their later years as they cared for you in your early years. The Lord may bless you with a spouse. The man leaves father and mother and holds fast to his wife. This relationship needs to be nurtured, protected. The marriage relationship even takes priority over the children, in one respect. If the marriage is preserved, the children have a more stable relationship with father, mother, and one another.
Family is important, yet God still comes first. If parents, spouse, or children come before God in priority, they could be idols, false objects of worship. If a non-Christian spouse keeps a believing spouse away from the Lord’s house, the Christian spouse must obey God rather than men.
One’s job or career is in third place, heavenly speaking. The Lord has given his people honest and honorable work as the means of providing you daily bread. Your good health is also a means toward that end. People work hard with body and mind to provide for their families and return offerings to the Lord. Remember those purposes: to provide for family and the Lord’s priorities. Keeping a clear focus on why we work will help you prioritize God and family over work. When you have an opportunity to avoid working on Sunday morning in order to receive the Lord’s Gifts at church, God will bless that. He will also bless those who stop being workaholics in order to nurture their relationships with family members.
Fourth. This is where all of our other priorities go. Fourth priority includes hobbies, sports, volunteering, and helping out at church. Some items here will be more important than others. Some will have eternal significance, while others will fade away in time. Church is more important than football, either American football, or soccer, what the rest of the world calls “football.” Sometimes a ball can become a Baal, an idol.
At times, people are surprised that our service to God in a local congregation is listed fourth. Don’t be. As Lutheran Christians, we know that what God does for us is far more important that what we do for God. We know how salvation works. The same thing applies here. You are not saved by what you do. You are not saved by being a Lutheran. You are saved by Jesus. People may grow weary in their service to the Lord and His people. That most often happens when people feed others more than they are fed by the Word. Receiving is a higher priority than serving. A husband who manages his own family well will be a better church officer than one who does not. One who is a good and faithful worker at work will also serve the Lord well at Church.
When you are faced with a decision in life, big or small, consider your priorities. Do they match up with the Lord’s? Will you be able to be nourished by God’s Word and Sacrament?
The Lord gathers His faithful to Himself around His Word and His Gifts, the Sacraments. Christians need to gather together to be strengthened and encouraged and forgiven. They cool off all alone. Wherever two or three are gathered, there the Church is and Jesus promises to be. One cannot be the church by himself. It is important to gather together as the body of Christ.
“But pastor, I can read the Bible at home, all by myself.” Sure, you could. Dr. Luther ran into the same excuse. His example from his personal writings help pastors today with such pastoral care situations. Sure, you could, but people just don’t read the Bible at home, all by themselves, apart from the life and worship life of a congregation. Bibles of people who habitually stay away from Church usually sit there and collect more dust than a vacuum cleaner.
I understand that summers are busy. So are the seasons of fall, winter, and spring. If it isn’t hunting season, it’s a favorite sport. Let’s be honest about the reason we’re all so busy—we have set it up that way. We don’t want to say, “No.” And many just don’t have the same priorities that God does. The devil works hard to deceive all human beings, but he works overtime on Christians. Unfed faith can die. Neither one of us wants that to happen.
People show their priorities by where they spend their time. Our busy lives are like a big jar filled with rice. Our schedules are jam-packed full, just like the grains of rice in the jar. If someone came along and gave you a big project—say a ping pong ball—how easy would it be to fit it into the jar? You couldn’t do it! What if you had more than one ping pong ball to fit in? Impossible! It is, possible, after all, to make time for Sunday worship, for family devotions, and the other things on your busy schedule. Let’s think outside of the box—or the jar in this case. Empty the jar. Refocus on heavenly priorities. Pour the rice in another container temporarily. Put the ping pong balls in the jar first—set your priorities—and then pour in the rice. Everything fits!
11And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Eternal life is a gift. It is a gift because of Jesus. No Jesus, No eternal life. But if you know Jesus (k. n. o. w. ) by faith, then you k. n. o. w. you have eternal life.
John concludes: 13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
Life in the s. u. n. is great. But nothing compares to life in the S. o. n! The unmatched comfort of the Gospel—the forgiveness of sins. The warmth of other caring Christians. Rest for the weary given by the Good Shepherd Himself. Fellowship in holy things and coffee & potluck fellowship with friends and family. Music from the whole history of the Old Testament and New Testament Church—not to mention singing along with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. And food—you can’t forget the foretaste of the heavenly feast to come in the Holy Supper of the Son. Life in the S. o. n. is like that—year-round! The Lord has good gifts for you in Christ at Immanuel Lutheran Church—Life in the Son! Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter B

The Rev. Paul J Cain
John 15:9-17
“Abide in My Love”
Sixth Sunday of Easter, 17 May 2009
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Which came first, the chicken, or the egg? The chicken, of course. Genesis 1 tells us that God created every winged bird on the fifth day of creation. Which comes first, the cart, or the horse? The horse, of course! It would be silly for a horse to push a wagon. In a very similar way to these examples we have known from childhood, it is important for us to keep the Scriptural truth firmly established in our minds: We love because God first loved us. Our Lord shares this truth about love in the Holy Gospel appointed for this Sixth Sunday of Easter.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
God loved His Son, Jesus. And Jesus showed that love for you, that love of John 3:16, when He died upon the cross. He kept the Father’s commandments in your place. Now, we are given to abide in His love.
We abide in His love when we hear and do His Word. While we have no command from the Lord to either sit or stand while hearing His Gospel, all things should be done decently and in order. Those who are unable to stand or remain standing for a period of time may remain seated, of course. After a couple of questions on this topic, I want to clarify my intended practice. Remaining seated for all the readings at Matins last week was intentional. On a Communion Sunday two weeks ago, I simply neglected to ask the congregation to rise in my rush to return to the chancel after singing with the choir in the loft.
I had been taught by example at the seminary to remain seated for all readings during a non-communion prayer service like Matins, Vespers, or the Service of Prayer and Preaching. This practice was also directed by the new LSB Altar Book, which says, “The congregation remains seated for all readings.” We are given to sit attentively at that time, much like the students at Martin Luther Grammar School when they are in “listening position.”
On Communion Sundays, we stand in respect to the Gospel, rising to sing Alleluia, Praise the Lord. The Holy Gospel is the mountaintop of the Service of the Word, as are Jesus’ Words of Institution during the Service of the Sacrament. We stand at both times out of respect for Christ.
Whether we sit or stand, the most important thing is that we pay attention to the Word so that we may bring our lives into conformity with it and abide in Christ.
We also abide in His love when we heed His command to believe in Him by the power of Spirit by the Gospel. We abide in His love when we forsake any notion of working or trusting in our own righteousness, holiness, or “living a good life.” We abide in His love when we have our hands passively open to receive the Lord’s gifts. We abide in His love when we are gathered by Him around His Word even during the summer. There are few things more saddening to our Lord or to our Pastor than when a vacation, either his or yours, becomes an excuse to reject the Lord’s gifts that day.
A family once went to visit their mother in the hospital. When the doctor gave his report that she probably wouldn’t make it, the children didn’t come back. She survived and went home. So much for abiding in a mother’s love! Twelve years later, she and her brother were taken in by loving neighbors and joined a congregation I served. When the time came for the Lord to call her home, we contacted her children. “No, that can’t be our mother. She died years ago.” Not one of them would believe even a pastor! After the funeral, I called her son one more time: “I have your birth certificate and your father’s military medals. Would you like them.” “There was silence on the other end of the line. Then he said, “You mean that really was our mom?” Reality can be stranger than fiction, or even so-called reality TV.
Are you paying attention, abiding in Jesus’ love? What about your loved ones, your neighbors, your acquaintances, the congregation members you notice because of their absence? Have you been living apart from God? Have you been living apart from God’s love because you can’t imagine that God loves you the way you are? Be assured that God loves you always—completely—and is waiting to welcome you home right now. You too are called to remain and abide in His love!
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
Jesus’ commandment to love is just that, a commandment, a command, a law. When Lutherans preach & teach, they are to follow the dominical and apostolic directions given to all Christians. Jesus and the apostles urge Christians to use the law on sinners who deny or refuse to repent sin. The Gospel is used to comfort troubled, repentant sinners.
When we hear about “love” in our text, we immediately think, “Hey, that’s Gospel.” When God shows His love for you in Christ, it is Gospel. But, in this part of the first paragraph of the sermon text, the command is a law laid upon you. Jesus command is to love.
Jesus’ command to love is a restatement of the summary of the second table of the law—love your neighbor as yourself. That’s hard to do. Sometimes, it’s even harder to love those closest to you.
A (Newspaper columnist and) minister (George Crane) tells of a wife who came into his office full of hatred toward her hus­band. “I do not only want to get rid of him; I want to get even. Before I divorce him, I want to hurt him as much as he has me.”
The pastor suggested an ingenious plan. “Go home and act as if you really loved your husband. Tell him how much he means to you. Praise him for every decent trait. Go out of your way to be as kind, considerate, and generous as possible. Spare no efforts to please him, to enjoy him. Make him believe you love him. After you’ve convinced him of your undying love and that you cannot live without him, then drop the bomb. Tell him that you’re getting a divorce. That will really hurt him.”
With revenge in her eyes, she smiled and exclaimed, “Beautiful, beautiful. Will he ever be surprised!” And she did it with enthusiasm. Acting “as if.” For two months she showed love, kindness, listening, giving, reinforcing, sharing.
When she didn’t return, the pastor called. “Are you ready now to go through with the divorce?”
“Divorce!” she exclaimed. “Never! I discovered I really do love him.” Her actions had changed her feelings. Motion resulted in emotion. The ability to love is established not so much by fervent promise as often repeated deeds, another instance of abiding or remaining in Christ’s love. You can fall in love again!
Commitment love is shown in action. Otherwise, it’s just talk and emotionalism. Love flows from us once it flows into us from God. God did more than talk. His words brought action. His words promised His Son. And His Son, the Word made flesh, died so that you may live and bear the fruit of the Spirit.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Again, we can’t get the cart in front of the horse. We can’t choose to follow Christ. One of the most dangerous anti-Biblical teachings out there is sometimes referred to as “decision theology.” This teaching is expressed by many American Christians. “Are you saved, brother?” “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?” or the popular “I have decided to follow Jesus.” Our concern is that this error directly contradicts Jesus’ clear words: You did not choose me, but I chose you….
Not only does this “decision theology” contradict or deny the explicit teaching of Scripture, a dangerous false theology is substituted. It falsely claims that the human will and human reason can reach out to God. In contrast, Christians are to hold fast to the Biblical doctrines of original sin as taught by Genesis 1-3 and Psalm 51 and the bondage of the will when it comes to spiritual matters. Nothing trumps Jesus’ clear words: You did not choose me, but I chose you. Jesus chooses you in love.

Loving each other is hard in a time and place where “tolerance” has been demanded of us. (Apologist, author, and speaker Josh McDowell writes: )
Tolerance says, “You must approve of what I do.” Love responds, “I must do something harder: I will love you, even when your behavior offends me.
Tolerance says, “You must agree with me.” Love responds, “I must do something harder: I will tell you the truth, because ‘the truth will set you free.’”
Tolerance says, “You must allow me to have my way.” Love responds, “I must do something harder: I will plead with you to follow the right way, because you are worth the risk.”
Tolerance seeks to be inoffensive; love takes risks. Tolerance glorifies division; love seeks unity. Tolerance costs nothing; love costs everything.
Often, people refuse to speak about two controversial topics: politics and religion. If politics is understood about the means for protecting and caring for our common man and religion has to do with the goal of the bliss of heaven for Christ’s sake alone, then it really is not loving to refuse to talk about the most important topics dealing with one another in this world and the next. Would you rather that your loved ones were consigned eternally to hell, or only momentarily offended?

Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Wedding Sermon

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Genesis 1:26-28
Abiding Care
Wedding Sermon for John Atwell and Danielle Morehead
Friday of Easter V, 15 May 2009
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
So far the sermon text John and Danielle have chosen for today.

A wedding shows the abiding care our Lord has for his people. He created Adam. Then He created Eve for Adam. And then they were fruitful and multiplied to the point that all of us are here. The Scripture read at a Christian wedding reminds us of God’s original intent: that mankind would abide in God and retain His image for the benefit of all of God’s creation.
Sin entered the world with the serpent’s temptation. It not only ruined the relationship between Eve and her husband Adam, but it also destroyed the relationship human beings had with their creator God.
A wedding shows the abiding care our Lord has for his people. God sent a Savior to His people, a Savior who would redeem us from sin and death and give us new life in this world and the promise of life eternal. Jesus blessed holy matrimony by His presence at a wedding and wedding celebration in a town called Cana. The death and Resurrection of Jesus restored our relationship with God. It also means the beginning of the restoration of God’s image in His people through Holy Baptism. The full restoration will only be accomplished on the Last Day, at the Resurrection of all flesh. In the meantime, we are given to forgive one another. No relationship, no marriage, could survive without the forgiveness of sins.
A wedding shows the abiding care our Lord has for his people. A wedding is an act of creation. Look what God is creating! We have here a new union, a new household, a new family. Danielle and John, take special care of Sierra, Alexis, Faith, John, and Destiny. Raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Give them abiding love and care following the example of Our Father who art in heaven. Bring them to the services of the Lord’s house. Some need brought for Holy Baptism. All of us need to grow in faith and knowledge of God’s Word. Nourish their faith and your own with family devotions. Receive the Lord’s gifts together as a family. Eat together. Play together. Pray together. Forgive one another as God in Christ has already forgiven you.

A wedding shows the abiding care our Lord has for his people. God provides His Word and Sacraments as Gifts to us. The Lord isn’t out to spoil your fun. He wants to give you His blessings. Often, the ways of this world and practices tolerated or encouraged by our culture come into conflict with the Lord’s Word and Will and Ways. We can’t go wrong when we receive His blessings as He intended, and gladly hear and do His Word, even if it means changing our whole lives.

John and Danielle began preparations for their wedding day before I arrived. They discovered that premarital preparation, often called “counseling,” involved more than merely planning for one day. It mean planning for a whole life together, a marriage, intended to last as long as they both shall live.
As they studied God’s Word with their vacancy pastor, in repentance and with faith in the promises of Christ, they received the Lord’s forgiveness and took the opportunity to further amend their lives by taking their formal wedding vows early, on March 29th.
Yes, they are already man and wife in the eyes of the Lord and the State of Wyoming. The two of them chose to delay sharing this happy news until this special day, when we all can celebrate the gift of holy matrimony and the family they are becoming in Christ.
Therefore, Danielle and John will affirm their vows before you all today.

Welcome to their special day. Celebrate with them and rejoice in the abiding care of the Lord. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Recordings Have Begun

On Sunday May 10th, Immanuel began digitally recording services. Ask for CDs at the Church Office. Sermons are also available online at

While we have enough USB drives, we are still in need of CD players and donations of blank CDs.

Pastor Cain

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Acts 8:26-40
Unless Someone Guides Me
Fifth Sunday of Easter, 10 May 2009
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There are few things that make a pastor’s day more than these words: “Pastor, I was reading the Bible and I had a question.” Those are occasions I pray for. It is part of my responsibility as your pastor to regularly choose which Sunday lesson to preach on or which Bible Study to do on Sunday or midweek. It is a special joy when you and I can discover what the Word says about a topic or concern close to you.
I recently read a book called, “Theology is for proclamation.” The book bearing that title was confusing, but the title is great. After all, all the books in the world make no difference if the truth they contain isn’t communicated and understood. How can we, as Lutheran Christians, best use our pure teaching? We can guide others by telling them the good news about Jesus.

The Holy Spirit provided just such an opportunity for Philip in Acts chapter eight.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert place. 27And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and join this chariot." 30So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. 33In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth."
34And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" 35Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture, he told him the good news about Jesus. 36And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?"
37 38And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

“Do you understand what you are reading?” As a pastor, parent, either mother or father, grandparent, godparent, or teacher of day school, Sunday School or Confirmation, we not only get to ask the question, “Do you understand what you are reading?” but we also get to present the Scriptures to young people in a meaningful way. It’s not likely that children will pick up religion on their own, much less the only true one, Christianity. No sinner blinded by the world even cares about a relationship with God. God has chosen a way for people to be brought into a relationship with Him: people sharing His Word, used by His Holy Spirit to create, nurture, and sustain faith.
The Bible is the best-selling book of all time, but how many lie around unread in these United States? Sometimes the problem is that a well-intentioned person decides to read the whole Bible beginning with Genesis and gets discouraged in Leviticus or Numbers, and never reaches the New Testament. Sometimes the problem is “graduation syndrome,” where a young person decides that they’ve learned everything in confirmation, and since they know it all, and mom’s happy, they’re done with Church. How can we as a Christian community best guide such people?
Encourage a person who wants to read through the Bible to start with the New Testament, especially John, Acts, and Romans, then pick up familiar “Sunday School accounts” from Genesis, Exodus, and have a good foundation with which to read tougher books like Leviticus, Numbers, and Revelation. Also, invite that individual to join us for corporate worship and group Bible Study. Scripture never talks about a living, active Christian apart from community with other Christians and the Lord.
The Graduation Syndrome of our young people is best prevented when they’re even younger. Be careful when presenting Church as something that’s a “have to.” This is a law approach. The Bible tells us that human beings, because of their sinful nature, rebel against the requirements of law. There are times when a parent will bring a child against the child’s will out of the best interests of the child, but we must never forget to use the invitation of the Gospel.
God has good gifts for us in the Divine Service. You like Christmas and its gifts, right? Each Sunday is like that, even if we can’t see the colorful wrapping paper and glittering bows. God serves us! God forgives us for the bad things we do, gives us encouragement, and strength, and the certain promise that He loves us and wants us to be with Him forever in Heaven. Not only is this Gospel approach more attractive, but it is most certainly true. God wants to give you His gifts. It is to our detriment if we stay away.

Confirmation classes, both for adults and our youth should be comprehensive. Consider all the catechesis that went into the short verse 35Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture, he told him the good news about Jesus.
Listen to what comes next: 36And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?"
The Good News About Jesus includes baptism. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off. The Good News About Jesus includes Holy Baptism and much, much, more.
This isn’t one of those 2 a.m. infomercials, but there’s still more! Sometimes people think of Christianity and try to devise some plan, some system to get all the thousands of denominations together. The mistake is that they start looking for the lowest common denominator. Let’s leave that technique to the young people in math class working with fractions.
Instead, the better way is to look at what the eunuch was reading, the Holy Scriptures. Therein, only in God’s revelation to us do we hear what Christianity is to believe, teach, and confess. Instead of looking for the lowest common denominator, why not instead look for the richness of the Gospel in all its articles?
We are not told specifically how long Philip’s adult confirmation class with the Ethiopian lasted. We are not told about every topic, every question, every concern. We do know it was comprehensive. We do know it included Isaiah’s famous passage about the suffering servant. We do know it included baptism. And it had to cover everything in between, too.
The Holy Gospel, all that Jesus has given us, is not made up of unrelated topics that can be believed or rejected without compromising the whole. Christianity is like a big domino display—remove the teaching on justification, close communion, only qualified men in the office of the holy ministry, baptizing babies, church discipline, etc., remove one domino in a strategic position, and part of the display doesn’t work.
Christianity is a lot like a wheel, too. All the teachings of Christianity, of our Lord and His apostles and prophets, are all connected. There’s the layers of the tire, the specialized treads, the steel belts, the wheel rim, the valve stem, even the white ring and imprinted writing on the rubber. Lose any part and something goes wrong with the tire. Deny or rewrite any doctrine of Christianity, and you’ll immediately or eventually have serious problems. At the center of the wheel is justification. Luther called justification the article of faith by which the church stands or falls. We are declared right by God because of Jesus’ work for us, a gift we receive by faith. This is the central cog of Christianity. If something went wrong with it, the whole wheel would fall off.
There’s a lot to Christianity. It takes a lifetime for the baptized to be taught all that Jesus has given—and yet there’s still more.

I encourage you to pray for opportunities to ask, “Do you understand what you are reading?” and for openings to share the good news about Jesus with hurting people.
Pray for those that have some connection to this congregation to consider a confirmation class. Summer is a great time since all our schedules seem to be a little more flexible. Please talk to me if you or someone you know are interested.
I especially encourage you to also pray for the prodigals of this congregation. At this point in my ministry here, You know who they are better than I do. They were baptized, even raised going to Sunday School, were confirmed, and then never seen again, except maybe on Easter or Christmas.
Pray that their hearts would not be hardened to the message of Christ. Pray that they would again eagerly receive the good news about Jesus. Pray for opportunities to present that good news. Pray that it would bring about abundant fruit through the work of the Holy Spirit. And invite them to Church to again receive the Lord’s good Gifts.
Pray also for those who have never heard of the Biblical Jesus and His Biblical good news, which is actually Good News. Pray that they will accept invitations to join us for the Divine Service, Bible Classes, and adult information class. Pray that the Word and the Spirit would create faith in their hearts that says, “What prevents me from being baptized?”
Finally, pray that as a Christian congregation and school, pastor and people, we will have opportunity and the strength to guide people to Holy Baptism and into God’s truth and the good news about Jesus. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
1 John 3:16–24
Sacrificial Love
Fourth Sunday of Easter, 03 May 2009
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. The Psalm quoted in the Introit is one we know well. The hymns and Holy Gospel speak of Jesus as our Good Shepherd. This is a picture of comfort, a favorite one to hear at the funeral of a Christian, a lamb of the Lord’s flock gathered into His arms of mercy. This is a picture that is comforting to us every day that we still dwell in the valley of the shadow of death.
A shepherd gives good gifts and protection from harm. St. John describes our Good Shepherd well in His first epistle, even though the word “shepherd” isn’t used in the sermon text today.
16By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. John echoes the Gospel account that bears His name, reminding us not only of the common human author of the Gospel according to John, three epistles and the book of Revelation, but also of the common Divine author—the Holy Spirit—the author of all of our Holy Scriptures.
11[Jesus said:] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Love—real love—is sacrificial. It denies self to care for another. Other people come first. That means loving may be painful at times. Parents may not like to say, “No,” but it is said to keep kids safe from busy streets, hot stoves, and the dangers of substance abuse.
In Convention last Thursday through Saturday, the Wyoming District elected our new circuit visitor, the Reverend Lee Wisroth of Powell, the Reverend Kirk Peters, our regional Vice President, and re-elected the Rev. Richard Boche as our District President. You will hear more about Convention details soon. The congregations of the Wyoming District also said, “No,” to some recent innovations in doctrine and practice in our national church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. This message was not easy or pleasant to have to send, but it was done out of love for the Lord, His Word, and for the pastors and congregations with whom we have promised to walk together in word and deed.
Love that has Christ as its source and strength, is active beyond mere words. John reminds us: 17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
It is easy to say one thing and do another. It is easier to see someone in need and close your eyes as you walk by. That’s what the priest and the Levite did. It took a Samaritan to help the man in Jesus’ parable who was beaten half to death. Why is it we don’t want to get involved in what we see as other people’s problems? It isn’t love. It isn’t even a true love of self. God’s love does not abide there. It’s just talk—if that.
Real love is sacrificial. Christ died in your place. He gave all for you. Living, breathing faith responds to that love. The Gospel works thoughts, words, and deeds in you that respond to your neighbor. Who is your neighbor? Anyone in need.
Your neighbor in need is your congregation. But before we can talk about a Christian response to the Lord’s gifts, we should talk about receiving the Lord’s gifts. Your Lord needs people to hear His word at Divine Service, Sunday School, Bible Class, VBS, and adult information or confirmation class. What opportunities can you take advantage of to grow in faith and true knowledge of Him and His Word? Who can you invite for the first time? Who can you continue to encourage to come home to the Lord? The Lord has good gifts for you in Word and Sacrament
In addition, we respond to the Lord’s gifts. The bills of the congregation still need to paid whether the sun is shining or there is a foot of snow on the ground. Your Lord loves a cheerful giver. The church should not use compulsion, but neither should givers be reluctant. Love is sacrificial. Love that has Christ as its source and strength, is active beyond mere words. When the heart is hardened to the Gospel’s work, God’s Law reminds us to do the right thing. 17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
It is the work of God’s Law to condemn us, and rightly so. The Law is not the end of the story. It has as its purpose to prepare you for the Gospel.
19By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
The conscience is a gift of God. All human beings have one. There the law of God is written upon the heart of every human being. But the conscience can be dulled, ignored, drowned out. Human beings forget. They like to excuse their own sin. They react to the law by rebelling against what they see as impossible or end up in despair and terror. The law of God in the Ten Commandments recalibrates the conscience. Sin needs to be dealt with, not excused or ignored. But the law cannot save. It tells us what to do, but gives no power to do it. It demands perfection. It gives guilt. Failure means death.
The Gospel is revealed only the Scriptures. It tells what God does for us in Jesus. Jesus dealt with sin by taking it upon Himself. The Gospel delivers faith and eternal life because of Christ. There are no threats. And the Gospel gives what it demands: faith. Where the law produced rebellion and terror, the Gospel gives faith comfort, and salvation.
God is greater than our heart. He knows everything. He knows you are a sinner even when you won’t admit it. He knows your secrets. He knows things about everyone that should make us blush. And so we confess our sins. We “fess up” and say the same thing about them as our Lord already knows and has already said about us in His Word. Sinners secure in their sins need to hear the law to wake them up, get their attention, and bring them to repentance. Sinners alarmed by their sins are ready to hear the Gospel.
The Christian lives under the Gospel, not the law. The Gospel is the unique Christian message, so it should predominate. The law still has its role. It acts as a deterrent, a curb to sin. It is a mirror that shows us our sin so that we know what we need to confess. And for the Christian, it is a guide. The Christian, forgiven by the Gospel, wants to know what is holy and pleasing to God. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. Next week you will hear Jesus say, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” We want to abide in Him, for apart from Christ, we can literally do nothing.
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
The Holy Spirit dwells within every Christian. What does the Spirit do? On the basis of Holy Scripture, Dr. Luther confessed: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him; but He has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to men and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
Sacrificial Love. God so loved the world that He sacrificed His only Son. Jesus loved you enough to remain on the cross. He drank the cup prepared for Him in the presence of His enemies.
We are given to love one another, too, but for a different purpose. Jesus did it in order to accomplish your salvation. Our sacrificial love helps our neighbors in need. God has no checking account. He doesn’t need anything. Your neighbor does have needs. There are those around you who lack daily bread. Some worry as to how God will provide for all that has to do with this body and life. Many need the hope only Christ and the Gospel can give. God works through you to meet those needs. Loving one another begins with Christ. Sacrificial love comes from the heart. But love is more. Love flows forth and moves the hands, feet, and lips to acts of love. We love because Christ first loved us. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.