Category Archives: Sermons

Who Will You Tell? Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10 Easter A

April 16, 2017

For those of you who haven’t been with us throughout the season of Lent, let me bring you up to speed. We’ve been reading a book together called Unbinding Your Heart. It’s about learning how to share our faith. Some of you are here today because someone handed you a green card and said, come worship with me on Easter. Welcome! We are really glad you accepted the invitation.

You need to know that, before the person who invited you here today put that card in your hand, a lot of us were praying for you, not even knowing your name. Our hearts are getting unbound, and I hope that today, your heart will be opened, too, so that you can let in a little bit of the love that is filling this church.

Last Sunday, I talked about expecting the unexpected when Jesus shows up. We considered the fact that Jesus is always with us, but we have to start expecting him in order to see him. And it was a Sunday full of unexpected surprises.

One of the behind the scenes surprises was that the palms did not get delivered as we had expected. I had gone to bed Saturday night expecting to improvise, inviting everyone to wave the palm of your hand. But Cleo, faithful servant that she is, went to HyVee early Sunday morning to pick up the palms, so we had leafy branches to wave after all.

Claire brought her whoopee cushion to the children’s message. That was unexpected. Continue reading

What Did You Expect? Sermon on Matthew 22:1-11 Palm Sunday A

April 9, 2017

So tell me, how has Jesus shown up in your life over these past five or six weeks, as we’ve been asking God to unbind our hearts? What did you expect when we began this Lenten journey, and how has reality matched your expectations? Let’s do a quick review.

First, we learned that the “E” word, Evangelism, doesn’t need to be a scary thing. Evangelism is simply sharing your faith with other people. Even a reluctant evangelist, like Ananias, can tip someone into God’s love like a domino, starting a chain reaction that can go in unexpected ways. Kris shared her story of bringing her grandchildren to church after they had questions about her Nativity set. Like Ananias, Kris tipped someone into God’s love.

We learned that, before we can effectively share our faith with others, it needs to be a healthy and mature faith. We need to develop a strong relationship with God, going deep with Jesus often in prayer. So we set up the prayer wall, and began adding our prayers to it, prayers for people and situations God had laid on our hearts.

During the third week of Lent, we looked at the trinity of relationships – our relationship with God, with each other, and with those outside our church. We saw that unresolved conflict within the church can prevent people outside the church from developing a relationship with Christ, and some of us must have started working on resolving a few conflicts, because a spirit of peace has begun to fill this place. At least one visitor has noticed this.

In week four, we learned what brought Sue into a life of faith when we played the “Who Am I?” game. We heard how our own personal story is a powerful means of bringing others to Christ. The Samaritan woman at the well showed us that the Kingdom of God is for all who believe, regardless of backgrounds, ethnic roots, or cultural differences. Christ offers living water to all, a well springing up to eternal life. And we have jars of that living water to offer to others.

Last week, the paralytic who was let down through the roof, and Lazarus who was brought up from the grave, drew our attention to barriers that prevent people from wanting to know Christ. Some barriers are internal, and others are external. Bo Wright shared his and Dru’s experiences as they looked for a church when they moved here to New Ulm, and why they settled on First Church as their church home.

All of these stories, whether from our own experiences or from the Scriptures, have something in common. In every case, God has shown up in unexpected ways. Continue reading

Picking Up Your Mat – Sermon on Mark 2:1-12 Lent 5A

April 2, 2017

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” – Mark 2:1-12

Imagine what it must have been like to live in Capernaum when Jesus lived there. Have you ever wondered what Jesus’ house must have looked like? When he called his first disciples, and they asked where he was living, he had said, “come and see.” So he must have had some place he called his own when he was in town. As the word spread that Jesus was home, people started to gather outside his door. Pretty soon there was a whole crowd.

In that crowd, there are four people. They have a friend who can’t walk. Now, this story doesn’t tell how these people decided to carry this guy to Jesus’ house. It doesn’t say if they felt awkward bringing him to Jesus. It just says that they did. When they arrive, they face some obstacles. Continue reading

Putting Down Your Jar – Sermon on John 4:5-42 (take two)

You can find the script for this message here. This account of the Samaritan woman at the well was first preached in 2014, a few months after I began an appointment as First UMC’s pastor. Three years later, this text fit quite well in the Unbinding Your Heart sermon series. So here is the updated version.

Sometimes, a first-person story gets to the heart of the matter more effectively than a description of events. Sometimes, talking about the Word doesn’t mean as much as simply speaking the Word from inside the story. So on this fourth Sunday of Lent in 2017 (third Sunday of Lent in Year A, if you follow the lectionary cycle), I put on a scarf and told the story of the Woman at the Well from her perspective. Here’s the video.

As you meet Christ at your own personal well, may you recognize what the people from Sychar recognized: Jesus is the Savior of the world. That means he is the Savior of you.  Believe this Good News!

United In Christ – Sermon on Philippians 4:1-9

March 19, 2017*
Video 

Judy was only half-listening as the reader continued on and on. She knew that the letter they were hearing was important, and that she should be paying better attention, but her mind was elsewhere.

Judy and her good friend Cynthia had been through a lot together. They had been among the first women to join Lydia’s house church when it had formed only a few years before, and Paul himself had trained them for ministry (Acts 16). As the church grew and the good news spread, Judy and Cynthia had made a great team, teaching together and encouraging new believers in their faith.

Maybe it was natural for the two women to grow in different directions as their faith increased. Maybe one woman was maturing faster than the other. Perhaps they should have anticipated that, at some point, through their discussions of scripture and discipleship, they would reach conflicting conclusions.

Judy could live with that. What bothered her, though, and kept her from listening to Paul’s letter with her whole heart, was the nagging suspicion that she had caused a division in the church by arguing with Cynthia in front of the others.

Judy felt like she’d lost her best friend. She wished they could go back to the way things used to be, before the church had grown so large. She longed for the old days, when the few close friends who had begun the church could gather around a simple meal and share the joy of serving Christ Jesus as they served one another. Continue reading

Heading for Deep Water – Sermon on Luke 5:1-10

March 12, 2017
Watch a video of this sermon here. 

If you’re a guest today, you have come into a church that is on an exciting adventure with God! We’re spending the 6 weeks of Lent together inviting God to change us in any way that God wants to. The Spirit of God is moving in our church. Some of you have told me stories of the Spirit working as you talk about what’s happening with your small groups, your prayer exercises, and reading the book Unbinding Your Heart.

Would you like to join us? There’s still time to join a small group this week. In fact, one group meets right after coffee time in the pastor’s study today. There’s one early on Tuesday morning, and a couple of groups meet on Wednesday night as part of Family Night. Thursday options include an afternoon study and an evening group. Whichever group you join, we’ll bring you up to speed!

Here’s what we know so far: mainline Christian churches are rapidly declining in membership and influence in our country. We’ve grown reluctant to bring new people into Christian faith, and that reluctance prevents us from sharing our faith with others.

Last week, we explored why it makes a difference in our lives that we are Christians. We considered what our motivations might be for sharing the Christian faith with people who don’t have a faith. We considered that some of us don’t have a dramatic faith story to share, like Paul on the road to Damascus. Some of us are more like Ananias. Our personal stories might not be very dramatic, but God can use us as the domino that tips someone else into following Jesus.

In fact, there’s someone here today who has had just that kind of experience. I’d like to invite her to come share her story with you. Kris?

Continue reading

The Reluctant Evangelist – Sermon on Acts 9:1-10

March 5, 2017 (Lent 1A)
Watch a video of this sermon here. *

Have you ever been jealous of people who can tell a dramatic conversion story? Some people have a clear “before and after” testimony of how Jesus Christ has made a difference in their lives. Many of us, though, especially if we grew up in the church, might think our stories of coming to faith aren’t very exciting.

If you like satire, there’s a website called the Babylon Bee  that posts fake news stories every day. Each story is a piece of Christian satire, an intended joke, with headlines like “Congregation Sings 10,000 Reasons for the 10,000th Time” or “Church introduces New Maximum Security Nursery.” The Babylon Bee operates from the premise that Christians shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. Recently, they published an “article” about ways to spice up your testimony. It starts like this… Continue reading