Sermon by Pastor Christopher Nelson

Dot Kunkel was the organist/choirmaster at Grace Lutheran Church, the church where I grew up. I remember her practicing- I would slip into church before rehearsals just to hear her play.

She worked hard to find new and appropriate music for the choir and congregation- swallowed hard, but said “OK” to a guitar service in the late sixties… (Michael, Row the Boat and Kumbuya twelve times with different liturgical lyrics…)

It was a smaller church, and a part time job, but her whole life was music- music in praise of God. It was her gift and passion; she worked hard and grew and grew… And one of the results was my love of church music, church choirs… understanding of how worship works, the intersection of music and text…

I can’t hear Wachet Auf- “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying,” by Bach without thinking of her… And that was true not just for me, but for many in that community…

And, I thought immediately of Dot- Dorothy Kunkel- as I was preparing for our worship this week…

We’re in Week Four of our Sermon Series, “It’s Down to You…” How St. Mark ended his Gospel on purpose with the women fleeing and saying “nothing to anyone,” because they were afraid of what they had seen and heard at the empty tomb… How Mark wanted you and me- the Christian Community that came after those who had known the earthly Jesus through his ministry- to bear witness with our lives of the incredible news that Jesus has been raised from the dead!

And we’ve been looking at the tools we need in order to do that in our world today- a world all too willing to agree with the resurrection (because we all want to live forever), but less willing to grasp the enormous implications of what that Resurrection means- the call to commitment that comes with the promise of God’s presence in our lives forever…

We’ve looked at inviting- sharing the good news of Jesus with the people around us. We’ve looked at worship- of gathering to praise God for all that God has done for us in Jesus, and being fed- strengthened and renews for work where God has placed us, and last week, we focused on prayer- the conversation God invites us into on a daily, if not hourly basis, and which helps us know God’s presence in our lives…

Today, we’re going to look at the importance of growing- of maturing- of learning what it means to follow Jesus…Of living lives connected to God, and showing it, in significant, productive ways; of lives committed to always growing both as individuals, and as the whole Community of Faith. (That’s why I thought of Dot Kunkel- she learned and learned her whole life! I could say the same thing about Maria- and many other people I know who follow Jesus!),

Now, let me deal with the hardest question first- that of God’s expectation that we do, in fact, commit to learning, commit to growing in maturity. The prevailing image of God in our culture is that of a sort of Santa Claus/benevolent Grandpa, with no expectations at all…

There have been popular books written- “Heaven is for real!” in which the author describes what heaven is like (very nice) and how to get there (die…)

Another, by one who purports to communicate with the dead: everything is wonderful when you “pass over,” your whole family is there (maybe that’s not so wonderful,) but who would spend money on a book detailing how awful the afterlife might be…

One writer and critic described it as “no strings religion…” Our culture is searching, but wants no obligations, just “feel good…”

We, as Lutherans for the last generation or so, have in the words of Pastor Mike Foss, “institutionalized low expectations in the name of Grace…”

That is, because of God’s overwhelming love in Jesus, there is nothing we can do to earn God’s approval or salvation (and that is true!). Therefore we should be careful about calling for any kind of expectation, because people might think they are earning their salvation… (It sort of reminds me of the very sick church in 1st Corinthians: sin like crazy in order to share how much forgiveness there is!

It’s almost as if we’re afraid to grow- afraid to learn because we might think we did it, so if we do, we hide it and don’t ask others to grow, or talk much about it…

That’s why we have a whole Bible! Read your Bible- first, you’ll grow, and that’s what we’re talking about, if you do. But you will also learn that God has enormous expectations for us, based NOT on earning anything, but on what God has ALREADY done…

The 10 Commandments and the Law are given after God saves the Children of Israel at the Red Sea…

Jesus says “Take up your crosses and follow me!” “Those who love their lives will lose them; those who give them up shall save them…”

To those who trust in their possessions, Jesus says “Go, sell all your stuff, give the proceeds to the poor, and come, follow me!”

What God expects; what God wants is YOU, starting with your heart: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength and all your soul…”

You and I were created for a purpose that God has for each of us- for each of you: to be loved and known by God; to know and love God, and then bear witness; to show that love in our own particular way with the particular gifts we have been given!

Now, that can sound absolutely overwhelming, and impossible.

But look at how Jesus develops a way for each of us to begin in our reading this morning…a way that each of you- each of us- can engage in our learning what it means to follow Jesus.

John the Baptist sees Jesus, and exclaims, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” And two of John’s disciples leave John to follow Jesus. Jesus, seeing them come in his direction, asks them “What are you looking for?” And when they ask him where he is staying, he says simply, “Come and see…”

Andrew, one of the two, tells his brother Simon, that they have found the Messiah. Simon goes to Jesus, and Jesus renames him: You are Cephas, that is, Peter…

And then, Jesus finds Philip, and says “Follow me…” (Aren’t you glad we have a God who finds you- who is looking for you?) And when Philip sees his friend Nathaniel, he shares who Jesus is. Nathaniel asks the wonderful question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Can anything good come out of…) And Philip says to him, “Come and See!”

The first encounter with Jesus is one of exploration! Check him out; come and see… Hang around with Jesus; hang around with people who know Jesus, and see if what they have is what you are looking for! It’s a bite size, manageable first step… and then, you start to grow…

None of the disciples named in our reading started at the finish line… In fact, if you were with us through our focus on Mark this past winter, you know that the disciples flat out didn’t get Jesus, who he was and what he was about!

Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathaniel all start at very different places than where they finish! They grow; they learn what it means to follow Jesus- and after the Resurrection, they each share the Good News of the Crucified and Risen Jesus, ready to sacrifice their own lives for Jesus, and for his Gospel!

What about you? What about me? In my own life, I am so glad there is a growing process. I can think of times, well… And as a pastor- you’re probably glad about that! I keep a sermon file that goes back to my intern year in 1980… YIKES- those poor people.

My goal is to keep on growing, keep on learning as long as I live…

And as you learn, as you grow in faith, the expectation is that, to use a biblical image, you and I begin bearing fruit… that is, faithful productive lives…

Here’s a fascinating thing: this “fruit” we bear has a marvelous, positive effect on both your life, and the lives of the people around you!

Listen to what St. Paul says in the “fruit of the Spirit- God’s Spirit, Jesus’ Spirit, in Galatians 5: 22: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (there’s a nine week series right there on living and growing as a disciple of Jesus!)

This text is a marvelous example of both how we’re doing, and where we need to practice; to learn:

You can, in fact, learn patience (centering prayer in traffic)

You can, in fact, learn generosity- the only way to learn how God provides is for you to give more than you think you can; it’s the only place in life where God invites you to test him…

Are we growing in love?

And is there always room to improve? Of course! Does everyone need forgiveness? Yes!

And are these qualities present in the lives of mature Christians? Absolutely, and get this: they show Jesus to the people around them! Those people experience Jesus’ love through them!

These people are happy (that’s Blessed!), fulfilled people, because they have learned to be in touch with what God wants them to be and do; they are filled with God’s grace and have responded, and other people seek them out…

I think of Dave Grube- a longtime member of Bethlehem who died this past year. He was one of those people who showed others Jesus with how he lived and how he served. He, and his wife Nan, drew others to them. When he was in his final illness, the pastors here would fight to see who would go and see him, because we knew that he would care for us more than we could care for him. We knew we would see Jesus!

Do things go perfectly? Of course not; that has never been the promise. Dave was just 77 when he died, too young! But from him- and from others of you sitting right here today, many of us have learned strength, endurance and character, love and faith…

So, begin: “Come and See,” as both Jesus and Philip invite…

Respond to God’s love in Jesus Christ, and learn what it means to know him as Savior.

Commit to him; and come to hear God’s Word, share in God’s Community, share in the Body and Blood of Jesus we are about to receive… Jesus comes every time you receive the bread and the wine, strengthening and forgiving you…

And then, continue to learn and grow: take the time to grow in prayer, in your personal reading of the Bible. Grow in generosity, and share in the support, fellowship and accountability with other members in this community…

Learn what it means to grow from Come and See to Come and Live!

Is it easy? No. But is it more rewarding and fulfilling than you will ever know! Does it take time? It’s a life’s work…

And we, as your pastors and staff are absolutely, firmly committed both to helping you, and continuing in our own learning and growth every step of the way!

Because together, we have been called to follow Jesus Christ…

Because it’s down to you; it’s down to me to share the Good News of his presence…

And because as individuals and as a congregation, God wants to use us- you and me together, to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his name, and for his sake, Amen!

Dot Kunkel was the organist/choirmaster at Grace Lutheran Church, the church where I grew up. I remember her practicing- I would slip into church before rehearsals just to hear her play.

She worked hard to find new and appropriate music for the choir and congregation- swallowed hard, but said “OK” to a guitar service in the late sixties… (Michael, Row the Boat and Kumbuya twelve times with different liturgical lyrics…)

It was a smaller church, and a part time job, but her whole life was music- music in praise of God. It was her gift and passion; she worked hard and grew and grew… And one of the results was my love of church music, church choirs… understanding of how worship works, the intersection of music and text…

I can’t hear Wachet Auf- “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying,” by Bach without thinking of her… And that was true not just for me, but for many in that community…

And, I thought immediately of Dot- Dorothy Kunkel- as I was preparing for our worship this week…

We’re in Week Four of our Sermon Series, “It’s Down to You…” How St. Mark ended his Gospel on purpose with the women fleeing and saying “nothing to anyone,” because they were afraid of what they had seen and heard at the empty tomb… How Mark wanted you and me- the Christian Community that came after those who had known the earthly Jesus through his ministry- to bear witness with our lives of the incredible news that Jesus has been raised from the dead!

And we’ve been looking at the tools we need in order to do that in our world today- a world all too willing to agree with the resurrection (because we all want to live forever), but less willing to grasp the enormous implications of what that Resurrection means- the call to commitment that comes with the promise of God’s presence in our lives forever…

We’ve looked at inviting- sharing the good news of Jesus with the people around us. We’ve looked at worship- of gathering to praise God for all that God has done for us in Jesus, and being fed- strengthened and renews for work where God has placed us, and last week, we focused on prayer- the conversation God invites us into on a daily, if not hourly basis, and which helps us know God’s presence in our lives…

Today, we’re going to look at the importance of growing- of maturing- of learning what it means to follow Jesus…Of living lives connected to God, and showing it, in significant, productive ways; of lives committed to always growing both as individuals, and as the whole Community of Faith. (That’s why I thought of Dot Kunkel- she learned and learned her whole life! I could say the same thing about Maria- and many other people I know who follow Jesus!),

Now, let me deal with the hardest question first- that of God’s expectation that we do, in fact, commit to learning, commit to growing in maturity. The prevailing image of God in our culture is that of a sort of Santa Claus/benevolent Grandpa, with no expectations at all…

There have been popular books written- “Heaven is for real!” in which the author describes what heaven is like (very nice) and how to get there (die…)

Another, by one who purports to communicate with the dead: everything is wonderful when you “pass over,” your whole family is there (maybe that’s not so wonderful,) but who would spend money on a book detailing how awful the afterlife might be…

One writer and critic described it as “no strings religion…” Our culture is searching, but wants no obligations, just “feel good…”

We, as Lutherans for the last generation or so, have in the words of Pastor Mike Foss, “institutionalized low expectations in the name of Grace…”

That is, because of God’s overwhelming love in Jesus, there is nothing we can do to earn God’s approval or salvation (and that is true!). Therefore we should be careful about calling for any kind of expectation, because people might think they are earning their salvation… (It sort of reminds me of the very sick church in 1st Corinthians: sin like crazy in order to share how much forgiveness there is!

It’s almost as if we’re afraid to grow- afraid to learn because we might think we did it, so if we do, we hide it and don’t ask others to grow, or talk much about it…

That’s why we have a whole Bible! Read your Bible- first, you’ll grow, and that’s what we’re talking about, if you do. But you will also learn that God has enormous expectations for us, based NOT on earning anything, but on what God has ALREADY done…

The 10 Commandments and the Law are given after God saves the Children of Israel at the Red Sea…

Jesus says “Take up your crosses and follow me!” “Those who love their lives will lose them; those who give them up shall save them…”

To those who trust in their possessions, Jesus says “Go, sell all your stuff, give the proceeds to the poor, and come, follow me!”

What God expects; what God wants is YOU, starting with your heart: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength and all your soul…”

You and I were created for a purpose that God has for each of us- for each of you: to be loved and known by God; to know and love God, and then bear witness; to show that love in our own particular way with the particular gifts we have been given!

Now, that can sound absolutely overwhelming, and impossible.

But look at how Jesus develops a way for each of us to begin in our reading this morning…a way that each of you- each of us- can engage in our learning what it means to follow Jesus.

John the Baptist sees Jesus, and exclaims, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” And two of John’s disciples leave John to follow Jesus. Jesus, seeing them come in his direction, asks them “What are you looking for?” And when they ask him where he is staying, he says simply, “Come and see…”

Andrew, one of the two, tells his brother Simon, that they have found the Messiah. Simon goes to Jesus, and Jesus renames him: You are Cephas, that is, Peter…

And then, Jesus finds Philip, and says “Follow me…” (Aren’t you glad we have a God who finds you- who is looking for you?) And when Philip sees his friend Nathaniel, he shares who Jesus is. Nathaniel asks the wonderful question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Can anything good come out of…) And Philip says to him, “Come and See!”

The first encounter with Jesus is one of exploration! Check him out; come and see… Hang around with Jesus; hang around with people who know Jesus, and see if what they have is what you are looking for! It’s a bite size, manageable first step… and then, you start to grow…

None of the disciples named in our reading started at the finish line… In fact, if you were with us through our focus on Mark this past winter, you know that the disciples flat out didn’t get Jesus, who he was and what he was about!

Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathaniel all start at very different places than where they finish! They grow; they learn what it means to follow Jesus- and after the Resurrection, they each share the Good News of the Crucified and Risen Jesus, ready to sacrifice their own lives for Jesus, and for his Gospel!

What about you? What about me? In my own life, I am so glad there is a growing process. I can think of times, well… And as a pastor- you’re probably glad about that! I keep a sermon file that goes back to my intern year in 1980… YIKES- those poor people.

My goal is to keep on growing, keep on learning as long as I live…

And as you learn, as you grow in faith, the expectation is that, to use a biblical image, you and I begin bearing fruit… that is, faithful productive lives…

Here’s a fascinating thing: this “fruit” we bear has a marvelous, positive effect on both your life, and the lives of the people around you!

Listen to what St. Paul says in the “fruit of the Spirit- God’s Spirit, Jesus’ Spirit, in Galatians 5: 22: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (there’s a nine week series right there on living and growing as a disciple of Jesus!)

This text is a marvelous example of both how we’re doing, and where we need to practice; to learn:

You can, in fact, learn patience (centering prayer in traffic)

You can, in fact, learn generosity- the only way to learn how God provides is for you to give more than you think you can; it’s the only place in life where God invites you to test him…

Are we growing in love?

And is there always room to improve? Of course! Does everyone need forgiveness? Yes!

And are these qualities present in the lives of mature Christians? Absolutely, and get this: they show Jesus to the people around them! Those people experience Jesus’ love through them!

These people are happy (that’s Blessed!), fulfilled people, because they have learned to be in touch with what God wants them to be and do; they are filled with God’s grace and have responded, and other people seek them out…

I think of Dave Grube- a longtime member of Bethlehem who died this past year. He was one of those people who showed others Jesus with how he lived and how he served. He, and his wife Nan, drew others to them. When he was in his final illness, the pastors here would fight to see who would go and see him, because we knew that he would care for us more than we could care for him. We knew we would see Jesus!

Do things go perfectly? Of course not; that has never been the promise. Dave was just 77 when he died, too young! But from him- and from others of you sitting right here today, many of us have learned strength, endurance and character, love and faith…

So, begin: “Come and See,” as both Jesus and Philip invite…

Respond to God’s love in Jesus Christ, and learn what it means to know him as Savior.

Commit to him; and come to hear God’s Word, share in God’s Community, share in the Body and Blood of Jesus we are about to receive… Jesus comes every time you receive the bread and the wine, strengthening and forgiving you…

And then, continue to learn and grow: take the time to grow in prayer, in your personal reading of the Bible. Grow in generosity, and share in the support, fellowship and accountability with other members in this community…

Learn what it means to grow from Come and See to Come and Live!

Is it easy? No. But is it more rewarding and fulfilling than you will ever know! Does it take time? It’s a life’s work…

And we, as your pastors and staff are absolutely, firmly committed both to helping you, and continuing in our own learning and growth every step of the way!

Because together, we have been called to follow Jesus Christ…

Because it’s down to you; it’s down to me to share the Good News of his presence…

And because as individuals and as a congregation, God wants to use us- you and me together, to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his name, and for his sake, Amen!