Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ephesians 3:14-21 The Power of the Gospel

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
            This morning’s epistle text is a prayer Paul made on behalf of the Christians in Ephesus, which was in what we now call Turkey. I found it hard to take hold of until I consulted a trusty reference book, but before we get to it, we’ll review the basics of Ephesians.
            Someone once sent me a list of one-liners, such as, “It’s easier to preach ten sermons than to live out one.”  This may be true for many Christians, but it wasn’t true for St. Paul. By the time he wrote to the Ephesians, he was an integrated man. God’s power had brought him in tune with Christian teaching at every point in his life. There was no gap between what he said and what he did. The Letter to the Ephesians glows with vigor and integrity and faith.
            It’s very short. You could read it in half an hour, but it would take more than a lifetime to absorb its insights. With the guidance of God, Paul wanted to expand the horizons of his readers’ minds so that we’ll understand God’s grace and his eternal purpose. He instructs us about the goal God has in mind for his church and what it means to walk with our Savior day by day.
            Paul began by describing the blessings we receive because we’re connected to Christ. He chose us before the beginning of the world and he redeemed us through his blood. A day is coming when he will bring everything together in heaven and on earth under Christ. Paul then focuses on the topic of salvation. Two verses from the second chapter must be familiar to most of us: “By grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” We receive salvation as we take hold of Christ and his mercy on us by faith. And even faith is a gift from God.
            Paul points out that God doesn’t grant us salvation only for our own personal benefit. Our salvation brings praise and glory to him and we give a testimony to our neighbors. Salvation takes us out of ourselves, and this is healthy for us. Luther said that sin comes from being curved in on ourselves. Salvation breaks up the curve so that God – Jesus – becomes the center of our lives and not we ourselves.
            Paul wrote that God has a plan and a purpose. When the time is right for him, as we said, he’ll bring everything that exists in the universe together under Christ. As it is, plenty of harmful things fly about that have nothing to do with Jesus. A day is coming when God will banish all alien influences and everything will exist in orderly harmony with him.
            Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit brings people together in the church, concerning which, here’s another one-liner: “Quit griping about your church; if it was perfect, we couldn’t belong.” Anyway, by grace God reconciled individuals to himself through Scripture and the church, and by the power that radiates from Christ’s death, he reconciles one Christian to another. Paul wrote that God uses his church to display his wisdom to rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. Not earthly rulers, you’ll notice, but heavenly ones. This means that God is putting you and me to use to serve his eternal purposes in ways that we don’t perceive. He uses our faith as we pass through the ups and downs of life, let’s say, as a demonstration of his power to overcome evil and to build a kingdom of saints who cling to him in faith while we live on earth – going to work, shopping, helping our families, and trying to get along with our neighbors. Jesus upholds us as we help him with the work of reconciliation. He gives eternal meaning, purpose, and significance to our lives.
            We live in two places at once, so to speak, on earth and in heaven. Eternity touches our lives at every point; our daily living works out God’s purposes. You and I have places in his blueprint for eternity
            Now, we ought to say something about the prayer in this morning’s epistle text. Paul prayed that all the blessings of salvation that we’ve been talking about come to the Christians in Ephesus. Basically, he prayed for one thing – that God strengthen the Ephesian Christians and by implication Christians everywhere with his power so that Christ may live in our hearts.
            Paul didn’t ask for wealth or riches or worldly honor. He wanted the Heavenly Father to use his power for a spiritual purpose, to allow Christ to dwell in the hearts of his people. We ought to say a few words about what Paul meant by God’s power. Our human minds think of power as physical, earthly strength. The most powerful country is the one that has the most guns, say, or the person with the most money has the most clout.
            God’s power is different. It has to do with the gospel. “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” Paul wrote in Romans, “because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” The power of God’s love and grace along with the teachings about salvation work faith in the hearts of human beings. He uses what we think of as physical power to help his gospel spread. Jesus guards his church and protects believers. His power opens paths for the gospel and keeps the devil from destroying the church, which Jesus continues to rule even though his enemies kick up a great fuss. God uses this kind of power so that the gospel and his grace and the church may do what they’re supposed to do – bring about sorrow for sins, trust in Christ, new life, hope for the resurrection, and perseverance in faith.
            Now, God’s power, which comes to us through his Word and the sacraments, strengthens the faith of his people and makes our spirits alive and empowers us to assert ourselves on behalf of the gospel – coming to worship regularly, reading the Bible at home, talking to our neighbors about God, and other things that take a bit of courage. We infer from what Paul wrote that our Christian strength grows. Faith makes progress. Christ takes possession of us bit by bit, in ever-greater degree, as someone put it. Now here’s another one-liner that sounds like it comes from somebody who know what it means to grow in Christ. “The task ahead of us is never so great as the Power behind us.”
            Now, God’s power makes us rooted and established in love, as Paul put it, so that we may begin to grasp the extent, the vastness of Christ’s love.  One of our Lutheran experts says that God’s love is a love of intelligence and purpose. He creates mature people with sensible goals, strong and determined. He persists. He doesn’t give up on us if we fall. He sees the best in us. His love will keep on molding our hearts and minds and souls so that we’ll be ready for his return in glory. God’s love for us, as we understand it more and more, awakens our love for him and the love for our sisters and brothers in Christ and our neighbors in general.
            So God’s power creates faith and love rises out of faith. Then come knowledge and understanding, which are important, because most everything we do starts with what we think. Paul prayed that the believers in Ephesus receive power to grasp the extent of Christ’s love – to  know the love that surpasses knowledge. Paul meant that we take hold of God by knowledge and understanding. We read the Bible and we come together for worship, where we improve our understanding of God’s Word and his plans and our places in them. The more we know about God, the more filled with his Word we become. And that’s what Paul wanted for the Ephesians – that they be filled as much as they could be with the fullness of Christ. Nobody will ever know as much as Jesus but we can know something and we can build on our knowledge and do our best to live by it. It pleases God when his people make small improvements step by step, knowing a little bit more each day.
            So, to conclude we’ll say that if somebody ever asks you what God is doing, you may say that he is using his power to spread the good news about salvation in Christ and that he calls his people to receive a portion of his power so that we may be built up ourselves and take part in the work of getting out the gospel.
            I’d to close with another one-liner. “You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage him or her.”  Now, after I’ve been with you a month and gotten to know you some, I’ll say you don’t look like discouraged people to me, and for that we thank our God and Savior. In his name we rejoice. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.



Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mark 6:20-44 Jesus' Compassion

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
            The key word for our message this morning is compassion.  I found a dictionary definition that offers a useful guideline. Compassion means sympathetic awareness of the distress of other people along with a desire to relieve the distress.  In other words – seeing our neighbors problems and taking steps to help them.  This is Jesus’ frame of mind.
            The apostles have just returned from their first independent missionary journey.  They have a lot to talk over with the Lord, but so many people are coming and going that they can’t have a really fruitful conversation.  Besides, they’re tired and need something to eat.  Jesus understands their situation; he knows they need rest and privacy.  He take steps to provide for them.
            Jesus knows everything and his knowledge never fails.  He knows all there is to know about you and me.  You may recall these verses from Psalm 139: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up, you discern my thoughts from afar.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.  If I ascend to heaven, you are there!  I praise you,..wonderful are your works.  Search me, O God, and know my heart....lead me in the way everlasting!”
            Our Lord’s knowledge is filled with compassion.  He knows out situations – our worries and fears as well as what brings us joy.  He takes steps to relieve our woes.
            Anyhow, Jesus and the apostles found the quiet place they wanted, but they didn’t get to enjoy it very long after a crowd descended on them.  A wise person once said to me that there are always interruptions, and they can come as great tests, especially if they call out to us when we’re trying to concentrate on something.  Jesus dealt with the interruption of the crowd in a way that only God could manage.  He didn’t go into hiding, nor did he call for security guards to chase the people away.  He understood their distress: they had spiritually and hadn’t found anyone to bring their troubles to.  It was at this time, by the way, that Herod had John the Baptist killed and the murder of a great leader may have been on their minds as well.  As it was, Jesus understood that the people were like sheep without a shepherd or a ship without a rudder.  He wanted to help them.
            He isn’t like a highly placed politician or celebrity whom you and I would never dream of approaching, because they build protective walls around themselves, and often with good reason.  Jesus is available to us and to everyone at all times.  “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Now, we shouldn’t expect our earthly leaders to be different from the way they are.  They are not God.  They are limited like ourselves.  If we want someone to talk to at any hour of the day, we may talk to our Lord and Savior, who knows us and will hear us and who won’t disappoint us.  His compassion will never falter.
            Now, Mark tells us how the Savior expressed his compassion.  He taught the crowd.  We make a connection between teaching and understanding and compassion.  We often associate teaching with school, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Though it may not look like it at the time, the things we learn in school benefit us for the rest of our lives.  Even reluctant students like myself most of the time come to see later in life that the learning we receive in school is an act of compassion from God and our society to us.  Anyhow, Mark tells us that Jesus expressed his compassion by teaching.  We don’t know what he said to them, but we do know the sorts of teaching he offered at other times – about righteousness and sticking with God, about hope and love and endurance, and the difference between the kingdom of the world, which is ruled by Satan, and the imperishable kingdom of heaven, which is full of love and mercy, governed by God, that Jesus brought with him when he was born with our flesh.
            While I was putting this message together, I thought about how wonderful it would be to have Jesus as our teacher.  Then I realize that he is our teacher, especially when we choose to pay attention.  He knows about the stresses and strains of daily life, the temptations we pass through, the sins that need to be washed away, and our questions about death.  “God sent the Son into the world,” he said to Nicodemus, “not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”  And later, he said to the disciples as he was on the way to Calvary, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms...I go to prepare a place for you...I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
            Jesus’ compassion for us means that he wants us to have everything that he has – friendship with the Father, faith and wisdom in our hearts, peace and rest,  and the hope of joy in eternity.  He carried out his plan to relieve our distress and the distress of the whole world, not only with a generous nature and loving words, but also with action.  He knew that sinfulness stands between us and God, so he took all the world’s sins upon himself and died to pay the penalty we can’t pay.  He took away our condemnation; the Heavenly Father seeks peace with the world, not war; the gates of heaven are open wide to every believer.
            We live in the world; it knocks us around.  We may ask how we can be sure that we’ll stay in touch with God’s compassion.  Partly by remembering that faith is God’s doing, not ours.  We don’t come to faith on our own but by the actions of the Holy Spirit.  Our Lord wants everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of him, including you and me.  His Spirit will keep us in faith and open our minds and hearts to listen to him.
            We do one or two things to help ourselves.  We cast our cares and our worries and our sinfulness onto Jesus.  We don’t let the troubles or the delights of the world take us over. Nor does the flutter of the world get the best of us.  The Lord has his reasons for keeping the church and his people on a humble path.  If we experience hardship and adversity, we know that we are blessed in the eyes of God.
            Another thing we do with God’s help is to focus our wills on our Savior.  Someone said  centuries ago that distraction is the greatest problem anyone faces.  There must be fifty times more distractions in the world today than in the 18th century.  God’s Spirit brings us to worship and guides us in reading the Bible.  In addition, he blesses us with quietness of heart, persistence, and day by day faith in God.  “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” one of the Psalmists wrote.  “Your testimonies are my heritage forever....the joy of my heart.  I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.”  Our compassionate Lord makes a steady walk with him possible for us.  He guides us safely through the vanities and distractions of the world around us.   He brings us rest and peace even though the devil tries to vex us and interrupt us and tear away at our centers of repose.  We are calm in the midst of storms.
            The Lord changes our minds and wills to want what he offers and then he softens our hearts to extend to others the compassion he showers on us.  Paul wrote that the God of all comfort comforts us in all our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  We show compassion to our neighbors in material ways as we are able.  We pray for our neighbors.  We help them carry their burdens.  Companionship often does a lot. Here’s a story to illustrate.  A farmer was once plowing his field in the spring thaw.  After he chugged into one of many muddy places, his tractor stuck.  The harder he tried to get himself out, the deeper he got stuck.  He finally walked over to his neighbor’s place to ask for help. The neighbor came by, he looked the situation over, shook his head, and said, “It doesn’t look good, but I tell you what.  I’ll try to pull you out.  If we can’t move the tractor away, I’ll come and sit in the mud with you.”  We can define Christian compassion, then, as sitting in the mud with a friend – having his pain in your heart.
            So, to sum up we say that compassion includes fellow-feeling for others in their suffering along with a desire to relieve distress and eagerness to spread the word of God.
            Jesus looked about him and saw thousands of lost sheep who needed spiritual leadership.  He carried their pain in his heart. He brought healing by the word of God.  Every problem has a spiritual root, which the Bible addresses with the truth about human nature, about God and the work of his Son.  There are plenty of lost sheep in the world today and we help relieve the distress of some by sharing the hope of the gospel with them.  We speak the truth about God’s love to folks who are spiritually injured, to the troubled, to wanderers in search of a compassionate guide.  Our Heavenly Father assures us that his word never returns to him empty, so he invites his to bring his comfort to the folks around us.  What a joy to teach the love of Christ.  If we want to show our compassion and our love for others, we do what our Lord did: we make ourselves available to listen, to help, to encourage, and to share God’s Word, as we’ve all been doing, I suspect.  The point is to keep on going, trusting that the Lord will sustain us.  In his name we rejoice.  AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of  Christ Jesus.  AMEN.        

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ephesians -- Chosen as God's People

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
            Football coaches and hockey coaches often give their players a few words of encouragement before the start of a game. Sometimes as well they gather their teams together between periods for additional encouragement. Everyone needs encouragement, athletes, working people, ordinary citizens.
            We Christians also receive encouragement. We like to hear words from God that build us up and send us out into the world with renewed confidence that God is on our side and that he will get us to the eternal destination he has in mind for us. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians offers the encouragement we need. It’s different from Paul’s other letters because he doesn’t take up a particular problem or misinterpretation of doctrine. He wants instead to widen our horizons so that we better understand God’s grace and his eternal purposes, so that we appreciate even more than we do the high goals he has set for us and for his church, so we’ll refresh our minds about what Paul wrote to the congregation at Ephesus so that we, too, may draw encouragement from God’s everlasting Word.
            Near the beginning of his letter, Paul wrote that God chose the Christian people in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. All believers in Christ enjoy a special status in God’s eyes. He considers us to be holy and blameless for Jesus’ sake. He promises to protect our bodies and souls. He will keep alive the faith that is active in our hearts this morning. He wants us to be vigilant, while he invites us not to worry that five years from now we will wander away from his kingdom to revel in pagan joys and pagan miseries. He has put a seal on us. he promises that life in his kingdom will always be available to us.
            We need to say something about those two wonderful words “holy and blameless”. As we pass through a variety of experiences, we may sometimes feel poorly about ourselves, that we have messed up badly or that we aren’t worthy of God’s love. Insights like that about ourselves are often partly accurate, especially when we compare ourselves with Jesus, but God brushes aside these judgments for Christ’s sake and declares that we are blameless in his sight, without spot of blemish. He wipes the slate clean. He has forgotten our past sins for Jesus’ sake. We give thanks with joy in our hearts that God has forgiven our sins ad that we may move into the future with renewed minds and hearts. And what’s even more reassuring is that our heavenly Father promises to wash away our sins every day as we turn to him in trust and with repentant hearts – all for the sake of Christ.
            Paul tells us that God washes us clean so that we may come to praise his grace and also play a part in his plan for the universe. The world and people’s lives seem muddled and confused without God, but the lives of Christians have meaning and purpose because of Jesus’ friendship for us and what’s more, a time of fulfillment is coming in which God will bring everything into focus under Christ’s leadership. Our lives with him now are a foretaste of this time to come. As we make our way with God’s help through his immense and beautiful world, we think of ourselves as pilgrims moving toward a goal that God has chosen for us. We are strong and happy in the Lord, knowing that he is working out his purposes through us and that we will see the glorious day when everything in the universe is subject to Christ’s wisdom and righteousness. We should feel encouraged, then, that our tea is safe on the hands of God.
            Now, all coaches tell their players something about strategy or their plans for the game.
The same is true for God. A bit later in Ephesians, Paul tell us about God’s way of working. We are by nature strangers to God and his enemies. He reconciles us to him through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son. He calls us to look on him as our Savior and friend.
            As he performs his mighty work, according to Paul, God also reconciles us to each other. Enmity between one person and another, between one group and another, seems to be a permanent feature of life on earth. As Jesus said, the devil is the prince of this world. But God breaks down barriers of hostility between his people and builds up bonds of friendship and love. This happened in the Ephesian congregation, where Jews and Gentiles worshipped together in a spirit of fellowship. Surprising friendships take place among Christians today. People with different backgrounds and customs come together in the Lord and form ties of mutual support and encouragement. When the world at large is so often impersonal and uncaring, we Christians trust that our spiritual family will nourish us and reach out a hand to us in times of need.
            Another wonderful thing about God’s actions for us is that sometimes a Christian or group of Christians who help us are people we might normally expect to be in sharp disagreement with. We find ourselves helped sometimes by people we thought of as antagonists and we may find ourselves helping Christians we thought we didn’t care about very much. God often works this sort of wonder among his people. The possibility of unexpected friendships encourages us and emboldens us to think that we may even break down a barrier or two ourselves.
            We’ll move along now to have a look at another aspect of God’s strategy. He takes the people he has reconciled to himself and to one another and he gathers us together into the church. He makes one body out of us with Christ as our head. The church isn’t always fun. Sometimes we get mad and sometimes are feelings get hurt. We even hear about people who stay away from the church for years and years because of something that happened or because they don’t get their way. But God’s people belong in the church, for as Paul says it is through the church that we express our citizenship in God’s kingdom. Our salvation comes through the church. As one Christian who lived centuries ago put it, “No one can have God as his father unless he has the church as his mother.”
            So the Lord reconciles us to himself and to one another and he invites us into one body, the church. After giving us these insights, Paul then reveals another feature of God’s plan – that he gathers his church together so that he may show his many-sided wisdom to the rulers and authorities in heaven. So our lives together in Christ has a heavenly dimension that we may not think about very often. God uses Risen Christ to reveal his wisdom to the angels in heaven. God’s wisdom works through us in ways we’re now only dimly aware of, but that will become clear to us when we assume the places in heaven that Jesus has prepared for us. The unity of the church works for God’s glory, then, both in heaven and on earth. I suspect that Risen Christ and the other congregations of the Lutheran Church-Canada will learn a lot as God continues to build his unity among us.    
            Paul begins the second half of Ephesians by saying: “Therefore, I…implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one other in love…”   So we have a part to play, too, in building up the kingdom. As we our lives by the teachings of God’s Word, we benefit ourselves and our neighbors in the building up of God’s kingdom and give a testimony that God is at work in us.  Living in faith and love isn’t easy, but we have God’s assurance that he has chosen us for life with him now and in eternity and so he won’t abandon us to struggles with temptation and the world around us and the devil who loves to toy with the weaknesses of our minds and our flesh. The Lord who pardons us will strengthen us and give us courage and joy as we make our way through the perils and advantages of city life. We trust that Jesus will keep on guiding us along the path of truth and that we’ll stay full-fledged members of his team, remembering that he has a special, heavenly use for each one of us and places for us to shine in the church and our families and the communities in which we take part.  I’m suspect that what’s truth for other Lutherans I’ve known is also true for St. Peter’s – that you’re talented and creative in many ways and that God will use you in many fruitful ways.
            God blessed the Christian church during the years when Paul and the other apostles were active. Christ doesn’t limit his blessing s to one time ad one place. God has chosen St. Peters, too, and you should be confident that as you stick with him he will bless your lives together with Christ. He will use the team he has brought together here for your blessedness and his glory. In his name we rejoice. AMEN.
 The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.     


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mark 6:1 - 13 "I Send You to Them"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
            In the first half of this morning’s gospel we hear again Mark’s account of the time the people in Jesus’ home town rejected him.  Jesus kept on going, however.  He didn’t let opposition stand in his way.  The second half of the reading gives us a sample of his determination and his unquenchable spirit.  Instead of brooding on the unfairness of life and looking for a safe retreat, he sent his apostles out on their first missionary journey.  He gave them the strength and courage to act as leaders in an environment that might not welcome them.  He did a lot for his helpers, and does a lot for his people today, and that’s our subject this morning – what Jesus does to equip believers for life in the world into which he’s placed us.
            When I was in the American army many years ago, I learned that the military always has two things in mind – first, their mission and then the welfare of the people who carry it out.  If a battalion of soldiers, say, has orders to capture a certain city, they must do it, no matter what.  Their objective is foremost.  Casualties are often an acceptable price to pay.  Concern for the fighting people comes second.  They need to be clothed, housed, and fed.  Injuries need to be tended to.  Morale has to be kept up – all for the sake of the mission.
            Jesus is different.  He is just as concerned about the needs of the people who work with him as he is with the building up of his kingdom.  The two go together, as we see in today’s reading. 
            Nearly everyone wants to be useful, to be needed, to take an active part in life.  The way our world is set up, it sometimes seems that only a lucky few get to use their abilities to the full – movie stars, top politicians, heads of large organizations, and so on, while the rest of us live on the sidelines, so it seems, either watching or carrying the burdens.
            Jesus set up his kingdom on a different basis.  He uses the lowly and the humble of heart.  Some of the apostles were fishermen, ordinary people in the world’s eyes.  Matthew was a tax collector, a man on the margins of society in those days.  The apostles lived close to the earth; they knew about simple things and had no contact with the powerful or the great.  They probably expected to live obscure lives, dulled by routine.  Then Jesus came and lifted them up.  He called them to important tasks that brought significance to their lives.  He gave them power to cast out demons and to heal.  He instructed them to spread good news about the possibility of a new lease on life through repentance and faith.  God had come to earth in human flesh with forgiveness and redemption from sin and salvation.  How committed and eager for life the apostles must have been as they set out on their first independent errand for the Lord.
            We’re not apostles, of course, with a unique assignment from Jesus and most of us aren’t  at the beginning of our walks with the Lord, but our Savior still calls us and satisfies our yen for significance and freedom from anxiety.  He gives us earthly tasks such as homemaking, raising children, going to school, and earning our livings.  Plus, he empowers us to spread the good news by showing our neighbors through words and actions God’s love for them.  We forgive trespasses; we help others carry their burdens; we tell them about the church.  Jesus gives us something significant and worthwhile to do by making us his ambassadors who work for the building up of the kingdom.  His Spirit working on us makes us open, affirming, confident people, grateful to him and eager for the life he gives.  If you stop and think about it, thanks to Jesus, everything we do is on the side of life.
            Now, when he sent the apostles out, Jesus gave them simple instructions about what to take with them.  The message they conveyed was so important they didn’t have time to think about luxuries.  They traveled light.  Earthly goods often weigh us down, especially after we accumulate a few decades of stuff.  Somebody once said that things are in the saddle and ride mankind.  Jesus gives his people a new focus, so he told his disciples to leave their possessions at home.
            It wasn’t that he planned to turn them into puritans or make their lives uncomfortable.  He wanted to deepen in them a quality every believer needs – trust and dependence on him.  He wanted to convince them that the Heavenly Father would provide them with food and hospitality. He would take care of their needs while they were in his service.  He wanted them to have a feeling of security. They might meet opposition. They might be rejected or mocked.  They might occasionally wonder – with their very human minds – where they’d sleep at night or where their food would come from.  Jesus instilled in them the trust that he always takes care of his people.  He will never run out or change his mind.  He provided for the Israelites as they wandered through the desert for forty years; he looked out for his apostles; he takes care of his kingdom people today, as you and I can testify.
            We humans  often resist turning to God.  We like to rely on ourselves and sometimes our neighbors.  Human means bring partial success, of course, but they never carry us as far as we need to go.  Jesus rescues us from the anxiety and frustration of natural, earthly life, so he trains us – sometimes by means of hardship and adversity – to depend on him.  He gives us new minds so that we know him and come to lean on him more and more.
            He builds up our faith so that we trust that everything we do we do for him.  Our worship, prayers, reading the Bible, chatting about the Gospel – all these serve the kingdom.  We also serve as we clean the house or wash the car, carry out our tasks at work or school, and take care of church property, as your pastor has told me the folks at Risen Christ do very well. 
            Christian living is about more than doing things, however.  Jesus is concerned with what takes place inside us – what we think, what we want, our feelings.  He gives us his own standards to live by and then empowers us to follow them – faith first and then love, which we express with gentleness, kindness, forbearance, patience, self-control.  He transforms us bit by bit – sometimes without our being aware of what he’s doing for us – into his image so that we become like him.
            The apostles were later disappointed with some parts of their first missionary journey.  Jesus counseled them gently.  He invites us, too, to be loving and patient with ourselves.  If we take up a project and good results don’t come as quickly as we’d hoped, we may blame ourselves.  Self-criticism is good, of course, but it’s not our Lord’s intention that we tie ourselves up in knots of reproach.  Nothing we humans do will ever be perfect. We bring our concerns to him, for he is the judge, not we, and his ways are loving.  He doesn’t want us to be proud, but neither do we sink into despair.  We accept his assurance that labor for him is never in vain and we keep on going.
            Another way of saying what Christ did for the apostles is that he gave them life in full abundance.  He freed them from fear and dependency.  He gave them a portion of his freedom as a gift, so that they’d be free to serve him.  He blessed them with new life.
            A Christian thinker who lived near the start of the church said that the greatest work of God is a living human being, who possesses eternal life in Christ, which God shapes and molds.  Scripture tells us that he worked on Peter and Paul and Thomas, the apostle who doubted, to make them fully alive.
            He makes us alive, too.  We pass through turmoil and trials, both as individual believers and the church as a whole.  We’re tempted and we sin.  Sometimes we’re sorrowful.  All the while, the Lord shapes us to endure, to persist, and to prevail.  He trains us in faith and love, so that we are capable servants who live by his grace.
            The apostles must have picked up profound insights into themselves and human nature and our common spiritual needs during their missionary journeys.  Jesus helped them overcome their uncertainties and trust that they would be safe and useful in his care.  Some of the folks to whom they brought the gospel must have seen God at work in them and wondered how to acquire faith in Christ themselves.  We can imagine people wondering – how can we find a better way than the everlasting frustration of daily living?  The apostles brought them the answer – look to Jesus.  He will provide for you.  He will give your lives meaning and keep you safe for eternity.
            The same is true for you and me.  If we’re weak, the savior forgives and restores.  The light of his grace shines through the chinks in his armor as he transforms our minds and souls.           Our neighbors may notice Jesus’ actions in our lives.  They see that the Heavenly Father loves his children and gives us work to carry out, that we are confident, loving, and strong, alive in the hope of ever lasting blessedness.  The people we come in contact with may never say anything about what they notice in us, but some will wonder how they can live in faith, joyful, persistent, and strong in stressful times.  We are equipped to show them the way.  Jesus, who does not withhold himself from anyone who seeks him, will fulfill their desire to know him.
            To keep us humble, the Holy Spirit may never show us the results of our work for the kingdom.  Nevertheless, the Heavenly Father wants us to carry in our hearts the assurance that we are following in the footsteps of our Lord and his apostles.  He encourages us to be certain that he will use our faith and that in his loving way he will keep us fruitful servants of the kingdom. In his name we give thanks.  AMEN.
The  peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus.   AMEN.