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Christmas Eve Sermon - Risky Trajectory

God joins us in this world and we are saved because of Him with us. Because of sin we are headed the wrong direction. On our own we do not have the thrust to push ourselves into an optimal orbit with God. We are stuck in a suboptimal orbit. At times we will try to redefine the finish line so that we feel accomplished, but the truth is that we fall short.

When Jesus is born, we does not arrive into a world that has everything figured out. He does not join us on a victory that is already fixed. He joins the losing side. He joins us in our flesh and becomes reckoned with us as sinners so that we might be reckoned with him in his righteousness.

When Boening launched the Starliner capsule on the top of an Atlas V rocket on December 20, they expected success. Because of a failure to set the mission clock correct on the rocket, the capsule was doomed to never arrive to the International Space Station. The Christmas presents on the capsule never arrived, and the astronauts did not get the supplies they expected. NASA later explained that if a person had been aboard the capsule that the mission could still have been successful. A person in the capsule at the controls could have overcome the problem of being out of sync. The optimal orbit would have been reached with a person aboard the capsule. With Jesus Christ, our savior, in our flesh, we are able to reach unity with God. Without Jesus Christ, we will always fall short. Our trajectory is set to failure because of our inherited sin and our actual sins. Because of our faith in the righteousness of Christ, we are able to experience unity with God and reconciliation with each other.

Rejoice this Christmas that Jesus has become flesh, dwelled among us in our sin, and redeemed us who are under the law. Merry Christmas.

Posted by Evan Gaertner

Safety Fixes for the Church

Safety experts in California have recommendations for how the utility PG&E can face the safety crisis that has landed this utility in bankruptcy and the cause of several forest fires. The Wall Street Journal today had an article that identified five things that PG&E should do to survive. As I looked at this list, I found myself connected some dots for life in the church. The article requires a subscription so I will attempt to include enough details so you follow along.

Here is the list from the WSJ:

  1. Stop running equipment until it breaks
  2. Use predictive tools to assess risk
  3. Regulate utility safety separately from rates
  4. Manage forests more aggressively
  5. Threaten PG&E's monopoly franchise

I am going to run this list through the mission of the church.

1. Stop running equipment until it breaks - Run to failure, the idea that equipment only get replaced after it fails is common at PG&E. The article suggests that replacing equipment at failure is not sufficient for this company. An example of how this model should not be accepted in such a mission critical enterprise is the aviation industry. This industry cannot survive regular accidents therefore the equipment is regularly monitored. If signs of deterioration are detected, then the equipment is taken out of service before they fail.

If we treat people like tools that can be ignored until failure, then we do a great disservice to the mission critical character of each person that God has placed into the body of Christ. We must get better at seeing spiritual health as more than just a binary on/off, good/bad, or success/failure. We all are in need of monitoring and care because of our own sins, living in a world of temptations, and the devious work of the devil.

2. Use predictive tools to assess risk - Utility equipment has more than two states, normal or broken. As they degrade they develop unique signals that can be monitored and evaluated.

People have unique signals that they constantly consciously and subconsciously share with us. We must get better at understanding the spiritual health of the people we care about. We must do more than assume people are fine unless they ask for help. I find that too often people do not ask for spiritual help from the church, but they drift and disappear away. I want to get better and observing people's spiritual health and then caring for people in their needs.

3. Regulate utility safety separately from rates - California needs to develop an agency that does more than just monitor the rates that people pay for their utilities. Utility regulation should have some teeth to require active monitoring and repair.

The institution of a church and school can too easily fall into the pattern of watching and caring for people based on what is happening with tuition or financial support. It is remarkable how much a budget deficit will motivate actions. It is like a scene from Casablanca when it is announced that it is time to "round up the usual suspects." The care and ministry of the congregation has to be more than checking in on the usual suspects. The elders of our congregation work to care for each of the families in their care. The elders extend the ministry of spiritual care ministry beyond just the familiar faces. We need to figure out ways to continue to extend and multiply the ministry of the congregation so that it is not in the hands of just a few people.

4. Manage forests more aggressively - prescribed burns and managing forest health is important in California, which has experienced a five year drought.

The council and elders of the congregation have an agenda cycle that makes sure that regular and consistent monitoring and oversight happens throughout the range of activities that we conduct as a congregation. The importance of proactive care and oversight can quickly become forgotten when we get caught into the urgency of the now. Reactive ministry does happen and I think of it as chaplain work in a hospital. The chaplain reacts to the sicknesses that brought people into the hospital. But a church does more than just react to the presenting spiritual needs of people. We need to be systematic in our approach to building up spiritual health in the community.

5. Threaten PG&E's monopoly franchise - WSJ identifies a culture of entitlement that has allowed apathy for care to develop, "no matter how many rules it breaks, no matter how much anticompetitive conduct it carries out, no matter how felonies it commits."

The clergy and leadership in the congregation do not have a monopoly on the spiritual care of people. In our baptism, we have all been called by God to be a part of the royal priesthood of believers declaring the marvelous mysterious of God that have brought us out of the darkness (1 Peter 2:9).

Each person in this congregation has been equipped by God to be a part of declaring the gospel and delivering spiritual care to people in need. The time for a lone ranger pastor that tries to accomplish everything by himself is over and done. There is a name for this error and it is called, "sacerdotalism." This error is the belief that emphasizes the clergy as necessary mediators between God and humankind. The notion that lay people can establish a relation with God only through the clergy attacks the way God has promised to be at work in this world through His Word. When the Office of Ministry is elevated above that of laymen, the gifts that God provides to all parishioners are devalued. Value God at work in the Word through the Holy Spirit calling people to faith.

Posted by Evan Gaertner

Following Jesus is Not Just a Metaphor

Following God Today

I take seriously the responsibility I have been given to proclaim God’s Word and to administer the Sacraments. God knows our need. He desires to be gracious to us, and so He gives us precisely what we need - we need resurrection and life. The means of grace are the instruments which the Holy Spirit uses to deliver to us the forgiveness of sins and to create and strengthen faith in Jesus Christ. The work of Christ on the cross becomes the work of our salvation in our individual lives through these means of grace. 

Following Jesus is Not a Metaphor

When I encourage people to participate in the worship of Our Shepherd Lutheran Church, I invite them to be present with God. God can choose to act in any way He desires, but we don’t have to play a game of scavenger hunt and try to figure out where He will be next. He has promised to work through the means of grace. It is time for the people who follow Jesus in this congregation to be present where God has promised to be present. The Sacraments are established by God. Through the Word of God that is delivered to us in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper we are connected to God’s gracious promises.

Follow Jesus

Isaiah told the people, “See the LORD while he may be found’ call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). Jesus said to the first disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Sometimes we may think the call to follow Jesus is a metaphor for our spiritual journey. We follow Jesus by trusting Him in our heart to be our salvation, and we no longer follow after the false gods of our own choosing. Jesus was not calling those men to a metaphor. They left their nets and they followed Jesus. They showed up where Jesus showed up. They followed Jesus as he traveled from Galilee down to Jerusalem. Through the strength of the spirit they followed him. Today we still need to do more than follow a metaphor. He calls us to be present with Him where He has promised to be in this world. Be in the Word of God. Be in the waters of Baptism. Be with Him at the table. When John the Baptist was imprisoned and sent his messengers to Jesus, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus told them to tell John what they have seen and heard. Jesus pointed these men to His ministry among the blind, the lame, lepers, deaf, dead, and poor. If we are going to follow Jesus, then we go where He pointed John’s messengers to look for Him.

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