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Sermon for Sunday 15 September 2019

First Reading                               Ezekiel 34:11-24

11“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. 17As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet? 20Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.”

Psalm                                                Psalm 119:169-176

169Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding, according to your word. 170Let my supplication come before you; deliver me, according to your promise. 171My lips shall pour forth your praise, when you teach me your statutes. 172My tongue shall sing of your promise, for all your commandments are righteous. 173Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your commandments. 174I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight. 175Let me live, and I will praise you, and let your judgments help me. 176I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost; search for your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.

Second Reading                           1 Timothy 1:5-17

5The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. 8Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. 12I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel                                                        Luke 15:1-10

1The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear {Jesus}. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”


I read a story the other day about a rookie umpire who stood behind the plate at his first game.  Legendary fastball pitcher Nolan Ryan was on the mound.  The second pitch of the game was so fast that the um­pire didn’t know where it was until he heard the “POP!” of the catcher’s mitt.  He froze.  Finally, he uttered a faint call: “Strike.”  The batter stepped out of the box, went over to the umpire, and patted him on the shoulder and said, “Don’t feel bad, sir, “I didn’t see it ei­ther.”  Someone commenting on this story, said, “Sometimes I feel like that rookie umpire when I try to keep up with the changes happening in our world.  Things are changing at fastball speed.”

While the fact that change is inevitable, the speed at which things are changing seems to be faster than ever.  It’s been said that we live in a time of transition.  Sometime back a list appeared of what the United States was like 100 years ago.  Here are some facts I thought you might find interesting.  

The average life expectancy in the U.S. one hundred years ago was 47.  Only 14% of the homes in the U.S. had a bathtub.  Only 8% of the homes had a telephone.  There were only 8,000 cars in the whole U.S. and only 144 miles of paved roads.  The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.  And believe it or not, Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee each were more heavily populated than California.  

The average wage in the U.S. was just $0.22 an hour.  Ninety per cent of all U.S. physicians had no college education.  Instead, they attended medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as “substandard.”  Most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.  The three leading causes of death in the US were: 1. Pneumonia & Influenza, 2. Tuberculosis and 3. Diarrhea.  The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30.  Only 6% of all Americans had graduated from high school.  And for me the most surprising statistic, there were only about 230 reported murders in the entire U.S.  Sadly, at the current rate, Charlotte is on track to have half that many this year alone! 

Considering the changes that have occurred in the past 100 years, think of what things will be like in another 100 years.  Whether we like it or not, things do change, and not always for the best.  However, that’s not a reason to fear change, because some changes are good.  Take the Hebrew people for example.

If you were to turn to the book of Joshua, you would read about a change that was happening in the life of the Israelites.  Leadership had been passed from Moses to Joshua.  The children of Israel had been wandered in the wilderness for forty years.  During this time God had provided for them, quite miraculously, with water, manna and quail.  Now the Israelites have entered the Promised Land and are beginning to take possession of it.  Then we come to an important verse, “The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year” (Joshua 5:12).  You see, God was still providing; He was simply doing the way He had done in the past.

As a fulfillment of His own covenant, God had brought them to the land He had promised to Abraham.  No longer would they gather manna each morning.  Instead, they would live in “a land with great and splendid cities that [they] did not build, with houses full of every good thing with which [they] did not fill, with wells that [they] did not dig, and with vineyards and olive groves that [they] did not plant” (Deut. 6:10b-11).  No longer would they be nomads in the wilderness; now they would be homesteaders, farmers, ranchers and city dwellers.  Yes, at times it was difficult.  At times it was challenging.  And like many transitions, it took more than one generation to accomplish it all.  And as we all know, most major transitions are difficult and can come with a certain level of anxiety.

Richard N. Foster in his book, Innovation, tells about watching the wonderful old musical Singin’ in the Rain with Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor. Suddenly he realized that it was all about the difficulty of change.  The plot focuses on two silent movie stars whose careers are threatened by a new technology–“talkies.”  Their friends tell them that moving pictures with sound will never sell, but soon all the Hollywood studios are trying to produce them.  These two stars try, too, but fail miserably.

For one thing, the microphones pinned to their clothes make loud noises every time they move.  But that’s because the technology of talkies was still being worked out.  They circumvent this difficulty, but then run into a really big problem:  the glamorous female star has a high, squeaky voice.  Audiences will laugh at her.  So, what did they do?  They got Debbie Reynolds to record her lines and sing for her.  A wonderful hybrid product and it worked.  At least for that one movie.  Then people found out it’s really Debbie, who was just as pretty, and she became the star.  The career of the beautiful blonde with the squeaky voice was over.  What happened in the movie, of course, happened in real life.  Many silent screen stars faded when talkies appeared.  Right here in this area of North Carolina, mill workers are just as familiar with the effects of technology and change as were the movie stars of old.

Cost of labor, automation, robotics, all contributed to the decline of the mill industry here in our area.  The effects can be seen in almost every town around here.  A recent estimate by an executive at General Motors is that GM employees need complete retraining every four years.  The message in business today is you better get with the program.  If you’re not willing to acquire new skills, you’ll be left behind.  Hans Finzel, in his book Change is Like a Slinky, puts it this way: “The future belongs to those who can adapt rapidly.  You’ve heard it before: The information explosion has simply resulted in too much data coming too fast for folks with slow reaction times.  Today that weekday edition of The New York Times lying on the sidewalk contains more data than the average seventeenth‑century human digested in a whole lifetime.”

Finzel continues, “Don’t laugh, my friend.  Because the same amount of change projected ahead into our future won’t take four hundred years.  It’ll take twenty‑five.  Which means by the time your son or daughter picks up your dog‑eared copy of this book twenty‑five years from now, he or she will have the same vantage point you have right now, over that hapless inhabitant of the 1600s.”  Kinda scares you doesn’t it?

Business consultant Tom Peters suggests that each one of us is an RDA.  RDA stands for a “Rapidly Depreciating Asset.”  How about that for a worrisome designation–a Rapidly Depreciating Asset?  In business terms, if we don’t grow and change and learn new things, then our skills will soon become obsolete.  Peters suggests that we counter our status as Rapidly Depreciating Assets by developing an RIP.  In this case RIP doesn’t mean Rest in Peace.  Instead, Peter’s RIP stands for “Renewal Investment Plan,” a well-defined plan for learning new things and facing new changes.  He suggests we ask ourselves each week, “What new thing have I learned this week?”  Look for new projects to do, new people to meet, new classes to take, new books to read, new places to go.  Every time you learn something new, you add to your Renewal Investment Plan.  Life is about transition and times of change can be difficult.  Another thing we need to acknowledge is that as we age, we begin to fear or be resistive of change.  

For those of us who grew up in a time prior to personal computers, we remember a time when things seemed to move at a more defined pace.  We entered into a career path, worked at the same company for decades and we retired.  We had a routine in the morning, and when we came home at night.  The Leave it to Beaver picture painted on TV was a reality.  Then came the computer age in the mid-80’s and things seemed to start moving ahead at the speed of sound.  The generations of the 90’s, 2000’s and beyond seem to know nothing but Warp speed change.  One supervisor I had was famous for telling us, “you either change with the times or you die.”  I think the tendency is for all of us to long for a time when we can become set in our ways.  This can, of course, be good, but it can also be bad.

The story is told of an elderly woman living in a remote valley in Wales who went to a lot of trouble to have electricity installed in her home.  Because she was the only customer in the area, installation was very expensive.  Three months later, according to her electric bill, she had consumed practically no electricity at all.  When asked whether the cost of installation was worthwhile, she said, “Oh, yes!”  “I switch the electricity on every night to see how to light my lamps.  Then I switch it off.”  I’m not so sure this lady was ready to embrace change.  On the downside, the wrong kind of change can disrupt society, it can disrupt what we know to be morally right.  On the other hand, a fear of change can make us complacent.  Resistance to change can lock us into a routine that means we refuse to remember why we do what we do. 

Dr. Mary Pipher tells a story she first heard in her undergraduate days in anthropology.  Missionaries who settled near a tribal culture gave the native women metal knives.  Prior to this the men had made knives from stone and this had been an important source of their power and wisdom.  But these new knives in the hands of the women were far superior.  This upset the gender balance of the villagers, and ultimately the society was disrupted.  Men’s rituals were rendered meaningless and the women’s place, while elevated, changed in ways that unsettled relationships with their families.  Unwittingly, the missionaries had overturned a culture.  If that can happen with a few metal knives, what about a culture in which we’re all bombarded with hundreds of new “tools” every decade?  On the other hand, too much change, can cause us to be so accepting, that we forget to ask the valid why questions.

Another problem that change brings, is we get so used to change that we fail to ask if the change is actually beneficial.  Take smoking for example.  For years the medical community has warned against the affects of smoking, not only to the one smoking, but to others as well.  In response, society changed its attitude and smoking decreased.  Then comes along, e-cigarettes.  These were supposed to help people quit smoking, or to allow people to smoke in a less harmful way.  As it turns out, the lack of regulations, the ability to use these devices with illegal or unapproved products has resulted in a boon of new smokers, especially young smokers, who are now being severely hurt or even killed by the product that was supposed to prevent this.  Being too accepting of change can have drastic consequences.  This includes our spiritual lives.

Over the past several decades we’ve seen a loosening of the traditional Biblical values not only in our personal lives, but in our churches and subsequently in our society as well.  These changes were ushered in for a variety of reasons, a few of them good, but many of them bad.  Most of the time these changes were cloaked in a mantel of necessity.  We were told that society was moving forward, and we needed to move forward with it.  These needed changes in many cases made us feel good or at worse, didn’t affect us, so we simply went along with them, never really asking why.  We became so used to being told what and how to think theologically, and as a result, we spent less and less time studying God’s word for ourselves. 

Churches became a place where we could come, participate in the liturgy, and we were told that we were good Christians so long as we remembered the poor, were basically good people and we didn’t do a list of certain things.  And to reinforce this attitude, we changed our liturgy to strengthen what was being taught.  We changed for the sake of change and in most cases, we never even bothered to ask why.  Well it’s now time for another change.  Or I should say, it’s time for a renewal.

If you were to look back at the Reformation, the reason Luther went up against the Catholic church was it had changed over the years in a bad way.  The local priests were, for all intents and purposes, Biblically illiterate.  The church only conducted mass in Latin, which the people never bothered to learn, so the people attended and simply went through the motions.  They were taught to do certain things and refrain from others, but few could read so they simply went with the flow.  Luther saw the need for change, and part of that change was to educate the people and give them a Bible they could read.  Luther knew that the direction of the church and of the laity needed to change: a renewal was needed and that meant going back to the basics and that was the traditional teachings of the Bible and the church.

This is why Luther spent so much time writing and distributing documents like the Small and Large Catechism.  He knew that for God’s people to regain their Biblical literacy, they needed to have the tools available to them, and they needed to use those tools.  But that change brought with it a disruption in families, in the church and in society.  Changes like this can upend power structures, the status some people enjoy, and the way society operates.  But as we see from history, that change was absolutely needed.  Now at this point you could very well be asking, pastor, where are you going with this?  Folks it’s time for a change.  It’s time for a renewal.  No, I’m not talking about changing denominations.  The change I’m talking about is being encouraged by our denomination. 

For the past 8 years, the NALC has been working hard to emphasize the need for making disciples.  And in response to this emphasis from the national church, I’ve been emphasizing it here.  Over and over again I’ve reminded you of the “Great Commission” that we’re called to go into all areas of our society and the world and make disciples.  Well the time has come that we put this command into practice and that means change.  We need to change the way we think and the way we see our world.

The renewal of the church means we need to break out of our comfort zones, get off the pew and actively seek opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a hurting world.  The renewal of the church means digging deeper into God’s word and making sure we understand what is expected of us, and of what God’s commands and statutes really are.  It means challenging society’s interpretation of the Bible and teaching others what the Bible really says.  The truth is, we need a renewal in the church, and of course we, you and I, are the church; we are the one who need to go out and begin a renewal in society.

Look around, society is filled with hate, anger, self-centeredness, corruption, envy, greed, sexual immorality, gluttony and laziness.  If this list sounds familiar, then you probably recognize these vices as the 7 deadly sins.  And in many cases the church has openly endorsed some of these sins.  What we need is a renewal; a renewal led by the Holy Spirit, that carries the fruit of the Spirit out into the world.  The world desperately needs the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23) that only God can give.  We need to take these desperately needed virtues out into a world and make disciples as Jesus commanded.  But for this to happen, we need to be willing to take up our cross and the changes that come with that call.

Will it be easy?  Jesus said no.  In our gospel lesson from last week (Luke 14:25-35), Jesus warned that taking up our cross could divide families; it could pit neighbor against neighbor, and could mean we would be ridiculed.  But this is the cost of discipleship.  History proves people don’t like their notions challenged nor do they like change, therefore, people will resist, sometimes violently.  They could very well resist, even when the change means undoing changes that have occurred.

Renewal in our churches and in society is desperately needed.  Biblical literacy is again at an all-time low and people need to hear the saving message we have to share.  But none of this will happen unless we’re willing to be renewed and accept the discomfort that comes with that change.  We live in a time of transition, a time of rapid change.  In times like these, people need something solid to hold on to.  The solid rock that we cling to is Jesus, the only begotten Son of the same God who supplied water and manna to a nation of runaway slaves 3,000 years ago and is the same God who is with you and me today.  Jesus also has another message of comfort for us today. 

Like the shepherd who left the 99 to search for the one, and like the woman who searched diligently until she found the lost coin, Jesus is just as determined to seek out and rescue the lost.  He does this through you and me, and for the lost to be found, we must be willing to be renewed and to reach out to those in need.


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