An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
The Word of the Lord.
From you comes my praise in the great assembly;
I will perform my vows in the sight of those who fear the Lord.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
Let those who seek the Lord give praise! May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
all the families of nations shall bow before God.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
who rules over the nations.
Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow down in worship;
all who go down to the dust, though they be dead, shall kneel before the Lord.
Their descendants shall serve the Lord,
whom they shall proclaim to generations to come.
They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying to them, “The Lord has acted!”
1 John 4:7-21
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
The Word of the Lord.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 15:1-8
[Jesus said:] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There are many – many ways to get a Lutheran all worked up. I know this to be true because I have been a card-carrying Lutheran my entire life!
First – you can skip the coffee during coffee hour. Coffee is the unofficial 3rd sacrament of the Lutheran Church. Lutherans have been taking coffee seriously since long before it was so trendy. We love our coffee and doughnuts. And our coffee and cake. And our coffee and cookies. And well – our coffee and our coffee!
It is the rare Lutheran who won’t at least warm her hands around a mug of coffee on a chilly Sunday morning (even if she can’t stand the actual taste of coffee)!
And change. Wow – does change really get Lutheran Christians all worked up! There are certain folks (who shall remain nameless) who still refer to me as “the new pastor” of Saint Stephen. And I have been hanging out with you guys for over 10 years now. Seriously – 10 years!
Speaking of our issues with change – – “We’ve never done it that way before . . .” is an incredibly common Lutheran refrain. Lutheran Christians say that phrase almost as often as we say “and also with you.”
If you think I am kidding or exaggerating – let me pour you a cup of coffee and I will tell you all about the time I naively (some might say foolishly) suggested that 20 minutes between worship services at my 2-point parish in northern Minnesota wasn’t enough time to make the commute between my 2 churches safely. Think very curvy country roads – surrounded by vast open fields – drifting snow – spotty cell phone reception and lots of lakes. All I wanted was an extra 10 minutes . . .
I was told “it hadn’t been done that way before. Furthermore – it hadn’t been a problem for the other (male) pastors.” And that “I should just drive FASTER!”
Seriously – the 2 church councils voted unanimously for speeding and law-breaking over a 10 minute time change.
Coffee is sacred to us. And change is an abomination in most Lutheran churches.
But if you really want to get Lutheran Christians all worked up and seriously bent out of shape – all you need to do – is merely suggest anything that even hints at “works righteousness!”
Seriously – if you want to send Lutherans into a full-on tizzy suggest their eternal salvation might depend on them “doing a little service for their Lord . . .” I absolutely – positively guarantee the metaphorical fur will fly!
Grace – grace – GRACE the Lutherans will declare (perhaps even shout!) We are saved by God’s great – glorious – awesome – amazing – merciful GRACE alone! We are NOT saved by our own human choices and actions. Nothing we do or say could ever save us. Nope – salvation is ALL about God. There is absolutely – positively NOTHING we can do to save ourselves. God saves us.
Not even Saint Paul – Saint Francis – Saint Stephen or Mother Teresa could save themselves and they were all seriously impressive Christians.
Nope – we human beings cannot save ourselves. Salvation is God’s great and glorious gift to us. God saves us from ourselves because he is gracious and merciful. God saves us because he loves us.
This is what we boldly declare whenever someone dares to suggest or to hint that human beings might need to do something to earn salvation or God’s favor.
And I wholeheartedly agree. Salvation is God’s blessed – awesome – gracious gift to us. We don’t earn salvation or choose salvation. Salvation is a gift. Salvation is a blessing.
But – far – far too often we get comfortable. We get complacent. We get just plain lazy. We take God’s gifts and blessings to us for granted over and over and over again.
Yes – our salvation is taken care of. No – we don’t need to do anything to earn God’s love or our place in heaven. Those are God’s gifts to us. But that doesn’t mean we should be sitting around doing nothing or next to nothing. God calls ALL of us be his disciples in this world.
And disciples do stuff. Disciples do lots of stuff. Disciples feed the hungry. Disciples help the sick and the downtrodden and the grieving and the weary. Disciples clothe the naked. Disciples share the Good News of God’s grace – love – and mercy. Disciples share and show God’s love.
Disciples makes sacrifices for the greater good.
It is not works righteousness to respond to God’s blessings.
It is not works righteousness to share and show God’s love.
It is not works righteousness to help others and make a difference in this world.
It is not works righteousness to serve our neighbors and our church in God’s name.
Jesus declares to us in our Gospel reading for this week – “My Father is glorified by this – that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
We should ask ourselves – are we bearing fruit in God’s name? Are we living as Jesus’ disciples in our daily lives? Are we living generous lives? Are we really and truly making time to serve our neighbors and God’s church?
Or do we instead find ourselves making excuses . . .
We are called to bear fruit. We are called to be branches that grow and flourish and do things in this world for our God.
You can do this. You can serve. You can answer God’s call to be generous people. You can share your blessings. You can be God’s disciples. You can bear fruit.
Truly this is Good News. Amen.