Monday, November 20, 2017

Sermon - November 19, 2017, Proper 28A

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; Psalm 90; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, STS, November 19, 2017

‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:14-30)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

‘I believe that God has created me together with all that exists.
God has given me and still preserves my body and soul;
eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses;
reason and all mental faculties.
In addition, God daily and abundantly provides
shoes and clothing, food and drink,
house and farm, spouse and children,
fields, livestock, and all property,
along with all that is necessary and needful for this body and life.
God protects me against all danger and defends and preserves me from all evil.
All this God does out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy,
without any worthiness or merit of mine at all!
I therefore owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him.
This is most certainly true.’

This part of Luther’s Catechism, explaining the first article of the Creed,
was memorized by children for generations.
It is a triumphant song of thanksgiving and trust in a good God
who provides for his people,
who gives them everything they need,
who acts as a loving father to his beloved children.
If we have this good God,
would we not as a natural response thank and praise, serve and obey him?
Loyalty begets loyalty.
Trustworthiness begets trust,
Faithfulness begets faith.

The first two slaves have these kinds of hearts.
Both the one entrusted with five talents of money
and the one entrusted with two talents
trust that the master knows what he is doing,
and that he desires not only his benefit,
but their benefit; their success.
They are quick to act because they have confidence.

I love words, and the word ‘confident’
combines the Latin prefix ‘con’
which can mean ‘with’ or ‘joining together;’
think ‘confluence’ or ‘conjoin’
with the word ‘fide’ which means ‘faith’ or ‘trust.’
The first two slaves act with confidence in the master,
their faith in him is joined up with his faith in them.

But the third slave in the parable Jesus tells
does not believe in the God Luther tells us about in the Catechism.
Listen to his words about the master in the parable:
‘I knew that you were a harsh man,
reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not scatter seed,
so I was afraid, and hid what was yours in the ground.’

He who was given the one talent to trade with until his master returns
believes that the master does not provide for him,
is jealous of the gifts that the other two have received,
and believe that he has been set up to fail.
And so he does not thank and praise, serve and obey the master.
He does not act for the master’s advantage,
but for his own safety and security.

In fact, it is not the ability of the slaves
that is the true difference between them.
It is in their attitudes.
It is in their concepts of who their master is.
It is in their hearts.
It is in their confidence in the master.

But why should the third man be confident?
After all, he has not received the five talents, nor the two.
He has received one measly talent.
No wonder he has no faith in the master,
and has to put his faith in his own ability to keep himself safe.

The third slave accuses the master of being unjust.
Is this true?
True, the master does not give him as much money to trade with as he does the others,
but he gives ‘to each according to his ability.’
If the master were unjust,
if he truly were setting him up to fail,
he would have given ten talents to the man who only could have handled one.
So the accusation of injustice falls short of the mark.

I have, in the past, been critical of a popular phrase,
‘God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.’
If a person burdened with grief, depression, or fear
is given this slogan,
it might not be a helpful word.
But when we are faced with the question of who we are,
and called to invest our lives in God’s service,
it can be quite a helpful word.

God knows who we are,
God has created us,
Nothing we do in God’s service is wasted.
He frees us from worry about ourselves,
for he has given us gifts according to our abilities.
We can have confidence in him,
and therefore throw ourselves into the life that is joy;
a life of thanking and praising God,
serving and obeying him.

So what is your concept of God?
Who is the God you believe in?
Is it the one who is a hard master,
who will judge you for every mess-up you make,
and so it’s better not to reach out,
not to do something outside your comfort zone,
not to give away without hope of getting back,
not to risk getting hurt and being tired
and not knowing whether or not you’re doing the right thing?

Or is it the one who has created you,
who has given you everything you need to know him
and to love him and to love your neighbor as yourself?
Is it the one in whom you can put your confidence,
because when he tells you, ‘Do something for me,’
he has given you exactly what you need to do it?

Isn’t that a joyful vision of God?
When the master says to the faithful, to the confident slaves,
‘Enter into the joy of your master,’
it is because the slaves already were living in his joy.

Let’s not waste time thinking about the times
we have been fearful and self-invested,
because we’ve all been there.
At least I have been.
But let us joyfully and confidently confess,
‘For all that God has freely given out of pure, divine, and fatherly goodness and mercy,
I owe it to him to thank and praise, serve and obey him.
This is most certainly true.’

Monday, November 13, 2017

Sermon November 12, 2017

Amos 5:18-24; Psalm 70; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, STS

‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.”But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.' Matthew 25:1-13

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ten people were invited to a wedding, and the wedding day came,
and five of them had gifts ready and five did not.
Certainly they couldn’t piggyback on someone else’s gift,
and so the five rushed off to get what they needed.
And while they were at Wal-Mart,
dodging the other customers,
desperately searching for something, anything appropriate,
the wedding occurred,
and the reception took place,
and the five wise ones celebrated and ate and drank and danced with the happy couple,
sharing in their joy;
and when the five foolish came with their presents,
cheaply bought and hastily wrapped,
they found, to their great confusion and consternation,
that the party was over, and that they had missed the whole thing.

The bride and the bridegroom had left for the honeymoon,
and the happy guests had all gone home;
there was nothing left to eat or drink,
no music or dancing; nothing left to celebrate.
Only five foolish ones looking foolishly at each other,
embarrassed, ashamed, alone,
with their suddenly useless party clothes
and utterly meaningless gifts.

Well, this story is a little unrealistic.
The story Jesus tells is a little unrealistic too.
Parables aren’t always realistic.
But they do make a point.
The celebration is going to happen,
and when it happens, we’d best be ready to celebrate,
or we’ll miss it.

The celebration is the reunion of heaven and earth,
that time when there is no evil or death or sin.
God is the one who will reunite heaven and earth
through his Son Jesus Christ.
Because Jesus was born, and was died, and was raised,
his kingdom has already invaded the earth,
the reunion has already begun.

But it is not completed;
it is not fully realized.
If we look around at the world, we can certainly tell that.
If we look into our lives, we can certainly tell that.
God is still working; through his Spirit he moves in our lives,
he moves in the world.
Even though the kingdom is present,
it is still to come.

So Jesus’ command is ‘keep alert.’
Some people take Jesus at his word.
They buy up the books about the Rapture and the tribulation
and see every bad event in the world
as the sign that everything is getting worse and worse
and hope that Jesus will come soon to get us out of this mess.
I sympathize with that.
The whole Christian church prays, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’
And yet, I don’t think that’s what’s meant here.

Because keeping alert is not simply counting the days on the calendar,
saying, ‘Maybe it will be tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day.’
I wonder if, in Jesus’ parable,
the foolish bridesmaids were like that.
‘Surely he’ll come in the next hour, or the next, or the next’
and meanwhile they had forgotten the most important thing,
the oil they needed for their lamps
to welcome the bridegroom whenever he arrived.

You can get exhausted by the things of the world.
You can lose your faith when a terrible event occurs,
You can wait and wait and wait for the tide to turn,
but when the fullness of the kingdom is delayed,
it can be overwhelming.
This is what the evil one counts upon.

I am reminded of the story of James Stockdale,
In 1965, he was shot down over North Vietnam 
and imprisoned for years in the place
which became infamous as the ‘Hanoi Hilton.’
Much later, when he had been released and completed his service,
having become an Admiral after almost literally having been to hell and back,
he was asked by an interviewer,
How did he make it through his torture and confinement?

"I never lost faith in the end of the story," 
was Stockdale's answer.
"I never doubted not only that I would get out,
but also that I would prevail in the end
and turn the experience 
into the defining event of my life,
which, in retrospect, I would not trade."

Stockdale, second from left

His interviewer asked him, "Who didn't make it out?"
and Admiral Stockdale replied immediately:
"Oh, that's easy. The optimists...
They were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.'
And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go.
Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.'
And Easter would come, and Easter would go.
And then Thanksgiving,
and then it would be Christmas again.
And they died of a broken heart."

"This is a very important lesson.
You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end –
which you can never afford to lose –
with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality,
whatever they might be."[1]

Jesus speaks to the people exhausted by life,
who will become weary in the midst of the world,
who despair that they don’t receive what they feel they need,
physically, emotionally, spiritually,
and who in their darkest moments wonder if God will provide.

Title: Lamp of Wisdom
[Click for smaller image view]He promises them that the celebration will occur,
that the kingdom will indeed come in its fullness,
and calls them to keep a candle of faith lit until that day.
To carry themselves 
if though the kingdom is fully present,
even when it is not evident.
To live as God’s children in the world,
letting their light shine before others,
so that others may see their good works
and glorify their Father who is in heaven.

That is wisdom, to trust in God’s promises 
and to act accordingly,
no matter what the external circumstance.
To feel sorry for oneself is foolish;
to let yourself go under difficulties is foolish.
It takes discipline to make it through these times.
Jesus’ words are encouragement for us 
to keep the lamp lit.

But those who are comfortable with the world as it is,
and with their lives as they are,
are also like the foolish bridesmaids,
who will have no oil in their lamps at the celebration.
Those do not mourn, with Jesus, 
the evil and sadness in the world and in their hearts
and simply take what they can get
and become judges with hardened hearts,
they will miss the celebration of the new world,
because they love the old world
where there are just winners and losers, and they are winners.
We must take this warning to heart,
for those who exalt themselves will be humbled
and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

But those who mourn shall be comforted.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be satisfied.
Those who yearn for the celebration
and live lives of faith and discipline in this world,
being the hands and feet of Christ until he comes again,
will be those who rejoice when all comes to fruition.

Finally, what about those of us who believe,
who want to keep the lamp of faith going in times of doubt and despair,
but who feel as if the disappointment is too much?
We are encouraged to look for the light in the world
that can never be put out,
and for signs of God’s goodness and mercy
wherever we can find them.
We need, with this word of God, to hear another word from God
about Jesus and a light.
‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles…
He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick
until he brings justice to victory.’

Do not be foolish, but be wise.
Keep your head up.
Be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.
Do the work.
Keep the candle lit.
And never lose faith in the end of the story.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Sermon Reformation Sunday October 29, 2017

(Note: this was the sermon that was written. The actual sermon was truncated due to the fact that my voice was completely shot. I tried to keep the good part.)

In 1817, the three-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation
was celebrated as Europe was in the midst of the Age of Enlightenment,
Such things as so-called religious superstition, belief in miracles,
were being downgraded in support of a rational Christianity,
a scientific approach to the world.
The Reformation was remembered
as the beginning of the epoch of the freedom of thought,
to liberate the world from the Dark Ages.

In 1917, the four-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation
was observed in Germany during the fourth year of World War I;
Martin Luther was cast primarily as a patriotic German figure;
the man who translated the Bible into his mother tongue,
creating the modern German language;
who liberated Germany from the encroachment of foreigners.

In 2017, there are a couple of things I’ve noticed.
First off, the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation is being sold.
It’s been a way to get tourists to ‘Luther-land,’
to Wittenberg where he supposedly nailed his Theses to the church door
and to the Castle Church where he translated the Bible.

 And I’ve been getting advertisements for about a year
to buy Reformation coffee mugs and T-shirts
and special stoles for pastors and shot glasses and beer steins
and to advertise them to my church.
I haven’t passed any of these on
because I don’t really think the Reformation is about beer steins.
But maybe I was wrong!
Maybe you would have liked a 500th anniversary beer stein.
If so, you can get one yourself.
Just Google ‘Reformation Beer Stein.’
Hey, maybe you’ll get a few years off purgatory if you buy it!

In 2017, we have been reading in the newspapers
of the rapprochement between Rome and the Reformation churches.
At many events, Roman Catholics and Lutherans
have been commemorating the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation.
That word is chosen very, very carefully,
instead of the word celebrate.
For it is indeed one of the sad outcomes of the controversies of 500 years ago
that the unity of the church in the West was broken;
despite Jesus’ prayer ‘that they may all be one.’
How can we ‘celebrate’ the disunity of the One Church?
But we can certainly commemorate the good stuff together
and rejoice in how far we’ve come.

And yet, there are those Roman Catholics out there
who don’t like all this ‘Luther was really an OK guy’ stuff.
That’s okay, for there are lots of Lutherans out there (maybe even in here!)
who are less than comfortable with all this cozying up to Rome.
As a fellow seminarian said to me sixteen years ago,
during planning for a joint Roman Catholic-Lutheran service,
‘Whatever happened to Luther was right?
So at the same time there are calls for unity,
there’s also more calls to strengthen our own separate identity.

And what will it be like one hundred years from now,
when the Reformation turns 600?
I wonder if Christians will really be interested.
After all, in one hundred years,
most Christians in the world will likely be African, Asian, or Latin American,
and they might or might not give much thought to an ancient European dispute.
But, then again, none of us will be around to find out!

You didn’t necessarily come to church today for a history lesson.
But you got a little bit of one anyway.
And it’s important to think about,
because what is the Reformation all about?
What should it be about?

Is Reformation Day our ‘Independence Day?’
A day to sing the Lutheran national anthem,
A Mighty Fortress is Our God?
A day to say, ‘Whatever happened to ‘Luther was right?’

Is Reformation a principle by which we may live our lives;
that we should be about abandoning tradition to embrace new thought?
That’s how some people view it.
Since Luther supposedly used drinking songs to set his hymns to music,
we ought to write pop music, or some such other thing.
Did Luther really use drinking songs, Joyce?
Yeah, I didn’t really think so.

No, Reformation was not about the triumph of reason over superstition,
nor was it about German national identity,
nor is it about proudly trumpeting our fading Lutheran heritage
with the latest commemorative bauble.

It’s not our ‘Independence Day’ as a church,
nor is it a principle by which we can live our lives.

The Reformation was –
the Reformation is –
about one thing only,
about one person only –
Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther and the other Reformers wrote what they wrote
and said what they said and did what they did
so that the people could encounter Jesus and come to faith in him;
come to call his Father ‘Our Father,’
and be filled with his Spirit,
and fear, love and trust him in all things.
Anything that obscured or prevented the encounter with Jesus,
whether it be indulgences,
or tradition, or church hierarchy,
was to be challenged.
And anything which proclaimed Jesus was to be lifted up.

In hearing the Word preached, we encounter Jesus.
In reading the Scripture, we encounter Jesus.
In the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion, we encounter Jesus.  
Jesus who died and was raised for us,
who forgives us our sins
and sets us free from the curse of the Law;
who rescues us from death and the devil
and calls us to follow him in discipleship.

When we are encountering Jesus
as proclaimed in Scripture and sermon
and mediated by the Sacraments
then reformation happens.
We as individuals are re-formed,
in that by the Spirit of Jesus we are led into newness of life,
led to faith in the God who reconciles us
and to do works that serve the neighbor.
And we as the Church are reformed,
that our life together may proclaim Jesus and serve Jesus,
using whatever facilitates the encounter with Jesus.

What was the Reformation of five hundred years about?
It was about Jesus.
And it’s still about him.
Wherever he is proclaimed, wherever he is encountered,
then the Church is still being reformed,
because he is reforming us,
as a church around him, as people into his image and likeness.

We talk about Martin Luther and the others as Reformers of the Church;
but there is One Reformer of the Church –
the one whom they and we worship and praise –
even Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Holy Week Worship Services

Our Holy Week services are as follows.

Maundy Thursday service: 7:30 pm April 13
Good Friday services: 12:30 pm April 14
                                       7:30 pm April 14
Easter Vigil: 6:30 pm April 15
Easter Sunday: 10:30 am April 16

We hope you will worship with us as we celebrate our God's saving acts in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Congregational Sign-Up for Photo Directory

Members of St Stephen may sign-up HERE to make an appointment to have their portrait taken for the upcoming portrait directory.

Sessions are available on Monday, May 22, and Tuesday, May 23, from 2-8:45 p.m.

If you have any questions, please e-mail the church office or contact Kathy Tarullo at 412-720-4132.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Walk for Water 2017

St Stephen Lutheran Church is hosting a water walk to support Water Mission. The goal of this walk is to raise money and awareness to support women and children in third world countries who have to walk several miles almost every day just to supply water to their families.

 Our walk will be held in Scott Township starting at our church on Sunday April 30th 2017. We will start gathering at 12:30 pm and the walk will begin at 1:00 pm. If you would like to take part in the water walk, please fill out the form below. Teams can be as small as two people, but as large as you want.

 Registration cost is $20.00 per team. Please pre-register so that we have an accurate count, however registrations will be accepted at the event.

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