"God Comes with a Community"#89-41
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 12, 2022
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Acts 2:38-39
He was Korean, elderly, in his 70s maybe. He stepped out of his workshop. He was wearing an apron and the weathered features of his face wore the lines of 1,000 stories. He looked at my boots and said, "I can fix them. No problem. You come back next week."
I had this pair of combat boots. The sole was coming undone and flapping as I walked along. I was going to throw them away, but someone on base said I should take them to Mr. Kim. When I came back the following week, the boots were as good as new. When Mr. Kim saw I was satisfied with his work, he invited me to come back into his workshop, to sit down with him and share a cup of tea. It is amazing what you can learn about someone over a cup of hot tea.
I learned that Mr. Kim hadn't always been a cobbler. He had once been an officer in the South Korean military, a general. In the decade following the Korean War, there was severe political and social upheaval in the newly formed Republic of Korea. In the early 1960s, South Korea saw riots, demonstrations, a democratic revolution, and a military coup all in the span of a few years. In the midst of this turmoil, Mr. Kim's position was liquidated and he was thrown out like an old pair of combat boots. Years later, he and his family immigrated to the United States and they started a new life. It's amazing what you can learn about someone over a cup of tea.
You could probably tell me stories like this, stories of people that you've met who've become more fascinating the longer you've talked with them, the longer you've known them. Human beings are complex. The most complex creature in the universe, so far as we know. Not only biologically complex, but at the level of the soul, the personality shaped by a life story that's still being written. And it takes time to take in who a person was, and is, and will be. How much more for the One who created them?
Peter looked out over the crowd. Jerusalem will was crowded because of the holy day, because of the Jewish festival. On this street corner alone, a crowd of 1,000 or more had gathered together. Peter didn't just see a crowd though. He saw faces, the lines of which told 1,000 stories. Some he knew. Some he didn't, but he wanted to. He knew that God had given every one of them as his brother, his sister, and he wanted to know them. He wanted to know them all. And he wanted them to know Whom he knew. Jesus had appeared to Peter, after He had been raised from the dead, after He had been crucified, after Peter had denied that he knew Him. Three times, he denied Him.
When Jesus met Peter, He wasn't angry. He wasn't going to liquidate him like a bad investment. He looked at Peter as though He could read every line on his face and delighted in all the stories they would tell. Jesus had told him when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. So when Peter addressed this crowd that day, people that he knew were directly or indirectly responsible for the death of Jesus, he wasn't angry. He called them "brothers." His words to them are recorded in the ancient account of Jesus first followers titled the Acts of the Apostles, chapter two.
Picture Peter there, outside the house, on the street in Jerusalem, surrounded by people. And he says to them, "Men of Israel, listen to these words, Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know. This Jesus delivered up according to the precise plan and prior knowledge of God. You crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised Him from the dead, setting Him free from the agony of death, because it was not possible for death to keep its hold on Him. God raised this Jesus to life. And we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, Jesus received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out the Spirit as you now see and hear. So let all the house of Israel know for certain, this Jesus whom you a crucified, God made Him both Lord and Christ the Messiah."
Now, when they heard this, they were cut to the heart. And they said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent, turn back to God, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Because the promise is for you, for all of you, and for your children, for all who are far off, for everyone, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself." And with many other words, Peter bore witness to them and kept pleading with them saying, "Be saved from this crooked generation." So those who received His word were baptized and there were added that day about 3,000 persons, 3,000 souls.
It had only been a few days earlier, Peter was reclining at the table with the others, with Jesus. He had to pinch himself. Am I dreaming? He thought. Is He really alive? Peter and the others had spent the better part of three years following Jesus around Galilee. Sometimes it felt like wandering around Galilee, and they were just beginning to learn who He is.
Jesus told them what would happen on the way to Jerusalem the last time. He told them that the Christ, the Messiah, would suffer. And on the third day, rise and that repentance, turning back to God for the forgiveness of sins, would be proclaimed in His Name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Only now were they starting to understand. Jesus had told them you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. What did it mean? Jesus had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove and a voice like thunder came from a heaven saying, "You are My beloved Son. With You, I am well pleased." And now, Jesus says all of His followers will be baptized with the Holy Spirit—that we would be like Jesus. All this was too much for Peter. He didn't know whether to stand and sing or fall on his face in worship. So he just soaked up Jesus' every word and asked questions, lots of questions. And he watched his Lord teach them, watching Jesus read the lines on their faces. And he waited for whatever Jesus would do next.
Isaiah waited to die. Seven hundred years before Peter was born, Isaiah closes his eyes face down on the cold stone floor of the temple in Jerusalem waiting to be liquidated. His eyes had seen the glory of the Lord. Awesome in power, high and exalted. Not like the gods of the nations—gods you could pluck up off the shelf and push around in a cart—Isaiah had seen the one true God, just a glimpse of Him. And that was enough to flatten him and fill him with awe as the six wings seraphs cried, "Holy, holy, holy." So loudly their voices made the mighty doors of the temple rattle in their hinges, "Who is holy like the Lord. There is none like the Lord."
During the Cold War, the one that ensued after the conflict in Korea, my father served in the military. When I was a kid, my dad seemed larger than life to me. Seeing him in his fatigues and his combat boots filled me with awe. But as a teenager, my father wasn't as awe inspiring as he used to be. It's like how Mark Twain once said. "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could barely stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years." I joined the military myself when I was 18, still a few years shy of Twain's epiphany. I was big enough to fill my own pair of combat boots. And I thought that I had heard all my father's stories and I had outgrown all his wisdom and I was done listening to him. The leaders in Israel had decided that they were done listening to Jesus. They had heard all that they wanted to hear. They had God figured out and they were done with Jesus.
He didn't fit the bill. So they liquidated Him. What about you? Have you heard all you wanted to hear about God? Is He just a foreigner in an apron, a cobbler for the soul, an old investment you can liquidate, something you pluck up off the shelf and push in a cart? Peter stood in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago and told us about God. Not the God we wanted, not the God we imagined, not the God we bargained for, but the God who is holy—was, is, and always shall be. The Bible describes God as Three-in-One. The technical terminology is Trinity, which means that God is three personal beings who are so eternally united in nature and purpose that they are in essence One.
The church devoted about 300 years working out the terminology to say what God is and what God isn't. New generations in the church have devoted 2,000 years to learning and relearning how to say what God is. But our joy, our eternal joy is to know who God is and who we will be in Him. The terminology about God is important because it says that God is not just holy, but that He comes with a community.
God is not some thing. God is some One—someone relatable, knowable, personal, someone who would sit down with you over a cup of tea and share a story. Before God the Father created all things with His Son and His Spirit, He wasn't bored. He wasn't reclusive or self-absorbed. God wasn't and isn't a hermit. From eternity, God is the God of community and conversation. He's the wise Father to whom we can turn. And in Jesus and the Spirit, the Father made a way for you, not a private spirituality, but a way into a community that we call the church.
And what about those people around you: the friend, the foe, the foreigner? They're not your enemies. They're not obstacles. They're not assets you can liquidate. They are persons made in God's likeness—knowable, relatable persons for whom Jesus died and rose each one called by God, each with a name each with a purpose each with an eternal story that is still being written. So, sit down with him, sit down with her, share a cup of tea, and say a prayer to your Father together. Get to know each other in the Name of Jesus and by His Spirit. Amen? Amen.
Let's pray now. Dear Father, help me know You more and help me know the people You have created through Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Reflections for June 12, 2022
Title: God Comes with a Community
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. And now back to our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Today, I'm visiting with Dr. Dean Nadasdy, a longtime pastor and professor in our church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and a welcome guest speaker on this program. Thanks for joining us again, Dean.
Dean Nadasdy: Great to be with you, Mike.
Mike Zeigler: Dean, in your many years of service, is it coming up on 50, 50 years of ordained service?
Dean Nadasdy: Wow! You're pretty good at that. Yeah, in 2023, it'll be 50 years. Yeah, we're getting close.
Mike Zeigler: That's amazing.
Dean Nadasdy: Makes me feel really old.
Mike Zeigler: Well, seasoned, wise.
Dean Nadasdy: There we go. Okay.
Mike Zeigler: So in those years, you've done a lot of different kinds of work for the Lord and his church. You've worked as a district president, one of the positions you've held more recently. And that means, for those who aren't familiar, you're sort of a pastor to the pastors in your region. And another one of your duties as a district president was to help congregations who were seeking a new pastor. So as you walked with those congregations through that process, I've heard you say that, and I've heard other people in your position say that one of the most sought after qualities in a new pastor, from their calling congregations are "dynamic preachers." What was your council, your normal response to them?
Dean Nadasdy: Well, I heard "dynamic preachers" so much that would come off a list of 25 qualities of a pastor we'd put in front of a call committee or search committee and repeatedly number one was dynamic preacher. And so I finally got to the point of saying, well, we preachers would surely appreciate a few dynamic listeners out there as well. So that was the idea of the need to really work at listening.
Out of that experience, we developed some workshops in the district that I was serving on dynamic listening for lay leaders and lay people who were interested in it. We began developing a list that's gotten longer and longer. But some of the kinds of things we talk about for dynamic listening is nurturing and delight in the Word, really loving the Word, wanting to know it, maybe even wanting to memorize it because you treasure it so much. That's an important quality of a dynamic listener. We talked about the need to get that text of your preacher ahead of time and spend some time in that text, read it out loud, listen to yourself reading it. If it's a short text, think about committing it to memory. That's another good thing to do. We talked about the need to be a Christological listener. Somebody who's always asking the question during a sermon: "Why is Christ necessary at this point in the sermon? Why do I need Jesus at this point?" Primarily a dynamic listener comes to a sermon having looked at the text and having actually brought their needs to that text. Luther had this wonderful phrase on "anfechtung" in German, which means their hardship, their struggle to a text. And so they come having immersed themselves in the text ready to listen. And along the way, they're asking questions of the sermon as well. Those are just a few glimpses into what ended up being a Saturday morning workshop on dynamic listening to sermons.
Mike Zeigler: So it wasn't just a dismissive comment, this thing about having dynamic listeners. You truly were equipping people to be dynamic listeners as they sought a new pastor.
Dean Nadasdy: Well, at first it was kind of a snarky comment, actually. And I think I eventually saw that if you're going to tell people to be dynamic listeners, would be good to give them some helps with that. So out of that came some actual curricula that we developed to help make that happen. Yeah.
Mike Zeigler: As I listened to you describe some of those practices, it really sounds like what you're asking the listeners to do is to think like a preacher, to collaborate in some ways with the preacher. So that it's not just a solo activity of the guy who has to stand up there and keep our attention for 18 to 20 minutes or whatever it is. But it's something that the people would do with the preacher. Is that, is that a right way of thinking about this?
Dean Nadasdy: That's exactly right, that preaching is an interactive process that the preacher depends on the listener to put to work the words that he's bringing so that the preacher and the listener are working together for an outcome of the sermon. And the outcome may differ from person to person. That person who's receiving the sermon brings to the sermon, their needs. And you've had this happen. I certainly have where somebody says after a sermon, "Pastor, when you were talking about such and such, you spoke right to my heart." And you're thinking, "Well, I don't remember making that point in the sermon. Well, how could that happen?" It happens because the listener to the sermon brought their needs to that text and found those needs ministered to, by the words of the text and by the words of the preacher. And that's a wonderful thing when it happens like that, and you praise God for that, because it's something you didn't really plan in your sermon.
Mike Zeigler: I often hear people comment on how a particular sermon fed them or nourished them. But this conversation is making me think about how does a sermon bind me to other people, not just feed me internally, but make me want to lock arms and walk with other people. One of the ways that I think that can happen is through the conversation that goes on after the sermon and in my household and growing up a common question was simply, "Well, what did you think of the sermon?" And I've found that that question doesn't always spark much conversation. There usually has to be follow-up questions, because someone'll say, "Good," or, "So, so." What might be some more dynamic questions that we could ask each other to help gather around what we've heard in the sermon?
Dean Nadasdy: It was not uncommon when people would come out of church and say, "Good sermon, pastor." My response was often, "We'll see." Just to say, "We'll see how this works out in your life, because that ultimately is what matters, not just this moment as you walk out of church. But what are you going to do with the message you had?" I remember when I was teaching homiletics full time, so often I would write at the end of a sermon manuscript, "So what? So what do I do with this now?" And the preacher can help us think about that during the sermon. But if not, then the onus is on me to decide so what. What do I do with this truth or these truths that God has brought to me through today's sermon? So how do I respond to the sermon is a good thing.
And I think the other thing is the conversation that can happen out of a sermon gives it legs afterwards. So just as we talked before about a sermon having life before delivery, as the listener prepares to hear the sermon, on the other side of it, talking about the sermon with someone really helps. And I grew up in a family that after church on Sunday, we'd gather around the table and almost without exception, we talked about the pastor sermon and we processed it among ourselves.
And so that sermon continued to kind of take root in our lives for that coming week as we applied it to ourselves. The truth is a lot of hearers have to work pretty hard at that. A lot of our pastors aren't necessarily always going to just spoon feed us on, "Here are the six responses to the single propositional truth of the sermon." Rather it's going to be a matter of people conversing around it and then taking it even to people at work or people at school and talking about the sermon you heard and using it as a tool for witness can be a really strong help in terms of giving the sermon some life after delivery.
Mike Zeigler: Were there specific questions that you found are helpful to giving that conversation about the sermon life and legs?
Dean Nadasdy: You know, at our church there's always a little sermon card that we get as we go out of church. And that has just that. It has some questions that are usually raised in a variety of ways, different language each week, but pretty much what they're saying is, "What one truth will you take from this sermon into your life? How different will you be because of today's sermon? How will you respond to today's sermon in real practical ways? Those kind of questions just prompt you to have to process the sermon into your life. And again, we've talked about the need for a sermon to be a dialogue, and in this case it very much is a dialogue where the onus is now put on the listener to put this sermon to work in their lives.
Mike Zeigler: I'm thinking back to our prior conversation we had a couple weeks ago about imagination, and that might be another avenue is to ask, "What did the sermon help you see?"
Dean Nadasdy: Definitely, yeah. Again, the whole visual faith movement that's so active right now in helping people visualize sermons to don't necessarily write words down as you're listening, but draw images that are there from the sermon and take those images now after the sermon and look at them. And I've looked at some of those people who have some artistic skills, they're just amazing to look at this sheet that's full of six, seven, eight different images that were raised by the text or the sermon for that day. But that ends up being kind of a keeper piece through the week that you can use for personal meditation and prayer to keep the sermon alive during the week as well.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you for joining us in this conversation about how we can be more dynamic listeners and as a community of listeners.
Dean Nadasdy: Thanks for having me. Great to be with you, Mike.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)