Sermon: Wash Your Hands & Flush

January 14, 2019 by  
Filed under Sermons

January 13, 2019, Baptism of our Lord
Preacher: Vicar Maria Bonine
Scripture: Matthew 3:1-17

Nine-Week Series: All I Need to Know I Learned from Jesus
Week 2: Wash your hands before you eat. Flush.

Sermon: Watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together

January 7, 2019 by  
Filed under Pastor's Corner, Sermons

January 6, 2019, Epiphany
Preacher: Pastor Matthew Poock
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-23

Nine-Week Series: All I Need to Know I Learned from Jesus
Week 1: Watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together

Sermon: Jesus’ Family Tree

January 2, 2019 by  
Filed under Sermons

December 30, 2018
Preacher: Vicar Maria Bonine
Scripture: Matthew 1:1-17

Sermon: Home For Christmas

December 25, 2018 by  
Filed under Pastor's Corner, Sermons

December 24, 2018
Preacher: Pastor Matthew Poock
Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
Christmas Eve: Home for Christmas

Living Generously

October 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Pastor's Corner

Download: Living Generously

I’m a frugal person. To say it positively, I am fiscally conservative. You might even call me cheap. I would rather eat at home than spend money at a restaurant. (Plus, my wife is a good cook.) I would rather buy something used than new. I’d rather buy nothing at all! Shopping is not fun for me. I toil over my purchases. Do I really need this? Is it really worth the cost? What’s the best deal?

If it weren’t for the grace of God, I would be downright miserly. But for years God has been working on my heart to be more generous. Instead of turning away a child with a catalog at the door, lately I’m more apt than ever to support the fundraiser with a purchase (though not the most expensive one). Instead of letting the offering plate pass by, as I did for years before I was a pastor, we use Simply Giving and put it in our household budget. Instead of recycling the appeal letter from my college, we now plan ahead for gifts to the organizations that matter to us.

I don’t want to live my life with a closed hand. I don’t want “cheap” to be one of the words used in my eulogy. I want to model generous living for my children, so they can know the joy of giving. Social science research has found that money makes us most happy when we give it away. Have you seen those “Live Generously” shirts, with a cross and a heart? I have two (they were free), and I like the reminder. I feel a kinship with the people wearing them. Life is best when we live generously.

My wife inspires me with her generosity. Case in point. A roofing crew was working on the house next door. She saw them break for lunch but not for supper. It was getting dark. She imagined they had to commute home. So she prepared a basket of fruit, granola bars, cheese sticks and more and took it over to the crew. I wouldn’t have thought to do that. Did they need it? We don’t know. But she joyfully lived with generosity.

A few weeks ago a church member came up to me with a check for $1000. She and her husband already give regularly to the church, but she had gotten a bonus at work. She wanted to give the church a portion. She said, “I can’t imagine my life without St. John’s.” We didn’t ask for her gift, but she knew we’d use it for God’s work. She delighted in giving to God who has given so much to her. Her generous gift is inspiring.

During our VBS week, our children generously supported a project called “The Shoe That Grows.” It’s an organization that developed, makes, and distributes adjustable shoes for children in need. One pair of shoes is $15. Our kids gave over $1200 to purchase 84 pairs of shoes! When we were celebrating the news during the Saturday worship service, a church member came up and gave enough to make it an even 100 pairs of shoes! Another generous gift that inspires me.

Living generously is not just about money. Time is even more valuable than money. There’s no way to get more time – we all have just 24 hours a day. A family contacted me during a particularly busy week for me and offered to watch our kids so I could go see my wife’s theater production. On another occasion, someone brought me lunch when I didn’t get a break on a full day. This is generous living, and such gifts not only bless other people, but also they inspire us all.

Because our congregation is growing, and our finances are healthy, my colleagues have asked me what “stewardship program” we use. “How do you encourage increased offerings?” I tell them that we don’t do much around “programs,” and we don’t use pledge cards. What do we do? We inspire each other. We have a culture of generosity. We do great ministry together. We seek to be the best church we can be. We do God’s work. We celebrate what God is doing among us. So far, the Holy Spirit has worked on our hearts (mine included) and inspired us to grow in generosity. By God’s grace, we’ve grown our ministry and our impact. That is something for which I give thanks.

In Christ,

Pastor Matthew Poock

“Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
-Acts 20:35

Raising Children in Church

September 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Pastor's Corner

Download: Raising Children in Church

It happened again recently. A woman told me that she never participated in church as a child because her parents had given her the choice. Since her parents didn’t go to worship, it’s not surprising that she also “chose” not to go. As a result, she knew nothing about the great promises of God to comfort and strengthen us in this life. Instead, at the time of her grandmother’s death, she was grasping at straws for what to make of it. She said she thought her grandmother visited her in a butterfly.

Now, if a cardinal, etc, reminds you of your loved one, I’m not bothered by that at all. But I do not believe that the deceased visit us as butterflies or any other animal. That’s not the kind of comfort I am seeking when I am grieving the death of the ones I love. I can’t settle for that, because I’ve been told the promises of Jesus, which assure me of the paradise of heaven beyond what we can imagine, even if a butterfly is quite beautiful. It’s not her fault she didn’t know about that. No one told her.

I am tired of people telling me that they want their kids to choose their own religion and beliefs. What happens is that the parents end up sharing nothing about faith at all with their children. That’s not a choice; that is abandoning their responsibility as a Christian, if they are Christian, and it’s being negligent as a parent on their child’s spiritual well-being.

Think about it this way. What if a parent said they were going to let their child choose whether or not to brush their teeth, because they didn’t want to pressure them with a certain brand of toothpaste? “I want them to choose whether they’ll use Crest or Colgate.” No! Parents start their children with something, and their child will find their way from there. Maybe they’ll end up using Oral B or Sensodyne. But if children aren’t ever brought to the sink and encouraged to brush, they likely never will.

The same goes for many lessons that parents teach their kids. I want my children to learn good manners, to share and take turns, to eat well, to have a good work ethic, and to use money wisely. While they are young I have a God-given opportunity and responsibility to train them. As they grow older, I slowly introduce more choice to them. Then, yes, they will learn further on their own. If they rebel against teeth-brushing, perhaps the cavities of life will bring them back to good dental hygiene. The same may be true for our faith; should they wander from God, they will have a foundation to which they can return. But only if we get them started.

Our children deserve to know the love of God and the promises of Jesus. Why wouldn’t we want our kids to know the love and strength that God provides? I’m not just talking about rigidly forcing our children to “go to church.” This is about helping our children discover their identity as a beloved child of God. It’s about helping them know their value and purpose in God’s world. It’s about helping them know how to love and value those around them as God does. It’s about helping them find their place in a caring community centered on Christ’s love. I want that for my children! For that matter, I want all this for you and me and everyone I care about. It is the church and our Christian faith that provides this.

To you with young children: yes, it is hard to come to worship with young ones. But our church will embrace you even when they’re loud and busy. (My kids are, too!) At worship and events, children are catching on to faith. It makes a difference. And if we, as their parents and grandparents and church family, don’t tell them about Jesus, who will? They won’t learn it in school or on TV.

When a child is baptized, the parents promise to support that child in the Christian faith and life, but so does the whole congregation! It takes a church to raise children in faith. So, dear church, reach out to the children around you. Shake their hand in worship. Ask their name; tell them yours. Look for them each week. Let’s support and encourage one another, so that together we might choose and grow into a life of worship and faith.

In Christ,

Pastor Matthew Poock

“Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
-Joshua 24:15

Scripture Comes Alive

July 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Pastor's Corner

Download: Scripture Comes Alive

Imaginative places. Magical creatures. Mystical powers. Alternative worlds. Are you interested? The stories of our lives are full of such things! Adults and children alike love stories of fantasy, fairy tale, and science fiction. The best of them stir our emotions and leave us begging for more.

Think of Harry Potter and his world of wizardry. Think of Stars Wars and space flight among galaxies. Think of The Lord of the Rings and creatures like Hobbits and elves. Think of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and the adventures through the wardrobe into a mythical realm. Books and movies such as these capture our attention and our hearts. They tell stories that speak to our souls about timeless truths of good and evil.

The Bible is actually not so different than these great epics. The words of Holy Scripture are full of truth and the struggle between good and evil. The story of the Bible speaks right to our souls and reveals the primary script of our lives: conflict, struggle, and salvation. Fantasy stories seek salvation from things like Lord Voldemort, Darth Vader, and the witch. We seek salvation from sin, death, and the devil, which comes through Jesus Christ. The Bible tells an incredible story of the struggle for life.

Yet the Bible is not fantasy literature. Its stories did not take place in an alternative world or a future galaxy far, far away.  The Bible is from a real time and a specific place! The place of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is not worlds away, only an 11-hour plane ride. The Sea of Galilee is really there, and it can be quite windy some days.  The Mount of Olives is not a figment of an author’s imagination; it is home to thousands of olive trees, and at least one that is 2000 years old.  The temple of Jerusalem was not made up – part of it still stands; I touched it just weeks ago.

Our recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land brought the words of the Bible to life for us. In the span of 12 days, we visited many of the places where our ancestors in faith lived and followed God. We traced the footsteps of Jesus, from his birth in Bethlehem, to his childhood in Nazareth; from his ministry in Galilee to his suffering and death in Jerusalem. Our group of nine pilgrims from St. John’s would often look at each other and say: “Jesus was here!” It was inspiring and awesome to be in the places where Jesus lived his life, ministered, prayed, suffered, and died. Having been there I can better picture the stories of Holy Scripture. Reading the Bible might engage us in what seems like another world, but it is our world of which it speaks.

Sometimes when we read the Bible it might seem fantastical, or at least difficult to understand. No doubt that reading the Bible is a profound cross-cultural experience through time and geography. But its words and stories come alive when we open our hearts and minds to it. The Bible speaks of real places and events back then while speaking also to the situations and events of our lives today. The Bible is a living word, and it comes alive for us, for all of us, whether or not we take a plane to Israel.

When I was confirmed in the 8th grade, my pastor challenged us to read through the Bible, one chapter a day, which I did during high school. I figured that if I was a Christian, I should know what the Bible said. I wanted to hear God’s word for me.  There wasn’t a lightning rod moment in those years of reading, but it shaped my life, for the good. How has God’s word shaped your life? Are you hearing God’s word for you?

One of the best ways to read Holy Scripture is to study it with others. The Bible especially comes alive as we read it together. Come on Thursdays at 1:00pm for Bible Study with me in the chapel; it’s an open invitation to all, no experience necessary. We’ll help each other picture the stories. Or join our new small group series “The Story” and read the Bible over 31 weeks with videos and support. Above all, let the word of God come alive for you, to stir your soul and shape your life for good.

In Christ,

Pastor Matthew Poock

“These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

-The Gospel According to St. John, chapter 20, verse 31

On Being a Pastor

June 7, 2018 by  
Filed under Pastor's Corner

Download: On Being a Pastor

I thought of being a high school music director because I enjoy working with youth and making music. Or a lawyer because I like thinking through an argument and presenting a case. Until my own Confirmation Day in the 8th grade, I had not considered being a pastor. But that day God spoke into my life.

In front of my congregation, I professed my faith in Jesus and pledged to serve God with my life. Along with my 15 peers, I received prayer and a blessing. I left worship that day with the idea that I would be a pastor. It wasn’t exactly a voice that I heard, but it was quite strong. I wasn’t necessarily excited about it, so I didn’t talk about it until years later.

I come from a long line of faithful Christians, Lutheran mostly. But no one in my family has ever served in full-time, professional ministry. So I started to pay attention to the pastors in my life. I noticed how pastors work with a wide variety of ages and fill all sorts of roles. Pastors are teachers, counselors, coaches, mentors, speakers, writers, leaders, servants, students, managers, organizers, volunteer coordinators, visionaries, social workers, ambassadors, and missionaries. This seemed to fit me; I had a wide variety of skills and interests, but none that was dominant.

At Luther College I studied music and psychology. I didn’t know if I would go to seminary, but this coursework would support a call to ministry. (A bachelor’s degree is required for entrance into seminary, but the field of study can vary.) After two years of full-time volunteer work, I attended Luther Seminary to complete my Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree, a 4-year course of study that includes one year of internship. Students also engage in a process called “candidacy” to obtain the endorsement and approval of the church in order to be ordained as a pastor.

Ten years ago this June 21st I was ordained into the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This means

that the Word of God (its teaching and preaching) and the sacraments (Holy Baptism and Holy Communion) are at the center of my calling to serve among God’s people. More than once I have been asked if I have another job besides being a pastor. I do! I am a husband, father, and friend. But, no, I don’t have any other job for financial compensation. Some pastors do, or they serve part-time as pastor. But I serve St. John’s full-time as pastor. And, for the most part, I love it.

It’s hard to pick what I love most about being a pastor. I love seeing lives transformed by the good news of Jesus. I love reading the Bible with people and declaring God’s promises. I love baptizing and sharing Holy Communion. I love praying with people and equipping people to do God’s work. I love building community. My heart sings when people are drawn into the church, when we experience the joy of worshipping God, when we reach out and care for each other, and when we find our niche in the Church and in the world. That’s what I want for us, and it’s what God wants for us: to come alive in the Spirit and live in God’s love together.

My hardest moments are when people live in ways that are shortsighted, selfish, and not good for them. We all get our priorities mixed up and make bad choices. My heart grieves when I see people drifting from God or absent from the church community. It’s like family members who miss coming to the family gathering. I suppose in this way I get a glimpse of God’s heart for us, who grieves when we are hurt or wander away.

Even on my worst days, I thank God for speaking into my life and guiding my path. I probably could have been happy as a music director or lawyer, but I can’t imagine being any more fulfilled in my calling than I am now. Maybe God is calling you or someone you know into this beautiful vocation of ministry. I’d recommend it. Either way, God is speaking to you and has a purpose for your life. I pray you live it every day.

In Christ,

Pastor Matthew Poock

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”    -Colossians 3:17

 

Fill Your Soul

May 9, 2018 by  
Filed under Pastor's Corner

Download: Filling Your Soul

I remember our first Memorial Day in Evansville. It was eight years ago. We had one child, who had just turned one year old the day before. My parents-in-law were in town for the celebration, and on Monday morning we planned to go to the Memorial Day parade. We decided to walk down Main Street from our house, toward downtown, so we grabbed the stroller and thought we left in time. When we were about two blocks away, we saw the parade begin by turning the corner at the library and marching toward the cemetery. When we were about one block away, we saw the parade end and local residents start walking toward us. We missed the whole parade!

We had good intentions. We wanted to show respect for those who died while serving our country. We wanted to stand in solidarity with our new local community. But it didn’t work out like we hoped. We walked to the corner where the parade started, waved, and returned home.

Most years since then I have attended the Memorial Day event at Maple Hill Cemetery. But not every year. Some years I have gotten distracted or made other choices. I might feel low on energy or get working in the garden or start a project that I don’t want to interrupt. I’ve reasoned with myself that I can be grateful for my country from the privacy of my own home or yard. So I’ll stop and take a moment of silence and say a prayer and carry on. I’ve probably had a year when I didn’t even do that much. And I’m lesser for it.

The years that I have gone to Maple Hill for the Memorial Day observance I have not regretted it. I gaze at the flag. I hear the high school band play. I hear from local leaders and military personnel a tribute to people I’ll never know this side of heaven whose lives have impacted mine for good. I stand with my community and share greetings and handshakes and smiles. I tell you, I always leave feeling better. The day feels more complete and right. And there’s still plenty of time in the day to work and rest and play. And hopefully grill out.

I find some parallels between the annual events of Memorial Day and the weekly worship of the church. Some of the same things happen to us come Sunday morning or Saturday evening. We might have good intentions of gathering with God’s people for worship, but something gets in the way. We can get distracted and make other choices. We might have trouble mustering the energy, or we get into a project we don’t want to pause. “I can pray to God at home,” we’ll reason. “I don’t have to go to worship to love God and follow Jesus,” which is true.

But when we gather to worship the God of heaven and earth, who gives us life and breath and all things, we don’t regret it. No matter the quality of preaching or music, we will not regret giving God our attention, our affection, and our gratitude. Our worship gatherings set the rhythms of our days and our weeks. We gaze at the cross. We unite with our brothers and sisters in faith as we breathe together and sing songs of praise. We hear God speak to us through God’s word in scripture, song, and speech. We turn to the One who gave his life for us so that we could have life today and forever. We stand with our community and share more than handshakes and smiles – we share support and peace.

When we come to worship Jesus Christ as our risen Lord and Savior, we are raised up and our souls are filled. Yes, we might have to be gracious toward imperfect people. We might have to look beyond distractions. But Jesus even meets us in those diversions. Our days and our lives feel more complete and right when they are centered on worshipping God. And we’ll still have the time we need to rest, work, and play. And grill out.

In Christ,

Pastor Matthew Poock

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust.”

-Psalm 25:1

 

 

Sermon: How much and why? / For Whom The Bell Tolls

April 14, 2015 by  
Filed under Current News

Listen Now: How much and why?/For Whom The Bell Tolls.
Source: St. Johns Post

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