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Christmas Day
December 25, 2016

First Thoughts: The meditation for Christmas Day is inspired a little by C.S. Lewis and a little by a poet he mentions in his book, Miracles. When the Word became flesh, it changed everything for us and our world. The seasons have turned a corner, and when winter gives way to spring, "no corner of the Land" will be untouched. While that is the truth of it, we Christians should always be thinking of how we are touched by this season, and how to affect those around us with its warmth.

Christmas Eve
December 24, 2016
Sermon: "Who was Born in Bethlehem?" JESUS!

First Thoughts: The Christmas Eve sermon will look back at the series we did in the season of Advent and see how some of the earlier births in Bethlehem foreshadow the precious birth of our Savior. Despite that foreshadowing, did anyone in Bethlehem on that Holy Night take note that God was faithfully bringing salvation through the King of Kings? Our hearts and our minds will be there as we again receive the news "for unto you is born this night, in the city of David, a savior, who is Christ the Lord."

November 27 to December 24, 2016
A Four-Part Sermon Series:
"Who was Born in Bethlehem?"
A Christmas Story in Both Testaments

First Thoughts: The "Little Town of Bethlehem" was a significant place even before the birth of our savior. There are not only significant births that happen in that area, but also significant events, as well. Each Sunday sermon in Advent will look at one of those special births in Bethlehem and make connections to how we celebrate Christmas. The people who were born there foreshadow some wonderful aspect of our Savior, and I think, remind us of the reasons we celebrate Christmas each year.

Third Sunday in Advent
December 11, 2016
Sermon: "Who was Born in Bethlehem?" Part 3, David

First Thoughts: This Sunday continues the Christmas story from both Testaments with the birth and early life of David and our Christmas connection to a shepherd/king.

Second Sunday in Advent
December 4, 2016
Sermon: "Who was Born in Bethlehem?" Part 2, Obed

First Thoughts: This week, we remember the birth of Obed, a special baby born to Boaz and Ruth. Last year, we learned about how Ruth and her family fit into "The Story" of God. That was in chapter 9 of "The Story" and in the book of Ruth in the Bible. Feel free to bring your Bible to church as we take a look at the Christmas story presented in both Testaments.

First Sunday in Advent
November 27, 2016
Sermon: "Who was Born in Bethlehem?" Part 1, Benjamin

Thanksgiving Day
November 24, 2016

Sermon: "For the Beauty of the Earth"
First Thoughts: Each year, the President of the United States issues a proclamation calling on every U.S. citizen at home and abroad to gather in their homes and houses of worship to give thanks. At Bethany, we respond in the best way we know how, with Eucharist (another name for "Holy Communion" from the Greek word, which means "give thanks")! Friends, family and even friendly strangers you meet are welcome to gather with us at 10AM. The sermon will be the traditional time when people get to share their blessings. Using the traditional song, "For The Beauty of The Earth," I will divide this into three sections where people are welcome to share blessings in creation, blessings at home, and spiritual blessings - all of which come from God's Almighty hand!

Christ the King Sunday - Consecration Sunday
November 20, 2016

The annual tradition at Bethany Lutheran Church is to have a special hymn sing service at the end of the church year. In 2016, we are beginning the yearlong anniversary celebration of the fifth Reformation centennial, so our hymn sing will have some Reformation flavor.
During the 10 a.m. Hymn Sing, there will be an opportunity for church members to bring forward their pledges for 2017. Each year, we ask for the congregation to prayerfully consider how the Lord has blessed you, discuss as a family how you would like to respond to that with an annual pledge to Bethany, and then dedicate that pledge to Christ our King in worship. This serves a practical end by giving our leadership an understanding of the resources we will have for the next year. More importantly, it is following the Biblical practice of dedicating the First Fruits before The Lord in response to all that our God has done for us.

26th Sunday after Pentecost
Commemoration of Martin Luther (Birth)
November 13, 2016

Sermon: "It's Still all about Jesus"
First Thoughts: This year, Bethany Lutheran Church is on the road to be "Renewed by Reformation." That means we will have completed some important goals we set for ourselves in a process called "Renewal." It also means that we will rediscover and celebrate our heritage as Lutheran Christians on the way to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
This Sunday, we will observe a special commemoration of Martin Luther's birth. The text for the sermon is Hebrews 13:7-8 - Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
What are we remembering and why is it important to remember it? With the help of God's Word, we'll look at the past, present and future of our church and remember "It's Still All about Jesus."

25th Sunday after Pentecost
All Saints Sunday
November 6, 2016

Sermon: "Be + Attitude = Blessing!"
First Thoughts: The title for this week's adult Bible Study and sermon is a little different. More like a mathematical equation. Be + Attitude = Blessing! It is a way to look at the eight Beatitudes of Jesus in the traditional Gospel for All Saints Sunday. What I have in mind is Billy Graham's way of describing them as the eight "blessed attitudes." How can we be these things (poor in spirit, peacemaker, etc.) and receive a blessing from God? Is it as simple as a mathematical formula? We'll see, this Sunday, November 6, as we read Matthew chapter 5, together.

24th Sunday after Pentecost
Reformation Sunday
October 30, 2016

Sermon: "Renewed by Reformation"
Sermon Text: Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
First Thoughts: This Sunday, Bethany Lutheran will kick off a one year celebration leading up to next year's big anniversary of the Reformation. Our celebration is twofold:
1) We celebrate the principals of renewing the church with Scripture Alone; Faith Alone and God's Grace Alone.
2) In this year, we are finishing a process called "Congregational Renewal" that has led us to be Renewed by God's Word, Restructured and Ready to Grow (by God's grace).

October 2 - 23, 2016
"Dear Timothy, Keep The Faith"
A Four-Part Expository Sermon Series on
2 Timothy

Expository means exposing (or explaining) the words and flow of thought drawn from the original text.
In the month of October, all four chapters of 2 Timothy are appointed in our weekly church readings. This not only gives us an opportunity to read through a book of the Bible, but it also to revisit a part of our Biblical journey, last year. Earlier this year, after we read through the main story of The Bible by way of The Story, a number of people said that they would like to revisit the life of St. Paul. Through this letter to Timothy, we are perhaps given a window into the very last days of the Apostle Paul and the legacy he was hoping to leave behind.

23nd Sunday after Pentecost
October 23, 2016

Sermon: "Dear Timothy, Keep The Faith"
Part four: "Faithfully Fought" (2 Timothy Chapter 4)
First Thoughts: The second letter to Timothy captures the end of Paul's ministry and he lays out what is most important for his fellow worker and travel companion to do after the Apostle's race is run. Chapter 4 shows a dramatic shift of verb tense from the previous three chapters. Paul "has fought the good fight." He may sense that the end of his life is near, so now he claims victory in the name of Jesus. Timothy is assured that he will have the same victory as Paul's companion now is charged to take up the struggle and keep the faith.

22nd Sunday after Pentecost
October 16, 2016

Sermon: "Dear Timothy, Keep The Faith"
Part Three: "Faithfully Teaching" (2 Timothy Chapter 3)
First Thoughts: Paul writes what may be his last words to Timothy - a young missionary/pastor who has shared many days of travel with his mentor. In chapter 3 of this letter, Paul speaks of the "last days" and instructs Timothy the man of God is to remember the power and purpose of God's Word to navigate through these dark times.

21st Sunday after Pentecost
October 29, 2016
Sermon: "Dear Timothy, Keep The Faith"
Part Two: "Faithfully Contending" (2 Timothy, Chapter 2)

20th Sunday after Pentecost
October 2, 2016

Sermon: "Dear Timothy, Keep The Faith"
Part One: "Faithfully Guarding" (2 Timothy Chapter 1)
First Thoughts: Paul writes to Timothy, "God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:7). These are good words to keep in our hearts as the Apostle charges Timothy to "guard the good deposit." We think of a deposit as something we take to the bank. That is not a bad image to have in mind as we begin to read 2 Timothy and contemplate what benefits guarding the good deposit may have.

September 18 and 25, 2016
"Where Your Heart Is"
A Two-Part Sermon Series on Stewardship

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 25, 2016
Sermon: "Where Your Heart Is - 2: Righteous Root"
First Thoughts: Concluding the series, we will read 1 Timothy 6:6-17 and consider the "root of all kinds of evil." Despite the unusually warm weather we have been having in Northern Virginia, we may be reminded of a popular Christmas story in our studies.
1. Timothy the Steward
   a. "Flee..."
   b. "Pursue..."
2. Raising an Ebeneezer
   a. Samuel
   b. Scrooge
Bonus Quote from the aforementioned Christmas story:
"Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 18, 2016
Sermon: "Where Your Heart Is - 1: Unrighteous Wealth" (Luke 16:1-13)
First Thoughts: This Sunday, we start a special two-part series all about Stewardship and a Godly attitude toward money. First up is the parable of the dishonest manager. When Jesus tells a story about a shrewd dude who cooks the books and gets away with it, what is the message? One key for understanding is to discover who the servants are, and who the master is.
1. The Meaning of Money
   a. Unrighteous wealth
   b. Praise of the master
2. Three Purposes
   a. yourself
   b. your neighbor
   c. your church
3. Stewards and Servants
   a. Macedonia and Corinth
   b. Sharing God's Gifts
Elements of this week's sermon are from the last part of the free Stewardship series from CPH (Concordia Publishing House) titled, "Managing God's Gifts." We shared parts 1-3 over the summer, saving part 4 for this Sunday.

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 11, 2016, Rally Day

Sermon: "Search and Rescue" (Luke 15:1-7)
First Thoughts: This Sunday is Rally Day at Bethany Lutheran. Our thoughts are on children returning to school and Christian Education programs starting at our church. Yet, the day also falls on 9/11, so our thoughts are also on the day our nation took serious wounds from a savage attack. We are left with images of planes being used as weapons and colliding into places of work, trade and travel. There are also images of men and women who put themselves in danger and did their jobs to search and rescue what lives they could.
This day of 9/11 brings back memories of tragedy, heroism and sacrifice. It is within that background that we will be renewing our own dedication to sharing the news of a Savior who searches for lost sheep, rescues them from danger and carries them home, rejoicing. While we boldly ask God to help us heal from the wounds of the past and bless our ministry now and into the future, we know that already we have been rescued by the Good Shepherd who seeks and saves those who are lost.

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 4, 2016

Sermon: "Chains Shall He Break" (Paul's Letter to Philemon)
...I appeal to you for my son, Onesimus who has become my son while I was in chains. (Philemon 1:10)
First Thoughts: "Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother...." This is one of my favorite lines from the Christmas song, "O Holy Night." Slavery is a difficult issue to tackle because of all that this issue has meant in the history of the United States. In some ways it was very different in the time of St. Paul. In other ways, it was similar - if you were a slave you belonged to someone else.
Philemon is the shortest of all Paul's letters and it is a personal appeal for a slave owner to take a former slave into his house as a brother. In that appeal, we see St. Paul making connections to the great adoption we have through Christ into a new kind of family. That new relationship breaks our chains and frees us, but now we totally and completely serve our Lord and Savior who sends us to serve our brothers and sisters.

"Rock Solid"
A Two-Part Sermon Series on Hebrews 12 & 13
August 21 and 28, 2016

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 28, 2016

Sermon: "Rock Solid 2: Take A Stand?" (Hebrews 13:1-8)
First Thoughts: Last week, we read through Hebrews 12 and examined where we stand with God, which is on Mt. Zion surrounded by His glory. While it is well and good that our future is in God's hands, we also receive strength to stand up for what is right in this life. The next chapter of Hebrews shows us how, while also giving some more "Rock Solid" Good News to encourage us on the way.

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 21, 2016

Sermon: "Rock Solid 1: Where Do We Stand?" (Hebrews 12: 18-29)
First Thoughts: Hebrews is a journey between two covenants, and in the text for this Sunday, a journey between two mountains. To demonstrate the fullness of God's plan for salvation, the writer paints a vivid portrait of that journey, which we take by faith.

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
July 17, 2016
Sermon: "Don't shift from the Gospel." (Colossians 1:23)
First Thoughts: Why did the Apostle Paul make this statement? It is because with the Colossians' believers, there were all kinds of heresies from everywhere that would have led them astray from the true Gospel. So, St. Paul wrote this letter explaining to them who Jesus Christ really was and who He is still and what He would do if they continue to hold fast their faith in Him. In like manner, my friends, there are and will be many obstacles, circumstances, worries, and situations that may cause us to lose hope in our walk with Christ Jesus. So, St. Paul is encouraging us not to be carried away with these things but to trust and hope in Christ Jesus no matter who or what comes our way.

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 10, 2016

Sermon: "Go and Do Likewise" (Luke 10:25-37)
First Thoughts: "A lawyer stood..." - this is in the context of Jesus rejoicing in God's work through the 72 who were sent to surrounding villages and towns. Afterward, a lawyer approaches Him. This is not the kind we think of in the 21st century. This lawyer spent his time studying God's Word and sharing his learning. We could make a lot of assumptions about him, but the text gives us two very big clues as to his disposition: 1) He says, "what must I do..." and 2) he wanted to justify himself. Jesus has to first change the man's perspective with a parable before He can get to the man's heart.
I. From the Lawyer's Perspective (25-29)
II. From the Perspective of Jesus (30-37)
III. Application: Doing Mercy

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 3, 2016

The original "Go" graphic is By Raymond1922A (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Sermon: "GO!"
First Thoughts: In Luke's Gospel (Luke 10:1-20), there is a turning point for Jesus and His disciples in chapter 9 when Jesus "sets His face" to go to Jerusalem. Those who follow after that do so with the cross and suffering in view. The next chapter opens with a lot of kinetic energy. Jesus is about to go into certain towns, and He sends 72 disciples ahead of Him. What can modern day disciples of Jesus learn from all this activity?
Go! With prayer (v. 2)
Go! With urgency (v. 3-4)
Go! With peace (v. 5-12)
Go! With power (v. 16-20)

Sermon Series: Managing God's Gifts
June 12 to 26, 2016

Stewardship is about much more than money, fund-raising, or an annual campaign at church. Stewardship includes our whole life as we learn to manage the many gifts that our gracious giver God bestows upon us. All of our Christian faith and life is stewardship-or better, management-of God's many and varied gifts. This management of God's gifts describes how we believe and live as God's created, redeemed, and sanctified children in all of life.

- In the third Bible study, we discussed managing God's gift of time in our work and our relaxation. God gives all of us the very same 24 hours in a day and the same 365 days in a year. How can we manage our time to glorify God and serve our neighbors in our daily vocations? How can we escape the pressures of overloaded schedules and guard against self-centeredly wasting our time? We live by the grace of God as He sanctifies our time with His Word and prayer (1 Timothy 4:5).
- In the second Bible study, we discussed managing God's gift of other people. God created us to live in relationships and in community. Since sin entered the world, however, this has become a burden. This is why God calls us to love and serve one another and bear one another's burdens in our vocations at home, at church, at work, and in the public square.
Click here to see slides for Part 3 of the Bible Class presentation (June 26).
Click here to see slides for Part 2 of the Bible Class presentation (June 19).
Click here to see slides for Part 1 of the Bible Class presentation (June 12).

Sermon Series: The Many Glories of Heaven
May 8 to June 5, 2016

Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 5, 2016
The Many Glories of Heaven, Part 5

Sermon: "The Glory of Living Heavenward"
First Thoughts: Recently, a former professor of mine wrote an article titled, "Heaven is great, but its not the end of the world!" When God creates a new heaven and a new earth, there will be an existence that will be in God's presence. We have been unpacking what that means for us when we get there and also what that means for us, right now.
The "right now" of heaven comes into sharper focus as we dive into our last session, this week. We are not aimless travelers in this life. This is our "upward calling" in Christ Jesus as we journey heavenward with purpose.
Do you have someone in your life who has told you that Christians are so wrapped up in their concern for heaven that they can do no earthly good? This is a good week to bring them to church.
They only were hearing it said, "He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me. (Galatians 1:23-24)

Second Sunday after Pentecost
May 29, 2016
The Many Glories of Heaven, Part 4

Sermon: "The Glory of the Great Multitude"
First Thoughts: There will come a day when the wounds we have inflicted on one another, the anger we have incited in one another and the selfish pride that has ruined many lives will be healed by the leaves of a tree sustained by the River of Life (Revelation 221-2). That is the part of heaven we will be exploring this week as we marvel how God will transform people from every tribe, nation and language to a great and marvelous choir.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Holy Trinity Sunday and Armed Forces Sunday
May 22, 2016
The Many Glories of Heaven, Part 3

Sermon: "The Glory of Heavenly Worship"
First Thoughts: Once soul and body are reunited, what will heaven be like? The symbolic language of the Bible gives us a clue. We will "dwell in the house of the Lord" according to the 23rd Psalm and Jesus says, "In my Father's house are many rooms." A house is where someone lives, and in heaven we will dwell with God and be in His presence.
You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence. (Acts 2:28\Psalm 16:11)

Pentecost Sunday
May 15, 2016
The Many Glories of Heaven, Part 2

Sermon: "The Glory of Resurrection"
First Thoughts: Last week, we explored what happens when we die. This week, the sleepers awaken. What sight will meet our eyes when our Lord returns? The Spirit and the Bride invite us to our new home.
This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is only when our Lord comes that we will understand the meaning of the word "spiritual."
"The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come!'" (Revelation 22:17)

Ascension Sunday (Observed)
May 8, 2016
The Many Glories of Heaven, Part 1

Sermon: "The Glory of Ascension"
First Thoughts: At Bethany Lutheran, we just completed a series called "The Story." It took us all the way through the Bible from the first days of creation to the day when a new heaven and a new earth is created. Now it is time to explore that place that we call "Heaven" and see what it is all about.
We start, this week, with Christ's ascension and the promise that He will come back in the same way He departed. When that happens, then it will be our turn to ascend and experience "The Many Glories of Heaven."
"Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11)

Sermon Series: THE STORY
September 13, 2015 to April 24, 2016

THE STORY was Bethany's campaign to read the Bible together.
It began on September 13, 2015 and continued through April 24, 2016 (31 weeks). Elements from the book, "THE STORY" were incorporated into sermons, Bible studies, Sunday School classes, small group gatherings, and personal Bible study. THE STORY is the Bible organized chronologically. This was a community learning event using either the book or personal Bibles. Suggested Bible readings were published in monthly study supplements and distributed weekly via Bethany's e-News and this website.
See Below to download the monthly study supplements.

THE STORY Study Supplement Download
Click here to download the April 2016 Study Supplement for THE STORY.
Click here to download the March 2016 Study Supplement for THE STORY.
Click here to download the February 2016 Study Supplement for THE STORY.
Click here to download the January 2016 Study Supplement for THE STORY.
Click here to download the December 2015 Study Supplement for THE STORY.
Click here to download the November 2015 Study Supplement for THE STORY.
Click here to download the October 2015 Study Supplement for THE STORY.
Click here to download the September 2015 Study Supplement for THE STORY.

Fifth Sunday of Easter
April 24, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER THIRTY ONE (selections from Revelation 1-22)

Sermon: "New"
First Thoughts: It so happens that "Earth Day" falls on the week before we have our final Sunday in "The Story". On this final Sunday, we come to the last book of the Bible where the old earth is replaced by a new heaven and a new earth. In order to understand what is so new about it, we have to go back to the beginning of THE STORY.
Click here to learn more about THE STORY and view or download the monthly study supplements.

Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 17, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER THIRTY (selections from Acts 20-28, Ephesians 1-6, 2 Timothy 1-4)

Sermon: "Finish the Race"
First Thoughts: This Sunday is called "Good Shepherd Sunday" on our church calendar, as this is the traditional date churches read and meditate on the 23rd Psalm and the familiar words, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." It so happens that the assigned first reading from Acts is also in our weekly readings for The Story. Paul is talking to the "shepherds" or elders in Ephesus, a place where he spent significant time during his missionary journeys. In his last words to them, Paul tells them about the trouble ahead for him, and then says, "if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."

Third Sunday of Easter
April 10, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER TWENTY NINE (selections from Acts 13-14,16-20; Romans 1,3-6,8,12,15; 1 Corinthians 1,3,5,6,10, 12-16; Galatians 1-6; 1 Thessalonians 1-5)

Sermon: "Mission"
First Thoughts: Saul, a zealous Pharisee who was dragging followers of "The Way" out of their homes, has an encounter with the Risen Lord. What happens next is a series of journeys all around the area that today is Turkey and Greece. What is his mission?

Second Sunday of Easter
April 3, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT (selections from Acts 1-10, 12)

Sermon: "Go!"
First Thoughts: Jesus left His followers with a mission. The truth they experienced through the love of their savior needs to go from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. But first, in Jerusalem, there is the same conflict with the religious leaders that led to the execution of Jesus after a mock trial. In the midst of danger, the disciples of Jesus follow their master's command to share the Good News.

Easter Sunday
March 27, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN (selections from Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20-21)

Sermon: "The Resurrection"
First Thoughts: While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?" (Luke 24:4-5)
Click here to read the entire sermon on Pastor's blog.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday
March 24 and 25, 2016
Click here to read the two sermons on Pastor's blog.

Palm Sunday
March 20, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER TWENTY SIX (selections from Matthew 25-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; John 16-19)

Sermon: "Darkness"
First Thoughts: The week begins with passionate shouts of "Hosanna!" as Jesus receives the praise of those who have seen or heard of His power and now anticipate that God will act to save His people. Only Jesus knows that this means the beginning of a journey into darkness that He alone can take.

Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 13, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE (selections from Matthew 16,17; John 7,8,11)

Sermon: "Son of God"
First Thoughts: At Bethany, there is a family of two sisters and a brother who are friends with Jesus. What is the line between their friendship and their faith? Martha makes a bold statement about Jesus just after her brother, Lazarus died. "I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world." Martha has faith that Jesus is the Son of God and her friend.

Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 6, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR (selections from Matthew 5-10, 14; Mark 4-7; Luke 10, 15; John 5-6)

Sermon: "Teaching"
First Thoughts: In words and deeds, the fact that the Son of God was walking on the earth was coming into sharper focus. Throughout His ministry, Jesus guided His followers to a better understanding of God's Kingdom and how it worked.

Third Sunday in Lent
February 28, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER TWENTY THREE (selections from Matthew 3,4,11; Mark 1-3; Luke 8; John 1-5)

Sermon: "Revealed"
First Thoughts: In this week's Bible readings, we look at the beginning of Jesus' ministry and the ways in which the people around Him got glimpses of the divine nature. One of those people is a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus. He comes to see Jesus because of the signs he has seen. But, with a few words, Jesus reveals His nature and God's plan.

Second Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER TWENTY TWO (selections from Jeremiah 33, Matthew & Luke 1-2, John 1, 1 John 1-5)

Sermon: "Incarnation"
First Thoughts: God's voice was heard directly in the Garden. Sinful rebellion against God by our first parents broke that connection. Every attempt at re-establishing direct communication has fallen short until the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.
"For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:17)
Click here to learn more about THE STORY and view or download the monthly study supplement.

First Sunday in Lent
February 14, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER TWENTY ONE (selections from EZRA 7-10, Nehemiah 1-10, Malachi 1-4)

Sermon: "Rebuild"
First Thoughts: There are a lot of great things to say about Nehemiah. He is a person of high standing in the court of a powerful king, but his heart is with the suffering of his people. He boldly petitions his king so that he can rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He bravely faces down people of high standing who are opposed to any rebuilding. He does a lot to help those in need even while the walls are built over a spring and a summer. There is so much to learn from Nehemiah, but I think it is best to begin at the very beginning. Through Nehemiah's conviction and prayer, I think we learn a lot about how each of us connects to God's Story.

21st Sunday after Pentecost
February 7, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER TWENTY (selections from Esther 1-10)

Sermon: "Moment of Truth"
First Thoughts: Susa is pretty far away from Jerusalem. Set in Susa, the capital of Persia, just after the Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt, the book of Esther is set in a time and place where God's people were a part of Persian society. Is there any reason to keep trusting that you are still a chosen people in such a setting? "The Story" comes down to one moment of truth confirming God's faithfulness no matter if we are in Jerusalem or Susa!

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
January 31, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER NINETEEN (selections from Ezra 1-4, Haggai 1-2, Habakkuk 1-3, Zachariah 1-10)

Sermon: "Return"
First Thoughts: In many ways, this part of the "The Story" parallels the 40 years that the tribes of Israel wandered in the wilderness because of their unfaithfulness. In this case, 70 years have gone by, along with the rise and fall of Babylon. The Persian king, Cyrus, makes a way for the tribe of Judah to return to the Promised Land. As the former exiles look at the piles of rubble, imagining their former glory, perhaps the question posed to the Prophet Ezekiel echoed in their minds: "Son of man, can these bones live?"
"Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not." (Haggai 2:4b-5)

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 24, 2016
Watch Sunday's SNOW DAY Sermon here.
THE STORY - CHAPTER EIGHTEEN (selections from Daniel 1-12, Jeremiah 29-31)

Sermon: "Exile"
First Thoughts: It is hard to forget the names of Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel. They are a part of the tribe of Judah, which was scattered among the cities of Babylon, away from the land God gave them and the Temple where they worshiped. Jeremiah predicted this exile would last for seventy years. Will the people remain faithful, or will they forget the Lord while they are away from the land of their ancestors?
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, "Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?" They answered and said to the king, "True, O king." He answered and said, "But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods." (Daniel 3)

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 17, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER SEVENTEEN (selections from 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel)

Sermon: "Judgment"
First Thoughts: In Judah's last days, God sends two prophets to warn the people that the day of judgment had come. Ezekiel was among some of the first to be deported by a foreign enemy, and Jeremiah's message was so unpopular that he was thrown in prison for a time. While under arrest, Jeremiah continues to speak God's Word of judgment, but even in the midst of utter devastation, God will continue His Story and give His people hope.
"Thus says the Lord: In this place of which you say, 'It is a waste without man or beast,' in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man or inhabitant or beast, there shall be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord." (Jeremiah 33:10-11)

First Sunday after the Epiphany
The Baptism of Our Lord, January 10, 2016
THE STORY - CHAPTER SIXTEEN (selections from 2 Kings 17-19, 24-25, Isaiah)

Sermon: "Living God"
First Thoughts: Isaiah is the first of the great writing prophets we encounter in the Bible. In the previous weeks of studying "The Story," we've read about prophets like Nathan, Elijah, and Elisha whose words and deeds survive in Biblical records of history. Isaiah's book has some of the historical record along with sweeping prophecies that reveal God's plan to save His people. Why trust in this God? Throughout the whole book that bears his name, Isaiah reminds us that there is only one Living God who has the power to save.

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015
Christmas Day, December 25, 2015

Christmas Eve Sermon: "This Shall be the Sign" - Isaiah 7:10-14
Christmas Day Sermon: "God's Last Word" - Hebrews 1:1-2

Fourth Sunday in Advent,
December 20, 2015
THE STORY - CHAPTER FIFTEEN (selections from 1 Kings 17-22,
2 Kings 1-7, Hosea 1-14, Amos 1-9)

Sermon: "Prophets"
First Thoughts: Imagine if you will, you are in the middle of a large crowd assembled to worship. One by one, offerings are brought up to a high altar and the smoke of the offering coils up and around a large, golden calf sitting above on a pedestal. Suddenly, a strident voice is heard above the murmur of the crowds and above the high priest who is holding his arms up to begin a prayer. From off to the side you see a man dressed in simple clothes confidently striding up to the platform and saying,
"I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies!"
Third Sunday in Advent,
December 13, 2015
THE STORY - CHAPTER FOURTEEN (selections from Ecclesiastes 1-7, 11-14; Proverbs 22-24; 1 Kings 12-16)

Sermon: "Division"
First Thoughts: Once Joseph's family was safe in Egypt, they multiplied. God settled them into the land of Canaan, where the different tribes eventually united under a king, and then came a golden age when they were safe from all enemies, and they and their treasures multiplied. But then the king turned his heart away from God, and multiplication is no longer the math of the kingdom. Now we are doing division! First, two kings divide the one kingdom into two kingdoms. Next, Jeroboam, the new king to the north, tries a little addition, adding two new places of worship to replace Jerusalem. But that leads to more division between God and the people.

Second Sunday in Advent,
December 6, 2015

Sermon: "Wisdom" (selections from Proverbs 1:7, 25:25; Isaiah 55:6; 1 Kings 8:61)
First Thoughts: Fulfilling the vision of his father, David, King Solomon builds a "dwelling place" for The Lord. With a few final words of benediction ("The Story" pg. 187-188 or 1 Kings 8:56-61), Solomon asks that his word "be near to the Lord day and night." We desire to be near to God, but this seems next to impossible in our busy lives. How can we carve out some sacred time and sacred space in our schedules to be near to The Lord?

First Sunday in Advent,
November 29, 2015

Sermon: "Clean Heart"(selections from Psalms 18, 30, 51)
First Thoughts: The Kingdom of David is coming to an end. He opens his mouth and begins his last testimony...
     The oracle of David, the son of Jesse,
     the oracle of the man who was raised on high,
     the anointed of the God of Jacob,
     the sweet psalmist of Israel:

As a man and as a king, David was transformed by the God who chose him. Today, David continues to inspire all the redeemed with Psalms of confession and forgiveness; Psalms of trouble and deliverance; and Psalms of lament turned to dancing.

Thanksgiving Day,
November 26, 2015

First Thoughts: It so happens that this week in Bethany's campaign to read through the Bible, we are reading the chapters of the Bible that introduce us to the "Sweet Psalmist" of Israel, King David. "When the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies," David composed the words we have through 2 Samuel 22. Select verses appear in "The Story" page 154. As is our Thanksgiving custom, I will be asking for the congregation to share all that we are thankful for, this year. We will frame this testimony with David's thanksgiving to the Rock of our Salvation.

Christ the King Sunday,
November 22, 2015

Sermon: "Heart" (selections from 1 Samuel 16-18)
First Thoughts: When Saul is rejected as king, Samuel says that God will choose someone after His own heart. Over the past few weeks, I've been mulling over what it means to be someone after the Lord's own heart. I have to admit that I am still hung up on that mystery, and I cannot think of a better time to explore it than on "Christ The King" Sunday - the last Sunday of the church year when we look for the coming Kingdom of God and our place in it.
     - The Heart of a Shepherd.
     - The Heart of a Giant Slayer.
     - The Heart of Friendship.

Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost,
November 15, 2015
THE STORY - CHAPTER TEN: (selections from 1 Samuel 1-15)

Sermon: "The King"
First Thoughts: In chapter 10 of "The Story" (based on 1 Samuel 1- 15), and chapter 10 of 1 Samuel, people are asking questions about the man who would be king...
     - How God guides us.
     - God equips the called.
     - The King comes humbly to us.

Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost,
November 8, 2015
THE STORY - CHAPTER NINE: (selections from Ruth 1-4 & Leviticus 25)

Sermon: "Redeemer"
First Thoughts: The story of Ruth illustrates some of the laws God gave His people concerning the care of the poor and kinsman-redeemers. What's more, the love of Ruth for her mother-in-law and the care and love of Boaz for Ruth goes beyond the letter of the law and echoes God's love for us.

Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost,
November 1, 2015
THE STORY - CHAPTER EIGHT: (selections from Judges 1-21)

Sermon: "Choices"
First Thoughts: We often think of "saints" as the heroes of the Bible. Perhaps our impression is that they are people with an exceptional amount of holiness and piety. But, would we consider... an assassin? A womanizer? Or someone with a lot of trust issues? Welcome to the book of Judges and a wild era of history! There were a lot of poor choices made by the people that led to a lot of pain and suffering. God chooses to save His people time and time again with individuals who may not have been our choice, but they stand among the "great cloud of witnesses" that surrounds us, today.

Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost,
October 25, 2015
THE STORY - CHAPTER SEVEN: (selections from Joshua 1-24)

Sermon: "Victory"
First Thoughts: Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ," writes the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. This week's chapter of "The Story" is all about victory, in particular the victory that could only have been granted by God's hand in the land promised to His people. As we read it fresh, this week, we also hear echoes of the mighty victory God gives us over our spiritual enemies - sin, death and the devil.
As Martin Luther penned:
     Tho' devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us;
     We tremble not, we fear no ill, They shall not overpoe'r us.
     This world's prince may still scowl fierce as he will,
     He can harm us none, He's judged; the deed is done;
     One little word can fell him.

Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost,
October 18, 2015
THE STORY - CHAPTER SIX: (selections from Numbers 10 - Deuteronomy 34)

Sermon: "Trust"
First Thoughts: The moment finally comes after months of slavery, plagues on Egypt, a daring escape from the pursuing armies of Pharaoh and a year of preparation in The Lord's presence, the tribes of Hebrews sound the trumpets, fly their banners and get ready to march into the land God promised. Not long later, God tells Moses, "I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they."
What happened? God says the people tested and disobeyed ten times despite all the wonders they witnessed. They keep thinking that they will die at the hand of enemies, die of starvation or thirst, or that the wilderness will be their future. We may be tempted to judge the Israelites harshly, but how many times have we had difficulty trusting God when times are difficult? Is there a way we can trust God instead of testing Him?

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost,
October 11, 2015
THE STORY - CHAPTER FIVE: (selections from Exodus 19-40)

Sermon: "Covenant"
First Thoughts: God comes to visit the nation that Abraham's descendants have become, but this is not the same experience that Adam and Eve had when they walked with God in "the cool of the day." This experience involves fire, earthquakes and trumpet blasts. God's presence requires certain washings, rituals, sacrifices, and a tabernacle fashioned as a dwelling for the Almighty. In this chapter, we will look at the covenant God makes with His people. Will following these rules allow the people to be with God, again?

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost,
October 4, 2015
THE STORY - CHAPTER FOUR: (selections from Exodus 1-17)

Sermon: "Deliverance"
First Thoughts: Throughout this week's readings, God works out his plan through a man named Moses. Moses was the product of two different cultures - Egyptian and Hebrew. One would think that he would be the ideal candidate to go to the ruler of Egypt and negotiate the release of Hebrew slaves. But, before God delivers His people from slavery, He works on breaking some of Moses's chains. This all builds to a profound moment of change in God's Story and our Story.

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost,
September 27, 2015
THE STORY - CHAPTER THREE: (selections from Genesis 37-50)

Sermon: "Forgiveness"
First Thoughts: Several generations have passed since God promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his seed. Now that promise will look a little more like reality through a boy who was once a dreamer, then a prisoner and ultimately, the deputy ruler in a powerful Egyptian dynasty. The life journey of Joseph in and of itself is amazing. Even more amazing, however, is the power of God at the center of this journey - the power of forgiveness!

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost,
September 20, 2015
THE STORY - CHAPTER TWO: (selections from Genesis 12-35)

Sermon: "Sacrifice"
First Thoughts: Traces of some of the world's first cities still lie in ruins in modern day Iraq. The Bible tells us that a man named Abraham was born in one of them - the city of Ur. Then, God called Abraham's family out of that cradle of civilization to settle in the land God chose for him. Abraham is asked to give up his home, and then he is asked to wait a long time for God to fulfill the promise that a great nation will be born through his family. Just when the wait seemed over, and a child was born, there is one more sacrifice that is asked of him. In this chapter, we'll examine the nature of sacrifice and how it affects the part we play in God's Story.

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost,
September 13, 2015
THE STORY - CHAPTER ONE: (selections from Genesis 1-9)

Sermon: "What's The Big Idea?"
First Thoughts: As the proverb says, "a journey of thousands miles begins with a single step." This Sunday, we are taking a first step in an epic journey. We are committing to read the Bible together as a community. If we carry the "journey" metaphor out a bit, we can safely say that some who have taken this journey in the past have gotten lost for various reasons. I pray we will be able to stay on the trail and walk all the way from our starting point in Genesis chapter one to our big finish in Revelation 22. One of the things that will help us is the BUDDY SYSTEM - we are not doing this, alone, but as a church - maybe even getting other friends and family involved. The other thing is a clearly marked trail. The authors and arrangers of "The Story" helpfully mark out a narrative thread that connects the Bible. This Sunday, we'll ask the question "What's The Big Idea?" and get our heading for the rest of the journey.

Sermon Series: Under Construction,
August 2 through September 6, 2015

We start a new sermon series called "Under Construction." In this series, we will read together Paul's letter to the Ephesians, taking on one chapter per week.

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost,
September 6, 2015

Sermon: The Protection - Ephesians Chapter 6
First Thoughts: In the last five weeks, we read through most of Ephesians where Paul shares with us the blueprint (chapter one): tells us how to lay the foundation on the work of Jesus Christ (chapter two); shows us where to plug into Divine power (chapter three); guides us to building the structure with the gifts God gives, and the work He assigns (chapter four); and then he helps us install the windows which help us look at the world and help the world look at us (chapter 5 and into 6). That is a lot of work! Once we have invested in that work (which is really God's work invested in us), we want to protect it. There are a lot of people in this world that would like to sell us insurance for protection, but God has a better "full armor" plan which we will read about in chapter six.

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost,
August 30, 2015

Sermon: The Windows - Ephesians Chapter 5
First Thoughts: Ephesians chapter 5 begins with another "therefore," so we'll note how Paul is connecting all the steps for building the church. This week, we install the windows - the means by which we look out at the world and the world looks in on us. Chapter 5 begins by connecting the foundational work of Jesus to our "walk" (5:1-16), building to three key verbs (17-21) - speaking (or addressing), giving thanks and submitting. Then, three examples are given (22-6:9)- I like to think of it as looking through three windows: 1) husbands and wives, 2) children and parents, 3) slaves and masters.

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost,
August 23, 2015

Sermon: The Structure - Ephesians Chapter 4
First Thoughts: The blueprints are drawn (chapter 1), the foundation is laid (chapter 2), and there is a source of power to draw on (chapter 3), now the building starts to go up. As we read through chapter 4, we may imagine we hear the sound of hammer being put to nails as Paul focuses on the "building" of the church (vs. 12, 29). The church all over the world is one structure (vs. 1-6), built by the gifts God gives (vs. 7-16) and the good works God inspires (vs. 17-32).

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost, August 16, 2015

Sermon: The Power Lines - Ephesians Chapter 3
First Thoughts: The word "power" is all over Ephesians chapter 3. Paul has established that God has a plan to unite heaven and earth (chapter 1), and the foundation for that plan is the work of Jesus Christ (chapter 2). Now that we have a starting point, we need to plug in. The Apostle shares with us that he was given this Gospel by the "working of His power" and then he prays that we too would be "strengthened in power". God is able to connect the power lines and bring life to this church, because (as Paul concludes) He is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine. This power is already at work within us to accomplish the work we have to do.

Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost,
August 9, 2015

Sermon: The Foundation - Ephesians Chapter 2
First Thoughts: After looking at the blueprint of God's construction plan, we begin building by laying down a sure foundation. St. Paul writes that we are "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone." As any builder will tell us, if the foundation is not laid in the right way, the building will not last. In this chapter, the work of Jesus is explored and we see how this is meant to be the cornerstone of a church built to last for all eternity.

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost, August 2, 2015

Sermon: The Blueprint - Ephesians Chapter 1
First Thoughts: Part one of our series is titled "The Blueprint". Ephesians chapter one revels in how God reveals the mysteries of His glory and grace through Christ Jesus. His plan is to "unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." How is this going to happen? That is what will be revealed in our reading in the rest of Ephesians!

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost, June 21, 2015
Father's Day

Sermon: A Father's Protection - Mark 4:35-41
First Thoughts: The Bible tells us that our strength will fail - "even youths will faint and grow weary". We are to "wait upon the Lord" to renew our strength (Isaiah 40:30-31). Our strength has limits. We may reach a point in our lives where we are afraid of what is ahead and afraid of failing. When our strength runs out, we need to know that the wind and the waves obey His voice, not ours. As we read the appointed Gospel from Mark, this Father's Day, we are reminded that no matter what challenges we face and no matter how terrified we are, Jesus is in the boat.

Third Sunday After Pentecost, June 14, 2015

Sermon: A Technicolor Promise - Genesis 9: 1-17
First Thoughts: Today, Bethany's children will present a musical sermon about the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.

Second Sunday After Pentecost, June 7, 2015

Sermon: All in God's Family - Mark 3:20-35
First Thoughts: In the Gospel of Mark, people generally do not have a lukewarm reaction to Jesus. Jesus' own family suspect that he is mentally ill. There are religious leaders who think Jesus is possessed. Ultimately, the members of His family and some of those religious leaders come to a fuller understanding of who Jesus is and they become part of His family. "Whoever does the will of God, He is my brother and sister and mother." Even as lawmakers and justices in our country struggle with the definition of family, we have the comfort and assurance that by faith, we are bonded together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Festival of The Holy Trinity, May 31, 2015
Sermon: "Congregational Renewal" - Isaiah 6:1-8
First Thoughts: As I've been taking a closer look at the calling of Isaiah the prophet, I think I see three connections to the process of spiritual renewal that we are trying to foster at Bethany Lutheran Church. First, the prophet becomes aware of God's presence. Next, he must be cleansed and renewed. Finally, he is sent out on God's mission. This is Isaiah's vision, but it can be a vision for our Congregational Renewal, as well.
Speaking of renewal...

Sermon Series - April 19 through May 24, 2015:
Holy Spirit Power,
Exploring The 3rd Article of The Apostles' Creed

Easter Sunday is past, but the Easter Season has just begun!
After The Resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples in various ways for 40 days, and then He was taken up from their sight. On day 50, the disciples receive Holy Spirit power at the harvest festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem. The appointed readings we hear and read at Bethany Lutheran during this 50-day Easter season are all about preparation, change, and the Holy Spirit.
In a new sermon series, I hope to connect these Easter readings with the last part of the Apostle's Creed. The Creed is a statement of faith that has been associated with Christian baptism since the beginnings of our church. It is a simple way to state that we believe in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When we say we believe in the Holy Spirit, we also say, "and in the holy, Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." That is because all these things are connected to the work of God, the Holy Spirit.
Each Sunday of Easter, we'll take a part of the creed and explore how the Risen Christ prepares us to run on Holy Spirit power! Join us for the new sermon series, which begins Sunday, April 19.

Pentecost Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sermon: I Believe - Acts 2:1-21
First Thoughts: At first glance, it seems as if we are mixing metaphors. On the one hand, the Holy Spirit comes down as "divided tongues as of fire" rests on each person gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem. Later, that same Spirit inhabits Peter's preaching on the streets that what was happening then was predicted by the prophet Joel that God would "pour out" (which is an image of water) His "Spirit on all flesh". We have an image of fire and an image of water and one Holy Spirit. Water and fire may be opposites, but in God's Kingdom, they are a powerful combination as Holy Spirit power gives life and spreads across the world.

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2015
Ascension (Observed)
Godspeed Sunday and Armed Forces Sunday

Sermon: The Life Everlasting - 1 John 5:10-12
First Thoughts: "Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself," John writes. Each of us is a living Scripture - a witness to the resurrection truth that "Christ is risen...!" By living in us, Christ gives His presence and power to the Church after His ascension into heaven so that we may testify to the world. From our text, we know that the testimony is that "God gave us eternal life... in His Son." But, a testimony is meant to be shared. So what does that sharing look and sound like?

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2015

Sermon: The Resurrection of the Dead - Acts 10: 34-48
First Thoughts: Our first reading from the book of Acts contains two kinds of resurrection. One is referred to by Peter when he is preaches to the house of Cornelius and tells them the Good News about Jesus who is the judge of all on the day when all people - living and dead - will stand before Him. There is another kind of resurrection that happens when Peter finishes preaching, and by the Holy Spirit's power, the people of this Gentile household believe and are baptized. While we wait for the day when God shows His power to all by raising the dead from their grave, we should also be on the lookout for the dead coming to life around us each day.

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2015
Confirmation Sunday

Sermon: The Forgiveness of Sins - John 15:3
First Thoughts: The first Sunday in May is traditionally when Bethany Lutheran administers the Rite of Confirmation to those young people who have dedicated themselves to studying the Bible and Luther's Small Catechism, and exploring the ministry of our church for two years. The sermon on this occasion is a brief charge to the Confirmands to continue serving our Lord as His disciples. Each of them has chosen a verse that they will present along with a brief statement of their faith.
As the Holy Spirit would have it, we hear John 15:3 on this Sunday where Jesus says "Already you are clean, because of the word spoken to you." When the word of Jesus's forgiveness cleanses us and frees us, we are dressed and ready for service in God's Kingdom. Let us think of that as we see His Word placed on each Confirmand; and we pray for God's Holy Spirit to come upon them as they begin their service in the church, and as we renew our commitment as well.

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 26, 2015
Good Shepherd Sunday

Sermon: Communion of Saints - John 10:16
First Thoughts: Last week, we looked at the church as a witness in the world. This week, we examine our faith in the church that cannot be seen. Our Good Shepherd is the one who gathers us together from the ends of the earth. How does He do it? 1) The voice of the Shepherd calls us and 2) We are made one by this calling - all this is done through "Holy Spirit Power."

Third Sunday of Easter, April 19, 2015

Sermon: The Holy, Christian Church - Luke 24:46-49 (also 1 John 3:1)
First Thoughts: Change was coming for the disciples of Jesus just after our Lord's Resurrection. What was going to happen to them? What would their work be like? Jesus prepares them by saying they would be His witnesses. When would this happen? They were to wait for what Jesus called the Holy Spirit - "the Promise of my Father." That title can give us a lot of insight into being witnesses in "The Holy, Christian Church" today!
I. The Promise and the witness
II. Being Holy and Christian

Second Sunday of Easter, April 12, 2015

Sermon: How the Church moves forward - John 20:21, Acts 4:32
First Thoughts: The disciples may have been asking one another a lot of questions after our Lord's resurrection. I imagine one of them was "Now What?" What were they supposed to do? The lessons for the Second Sunday of Easter give us some insight and helps the church today make major decisions about our future.
First, we are sent into the world with the gifts we first receive from Jesus (John 20:21). There is a wonderful and powerful testimony about life and hope we have been given, and the task is to share it with the world. All our decisions as a church flow from that mission. Second, we are to be of "one heart and mind" (Acts4:32), which comes from the power of God's Holy Spirit that we receive as we are grounded in prayer and The Word. These two steps help give the church today an action plan for moving forward by God's grace.

Sermon Series - March 1 through Easter, 2015:
At The Cross Roads -
A Journey of Faith in The Gospel of Mark

There is an old hymn composed by Fanny Crosby that kept running through my mind as I thought of this Lenten series: "Jesus, keep me near the cross, There a precious fountain; Free to all, a healing stream, flows from Calv'ry's mountain. In the cross, In the cross, Be my glory ever, till my ransomed soul shall find Rest beyond the river." That is my prayer: "Jesus, keep me near the cross." As I drew near to the cross in the Gospel of Mark, I was amazed at the centurion who stood there on Calvary's mountain and confessed that Jesus was the Son of God - the same confession one reads in chapter one, verse one of Mark's book. Mark wants his readers to make the same confession when they read the Gospel, so the accounts of Christ's teaching and life bring the cross into sharper and sharper focus the closer we get.
"Near the cross, a trembling soul, Love and mercy found me; There the Bright and Morning star Shed His beams around me." In our lives, we may often find ourselves at the cross roads - between the old and the new - the person we do not want to be and the person transformed by God's love. Mark's Gospel brings us to these cross roads just before he leads us to the centurion at Calvary's mountain. At the cross, Jesus pays for our sin and reconciles us to God and His righteousness. It is an awesome thing to contemplate as we follow the road to the cross laid before us in the Gospel of Mark.
"Near the cross! I'll watch and wait, Hoping, trusting ever; Till I reach the golden strand, Just beyond the river. In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever, Till my ransomed soul shall find Rest beyond the river." Join us for a new series of sermons as we read through the last half of Mark's Gospel this Holy Week and Lent.
Sunday, March 1, Mark 9:33-50, "servants and leaders"
Sunday, March 8, Mark 10:1-16, "families broken and healed"
Sunday, March 15, Mark 10:17-34, "the first and the last"
Sunday, March 22, Mark 10:35-52, "my way and God's way"
Palm Sunday, March 29, Mark 11:1-11, "humble and exalted"
Maundy Thursday, April 2, Mark 14:12-25 (26-42), "fidelity and betrayal"
Good Friday, April 3, Mark 14:43-15:47, "judgment and mercy"
Easter Sunday, April 5, Mark 16:1-8, "death and life"

Easter, April 5, 2015

Sermon: Death and Life - Mark 16:1-8
First Thoughts: In two chapters of the Gospel of Mark, we have the suffering and death of Jesus, which takes over 100 verses to tell. By comparison, the final chapter of Mark seems extremely brief, and one would expect it to be shorter on detail than the other Gospels. Yet, it is Mark alone who gives us the most detail concerning the emotional state of the women who went early to the tomb. With just a few, careful words, he communicates how brave and single-minded they were to get there. He then richly describes their reaction to the empty tomb and the angel gives us insight into just how utterly beyond belief these events were. With the women, we come on Easter morning to the crossroads of "Death and Life."

Good Friday, April 3, 2015

Sermon: Judgment and Mercy - Mark 14:43-15:47
First Thoughts: The Gospel of Mark leads us from courtroom to courtroom. First, the trial before the High Priest, where Jesus is silent until the moment He is asked directly: "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" Then, Jesus is before Pilate and a criminal is set free, while Jesus is brutally executed. From the perspective of Peter, who is still trying to follow Jesus, this must seem so unfair. But then Peter falls, and it is not until after this Good Friday that he and the other disciples realize that it is not the judgment of any earthly courtroom that matters. This is the day where God's judgment would meet His mercy on the cross for all of us. We come to the crossroads of "Judgment and Mercy."

Maundy Thursday, April 2, 2015

Sermon: Fidelity and Betrayal - Mark 14:12-25 (26-42)
First Thoughts: It begins in chapter 14, verse one of Mark's Gospel. The Chief Priests and Scribes make a decision that Jesus must die, and they look for an opportunity. The opportunity comes in one of Jesus's closest friends who betrays Him. There is money promised and exchanged for the life of Jesus, but our Lord gives Himself willingly, for "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). That is the price our Forever Friend paid because of His great love for us. The night that we gather - this Thursday - is traditionally a night of reconciliation, forgiveness and remembering the blood that was shed for our sake. Tonight, we come to the crossroads of "Friendship and Betrayal."

Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015
First Communion Sunday

Sermon: Humble and Exalted - Mark 11:1-11
First Thoughts: Jesus is exalted as King, but the thing that identifies Him as a special kind of King is His humble ride on a donkey. Mark's Gospel takes us through many teachings on humbleness and servanthood that are presented between three predictions Jesus makes about His death and resurrection (Mark 8-10). At chapter 11, Jesus rides into Jerusalem and the crowd cheers for "the coming Kingdom of ...David." So, the expectation seems to be that Jesus will take the throne and rule in another golden age. But this King comes to serve us in ways that are far greater.
I. The Humble Entry (11:1-6),
II. Our King Comes to Us (7-11)

Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2015

Sermon: My Way and God's Way - Mark 10:35-52
First Thoughts: I imagine this scene that Mark records happened at a moment when Jesus was very popular and there was great expectation that something was going to happen. Jesus was preaching that the Kingdom of God was near, so two disciples want to establish their place in this kingdom. In Mark's Gospel, this happens between Jesus's third prediction of His death, and the healing of a blind man. The disciples cannot see or understand the road they are on unless their eyes are opened by the One who came to serve, and to give His life for them.
I. We Cannot See The Way (10:35-40)
II. We Cannot See The Truth (41-45)
III. We Will See The Life (46-52)

Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2015

Sermon: The First and the Last - Mark 10:17-34
First Thoughts: I believe Mark when he writes "and Jesus looking at him, loved him." This is the young man who approached Jesus with what seems to be sincere intentions to be a disciple. But there is something holding him back from fully following. This young man is at the cross roads, and needs to see how the last in this world are really the first in God's kingdom. Something tells me that we need to see the same thing!
I. Departing Disheartened (10:17-22)
II. Utterly Flummoxed (22-27)
III. Richly Rewarded (28-31)

Third Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2015

Sermon: Families Broken and Healed - Mark 10:1-16
First Thoughts: Mark continues our journey to the cross with Jesus's teaching on marriage and children. God intended the union of husband and wife to support and sustain each other and any children that come into the world. Because of "hardness of heart," families can be broken, and many fall short of the Creator's intention. At the cross, what was broken can be healed and reconciled by the One who reconciled us with His steadfast love.
I. The Wrong Question (10:1-5)
II. What God Joins Together (6-12)
III. The Blessing of Children (13-16)

Second Sunday in Lent, March 1, 2015

Sermon: Servants and Leaders - Mark 9:33-50
First Thoughts: The text for the sermon puts together three different occasions for Jesus to teach, but the connector in all three is the phrase "little ones". Who are the little ones and how does serving them help Jesus' disciples in their pursuit of "greatness"?
I. Little Ones in the house (9:33-37)
II. Little Ones outside (9:38-41)
III. Little Ones everywhere (:42-50)

Wednesday Evening Meditations in Lent, 2015
February 25, March 4, 11, & 18

Last July, the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) released a video on YouTube supporting their claim that they had blown up the tomb of Jonah in the city of Mosul. The scene shows an exploding building, followed by a large plume of smoke for about thirty seconds after the building crumbles. Jonah, or Younis in Arabic, whose name means "the dove," was a Biblical figure that brought people from all the Abrahamic religions together. The reasons why Jonah is such a threat to a group like ISIS can be found in the four chapters of his book in the Bible.

In these four chapters, the reader explores four mysteries of the faith that can strengthen who we are as God's children.
1. In chapter one, February 25 - when we run away from God, how can we be found? Click here to download more information.
2. In chapter two, March 4 - what happens when our old self dies? Click here to download more information.
3. In chapter three, March 11 - how can we do something we really don't want to do? Click here to download more information.
4. In chapter four, March 18 - how can we love the unlovable?Click here to download more information.
Jesus said that He would give no other sign to an adulterous generation, than the sign of Jonah. Exploring the mysteries of Jonah will ultimately lead us to a better understanding of Jesus, His mission and His work in our lives.
Join Bethany Lutheran Church Wednesday nights during Lent for Evening Prayer and four meditations on the book of Jonah - February 25, March 4, 11 and 18. at 7:00 p.m.

Sermons and Bible Studies in February 2015: Casting Call! Christian Giving in Four Acts

Seeing the recent movie version of "Into the Woods" with my family, brought to my mind some good memories of doing a few plays and musicals in my High School and College days (including that particular Stephen Soundheim romp). One of the exciting parts of that experience is the casting call. In my mind, I explored all the different personalities and characters to see what would be the most fun or most challenging before auditioning and being (hopefully) chosen for the part.
At Bethany, we are getting ready for a Stewardship campaign that will launch during the season of Lent. Stewardship is a word that we use in the church to talk about what we do with all that our God gives to us. I thought that as we approach this campaign, we can explore the different "roles" that we play in our Christian giving.
This four part sermon series, "Casting Call" will feature sermons by myself and our mission pastor, Rev. Joseph B. Davis. The sermons will be preached at all three of our services on Sundays (8:30, 11 and 1), plus the Ash Wednesday evening service.
In addition, our Director of the Board of Stewardship, Mr. Darren Jay, will be leading a discussion on Sunday mornings to offer a primer for both experienced and new Bethany givers in preparation for our Pony Express campaign, this Lent.
What role will you play? The Giver? The Steward? The Treasure Hunter? Or, The Tither? We'll explore all these roles in the Bible and talk about how they are performed in the church, today.

First Sunday in Lent, February 22, 2015

Sermon: The Tither - Why Should A Christian Tithe?
First Thoughts: The answer to this question of tithing gets confused because the conditions under which this law was given no longer exist. But, what was once commanded in law now has become guidance for receiving a full blessing from the Lord's hand. Paul applies this principal when he gives instruction to the Christian churches. Even though this is not a command, it is a blessing for those who give the firstfruits of their lives to the One who is the firstfruits of the Resurrection and every heavenly blessing.
- Leviticus 23:9-14 - the first of the harvest is waved before The Lord
- 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 - setting aside the firstfruits in an offering
- 1 Corinthians 15:20 - Christ is the firstfruits of those who will rise
- Malachi 3:8-10 - bring the full tithe
- Mark 12:41-44 - money is collected and Jesus notices the widow's offering
- Proverbs 3:9 - We honor God with our firstfruits
- Leviticus 27:30 - every tithe of the land... is holy
- Luke 6:38 - Give and it will be given to you
Lectionary Connection: Mark 1:12 - "The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness." It seems an odd thing that the Spirit that descended on Jesus as a dove at His baptism then immediately drives Him out away from home and comfort to do battle with the Evil One. It is in the power of the Spirit that Jesus is able to defeat any temptation throughout the forty days, trusting fully in the providence of God the Father as He walked the road to the cross for our salvation.

Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2015

Sermon: Treasure Hunter - Where is our treasure?
First Thoughts: The question that comes to my mind when I read Jesus' words about "treasure" is - where do I invest my assets? What do I spend my money on? What do I do when I have time? What talents do I use for myself and others? God gives us a lot of responsibilities to manage with our family, job and other callings. Another self-assessment question: Is God at the center of all these, or do we keep our life separate from "religion" and "faith"?
- Ephesians 5:15-17 - make the most of every opportunity
- 1 Peter 4:10-11 - each one should use whatever gift he has to serve others.
- 2 Corinthians 8:9 - Christ became poor for our sake, that we may be rich
Lectionary Connection: Matthew 6:21 - "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." There's the ultimate word on stewardship: your heart goes where you put the treasure which God has given you to manage in this life.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
February 15, 2015

Sermon: The Steward - What is Christian Stewardship?
First Thoughts: Every now and then it is good to come back to basics and define what we mean when we use certain terms. A steward is someone who takes care of someone else's property. All that we have comes first from God's hand.
- Psalm 24:1 - the earth is The Lord's...
- Haggai 2:8 - the silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine...
- 1 Corinthians 10:31 - all to the glory of God
- 1 Chronicles 29:14 - we are giving You what is Your own
- 1 Corinthians 4:2 - we must prove worthy...
Lectionary Connection: Mark 9:6, "For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified." The fear of the disciples was based on seeing the fullness of God's glory in the person of Jesus at the mountain. The manifestation of our Lord's glory was a reminder that Jesus is not only true man, but true God. Those who serve Him here on earth are caretakers of this glory. In the church, we steward "the mysteries of God" in the Word and Sacrament. Indeed, every blessing we have first comes from our great provider who will soon enough turn all of our fear into faith and trust in Him.

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 8, 2015

Sermon: The Giver - What is our attitude toward giving?
First Thoughts: The whole Bible is written to reveal the God who gives everything to His people out of His love for us. Giving and generosity, then, is an imitation and a response to the first Giver of every gift in heaven and on earth.
- 2 Corinthians 9:1-2; Romans 15:25-28; 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 - the collection for Jerusalem
- Philippians 4:13-20 - Paul receives support from Phillipi
- Acts 20: 35 - more blessed to give than receive
- 2 Corinthians 9:6-9 - the cheerful giver
- 2 Corinthians 5:15 - we live for Christ
Lectionary Connection: 1 Corinthians 9:25, "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." Giving and generosity are a part of running the race and doing things well in a Christian life. It sounds like work, but there is so much about giving that blesses the giver. Paul writes elsewhere, "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me." The giver is blessed with strength by Christ who gives us every grace!

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 1, 2015

Sermon: "I know who you are," Mark 1:21-28
First Thoughts: The title for this week's sermon comes from the words of a man "with an unclean spirit" in the Gospel lesson. In the mouth of the possessed, these are words of fear. In our mouth and in our heart, these are words of freedom. If we know Jesus, then we are free, indeed.
I. What the demons know
    A. Oppression and possession
    B. The Name of Jesus
II. The Jesus We Know
    A. Setting the Captive Free
    B. The Authority of Jesus

Sermons in January 2015:
Disciples! Living our Commission

With the New Year comes a new sermon series that looks at examples of being a Jesus follower in this New Year. Each of the sermon titles is drawn from the "Great Commission" in Matthew 28. Jesus tells those who had been following Him that now they are to make more disciples. How are they to do that? By going, teaching, baptizing and obeying. The New Testament readings through January give us an opportunity to look at each of these areas of a disciple's commission.

Third Sunday after the Epiphany, January 25, 2015
The Conversion of St. Paul

Sermon: Going Disciples, Galatians 1:11-24
First Thoughts: It seems to me that there is a lot of kinetic energy that is a part of Paul's narrative in the Bible. He seems constantly in motion. When he is made a disciple of Jesus, it is when he is on the road. After his baptism, he is still in motion, going from place to place sharing his testimony like when he teaches in the synagogue and maybe while he is making tents in the market place. On the road that we travel (called "Life"), God encounters us where we are, puts us in motion, and then works through us to reach our fellow travelers.
- Encountered on the way
- Sharing The Way

Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 18, 2015

Sermon: Confessing Disciples, Mark 8:27-35
First Thoughts: This is the one Sunday in this series where the title is a more indirect connection from Jesus' "Great Commission" in Matthew 28:18-19. When Jesus tells His disciples to "make disciples," they are to do that by baptizing and teaching "to observe everything I have commanded you." The Gospel lesson appointed today from Mark 8 is when Jesus begins to speak plainly to His disciples that such obedience can be very costly. Peter does not want to hear that, perhaps because he does not relate his confession that Jesus is "the Christ" with any kind of suffering. It is not until later when he (and the church) understood that we "obey everything" by following in the shadow of the cross.

First Sunday after the Epiphany, January 11, 2015
The Baptism of Our Lord

Sermon: Baptizing Disciples, Mark 1:4-11
First Thoughts: Mark's Gospel begins with John the Baptist preparing the Way. Then, suddenly, the Lord appears! The heavens were opened when Jesus stood in the water, and the fullness of God is revealed. The grace of Baptism is given to all who follow Jesus into the water and out into a renewed life.
- Finding the Water (Mark 1:4, 7-8)
- Finding the Family (Mark 1:9-11)

Second Sunday after Christmas, January 4, 2015

Sermon:Teaching Disciples, Luke 2:40-52
First Thoughts: The rock band Pink Floyd famously sang "We don't need no education." The disciples of Jesus would disagree. We need to grow in our learning and understanding of God and each other. Teaching and learning is how we make new disciples, as well. We see a clear example of this in the appointed Gospel for this Sunday in the boy Jesus, who "grew and became strong, full of wisdom" and took the time to teach the teachers in His Father's house!

Click here to review sermons from 2014.