Sermons by Joshua Hartwigsen
I sat down at my desk for my first day as a minister twenty-one years ago this May. After busying myself arranging my little stack of books (I only had a Bible and four other books) and a few works items I realized something – I had no idea what to do. I have, fortunately, learned a few things about ministry over the years. In particular, I have developed some convictions that shape my practice of ministry, beliefs drawn from the Bible’s portrait of the church’s identity and of life in the church. This lesson will consequently consider three of those insights and how they can help us think about church.
We cherish the freedoms enjoyed in our nation and consider them central to our country’s identity. We also cherish the freedom Jesus extends to us and consider it central to our Christian identity. The freedom offered by our nation and the freedom offered by Jesus, however, differ from one another – our country guarantees freedoms to pursue our own interests while Jesus frees us to serve others’ interests. This lesson concludes a short series examining our dual identity as citizens of both our nation and of Jesus’ kingdom by considering the freedoms of both kingdoms and the place they should have within our lives.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Those familiar words were included in the Declaration of Independence that the second continental congress adopted on July 4, 1776. Those same words have become the foundation of the hopes and understandings many people in our nation have about our country. The words adopted by the second continental congress stand in contrast to the words embraced by the preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes. At the end of the book, the preacher wrote that things like the ‘self-evident truths’ of the Declaration of Independence belong to the “vanity of vanities” he saw filling the world (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 12:8). Given our nation’s celebration of our nation’s independence, including the freedoms and rights attached to that independence, we will consider the perspective of Ecclesiastes and what insights it offers us on our relationship with our nation.
The 4th of July marks an annual highpoint in our nation – we celebrate the birth of our nation and the freedoms central to our understanding of its identity. We are right to celebrate such things; freedom is a blessing and, as James wrote, all blessings come from God (James 1:17). Our celebration should, however, also be paired with a recognition that the Bible offers a complicated picture of the relationship God’s people ought to have with the world’s nations. This lesson therefore begins a short series considering our identity as citizens of Jesus’ kingdom and its meaning for our lives in the kingdoms of this world.
Near the end of his first letter, Peter encouraged the elders in his audience to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:1-3). He followed his encouragement with a promise – if the elders faithfully fulfilled their duty, Jesus, “the chief Shepherd”, would give them an “unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4; cf. Hebrews 13:20; John 10:7-18). The connection Peter makes between elders who “shepherd the flock of God” and Jesus “the chief Shepherd” offers an insight into being an elder – elders follow the example of Jesus. Our elders have announced the beginning of a process to appoint additional elders for our church family. This lesson, which concludes a series about elders, reminds us of elders’ responsibility to follow the example of Jesus, “the good shepherd” (John 10:7-18), whose teachings and behavior outline the expectations God has for those to whom He entrusts the care of His church.
Luke, in Acts 20, narrates Paul’s journey to Jerusalem. Despite “hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:16), Paul took time to stop in Miletus and meet with the elders of the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:17). Luke uses three different terms to refer to those elders in his record of Paul’s conversation – “elders” (Acts 20:17), “overseers” (Acts 20:28), and shepherds (Acts 20:28). Luke’s descriptions of elders map the role of the leaders to whom God entrusts the care of local congregations (cf. Acts 20:28) and offers insights into their place within our church family. We will therefore consider the terms “elders”, “overseers”, and “shepherds” in this lesson as we prepare to begin the process to appoint additional elders for our church family.
This lesson begins a series of three lessons on elders in preparation for the beginning of the process to appoint additional elders for our church family. This lesson will focus on the historical background of elders in the Bible and how that background emphasizes that elders are older men recognized by their community as individuals of proven character and wisdom to whom they entrust their care.
Judges 2: 11-19 The books of Joshua and Judges cover a long and dark period in Israel’s history. The story begins in a promising way, narrating the faithfulness of Joshua and the leaders who worked with him, before quickly moving into a summary of Israel’s cancer-like unfaithfulness that spread throughout the nation and nearly destroyed it. The dark realities of the nation during that time resulted in truly disturbing stories in the books. Our discomfort with those stories can, however, cause us to miss the insights they offer into humanity through its depiction of the relationships the Israelites had with themselves, with the people around them, and with God. This lesson considers the books of Joshua and Judges and explores what lessons they offer us.
Movies occasionally produce characters whose identity becomes reduced to a memorable line. Consider, for example, the line, “I’ll be back” from the movie Terminator. Arnold Schwarzenegger voiced the line in his role as a robot from the future sent back in time to perform a mission and the now-iconic phrase captured his unfeeling commitment to accomplishing that task. God similarly reduces Israel’s identity in the story of their exodus from Egypt. Rather than using a phrase, however, God focuses on the nation’s responses to His activity in its life – they constantly grumbled against Him. This lesson considers Israel’s complaints recorded in the books of Exodus and Numbers, what insights it offers us into their relationship with God, and how their story offers us perspective on our own lives.
President Biden’s recent inauguration elicited numerous comments. The absence of the crowds that usually attend a presidential inauguration and the debates swirling about the legitimacy of the election combined to make his inauguration the most unusual one in recent memory. People connected to Biden’s administration consequently tried to give context to the abnormal event, working to give the ceremony legitimacy and a sense of normalcy. We expect important events to follow specific, prescribed patterns and we feel the need to offer explanations when they fail to meet those expectations. Jesus, however, commonly turned those anticipations upside down and often challenged expectations rather than explaining his actions. Consider, for example, his inauguration – the gospels record Jesus’ inauguration taking place through his betrayal and death and the challenges his path to ‘power’ created for his followers. Even though people Jesus’ time struggled to understand and accept the means of his rise to power, Christendom today celebrates that event through its observance of Easter Sunday. We will take advantage of that focus in this lesson by giving attention to how Jesus’ death and resurrection became the unexpected means of his exaltation and what it means for our lives.
Genesis 18:16-19 –The Bible’s story opens with a compacted, yet masterfully narrated, account of God’s grand plan for humanity and of humanity’s rebellion against Him and His plan. God responded to humanity’s rebellion in a surprising way – He promised to bless the whole world through a man named Abraham. The introduction of Abraham results in the dramatic slowing of the Bible’s story as it traces the development of the promise through Abraham and his family. This lesson will consider Abraham’s family in the book of Genesis and their relationship to God and His promise as part of our ongoing series exploring the story of humanity in the Bible.
John 7: 37-38 The four gospels record many memorable things said by Jesus, words that have been providing hope, comfort, and encouragement to people for the past two-thousand years. Sometimes, however, the time separating us from Jesus’ sayings and our familiarity with them conspire to cause us to miss the import of his teachings. This lesson will consider Jesus’ promise in John 7:37-38, exploring how Genesis offers a backdrop for understanding his claim about God’s plan for those who believe in Jesus. In particular, the lesson will give attention to what it looks like to be a ‘river of life’ person.
Genesis 22:18–The Bible’s story opens with a grand vision of God’s intentions for humanity only to be quickly followed by a lengthy section tracing humanity’s persistent rebellion against God and His intentions. Humanity’s rebellion, however, did not negate God’s good intention. Beginning in Genesis chapter twelve, the Bible traces God’s promise to bless humanity by restoring His grand vision. This lesson will consider that promise and its fulfillment as part of our ongoing series considering humanity’s story in the Bible.
Genesis 3: 1-6 This lesson continues an exploration of humanity’s story in the Bible and its relationship to our 2021 theme of “bonding”. In particular, this lesson consider humanity’s response to the honored place God gave them within the creation as the ones to whom He entrusted rule over His creation – humanity chose to rebel against God and His plan for them. The Bible’s narrative emphasizes the disorder and evil created by humanity’s rebellion, giving special attention to the ways in which it impacted the relationships God created humans to enjoy.
The 1970 Academy-Award winning movie Love Story traces the relationship of wealthy heir Oliver Barrett and working-class Jennifer Calleveri. Oliver, against his father’s wishes, married Jennifer, a decision that motivated his father to disown him and withhold the family’s wealth and privilege from him. Happy but struggling, the movie follows the young couple as they begin their life together until a tragic illness takes Jennifer’s life early in their marriage. The movie ends with Jennifer’s death bringing reconciliation between Oliver and his father, marked by Oliver telling his sorrowful father, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” We respond to stories like the one told in Love Story not merely because they narrate universal human experiences of love and loss, but because we sense a certain nobility them. I suspect we respond to those stories because they reflect aspects of God who “is love” (1 John 4:8). God’s identity as love shapes the Bible’s narrative, which tells a great love story. We will therefore consider the Bible’s love story in this lesson and what it means for our lives.
Genesis 1: 26-28 Well-written stories introduce main characters in both memorable and prescient ways. Whether subtle or heavy-handed, those introductions set the boundaries within which we come to understand the characters and the stories they inhabit. That storytelling technique helps us appreciate the way God introduces humanity in the Bible’s carefully crafted narrative. We will, in this lesson, briefly consider humanity’s introduction in the Bible and how it both prepares us to understand the rest of the Bible’s story and how it helps us understand our place and purpose in the world.
Matthew 5:19-20–This lesson concludes a three-lesson series considering Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, a series encouraging us to look back to Jesus’ teaching to help us move forward into the new year. Our first lesson explored the reality and nature of the kingdom Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount while the second lesson considered the rule Jesus assumed over that kingdom. We continue our focus on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in this lesson by considering the behavior his rule expected from those in his kingdom, which reveals an important focus – kingdom behavior focuses on the proper treatment of others.
Matthew 7:24-29 This lesson continues a three-lesson series considering Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, a series encouraging us to look back to Jesus’ teaching to help us move forward into the new year. We spent time last week exploring the reality of the kingdom that formed the heart of Jesus’ teachings. We continue our focus on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in this lesson by considering the rule over the kingdom he talked about in his sermon, which outlines an important message – God has given Jesus rule over the kingdom of heaven.
We tend to associate the beginning of a new year with the possibility of new and good things. That anticipation is tempered by our recognition that we have to work to realize many of the good things we hope to see. As we move into 2021, I want us to consider Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, to look back to his teaching to help us move forward into the new year. We will, over the next few weeks, consider three messages from the Sermon on the Mount that will hopefully compose a perspective that will guide us throughout this year and help us realize the good things God wants to be part of our lives. We begin in this lesson by considering the reality of the kingdom Jesus talked about in his sermon, which focuses us on an important message – we live in the present as representatives of Jesus’ kingdom’s future arrival.
John 17: 20-23 The 151st church family has the following mission: we exist to live, and help others live, a purposeful life by being more like Jesus. Our mission expresses itself in through: = Growing – developing our understanding of God’s Bible and developing ways of helping us faithfully live out those understandings. = Bonding – developing a deeper relationship with God that reveals itself through our deepening relationships with one another. = Sending – identifying ways to both serve and teach the people and communities around us with the goal of one day planting another church. Last year focused on “growing”, the first of the three expressions of our mission. This year we will focus on the second of the three purposes – “bonding” – and explore the Bible’s teachings about relationships and the place they hold within our effort to be more a Christlike church family. Bonding’s goal focuses on helping us cultivate united, Jesus-centered relationships with one another through which we evidence, and develop, our relationship with God. This lesson introduces our focus for 2021 by offering a brief overview of bonding’s place within the Bible.