From This Moment On

 John 20: 1-2, 11-18

The title of my sermon today is, "From This Moment On." An agent of the IRS called a pastor and said, "One of your church members, Sam Harris, put down on his tax return that he had made a contribution of fifteen hundred dollars to your church. Is that true?" The preacher thought a minute and then replied, "If he didn't, he will."

Some times there are moments in our lives that are defining, when from that moment on, something changes in our lives. Something within us changes and we don't do things the same way, or we don't see things the same way, or we have a different outlook or different attitude.

Certainly in our wonderful passage from the book of Ruth this is a defining moment in both Ruth and Naomi's life when Ruth says to her mother-in-law, "Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God." Ruth was a foreigner. The God of the Israelites was not her God. But she gives over her life to help her mother-in-law. She is even willing to let go of her beliefs and to learn about and follow Naomi's God.

And certainly, in the Gospel lesson today, Mary Magdalene has a defining moment when she is the first person to encounter the risen Lord. There is no way that she could continue her life in the same manner. Today is a day on which we commemorate Mary Magdalene, Apostle. We know very little of her after this encounter, but we do know there are places where she visited, where she preached, where she witnessed because of sources outside of Scripture. Her life had already changed before this encounter, but as you can just imagine for yourself, how your life would change if you encountered face to face the risen Lord.

I mean, there's no going back is there? There's no way you wouldn't want to share that news. There could be no way to contain your joy! There's a hymn in "With One Voice," the blue book, entitled "My Life Flows on in Endless Song." I love it. It's hard for me to sing it though because I always get so choked up. The refrain ends with "How can I keep from singing?" It's hard to isolate a particular verse because each verse contains such wonderful thoughts and affirmations. But the greatest of them is "How can I keep from singing?"

I'm sure that each one of you has had some defining moment in your life where you said, if not actually out loud, you said it with your thoughts and actions, "from this moment on." Something made you say it. Something moved you to say it. It might have been building up for some time within you, but there was a moment when something tipped the scales and you couldn't go back. You didn't WANT to go back.

Today could be a 'from this moment on' day for you. At least in some part of your life it could be that kind of a day, and it will change your life. For instance, "from this moment on I will look at the world through the eyes of the love of Christ." Or "I see that there is more love in the world than hate. I will focus on the love rather than the hate."

There are some folks who are shy, closet Christians. They could say, "From this moment on I will share how important Jesus is in my life. From this moment on I will ask someone to come to worship with me every week to celebrate that the Lord is risen, alive."

Lutherans, particularly in North America, are famous for being lousy at evangelism-at spreading the Good News that Jesus loves us all and is alive, not dead. Studies have shown that the average Lutheran in the United States invites someone to church, are you ready for this....and this is true...the average Lutheran in the United States invites someone to church once every seven years! And you have to take into account the fact that it takes the average person seven invitations to church before they that means the average Lutheran successfully brings a 'new body' to church once every 49 years!

Of course, 90 percent of the members of a congregation believe that people will miraculously show up. "We're here if they want to come," they say. Lutherans are a welcoming people, but not an inviting kind of people. But even worse is that 95 percent of the members believe that it has nothing to do with them and everything to do with the pastor. It's up to the pastor to bring them in. "If he/she preached better sermons they would flock to be here." "If he/she chose better hymns they would be here." "If he/she wouldn't allow the children to make noise during the service; if he/she would make the children respect God more and wear proper clothing."

Where's the joy in all that? There is no joy in such a person or persons that would cause them to ask someone to come to church with them.

What was the defining moment for such a person that caused them to say, "From this moment on I will be negative about everything." "From this moment on I will blame the pastor for everything." "From this moment on I will not be joyful at worship."?

How did their incredible positive "from this moment on" experience lead them to where they are now? You know what? It doesn't matter because the person can instantly be back in touch with that incredible, defining positive moment. It's always there. Christ planted it. The Holy Spirit keeps tending it until the person becomes aware of it again.

So how can the person be instantly in touch with it again? YOU lift the person UP with YOUR spirit; do that and there's no way they can drag you down. Their statements remain unaffirmed. And, by the way, your SILENCE when they make a negative statement, affirms what they are saying. How can you be silent? How can you keep from singing?

You know how much you are blessed. You know how important Jesus is in your life. Jesus is what dispels the negativity. Jesus is what dispels the darkness. The last verse of the hymn I mentioned earlier goes like this: "The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain every springing! All things are mine since I am his! How can I keep from singing?"

Now, there isn't any one of us here who hasn't got something, some part of us-our thinking, our habits, our attitude, our outlook-some part of any one of those that needs to be left behind, that needs a defining moment of "From this moment on..."

But don't frame it in the negative. I mean, don't say, "From this moment on I won't gossip." No. If you do that, then you draw all the energy to that negative focus: I won't. You never move beyond that. You are stuck there. The Bible tells us that: the way to over come negativity is to make energetic progress in the good. Make it a positive statement. For instance, what is the opposite of gossip? Do you remember last week I said you should go back and look at the Ten Commandments in Martin Luther's Small Catechism? In his explanation of the Eighth Commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" he explains, "We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations." Okay, there's the 'no' part. But HERE'S the positive that most folks don't pay attention to: "Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light."

Okay, so instead of focusing on a negative statement of "From this moment on I won't gossip," use THIS instead: "From this moment on I want to speak well of others and defend them."

So, when someone starts to gossip to you about someone, you need to stop them from telling you. You need to speak up and say, "I really don't want to hear that gossip. It isn't good or fair to talk about someone behind their back."

I hope, as a result of this sermon, you will, today, find some part of yourself that needs a positive defining moment of "From this moment on...." and make that a new direction in your life. Maybe it's your outlook on life that needs changing; maybe it's your attitude about someone. Whatever it is, Christ has given you the power to do it and the Holy Spirit awaits your initiation. Every time you confess Jesus as your Savior (you do this in the Creeds), that is a defining moment of power; you have been given the power to say "From this moment on..." and you are backed up in that power by the Holy Spirit.

Just remember, don't let a 'won't' or a 'not' slip into your affirmation. That is, don't say, "From this moment on I won't...." or "From this moment on I will not..." Instead say, "From this moment on I will see the love of Christ in others." Or "From this moment on I want to express the joy and gratitude that Christ has planted in my heart."

For me, I say, from this moment on I will be aware that "No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I'm clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?"


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