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God Is Right Down the Street - By Pastor Thomas Engel


During a move, several years ago, I came across my catechism from eighth grade at the bottom of a box of other books and knickknacks.

This catechism was interleafed for the taking of notes. As I skimmed through the pages, I saw a lot of doodles that showed it was smart I did not take up art as a career.

I stopped on one page with a big bold cross, and some scribbles of notes from a lecture on the Gospel. Also, I saw that my handwriting was more legible back then than it is now.

When I found my catechism at the bottom of that box, I had been a pastor for several years, so I was able to give a through evaluation of my notes on the Gospel when I was thirteen.

It seems that I had been listening, for my note taking wasn’t too bad, even with my doodles that were far from masterpieces.

The notes were clear and concise. To explain the Gospel doesn’t take a lot of words. Big words are not needed, and it doesn’t take pages and pages of explanation.

In under one hundred words, the Apostles’ Creed shows how clear and concise that a summary of all that we believe can be.

Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation is not all of that thick of a book, and it tells everything we believe with question and answers that have support from Scripture.

When the world has a tragedy, I’ve noticed that Franklin Graham is often asked to do an interview on the Christian perspective of the event. He will answer the reporter’s questions, but I notice he will always take some opportunity to tell the Gospel.

In just a couple of phrases, Franklin Graham will talk about sin and the forgiveness of sin that Jesus gives by his death and resurrection.

That little nugget of words of the Gospel is what the world needs in a tragedy and in all times.

I’m not sure if people do this anymore, but during a football game, when there’s a field goal attempt, some Christian would hold up a sign that says, “John 3: 16.”

That verse is said to be the Gospel in a nutshell. Again, using an economy of words, we get the most important news that every human being needs above all needs.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’’

In other places, we see even shorter verses. John the Baptist says, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

St. Paul says, “But we preach, Christ crucified.” (1 Cor. 1: 23)

And we can go on all day long where we see in Scripture how the Gospel is focused like a laser light.

We are meant to live in societies. For in a society, we find support for all that we need.

When we look online for some kind of service, especially here in the city, we are sure to find it, probably right down the street a few blocks.

If we have a throbbing toothache, a dentist is near by. If we are feeling sick, a doctor is close, or a hospital with emergency care if we are feeling really bad is within minutes away. We have accountants, lawyers, plumbers, electricians and carpenters, who are all in our zip code.

We needed plumbers for the church and school this past week, and they came in a short time to fix our leaks.

If we are hungry, not to do an advertisement for Doordash, but go there- like I do because I’m as lousy as a chef as I’m an artist-and you can have all kinds of food to satisfy that craving delivered to your dining room table.

We have shoe stores and clothing stores, so you can keep up on the latest fashion trends, and if you are feeling inspired to have an impression forever marked on you, we even have a tattoo parlor around the corner from here.

The big city has it all.

We have a police and a fire department a stone’s throw away to keep us safe.

And almost on every other block in Chicago is a church.

I was once at a downtown hospital visiting a member who’s room was on a high floor. As I walked in the room, it had a breathtaking view. It was a clear day, and I noticed all the magnificent steeples that were through out the city.

Each place in society has a purpose. The church’s purpose is to bring the Gospel to the people in that society.

A retired pastor told me once when I was first starting out in ministry that he kept two notes in the pulpit to remind him of his purpose on Sunday mornings.

One note was to keep the sermon under twenty minutes-you can get your stopwatch out to see how I do with this sermon-and the other note said, “Let them see Jesus.”

The retired pastor explained how the two notes worked together. If the sermon gets too long with too many words, it might distract from a sermon’s central message-the people are to see Jesus.

We live in societies, so we can support each other, but as we live together, issues come up. It’s tempting to address many of the hot-button issues that we have in our society in fire and brimstone sermons.

With so many issues in our world, we could have an issue a week and give a Christian perspective on that issue. Not to deflect to our Synod’s web page, but they do address some of these issues.

But, if we would talk only about issues, or jump on the bandwagon of the many movements that are out there, we might be distracted in doing our main purpose.

The church is to preach the Gospel. If we don’t do our purpose of preaching the Gospel, who will do it?

The Gospel can’t be bought at a store or through any online shopping-although you can get a t-shirt with a Bible verse on it.

Government can’t give you the Gospel because we have agreed to the idea of separation of church and state-we basically stay out of each other’s business.

The local pharmacy can’t give you the Gospel in a pill, and the Gospel can’t be found in any gizmo or gadget at the tech store.

The other day as I was taking CeeCee for a walk, a neighbor stopped me and asked me to pray for her mother who is now in Hospice.

She said, “I’m glad I saw you. I keep forgetting that God is just around the corner.”

God is here at St Philip, for He has given the church His Word and Sacraments-the means of His grace-to preach, teach, and administer.

Although the church is the central place where the Gospel begins, it doesn’t just stay here, for as you leave here, you take the Gospel with you to all the places you go-our schools, places of work, and neighborhoods.

You won’t be standing on your desk to preach a sermon at your place of work, but people should know that you are a Christian by your words and actions.

Our world is a place of many issues. As I said, as Lutherans, we do have a side on many issues.

Of course, we take a stance on our side. At the water cooler, we might be talking about one of the many issues. We have our convictions, and we do not waver. Without apology, we present our stance, give our reasons, and conclude with what we want to accomplish.

In our discussion, we do listen to the other side, for we are to be empathetic in all matters.

In the news, I’ve heard politicians talk a lot about walking and chewing gum.

In the church, we can walk and chew gum. We can preach the Gospel-that’s our walk-and we can get involved in the issues-that’s our gum chewing-but how we do it is different than the world’s ways.

We have compassion for others, especially those who are against us, we show love-we are kind and caring.

In all of our relationships at home, work, schools, and neighborhoods, if there are differences, we show love-we are kind and caring.

In all of our words and actions in all situations, we show love-we are kind and caring.

In every and any moment, we are to know that it’s Christ who lives in us. As we go out into the places of our lives, we are first and above all else, people of faith.

We see every and any moment and encounters with every and any person an opportunity to share the Gospel. Like that retired pastor, we want people to see Jesus.

When people see us, they see Jesus, for everything about us is about Christ.

On Transfiguration Sunday, I always wonder about what Moses, Elijah, and Jesus were talking about.

Could they have been talking about the change that was going to take place?

This was not a change in plans, but some plans are about making a change.

When I was a first year student in seminary, I made a rookie mistake.

I was leading a bible study on a Sunday morning at the church I was assigned to in St Louis.

For some reason, I said that the Old Testament is Law and the New Testament is Gospel. A woman respectively responded, “But, doesn’t the Old Testament have many places of God’s forgiveness?”

She was right-there are plenty places of forgiveness in the Old Testament.

But, in a little bit of my defense, Moses and Elijah lived under God’s first covenant that we call now the Old Covenant.

The Old Covenant was when God issued the Ten Commandments and the laws in Leviticus to be obeyed by the Hebrews. If they complied, God pledged prosperity and protection in the Promised Land.

Altogether, there were 613 laws, covering every aspect of human behavior. Males had to be circumcised, sabbaths had to be observed, and people had to obey hundreds of dietary, social, and hygiene rules.

All these regulations were intended to protect the Israelites from their neighbors' pagan influences, but no one could keep so many laws. To address the people's sins, God set up a system of animal sacrifices, in which the people provided cattle, sheep, and doves to be killed. The forgiveness of sins required blood sacrifices.

The Old Testament is a record of the nation of Israel struggling-and failing-to keep its covenant with God. The New Testament shows Jesus Christ keeping the covenant for his people, doing what they cannot do.

Martin Luther called the contrast between the two covenants law versus gospel. A more familiar name is works versus grace. While God's grace frequently broke through in the Old Testament, its presence overwhelms the New Testament. Grace, that free gift of salvation through Christ, is available to any person, and asks only that a person repent of their sins and believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

After the talk of the change from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, Jesus would come down from the mountain to begin the New Covenant by going to the cross to be that final sacrifice.

We are New Covenant people. Jesus has died and risen for us. We are to preach this Gospel message in everything that we do.

It may sound strange at first, but what we do in life is not about the important roles that we have in life. This is not first about who we are as a husband or wife, a mom or dad, as a brother or sister, or as a best friend, or as a worker, or a neighbor, or as a citizen-how we approach life is about first who we are as New Covenant people.

In this present time, the moments keep changing, and in a world that is pressed to find what is up or down, we are not sure what is happening.

But, we are living in the New Covenant. In this New Covenant, we are sure that Christ is here with all that he has for us.

If Jesus has saved us from all that can harm us-sin, Satan, and eternal death-it has to mean that nothing that this old world can dish out can harm us.

If we have confidence in our salvation, we are sure all else will work out, too.

Knowing that we are living in the New Covenant, we go back to our families, places of work, to our neighborhoods, and bring who we are in Christ.

We are all about salvation in Christ. We are all about the grace and mercy of God. We are all about the love of Christ that is in each one of us. We are all about the power of that love in Christ that changes everything.

At the end of one of the religion lessons this week, I said that not all people believe in Jesus. A second grader asked, “Why not?”

It was at the end of the lesson, I said that it was two worded question that needed more words to answer. We will look at it next time.

As we end this sermon, I can say to you knowing that you understand more than a second grader, for we know how the world is.

For reasons that some people do not believe, I can use words like: “arrogance,” “stubborn,” “selfish pride,” and “hatred.”

Many people get tripped up on the simple but powerful words of the Gospel.

A friend visited me while I was at semi

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