From the Pastor

Confess Him, Set your minds on Him, and Follow Him

By the Rev. Germán Novelli-Oliveros. Grace Community – Milwaukee

Text: Mark 8:27-38
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Imagine walking-alonefor a moment that you are walking on the path of your life, tired of everything that burdens you. Perhaps you have some wounds on your knees or hands fro
m those many times you fell. At this point, you carry within you some sadness, due to some bad experiences you had to face in the past. And you also have with you some joy, the joy of that beautiful scenery you could see for a while, or those good people
you met along the way. You keep walking forward, never back, reflecting on everything that has happened to you, learning from every step you take, and dreaming, finally to reach your destination.

But you are not walking alone. Beside you is the person who has loved you most, whom you call Lord. Yes, Jesus. Jesus is there with you in your walk. Who do you think helped you up when you fell.? Or who do you think was there to introduce you these great people you met along the way.?

And, if for a moment Christ stops his walking . . . looks you in the eyes . . . puts his hand on your shoulder . . . and asks: “Who do people say that I am?”

What would you respond? What would you say?

Maybe, you would say that He is a famous person in the world . . . that history of mankind is divided into two parts: before and after Him. Perhaps, you will say that many people think He is a revolutionary, who came to save the poor. Or maybe, you would tell Him what we learned from Discovery Channel, that He was just a great preacher of the ancient world . . . Or a prophet! As some religions have claimed.

You see, today’s world has many opinions about who Jesus is. Many answers to the same question.

Imagine now that both of you still walk a little more, then he stops you again. . . He looks you in the eyes. . . put his hand on your shoulder. . . and asks: “Who do YOU say that I am?”

Now, it is not about others, or the world, or opinion that society has about Christ. . . It is personal now. . . Now this is between you and Him. What would you say?
Who-Is-JesusMy dear friends, the world has many opinions about Jesus.
In today’s world there are many theologians trying to explain many things about Jesus; and what they do, is confuse more and more people, and they forget that this is not about a religion, but about a relationship with the Lord.

My father used to say that God gives us His Word and sends us His Holy Spirit so that we can understand it. . . but the devil has created theologians to confuse us.

Who is He for you? Who is Jesus Christ in your life? Who is he?

Are you ready to confess Him? . . . in a world that does not yet know Him. Are you willing to set your eyes on Him, and to set Jesus in your mind, your heart and your life.? Are you willing to follow him, to take your cross full of suffering, deny yourself, and follow Him every day of your life.?

“Who do you say that I am?”

With this question, Christ opened the eyes of Peter, perhaps one of his closest disciples, the group’s leader, who empowered by the Holy Spirit said:
“You are the Christ (The Messiah),”

Peter confessed that Christ is truly the Son of God, promised in the Scriptures, who would come to save mankind and restore the broken relationship between God and His people.

But . . . the gospel says. . . that Christ began teaching about the pain that He would suffer to achieve salvation. . . and this is the part that Peter did not like.

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

We all love to hear about the victorious Christ … Christ the Victor! The one who was promised by the prophets. . .The one who was coming to conquer evil, death, and destroy the sin in the world. . .The one who had to come to be light for those living in darkness, to be bread of life for those who are hungry and in need, and to be living water to those who thirst for justice.

Most of us don’t like to talk about the cross. . . or about the blows and wounds. . . or to talk about the insults and mockery He received. . . about the blood and nails. . . or to talk about the thorns and tears.

But Peter, the leader, the boss, who confessed -just a moment ago- that Jesus was the Christ, now he dared to question his Master.

Then Peter took him aside, and began to criticize Jesus.
33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Jesus was not saying that Peter is Satan. But, He said that setting our minds on human desires, denying the cross and Christ’s suffering for our sins and for our salvation, and to reject the work of Christ, it is what Satan wants.

The devil wants you to think like the world thinks about Jesus. He wants you to have your own opinion about Christ, not the real one, the one that God has revealed in the Scriptures. Satan wants for your life to set your mind on the things of men, and not on God’s.

But God does not leave you alone. He knows you need him to win, and that you need Him to confess with your mouth, and believe in your heart, that Jesus Christ is Lord. So in the same way He did with Peter, He does it with you today, and sends His Holy Spirit to lead you to believe in Christ, to confess Him, so you set your mind, your heart, and your life, on Him, so you can follow Him.

And following Jesus is no an easy task. It is easier to stay at home and watch TV. It’s not easy. But He continues inviting you, and me, to become followers of his work, preachers of His truth, and light to those who live in darkness. And today, He tells you:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel (The Good News), will save it.”

To deny ourselves means to reject our human desires. Our flesh always wants a taste of sin, the pleasure we get from things of this world, and to act just as we want to act. This is to believe in God in our own way, not God’s way. This is to deny God and live with the idea that everything will be fine if we trust in ourselves.

To take up the cross and follow Jesus is to accept suffering. This is to recognize that life is not easy, and that sin has produced all our wickedness, the illnesses of this world, and our sufferings. Many people will blame God for the things that happen, many will claim God is guilty because He is almighty and does nothing to save us … and they don’t see the painful suffering of Christ for our sake, so we can live in the hope of his promises, and in the eternal joy of his resurrection.

Confess, set your mind on him, follow him everywhere

In the text, we see these three very important things.

imagesThe first one is that we must confess that Jesus is the Christ. We are called to discard what the world thinks and says about Him, and believe in our heart what He eveals about Himself in t
he Word. Many people will say that he is only a prophet, a revolutionary from the first century, or a great leader in history. But you, in the middle of your path of life, you walk with Him, you stand up -inspired by the Holy Spirit- to confess with your lips, and with faith in your heart, that Jesus Christ is your Lord, who came to earth to suffer the death you deserve, and to give life to those who are dying in sin, and also to open the eyes of those who are blind in their own beliefs. Confess him! As Peter did, confess him. Because He is there, standing in front of you, looking into your eyes, and asking you: Who am I to you?

The second is that you must set your mind, your life, your eyes, your heart on Him. It is not useful to put all your strengh in the things of this world, which are not eternal. Have you seen a rich man taking all his money to heaven or hell? There are no banks there. Have you heard about the US. Heavenly Bank? or about the Jesus and Peter (JP) Morgan Chase Bank?

Set your heart, your mind, your strength, your love, your life in Jesus and trust Him all that you are, because His plan is to give you eternal life and eternal joy of life in heaven.

And finally, the third thing, is that we are called to follow Him together. He continues inviting us to take our crosses, our sufferings, and our sadness, and follow Him. It is not easy,sometimes it is not the most funny thing to do, but it is the road that leads to the victory of salvation.

Three things:
-Confess him (with your lips), and believe him (in your heart). . .
-Set your mind (all that you are) in Him. . .
-Follow him . . deny yourself, and what you want, take up your cross and follow him everywhere.
In this task, you are not alone. . .
God sends His Holy Spirit to put each word in your mouth, and every pound of faith in your heart.To confess Him as Peter did, and to surrender your life before Him, and also to follow Him wherever He leads you.

Remember that Christ is good and right, and He has promised to be our mediator with the Father. Jesus loves us so much that He gave His life for us, forgives us even when we cannot confess Him, all the time and in all places; gives us life even when we have not set our heart on Him; and keeps walking with us, even when we have refused to carry our crosses.

My dear brothers and sisters, life is a long path, full of joys and sorrows, beautiful landscapes and full of moments of tears and pain, good and bad people we have met, but the most important thing is that your Savior, the Christ, the Lord, will not leave you alone, but He always walks beside you.

Confess, Set your eyes on Him, and follow Him. . . Amen.

The difference between loving with words and speech

and loving with truth and actions

By Rev. German Novelli-Oliveros

Text: 1 John 3:16-24 / 16 We know love by this, that Jesus Christ laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

The truth is that there is a huge difference between loving God, and loving others, with words and speech, and loving God and one another in “truth and actions.” (1 John 3:18)

This reminds me of the story of Jose Alberto Gamboa. He was the character in my favorite TV drama. Gamboa (as everyone called him) had three women in his life. The first one was his wife, the official, beautiful woman, whom he kindly called “the number one.” With her, he had two kids, and he loved her (at least he said so). The second was his mistress, his lover, who had a relationship with him for about 10 years, to whom he really adored, and to whom he lovingly called “number two.” And he also had always a third woman, whom he changed every other month. It was a woman to have a brief affair, but not something serious. He called this one “the number three.” Obviously none of these women knew about their nicknames.

Gamboa was a special character, and what kind of character! The story became very funny when the three women, for different reasons, met and became friends, and then Gamboa was always trying to hide his double . . . or triple life.!

hombre-con-floresHowever, this sermon will not be about infidelity or unfaithfulness, nor about how dangerous it is to have three women. This message is about the difference between love, in just words and speech, and LOVE in truth, and actions . . . about loving with a sincere LOVE.

Gamboa always said that he loved them all. And I believed him. He cried for them, and with them; he was always there for them, and he just wanted to make them happy.

However, having a wife, and two lovers, and living a life of lies, is diametrically opposed to true love.

This certainly was a love of just words, pretty nice speeches, roses and poems, but not a true love, nor a love of heart, a love that gives everything, or a sincere love; as truly as God’s love is for us, or the love we are called to have among us.

Jesus’ love, a true love

Jesus AbrazaHowever, you cannot love God or others, if you first do not understand what love is, and if you don’t discover first the greatness, beauty, and power of God’s love for us.

John, in his Gospel, and also in his letters, does an extraordinary job, inspired by the Holy Spirit, revealing to us the wonderful love of God, the love of Christ, who is the Good Shepherd who loves us so much, that He gave his life for his sheep (John 10:11).

We know love by this, that Jesus Christ laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

On the cross, the pure and spotless Lamb, was crucified as an act of love. In love, God sent Jesus into the world. In love, He taught us to live and to love. In love, He saved us, and paid the price of our condemnation, and suffered the punishment we deserved. In love, He did what love demanded: sacrificing Himself! Because love is sacrifice, love is putting the one we love first.

In the same way, in faith, we know that He is love, and we love just because He first loved us.

And Jesus is the greatest example of love for others that we can follow, imitate, or have.

He loved those who persecuted him. He loved those who hated him. He loved those who were different or foreign. He loved all of them, and therefore died for all of them.

His love was not only simple words, sermons, or great speech. His love was a love of actions, works, truths, and what a work of love it was to lay down his life for us on the cross.

This is the same Jesus who invited his disciples to love, to forgive, to live for others, to help others, and to do good works for others, so others may see his love through our love for everyone.

This is Jesus, the good shepherd who laid down his own life for his sheep, for you, and for me.

But… how are we loving others?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

When we see, and discover, Jesus’ love, we realize how difficult it is to love in that way. I think that -for us- it is easier to love as Gamboa did, and very difficult to love as Jesus does.

lets loveFirst, because we like to love many things at the same time, and sometimes we don’t love the right things.

And second, because we love a lot in word and speech, and we almost never love in truth and action.

Dear friends, brothers and sisters, visitors and guests, my dear family of this congregation, how difficult it is to love as Jesus, did and does, and how easy it is to love as the world does.

Key: It is difficult and down right impossible to love as Jesus loved. Only the Holy Spirit can work this real love in our hearts.

But, my invitation for you is the same as John’s: “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

And let’s love everyone as Jesus did, who loved his friends, and also his enemies; those who hurt others; those who make mistakes; and also those who are different.

For this reason, as children of God, as Jesus’ followers, we are called to:

LOVE, BY FORGIVING OTHERS. We are called to forgive and to forget. To turn the page. I want you, at this very moment, to think –together- of those people who for different reasons, have hurt us, and let’s say together, each one of us from our place: I love you…(and Jesus loves you through me) and because I love you, I forgive you. 

LOVE, BY ACCEPTING OTHERS. To love is also an exercise of tolerance. When we love, especially when we love those who are different than us, we do it because we understand that we are different human beings, and we cannot think in the same way, and that we cannot act –all of us- in the same way. We are called to accept all people, and their ideas, or their preferences. It does not mean that we will support them, or we will share their ideas, or we will try to always please them . . . no! It does mean that we love them, and because we love them, we accept them. Now, say it with me: I love you…(and Jesus loves you through me) and because I love you, I respect you and accept you just as you are. 

LOVE, BY HELPING OTHERS. John tells us: How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

Outside of the church, there are a lot of people, and a lot of needs. In your family, in your job, in your school, there are people that need you, and especially they need God. What are you waiting for to give your friendly hand to those who really need it. What are you waiting for to love others and help others, as God loves you and helps you. Now, say it with me: I love my neighbor…(and Jesus loves them through me) and because I love them, I will help as many people as I can in my daily life. And to those that I cannot help, I promise to pray for them. 

LOVE, WITH A MISSIONAL SENSE. We cannot forget that we are God’s mission on this planet. We are called to preach Christ to our families, our community, our country, and to all nations. As the Church of Christ, we must love others by working, supporting, and helping in the work of the Church. It is not only about coming here every Sunday, or placing a white envelope in the plate every morning. We must love our neighbors, being worried about their faith, for their spiritual life, and doing whatever we can, so in their hearts may continue flaming the fire of the faith in Jesus. Now say it with me: I love my neighbor…(and Jesus loves them through me) and because I love them, I will help the church so they may believe, and be saved through the power of God and the saving work of Jesus. 

cc_john316In this way, we love in Jesus’ way, not in word or speech, but in truth, actions, and in the power of God. Not like Gamboa and his three women, but like God does, who loves us in his three persons: FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT.

Remember, my little children, that Christ is our good shepherd, who laid down his life for us his sheep, who rose from death, and who daily invites us to love, to make peace, to be reconciled, and to the transformation of our lives through his Word and Sacraments. Don’t doubt, or don’t be afraid, of loving others, but –with the love and power of the Holy Spirit in your life- love, forgive, help, and serve in your congregation, because God loves you, forgives you, helps you, and serves you.

Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, Alleluia . . .! 

Soli Deo Gloria, Amen. 

pastor novelli

Rev. Germán Novelli-Oliveros, Pastor
novelligrace@gmail.com
Phone: 414 – 3665299