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Growing and Going with the Word and Sacraments

We would be pleased to have you come worship with us.

Our Mission

It is our sincere prayer that the Lord Jesus will bless you through the hearing of his word. First Evangelical Lutheran is a Bible-Based, Christ-Centered Church. Since 1849, First Evangelical Lutheran Church has proclaimed great news of free salvation. Our mission is to use this Gospel, found in God's inerrant Word, Baptism, and Holy Communion, to bring Christ's forgiveness to sinners. Learn more about what we offer by clicking the buttons below.

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First Evangelical Lutheran Church is located in downtown Racine, Wisconsin, at 728 Villa Street.

Learning

If you are interested in joining our church or simply would like to know more about what we teach and preach, we offer a Bible Information Class. The class is held at various times throughout the year, lasting 13-15 weeks. For more information or to sign up, contact Pastor Dolan using this form. You can also sign up here.

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Sunday morning worship services take place at 9:00 am during the summer. We also have Monday night services at 7:00 pm (except during Lent)

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Recent Sermon Texts

Are You Listening? - Pastor John Roekle

July 30, 2017 [Pentecost 8] Matthew 13:1-9,18-23 J.D.Roekle

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Are You Listening?

Dear Friends in Christ,

In the 1970s and early 1980s, one of the largest brokerage firms in the nation was a group by the name of E.F. Hutton. In fact, many of you may remember their clever slogan: When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen. One commercial for the brokerage firm pictured a classroom scene in which the teacher asked a student to recite her ABCs. The student began: A, B, C, D, E, F… and then the student paused and repeated the last two letters: E, F, E.F. Hutton. As soon as she said that, the teacher and all her fellow students stood up and crowded in on her as if she were about to spout off some great financial advice. Then came the voiceover with the punchline: When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.

We hear many things each day, but what are those things that cause us to stand up and listen? You may hear your mom tell you to clean your room and then you ‘forget’ to do it. You’re listening to her when she asks if you want to go to Dairy Queen and you’re in the car before she finishes her sentence. You may hear that someone has some kind of cancer, but you don’t really recall what it is. You’re listening when you are the one told by the doctor that you have just been diagnosed with leukemia and suddenly you’re scouring the internet for information.

In our text for today, Jesus encourages us: “He who has ears, let him hear.” We don’t have to wonder what Jesus meant by that, because his next word makes it clear. He says: “Listen.” Jesus wanted his disciples and he wants us to be engaged in what he has to say. Are you listening?

God wants everyone to be in his kingdom. God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. He wants you to know that truth and for you to grow stronger in the conviction that you are God’s own. In fact, you are God’s own from the moment he planted his Gospel in your heart in Holy Baptism. He continues to reach out to you with the Good News that Jesus lived and died for you as you read or hear Scripture. He even gives you Jesus’ very body and blood to seal this truth.

But are you always listening? Jesus made it very clear in this parable of the sower and the seed that not everyone listens. For various reasons, some immediately reject him, and others reject him after a time.

But there are some, who continue on in their faith, grow and even produce fruit. Jesus pictures this in the parable as seed landing in good soil. Jesus says: “the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Does that describe you? And if so, why? Is it because your heart is just more fertile than so many hearts that reject Jesus? Is it because you are someone predisposed to accepting Jesus at his Word?

Before we get to thinking too highly of ourselves, let’s remember where we came from, and what we once were. We were once like the seed the sower threw along the path, where the birds came and ate it up since it had no fertile soil to germinate in. Jesus describes that ground this way: “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.” Our hearts are like that hard ground. We were not at all receptive to hearing the message of the Gospel. We were at the mercy of the devil who was our chief ally.

It is now only by the grace of God, that our hearts believe the Gospel. It was God himself who planted the seed, tilled our hearts, and caused that seed to grow into faith. We are nothing without God and his work on our hearts.

But it isn’t as if all is now fixed. We still have a listening problem at times.

We can have a tendency to hear God, but not really listen to him. And this shows up in different ways.

It shows up as we begin to doubt God when troubles come our way. Jesus pictures this with the seed that lands on rocky soil. Because the soil isn’t deep, roots can’t grow, and the seed quickly springs up and dies out. Jesus explains: “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.”

Are there times you feel really good about being a Christian? You’re on top of the world. You’ve sung “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” or “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” and you’re ready to conquer the world. You’re happy to come to church and worship. But then it happens. Sometimes it may be subtle but other times it hits you like a ton of bricks. Something happens that saps all the joy of your life. And sometimes it doesn’t take much. Somebody mocks you because of your faith. You get snubbed because you go to church. You don’t get the job because you tell them you need to have Sundays or Mondays off so you can go to church. You cry out to God, what’s going on! I didn’t sign up for this!

But are you listening? You did, in fact, sign up for this. God said it would be this way. He never promised that being a Christian would be easy. In fact, he tells us: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

There’s another reason we sometimes don’t listen to Jesus. We get distracted. Jesus pictures this with the seed that falls on the thorny ground. The seed germinates and begins to grow but then gets choked out by the thorns. Jesus interprets this for us: “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”

Am I going to have enough money for retirement? How am I going to pay for college? How am I even going to make ends meet? Such are the worries that we have. Worries that sap our joy. But Jesus never promised us we’d be rich. He didn’t say we couldn’t be rich either. The point is, when it comes to our faith, the way we look at material things should need not affect our faith.

And yet they do. We are often preoccupied with the day to day concerns of our daily lives. And yet what does Jesus say? Listen to him! He reminds us of the birds of the air who don’t store food in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. He reminds us of the lilies of the field that grow even though they don’t labor or spin. If God clothes these plants, why should we doubt that he’ll clothe us? In all of this, Jesus reminds us: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

No one is listening to E.F. Hutton anymore. Why? Scandal hit the business and because of it by 1990, they were no longer using the name. That won’t happen with God. When He talks, you need to listen!

And why? Because when God talks he isn’t merely giving advice on stocks and investing in things that won’t last. He’s talking to you about your eternal future. Your future that is secure because of him and because of his Gospel. And in fact it is his Good News about Jesus that he continues to use to strengthen your current standing with him. He uses it to make you grow in your trust in Jesus. He uses this Good News in order for you to produce fruit, so that his kingdom continues to grow and expand, both in your heart and in the hearts of others. Are you listening? Are you listening to Jesus? You have every reason to do so! Amen.

We Believe Therefore We Confess - Pastor John Roekle

June 22, 2017 [Presentation of Augsburg Confession] Romans 10:5-17 J.D.Roekle

Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

We Believe—Therefore We Confess

Dear Friends in Christ,

I recently had a conversation with a couple people and for some reason we began talking about House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin. They had been there, but I hadn’t. And it kind of struck me. I have seen the sun rise on the east coast and set on the west coast. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon and toured the Alamo. I’ve been to at least 15 professional baseball parks scattered across our country. But I haven’t been to this unique attraction that is less than 3 hours away. Of course, I wouldn’t have to even go that far. There are certainly attractions much closer to Racine or even in Racine that I haven’t been to. What I’m driving at is that it is easy to take things for granted when they are close to us.

How true is that of God’s Word?! It is at our fingertips. Even if for some reason you don’t own a Bible at home, the Bible is accessible through the internet. And because it is so accessible, how often do you find yourself taking it for granted? When that happens, you and I need to remind ourselves of its importance. Of its vital importance. God’s Word reveals to us the saving truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What could possibly be more important than that? When we read the Word, we give the Holy Spirit opportunity to work on our hearts. It is the Spirit working through the Word that led us to faith in Jesus to begin with. We believe! But it doesn’t stop there. It isn’t that we believe and then nothing else happens. What naturally flows from faith is the desire to confess that faith. We Believe – Therefore We Confess. When God’s Word is near, it controls us in that way. And that’s a good thing! When that Word is in your heart, it will direct your thoughts, words, and actions.

You confess it when you speak the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe.” You confess it when you say the Nicene Creed: “We believe.” I believe. We believe. But we don’t end it there. We believe in the Father who created us. We believe in the Son, Jesus, who became flesh and lived among us for a time in order to suffer, die, rise, and ascend into heaven. We believe in the Holy Spirit who brings people into the church through faith and into the communion or fellowship of saints. We confess that these three persons of the Triune God work in concert with each other in order to provide us with salvation. We confess what the Apostle Paul says here: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The only way we can call on the Lord’s name is through God-given faith. Last week, we stressed the fact that we are saved by grace through faith. Our salvation is completely a gift. Our faith is completely a gift. This is what we believe.

And so, it is natural to confess our faith. Our hearts spill over with joy at knowing what our Savior Jesus has done to save us. In fact, Martin Luther even contends that faith and confession of that faith are inseparably linked: “Faith which leads to righteousness does not arrive at it goal of righteousness, that is, salvation, if it does not arrive at confession. For confession is the principal work of faith by which a man denies himself and confesses God.”

For us, confessing our faith using the Apostles and Nicene creeds in church comes naturally. We might even say that it comes easily. We are confessing our faith to each other. To like-minded people.

But what happens when your confession is challenged? Today we are marking the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. On this date the confession of the Lutheran princes, theologians and government officials was being challenged. Emperor Charles V was facing a challenge. The Turks were at the border of the kingdom in 1530 and ready to challenge him. Charles V wanted a united front in all his kingdom to fight the enemy. Because of Martin Luther and his followers in Germany, there were problems in the church within the kingdom. He wanted them all to disappear by making demands on the Lutheran contingent to disavow their teachings.

What did the Lutheran confessors do? They didn’t back down. Instead they presented the document known as the Augsburg Confession before the emperor, clearly confessing what they believed. They did this even under the threat of the highest authority in the empire.

What would you do if you have to stand before the emperor and defend what you believe? Would you stand up and freely confess what you believe or would you wilt under the pressure? Since that isn’t a very likely scenario for you to have to face, consider that a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon is at your door. Do you answer it or do you ignore it? After all, you know what’s coming. They are going to challenge your faith. If you answer the door and talk to them, what do you do? Do you simply listen to what they have to say and then take their brochure?

Keep in mind that silence isn’t really a defense. When someone attacks your faith and you remain silent, could someone read your silence as a denial of what you believe? Then again, haven’t we all done that at times? We have failed to stand up for Jesus. To stand up for the simple truths of God. To stand up for a difficult teaching of his Word.

But what is the central part that we confess? That we have forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. Thank God for that forgiveness! Thank God for this time of grace he gives us to live on this earth in his kingdom.

Now is the time to confess what we believe. That means taking advantage of the opportunities we have. Think about that Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness at your door again. If you don’t answer the door when they arrive, or if you remain silent about your faith, aren’t you really missing an opportunity? Paul reminds us here that there is only one way to salvation: through faith in Jesus’ blood and righteousness. They need to know that too! Of course, they need the Law first. They need to know they are sinners who need the Savior Jesus.

There are so many other souls out there dying too. So many other people who don’t need silence from you or me. They need our confession. After all, Paul reminds us: “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

Don’t take that Word of Christ for granted. Believe it. Confess it! Be prepared to speak up on behalf of it. Others are watching and listening. Confessing the truth is not always easy work. It can get messy. It can be difficult. It can cause problems between people. But it is the right thing to do. God said so. Remember his promise to you: “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Amen.

The Things that Make You Distinctly Lutheran - Pastor John Roekle

June 18, 2017 [Pentecost 2] Romans 3:21-25a,27-28 J.D.Roekle

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

The Things that Make You Distinctly Lutheran

Dear Friends in Christ,

What does it mean to be Lutheran? You could think of it in these terms: “You know you’re a Lutheran if…” You know you’re a Lutheran if you fill up the church for a worship service from the back to the front. You know you’re a Lutheran if you expect that food will be involved in virtually every activity we do at church. You know you’re a Lutheran if you hear something funny in a church service, and you smile as loudly as you can. You know you’re a Lutheran if you have a hard time accepting change.

But there’s much more to being a Lutheran than the culture that surrounds it. Being Lutheran means that we take doctrine seriously. It means that we are uncompromising with the teachings of the Bible. People outside of our circles may characterize us as the people who don’t allow this or don’t allow that.

But rather than being characterized in those terms, we Lutherans should define ourselves by the things that truly make us distinct. What makes us distinct is how we handle the central teaching of the Bible. The teaching of justification. Our catechism defines justification this way: “God’s declaration that people are not guilty because Jesus has paid for their sins.”

For the past week, the trial of actor and comedian Bill Cosby has been prominently in the news. After more than 50 hours of deliberation by the jury, a mistrial was declared because of a hung jury. Jurors disagreed on whether or not he was guilty.

In God’s courtroom, mistrials never happen. The all-knowing, all-seeing Almighty God always hands down the perfect verdict. In God’s courtroom each individual is on trial.

How daunting that can be! After all, you’re only fooling yourself if you think you can declare yourself innocent, as if God doesn’t know otherwise! Paul states it very clearly: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Falling short of the glory of God is not a small matter. It has consequences which are far-reaching. It has consequences which last forever. Because you and I are born in sin and act out on that sin, we fall short of God’s glory. Even now. Even as we call ourselves Christians. Even as we take on the name Lutheran. We still sin. We still fall short of the glory of God, and left to ourselves, we would spend forever apart from God in the punishment of hell.

If any courtroom would have the evidence that God has against us, that trial would only last briefly. The verdict would be an overwhelming declaration of guilty. But God’s courtroom is so unlike any other courtroom. God does something that isn’t really fair.

In spite of the pile of indisputable evidence against you, God declares you innocent of all charges. You are free to go. Instead of receiving the death penalty, which would be totally deserved, you are free to live. Forever!

That in itself is unfair, but the reason God declares us innocent simply blows our minds. God declares you innocent because he declares the perfectly innocent one, Jesus Christ, guilty. God’s verdict demanded the death penalty of the cross for Jesus, so that you could be declared not guilty.

How does this verdict of innocent become yours? Listen to Paul: “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” It is by faith and faith alone that you stand justified before the Holy God. That means that your innocence before God has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with God and his Son.

But that goes against our nature. That is often times because we forget just how corrupt we are when we’re born. We think instinctively that there must be something I must do to help along with being justified before God. Surely I can make up for some of the wrongs I’ve done, we think. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Instead, we are saved by faith alone. And remember that faith is merely the vehicle. It is really the object of our faith that saves. Think of it this way. Sin is like a poison that if we don’t have it treated, it will kill us. But there is an antidote to this poison. The antidote for our sin is Jesus Christ and his righteousness. But how does that antidote become ours? An antidote for poison needs to be injected into the body through a hypodermic needle. Faith is like that hypodermic needle. Faith carries the antidote of Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection to us. Faith carries Jesus’ righteousness to us. Just as the needle isn’t the cause of our being healed, neither is faith the cause of our salvation.

What makes you distinctly Lutheran is knowing that you played no part in your being saved. You did not make a decision for Christ, he chose you. You were not required to do something along with faith in order to be saved. It is because you believe that Christ has done everything necessary for your salvation, that you are now compelled to do things for Christ.

What also makes you distinctively Lutheran is knowing God’s motivation for taking such a vested interest in you. Paul said that you “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

It wasn’t as if God saw some spark of life in you. It wasn’t as if he saw some redeeming characteristic. It isn’t as if God saw that you were inherently good and decided to rescue you. God instead saw you as the enemy. He saw you as people who have totally rebelled against his goodness.

In spite of that, God in his grace is moved to do something about your lost condition. He is moved to send his one and only Son to take your place. He is moved to buy you back through his Son’s own shed blood on the cross.

Grace is a word that is well known in our world. However, much of the world gets it wrong. Grace is something that can’t be replicated by us. It is something that God and God alone has. And it is the only thing which moved him to carry out his plan through which we are declared innocent in his sight.

Recognizing that we are save through faith alone, by grace alone, makes us distinctly Lutheran. Another thing which makes us stand apart is the fact that these truths are alone revealed and effected in us through Scripture.

Paul confirms this: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” The Law and Prophets is the Bible’s way of referring to the Old Testament. What’s interesting about this, is the fact that this passage is telling us that the Old Testament and the New Testament have the same goal. The goal is to make known to us God’s gift of righteousness to us. The goal is make sure that we know that this is nothing that we have to work for.

This should emphasize to you how important it is then to be exposed to God’s Word. It is through this Word that you come to know and understand that you are saved by grace through faith.

And this is the only means through which God gives us this good news. He doesn’t plant it in his creation somewhere for you to find. It isn’t as if he whispers in your ear a special revelation, or gives you some kind of sign. He reveals that you are declared righteous in his sight in the Bible alone. And it is only through this same Bible that he sends his Holy Spirit to work faith in your hearts. Knowing and believing this truth makes you distinctly Lutheran.

But the devil doesn’t like it that you have these truths. In fact, he works to deceive many people into believing something else. And many times he succeeds. Our Gospel lesson cautioned us about some such people. There Jesus warns us to watch out for false prophets. Many will come in Jesus’ name. Many will come in sheep’s clothing. They look good on the outside. What they say may even sound good. But their intent is to draw you away from the truth, and away from Christ. And false prophets attempt to reach us through the TV; through a seemingly well-meaning Christian email, blog, or website; through Christian books; or through Christian music or radio.

How do we know whether what we are hearing or reading is coming from a false prophet? Jesus warns that by their fruit you will recognize them. Does what they say in anyway contradict anything that God reveals to us in Scripture? And the starting point is always whether what they teach supports or contradicts what the Bible says about justification.

Don’t ever let anyone rob you of the distinctive truths of Scripture. You are saved by grace alone. Through faith alone. And these truths are found and become our by Scripture alone. These are things that make you distinctly Lutheran. And it isn’t that the Lutheran church saves you. God saves you. But God uses the Lutheran church to teach and apply these distinctive truths to you. God help us all to this end. Amen.

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