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The Law of God is Good and Wise June 29, 2014

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Romans 7:1-13

Third Sunday after Pentecost

June 29, 2014

 

Focus: God’s will for His children is good.

Function: That the hearers serve God as part of His family.

Structure: Here is a prevailing view…but here is the claim of the gospel.

 

The Law of God is Good and Wise

 

Jesus died for your sins.  You’re free.  You can do whatever you want.  Jesus’ death did away with the law.  You now live in the gospel.  That’s all you need.  Go ahead, sin boldly!

Do those words sound familiar?  If you’ve never heard someone say them, I’d be surprised.  There is a wide-sweeping movement in Christianity that sees the law as something bad, that God only gave it to us to condemn us.  And now that we have Christ, the law is obsolete.  Just give us the gospel.  In the church, we call that antinomianism.  That’s basically Greek for lawless.  It’s the political equivalent of anarchy.

It’s amazing if we just stop and look at what the Apostle Paul dealt with in his day.  It’s amazing because the church has a terrible habit of simply repeating its own history.  We have entire denominations of Christianity running around today doing whatever they want.  But it’s not new.  Paul saw it, too, with his brothers and sisters in Rome.  And today, we come in in the middle of that discussion.  The law is one of dominant themes of his letter to the Romans:

Romans 3:31 – “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”

Romans 6:1-2a “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!”

Romans 7 “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” and “Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means!”

There we have just a couple of examples among many.  Paul is consistent in driving this home.  In redefining the value of the law, it’s not the problem.  Sin is.  Instead, the law is best described as God’s will for His people.

Think about this for just a moment.  How would your relationship be doing with your neighbor if you didn’t follow the Ten Commandments?  If you slept with his wife, stole things from his garage, talked trash about him to your other neighbors, and killed his dog?  How do thing that’s going?  It’s not.  He’d hate you and take up some form of legal action against you.

God’s law is His perfect will for His people.  It’s what He desires for us in our lives.  And He knows that by following it, our lives will be blessed.  Now I’m not saying you’ll be rich.  I’m saying your neighbors won’t be putting your face on a wanted poster.  It’s meant to make your life better.

The easy comparison here is the rules parents establish for their children.  Kids, you might feel like you’re being bullied sometimes, but your parents are simply looking out for you.  They know that if you stay up until two in the morning, you won’t be able to stay awake in school.  They know that if you can’t swim, you need to stay out of the pool when they’re not around, or you’ll drown.  They don’t just come up with silly rules, usually.  The rules are there so that you grow up to be the best person you can be.

Paul goes on to give us his own analogy of what this looks like.  He describes for us the law of marriage.  According to God’s law, marriage lasts for life.  No matter what you might think, once you’re married, you’re married.  “What God has put together, let no man put asunder.”  If you’re found sleeping or living with someone who is not your spouse, that’s adultery.  That’s sin.  But if your spouse has died, you are no longer bound in marriage.  It lasted a lifetime, and that lifetime is now over.  The death freed you from the law of marriage that bound you with your spouse.  You are free to remarry and then live with someone again if you choose.

It’s easy to see how this would be God’s will for His people.  It’s easy to look around and see all the children without a mom or without a dad in their lives.  It’s easy to see the men and the women hurting from a spouse who cheated on them.  It’s easy to see the men and women who grieve because they’ve been abandoned and left to fend for themselves.  This isn’t God’s design.  It’s not His will for His people.

And that’s the way the law is, too.  It was and is God’s good and perfect design for His creation.  It was His will for us so that our lives would be peaceful and we could live them to the fullest.  But because of sin, life’s a mess.  We fell short.  And as the Scriptures like to use the metaphor of God being married to His people, we’ve committed adultery against Him.

But, according to Paul, we’ve died.  When did that happen?  Let’s go back a chapter in the discussion:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.  We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him.  For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

 

You are no longer bound or enslaved to sin.  Christ has freed you. This is the beauty of baptism.  This is why Hannah and I brought Talia to the font this weekend.  It happened in your baptism, it happened when the Holy Spirit created faith in you that Jesus Christ is your Savior.  Sin no longer has a hold on you.  Death no longer has a hold on you.  You are free!

But, this is where we look to Paul’s metaphor again.  In a sense, you’ve been remarried.  You were bound to one spouse, but now to another.  You were enslaved to sin, but now you are bound to Christ.

This is what we see in our gospel reading today.  This is what Christ is talking about when He says “whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”  The New Testament speaks like this regularly.  To be a follower of Christ, we actually have to follow Christ.  We serve others like He served others.

Historically, one of the Lutheran church’s favorite Scripture passages comes from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter two, verses eight and nine.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  The lawless chirp in here, “see, we don’t do anything!”  But if we would just read the next verse, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

We don’t earn salvation.  That much is certainly true.  God did that for us.  He did the work because we couldn’t.  But, He does have things for us to do.  He does have a will for us, a will that would see us live the life He gave us to its fullest.  He created you for a reason.  He has a desire to see you grow into the person that He created you to be.

There’s a reason God likes family metaphors.  We’re His family.  He claimed us as His own.  We’re together, we’re a community.  When we brought Talia to the font, you made a promise.  You gave your word that you would help raise her in the faith in this community.  You’ll do the same again next weekend for another little girl named Emi.  You will do the same on August 17th for a pair of twin boys, Lucas and Dylan.  You’ve done it many times.  You’ve also given your word to each other, that you’ll hold one another accountable, that you’ll help build each other up in this walk.

We are bound to Christ.  Because He died to defeat sin, our sin is defeated.  Because God raised Him from the dead, we too will live a new life.  And we do so together.  We walk this new life together.  That’s why we can sing a hymn called “The Law of God is Good and Wise.”  That’s God’s perfect and holy will for us.

 

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The Boomerang June 8, 2014

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Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost

June 8th, 2014

 

Focus: God uses the Holy Spirit to bring us back to Him.

Function: That the hearers would readily work alongside the Spirit in bringing people to the Father.

Structure: Boomerang.

 

The Boomerang

 

We stand accused.  Throughout much of recent history, other Christian church bodies have looked at us Lutherans and pointed a finger.  They’ve accused us with the heresy of Christocentrism.  Now before you get defensive, let me rephrase that.  We’ve been accused of always making Christ the center of everything we do, whether in life or worship.

Well, when you put that way, yep, we’re guilty as charged.  When you put it that way, we’ll admit to that.  We’re more than willing to say that Christ is the center of our faith, He’s the One who gave Himself for us, He’s the One who saves us.  That much is true.  But when we push that too far, when we say that we worship Christ alone, we are risking heresy.

Sometimes we truly take Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:2 too literally.  “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  His point was that that was the power of God for us, the Gospel proclaimed in all of its glory.  Paul certainly knew more about God and faith as he wrote thirteen New Testament letters.

We run the risk of heresy here when we ignore and neglect the Trinity.  Three in One, One in Three.  If we do not also maintain our faith in the Father and the Spirit, then the accusation is true.  Think for a moment, when was the last time you prayed to the Holy Spirit?

We tend to defend ourselves by saying that if we worship Jesus, then we’re worshipping the Father because He gave us our Savior.  And if we worship Jesus, then we’re worshipping the Spirit because the Spirit’s job was to bring us to faith in Jesus.  But the Trinity is more than that!

So today I wanted to give you another metaphor to think about, another tool to use to think about the ever confusing nature of the Trinity.  No metaphor can truly explain God’s perfection, but this one could still be helpful.

Have you ever thrown a boomerang?  I haven’t, and because I haven’t I know exactly what would happen if I did.  It would just keep going until it either lost the battle with gravity or until it hit something or someone!  Boomerangs are a precise art form, both an ancient hunting tool, and a modern sport.  It takes skill and precision to make it come back to you.

I want you to think of the Trinity as a boomerang, one that comes back.  God the Father threw it, and like a skilled master, it always returns.  Just as He said through the Prophet Isaiah: “so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

God the Father sent His Son, who sent the Spirit, who then works through us to share the Gospel, bringing people into the Spirit, who returns them to faith in Christ, who restores their relationship with the Father.  Simple enough?  Let’s walk through it.

Luke’s account of Pentecost really ties this altogether for us.  He helps us to see just how it is that this works in the midst of the fullness of the Scriptures.

It begins with God the Father sending His Son.  You can all quote for me one of the verses that spells that out for us, as it is perhaps the most well-known verse of the Bible.  John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

This then is what the Gospels are about.  This is what Luke wrote 24 chapters about.  The life of Christ, the ministry of Jesus.  That He took on flesh and became man for us.  That He died on the cross to forgive our sins.  That He rose from the grave to give us new life.  All of these events lead up to Pentecost.  And it’s all part of why the Messiah came.

And then the Son sends His Spirit to us.  While still walking among His disciples, Jesus says to them, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send Him to you.”  (John 16:7) This, the Helper, the Counselor, the Comforter, the Paraclete, is best known to us as the Holy Spirit.  This is the same thing that Jesus promises the disciples just before He ascends into heaven in Acts chapter 1.

Father sends Son, Son sends Spirit.  The boomerang is still going, still moving farther away from the one who threw it.

Often times the Scriptures speak of God pouring out His Spirit on His people.  And we see this with Pentecost.  If our baptisms are like the splashing of water, a splashing of the Spirit, then Pentecost would have been like knocking over a water tower.  The apostles got drenched in the pouring out of the Spirit.  They not only get to prophesy, but they are speaking in tongues.  The twelve of them are speaking, and men from every nation under heaven are hearing their own native language.  Without a doubt, a miracle of God.

This was certainly a special day.  Nothing like it has happened since.  God starts His church with a bang, an explosion, the rapid growth necessary for it to really take hold and take off.  From 120 followers one day, to gaining 3000 the next.  That day was truly a blessing in church history, truly a blessing to each of us, as our ancestors heard the gospel.

Father sends Son, Son sends Spirit, Spirit works through us.  We are the turning point on the flight of a boomerang.  The point where it “lays over” and starts to return to the thrower.  Luke tells us “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” (Acts 2:17).  The Apostles did it that day, the celebration of Pentecost, and we as the church have been doing it ever since.  Because prophesy, on the most basic level, is calling people to repentance, telling them about Christ.

But why us?  Why does God, the perfect Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of everything work through us?  We’re cowards, afraid to speak the truth.  We’re weak, easily ready to give in to temptation.  We’re broken, there’s nothing good in us.  And yet, He chooses us.  He loves us and He makes us His own.  He puts the good in us, He is the good in us.  We are His family, His children, and He wants us to be involved.  He doesn’t simply look down on us and call us moochers or parasites.  No, He walks with us.  He works alongside us for the sake of His kingdom.  We get to be a part of that, and it’s all because He loves us as His own.

And so we are sent out into the world to do His work and to share His love and to proclaim the faith to others.  The Spirit leads us out and the Spirit brings us back.  He works faith and repentance in our hearts and then leads us to others so He can work faith and repentance in their hearts, too!

And so the boomerang begins to return.  The Spirit’s work points people back to Christ.  He points them to their Savior who died and rose for them.  Jesus told His disciples that “when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me,” (John 15:26).  The Spirit brings us to Christ.

Jesus was quite clear that He completes this boomerang throw.  Pastor Fritsch preached on this during Lent, when Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  Christ’s goal is to restore us in our relationship with the Father.  He wants to bring us back to Him, just like the healthy relationship we were created to have.

The Father sends the Son, Son sends the Spirit, Spirit works in and through us to bring men to faith and point them to Christ, who then brings them back to the Father.  Boomerang thrown and returned.

The key focus is the relationship we have with God.  A relationship He creates, nourishes, and sustains.  This is why Peter says what he does on Pentecost, quoting the Prophet Joel.  “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32)  From beginning to end, God wants to be in a relationship with the people He created.

This is what we see on Pentecost.  We see the arc of the boomerang, the work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in planting the church and growing the kingdom of God.  We see men and women brought to repentance for their sins and joining with the others in the faith.  We see the apostles overwhelmed with the Holy Spirit to the point where it’s the Spirit who is speaking through them.

We’re not guilty of Christocentrism.  We believe and confess God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  And it is through that relationship that we know we will live with God forever.  And that’s the same confession, same relationship, same resurrection promise that the Holy Spirit is using you to share with the people around you.