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While We Were Enemies June 18, 2017

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Romans 5:6-15

Second Sunday after Pentecost

June 18, 2017

 

Focus:  God spilled His own blood to save even His enemies.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in God.

Structure:  Walking through the Scripture.

 

While We Were Enemies

 

That thunderstorm we had right at the beginning of the week was a doozy.  Nearly two inches of rain, the skies colored a dark greenish gray, lots of rumbling thunder.  I know I didn’t want to step out in it, even though it happened at the time that I would normally leave the office!

That storm claimed one of my neighbor’s trees.  Split it in half right down the middle.  And thankfully, even though it fell on his house, the damage was nothing beyond a dent in his gutter.  But just like I didn’t want to go out into the storm while it was still raging, neither did my neighbor.  That tree stayed there for a while until the storm had passed.  Then a couple of neighbors gathered together, cleared the debris, and cut down the rest of the tree.

I bring this up because we know that word “still.”  It didn’t make sense for him to fight while the storm still pounded us.  Just like it doesn’t make any sense to grieve the Twins season being over when they’re still in first place.  Just like it doesn’t make any sense to forgive your neighbor while he’s still actively, intentionally harming you.

This is Paul’s choice of language in our text today.  And he uses it three times.  “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”  Now, we can’t understand this one.  This is part of the hidden will of God.  Why was 1st century Jerusalem the chosen place and time for the appearance of Christ?  Surely, had He come today, how many more people could have had the opportunity to see Him with all of our technological advances?  But it was the right time.  And I’m prone to believe that even if He’d come today, He’d have met the same fate.  Because we were weak.  We didn’t understand the things of God.  We didn’t know God.  And so we killed His Son.

The next verse makes sense in context.  “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—“  Pit those two examples against each other.  The righteous person being the one who has faith in God and is neither afraid nor ashamed to share both the Law and the Gospel with his neighbor.  How many of your neighbors love it when you tell them they’re wrong?  And the so-called good person is the one that the world views as good.  While few people would willingly die for the speaker of truth, there are some who would die for the false heroes of this world.

But that’s just it.  We’re neither.  You and I were, in the next “still,” still sinners.  We weren’t righteous, nor were we good.  And yet, in spite of this, Jesus Christ willingly laid down His life for us.

He poured out His blood, willingly, upon the cross, even asking the Father to forgive those people who nailed Him to it.  And it is now in this blood of Christ that we are justified.  Justification, how are saved?  How are we made right again in the eyes of God?  Paul puts it simply, “we have now been justified by His blood.”

But that’s not the end.  God didn’t sacrifice His Son as some half-baked scheme that gets us partly to heaven.  No, not at all!  God sacrificed His Son as the full plan of our salvation.  That’s the third “still” Paul uses.  “While we were enemies.”  Rebeling against God, slaying His Son, cursing His name.  And in this, He chose to save us, to reconcile us, to restore our relationship to Himself.  In His blood, you not only have the forgiveness of your sins, a marvelous gift indeed, you also have the gift of salvation, of life that knows no end.  Because God didn’t leave His Son in that tomb.  But raised Him to new life, just as He will for you.  That’s a promise that you know He will keep.

In verse 11, Paul states the obvious.  On receipt of this good news, we rejoice.  We rejoice in Christ for all He has done for us.  That while we were still weak, sinners, and enemies of God, He sacrificed everything to show His great love for us.  This means many things.  Rejoicing means we take comfort in knowing that God set us free from sin, death, and the devil.  It means giving thanks to God for all these wondrous gifts that He so richly and overwhelming gives us.  It means trusting in His promises and receiving them regularly as our source of hope in this life.

Another way by which we rejoice is that we share.  For example, let’s say I had twenty tickets to tonight’s Twins game as they clash with the second place Indians.  And, for whatever reason, I hand you all twenty.  You can’t possibly use all twenty tickets, there’s just one of you.  So, what do you do with the other tickets?  Pause.  You spread the gift around.  You invite family, or friends, or anyone off the street who can make the trip to see the game.  You want to share your gift with others.

That’s how God’s love works, too.  He so richly and generously showers us in His love that we love our neighbor.  As new creations in Christ through our baptisms, this is what we do.  We take that gift of forgiveness, and we forgive our spouse when they wrong us.  We forgive our coworker when they fail to complete the task that we were counting on them to do.  We forgive our neighbor when they gossip against us.  And in all of this, we forgive them out of Christ-like love.  Not because they’ve earned it, not because they deserve it, simply because God forgives us, so we forgive one another.

This is one of the most profound ways by which we can tell our neighbors about Christ.  And they are in need of Christ just as much as we are.  That’s the twelfth verse of the text today, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”  Each and every one of us is in need of God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation in His Son.

Sometimes we get tangled up by the next two verses.

13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

 

These verses Paul simply uses to show the power of sin.  Even when the people hadn’t known the law, sin still reigned, and the result, the consequence of sin, that is death, still came upon all people.  Death reigned even before Moses presented the people with the law.

Paul then sets up for us the idea that Adam and Jesus are connected.  And we talk this way.  The first Adam, the former Adam, and then there’s the second Adam.  The sin of the first Adam brought sin and death upon all mankind.  Everyone he was supposed to care for.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

 

As I was leading the new member class this past week, we were looking at the Ten Commandments.  And right at the end, the close of the commandments, Luther includes the words God spoke just after the first commandment:

for I Yahweh your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. – Exodus 20:5b-6

 

So often we get caught trying to figure out why God holds grudges for three generations.  But that’s not the point.  The point of those words is that God’s love and mercy far outweigh His wrath.  Just like we see in 1 Timothy 2:4, “[God] desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”

This is what we see in our closing verse together this morning.  Adam’s trespass, his sin of neglecting his wife before the devil neglects all of creation which was entrusted to his care.  We indeed carry the weight of original sin in this broken world.  But how much more grace in Christ is there?!

The free gift of salvation from Christ given to you by His cross and empty tomb overcomes your sin, your death, your wretchedness.  It doesn’t cancel it out so you have to try to do good.  It conquers it.  Christ’s love and sacrifice for you defeated your enemies.  And this statement is true for all people.  Trust in His promises dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and know that His gifts are yours.  So we rejoice and give thanks.

 

Magician with a Wand in the Sky June 11, 2017

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Genesis 1:1-2:4

Holy Trinity Sunday

June 11, 2017

 

Focus:  God speaks unto us the absolution of our sins in His Son Jesus.

Function:  That the hearers treasure their sins forgiven in the spoken words of Absolution.

Structure:  Illustration and application.

 

Magician with a Wand in the Sky

 

The pain of loss is still fresh.  Several of you may still be quite bitter about the whole ordeal.  On Saturday afternoon, May 20th, the lady Gophers’ softball team tested their mettle against the Alabama Crimson Tide.  And a true pitchers’ duel ensued, with just two hits through the first seven innings of play.

But as the pitchers tired, the bases got a little more crowded, and as they entered the bottom of the ninth in a still scoreless game, Alabama managed to load up the bases with two outs.  Stepping back on the hill with the count at three 3-1, Gophers’ ace Sara Groenewegen delivered a beautiful pitch, right over the plate, just above the knee.

But instead of hearing the umpire holler “strike,” the ump declared the pitch a ball, which walked home the only run of the game and put an immediate end to the Gophers’ season.

That was it.  No protest could be had.  No hope for overturning by replay, the declaration of the ump made it truth, made it history.  Even if no one else agrees, that pitch will forever be a ball.

So what does this have to do with us today?  It’s not the game itself that I want to focus on, it’s the act.  It’s the umpire’s ability to create reality with a mere word.  Because this is what we see in the Scripture today, and this is what the devil calls into question today.

In our Scripture today, from the very beginning of God’s revealed Word to us, we have His account of how He created the world.  I thought about playing around with the lights in here, but let’s face it, it’s summer, and even if I tried turning off the lights, it’d still be light.

It’s Trinity Sunday, we could easily stop and just focus on the verses that speak to God in three persons, as we see the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, as we see God speak in the plural, although that could still just be the “royal” pronoun.  We could look to John 1 or elsewhere in the New Testament where Christ Himself is credited with creating the world.

And yet there are several aspects of this small piece of Scripture that I found under fire and challenged by fellow Christians just this week.  God’s command to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply causes a great deal of distress for American Christians today as it gets in the way of some of things we’d rather be doing.

But it’s not there either that I want to focus today.  I want to turn instead to an issue that strikes at the very heart of your faith.

Three years ago, the Pontiff of Rome, Pope Francis, declared that God is not “a magician with a magic wand,” and that instead God used evolution and the Big Bang to create all that we see and know.

The Pope leads the majority of Christians in this world.  There are roughly 2 billion Christians, and over half of them claim to be Roman Catholic.  But despite this vast responsibility that he faces, he buys the devil’s lie and cannot see the danger that he puts before his people.

There were a couple of accusations there, so let me unpack that.  First, feel free to find an article on his statement of the relationship between the church and the theory of evolution.  The one shared with me was from the British website, the Independent.  And the comments section below reveals the nature of one of the problems.  Most of the discussion is about how it only takes a few centuries for Christians to catch up with what science says is fact and that in a short while we’ll eventually realize that there are no gods in the skies and that religion is just a made up tool of men to manipulate others.

The Pope doesn’t realize he’s selling out God’s Word to please those who would discredit everything he holds dear anyway.

Another clear issue is the worldview that evolution creates and puts forth.  And it’s entirely irreconcilable to Scripture, to our faith.  Evolution argues that life began by accident and that over the span of millions and billions of years, we have been changing, advancing, evolving.  We began imperfect, and we’re moving toward perfection.  And those things that didn’t evolve, died off.  In evolutionary teaching death is a necessity before man comes into existence.

Christianity, the Scriptures, teach the opposite.  That man began perfect in the created image of God, but that on account of our sin, we broke, we destroyed this creation on which we live.  And death is now the result.  There is no death in the Garden of Eden prior to sin.  And the first death is the animal slain to make garments for Adam and Eve.

Evolution makes death good, necessary, and not a punishment for our sin.  Evolution therefore denies the need of a Savior.  Death is merely the natural end result of life, unless of course we can achieve perfection through technology and live forever.

This is awful.  And even most Christians these days buy into it.  We buy into the devil’s lie.  “Did God really say?”  Did God really say He created the earth simply by speaking?

That’s one of the truly impressive and awe-inspiring things about creation.  “Let there be light.”  And there was light.  “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters,” and suddenly, there was an expanse that God named heaven, and we usually call sky.  “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered.”  And we had oceans.  “Let the dry land appear.”  And we had land.

“Let the earth sprout,” and we had plants of all kinds.  “Let there be lights in the expanse” and we had the sun, and the moon, and the stars. “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let the birds fly.”  And it happened, and the waters were filled with life as were the heavens.  “Let the earth bring forth living creatures,” and we had all sorts of beasts brought to life.  “Let us make man in our image.”  And we ourselves have life.

With only His words, God calls creation into existence.  With just His words, God creates the world, the heavens, and the universe around us.  With only His voice, God speaks into existence all living things and fills His creation with them.

Now, let’s see if you get the picture.  Can you make the connection?  Like the umpire speaks truth into existence, speaks moments and actions into the history book, what else does God speak into your lives?  What is at stake here?

Pause

That one little lie of the devil calls into doubt your salvation, your certainty, your faith.  “Did God really say?”  “Did God really say your sins are forgiven?”  By calling into question God’s ability to simply speak things into reality, Satan calls into question God’s ability to declare you righteous.  In our circle, we call this act of God “forensic justification.”  That’s your $100 word of the day.

It means that God pronounces forgiveness to us.  That our faith that clings to the promises of God, to the promises of forgiveness, life and salvation in Christ and in Christ alone, that God looks upon us and sees the righteousness of His Son.  That He looks upon us and declares into reality that you are a forgiven sinner, that you are a child of God, that you are no longer held in bondage to sin, and death, and the devil.  But that in His Word and in His Sacraments, He has declared this truth yours, and you are a new creation.

This is the beauty of the gospel.  It’s not some out there far away thing to be grasped or understood.  It’s a promise spoken directly to you.  But more than that, it’s a promise declared to be true of you.  God speaks, and it is so.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  And you are His, you are welcomed into His kingdom, clothed in the righteousness of His own Son.

“As a called and ordained servant of the Word and by His authority, I forgive you of all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  And just like that the declaration is true and it is yours.  You are forgiven and sin clings to you no more.

“Take and drink, this cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  This do as often you drink it in remembrance of Me.”  And again, the bread is body; the wine is blood; and your sins are forgiven.

These things are the truths to which our faith clings.  These are the realities by which we live and take comfort and have all hope in this dark time.  The Pope cannot hear these things.  He cannot see this way because he has bought the devil’s lie “Did God really say your works cannot save you?”

But you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you are not bound to the devil and to his lies.  When you see them, when you hear them, call them what they are: deceit and a defeated enemy.  Because that is what they are.  Christ has already triumphed.  Satan and his minions and even death, Christ has already defeated by His cross and empty tomb.

Faith clings to the promises of God.  Have faith dear brothers and sisters, cling to the very words through which God speaks forgiveness as reality for you.