jump to navigation

A Triumphant Promise July 16, 2017

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Isaiah 55:10-13

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

July 16, 2017

 

Focus:  God’s Word always accomplishes His purpose.

Function:  That the hearers come to the feast.

Structure:  This is true in this way…and in this way…and also in this way, with thanks to Dr. James Voelz.

 

A Triumphant Promise

 

For many of us, faith comes easily when things go well.  When our family is healthy, our economy strong, our jobs secure, these things can be a boon to our faith.  We see God’s hand at work, we see His blessings in our lives and we rejoice.

But along this way of thinking, faith becomes difficult when the work of God is no longer obvious.  When we can’t see His plan of salvation unfolding in our lives or in the lives of those we love, our faith can be challenged.

This was almost always the case for the people of Israel.  While we won’t focus on their wilderness wanderings, you can find a good dozen examples of this challenge there without much effort, today we are focusing later on in their history.  The prophet Isaiah is called to proclaim the Word of the Lord unto His people in the eighth century BC.  He is their prophet, the bearer of God’s Word.

The people no longer saw the work of the Lord in their midst.  And because they couldn’t actively see Him working, many had given up hope, even stopped believing in God altogether.  And paired with their unbelief was a vast display of wickedness, of disobeying the commands of God.

Isaiah’s writings that we have today are written both prior to the exile of the Israelites, and also during their exile.  That on account of their wickedness and their unbelief, God used the Assyrian army to put an end to this faithless nation.  They were captured; their homes were destroyed; men, women, and children led off in slavery and servitude into a foreign and hostile land.  Chapters 40-55 are written to these people to give them back their hope; to call them to look to the Lord, to look to Yahweh for their comfort and their deliverance.

Isaiah in our text today gives us this good news:  “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.”

The Word of God does not return empty.  It does its job; it fulfills its purpose.  This Word to the Israelites in captivity was this:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price… Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. – Isaiah 55 verses 1 and 3

 

The exiled Israelites hear an invitation, an invitation to a feast where money is no object.  Whoever is thirsty, whoever is hungry, let him come, let him be gathered to the Lord’s Table.  They are invited to come, to trust in God, and to enjoy His gifts.

And in this same invitation, God gives His Word to them of a brand new covenant.  They had made a covenant with God before, which they broke, which explains their exile.  And yet, here God is in the midst of their time in exile reaching out with His Word offering a new covenant, offering a covenant without end, offering them life.

Part of this promise of life and of a new covenant was the promise of a Messiah, mentioned any number of times in the writings of Isaiah, the promise of a Savior, of one who would deliver His people from their enemies.  Which brings us forward in time again to the time of the 1st century, to a land now controlled by Rome.

Those who carried on in the traditions of their fathers from long ago, those people were still called Israelites.  Despite their struggles to believe, there was restoration to those who put their hope in God.  There was comfort again.

But as we have moved forward many generations, once again that hope is scarcely found.  These people have lost sight of the work of God in their midst, of His saving hand so graciously upon them.  And as they struggled against the tyranny of a Caesar and his men, many set aside the promise of a Messiah.

At least, that is, until One came.  And when the true Messiah came, Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself, taking on flesh to deliver His people, the people saw their hope restored.  The promises of God were grasped again, and they began to long for God’s kingdom to come.

And even though these people got it wrong, even though they thought a deliverance from enemies meant a rescuing from the hands of an imposing, earthly king, the Word of God being fulfilled, the Word of God accomplishing its purpose, didn’t depend on them.

As the true Messiah, the true and ultimate deliverer of His people, Christ came and willingly died.  From a worldly perspective it made no sense.  But His enemy to be defeated was not of this world.  The enemy to be defeated was sin, death, and the devil.  This could be done by no champion of the sword.  This could only be done by the Son of God Himself, laying down His life to fulfill a promise, to succeed in His purpose.

Before His death, Jesus once again spoke of this new covenant.  He entrusted it to His disciples, that we would take and eat of His body, take and drink of His blood, and that in so doing, we would receive the very forgiveness of our sins.  That in that body and in that blood, that Christ so willingly shed the very next day, all the sins of man, all the triumphs of the devil, would be destroyed.

The feast Isaiah foretold long ago broke into this world in the form of Christ’s body and blood.  Of bread and wine where money is no object.  Where forgiveness and deliverance and restoration all take place at the Lord’s Table.

So now as we proceed to jump forward another twenty centuries or so, we find ourselves in similar shape.  We find ourselves like the Israelites in their exile, or the Jews in their Roman occupation, we find ourselves waiting.  We have the very Word of God, a Word that He has promised does not go unfulfilled.

And yet, we find ourselves struggling.  We have an unease among us.  A despair.  We hear of an entire generation of people, the so-called millennials, who’ve lost sight of God’s Word, and of His promises, and so they’ve abandoned His house. Which has led the current leaders of the church to worry and fret over the church’s future.  Who will takeover?  Will the church still exist?  But these doubts fall short.  It isn’t just the millennials.  It’s not unique to any one generation of people.  Not much has really changed since the pre-exiled Israelites.

We, too, live in a time of challenge.  We watch as the leaders of the nation we live in and would seek to honor, seek themselves to dismantle Christendom.  They mock God and pretend He doesn’t exist.  They seek to mislead His people, to cause them to doubt His Word, and to doubt His salvation.

For generations, predictions of the death of the Christian church have rung out over and over again.  And each time, these predictions fail.  Because they are not God’s.  They are not His Word, and so they indeed go out, and they return empty.  Whether the millennials return to God’s house in droves or not, the Church of God cannot be destroyed.  Whether there is only one or billions of people hearing His Word, the Church of God cannot be destroyed.  Because the Word of God goes out and accomplishes it purpose.

And so we wait.  As generations before us, as generations even before them.  We hear the Word of God, these promises given to us, and we wait.  In the history of His Church, we have seen these promises fulfilled.  We have seen the Word of God go out, and we have seen it accomplish its purpose.  The promise of a grand feast that knows no bounds.  The promise of a covenant, of life everlasting that cannot be silenced or cut off.  We have heard the invitation.

Allow me to extend to you the invitation to join me here in this place next week for that same invitation, to partake of a heavenly meal.  For it is not just the restoration of a small nation of people.  It is the restoration of all people. Of all who put their hope and their trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We wait for the Parousia, that is, the second coming of Christ, when all things are restored to the way they were created to be.  We wait for the completion of the promise in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  His Word, His promises to you, have been proclaimed, and they do not return empty.

The feast Isaiah foretold long ago broken into this world in the form of Christ’s body and blood.  Of bread and wine where money is no object.  Where forgiveness and deliverance and restoration all take place at the Lord’s Table.  The invitation is yours, and I’ll see you there.

 

 

What I Want to Do I Do Not Do July 9, 2017

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Romans 7:14-25a

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

July 9, 2017

 

Focus:  God does it all.

Function:  That the hearers confess their wretchedness unto the Lord.

Structure:  This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel, with thanks to Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann.

 

What I Want to Do I Do Not Do

 

Our epistle reading today has to be one of the clunkiest sections in all of Scripture.  It’s a tongue-twister.  Give it a try yourself, read the text aloud as quickly as you can and see how you do.

When some people read Paul’s writings here, they say this can’t possibly be him.  The person being discussed is a wretched failure of a disciple.  He knows what he should do, but he doesn’t do it.  He knows what he shouldn’t do, and those are the things he does!

Others read this as a good excuse.  “See, even Paul couldn’t do it, so why should I bother?  I might as well just do whatever I want.”  Paul’s failures here are used as an excuse to sluff off, to stop trying.

But while this text most certainly is about Paul, it’s not just Paul, is it?  We develop habits in our lives.  I want to get up at this time, go to sleep at this time.  This is the week where I finally kick that bad habit that’s been nagging me for years.

We set goals for our marriages, for our families.  I will love my spouse always.  Without hesitation, I will forgive them when they fall short, as I pray they will do for me.  You look to milestones in your relationship with your children, confirmations, graduations, grandchildren.  You plot out goals in your career, goals in your friendships, goals in your hobbies.

And all of these goals are meant to push you.  To push you forward, to make you stronger, wiser, more faithful, whatever it may be.  And so you attack.  You work and you work, and you work.  You put in the extra hours, you sacrifice.  The goal is right there before you, and yet, you can’t quite reach it.

In fact, you fall flat on your face miles short of the prize.  The average New Year’s resolution is a bust fifteen minutes after we wake up on January 1st.  Okay, maybe that’s made up, but you know exactly what I mean.

Failure is our common lot.  It’s what we do.  We put solid, good, faithful things in front of ourselves, and we want to do them.  But no matter how hard we fight, no matter how hard we try to achieve them, we don’t.  This isn’t just Paul, is it?  It’s each and every one of us.

So, how is it that the person who wishes to be faithful, who earnestly seeks to serve God and to serve his neighbor ends up in such a train wreck?  Haven’t we been called to be disciples?  In our baptisms, haven’t we been cleansed, our sins washed away, the Old Adam drowned?  Weren’t we made new?

Why is it then that the Old Adam remains?  Why can’t I do the things that God wants me to do?  Martin Luther in his Preface to the New Testament explained it this way:

“Then he [Paul] shows how spirit and flesh struggle with one another in a man.  He uses himself as an example, in order that we may learn how properly to understand the work of slaying sin within us.  He calls both the spirit and the flesh ‘laws’; for just as it is in the nature of the divine law to drive men and make demands of them, so the flesh drives men and makes demands.  It rages against the spirit, and will have its own way.  The spirit, in turn drives men to make demands.  It rages against the spirit, and will have its own way.  The spirit, in turn, drives men and makes demands contrary to the flesh, and will have its own way.  This tension lasts in us as long as we live; though in one person it is greater, in another less, according as the spirit or the flesh, and he fights with himself until he becomes wholly spiritual.” – Luther’s Works (Fortress Press, 1960), 376-377

 

It’s a back and forth.  A battle between the old and the new. The new man, the new creature is here.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit in His Word and the water at your baptism, God made you new. He freed you from your slavery to sin, rescued you from the pits of death and despair.  You are His.

And yet, the old man remains.  He is your nagging shadow, the thorn in your flesh that just simply won’t leave you alone.  Sometimes he gets the upper hand and convinces us that we want our sin.  Other times, daily drowning our old Adam by remembering our baptism is an easy task.

You are simultaneously a fallen sinner, and justified in Christ.  We are both broken, and restored.  Paul was both chief of sinners and the lead apostle of the church to the Gentiles.  This is the reality that you live in each and every day.

This section from Paul rebukes two extremes which I highlighted at the start of the sermon.  The first is the idea on the one end that we can achieve perfection in this life.  Because we have been set free, because the old Adam is drowned, because we are a new creation in our baptism, we can do the works of God.  And if we can do them, then we must be able to reach the point where we can do them without failure.

Despite the fact that Paul already was teaching against it, and the Lutheran reformers taught against it, this idea is still prevalent among Christians today.  The Catholics call it the consecrated life.  The Methodists talk about it as full salvation, entire sanctification, or being perfected in love.  These teachings lead Christians to despair.  “You should be able to be perfect, so why aren’t you?  What’s wrong with you?  Don’t you have faith?”  “Why can’t I do this?”  This idea simply isn’t what the Scriptures teach.

But neither is opposite end, the idea that we, as Christians, are free from the law and can do whatever we want.  You may hear people talk about their “Christian liberty.”  The Reformers called these people “antinomians.”  People without a law.   In this case, you end up with, at best, mediocre discipleship.  There is no striving any more to do what God has laid before you to do.  This too, isn’t what the Scriptures teach.

Again, let’s hear from Luther as he wrote his commentary on Romans:

In this way, then, you should understand chapter 7, where St. Paul portrays himself as still a sinner, while in chapter 8 he says that, because of the incomplete gifts and because of the Spirit, there is nothing damnable in those who are in Christ. Because our flesh has not been killed, we are still sinners, but because we believe in Christ and have the beginnings of the Spirit, God so shows us his favor and mercy, that he neither notices nor judges such sins. Rather he deals with us according to our belief in Christ until sin is killed.

 

As we cry out together with the Apostle Paul, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” we have an answer: “Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

God looks not on our sin, but on His Son.  This is the gospel, the good news to you and to me.  Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, paid for your sins in full.  Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the tomb rescues you from the old Adam within you that seeks to drag you down into the pit of hell.

God does it all! Forgiveness and life are His gifts to you, each and every day. This text that strikes us as so confusing is actually very simple. The Law of God is good. We’re thoroughly evil.  God is supremely gracious to us.  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, strive to keep the Law, remember your baptism, and cling to the promise that it isn’t up to you.  But no matter how well or poorly you do these things, know that salvation is yours already in Christ alone.