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It’s Still All About Jesus November 26, 2017

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1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Last Sunday of the Church Year

November 26, 2017

 

Focus:  God raises the dead!

Function:  That the hearers turn to Christ as the author of life.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

It’s Still All About Jesus

 

This year we have had the honor of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  And while I may not have been here with you for that celebration, I know you all marked the occasion.  I bring it up this morning, though, to quiz you.  Do any of you remember the LCMS’ motto for the 500thIt’s Still All About Jesus.

October 31, 1517 wasn’t really the Reformation itself.  Luther still wasn’t the theologian that he would later become.  And we can celebrate that, the 500th birthday of the Lutheran Church together come June 25, 2030.  But, the 95 Theses at least got the ball rolling.  And the Reformation itself would be founded upon Christ.  That you are saved not by your own works, but by the works of Christ.

And so, as I serve you in your midst as your new pastor, this theme is my own.  It’s still all about Jesus.  John the Baptist once said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30).  And that is so true.  In my time with you, whether that’s fifteen minutes or forty years, it’s not about me.  It’s about what Christ does for you.  I must decrease, I must not allow myself, my crazy ideas to get in the way of you seeing Christ and Him crucified.

And that was the Apostle Paul’s remark.  As he began his letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote,

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

 

If I preach anything other than Christ, I do you no good.  If I preach an hour up here about worldly wisdom, things to help you improve your daily life and routine, I’ve not helped you.  I’ve harmed you.  I’ve pointed you away from Christ, to rely instead upon yourself.  You would literally be better served if I had preached nothing at all.  “No sermon today, Pastor couldn’t figure out how to connect it to Jesus,” would be much less harmful to you.

Our epistle text today is from that same letter of Paul.  And it is one of the most comforting, assuring, confident chapters in all of Scripture.  1 Corinthians 15 is all about the resurrection, whether or not it happened, and what that means for us.

“For as by a man came death.”  The sin of Adam condemned all of creation.  They didn’t know death.  As Adam and Eve lived together in the paradise of the Garden of Eden, caring for God’s creation, they didn’t know death.  But, as they turned from God, rebelled against Him to follow their own path, this rebellion, this sin against God brought death not only to them, but to everything God had entrusted to them.  By one man death came upon us all.

This is our common lot.  You and I may not have all the same sins.  The things that thorn my flesh may not be same for you.  And you will find other sins tempting that don’t cause me any trouble.  And yet, the outcome is the same.  You and I, as consequence, punishment of our sins, we die.

“By a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”  That word “man” really should be capitalized, because it’s Jesus.  It’s God.  And Paul loved this wordplay of God.  When God created man in the Garden, He named the first man, “man.”  That’s what “Adam” means in Hebrew.  And so now, in his writings, Paul will talk about Jesus as the second Adam, the second Man.  In the first Adam, we all die.  But, in the second Adam, we will all be made alive.

And we know this is true.  That Jesus Christ, the very Son of God Himself, sacrificed Himself for us.  Out of His great love for us, He willingly surrendered His own life, allowing sinful man to nail Him to the cross.  And so we did.  But in that crucifixion, as the blood of Christ poured out, all of our sins were forgiven.  All of them.  Gone.

“But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.”  Paul shows us the three things that happen from Christ’s resurrection.  First, obviously, is that Christ is made alive again.  The tomb is empty, our Lord lives!

Second, when Christ returns, as He’s promised He will, all those who had faith in Christ will be made alive again!  I love to mention this at the graveside after a funeral.  Imagine what this place will look like when Christ returns and your loved ones are raised to life again.  What a wonderful, glorious day that will be!

“Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.”  The third and final thing that comes of Christ’s resurrection is the destruction of evil.  Satan and his minions, sinful rulers, disease, decay, you name it.  Defeated by the empty tomb of Christ.

“For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.”  I’m not sure we think about this verse very often, but it is a verse of tremendous comfort.  Christ reigns.  Even now, even in the midst of our brokenness, as we watch the world around us come unraveled, as our lives feel like their falling into despair, even in this Christ reigns!  He is Lord of heaven and earth!  And we’re His dear precious family.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  I don’t have a perfect answer for you.  I’m not sure I could rightly explain why sin is defeated before death.  But we see it.  We see it every day.  We know this is true.  But Christ has promised, that in His death and in His resurrection, He has overcome the grave even for us!  He has defeated death, and we get to enjoy the benefits of that gift for the rest of forever.

And so, this is where I must always point you, where every sermon must go.  Word and Sacrament.  A sermon is only good if it points you to Jesus.

Now, in a world of constant entertainment, constant bombardment of different images and flashes of light on a screen, hearing the same thing over and over again may sound boring, or like it would get old, but let’s try this.

A woman once approached her husband after many years of marriage, and she said, “John, why don’t you ever tell me that you love me?”  And John replied, “Well, I told you once on the day we got married.  I just figured if anything ever changed, I’d let you know.”  For those of you ladies here today who are married, do those words, “I love you,” spoken to you by your husband, do those words ever get old?

This is where we go.  This is our hope, our life.  In baptism, God claims you as His own child.  In Confession and Absolution, all your sins are forgiven, you are free.  In the Lord’s Supper, you come together with your brothers and sisters in Christ and receive His very own body and blood, giving you forgiveness and life.

It may not be the right church season, but I believe you know the words.  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!  This is our hope.  This is our confidence.  Because Christ lives, we live.  And may that good news always flow from this pulpit.

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Farewell to Our Family at St. John’s November 5, 2017

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1 John 3:1-3

All Saints’ Day

November 5, 2017

 

Focus:  God calls us His children through the blood of His Son in our baptisms.

Function:  That the hearers, as a family, trust in the purifying blood of Christ alone.

Structure:  .

 

Farewell to Our Family at St. John’s

 

I’ve been here long enough that you’ve actually heard me preach on all three of our Scriptures today.  So, just as I’d gotten to the point where I could pull up old sermons and bore you to death, the Lord saw fit to whisk me away.  Now I get a new flock to bore!  Thanks for putting up with me.

In all seriousness, the epistle reading from John’s first letter to the church is wonderfully  fitting for our time together this morning.  “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”  Amen, amen, means yes, yes, it shall be so.  We rejoice in this.  We rejoice that the Heavenly Father, the God of heaven and earth, of the entire universe, loves us.  He loves you and me.

He loves us so richly, so abundantly, so lavishly, that He gave His only Son Jesus Christ to take away our sins, by His death on the cross.  That He raised His Son again, that we might also have life that never ends!  This is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful good news!

Today, you and I are children of God, through the wondrous gift of baptism, we are family.  Brothers and sisters of Christ, children of the Heavenly Father.  This is fantastic stuff!  And it’s ours, it’s our free gift from God.

I’m going to skip to the end of the reading, to the law, to the idea of sanctification.  “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself…”  When God claims you as His own child, through water and the Word, we become a new creation.  And now, through daily remembering our baptism, daily repentance and forgiveness, we live as children of God.  I see so much of this in you.

You are an extraordinarily generous congregation.  There’s a Bible verse that talks about how you shouldn’t muzzle the ox while he’s treading out the grain.  You don’t muzzle your pastor.  You care for your workers.  You care for the servants that God places into your midst.    The way you pay your staff, the way you care for their health, the way you help them plan for their future, is tremendous.  Thank you!

You also put that generosity out there last weekend.  Pastor Fritsch set a low bar, with a goal of about half of what we raised for Feed My Starving Children last year.  You not only hurdled that bar, we raised $3,502, which beats last year’s number as well.  That’s 15,918 meals that you all just provided last weekend for these families.  Thank you!

Hannah and I can’t thank you enough for everything that you’ve done for us these last five years, and you haven’t stopped.  You aren’t mad at us for leaving, you haven’t given us the cold shoulder.  Instead, we’ve had help with babysitting, with ripping out carpet, disposing of carpet, packing our stuff, some food, and even emptying the oil and gas from our lawnmower.  Thank you!

And the way that you treat our children.  You treat them as your own.  You love on them here at the church.  You’re willing to hold them or sit with them during the service so that they can learn to worship God and receive His gifts, and you enjoy playing with them, not during the service.   All the smiles, the conversations, the relationships.  And your love towards them extends beyond these walls, also.  If I can encourage you here, if you do this for every child, this congregation will never lack for young families.  Thank you!

For your service in the community, through backpacks, SALT, UMR lunches, Channel One.  For your love for God’s Word, the strength of Bible classes.  For your love of teaching His Word to the children that you’ve welcomed into your family in this place through Milestones, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Youth Group.  Thank you!

You’re good at loving one another.  This is one of the least divided and conflicted congregations I’ve ever known.  That’s a wonderful blessing, both to you and your pastor, but also to your community. Thank you!

But, if we’re honest, we aren’t perfect.  And sometimes, ministry here has been a mess.  There’ve been times where volunteers were hard to find.  The Christian Outreach Committee probably bears that burden the most.

There have been times where I met with you in the midst of unrepented sins.  And while I can rejoicingly say that some of those sins were repented, it is with sadness and heavy heart that I know not everyone repented in those times.  I will continue to pray for those people, as I hope you would as well.

And probably our biggest struggle is in the affluence of our land.  We share that struggle with Christians across America, as we allow our wealth and our comfort to overcome the gospel.  That we don’t want to risk our nice life to share the gospel with someone who desperately needs it.  To this end, I pray you’ll always have pastors who are willing use God’s law to shake you out of your comfort zone.

For all the good we do, it’s just not enough, is it?  In confirmation class this week, one of the boys asked about heaven.  I didn’t even let him finish the question.  He started by asking, “If I’m good enough to get to heaven someday…” and I interrupted.  Because he isn’t.  You aren’t.  I’m not.  And no amount of good deeds, no amount of being a good boy, can change that.  We can’t earn heaven.  We can’t earn Paradise.

But the verse ends with “He is pure.”  Because in the end, it’s not up to us.  It’s not up to what we do.  It’s up to Him.  And He’s done it.  His purity, His righteousness, is made yours.  It’s a gift, a gift that can’t be overcome, and it can’t be taken from you.

“Dear friends, now we are the children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.”  There’s more to this.  We are children of God, right here, right now!  And we rejoice at that.  But we rejoice all the more because we know there’s more to the promise.  That God’s grace, that His lavish love for us didn’t end on the cross.  It wasn’t just in the here and the now that He saved you.

This gift, this salvation, in the wonders of the resurrection of Christ, this gift is yours forever!  Because He has conquered the grave!  He has conquered death and the devil and they no longer have any power over you!

We may not know what Paradise and forever with God will look like, but God is the author of all things good, and we can know and trust that life with Him will be forever awesome.

This is gospel.  As Paul encouraged the early church, so I encourage you.  Let the cross and the empty tomb of Christ always be in your preaching and teaching, and let them always be in your homes.  If anyone comes to you with any other message claiming it to be the gospel, reject them.  Cling to Christ alone.  He is more than enough.

While today seems like a day of goodbye’s, it really isn’t.  You’ve gained a preacher, a teacher, a resource.  And while I may not be your pastor anymore, I’m moving, not dying.  You will continue to look to Pastor Fritsch for his care and guidance as he delivers to you the Lord’s Word and Sacraments.  But I’m sure he won’t mind if you add my sermons in the new congregation to your weekly commute podcast list.  They’ll be online.

We are family.  I don’t just begin every sermon with the phrase, “Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,” for nothing.  I mean it.  You’re my family.  And we love you.  And we will miss you.  But this isn’t the end.  Technology allows all kinds of ways for God’s people to remain in touch even across vast distances.  But I also know that this isn’t the last time I’ll see you.  It may not be here, it may not be on this earth, it may not be in this lifetime, but I have the utmost confidence that we will see you again in God’s everlasting kingdom, at the feast that knows no end.  Just as you have the utmost confidence that you will again see your loved ones who have walked before us in the faith.  In Christ alone, dear brothers and sisters, we are God’s children, now and forevermore.