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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.

 

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The Resurrection of Our Lord April 16, 2017

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1 Corinthians 15:1-10

Easter

April 16, 2017

 

Focus: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an indispensable component of the gospel and an essential basis of our salvation.

Function: The hearer values the impact of Christ’s resurrection upon his/her salvation.

Structure:  An Outline from the Rev. Dr. David Peter.

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord

 

Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  That’s an exciting proclamation.  It’s a fun way to greet one another, it’s a fun way to celebrate Easter together.  But does it matter?  Does it truly matter if Christ has been raised from the dead?  Does it matter if the tomb where Joseph laid His body is empty?

This is the very question the Corinthian Christians were wrestling with.  They had come to a point where they were doubting the resurrection.  That’s not normal.  People who die, well, they stay dead.  And so, they couldn’t understand how Christ rose from the dead, and so they had started to believe that maybe He didn’t.

And through history, they aren’t alone in that belief.  Although Muslims won’t bother claiming to be Christian or to worship the same god as us, they believe Jesus was a man.  But not God, and certainly not resurrected from the grave.  Many people who count solely on their mind and reasoning, like the Corinthians had fallen into, many of these people deny the resurrection.  If science can’t explain it, it must not exist.

And then there are yet others today who deny the resurrection while still trying to claim to be Christians.  Some of the churches that are more liberal in their theology have begun teaching that it doesn’t matter if Christ rose from the dead.  Even more than that, many say He didn’t rise physically, but only spiritually.  Whatever that’s supposed to mean…  We’ll see shortly what the Apostle Paul says about those ideas.

There are also any number of more subtle ways that we ourselves deny the resurrection.  Sometimes we talk about a heavenly life for our spirit or our soul, but without a physical body.  Sometimes we deny the resurrection by our practice, by how we treat someone’s body after they’ve died, or by how we treat people in their bodily needs here in our own community right now.

But Paul rejects all of this.  He goes so far as to say, “16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  Those are strong words, but Paul backs them up.  He proceeds to tell the people of Corinth precisely why the resurrection matters, and more than just mattering, why it is essential to our faith.

Those are his words.  Paul calls the resurrection of Christ “of first importance.”  To him, it’s indispensable.  When Paul starts this response by talking about the gospel, to him, the resurrection is part of the gospel.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is that He died for our sins, was buried, and rose again to give us life.  And each of these things, then, is essential to our faith.

And he’s not making them up.  “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  David spoke of these things.  Isaiah prophesied it.  Jesus Himself talked about it numerous times.  The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the way that God the Father purposed salvation for His people from before He even created this world.

God knew it.  He knew that we would have weaknesses.  He knew we would choose to reject Him.  He knew that we would love our sin instead of loving Him.  And so He orchestrated a plan, a plan He announced to Adam and Eve even in the Garden of Eden.  A plan by which God would redeem sinful men and restore all of creation to Himself.  And that plan was the death and resurrection of the Messiah, or, the Christ.

We learn from elsewhere in Paul’s writings, and indeed from all of Scripture, that the punishment of sin is death.  We die because we sin.  And yet, in His great love for us, a love we can never fully understand this side of Paradise, in His great love for us, God gave us His only Son.

The death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday is the once and for all time sacrifice.  It covers, it forgives every sin.  Original sin, actual sin, sins of omission.  The sinner you are, the sins you do, the sins you commit by failing to act when you should.  Yours, mine, your neighbors, the random person on the other side of the world you’ve never met.  The centurion at the foot of the cross, the child yet unknown to their parents.  Every sin ever.  All of them forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood He so willingly gave to save us.  You’re forgiven!

But this isn’t everything.  Because it is the resurrection of Christ that proclaims that victory yours.  We like to say that Christ conquered sin, death, and the devil.  And it’s true, it is so gloriously true.  In His resurrection, rising from the dead, Jesus announces victory over death itself.  The sin, the guilt, the shame, the punishment, all of it, forgiven and defeated by Christ our Savior.

This is the beauty of the gospel that Paul is proclaiming to the Corinthians.  He even takes the time and plays along, he plays their game.  What if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead?  And the answers are devastating.  Our preaching is in vain.  Our faith is in vain. We misrepresent God Himself.  We make Him to be a liar. Our faith is futile.  We’re still in our sins.  Those who have already died before us have truly and fully perished.  Indeed, “if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (v. 19)

But it’s not true.  This is truth, that Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  And if you don’t believe, here’s proof.  The risen Christ appeared.  Not a ghost, not a hallucination.  The real, physical body of Christ, scars and all.  You can ask Peter or the others of the Twelve.  You can ask the more than 500 guys Jesus appeared to after His resurrection.  You can ask James or any of the Apostles.  You can even ask Paul.

Eyewitness testimony.  When you’re looking for proof, even in our justice system today, eyewitness testimony is about as good as it gets.  If you doubt the resurrection, go, talk to one of these brothers, it was only a couple decades ago, most of them are still alive.

pause

Paul saved himself for last in that list.  And as is his usual style, he had nothing good to say about himself.  “Least of the apostles,” “one untimely born,” “chief of sinners.”  Paul is quite clear that he isn’t worthy.  That phrase, untimely born, is another way of saying he shouldn’t have been born.  That’s how bad he was, that the world would’ve been better off without him.  And he’s right.  He persecuted the church of Christ.  He arrested many, sentenced others to death, maybe even cast the stones himself.

But then he gives us reason to rejoice.  It isn’t about us.  In spite of all his wretchedness, all the evil things he’d done, God gave Him His grace.  God loved him, God forgave him, God saved him.  God even worked through him for the good of His kingdom.  Even Paul!

This, then, is us, too.  We aren’t worthy, despite what you might hear otherwise.  We don’t deserve God’s favor, or His love, or His forgiveness.  We deserve death.  But it is purely by God’s grace that death isn’t our end.  It is purely by His grace that God overlooks our unworthiness.  Indeed, by His grace, He forgives us and gives us new life.

This is the basis on which we stand.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are our forgiveness and salvation.  It is precisely these actions of Christ that enable us to stand before a holy God on the Last Day, and to hear Him declare us innocent.  It is precisely these actions of Christ that shout loudly over the earth that Jesus is victorious over sin, death, and the devil.  This is the gospel.  Christ died on the cross to declare your sins forgiven and He rose from the tomb conquering itself death itself to declare you alive forevermore.  Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  This is most certainly true.

Without the Shedding of Blood April 13, 2017

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Exodus 12:1-14

Maundy Thursday

April 13, 2017

 

Focus:  God sheds His blood for us.

Function:  That the hearers come to the Lord’s Table to receive the forgiveness of their sins.

Structure:  Old Testament/New Testament type and antitype.

 

Without the Shedding of Blood

 

One of the things that a good sermon must do is to rightly apply law and gospel from the text.  It’s the job of your pastor to dig into the Word of God, to dig into the text for that day and see where we’ve failed.  What’s in the text that shows me my sin, how we fail to do what God created us to do?  And once that’s established, your pastor then uses the same text to show you the gospel, to literally preach unto you the forgiveness of your sins.  That ends up being perhaps the most beautiful thing about the liturgy.  Your sins are forgiven again, and again, and again, even in the same service.

I admit, this one was a little tricky.  As I read over the text, it was hard to find the Law here.  It was hard to find the Law in this text that applies to you and to me.  It’s easy to get it wrong.  I could tell you that based off of the Exodus Passover festival, you must do these things.  And since you’ve never slain a lamb and painted its blood on your door, you’ve failed. If I preach that, I’ve failed.

The Law in this text is so easy, we miss it.  The Law in this text is simply this: you ARE a sinner.  Actually, that’s the Law in all three of our readings here today.  There’s nothing here that you must do.  You don’t keep the Passover.  That’s been done for you, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit.  But instead, each of these texts plays out the same.  This is us.  This is simply who we are: sinful human beings, fallen creatures who stand apart from God.

Each of these texts says “this is who we are and this is how God responds on our behalf.”  Let’s walk through these texts and unpack that.

In our Old Testament reading today from Exodus, we see the account of the 10th and final plague.  The plague of the firstborn.  Hundreds of years before this text, God had made a covenant with Abraham, that He would be His God, and that Abraham’s people would be God’s people.

But the Israelites, as Abraham’s people come to be known, failed over and over again in being the people of God.  They kept longing for the gods of their neighbors.  They kept insisting on living life on their terms, not on God’s.  They were sinners.  And it’s not much later that they fall into slavery in Egypt.

And over the next 400 years, living as slaves from one generation to the next, the pattern continued.  Like a dog returns to its vomit, they returned to their idolatry, to their distrust.  And they wasted away in their sins.

But it was at this time that God acted.  He sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh demanding the freedom of God’s people.  And as Pharaoh rejected God, the plagues began.  And that cycle would repeat: Plague, rejection, plague, rejection.  Until we come to our text for today.  The tenth, and final plague that God inflicted on the land of Egypt.

You know it as the plague of the firstborn.  God, in His righteous judgment, as punishment for sin and rebellion, is going to strike down the firstborn son in every household, in every family.

But He also provided a means of grace, a way out.  God institutes the Passover.  Each family was to take a young lamb, without blemish, and slaughter it at twilight on the 14th day of the month.  Now this wasn’t just a cast off lamb.  This is a spotless lamb, from among your best.  This is a call to trust in God and to be His people.

So each family slaughtered their lamb.  And they took the blood of that lamb and used it to paint the doorframe of their home.  And then they ate it.  They roasted the lamb, and made a meal of it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.  It was a meal eaten in haste.  There was no telling when the plague would strike, and as soon as it did, the Israelites would be fleeing from the land of Egypt and from the wrath of Pharaoh.

But in this we see the promise of God. He said,

“The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”

 

Salvation, salvation in the blood of the lamb!  The Israelites listened, they slaughtered the lambs at twilight, they painted their doorframes, they ate a speedy meal, and then the plague struck.  And the Egyptians, Pharaoh, cast the Israelites out of Egypt.

Sinners, stuck in their sin, and God comes to them.  He comes to them in the midst of their sins, in the midst of their slavery, in the midst of their suffering.  And He gives them life.  He frees them from their bondage and forgives them of their sins.  God comes to His people where they’re at with His gifts, with His promises.

This event, to the Israelites, this was as a close a thing to Easter as they were going to get.  The Passover feast, or the Festival of Unleavened Bread, is one of the biggest celebrations of their church year.  And, the slain lamb for the forgiveness of sins leads to the rest of Exodus and Leviticus, where you can find the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system through which God gave His people the forgiveness of their sins.

But this event, as significant as it was, this was only the type.  A type is a foreshadowing, an earlier account pointing to some later event.  The antitype is that later thing, that greater thing, the fulfillment of it.  The Passover is merely a type.  It only points to the real deal.

That’s the profoundness of our reading from Hebrews.  We won’t focus on it, except one verse.  In verse 22, we hear the words “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

The Passover lamb, the burnt offerings, the guilt offerings, the sin offerings, the peace offerings, you name it.  All that blood to cover your sins.  The result of a broken covenant, the penalty of death.  Blood must be shed.  But even this is just a type.  It’s a foreshadowing of something greater.  Here’s an example from Leviticus chapter 5:

14 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 15 “If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of Yahweh, he shall bring to Yahweh as his compensation, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued in silver shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. 16 He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.

 

Here’s my question for you: how could you ever know it was enough?  How could you ever know for certain, that your sins were removed from you?  How could you know that you didn’t unintentionally do it again the very next second?  How could you be sure of your salvation?  And how would we not run out of rams?

We are sinners, in need of a Savior.  And that brings us to the gospel.  Jesus and His disciples have been in Jerusalem now for a few days already, and it’s time for the Passover celebration.  It’s time for the regular, annual rejoicing and remembering of God’s gift in the blood of the lamb.

Scholars debate whether this was Christ’s 3rd or 4th Passover spent with His disciples.  But that number doesn’t matter.  As they recline around the table, and celebrate together, it’s familiar.  There are traditions, routines, common food from one year to the next, just like you will be doing at your family gatherings this weekend.

But then Jesus changes it.  Rather than just talking about the Exodus, He changes the script.  Jesus changes the Passover meal and its very meaning.  He takes the bread, blesses it, and then hands it to His disciples saying, “Take, eat; this is My body.”  And then He takes the cup, gives thanks, and passes it around saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

pause

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.”  This is the antitype.  Christ shows the disciples that the Passover itself pointed to something greater, it pointed to Him.  And while they didn’t understand it yet, the next couple of days would be devastating and wonderful at the same time.

And this is why you’ve gathered here today.  This is why we celebrate Maundy Thursday, the night Christ is arrested.  The night that His path to the cross is set in stone.  The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world is going to the altar to be slain.  To shed His blood for you, for me, for all people of all time and of all places.

Remember the guilt offering?  How could you ever know it was enough?  Where could your assurance be?  That’s not the case now.  Christ is the final sacrifice, the final blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.

That’s why, spacially, the church is designed this way.  It’s not just for aesthetics.  The cross hangs on the wall above the altar as a reminder to us that Christ’s death is the fulfillment of all sacrifices.  Type (pointing to the altar), antitype (pointing to the cross).  It is finished.

That’s the Law and Gospel, not just of these texts, but indeed, of all Scripture.  You are a sinner.  I am a sinner.  And apart from God, we’re dead.  Bound, slaves to sin.  Dead and without hope.  And, yeah, if the assurance of salvation rests here, the doubts will only consume me.

Simply put, we are sinners.  This is who we are.  But this (pointing to the cross), this is how God responds.  God doesn’t leave you in you there, dead in your sins.  He doesn’t leave you trying to work your way back to Him.  Trying to find, and climb, the stairway to heaven.  He came down to you.

So today, as you come before this altar, as you come together here in this place, to partake of the body and blood of Christ, your sins are forgiven.  They already have been in confession and absolution.  They already are forgiven in the words I’ve proclaimed to you now.  And you will be forgiven again in just a few moments.  And the beauty in all of this is that none of it depends on you.  None of this depends on me.  If someone asks you, “How do you know you’re saved?  Where’s your assurance?” you need only point them to Christ.  God has promised it.  In my baptism, in the spoken words of absolution, in the body and blood of the Lord at His Table, forgiveness and life are mine, they’re yours.

A Guide to Loving Your Enemies February 19, 2017

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Matthew 5:38-48

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

February 19, 2017

 

Focus:  God saves even His own enemies.

Function:  That the hearers love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

A Guide to Loving Your Enemies

 

As we gathered together here in this place last week, to hear of God’s love for us, and to receive the forgiveness of all our sins, I was privileged to share with you from the Sermon on the Mount. More specifically, to look at what Jesus is doing with this middle section of the sermon.

Do you remember which use of the Law we talked about?  2nd use/mirror use.  Jesus said that if we just had more righteousness than the Pharisees, we could enter the kingdom of heaven.  But then, He takes the Law as we know it, and He cranks it up, He raises the bar to levels beyond our capability.

Jesus uses the Law to show us our sin.  Jesus uses the Law to crush us, to destroy us, to bring about confession, repentance of our sins.  But it’s not just that.  That would be twisted and deranged.  Christ doesn’t kill us and leave us.  He kills us, and then He makes us alive again, in Him.

This is the beauty of both law and gospel.  That they work together.  The law kills, the gospel makes alive.  Without the mirror in their faces, the people didn’t know their sin, they didn’t know their need for a Savior.  But once they did, He didn’t scoff at them, but He died for them.

But today, as we continue to look at the Sermon on the Mount, I want to focus in more on the first and the third uses of the Law.  Which again, are what? Curb and guide.

So our gospel reading today started with an all familiar Old Testament teaching.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’

If your neighbor kills your ox, you take one of his.  If an enemy lops off your hand, you lop off one of his.  If someone kills your wife, you don’t kill their wife, you simply kill them, a life for a life.

And so just like what we saw with murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths last week, the next words out of Jesus’ mouth radically change our thinking, our concept of what the law even means.

39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

 

The curb use of the law is rather simple with this one.  It’s so civilization, continues.  If we were always dealing out justice in this way, exacting revenge as described earlier, there would be no end.  There would be nothing left.

The guide use of the law is also rather simple.  It’s do what Jesus said.  If they take out your eye, offer the other, too.  If they bust your tooth, offer an extra.  If they slap one cheek, turn the other to them in case they want another shot.  If they sue you for your clothes, give them more.

Jesus actually takes a law that they understood as a law of revenge and violence, and turns it into a law of reckless generosity.  That we would give of ourselves fully.  The Greek words behind the clothing illustrate that.  Your tunic would be like the long johns you’ve been wearing all winter, and your cloak would be the outer layer.  What was left?

This is one of the places of great of benefit to those of you who are single.  You can be recklessly generous without having to worry about also then caring for and providing for a spouse or children.  I’m quite certain that’s part of Paul’s conversation, and Christ’s as well later in Matthew, as they lift up the gift of celibacy as a true spiritual gift within the church.

But as we saw last week, we see again here.  The mirror use of the Law smacks us in the face.  It shows us that we haven’t done these things.  We haven’t been recklessly generous with the time, treasure, and talents that God has entrusted to us.  We haven’t been willing to give to those who would first see us harmed.  And again, if this were all the Law was, we’d be damned.

One of the things Christ pointed to was that part about going the extra mile.  It wasn’t uncommon then for a Roman soldier to simply, forcibly, ask someone to carry their load for them.  They even did it to Christ.  Forcing Him to carry the burden of their cross up to the top of the mount where they would then hang Him on it.

Bearing their sins, not only up the mountain, but bearing them on His shoulders straight to the judgment throne of God.  Where your sins and my sins are what caused His death.  He literally went the extra distance for us.  And on His account, all of our sins are gone, wiped clean, forgiven, and His righteousness then fills us.  The love of Christ is ours now and forevermore.

And then Jesus, in much the same way, does the same thing with our next piece.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

Now, if you remember our Old Testament reading from earlier, what’s wrong with that statement?  It’s not what the Bible says.  Somewhere along the way, the phrase was added to.  The hate for one’s enemy isn’t even in Leviticus, which we all know has a bad reputation to those outside the church.  If we’re honest, even to most in the church.

But, nonetheless, it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if the Pharisees had added it, or the Sanhedrin, or the Sadducees, or some other group.  Jesus is about to obliterate it anyway.

44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

 

The curb use of the law with this one, again, it’s pretty straight forward.  Don’t kill your enemy.  Don’t wage war. Don’t commit genocide.

And that brings us again to the guide use of the Law here.  Again, it’s simply stated, although, hard to do.  Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.  I’m going to put this out there, and just let you dwell on it this week.  Can you love your enemy by killing him in war?  If you want to discuss it further with me privately later, we definitely can, but just chew on it for now.

Here is where we are thankful for men and women like the Gayed family.  For the work being done through POBLO, not only here in Rochester, but in much of the world.  As people overcome their fears to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who need to hear it.

Go, even if it’s just once, go volunteer once, just so you can see it done.  Let them lead you by example.  We are quick to think of Islam as our enemy, even an enemy that would see us dead.  And in some ways, that’s very true.  John could share stories with you that would break your heart.  But then, he would also share stories with you that would encourage you, that would convince you that it’s all worth it.

Because even our enemies, whether they could simply care less about us, or they truly disdain us, even our enemies are creations of God.  And it is for them that Christ came and died upon the cross, just as much as it was for all of us.

And I know I fail at this one.  I know I let anger become the first response, rather than say, compassion or sorrow, when someone opposes Christ and His truths.  But I’m ever so thankful for the forgiveness of my sins that comes through gospel of Jesus.

8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10)

 

While we were enemies of God, He sent His Son to die for us, for them.  Jesus died to forgive the sins of all people.  And those verses are an excellent reminder to me to be humble, to not consider myself better than others, because I too, was once an enemy of God deserving nothing but His wrath.

But instead, He chose to spare me.  He chose to spare you.  Through the faithful work of our families, our churches, our communities, that Word of forgiveness, of life, of love, that Word has been shared with you, has taken root in you, has changed you, transformed you from an enemy of God, into a child of God.

And as Paul taught the young pastor Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:4, that’s the outcome God would like to see for all of His creation.

Although we’re not even half way through the Sermon yet, the last verse of our text today reads:

48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Some see that as a challenge.  Some see it as a challenge to be met.  I have to do this, and they strive for perfection their entire life long.  Perfection becomes their God, the desire of their heart.  Others hear that challenge as overwhelming, as something they could never achieve, and then despair becomes their God, as they give up all hope.

But for you and for me, and truly for all people, the verse isn’t a challenge for us at all.  It is the full killing weight of the Law.  You’ve failed.  But Christ has made you alive.  He has fulfilled that Law.  He has been perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.  He has then taken His perfection, and given it to you.  That’s the beauty of Christ’s imputed righteousness.  It’s 100% free to you.

 

 

 

Exceeding the Righteousness of the Pharisees February 12, 2017

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Matthew 5:21-37

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

February 12th, 2017

 

Focus:  God imputes His righteousness to us through His Son Jesus Christ.

Function:  That the hearers look to Christ for their righteousness, not to themselves.

Structure:  Walking through the Scriptures.

 

Exceeding the Righteousness of the Pharisees

 

Today’s gospel reading, isolated from its context, wouldn’t be gospel at all.  These words kill.  Alone, they don’t even kill and make alive.  These words simply kill.

So we need the context.  We need the assigned gospel reading from last weekend for these words flowing from the lips of Christ to make any sense whatsoever.  So, feel free to open up your Bibles to Matthew chapter 5.  This is the section following the eight fold blessing of the Beatitudes, and it’s immediately following those analogies about being the salt and light of the earth, the city on a hill that can’t be hidden.  But we start today with verse seventeen:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

Christ’s reference to the Law and the Prophets is the phrase they used to describe the Old Testament.  Those are the two sections the Jewish people broke it down into. He didn’t come to remove the law of God from creation.  Christ came not to do away with the Law, but to follow it perfectly for us.  Not even the smallest mark.  Not the smallest letter, not the slightest ink from a pen would be removed from the Law until it’s fulfilled.

The Law of God is His will for His people.  We are to keep it, to follow it.  And this, this is where the Pharisees come in.  They loved the law.  They harped on it all the time.  Do the law. You gotta keep the law if you want God’s love.  Do, do, do, and do some more.  Unless it’s the Sabbath, then you do by doing nothing.

But here’s the kicker, and it’s the kicker of this whole sermon.  How much righteousness did the Pharisees actually have?  None.  The law they kept was a law of their own making, they cared not for God or His people.  It was selfish, self-serving, self-promoting, and the people listening to Jesus knew it.  And so now Jesus tells them that their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees if they ever want to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Sounds easy, right?  If the Pharisees have no righteousness, it should be easy to get just a smidge, just an ounce.  That’s all it would take to get into heaven.  But that’s what the rest of our gospel reading today is about.  How are you doing?  How much righteousness do you have?  None.

That’s a hard truth for us to hear, especially if we’ve never heard it before.  We aren’t righteous.  That’s one of the uses of the Law.  Curb, mirror, and guide.  That’s the 2nd use, the mirror use of the Law.  It shows us our sin.  And that’s what Christ is up to in the text.

He’s going to take the Law as they knew it, the Law as the Pharisees knew it and taught it.  He’s going to take that Law and ramp it up.  Crank the nastiness factor of the Law to the top notch.  Take the killing, destructive force of the Law, and blow it up to epic proportions.  To prove to you that you can’t keep it.  On your own, you’re dead in your trespasses. And we’ll circle back to that, but first, let’s look at what He does.

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’

 

That’s what we know as the fifth commandment.  It’s a direct citation from Exodus 20:13, and also from Deuteronomy.  You shall not kill, or murder.  Well, okay Jesus, that’s easy enough.  I’ve never killed anyone.  Except, then Jesus elaborates on what that Law means.

22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

 

Go ahead and put your hands up on this one.  C’mon, everybody put a hand up.  Now, if you’ve ever been angry at anyone, put your hand down.  If you’ve cursed someone or wished bad against them, put your hand down.  If you’ve ever insulted someone put your hand down.  How are we doing?  How many of us made it?  How many of us before the righteousness of God, the perfection of God, how many of us can stand?

That’s the thrust of what Jesus is doing, and He’s going to do it again and again and again before He’s done.  He’s hammering it home.  This point will be made known to all people.  Now, He does follow each of these things with a little life application that shows you just how serious He is about it.  Just how important these things are.

23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

 

So for this one, just as an example, if you know you’re not reconciled to your brother, and that’s not just your flesh and blood brother, but your brothers and sisters in Christ, you could even say your neighbor.  If you’re not reconciled with someone, put your offering down, and leave.  Get up out of the service, and go be reconciled.  And then, when you are, come back, and offer your offering before the Lord.  Would the church ever receive another dime?

And here, it’s the same with the next one.  Jesus cites the sixth commandment from Exodus 20:14.  But He ramps it up.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

 

Don’t worry, you don’t have to raise your hands this time, well, as long as it’s not still up already.  Adultery is the physical act of having sex with someone who is not your spouse.  Your “one flesh” for life.  Oh, well, that’s not so bad.  Most of us can do that.  Except, no, we can’t.  The NASB translation renders lustful intent as simply the word “desire.”  Any time you’ve made an object of someone.  Any time you’ve dabbled in pornography, whether that’s visual or even in the form of written words.  Whenever you’ve so much as crushed on someone else.  That moment they are seen in your eyes or your heart or your mind as anything but a child of God, a creation of the King, in that very moment, you’re goose is cooked.  You’ve committed adultery in your heart.

And how serious is it? V. 29-30 make that crystal clear.

29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

 

The pain, the death, the affliction of sin is so bad, you’d be better off without whatever limb is causing you to sin, than to burn in hell for the punishment for your thoughts, words, and deeds.  But that’s just it.  What would be left of you?  We are sinful through and through.  Not just your eyes, or your hands, but your mind, your heart.  All of you, cut off.

And this just continues.  Divorce, oaths, eye for an eye, love your enemy, giving, praying, fasting, treasuring, worrying, judging, asking, how you treat others, bearing fruit, etc.  It just goes on.

You thought you could do these things, well, you can’t.  None of them.  You aren’t good enough.  You aren’t capable.  You can’t keep the Law.  Your righteousness is one and the same as that of the Pharisees, it’s like a puddle of vomit.  And that’s the point.

Again, let’s re-read verse seventeen.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

 

Christ came to fulfill the Law.  Christ came to live the Law that you and I can’t.  And He did.  That’s what this whole sermon is about.  That’s it not about you, but that it’s about Him.  We have these great terms in Lutheran theology, and this one is called 2KR, or two kinds of righteousness.  Everything we’ve talked about, all of Christ’s examples are called horizontal righteousness, it’s how you live out your life, how you love your neighbor.  But the righteousness Christ calls us to have isn’t this.  Even if you could do it, it wouldn’t be enough.  It’s the vertical righteousness, that is, our standing before God, our faith.  This is what Christ calls us to.

And on our own we can’t do it.  And that’s okay, because it’s not ours to do.  Christ lived out the Law for you.  He kept it perfectly, breaking not even a single command in thirty plus years.  He achieved the horizontal righteousness that we failed to achieve.

And then, then He went and achieved the vertical righteousness as well.  He took our broken relationship with God upon His own self.  By the blood of Christ shed upon the cross, your punishment is paid.  Your lack of righteousness forgiven.  And by His resurrection from the dead on the third day, the Son of God, Christ our Lord has done more than give you a second chance.  He’s given you a life that never ends.  A life that can’t be taken from you.  It’s His gift to you.  He’s earned it, and now He’s giving it freely.

A recent analogy I heard explains this really well.  We could take a chalkboard and just fill it with sins.  Your sins, my sins, past, present, even future.  And we tend to think that as Christians, when God forgives our sins, He wipes the board clean, gives us a clean slate to try again.  But that misses the truth entirely.

Christ not only wipes our board clean, He then fills it with Himself.  This is called Christ’s imputed righteousness.  That righteousness He demanded of us before the Pharisees isn’t even ours, it’s His.  He wipes our sins away and then fills us with His own righteousness, bought and paid for by Him.  It’s not up to us.  It’s not our doing.  It’s His.

And so we look back to the very first words from Christ’s mouth as He began this Sermon on the Mount.

5:4 “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

That’s you.  That’s me.  And we are blessed, because God has given us everything in and through His Son Jesus Christ.   Forgiveness, peace, life, righteousness, all yours.  And they’re all gifts.

 

Children’s message based on keeping the Law.  Maybe the 4th commandment of honoring mother and father.  Maybe one of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount examples instead.  We can’t do it.  But Christ can.  And He has.  And He’d done it for us.

Blessings Bring Joy November 6, 2016

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Matthew 5:1-12

All Saints’ Day

November 6, 2016

 

Focus:  God blesses us through His Son.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in the blessings of God.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Blessings Bring Joy

 

You have a wonderful opportunity this week to spend a long, fall day with a good friend.  It might be with your spouse out doing some hiking in the woods.  It could with be an old friend out on the lake for a little more fishing.  Or with a close girl friend out doing some shopping.  Whatever it is that you’re imagining, you’ve spent the better part of the day together.  It’s been fun.  And right as you turn to them to discuss when you can do this again, they let out a loud sneeze.  And almost as if it’s a reflex you respond….bless you.

Do we even know what that means? I’ve heard that it was believed in the past that when you sneeze your heart skips a beat, and so we bless someone who just sneezed with ongoing life, that their heart returns to a normal rhythm.  I have no idea if that’s true or not.  But even if it is, who’s the one who’s actually doing the blessing?

We have other times we talk about the word “bless” or “blessing.”  Maybe we think of the way we might close a letter, “blessings.”  Sometimes we even use it to replace the word “good.”  “That’s such a blessing” is the same as saying “That’s a good thing.”  Some use it as another way to say the word “prayer.”  “It’s time to say the blessing.”   And then there’s that thing about giving someone your consent.  “You have my blessing,” like the man who grants permission for someone to become his future son-in-law.

But for as common a word as it is, I’m not sure we often think about what it actually means.  But we need to, because that’s vital to what Jesus preached in the most famous sermon ever recorded.

Our gospel text today is from the book of Matthew.  It’s the beginning of what we call the Sermon on the Mount.  And it’s the longest, single discourse we have recorded from Jesus, lasting from chapter five through chapter seven.  But unlike a typical Lutheran sermon that starts with the Law and ends with the Gospel, here Jesus does the opposite.  He begins with the greatness of the gospel message and then proceeds to share with us what we would call law as He tells us how to live as the people of God.

The gospel according to Matthew really does pick up with Advent themes, the coming Messiah, the coming of God’s kingdom.  And, more specifically, it identifies who that king is.  It’s Jesus.  He’s the King of the kingdom.  It’s His.  Not Herod’s as we see in the second chapter.  Not Satan’s as we see in the fourth chapter.  Christ is King.  And that’s going to go a long way in the sermon He preached.

As we begin chapter five, we see Jesus going up on a mountain to be alone with His disciples.  That’s the setting for the Sermon on the Mount.  Indeed, that’s where the name comes from.  And as He sits there with His disciples, He begins to teach them.

And what follows are nine blessings that we’ve come to call the Beatitudes.  But nobody sneezed, and nobody was asking Jesus’ consent for anything.  These blessings aren’t just words.  They’re oozing with gospel.  There’s a whole sermon in each one, but we’ll do as Jesus did today and keep it brief.

The first four blessings go together.  They’re a common theme. They’re not things that we have to do, but they’re who we are.  In Matthew chapter four, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He’s going around preaching to the people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17

Some people mistakenly read the Beatitudes as law.  Blessed are the poor in spirit means we have to make ourselves poor in spirit.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, well we have to strive for perfection.  If that’s how you read the Beatitudes, then the Sermon on the Mount is nothing but Law, and in the end, there’s no hope here.  Because no matter how hard I try, I can’t do it.  No matter how much I might want to be perfect, I can’t do it.  No matter how much I want to be comforted, I can’t make myself mourn.

These things are simply who we are.  We remember who Jesus is talking to.  The disciples and the crowds who’ve come out to hear Him.  They’re the ones who’ve repented; they heard the message that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and they listened, they believed.  And so verses 3-6 aren’t something they do, these verses simply describe who they are.  Who we are.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  We aren’t talking about the impoverished, the starving.  This isn’t about being money poor.  Think of it instead like the Apostle Paul, bemoaning himself as the chief of sinners.  We are downtrodden, we have nothing, we bring nothing before God.  We are empty, we are poor.  And yet, this is the good news, Christ the King fills us. He gives us His kingdom.  We didn’t earn it, He just gives it.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  This is something we all do.  We beat our chests over sin and death.  We mourn the tragedy that has befallen creation, every time we see it.  As we mark All Saints’ Day this weekend, we think of this specifically.  We’ve lost, we grieve over our loved ones who faced death.  And yet the Scriptures promise that we will be comforted, more than that, they promise a place where there will be no more tears.  This place is for all the saints, those past and present.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”  Meek, it means quiet, submissive.  If you call someone meek, you’re basically calling them a pushover.  They let the boss walk all over them, they let the bully have his way.  They won’t stand up for themselves.  They aren’t the powerful, and yet they get the earth.  They inherit the earth.  Christ the King gives it to them.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”  This isn’t about the rumblings of your tummy.  It’s about a longing, about a hope that we would be made right with God.  That we would be saved.  And Christ the King responds, they’ll have it.  In faith, we receive the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

For the people of faith, for us who repent of our sins, these verses aren’t law.  They’re sweet, sweet gospel.  That in the cross of Jesus Christ, and in His resurrection, and in His Word, and in His Sacrament, we receive all of these things.  They aren’t mere words, they’re not even just promises.  These blessings are everlasting gifts.

And even at that, these gifts are so profound, they’re so abundant and overflowing that even though we’ve yet to receive them, we’ve yet to touch them in their fullness, they still cause us to rejoice.  The Beatitudes are us, they are our faith.  That in Christ, the kingdom is yours, in Christ, comfort is yours, in Christ, the earth is yours, in Christ, salvation is yours.  Good, great, blessed gospel!

There is a shift here.  The first four blessings were simply about who we are as the people of God.  The next few will be about what we do.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

These three call us into the life of Christ.  To live in this manner.  You might even argue that these things are letting the rest of the sermon play out.  That we hear the rest of chapters 5-7 and we take them to heart.  Even these aren’t our doing, we only live them out as gifts that Christ has given us.  Read them today when you go home.  Finish the sermon of Christ and digest His teaching.  That’s part of what it means to be a disciple.  We have the gift of learning from the King of creation Himself.  And that’s a gift to treasure.

And lastly, I think verses 11-12 actually describe verse 10.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

This gets back to being disciples of Christ, to simply being.  This isn’t about doing, it’s just who we are.  When our identity is fixed in Christ, we will do these things.  We will see persecution for the sake of the gospel.  We will be reviled, and have all kinds of evil done to us and spoken against us.  And Jesus looks at that and says: “Blessed are those…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Do you see how that’s come full circle?  The Beatitudes introduction of the sermon begins and ends at the same place, that in Christ, you have all these things.  These words, these promises, these gifts are yours.  They’re yours right now.  And while you may not have experienced them in their fullness, while you may not have tasted them in their completeness, they are just as sweet.

We bring nothing to the table.  We are poor and meek.  We mourn our sin, we long for righteousness, we endure the attacks of Satan and his kingdom as they let out the final battle cries of a dying world.  And Jesus blesses us and all the saints before us with everything He has to give.  He gives us His own life in place of our own.

These blessings abound within us, they well up within us causing us to burst in joy.  And I don’t mean be happy all the time, but rather, joy is treasuring our salvation from God.  One of the analogies for joy the Bible uses is that of a woman in labor.  That despite all the pain, it all changes when she holds her child for the first time.  Pain and agony turn to joy.  She treasures the gift of life God has given her.  She rejoices and gives thanks to the Lord for her child.  This is joy.  We treasure the gift of life and salvation that Christ has blessed us with, and we give thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Training with the Guardian June 19, 2016

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Galatians 3:23-4:7

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

June 19, 2016

 

Focus:  God grants salvation to us free of cost.

Function:  That the hearers serve their neighbors.

Structure:  This is the historical meaning of the text…these are the meanings for us now.

 

Training with the Guardian

 

Today, today we continue our sermon from last week as we continue reading through Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia.  As a quick refresher, the gist of the context of this letter is that the Apostle Peter has betrayed the gospel of Jesus Christ and is misleading the Gentiles back into the old covenant, rather than the new covenant.

He was teaching them that they had to earn their salvation.  They had to be circumcised in order to be saved.  In order to be part of the kingdom of God.  Paul comes along and rebukes Peter, in public, for this tragedy.  For this awful abuse of the gospel.  The gospel is the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and raised again.  It is the good news that your sins are forgiven freely in the blood of Christ and that in His resurrection, you too will be raised from the dead unto life everlasting.

This is THE good news.  There’s nothing better.  This is it.  You are saved, not by works, but by faith alone in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Now I can’t preach on this text today and not point out one of the most glaring errors in American Christianity today.  How we proof-text Galatians 3:28.  This is, by the way, what Galatians 3:28 means.  It’s the freeness of the gospel to all people.  That no matter who you are, or what you’ve done, salvation is yours in the Lamb of God.  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

But if you just put your ear to the ground, you’ll hear this verse out of context and misapplied all the time.  Christians use it to support their practice of ordaining women to be pastors, they use it to support their belief of gender equality and gender neutrality, which also means they use it to say that all forms of sexual attraction are pleasing in the sight of God.  This verse has nothing to do with those things.  Clearly, there are still males and females in this church.  It’s about being saved.  It’s about the fact that Christ didn’t just die for men, but for all.  He didn’t just shed His blood on the cross for Jews, but for all.  He didn’t just rise again for masters, but for all.  That’s the good news of the gospel, and that’s what verse 28 is about.

Anyway, I told you that today we would follow up by talking about the law.  What was it?  What purpose did it serve?  And if the gospel saves us, what purpose does the law have now?  What role does it play in your life?  Should you even care?

And Paul gives us a good way to look at it.  He uses the analogy of the guardian.  And in a way, we can already understand this, because this is the same place where we get our terminology, if you think of a legal guardian for a child.

But the guardian in Paul’s context was a hired man.  If you were a family that was well-off, and dad was working a little more than he should, it was common to hire someone you could trust who would help raise your child.  And this isn’t just spoon-feeding a toddler.  We’re talking about someone who’s going to teach right from wrong to a child, but also train them up in their father’s business so that when the appropriate time comes, they are a ready heir to continue the family business.

And the time is set by the father, he sets the date or the age at which the child is old enough to take over, to inherit, to run the family business.  And when this time comes, the guardian is no longer the guardian, they’ve fulfilled their job, their purpose in that relationship.

And Paul connects this for us.  That the law is our guardian.  That as we grow in the faith, as we were waiting for the faith to fully come, the law was our guardian, it raised us.  It taught us right from wrong, how to live a God-pleasing life, how to act justly before our neighbor, how to care for the widows and the orphans, how to act in all of our different relationships.  All these things and more.

Until the time set by the Father.  And that time was the cross.  That time was fulfilled when Jesus Christ came into this world and took our sins upon Himself.  The good news is fulfilled, the gospel is complete.

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

 

See what happens when we put stuff in context!  These are powerful verses.  You are saved.  You are no longer under the guardian of the law.  In your baptism, you are baptized into Christ.  You are declared a son of God.  A daughter of God.  You are made an heir of the kingdom.  The Father’s business, His creation, it’s yours in Christ.  Imagine the Garden of Eden.  Perfection, without sin, pain, or death.  A beautiful creation, filled with amazing plants, wonderful creatures.  And you’re there, tending the garden.  The Father’s business is now yours.

I think I said we’d focus on the law though today, and that stuff’s sweet gospel.  So, back to the law.  What is its role today?  Last week we said there are three types of Old Testament laws.  Do you remember them?  Ceremonial, civil, and moral.  The ceremonial laws were the laws regarding sacrifices, worship, cleanliness.  These things were clearly done away with in Christ.  We don’t sacrifice a bull on this altar every time we sin.  That’s why the cross hangs above the altar.  Christ is the final sacrifice.  Again, that’s more gospel.

The civil laws were in place to dictate how God’s people lived together as a nation.  At first as a theocracy, with God as their ruler, but even later under the kings.  These laws included the stoning laws, they included cities of refuge if you had accidently killed someone, laws regarding justice and repayment among neighbors, how to care for the least in your community, all these kinds of things.  You could certainly say these too came to an end in Christ upon the cross.  But I’m not so sure they didn’t end before that.  When God’s people abandoned Him and as a result were destroyed.  Their nations lay in ruins while they were exiled into foreign lands.  I think that’s the point where the civil law at least stopped functioning.

And then we have the moral law.  As we said last week, this is pretty much the Ten Commandments.  These are the laws God has placed on our heart to teach us what is good and what is evil.  To teach us how to love and care for others.  To show us how to fear and love the Lord our God before all things.

And these too, were our guardian.  In Christ, these too, have been fulfilled.  So, what do we do with them?  What do we do with all these old laws that Christ fulfilled for us?  A closer look at Paul’s guardian analogy should help us here.

The guardian taught the son, the heir, everything.  Right from wrong, how to be a citizen, how to run his father’s business.  Sure, when the child grows up and inherits the business, the guardian is no longer the guardian.  His job’s done.  But what should the young man do with everything he was taught?  Ignore the wisdom?  Call evil good and good evil?  Run his father’s business however he pleases?

Doing these things will undo him.  It will tear down not only him, but also his father’s business.  We have a great Old Testament example of exactly this.  King Solomon built up an empire.  And when he died he left it all to his son Rehoboam.  Within a couple of months, the empire had split, and Rehoboam had lost nearly 90% of it.

This is why Jesus summarized the law into those phrases: love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.  These are good things.  These are things our guardian was trying to teach us.  We couldn’t do them perfectly, and we still can’t, but that doesn’t make them bad.

The law is God’s good and holy will for you as His people.  It’s not something that you have to do to achieve perfection.  It’s not something you have to do so you can slowly grow to be more and more like Christ every day.  It’s not something that you can do to earn your own salvation.  If you’re doing these things, you’re falling right back into Peter’s trap.  And Rome’s.  You’ve betrayed the gospel.

This is why Luther talks about the Ten Commandments the way he does.  They’re not just negatives, don’t do don’t do.  They’re also positives.  Here’s how you live this out.  Here’s what it looks like.

The First Commandment: You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean? We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.

The Second Commandment: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

The Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

The Fourth Commandment:  Honor your father and your mother.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

The Fifth Commandment:  You shall not murder.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

The Sixth Commandment:  You shall not commit adultery.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.

The Seventh Commandment:  You shall not steal.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.

The Eighth Commandment:  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest possible way.

The Ninth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

The Tenth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.

The Close of the Commandments:

What does God say about all of these commandments? He says, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6).

What does this mean? God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.

The editors of the Small Catechism added one last bit on what the purpose of the law is today:

“What purposes does the Law then serve?”

First, the Law helps to control violent outbursts of sin and keeps order in the world (a curb).

Second, the Law accuses us and shows us our sin (a mirror).

Third, the Law teaches us Christians what we should and should not do to live a God-pleasing life (a guide).  The power to live according to the Law comes from the Gospel.”

This was our guardian.  These are good things and we should live by them.  Not because they save us.  They don’t, they can’t.  We should live by them because it is God’s will for our life.  They are good, and good for us.  They don’t save us.  Don’t do them like the Pharisees.  Do them out of love for your neighbor, that they too might hear the good news from you.  That’s what we call vocation, living out the life God has given you, loving and serving those around you.  That’s the role of the law today.  And there’s more to do there than you could manage in a lifetime.  And that’s okay, because Christ has done it for you.  You are forgiven.  And that’s the good news of the gospel.

 

 

The Key to the Scriptures June 12, 2016

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Galatians 2:15-21, 3:10-14

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

June 12th, 2016

 

Focus:  God saves us only in the blood of His Son.

Function:  That the hearers stop seeking to justify themselves.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

The Key to the Scriptures

 

This is it.  Our text today is the hermeneutical key to all of Scripture.  This text is the key to unlocking and understanding all of God’s Word.  So, if you don’t understand what we’re talking about today, the Bible is a locked book to you.  It’s sealed shut.  You won’t be able to understand it.  If you’re still there when we’re done today, come see me, let’s unlock the Scriptures together.

And I’m not saying this as some kind of modern evangelical spin on being able to figure out the secret code of Scripture.  If we could just find all the right numbers and clues, we can tell the future.  We can know when the world will end.  That’s not what I’m saying.

Instead, what we have in this text, and in other writings from the Apostle Paul, what we have here is the very heart of the Word of God.  Whatever you read in Scripture, whether it’s Genesis, Leviticus, Kings, Psalms, or Revelation, you simply won’t get it if you don’t get this.

And I see it all the time.  People arguing against Christians in public or on social media, calling them hypocrites, because they’ll use the Bible to say abortion is a sin, but they’ll eat shellfish.  Or they’ll use the Bible to say that divorce is a sin, but they don’t stone anyone.  These critics of Christians don’t have the key to understanding Scripture.  And it’s right here, it’s at your fingertips this very morning.

The Apostle Paul tells us where salvation comes from.  And it’s a matter of understanding law and gospel.  We’re going to see a lot of Lutheran language today.  And it’s really because this key to understanding Scripture divides even Christians.  How are we saved?  Is it by keeping the law?  Or by believing in the gospel?

So when we come to key terms, I’ll unpack them for you.  And we’ll start with law and gospel.  The Law is anything that God has commanded of us.  Like, the book of Leviticus, or the Ten Commandments.  And it comes in different forms.  Ceremonial and civil laws were the things common in the Old Testament that the people of God, as a theocracy, as His old covenant people, the things they had to do to be a part of that covenant.  Then there’s the moral law.  The law God has placed on our hearts in the form of a conscience, rooted in the Ten Commandments, which Jesus summarized as love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s the law.  The gospel, the Greek word was euangellion, which simply means “good news.”  The gospel is the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and raised from the dead.  It’s that His death was a sacrifice given for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  It’s that His resurrection proclaimed victory over sin, death, and the devil once and for all.

Both law and gospel matter.  They’re important for us.  But they’re not the same.  We are saved by one, and that’s where Paul’s going.  But before we rip through chapter 2, let’s review chapter one so you can understand the letter’s context.

Paul begins the meat of his letter by calling out the Christians in Galatia for having abandoned the gospel for another gospel.  That is, they’ve rejected the good news of Jesus Christ as their Savior, for something else entirely.  And then Paul goes on to explain that that something else isn’t a gospel at all, and that they should cling to the one true gospel no matter what.  Even if Paul came back and tried to teach them something else.  You already have the pure gospel, believe it.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

 

For the rest of chapter one and the beginning of chapter two, Paul then goes on to list out his credentials.  This is why you should listen to me.  This is why you should even care about what I have to say.  This is how I can call you out on your sin right now and I can call you to repentance, that is, to turn away from your sins and believe.

Most of you are quite familiar with Paul’s beginnings as a Pharisee, as a quickly-rising-the-corporate-ladder Jew who was persecuting the church of Christ.  Even to the point of killing Christians.  And then he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and was a given a direct revelation of the gospel, of salvation, of good news to all people.  And he changed.  He repented.  He believed.

But then he gives some of his more recent history, stuff we Christians usually don’t talk as much about, and now really isn’t the time either.  But how after his conversion he met with some of the leaders of the church, some apostles, and they confirmed one another in their teaching of the gospel.  And then after some travels, some fourteen years later, he regathered with the other apostles, and once again, they reaffirmed the gospel they had received from God and were sharing with others.

And then Paul gets into the problem, the crux of the situation, he delves into what the Galatian Christians are messing up.  Where they’re sinning and falling astray.  And it actually starts at the top.  It’s a top-down problem.  It starts with the Apostle Peter.  Peter has betrayed the gospel to the Galatians.  Let me share with you from chapter two, and Cephas is just another name for Peter:

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

 

Under the old covenant, to be part of that covenant, to be a child of God, you had to be circumcised.  The foreskin had to be cut off.  That was an old ceremonial law.  A requirement to be part of the Jewish people.  And so here we are, on the other side of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Here we are after the very same God said salvation is to all people.  “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them also.  They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd,” (John 10:16).

Here we are seeing Peter deny this.  The same man who had God appear to him in a dream and tell him that Jews and Gentiles alike are saved in Christ, and Peter’s requiring circumcision of the Gentiles.  He’s abandoning them, setting them aside because his Jewish friends showed up.  Peter was teaching that these Gentiles had to do something to earn their salvation.

And that leads to our text this morning.  Verse 16:

Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

 

That’s another of our Lutheran words today.  Justification.  What is it?  In the Scriptures, it’s the same root word as righteousness.  To justify someone is to make them righteous.  To make them good, to make innocent, to make them clean.  How are you justified? That’s the most critical question of all time.  And Paul has answered it.

“A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”  This is it.  This is the hermeneutical key to understanding all of Scripture.  You are justified by faith in Christ.  You are justified not by anything you do, but by Christ’s death and resurrection.  That He willingly laid down His life, shed His blood upon the cross, to make good on your sin.  To take your sin, to drown it in His blood so that you can show your face before the Holy God of heaven and earth, and He will see innocence.  Not because you’re innocent, but because Christ is for you.

We call this Sola Fide, by faith alone.  Because in all the depths of my depravity, there’s no amount of good works to overcome it.  My sin is so deep a pit, my brokenness is so large a chasm, I could spend every waking moment for the rest of my life loving and serving others, and it wouldn’t be enough.  I would still go to hell.  That’s how much of a sinner I am.  We all are.  See sin isn’t just the little lie you say.  That’s downplaying sin.

Sin is an epidemic.  It’s a disease that brings nothing but death and destruction to everything in its wake.  And you’ve got a terminal case.  It’s called original sin.  Killing you from the moment your parents conceived you.

This is why Paul is so irate with Peter.  These Gentiles received the good news.  The good news of Jesus Christ and the free gift of salvation was given to them.  And now, now you’re stripping it from them.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

 

Peter’s actions are still around us all over today.  Countless Christian denominations teach this.  That we must earn it.  Some teach it straight, that your good works are necessary for salvation.  Others simply require it using different language.  Random acts of kindness, tolerance, love.  These are all potentially good things, depending on what you mean by them, and how much you trust your salvation to them.

Here’s your answer.  They don’t save you.  They can’t save you.  They never could save you.  Only Christ can.  And He does.  It is finished.  And that’s good news.  That’s why we call it gospel.  Because it doesn’t depend on me, on the one who can’t be trusted.  But it hinges on the One who can, on God Himself.

That’s why Maddie came to be baptized at the font this weekend.  It’s not about her.  It’s not about what she’s doing.  She can’t.  She can’t do it.  If it were up to her, she’d be lost forever.  But it’s not.  Because in baptism, God does the work.  God kills the old Adam, the sinful nature.  God proclaims victory over sin, death, and the devil for His child.  And that today is indeed who Maddie is.  A daughter of God.  A daughter who trusts in the promises of her Father.

Now if you want to know more about the law, what its original purpose was, and what role it plays in your life today, be sure to come back next weekend, as we look at the next chapter of Paul’s letter to Galatia.  But for now, trust in the Lord, trust in His promises given to you through Word and Sacrament.  It is enough, and that’s good news!

The Law and Gospel of Immanuel December 24, 2014

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Isaiah 7:10-14

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2014

 

Focus:  God sent a Savior for His people.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in the good news of their Immanuel.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

The Law and Gospel of Immanuel

 

When I was in high school, I remember one of our talent shows.  In between acts, they always had a little humor to help you transition, whether it was the emcee telling a joke, or a student running across the stage, there was always something.   And in between one set of acts, a student walked on stage holding a big sign that said, “Man Eating Tiger.”  And then a boy walked across the stage chewing on a stuffed tiger.

It’s all about how you hear it.  Even the sweetest words can be heard in a negative way.  In my German class, we always joked around about how the language sounded.  Maybe it was all the guttural sounds, but for some reason, the language is deeper.  Ich liebe dich!  It means “I love you.”  But if you don’t know that, I might just sound angry.

Language is a funny thing.  The same word or the same phrase can be heard differently by different people.  As I stand up here and preach a sermon, each of you might hear it in a different way.

It’s even true of the gospel.  How do you hear it?  Do you hear God’s precious words to you as gospel, or do you hear them as law?  Let me give you an example.  Let’s look back to our Old Testament reading.

Now my confirmation students are experts on the history surrounding this text, but let’s go over it anyway to help you understand what God is doing through Isaiah with the King.  God’s people, His chosen and holy people, were the nation of Israel.  First ruled by God Himself, then they asked for a king to lead them, so they could be just like all the other nations.  So God gave them Saul.  After Saul, they had David, and then it was David’s son Solomon.

But when Solomon died, his son Rehoboam made a treacherous mistake.  And ten of the twelve tribes of Israel abandoned him and chose Jeroboam as their king instead.  So in the year 932 BC, the kingdom was divided.  The two tribes that stayed with Rehoboam became known as the nation of Judah, and Jeroboam ruled over the other ten tribes, calling his nation Israel.

Over the next two centuries, war was common between Israel and Judah, they just didn’t like each other.  And so as we fast forward two hundred years to the year 736 BC, we now see Ahaz, king of Judah.  And there’s a war brewing.

Israel has partnered with the country of Aram and was planning to attack Ahaz and overthrow him.  In his fear, Ahaz was looking for help.  And his first thought was to find another nation that would help him crush Israel and Aram.  And that’s when Isaiah shows up.

God sends Isaiah to King Ahaz to offer him the chance to repent, to believe in God.  He sends him with this message: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”  In other words, believe in Me, and I will provide.  But if you don’t, you will lose your kingdom.

Isaiah then offers Ahaz a wonderful opportunity.  Few in history have been given this kind of a chance.  “Ask a sign of Yahweh your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”  What an opportunity?!  Ask for anything you want, and I’ll do it.  Think about that?  What would you ask for?  A mountain made of pizza?  A valley filled with ice cream?  A Vikings Superbowl?  A healing miracle for a loved one?  Or perhaps even in Ahaz’ case, the elimination of your enemies?  The angel of the Lord actually does that for Ahaz’ successor Hezekiah…

But with this golden opportunity, how did Ahaz respond?  “I will not ask, and I will not put Yahweh to the test.”  It had nothing to do with asking Yahweh.  King Ahaz didn’t believe in God.  There was no relationship there at all.  He simply said it to get Isaiah to go away.  But God knew and so did Isaiah.  So the language shifts.

Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

 

Did you hear the shift?  Before it was “ask Yahweh your God.”  But now Isaiah says, “my God.”  Ahaz was given a chance, and he rejected it.  And so God gave him a sign anyway.  Actually, He gave him two.  The first sign, of Immanuel, was something Ahaz wouldn’t live to see.  But the second sign, he would see.

That first sign to us is pure gospel.  We hear Immanuel, and we hear “God with us.”  It’s a wonderful thing, our Savior, taking on flesh, being born of Mary so that He could take away our sins.  But to the faithless Ahaz, God with us takes on a much different meaning.  And so the second prophecy continues by saying what will happen before this boy Immanuel even has a chance to grow up.

You can read the rest of chapter seven yourself, but I will summarize it for you now.  Isaiah tells Ahaz that the two kings he fears will be completely destroyed, as will their nations, and that Judah will experience something unlike anything they have seen since the day Israel and Judah split.

Again, we might hear that as good news.  That it would be like before, the joy of being one united kingdom.  If only Isaiah hadn’t continued.  He meant it another way.  Assyria, the nation Ahaz wanted an alliance with, the nation that would defeat Israel, Assyria was coming and “will sweep on into Judah like a flood” (8:8).  They wouldn’t destroy it, but they would enter the land, take its wealth, and steal its power.  They would leave Ahaz as powerless as he had feared he would become.

Within a decade’s time, that’s exactly what happened.  Assyria destroyed the threat, but they also took everything from Ahaz.  And it wouldn’t be until the next King, King Hezekiah, that Judah would recover, and even that was only temporary.

Because King Ahaz lacked a relationship with God, the promise of Immanuel, of God with us, was a terrifying thing.  Ahaz heard the gospel, but when he heard it, he heard nothing but law.

More than likely you have had that happen to you before.  That as you listened to the Word of God proclaimed to you, the good news of a Savior, that you heard something different.  Perhaps you were stuck in a sin or holding a grudge, but there was just something there, something that made that sweet, sweet gospel, suddenly taste bitter.

Before each sermon that I preach, I pray.  I ask God to speak to you whatever He needs you to hear.  I ask Him to send His Holy Spirit to work through me in a way that is beneficial to you and your relationship with Him.  Without a doubt, each and every one of you hears the sermon a little differently, and that’s why I’m glad that God is at work in this place.

You see, God is working in you, in all of us, to restore us to Himself.  To heal us, to love us, and to build that relationship between us.  And that’s what this Christmas is all about.  Our coming Savior, born of a virgin, born without sin, Immanuel, God with us. That God loved us so much that He sent His Son to save us, to give us peace.  As Isaiah would say two chapters later, He is our Prince of Peace.

To us, as God’s people, this is good news.  The virgin conceived and bore a Son.  Immanuel, our Savior, has been born for us.  Henry Schumann got this.  Henry knew he wasn’t perfect, he knew that he needed a Savior.  And so he prepared, and when he sinned he would repent, and he tried to live the life that God had prepared for him.  But that little baby boy, our Immanuel, took away Henry’s sins and gave him life.  And Henry is with Jesus in Paradise. What a blessing that is!

What a wonderful message, what a wonderful gift.  We rejoice as we celebrate Christmas together.  We rejoice at Immanuel, God with us.  And if for some reason you’re hearing that as law tonight, please speak with Pastor Fritsch or myself after church, that you too can leave here rejoicing in the good news of our Savior.  Jesus Christ, our Immanuel is born.  Merry Christmas!

Do It All for the Glory of God February 12, 2012

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1 Corinthians 10:31-1:1

Epiphany 6

February 11-12, 2012

Focus: God gave up everything He had (think Jesus) for us.

Function: That the hearers “give up themselves” for the rest of God’s creation.

Structure: This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel…these are the implications.

Do it All for the Glory of God

            Among Christian churches, Lutherans have it all.  We have the fullness and purity of God’s wondrous gospel.  And, we don’t worry about the law.  Well, at least it sure can seem that way sometimes in Lutheran circles.  Paul even said it himself in last week’s epistle: “To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.”

Christian liberty, the freedom that we have from sin is a gift from God through His Son Jesus Christ.  However, for us to act as though we don’t have any law to follow would also go against the word of Scripture.  As James put it, faith without works is dead.  And as Paul finished his sentence last week, he’s not outside of the law of God, but under the law of Christ.

This law is a different sense of the word.  We see it everywhere in the language of God’s Word.  We’ve been set free from slavery to sin.  But in so doing, we’ve been made slaves to Christ.  Jesus bought us at a price.  We are His.  And in becoming His, we’ve been transformed.  Our lives have been renewed, regenerated, redeemed at the font at the time of our baptisms.  So this slavery, this law that we now face, isn’t your typical meaning.  Instead, we are His righteous, holy people, transformed and empowered to a life of service, both to God and to our neighbor.

This is the point that Paul has been hammering home over the last several chapters of his letter to Corinth.  He constantly flips metaphors, images, words, and illustrations to help them understand what he’s trying to get across.  Having already dealt with being united as God’s people and tackling several topics of sin in their midst, Paul shifts gears to tell them how they should be living.

In chapter 8, Paul uses the example of meat sacrificed to idols.  Pastor preached on this a couple of weeks ago, and how Paul would abstain from eating the meat, preferring to never eat meat again, if eating that meat meant hurting the faith of his brother.  That example was in reference to taking care of someone of weaker faith.

In chapter 9, Paul lays out the sacrifices that he’s made to share the gospel.  He doesn’t claim his rights.  He doesn’t accept pay from them so that the gospel can reach even more ears.  He does his best to learn about other groups, Jews, Gentiles, law followers, whoever it might be.  And he meets the people where they are.  Through him, the Holy Spirit then works in their lives.

And in chapter 10, he urges his brothers and sisters against this lawlessness.  He pleads with them to avoid immorality.  He cites our forefathers in the days of their wandering in the wilderness.  He demonstrates their unity, that they were one under the cloud, in baptism, and that they all drank the same spiritual drink.  Yet, he warned them that they had failed to please God.  The immoral died; those who tested Christ were bitten by serpents.  And those who grumbled against God met the Destroyer.

So Paul pleaded with them, you cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons, too.  You can’t follow both Jesus and Satan.  God and sin don’t mix.  And so he rephrases an earlier argument.  Before, he brought up their common phrase “everything is permissible for me,” as an argument against their sexual sins; but, here he takes that same phrase and twists it a slightly different way: “everything is permissible, but not everything is helpful.  Everything is permissible, but not everything builds up.”

So rather than using their Christian liberty to go out and do whatever they want, Paul redirects their newfound freedom.  They’re to build one another up.  He says it again: “let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”  Don’t cause others to stumble.  Don’t live for your own pleasure, but for the good of many.  Live your life for others.

It’s something we teach correctly to our kids through that cute little acronym: JOY.  Jesus, Others, Yourself.  As Christians, we live a life of service to God.  He is first and foremost.  Our relationship with our Father is above all else.  We shall have no other gods before Him.  And we aren’t next on that totem pole, but everyone around us.  As Christians, we live our lives in service to one another.   We live as Christ said, as the salt of the earth, the light of the world.  To other Christians, we’re a means of building each other up.  We support each other, encourage one another, and live together in love and peace.  And to those who don’t know Christ, we do just the same.  We love, we support, we encourage, and we build up.

Luther knew this subject very well.  He called it vocation; and you’d be hard pressed to find a theologian throughout history who could articulate it better than him.  God has richly blessed us and given us the opportunity to live each and every day.  And part of those blessings that He gives is that He chooses to work through us in this world.  We are His means.

God works through us where we are.  As a parent, you have a role to play in your child’s life.  Children are to obey their parents, and to act like children.  Students, study hard and do what’s asked of you.  Doctors, have compassion wherever you can and heal whomever you can.  Judges, rule justly.  Soldiers, defend your country with pride and honor.  Teachers, love and encourage your children every day.  A German shoemaker once asked Luther how he could best serve God.  Luther’s response was simple: make a good shoe and sell it at a reasonable price.

It’s just as Paul said, “whether you eat or you drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  We do that through that little acronym.  When we keep God first in our lives, and think of others before ourselves, it glorifies God.

As a husband, it’s my job to love and honor my wife at all times, to protect her, and to cherish her.  As a brother and a son, it’s my responsibility to pray for and encourage my family, to keep the relationships strong.  I don’t always do these things as well as I should, and perhaps you feel the same way about yourself.  Thankfully, as Pastor pronounced earlier, our sins are forgiven by God.

We don’t have to be a superhero.  We can’t all be Tim Tebow in our vocations, drawing immense amounts of attention to God’s name.  It’s certainly not my vocation to play professional football.  But that’s not the burden God has given to each of us.  He has made us each to be unique and works through us all differently, each in our own time and in our own place.

And it’s to this that Paul calls us today.  Having just given several examples of how he lives for others, Paul calls on us to follow his example.  And as though he hasn’t already justified his position enough, he ties it in to Christ.  “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

Jesus didn’t live for Himself.  His entire ministry was geared towards the people.  He walked with them, talked with them, ate with them and built a number of relationships.  He taught, He preached, He encouraged. He showed hard love when it was necessary.  He demonstrated forgiveness and love in their fullness.  He also did miracles, healed, and baptized.

God certainly didn’t send His Son to die for Himself, but because of His love and care for us as His children.  Jesus didn’t go to the cross, to death, and rise again on the third day just for Himself.  He lived and died and rose, so that we too might live and should we meet death in this world, also rise.  Jesus came to save us, to love us, to forgive us.

In following Paul’s example, we are God’s creation, created in Him to care for those around us.  As Christ loved us, so we love others.  As Christ forgave us, so we forgive others.  As Christ sacrificed the pleasures and riches of the world for us, so we put our neighbor’s needs before our own.  We are free from sin.  We are free because of what Christ did for us.  And so we live both under the law of Christ, doing the things that need to be done, and under the gospel of Christ, basking in God’s glory as His beloved children.