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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.

Created. Redeemed. Called. January 17, 2016

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Isaiah 43:1

Life Sunday

January 17, 2016

 

Focus:  God gives value to all human life.

Function:  That the hearers value their lives as God does.

Structure:  Outline provided by Rev. Dr. Jim Lamb of Lutherans for Life.

 

Created. Redeemed. Called.

 

As we recognize Life Sunday, we also recognize just how difficult it can be.  All the issues we can talk about, issues of life from cradle to grave.  Many of them we have talked about before.  Many of them we’ll talk about again.  But so many of them can seem complicated, confusing, controversial, and uncomfortable.

Complicated, like stem cell research, cloning, in vitro fertilization and genetic engineering.  Maybe we need scientists to figure it all out.    Confusing, should we remove the feeding tube, stop the treatments, sign the Living Will, or use a Do Not Resuscitate order?  Maybe we need pioneers in the realm of ethics. @  Then there’s the controversies surrounding any of these topics.  Is church really the place?  Is worship or Bible study?  Should we just leave it all to the politicians?  Maybe we need to just stick to the gospel and leave the rest to our Biblical scholars.  @  And they can definitely make us uncomfortable, there are likely people here today who’ve had an abortion or pressured someone they know, or maybe they feel guilty because they couldn’t talk someone out of it.  Perhaps psychologists can be helpful, too.

These words are true.  Complicated, confusing, controversial, uncomfortable.  But today, today we’re not going to talk about those things.   Today we’re going to answer a different question.  A question that isn’t complicated nor confusing.  A question that isn’t controversial and doesn’t make us uncomfortable.  It’s actually pretty simple.  But it speaks to all of these issues.  In fact, it speaks to all of life, all of life everywhere.  And before we can even talk about life issues, this is where we have to begin.

Our question today is this: “what has God done that gives value to human life?”    And our Scripture text, Isaiah 43:1 gives us the answer.  “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

It gives us three simple words to consider.   Created.  Redeemed.  Called.  We don’t need to be scientists, ethicists, politicians, Biblical scholars or psychologists to talk about these things.  Those men and women can help, and are good to have in our community, but we get to look at these things as the very people of God.  We see them as followers of Christ, as we live in His Spirit and in His gifts.

Every life, every person has value because God made us all.  God created every single person.  And the Bible tells us that this is intimate, it’s hands on.   “Your hands fashioned and made me” (Job 10:8).   “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).  We could all just as well have a tag on our back the same as we do on our clothing.

It would read @ “Handmade by God.”  And even though some would challenge this by asking about children born with deformities or illnesses or any number of challenges, the answer is still the same.  They are the work of God’s hands and they are precious in His sight.

And should we want to go deeper on that question, God would have a couple of questions for us.   “Do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands?” (Isaiah 45:11)    “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘You did not make me’? Can the pot say to the potter, ‘You know nothing’?” (Isaiah 39:16).  What right do we have to challenge God?  We’re not the creator, we’re the created.

God is also clear in Psalm 51, saying that He has made even the smallest of human beings, even from the moment they were conceived.  “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).  And when we think about sinfulness as being part of our human condition, and then realize that we are sinful from the very moment of conception, that means we’re human from the moment of conception.  But it also points to the next thing God has done for us that shows how much He values human life.

God knew that as sinners, we would be in need of a Savior.  From the moment of conception and onward, we are in desperate need of a Redeemer.  And we have One!  As the angel Gabriel told Mary “You will conceive and give birth to a Son, and you are to call Him Jesus” (Luke 1:31).  Those are great words not just at Christmas, but all year round!  And it mentions two separate events, both the conception of Jesus and His birth.  And it’s His conception that is the miracle, not the birth.

As God willed it, Jesus was conceived without an earthly father, by power from on high (Luke 1:35a).  That’s why the angel calls Him the Son of God (Luke 1:35b) because that’s what He is, from the moment of His conception.    “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14a).  At the time of His conception, not just His birth.

Jesus wasn’t just God-man, but also God-embryo, if you want to use that language.  Our unholiness in our conception is replaced by His holiness in His conception.  He comes to take our place.  And that gives value to embryos the world over.  They are being redeemed!

But there’s more to it.  It doesn’t end at conception.    Jesus needed a womb to develop in.  He needed feet so that He could walk among us.  He needed hands so that He could reach out and heal the sick.  He needed a mouth so that He could teach and proclaim the kingdom of God, forgiving us of our sins. He needed a heart to be filled with compassion for the lost, for the least.  He needed a body so He could hold children in His arms and bless them.

He needed those same hands and feet so that on Good Friday they might be pierced through, as one nail after another was used to secure Him to the cross.  So that He could take our place.

He needed a mouth so that He could cry out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1) so that we wouldn’t have to.

He needed a heart pumping blood so that it would pour out from His veins, flowing from His side, to cleanse us of our sins as He fell still in death.

And He needed a body to be buried in the tomb so that on Easter morning He might rise again, breaking forth from the tomb, victorious over death and the grave alike!

Paul tells us that we have been bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20a).  From the very time of His conception until the moments spent on the cross, it all comes to a price, a price paid for us.   And so Paul reminds the Ephesian elders to “Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood” (Acts 20:28b).  We weren’t bought by some man or even a martyr.  God purchased us back for Himself with His own blood in the person of Jesus Christ.  The price paid for our life, to destroy our sins, was high.  The value that gives to human life is incalculable.

And that price was paid for all.  For all mankind.  Every human ever conceived.  Jesus Christ died “once for all” (Hebrews 9:12).  Sadly, not all men know this, but that doesn’t change the fact.  Christ’s death and His resurrection give value to all human life.  And it’s then our task to share this good news.

So far, we have two simple answers to our question, “What has God done that gives value to human life?”

Every human being, every life has value, because we are all the works of God’s hands.  We are all a part of His creation.    And we are also all the work of His hands as He stretched them out on the cross to offer us redemption.  We are all created and redeemed.

That leaves us with one simple answer left.  Every human being has value because every life is someone God desires to call into a relationship with Himself.  He truly “wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).  He wants every human being to be brought to the font, to be splashed by the water of Baptism, called in the words.  He has created and redeemed every life with His own hands  and He seeks to call us His children, to hold us, to engrave us in the palms of His hands both now and forever (Isaiah 49:16).

We are created, redeemed, and called.  It’s not complicated.  It’s not confusing.  It’s not controversial, and it’s not uncomfortable.  It’s simple.  But even in its simplicity, it speaks to all of our life’s issues.  It’s the starting point before we can even begin to answer the questions.

Let’s try on some quiz questions here: why do we strive to protect tiny embryos in Petri dishes or frozen in a fertility clinic?    Because they are little ones created and redeemed by God whom He seeks to call to Himself.

Why do we speak up for those in the womb who cannot speak?    Because they are all created, redeemed, little ones whom God wants to call.

What do we teach our little children so that when they are older, sexual promiscuity and abortion will be unthinkable?    They are special not because of what they do, how they look or how they dress, but because they are created, redeemed, and called!

What do we tell you young people as you struggle with temptations and tough choices, mood swings and confused feelings about your identity?  @We want you to know whose you are and that you can make good choices because you are created, redeemed, and called. You are His!

What do we share with that unmarried, pregnant high school young woman who is ashamed and afraid and sees only one way out?  We share that she is loved and forgiven and not forsaken because she is created, redeemed, and called. And we let her know that we care.

What do we say to women and men crushed in the aftermath of an abortion decision?  They are created, redeemed, and called, and therefore NOTHING can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

What do we share with the infertile couple desperately desiring a child?  They are created, redeemed, and called, and they can trust in the ways and will of their God. We can then pray with them and help them look at all of their options.

What can we say to those who miscarry a child they already know and love?  They are created, redeemed, and called, and God holds them in His hands.

What do we have to share with the frail and elderly who wonder about God’s purpose for their lives?  They are created, redeemed, and called, and as long as God gives them life, He gives their lives meaning and purpose.

How can we help the family struggling with a difficult end-of-life decision for a loved one?  We can encourage them to know that they and their loved one are created, redeemed, and called. They can make a decision they believe is in accordance with God’s will and trust that He will work through it.

This list could go on and on, but the answer is still the same.  Our lives have value.  Every life has value because every life is someone who has been created by God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and they have either been called or God is still seeking to call them into an everlasting relationship with Him.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.  In fact, it’s simple.  All life has value because God has created, redeemed, and called.  Amen.

 

 

 

Giving Up Your Life April 6, 2014

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Mark 8:31-38

Fifth Sunday in Lent

April 6, 2014

 

Focus: God saves us that we may be part of His kingdom, of doing His will.

Function: That the hearers live their lives in ways that transform the world to be more Christ-like.

Structure: Repetition.

 

Giving Up Your Life

 

Remember Lot’s wife….those are the words that Jesus thought His disciples needed to hear.  Those are the words that He chose to say to make His point.  Remember Lot’s wife.  And you know there must be something important about her since she appeared in both our Old Testament and New Testament readings today.

Sodom and Gomorrah had gone down the wicked road to the point of no return.  There was so much immorality and sinfulness there that no hope remained.  It had gotten so bad that when a couple of angels went in to the city, the men gathered against them in an attempt to rape them.  There was no hope.

Abraham had pleaded for his nephew Lot to be saved from the coming destruction, so those same angels rounded up Lot and his family.  The angels literally had to hold Lot’s hand and drag him out of the city.  “Escape for your life.  Do not look back or stop.”  But we know she did.  We know Lot’s wife stopped and looked back.  And she turned into a pillar of salt.

This wasn’t the same as when Jonah went to Nineveh. He sat up on a hill outside the city with his bowl of popcorn just waiting to watch the show.  She was different.  As they fled the city, running away as fast they could through the fields, they could hear the destruction behind them.  They could feel the ground shaking from being struck with the fire and brimstone.  She didn’t look back to watch like Jonah.  She longed for the life she left behind in Sodom.  She longed for the life she loved.  And she joined them in their fate.  Remember Lot’s wife, said Jesus.

And then, there’s Peter.  Good ol’ Peter, the chief of the disciples.  There he is one moment, making one of the greatest confessions in church history.  And the next moment, Jesus is calling him Satan.  Oh, Peter, what happened?

Just before this text in Mark, Jesus and the disciples head towards Caesarea Philippi.  And it’s there that Jesus asks them the question, “who do people say that I am?”  After noting that others said John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets, Jesus asked them again, “But who do you say that I am?”  And Peter makes the marvelous confession: “You are the Christ.”

Then Mark begins our gospel reading with the words, “And He began to teach them…”  No time has passed.  Same conversation.  Jesus begins to teach them what is about to happen to Him.  He’s predicting His death.  He’s telling them what it’ll be like.

But Peter, just moments later, can’t take it.  He can’t accept it.  “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.”  Peter, the same one who just acknowledged this Jesus is the Christ, that is the Messiah, the One who would save God’s people, this same Peter is now rebuking the Christ and telling Him He’s wrong.

Oh, Peter, what happened?  What makes him go from such a great confession one minute, to being compared to Satan the next?  Jesus answers this for us.  “Get behind Me, Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  Peter had become comfortable with life just the way it was.  It was a tremendous blessing, no doubt, to walk with Christ, to see His miracles and to cherish every moment of it.

But at this point, Peter becomes just like the five thousand who wanted to make Jesus a bread king.  He becomes just like Lot’s wife, not looking to and delighting in the salvation of God, but rather in the world of men.  He wanted life to be the way he wanted it to be, not the way God wanted it to be.

God has richly blessed us.  We are baptized, which means we are His children, we are loved.  We believe in Christ as our Savior which means we are indeed saved.  So what’s the problem?  Remember Lot’s wife.  Remember Peter.  Because too often, we’re just like them.  Too often, we love life just the way it is.

For the majority of us, this is the old American dream.  What used to talk about a house with white picket fence, chasing the American dream now amounts to making as much as we can and accumulating as much stuff as we can.  The house we have isn’t big enough, even though a family in Africa sleeps ten in a twenty by twenty shack.  We have a cabin by the lake, with a boat, jet skis, and snowmobiles.  A lot of big toys to enjoy.  And we wonder why our kids are always asking for more toys….

We love being busy.  We might say we don’t, but if that were true, we wouldn’t be busy.  We enjoy having thirty things on our daily to-do list.  We love having our children involved in every possible sport, hobby, and band that we possibly can.  Maybe we’re trying to relive our childhood through them.  But we must love it, because we just keep doing it.

We love our life so much the way it is, that we don’t want to risk losing it.  We’re often afraid to speak of Christ to someone because it threatens our lifestyle.  Telling someone they’re a sinner in need of a Savior might cost us a friendship.  Speaking of God’s love at work could cost us our job and thus our toys.  We’re comfortable just where we are.

A day is coming.  The kingdom of God is coming.  And when Christ returns from heaven to deliver us from our present Sodom and Gomorrah, remember Lot’s wife.  Don’t look back.  “On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away.”  Don’t look back to the life you have now.  Be saved, join with Christ, and leave the world behind.

But I tell you now, today, right here in your midst: don’t wait until the last moment!  That moment can come in two ways.  We know one of them all too well: death.  There’s no doubt, our community is grieving right now.  Death strikes suddenly and unexpectedly.  George Reinhart, Pearl Lovstad, Peg Sanderson, and Bob Oehlke.  And that’s just the last month.  There’s no way to know when death will strike.  The other way comes when the trumpet sounds and the Messiah returns for His people.

Don’t wait until the trumpet sounds and you see Christ appearing before you.  Don’t wait until that final day to put the things of God before the things of men.  Because Christ tells us it will come in a flash.  Like the flood upon the men of Noah’s day.  Like the brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah.  You’ll be living your life, living normal, whatever that is, and then it’ll happen.  Out of nowhere, Christ will come back.  Don’t wait until the last moment.  Give up your life now!

In a flash, in the blink of an eye, at a moment we don’t expect, Christ will return.  You may not look back, but will your neighbor?  Giving up your life means putting the things of God first.  Not the things of men.  It means being an agent of His kingdom.  It means putting others first.

What does that look like?  I won’t go crazy on you and say that to be a good Christian means to take a vow of poverty.  That’s not what Scripture teaches.  There is an element of enjoyment in life.  There is a level at which God does want you to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  But it’s not the American dream level.  Instead, use some of your money to help your neighbor.  Use it to share the good news of Jesus.  Use it to share His love.

It means not being busy all the time.  If you’re constantly running, you never have time to stop and tell His story.  Rearrange your schedule.  Prioritize.  Learn to say no.  And cut out things that don’t matter.  Find time to be with people, to build relationships that will help you tell God’s story.

And don’t be afraid.  Don’t look back.  Many of you have mastered, or are at least starting to master, the art of talking about God in the workplace.  Many jobs censor it.  They don’t want Him there.  But there are loopholes.  Typically, if someone else brings it up first, you are free to share the good news with them.  Or if someone’s struggling, you can let them know you’ll be praying for them.  There are ways.  You just have to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

When you put the kingdom of God first rather than yourself, you start to see with His eyes.  You start to see the needs around you, the needs of your neighbor.  And you begin to realize that what Jesus says is true.

If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.

 

Because it is just like Christ told His disciples.  Jesus did suffer many things.  He was rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes.  And they did kill Him.  But, on the third day, He rose again.  Just like He said would.

George, Pearl, Peg and Bob didn’t look back.  And right now, they’re looking face to face at their beloved Savior.  What a tremendous gift that is!  So, too, we don’t look back.  We live as Christ calls us to live, not for ourselves, but for one another.  We are called to live in the world but not of the world.  We are called not to live chasing the American dream, but instead, we are called to transform it.