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Compassioned Boldness August 6, 2017

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Romans 9:1-5

Proper 13

August 6, 2017

 

Focus:  God gave everything in His love for us.

Function:  That the hearers share Christ’s bold compassion with their neighbors.

Structure:  Parallels.

 

Compassioned Boldness

 

Just how far are you willing to go?  How much are you willing to sacrifice for those people you hold dear?  The loved ones, those closest to you.  Your spouse, your children, your best friend, your parents.  How much would you give of yourself to ensure their wellbeing?

What if we change the person, to say, the person sitting a few pews either behind you or in front of you?  How much would give up of yourself for that person?  Would it be difficult to say that you’d give up just as much?

What if we change the person again, but this time, to the person who lives three doors down from you, whether that’s apartments in a hallway, homes on a block, or for you farmers, about a mile, how much would you be willing to give of yourself to care for that person?  For your neighbor?

And if you’ll allow, let me push this one more time.  How much would you be willing to lay down of yourself for the person you despise the most?  The person who has caused you the most harm, or the most embarrassment?  The person who has literally stolen from you, belittled you?  What would you be willing to give that person?

In America, we have a logical worldview on this subject.  What I mean by that is the way we look at others, the way we treat others, makes sense.  We understand.  We understand if you love a good friend who loves you.  We understand if you are angry with the person who’s been gossiping about you.  We understand if you want revenge when someone has done great harm to you.

But the problem is, this logical, American way of thinking isn’t Christian.  This isn’t what Jesus taught.  It isn’t how He instructed His disciples to live.

Instead we get a fascinating text today from the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome.  “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Many of you still remember The Titanic movie, but even more of you still remember the story.  This giant vessel crashing into an iceberg and plunging into the depths of the ocean.  The people flooded to the lifeboats, but there weren’t enough.  So what happened?  Well, in that time in our culture, men sacrificed themselves.  The women and children got the first seats.  The men offered their lives to save others.

That’s an extreme example from our history.  But it pales in comparison.  Paul just said that he would willingly trade places.  That if he could, he’d give up not just his life, but his everlasting life if it meant his Jewish brethren would come to know Christ, and receive everlasting life.

Now, you and I, and Paul, we know this isn’t how it works.  It’s not a seat on a boat, it’s not something Paul could trade, or even sacrifice.  But it’s a powerful statement and illustration.  The Apostle Paul was a Jew.  Born a Jew, raised a Jew.  Studied under the best teachers they had.  He was one of them, and he was in a position to be one of their leaders, if he wasn’t already.

And then it all changed.  On the Road to Damascus, when Christ appears to Paul and strikes him blind, and directs him to go on into the city where he will receive further instructions.  Paul, before losing his sight, saw the resurrected Christ.  Or, at the very least, heard His voice.  And upon reaching Damascus, the Lord sends Ananias, who heals Paul and baptizes him.  And Paul is saved.

Now, this didn’t sit well with his old Jewish friends, teachers, and well, any of them.  And Paul began to suffer at their hands.  His own list in 2 Corinthians 11 is astounding:

“with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

 

Beaten, and not just with fists.  The lashings, the stonings, the imprisonments and torture that Paul endured at their hands.  And yet, instead of wanting revenge, instead of wanting to see them get what was coming to them, which would have been a very natural reaction, what did Paul want for them?  He wanted nothing more than to see them know Christ and be forgiven for all the pain and all the wretchedness that they had caused.

There was no grudge to be found.  In fact, just the opposite, compassion.  Paul would give up his spot for them if it worked that way.  Praise be to God that it doesn’t work that way.

Because God’s plan is infinitely better.  God’s plan was that His own Son Jesus Christ would step down into this world, taking on flesh, becoming a man, born of the virgin Mary.  That this Jesus, this Son of God would then at the hands of God’s own people endure beatings, and lashings, and even a death by crucifixion.  And that as He hung there upon the cross, rather than free Himself or call down His Father’s wrath, Jesus called out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Even in His dying breaths, Jesus was accomplishing what He came to do.  To forgive all people.  To forgive every man of every time and every place.  To forgive every sin committed past, present, and future.  That Christ did not hold a grudge against the wickedness of mankind, but gave His life in our place.  Spilled His blood so that we would not have to.

This is the gospel!  That you and me, in spite of our sins, in spite of our brokenness, in spite of our open and obstinate rebellion against God: you are forgiven, you are saved!  The compassion that Jesus had for His people led Him to be so bold that He would even willingly die for us.

The compassion that the Apostle Paul had for the people around him, even those we would consider his enemies, enabled him to be so bold that he would continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting in His name.  Paul didn’t cower, he didn’t step back and wait for God’s wrath.  He went to the people who needed forgiveness, who needed love, who needed a Savior, and He gave them the good news.

We are forever grateful that this good news has been proclaimed to us.  And to 2 billion other people alive today who have heard the good news and believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  And it’s not just those living, but the countless men and women that heard and shared this same gospel proclamation in the generations from Paul to us.

And so it is that this same good news overflows in us.  We share the love of Christ with our neighbor.  We look upon them, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, with compassion.  And it is this compassion for them, as it did for Paul, that leads us to be bold.  To proclaim the truth, to proclaim forgiveness and life in the name of Christ.  To our spouses and children.  To our best friends and parents.  To the people in the pews around us or the neighbors down the way.  To the very people who have done us harm.  We give of ourselves, we sacrifice of ourselves to give these people the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  To hear of the forgiveness of their sins and our sins.  To hear of the gift of life that is for all people.

Love Each Other May 13, 2012

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John 15:9-17

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 12-13, 2012

Focus: God loved us so much that He gave up His Son for us.

Function: That the hearers love each other as God first loved us.

Structure: .

 

Love Each Other

 

Over the last couple of weeks, our Scripture readings have focused a lot on love.  That really comes as no surprise, as love is a major theme throughout Scripture.  But it does pose a challenge to us.  What is love?  Do we even know anymore?

In chapel this week, we talked about how we all love a good story, whether it’s a book, a movie, or something else altogether.  And it doesn’t matter how old you are, we all like to get wrapped up in the plot.  Most stories have a common theme.  Fairy tales make it quite obvious.  Love.  How many fairy tales revolve around a princess just waiting for her Prince Charming, her knight in shining armor to come and sweep her off her feet?  They call it true love.  And it usually ends in them riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after.

While that makes for good entertainment, or as the guys say, a chick-flick, unfortunately, stories like these give us an inaccurate view of love.  They portray love as an emotional high, a feeling of bliss, like floating on Cloud Nine.  It’s sublime happiness.  But how many marriages end a year or so in because the couple comes down off of this emotional high?  It certainly contributes to our nation’s ridiculously high divorce rate, which is somewhere around 50% of marriages.  They don’t understand that life indeed is full of challenges and that there will be rough moments in every relationship.  That’s what sin does.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in our vocabulary.  You can love your spouse.  You can love your children.  You can love God.  You can love a good story.  You can love Taco Bell’s new Dorito tacos.  You can love sinning.  You can love money.  You can love a sport.  You can love pretty much anything.  I think you get the point.

But the Greek language had four words to describe love.  Agape, phileo, storge, and eros.  Definitions of these words aren’t always mutually exclusive, they do occasionally overlap in meaning.  But for the most part, they’re unique.  The romantic kind of love of fairy tales and newlyweds is eros.  It’s all about passion and attraction.  You won’t find it in the Bible.

Storge describes natural affection, the love you have for your whole family.  It only appears a couple of times in Scripture.  Phileo is a love along the lines of friendship and loyalty.  We see it in words like philosophy, which is the love of wisdom or in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia.

And lastly, we have the love called agape.  While agape and phileo are occasionally used interchangeably, agape tends to mean unconditional love.  It’s the love of God for us as His people and it’s the one that’s been coming up in our texts of late.

I know you’re not all Greek scholars, but the point of the little Greek lesson today is to help us identify how love can differ.  The most common love in the world around us is selfish.  How many relationships are formed merely so that we can benefit from them?  We don’t say we love something unless it somehow brings us pleasure or happiness.  That also ends up being the way fairy tales portray true love.

So do we really know what love is anymore?  Thankfully, God has left us with some examples.  At our men’s retreat a couple weekends ago, we looked in depth at being the Christian head of a household, being a loving and faithful husband and father.  And we discussed a couple of Bible verses on this topic.  In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he said that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

That’s a difficult verse for us to swallow, but it deals with love, specifically the love of God.  Throughout Scripture, God portrays Himself as our Father.  And Christ portrays Himself as the groom, with the church as His bride.  Family relationships, things we can comprehend and understand.  So to Timothy, if you don’t take care of your own family, you clearly don’t comprehend the message of God’s love and salvation.  You don’t get the relationships He has used to express Himself to you.

In this way, we can look at the relationships in our lives today to help us better understand what love is.  And what better a day than Mother’s Day?  That one day of the year that we set aside to let our moms know just how much we appreciate everything they do for us.  Hopefully everyone remembered!

We can come up with a whole slew of things that mothers do for us.  Whether it’s the way they care for us when we’re just little babies to how they always seem to know just how to make us feel better.  Now, I don’t want men to feel left out, as similar things can be said about fathers too, but that’s next month.  I stumbled across any number of stories this week in honor of Mother’s Day, but I would like to share one with you that I think really illustrates the love of a mother for her child.

There was a teenager who didn’t want to be seen in public with her mother, because her mother’s arms were both  terribly disfigured, downright gruesome. One day when her mother took her shopping and reached out her hand, a clerk looked horrified. Later, at home crying, the girl told her how embarrassed she was. Despite the hurt, the mother waited an hour before going to her daughter’s room to tell her, for the first time, what had happened.

“When you were a baby, I woke up to a burning house. Your room was an inferno. Flames were everywhere. I could have gotten out the front door, but I decided I’d rather die with you than leave you to die alone. I ran through the fire and wrapped my arms around you. Then I went back through the flames, my arms on fire. When I got outside on the lawn, the pain was agonizing but when I looked at you, all I could do was rejoice that the flames hadn’t touched you.”

Stunned, the girl looked at her mother through new eyes. Weeping in shame and gratitude, she kissed her mother’s marred hands and arms.

I chose that story because it illustrates how much a mom truly loves her child.  It demonstrates the lengths that she is willing to go for her baby, the sacrifices she’s willing to make, and also the lack of respect and appreciation that she’s willing to endure when her children hit puberty.  It’s a good reference to the love we see in our text; however, before anyone accuses me of building up egos too much today, we need to remember that our love is tainted by sin.

The greatest moms and dads the world over aren’t perfect.  And that’s why the Bible points us to the One who is.  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”  That’s the agape love of God in this text.  It’s the unconditional love that only He can have for us.  It’s the agape love that Paul talks about in his letter to Rome:

“Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by His blood, will we be saved through Him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life.”

 

That’s the unconditional love of God, that while we were still His enemies, He sacrificed His Son to forgive us and save us.  It’s the unconditional love as He showed through the prophet Hosea, who illustrated God’s love to Israel through his role as a husband to Gomer the prostitute.  No matter how many times she abandoned him and went away with other men, Hosea went to her as God comes to us.  He forgave her and took her back, as God does for us.

That dear brothers and sisters, is the true agape love of God, which He has so graciously poured out on all of us here today.  Through the waters of Holy Baptism, He claims us as His own children.  And every time we pray, read the Bible, or anything else that brings our thoughts to Christ, we see the ultimate in love and sacrifice.  A willingness to sacrifice it all for someone you care about.

It is from this love that Christ then issues the command from our gospel today.  “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.”  He roots the command in what He’s already done for us.  It’s not just a random command to go and do something.  It’s connected and flows from His love that He’s already most graciously given to you and me.  We love one another as He first loved us.

What is love?  What does it look like?  It’s putting everyone else before yourself.  If your neighbor is hurting, care for them.  If they’re in any kind of danger, lend a hand, or more.  If they’ve wronged you, it means no grudges, but forgiveness.  If they fail to respect you or appreciate you, it means continuing to love them anyway.  It’s commitment, care, communication, and Christ.  If ever you want to know what love looks like, look no further than the cross.  As God first loved us, so we love one another.

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.