jump to navigation

Freed from Guilt September 17, 2017

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

Genesis 50:15-21

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 17, 2017

 

Focus:  God forgives even our guilt.

Function:  That the hearers bear no grudges, either of their own guilt or another’s against them.

Structure:  Sermon Outline by Rev. Paul Philp.

 

Freed from Guilt

 

Our text today comes from the Old Testament reading out of the book of Genesis.  We find an account of eleven brothers who expect death.  They expect to receive the death penalty at the hands of the man second in command over all of Egypt.

Many years prior, when Joseph was still just a boy, he started to have dreams of authority, dreams that said that he would one day see his brothers bow down at his feet.  For one of the youngest of twelve sons, that was probably pretty enticing.  And he certainly gloated about it, on more than one occasion.

And while his father, Jacob, was perplexed by these ideas, his brothers weren’t very pleased.  Dad’s favoritism surely didn’t help, nor did that beautiful and luxurious cloak that dad gave to Joseph.  So, over the course of time, they grew to hate their brother, they came to despise Joseph.

Until one day when they saw an opportunity.  They were working out in the fields, and saw Joseph approaching and began to dream up ways to get rid of him.  To put an end to his gloating, to his favored status in the home.

At first, they were going to kill him.  But the oldest, the heir of the house, Reuben, convinced his brothers to spare Joseph.  And so, instead of killing him, they lowered him into a cistern, a giant hole in the ground, perhaps even a well.

The brothers then sat down for a meal, and as they were eating, they noticed a caravan off in the distance. A travelling group of slave traders related to their great uncle Ishmael.  The Scriptures don’t say where Reuben was, just that he wasn’t there and wasn’t aware.  And so, in his absence, the brothers decided to make a little coin, to make a profit off of their hatred.  Rather than kill Joseph, they could both get rid of him, and make some money.  It was a win-win, for them at least.

Obviously, they never expected to see Joseph again.  Nor did they care.  They were just willing to kill him, so they certainly didn’t care what happened to him as a slave in some other land.  So from the perspective of the brothers, we can skip over most of the life of Joseph.

Joseph is sold as a slave to Potiphar of Egypt and then winds up in prison.  After being God’s spokesman to Pharaoh in the interpretation of some dreams, Joseph is given a position of authority, as second in command over the land of Egypt.  He’s tasked with managing the abundance of food for seven years of feasting, that the people would still have food come the seven years of famine.

As the famine years began, food grew scarce.  And not just in Egypt, but even the surrounding lands, including the land of Canaan where Joseph’s father Jacob and the rest of his brothers lived.  So Jacob sends the brothers to Egypt, not just once, but twice to buy food for their family. It isn’t until their second visit that Joseph reveals himself to them.

Where would they be?  Having just seen their brother’s face, knowing what they’d done to him, and now the position of power and authority that he had over them.  The food was his.  He literally was in the position to watch them starve to death or simply have them killed.

But that’s not what Joseph does.  Instead, Joseph forgives and feeds them.  He even invites them to move down to the neighboring land of Goshen with the hopes of seeing his father again.  It’s been a good solid twenty years at least.

But after several more years pass, Jacob dies.  And the brothers fear Joseph, again.  They doubt his forgiveness to them.  They question if he wasn’t just being nice to them for the sake of dad, to keep the family together.  And now, with dad no longer there to protect them, they feared Joseph would get revenge against them for their wickedness.

That’s our text today.  They come up with a ridiculous lie to get Joseph to forgive them.  Their guilt from sins decades ago still haunts them.  For no reason.  Joseph has already forgiven his brothers.  And even now, they still live in that state of forgiveness.  There’s no grudge.  There’s no plot of revenge.  But again, Joseph had to speak kindly to them and comfort them, reassuring them of his forgiveness for them.

There are multiple angles of law in this text.  The first is guilt.  Guilt is the result of a conscience, of God writing His law, His commands upon our hearts.  And so when we sin, when we break God’s law, failing in our vocations, abandoning our responsibilities, we feel guilt.

This is what the brothers wrestled with, as do we.  We can all think of things in our past, mistakes made, friends hurt, neighbors neglected.  We aren’t really capable of forgetting our sins.  And the devil and our sinful flesh love to use this against us.

Many of us here today can identify one or more of those things that still make us feel guilty.  For the words you said to your parents as you rejected their authority.  For the pain you inflicted on your friend when you betrayed their trust.  Even for dumb sins we did decades ago.  We still hold onto that guilt.

Another law angle on this same topic, though, is: why?  What did the brothers actually fear?  They feared Joseph’s retaliation.  They couldn’t trust the forgiveness of their brother.  We’ve done that.  We’ve earned that.

We have held the grudges.  Sometimes for decades.  Sometimes dividing families so that they never speak again.  And so the person who feels the guilt of their sin fears coming to us.  They fear confessing their sin to us because we’ve held it against them before.  Because we’ve acted on revenge before.  Because we heard the words, “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” and we rejected them.  We chose to hold on to our betrayal and our hurt, and in our pride, we only furthered, only deepened the pain and the anguish and the guilt and the despair of our neighbor.

That’s what the brothers expected: revenge, punishment.  They expected it because it was what they were used to.  That was the way things work.  It’s still the way things work.  In this world.

But not before God.  Joseph is a type, a foreshadowing, of Christ.  The way he responded to his brothers, to their wickedness, and even to their guilty conscience was the way that Christ responds to us.  Joseph endured the pain and the loss and the suffering of his brothers’ betrayal.  He spent years as a slave, many in what we could only imagine being spent in miserable conditions.  But in doing so, he wasn’t plotting revenge.  He forgave his brothers.

Christ endured our betrayal.  It was our betrayal, our sin, our guilt that sent Him, willingly, that He willingly hung on the cross.  That He didn’t seek out revenge, He didn’t seek to get even, He only muttered the words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus Christ in His sacrifice for us overcomes our sins.  He took them from us.  He bore them upon Himself.  We are free.  We are freed from our grudges that we hold against others.  We can give them up.  Like Joseph, we are free to forgive one another and to break the shackles of hatred and despair.  We are free to be reconciled with all people.  Christ did that for us.

Still yet, it’s not just our grudges that He forgives.  It’s all of our sins.  And so that guilt that you’ve been carrying around since you were seven, that guilt is on Him.  He carries that burden for you.  You don’t have to.  If you’re still carrying it, pray.  Ask the Lord to take it from you.  Ask the Lord to grant you reconciliation, to bring forgiveness into your broken relationship, with whoever that may be.  Ask the Lord to wipe away all grudges and all guilt.  Because He has and He does.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, hear the beautiful words of the Apostle Paul as he greeted the church in Corinth:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord.”  In Christ, you and I are guiltless.  He took them, all of it, for us.  For you and for me.  As Joseph’s brothers came to realize that his forgiveness was genuine, and they trusted in him again, so we too, can know that in Christ’s death and resurrection, that His forgiveness of all our sins is genuine.  And we are indeed guiltless.

 

Advertisements

Through One Man March 5, 2017

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

Romans 5:12-19

First Sunday in Lent

March 5, 2017

 

Focus:  God’s sacrifice of Christ overcomes the trespass of Adam.

Function:  That the hearers reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Structure:  Law and Gospel.

 

Through One Man

 

There’s an old saying, that one person can ruin something for everyone.  It turns out there’s a technical term for that, a spoilsport.  But it’s a concept we understand, and we’ve likely all seen.  Let me give you a couple of examples.

For a couple years growing up, I played football.  Practices in the St. Louis summer heat were no fun to begin with.  But then, to make matters worse, a costly mistake by one my teammates in a game would make practice more excruciating.  Say the running back fumbles the ball, and the coach would make the team do extra laps.  Or maybe one of our linebackers missed a key tackle, and the whole team suddenly is doing up-downs, and oh, I hated up-downs.  For those of you who don’t know what an up-down is, all the players would line up in rows, and when the coach blew the whistle, we’d begin chopping our feet.  On his next whistle, you bite the dust, you fall flat on your face.  He’d blow the whistle again, and you pop back up, right back to chopping your feet.  One rep.  And we’d do dozens, every practice.

 

But while some of these things are really minor, and some are quite important, take the worst example you can come up with, and multiply it by a bajillion.  And then square it.

12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

 

This is no mere spoilsport.  We’re talking about death.  This is what we saw as Pastor Fritsch read the reading from Genesis.  The fall of mankind into sin, and the punishment for it, well, the epitome of the punishment, is that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

One man’s sin, ruins it for everyone.  Adam’s sin, the sin of not caring for and protecting his wife, plunged all of creation into darkness and despair.  This is the doctrine of original sin.  It’s not that you sin by stealing and thus you’re guilty and deserving of Hell.  Sure, that’s a sin, and deserving of Hell before a holy God, but you are a sinner.  You are sinful to the core.  And you have been, I have been, from the moment we were conceived.  That’s the words of King David we read this past Wednesday from Psalm 51:5 “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

Sin isn’t just an act that we commit.  It’s a brokenness, a rejection of God that we inherit from our parents, that they inherited from their parents, for generations going all the way back to Adam.

12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

 

It’s important to note the way Paul speaks of death here.  He doesn’t talk about it like it’s just some thing.  He says in verse seventeen, “because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man.”  Death reigned.  Things don’t reign.  Paul is ascribing to death, and to sin, power and authority over creation.  And we are conceived dead, already under the reign of sin and death.

But this is not how it ends.  We are not left in the dredges of sin and death.  But rather we hear the words of Paul:

17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

 

The free gift of righteousness.  We talk about this all the time, that in His death and resurrection, Christ’s sacrifice forgives all your sins.  Not just your action sins, but even the very original sin, that brokenness, that rejection of God.  It’s forgiven.  And even now as we speak, you are being made alive.

It is a thing of grace, that God would give us what we don’t deserve, that He would give us what we couldn’t possibly earn.  And He gives it freely.  He takes the righteousness of Christ, Christ’s perfection, and He makes it yours.  By filling you with Christ.  You are justified.

But again, look at Paul’s language.  “Those who receive…the free gift…reign in life.”  The free gift of Christ does more than forgive sins.  Oh, it definitely does that.  But it eradicates the power and authority, it eliminates the stranglehold that sin and death had over creation.  In Christ, you reign in life.

That’s a wonderful phrase.  You reign in life, through Christ.  He redeems His creation from sin, death, and the devil.  And while all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ by the Father, Christ then entrusts these things to you.  You reign in life.

You take the power of Christ, the forgiveness of your sins, and you live.  There is no fear of death.  There is no fear of sin.  In Christ, the victory over these evils is yours.  And so you can go about your vocations and live freely, without fear, without worry, knowing that any evil that happens is already defeated.  Being bullied, losing your job, even death itself, these things have no hold over you any more.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

 

So while football coaches may believe that more up-downs makes for a better team, the free gift of the One Man Jesus Christ overcomes the one man Adam’s sin.  It overcomes my sin, and it overcomes your sin.  By the free gift of Christ, “the many will be made righteous.” (v. 19)

 

 

 

Children’s message:

  • Can of Mountain Dew
    • Pour can into clear cup. It’s free!  This liquid is free, it’s no longer Mountain Dew, right?
    • Wrong, Pastor! The liquid is the Mountain Dew, not the can.
  • So it is with our sins. Sin isn’t something we can remove from ourselves.  It is us, through and through.
  • Mountain Dew
    • Have a kid picked out to be Jesus already. Drink the Dew in the cup.  Add a little water, swish it around, have them drink that, too.  Refill the cup with water.
    • You can’t remove sin from yourself.
    • But Jesus can. He has.  He does.  On the cross, He takes your sins upon Himself and makes you clean.  You have forgiveness, you have life in Him.

 

Prophet vs. People February 21, 2016

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

Jeremiah 26:8-15

Second Sunday in Lent

February 21, 2016

 

Focus:  God provides grace through His Son.

Function:  That the hearers repent of their sins.

Structure:  Old Testament/New Testament Comparison.

 

Prophet vs. People

 

Our texts for today, our theme for today, is really the ultimate display of the clashing between prophets and people.  And if we want to be even more specific, it’s the clash of God and man.  In this battle, we see the depths of God’s love pitted against the depths of our sin.

As we look at our Old Testament reading we have one of the major prophets, Jeremiah.  If you don’t know much about his background, God called Jeremiah to serve Him when he was only a boy.  And Jeremiah would then spend the rest of his days delivering messages to the nation of Judah, both prior to their defeat and exile, and also during their exile.  That’s why the book of Lamentations that he wrote is filled with, well, lamenting, mourning the loss of a nation.

We see one example of his work in the text today.  At the beginning of chapter 26 God calls to Jeremiah and instructs him to go to the leaders and the people of Judah, bringing a familiar message for a prophet.  You’re stuck in your sins and God is going to judge you.  But if you turn away from your evil, if you repent, He will spare you from destruction.

The response of the religious leaders is arrogant and puffed up with their own pride.  How dare you say God is judging us?  How dare you say we’re doing anything wrong?  How dare you say God will destroy this masterful city and artistic wonder that is our temple.

Those weren’t their exact words.  It was a paraphrase, but maybe their exact words were worse: “You shall die!”  How dare you say that?  Now we’re going to kill you.  Certainly, prideful.

And so they drag Jeremiah off to hold a quick and decisive trial before their officials that they hoped would result in his death.

There’s so many parallels to our New Testament reading, to our Gospel from Luke.  Here we are somewhere in the middle of Christ’s ministry prior to His final trip to Jerusalem.  He’s in the middle of a series of teaching when some Pharisees tell Him to leave because Herod wants Him dead.  It’s hard to know their intent, if these were some faithful men trying to save Him from death, or if they just wanted Him gone for the trouble He was causing them.

Regardless of their intent Jesus’ response is strong and telling.

“Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”

 

In other words, if even the demons couldn’t stand against Christ, why on earth would He fear Herod?  Jesus’ face is already pointed towards Jerusalem.  He knows the path that is before Him.  He’s been transfigured.  He’s come down from that mountain to go to Jerusalem and to die.  And He knows it.

He knows all about our sins.  Their sins, that is the people of Judah and Jerusalem.  And our sins.  He knows the depths of it all and He knows there’s only one response.  That our sin, the punishment for our guilt must be laid upon His shoulders.

But that doesn’t stop Him from saying what He says next.

34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

 

It is Him who is going to die, and yet He weeps for them.  He mourns for them.  He wishes that they had heeded the words of prophets, indeed even the words He Himself just spoke at the beginning of this same chapter when two separate times Jesus said, “Repent or perish.”  He’s downtrodden that their destruction is upon them.

And not unlike Jeremiah, the time was short before the religious leaders would drag Jesus off for a quick and decisive trial before their officials that they hoped would result in His death.

That’s what this really is.  That we would love our own sins so much that we would even kill the one who speaks of forgiveness.

Jeremiah lived it.  Jesus lived it.  That the very nation that was once faithful to God and the crown of His creation had now abandoned Him and sought to kill any messenger He sent them.

We live it.  How many times have you heard a Christian accused of being judgmental?  How many times have you been accused of hatred?  How many times has Matthew 7 been quoted to you that you should take the log out of your own eye before you take the speck out of theirs?  Their wrong, but that’s another sermon.

That’s what this is.  That we would love our own sins so much that we would even kill the one who speaks of forgiveness.  That our pride would be so powerful that we reject the Word of God spoken to us.  That we reject the idea that we are sinners, that we’re broken and in need of a Savior.

That indeed the master would send messengers to his vineyard, to his workers, and time and again they would beat them.  And ultimately that he would finally send his own son, for they surely won’t harm him.  Hmmm…that’s starting to sound like one of Jesus’ parables.  That no matter how much God works through His prophets and even through His Son, many will love their sin and reject their Savior.  To the point where we would kill Him, by nailing Him to the cross.

It’s the depth of our sin against the depth of God’s love.  That the Judahites could be told that their idol worship was a sin and they would laugh it off.  That the Pharisees could be told their love of themselves, their pride was a sin and they would laugh it off.  That I could tell you that your speeding habit is a sin and you might laugh it off as though it didn’t matter.

And God would still love us so much to offer us grace.  That in the midst of our rejection and pride He would continue to offer a way out, a way to have a relationship with Him, a way to live, through the very body and blood of His own dear precious Son Jesus Christ.  If only we might heed the words of Jeremiah, “Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that He has pronounced against you.”

This is the part of the conversation I wanted to be sure to have today.  Jesus, multiple times in His ministry, says “Repent or perish.”  The prophets often said it.  But, salvation is not our doing right?  We can’t earn it, we can’t do it?  So why are we being told, do this thing, repent, or you won’t be saved?  It makes repentance sound like a work we do to save ourselves.

But let me give you an illustration.  Let’s imagine that every day for the rest of Lent I am going to break into your home, steal something, and then auction it off on eBay to the highest bidder.  Destruction, theft, false gain, harming my neighbor.  Lots of sin.  I’m sinning against you, I’m damaging our relationship without a doubt.  And for a while, I just don’t care.  And then come Easter, the good news of Christ’s resurrection from the dead stirs me.  He works within me to cause me to realize my sin, that I’ve harmed you.

And that leads me to your doorstep.  But this time, instead of with a lock pick or bat in the cover of darkness, this time, with repentance.  Asking you to forgive me for what I’ve done.

I’ve stopped.  I’ve repented.  I’ve turned away from my sin.  I’ve turned myself in.  But have I earned anything?  Have I gained anything?  Has my apology earned back your trust?  Has my repentance repaid the cost of damages to your home and to our friendship?  Has my ceasing to steal from you restored the possessions lost?  Have I made restitution for the wrong I’ve done?  The answer’s no.  I can’t.  There’s no power in me to fix this.  I can only stop and ask forgiveness, and even that is a gift that God has worked in me.

In that example, you have the power to restore, to choose to trust me again, to waive off claims of vengeance against me, to ignore damages.  Those would be gifts, and only you can give them.  And in the greater picture, taking away our sins from us is a thing of grace.  We can’t earn it.  We don’t even participate.  God does it.  It’s by His grace alone.

Each of our texts had gospel, good news.  Sure, Jeremiah came with the message that they were sinners and they were bringing about their own damnation.  But he also came with the promise of God, the very grace of God, that if they would turn away from their wickedness, God would restore their relationship and remove their sins and destruction.

And even Christ wept for Jerusalem.  And if they had only repented, He would have gathered them as a hen does her chicks.  He longed to call them family.  And in the end, whether they wanted Him to or not, He even paid the price, gave up His own life, that they, that we, might live.

Repentance can’t earn your salvation, but rejecting God’s grace will certainly lead to your own destruction.  And so we are thankful that God gives us the gift of repentance, that we can turn away from our sin.  We are so thankful that He sacrificed His Son to pay for our sins and to restore our relationship with Him.  We are so thankful that He continues to send us His Word, whether it’s in the form of the prophets of old, of pastors and elders, of daily reading the Scriptures, or the accountability we have as brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are so thankful for the grace of God.

Unexpected Gift December 24, 2015

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

John 1:1

Christmas Eve

December 24th, 2015

 

Focus:  God gave us the gift we needed most.

Function:  That the hearers humbly rejoice in the gift they so desperately needed.

Structure:  Sermon outline by Phill Tague as part of his Socks and Underwear Advent series.

 

Unexpected Gift

 

We’ve finally made it.  Christmas is finally here.  The excitement, the buildup, the anticipation that’s been going on since stores put out Christmas decorations in July.  It’s finally here.  Let the traditions begin.  Let the wonderful aroma of home-cooked family meals fill your homes.  Let the traveling, the celebrating, the gatherings commence.

Of course, if we polled the kids here tonight, asking them what they anticipate the most about Christmas, we know what the answer would be.  We know.  Gifts!  Presents, those shiny, glittery packages under the tree.  Thinking about what you want the most and trying to figure out if it fits the box shapes that you see.  Could my PS4 fit in that box there?  Maybe they hid a fashion playset in that round box over there.  Maybe he hid that necklace that I really wanted in that bag by the fireplace.  If we’re honest, it’s not just our kids that anticipate gifts at Christmas.

For me growing up, it was probably the Nintendo Gamecube.  I still have great memories of that machine, of the time I spent building up friendships by laughing and playing games.  What about you?  What’s the gift you remember wanting the most growing up?  Take a moment, turn to the person next to you and share that gift.

Pause

Now a few of you might have just told your neighbor what you want this year.  Still dropping hints here even at the last second.  And we do that throughout the year.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a new…  Wouldn’t the house look so much nicer if we just added…

But I would guess there’s no one here tonight that hasn’t been let down.  There’s no one here tonight who hasn’t opened up a present hoping for what they really wanted, and then when you’ve ripped off the paper and you pop open the box, short pause it’s socks and underwear.  It’s something you needed, but not really something you wanted.

I still remember when that happened to my dad.  It was a party, his family and his friends were there.  Coworkers, too.  We were celebrating, and it came time for gifts.  And my dad grabbed one from his sister.  He opened up it up, and to his surprise, it really was socks and underwear.  I still remember how embarrassed he was to have opened that gift in front of his coworkers.  He found it awkward.

I want to share with you a verse you know, John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that, whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Sometimes it’s the unexpected gift that matters most.  But other times, it’s the needed gift that we overlook.

God sent His Son Jesus Christ into this world, God gave the gift that mankind needed desperately more than anything else in the world.  And most people didn’t even notice.  This is one of the most crucial moments in all of history, in eternity, and billions of people could care less.

You know the Christmas account, we just read it from Luke 2.  But starting today, and going for the next few weeks, we want to give you a different perspective.  We want to look at what John had to say.

John begins his gospel by writing:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Now when the John says the Word, he means Jesus, he means Christ, he means the Son of God.  In the beginning, way back before the world was even created by God’s hands, Jesus was.  He was there.  This Christmas thing we celebrate tonight didn’t just happen two thousand years ago, God had already started this thing in motion.  Jesus was there.  He, alongside the Father and the Spirit, He created the world.

This is huge!  This Christmas we look at is huge!  Jesus, the Son of the living God, just became a human being, just took on flesh and chose to dwell among us.  As His creation, how could we not notice?!  How could we miss it?!  And yet, nearly everyone did.

Doesn’t it seem like it could have been planned better?  Like God could have announced it louder or something?  God’s been working on this for four thousand years.  Prophecy after prophecy, promises of a Savior who would come for us.  The people were waiting, had been waiting for generations for their Messiah.  But by the time He finally came, no one noticed.  They’d stopped waiting.

Just look at the details.  Mary and Joseph, really?  They’re just a poor couple.  In fact, they were so poor, they couldn’t even afford the sacrifice that the Old Testament required at the time of the birth of your firstborn son.  They couldn’t afford a lamb for the Lamb of God.

And there’s the journey.  A nine month pregnant woman riding across the desert on a donkey’s back, if they even had a donkey.  Some 70 or 80 miles they traveled to reach Bethlehem, perhaps by foot.  It didn’t look like the Hallmark card, that much is for certain.

And then there’s so many people in Bethlehem for this census, there’s no room for them, anywhere.  Couldn’t God have made a reservation?  And why was He born during the reign of an evil king?  King Herod was so corrupt he was even willing to kill his own family to keep his throne.  Add to that that these Magi thought it was smart to go to this wicked king and announce they’re looking for the new king of the Jews.

So then we get Luke 2:7: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”  How do we reconcile that?  How to we fit the very Word of God, the Son of God who created this world, how do we fit Him into a feeding trough?  Into a manger?

For this to be more than just another holiday, another day off work, something we celebrate with family and friends, for this to be more, we have to recognize that God did all of this for a purpose.  And that purpose wasn’t comfort, so we could have nice things and a nice life.  That purpose was connection, a relationship.

See, we’d expect a king to be born into ideal circumstances.  We’d expect Him to be born to a wealthy family, living in a wonderful home, surrounded by loved ones.  We’d expect the leaders to be faithful to the Son of God, to come and kneel before this baby, recognizing Him as their Lord.

But instead, John tells us, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Jesus takes on flesh.  The Son of God becomes one of us.  He comes down into this broken world not on a chariot of fire, but as an infant, a lowly child.  He comes down to us to have a relationship with us.  To connect with us.  To save us.

He comes down to live among us so that He can truly say to us, “I know what it’s like.  I know what you’re going through.  I’ve been there.  And I’ll be there for you.”  You think you’re poor?  You think you have family issues?  Jesus’ family thought He had gone insane and tried to stop His ministry.  Have your friends, the people you count on, failed you?  He was betrayed by a kiss.  Have your closest friends abandoned you in the worst possible moment?  Have you been taken advantage of?

Have you been accused of crimes you didn’t commit, tried and found guilty when you were innocent?  Christ has been there.  And He did it all the way to the cross, so that He could look down and say, “I’ve been there.  I’ve felt that.  And I’m with you.”

The author of Hebrews tells us, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Christmas isn’t about comfort, it’s about connection.  It’s not about royalty, but humility.  The surprise isn’t that it was announced by angels, He’s the Son of God.  The surprise is who they announced it to.  The surprise isn’t really a virgin birth, He’s God.  It’s that it was a poor, uneducated, teenage girl in a small town.  That He was born in the shadow of Herod’s extravagant palace, within just three miles of royalty, He was born in a cave, in a manger.

We read from Paul in Philippians 2:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

 

For Christ, this is a thing of humility.  And in the midst of a time filled with wishlists and gift-giving, you and I need to see this.  To see God show us what humility is, as we learn from Matthew 20 that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  Christmas is about humility.

And Christmas was not about leading us, but about loving us.  He could have come however He wanted, with whatever theatrics of heaven He could think up.  But He came humbly in the way He chose so that we would know how far He was willing to go for us, so that we would know just how much He loves us.

As you finish preparing for your Christmas celebrations and gatherings, and even as you begin putting it all away, take the time to pause.  To truly see the nativity, to think of the unexpected gift.  See the stable, see and smell the animals.  See the Word of God, the Son of God take on flesh, wrapped in rags, lying in a feeding trough.  And as you think of that, know that He did it for all mankind.  Know that He came so He could look you in the eyes and say: “I know where you’re coming from.  I’ve been there.  And I still love you, and I will always love you.  I have come to offer you grace.  I have come to pay the price for you.  Your sins are forgiven.  You are loved and you are Mine.”  Merry Christmas!

Seek the Lord and Live October 11, 2015

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

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

Proper 23

October 11th, 2015

Focus:  God gives us His guarantee.

Function:  That the hearers repent.

Structure:  This is the historical situation in the text…this is what it means for us now.

 

Seek the Lord and Live

 

O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth… For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins.”

God certainly knew the wickedness of His people.  He knew that they taxed the poor and spat on the homeless.  He knew they were taking bribes, persecuting the faithful, and ignoring the needy.  He knew they were full of themselves, that they refused to listen to those who challenged their wrongdoing.  He knew their pride, that they looked at the works of their hands, their beautiful homes, their bountiful crops, and they boasted, bragged among themselves.

So God acted.  He sent them a prophet.  He sent them Amos.  Like the other prophets, Amos was given a prophet’s work.  God sent him to the Israelites to give them a warning.  To call them to repentance, to turn away from their sin and to seek the Lord.

And Amos goes.  Amos addresses the people, he calls them out on their wickedness and their wrongdoing.  He enumerates their evil deeds in their midst, how they laugh in the face of their sin and chase after idols.  And in so doing he warns them, warns them of the consequences of their sinfulness, warns them of what will happen if they continue on this way.  “Seek the Lord and live, lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel.”  If you keep going, your own sin will bring down upon you the full wrath of God.

And then he gives them a chance.  He tells them the way out.  “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”  Repent, turn away from your sin, take care of the hurting and the needy, and do good.

But did you catch the last part.  Some translations read “it may be” and others say “perhaps,” but either way, there’s only a chance.  If you repent, maybe God will spare you.  If you turn away from evil and turn back to God, maybe He will forgive and not destroy.

This is the way it was.  Look throughout the prophets in the Old Testament, read their preaching, listen to their voice.  There often was no guarantee of hope and restoration.  In fact, sometimes the prophet offered none at all, like Jonah.  He went to the Ninevites and preached the shortest sermon ever.  “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthown.” (Jonah 3:4).  Then he left!

And while the Ninevites did repent, and God actually chose to spare them, the Israelites, the people to whom Amos prophesied, they didn’t.  They refused his message, as God knew they would.  It was even in the message, “They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.”  Amos came, he presented the words of the Lord, and the people ignored it.

Worse than that, they accused him and kicked him out.  The priest at the time, Amaziah, brought charges to the king against Amos.  And he spoke to Amos saying, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” (Amos 7:12-13)

The Israelite leaders chose their sin.  They chose to boast in their own works, and to worship their own kingdom.  And so Amos responds with chilling words of judgment.  He lays out the planned destruction of the nation of Israel, their death at the hand of the Assyrians, not one shall escape.  In their wickedness, they have brought about their own demise.

It was not Amos speaking.  These were God’s words.  And within a matter of just about fifteen years, they came to pass.  Assyria came and conquered the people of Israel.

And so we fast-forward to today, to our present lives.  And I can tell you truly that what we have is no longer an “if,” but a guarantee.  In his children’s sermon last week, Pastor Fritsch described the job of a pastor as sharing God’s Word with you, His people.  In many ways, pastors today are much more like prophets than we are Levitical priests.  It isn’t really our job to maintain the sanctuary.  Sure, we help, but largely, it’s you that does that.  We also don’t have to offer countless sacrifices throughout the week to atone for your sin.  That’s been handled by Christ.

But we do share God’s Word with you.  We share the good and the bad.  We call you to repentance, and we also tell you what happens when you do repent.  But unlike Amos, I don’t have to leave you with a “perhaps” or a “it may be.”  I can give you a guarantee.

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through God’s great love for you, your sins are forgiven and you have life in His name.  And there can be no doubt.  It is a promise given you in your baptism, poured out upon you regularly when you confess your sins and when you come to this altar in repentance.  It’s no longer a question of “if” God will do this.  He’s guaranteed it.

Unfortunately, like the Israelite’s abused God’s grace, we do, too.  We cheapen repentance.  We cheapen it first by often not knowing what it really is.  Repentance is turning away from sin and evil, and turning back towards God.  Because of this, we’re not actually repenting if we confess our sin while at the same time already planning how we can do it again.  We’re not really repenting if we have a “oh woe is me” attitude and think that we can’t possibly help but do it again.  We turn away from it and we give it to God.  It is possible to slip up again, to truly be repentant and fall back into our sins.  But we shouldn’t be planning it or banking on it.

We cheapen repentance when we outright refuse to repent.  This is when we walk away from God.  When we tell Him we would rather keep our sin than to have our relationship with Him.

We again cheapen repentance when we say it can wait.  Sometimes we do this when we’re actively sinning.  We think we can continue the lustful look for a few more seconds, or keep the lie going for a couple more days, and that we’ll be okay.

We cheapen repentance when we laugh at our sin.  When we ask for forgiveness almost half-heartedly, thinking oh, but everyone speeds.  Everyone gets grumpy behind the wheel.  And we neglect to consider just how serious the matter is.

We cheapen repentance when we think we don’t need it.  That wasn’t really a sin.  It didn’t hurt anyone.  But that ignores the very gravity or our sin.  That even breaking the smallest of God’s commands just once is an offense punishable by death, everlasting death.

These things are why Luther begins his 95 Theses by saying that “our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

To these things, the prophet Amos still speaks to us:

“Seek the Lord and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel…

…Seek good, and not evil, that you may live…

…Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate…”

 

We are called to repent.  To turn away from our sin, indeed to run away from our sin, and to turn back to God.  We are called to flee from sin, to hate evil, and to seek good.  We are called to seek the Lord.

And He has made us a promise.  He invites us to come and see, to taste and see that the Lord is good.  When you come to this altar today, pray for true repentance, that God would guide you, that His Spirit would work repentance in you, that He would help you to seek a relationship with God and not evil.

When you come to this altar today, the forgiveness given in this body and bread, in this blood and wine, is real, it’s genuine.  Your sins are forgiven, they are removed from you.  The blight that made you a transgressor, the pride and the boasting, the hate and the filth, indeed death itself, is removed from you.  It has been nailed to the cross.  That price was paid.

And so as you leave the table, this is why I’ve changed the words of dismissal.  Depart now in God’s peace, and with His joy.  As you walk away, you do so in rejoicing and in thanksgiving.  You’ve been purified and cleansed, your relationship with God has been restored and strengthened.  Let joy overwhelm you.  Let joy overflow.  Smile!  Your sins are forgiven.  It’s no longer an “if,” it’s a guarantee!

Pride and Perfection October 5, 2014

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

Philippians 3:4b-14

Proper 22

October 5, 2014

 

Focus:  God is our source of life and strength.

Function:  That the hearers humble themselves to the point of serving.

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

 

Pride and Perfection

 

Let’s begin with a question.  I want you to take a few moments to think of some of the things in your life that you’re proud of.

Perhaps you take pride in your achievements, your job, your home, the things you’ve worked hard for.  And maybe that pride isn’t about stuff.  You’re proud of what you’ve made of yourself.  Maybe that hard work is what you’ve poured into raising a family.  You’re proud of who your little ones have become.  You’re proud to say you’re a Lutheran or a Christian.  You’re proud of any number of things.  Tuck those in the back of your mind for a few minutes.

It’s in our upbringing, it’s in the way we were raised.  There’s a special place in our heart for our own independence, our own ability to stand on our own two feet.  We’ve been taught that if you want something, you have to go and get it for yourself.  We’ve been taught that we can’t count on others to help us, we have to be able to fend for ourselves.

These ideas are so deeply rooted in our society.  They’re deeply connected to who we are.  They’re deeply connected to our dreams and our desires.  This could never be clearer than looking at our stories.  Who among us doesn’t love a feel good story about someone who didn’t have a chance, who was down and out, but then picked themselves up by the bootstraps and fought and clawed their way to a better place?  How many of our books, songs, and movies have that for a theme?  That’s part of the superhero craze.  We look up to them, we enjoy the stories, in part because it speaks to our heartfelt need for independence.  They’re doing what we wish we could do.  No matter how many times they get knocked down, they always get back up again.  They always keep fighting.

That’s where our text begins with the Apostle Paul.  As we turn to Philippians chapter three, we find Paul talking about his ability to do it on his own.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

 

Here we find the great Apostle Paul rattling off his greatness.  Listing the ways in which he could be proud.  Eighth day circumcision means he’s followed the law from the beginning.  From that point in his life, he was part of God’s covenant, part of God’s people.

More than that, he came from the tribe of Benjamin.  The twelve tribes of Israel consisted of Jacob’s twelve sons.  By his favorite wife, Jacob had Joseph and Benjamin.  Because one of his sons Levi was given a different role as priest, he didn’t get a tribe.  So one more had to be added to keep the number at twelve.  To do that, Joseph’s descendants were split in two.  His two sons Ephraim and Manasseh both got tribes.  Thus, Benjamin was the favorite remaining child to have his own tribe.  And that’s where Paul comes from.

And as for keeping the law, of course!  Paul was a Pharisee.  These men were so strict about keeping God’s law they even made up more laws to follow.  And Paul was so ardent about his faith, he was willing to persecute those he thought were mocking God’s name.  Blameless, Paul would call himself.

This is his checklist; here he lists his worthiness before God.  If anyone can get in own his own merit, on his own two feet, it’s Paul.  But listen to what he has to say about his pride, about his keeping of the law, about the things he’s accomplished for himself:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

 

“Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”  All of this stuff, all of my pride, all of my boasting amounts to nothing.  Apart from Christ, I am nothing.  I have nothing.  I can achieve nothing.

When I looked up the word “pride” on dictionary.com, there was only one antonym listed, only one opposite.  Humility.  And that’s what this whole letter is about.  That’s what Paul’s entire letter to the church in Philippi focuses on as its theme.  Pride vs. humility.

Pride, historically, has been considered one of man’s worst traits.  And since we’re already on the internet, what would this sermon be without a reference to Wikipedia?  In its entry on the seven deadly sins, here’s what it has to say:

In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God).”

 

Paul certainly saw it this way.  In his writings, Paul makes pride and boasting the same.  He makes pride and self-centeredness the same.  And this idea of pride being a negative trait actually has its roots in God’s Word.  The words “pride” and “proud” show up 87 times in the Bible.  Only six of those are positive.  The rest talk about us separating ourselves from God, of pride being our downfall, or of God’s pending destruction of the prideful.

Only six times is pride used in a good way.  And they’re the same.  Just like Paul says about boasting, the only good that comes from pride is when it’s rooted in Christ.  He’s proud that the gospel has created faith in the people of Philippi.  He’s proud that the Spirit has used him to communicate Christ’s love.

For several millennia in both church and world history, pride was considered a vice, the downfall of man.  It was seen as us separating ourselves from God.  But in America today, you hear the word just about anywhere you go.  We’re proud of our accomplishments, we’re proud of our athletes, we’re proud of our grades, we’re proud of just about everything.  And as the one song says, we’re even proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.

We like being able to say we did it ourselves.  We’ve done this great thing.  We’re independent.  We don’t need anyone’s help.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Everything we’ve done amounts to nothing.  If you work hard and amass a bunch of stuff, Solomon will make you depressed, because he’ll tell you in Ecclesiastes that’s it all meaningless and you can’t take it with you.  And that’s life, apart from Christ.

We’re sinners, we’ve broken the law.  We’ve failed to achieve perfection in our lives.  But that’s where Christ comes in.  He’s the ultimate example of what Paul is trying to say.  In fact, just a chapter earlier, Paul uses Christ as the ultimate example.  He was perfect.  He could stand on His own two feet.  He could be proud of His own accomplishments.  He could have looked out for only Himself.  But He did just the opposite.  He gave of Himself, He sacrificed of Himself, He lowered Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Christ humbled Himself and became a servant, our servant.  To show us the way.

Another powerful illustration of the vast difference between pride and humility is marriage.  If you focus only on yourself, if you continue to live your life taking care of #1, marriage will be a painful and angry place.  That’s not how it was designed.  If instead, you put your spouse first, their needs before your own.  If instead, you both cast off your pride and serve the other, making yourself into a servant, sure, you’ll still have bumps along the way as sinners, but you will also be blessed to experience the bliss of life together.  And you might just be blessed enough to catch a glimpse of our relationship with God.

These things are why Paul concludes our text today by saying “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  The bad of our past is gone.  Forgotten.  Forgiven.  And now instead, we can look around us and see what God sees.  We can look around us and see people, people whom He loves.  Every person matters.

So maybe it’s time to strike pride and proud from our vocabulary.  Maybe it’s time to stop wanting to live on our own and stand on our own.  Maybe it’s time to realize that we can’t do this ourselves.  Maybe it’s time to realize that Christ has already done it for us.   Maybe it’s time to open our eyes and see Him standing at our side, giving us the strength to go another day.  Maybe it’s time to stop focusing on ourselves and start focusing on each other, as Christ did for us.