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Magician with a Wand in the Sky June 11, 2017

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Genesis 1:1-2:4

Holy Trinity Sunday

June 11, 2017

 

Focus:  God speaks unto us the absolution of our sins in His Son Jesus.

Function:  That the hearers treasure their sins forgiven in the spoken words of Absolution.

Structure:  Illustration and application.

 

Magician with a Wand in the Sky

 

The pain of loss is still fresh.  Several of you may still be quite bitter about the whole ordeal.  On Saturday afternoon, May 20th, the lady Gophers’ softball team tested their mettle against the Alabama Crimson Tide.  And a true pitchers’ duel ensued, with just two hits through the first seven innings of play.

But as the pitchers tired, the bases got a little more crowded, and as they entered the bottom of the ninth in a still scoreless game, Alabama managed to load up the bases with two outs.  Stepping back on the hill with the count at three 3-1, Gophers’ ace Sara Groenewegen delivered a beautiful pitch, right over the plate, just above the knee.

But instead of hearing the umpire holler “strike,” the ump declared the pitch a ball, which walked home the only run of the game and put an immediate end to the Gophers’ season.

That was it.  No protest could be had.  No hope for overturning by replay, the declaration of the ump made it truth, made it history.  Even if no one else agrees, that pitch will forever be a ball.

So what does this have to do with us today?  It’s not the game itself that I want to focus on, it’s the act.  It’s the umpire’s ability to create reality with a mere word.  Because this is what we see in the Scripture today, and this is what the devil calls into question today.

In our Scripture today, from the very beginning of God’s revealed Word to us, we have His account of how He created the world.  I thought about playing around with the lights in here, but let’s face it, it’s summer, and even if I tried turning off the lights, it’d still be light.

It’s Trinity Sunday, we could easily stop and just focus on the verses that speak to God in three persons, as we see the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, as we see God speak in the plural, although that could still just be the “royal” pronoun.  We could look to John 1 or elsewhere in the New Testament where Christ Himself is credited with creating the world.

And yet there are several aspects of this small piece of Scripture that I found under fire and challenged by fellow Christians just this week.  God’s command to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply causes a great deal of distress for American Christians today as it gets in the way of some of things we’d rather be doing.

But it’s not there either that I want to focus today.  I want to turn instead to an issue that strikes at the very heart of your faith.

Three years ago, the Pontiff of Rome, Pope Francis, declared that God is not “a magician with a magic wand,” and that instead God used evolution and the Big Bang to create all that we see and know.

The Pope leads the majority of Christians in this world.  There are roughly 2 billion Christians, and over half of them claim to be Roman Catholic.  But despite this vast responsibility that he faces, he buys the devil’s lie and cannot see the danger that he puts before his people.

There were a couple of accusations there, so let me unpack that.  First, feel free to find an article on his statement of the relationship between the church and the theory of evolution.  The one shared with me was from the British website, the Independent.  And the comments section below reveals the nature of one of the problems.  Most of the discussion is about how it only takes a few centuries for Christians to catch up with what science says is fact and that in a short while we’ll eventually realize that there are no gods in the skies and that religion is just a made up tool of men to manipulate others.

The Pope doesn’t realize he’s selling out God’s Word to please those who would discredit everything he holds dear anyway.

Another clear issue is the worldview that evolution creates and puts forth.  And it’s entirely irreconcilable to Scripture, to our faith.  Evolution argues that life began by accident and that over the span of millions and billions of years, we have been changing, advancing, evolving.  We began imperfect, and we’re moving toward perfection.  And those things that didn’t evolve, died off.  In evolutionary teaching death is a necessity before man comes into existence.

Christianity, the Scriptures, teach the opposite.  That man began perfect in the created image of God, but that on account of our sin, we broke, we destroyed this creation on which we live.  And death is now the result.  There is no death in the Garden of Eden prior to sin.  And the first death is the animal slain to make garments for Adam and Eve.

Evolution makes death good, necessary, and not a punishment for our sin.  Evolution therefore denies the need of a Savior.  Death is merely the natural end result of life, unless of course we can achieve perfection through technology and live forever.

This is awful.  And even most Christians these days buy into it.  We buy into the devil’s lie.  “Did God really say?”  Did God really say He created the earth simply by speaking?

That’s one of the truly impressive and awe-inspiring things about creation.  “Let there be light.”  And there was light.  “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters,” and suddenly, there was an expanse that God named heaven, and we usually call sky.  “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered.”  And we had oceans.  “Let the dry land appear.”  And we had land.

“Let the earth sprout,” and we had plants of all kinds.  “Let there be lights in the expanse” and we had the sun, and the moon, and the stars. “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let the birds fly.”  And it happened, and the waters were filled with life as were the heavens.  “Let the earth bring forth living creatures,” and we had all sorts of beasts brought to life.  “Let us make man in our image.”  And we ourselves have life.

With only His words, God calls creation into existence.  With just His words, God creates the world, the heavens, and the universe around us.  With only His voice, God speaks into existence all living things and fills His creation with them.

Now, let’s see if you get the picture.  Can you make the connection?  Like the umpire speaks truth into existence, speaks moments and actions into the history book, what else does God speak into your lives?  What is at stake here?

Pause

That one little lie of the devil calls into doubt your salvation, your certainty, your faith.  “Did God really say?”  “Did God really say your sins are forgiven?”  By calling into question God’s ability to simply speak things into reality, Satan calls into question God’s ability to declare you righteous.  In our circle, we call this act of God “forensic justification.”  That’s your $100 word of the day.

It means that God pronounces forgiveness to us.  That our faith that clings to the promises of God, to the promises of forgiveness, life and salvation in Christ and in Christ alone, that God looks upon us and sees the righteousness of His Son.  That He looks upon us and declares into reality that you are a forgiven sinner, that you are a child of God, that you are no longer held in bondage to sin, and death, and the devil.  But that in His Word and in His Sacraments, He has declared this truth yours, and you are a new creation.

This is the beauty of the gospel.  It’s not some out there far away thing to be grasped or understood.  It’s a promise spoken directly to you.  But more than that, it’s a promise declared to be true of you.  God speaks, and it is so.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  And you are His, you are welcomed into His kingdom, clothed in the righteousness of His own Son.

“As a called and ordained servant of the Word and by His authority, I forgive you of all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  And just like that the declaration is true and it is yours.  You are forgiven and sin clings to you no more.

“Take and drink, this cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  This do as often you drink it in remembrance of Me.”  And again, the bread is body; the wine is blood; and your sins are forgiven.

These things are the truths to which our faith clings.  These are the realities by which we live and take comfort and have all hope in this dark time.  The Pope cannot hear these things.  He cannot see this way because he has bought the devil’s lie “Did God really say your works cannot save you?”

But you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you are not bound to the devil and to his lies.  When you see them, when you hear them, call them what they are: deceit and a defeated enemy.  Because that is what they are.  Christ has already triumphed.  Satan and his minions and even death, Christ has already defeated by His cross and empty tomb.

Faith clings to the promises of God.  Have faith dear brothers and sisters, cling to the very words through which God speaks forgiveness as reality for you.

 

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The Boomerang June 8, 2014

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Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost

June 8th, 2014

 

Focus: God uses the Holy Spirit to bring us back to Him.

Function: That the hearers would readily work alongside the Spirit in bringing people to the Father.

Structure: Boomerang.

 

The Boomerang

 

We stand accused.  Throughout much of recent history, other Christian church bodies have looked at us Lutherans and pointed a finger.  They’ve accused us with the heresy of Christocentrism.  Now before you get defensive, let me rephrase that.  We’ve been accused of always making Christ the center of everything we do, whether in life or worship.

Well, when you put that way, yep, we’re guilty as charged.  When you put it that way, we’ll admit to that.  We’re more than willing to say that Christ is the center of our faith, He’s the One who gave Himself for us, He’s the One who saves us.  That much is true.  But when we push that too far, when we say that we worship Christ alone, we are risking heresy.

Sometimes we truly take Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:2 too literally.  “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  His point was that that was the power of God for us, the Gospel proclaimed in all of its glory.  Paul certainly knew more about God and faith as he wrote thirteen New Testament letters.

We run the risk of heresy here when we ignore and neglect the Trinity.  Three in One, One in Three.  If we do not also maintain our faith in the Father and the Spirit, then the accusation is true.  Think for a moment, when was the last time you prayed to the Holy Spirit?

We tend to defend ourselves by saying that if we worship Jesus, then we’re worshipping the Father because He gave us our Savior.  And if we worship Jesus, then we’re worshipping the Spirit because the Spirit’s job was to bring us to faith in Jesus.  But the Trinity is more than that!

So today I wanted to give you another metaphor to think about, another tool to use to think about the ever confusing nature of the Trinity.  No metaphor can truly explain God’s perfection, but this one could still be helpful.

Have you ever thrown a boomerang?  I haven’t, and because I haven’t I know exactly what would happen if I did.  It would just keep going until it either lost the battle with gravity or until it hit something or someone!  Boomerangs are a precise art form, both an ancient hunting tool, and a modern sport.  It takes skill and precision to make it come back to you.

I want you to think of the Trinity as a boomerang, one that comes back.  God the Father threw it, and like a skilled master, it always returns.  Just as He said through the Prophet Isaiah: “so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

God the Father sent His Son, who sent the Spirit, who then works through us to share the Gospel, bringing people into the Spirit, who returns them to faith in Christ, who restores their relationship with the Father.  Simple enough?  Let’s walk through it.

Luke’s account of Pentecost really ties this altogether for us.  He helps us to see just how it is that this works in the midst of the fullness of the Scriptures.

It begins with God the Father sending His Son.  You can all quote for me one of the verses that spells that out for us, as it is perhaps the most well-known verse of the Bible.  John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

This then is what the Gospels are about.  This is what Luke wrote 24 chapters about.  The life of Christ, the ministry of Jesus.  That He took on flesh and became man for us.  That He died on the cross to forgive our sins.  That He rose from the grave to give us new life.  All of these events lead up to Pentecost.  And it’s all part of why the Messiah came.

And then the Son sends His Spirit to us.  While still walking among His disciples, Jesus says to them, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send Him to you.”  (John 16:7) This, the Helper, the Counselor, the Comforter, the Paraclete, is best known to us as the Holy Spirit.  This is the same thing that Jesus promises the disciples just before He ascends into heaven in Acts chapter 1.

Father sends Son, Son sends Spirit.  The boomerang is still going, still moving farther away from the one who threw it.

Often times the Scriptures speak of God pouring out His Spirit on His people.  And we see this with Pentecost.  If our baptisms are like the splashing of water, a splashing of the Spirit, then Pentecost would have been like knocking over a water tower.  The apostles got drenched in the pouring out of the Spirit.  They not only get to prophesy, but they are speaking in tongues.  The twelve of them are speaking, and men from every nation under heaven are hearing their own native language.  Without a doubt, a miracle of God.

This was certainly a special day.  Nothing like it has happened since.  God starts His church with a bang, an explosion, the rapid growth necessary for it to really take hold and take off.  From 120 followers one day, to gaining 3000 the next.  That day was truly a blessing in church history, truly a blessing to each of us, as our ancestors heard the gospel.

Father sends Son, Son sends Spirit, Spirit works through us.  We are the turning point on the flight of a boomerang.  The point where it “lays over” and starts to return to the thrower.  Luke tells us “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” (Acts 2:17).  The Apostles did it that day, the celebration of Pentecost, and we as the church have been doing it ever since.  Because prophesy, on the most basic level, is calling people to repentance, telling them about Christ.

But why us?  Why does God, the perfect Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of everything work through us?  We’re cowards, afraid to speak the truth.  We’re weak, easily ready to give in to temptation.  We’re broken, there’s nothing good in us.  And yet, He chooses us.  He loves us and He makes us His own.  He puts the good in us, He is the good in us.  We are His family, His children, and He wants us to be involved.  He doesn’t simply look down on us and call us moochers or parasites.  No, He walks with us.  He works alongside us for the sake of His kingdom.  We get to be a part of that, and it’s all because He loves us as His own.

And so we are sent out into the world to do His work and to share His love and to proclaim the faith to others.  The Spirit leads us out and the Spirit brings us back.  He works faith and repentance in our hearts and then leads us to others so He can work faith and repentance in their hearts, too!

And so the boomerang begins to return.  The Spirit’s work points people back to Christ.  He points them to their Savior who died and rose for them.  Jesus told His disciples that “when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me,” (John 15:26).  The Spirit brings us to Christ.

Jesus was quite clear that He completes this boomerang throw.  Pastor Fritsch preached on this during Lent, when Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  Christ’s goal is to restore us in our relationship with the Father.  He wants to bring us back to Him, just like the healthy relationship we were created to have.

The Father sends the Son, Son sends the Spirit, Spirit works in and through us to bring men to faith and point them to Christ, who then brings them back to the Father.  Boomerang thrown and returned.

The key focus is the relationship we have with God.  A relationship He creates, nourishes, and sustains.  This is why Peter says what he does on Pentecost, quoting the Prophet Joel.  “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32)  From beginning to end, God wants to be in a relationship with the people He created.

This is what we see on Pentecost.  We see the arc of the boomerang, the work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in planting the church and growing the kingdom of God.  We see men and women brought to repentance for their sins and joining with the others in the faith.  We see the apostles overwhelmed with the Holy Spirit to the point where it’s the Spirit who is speaking through them.

We’re not guilty of Christocentrism.  We believe and confess God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  And it is through that relationship that we know we will live with God forever.  And that’s the same confession, same relationship, same resurrection promise that the Holy Spirit is using you to share with the people around you.