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Putting on the New Self August 12, 2018

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Ephesians 4:17-5:2

Proper 14

August 12, 2018

Focus:  God calls us into the life of His Son.

Function:  That the hearers love one another as Christ loves us.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Putting on the New Self

 

“You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do.”  This is how the Apostle Paul speaks to the Ephesians.  You are now a Christian, put off your old self, and put on the new self, in Christ.  We do not live as people of the world, nor do we live as people of the old covenant.  We have a new covenant in the very blood of Christ!

Jesus has claimed you as His own!  He shed His blood upon the cross for you, buying you back from sin, death, and the devil.  They are your masters no more.  Through the waters of baptism, these things have been drowned.  You have a new Lord, Jesus Christ.  And through the richness of His Supper, you have the bread of life that never ends.

So put off the old self.  No longer walk as the Gentiles do.  You are a child of God.  And those things that you once loved, they have no claim to us any longer.  This “is not the way you learned Christ!”  Jesus isn’t your get out of jail free card for eternity.  Live as you please, always keeping it in your back pocket until you finally need it.  He’s not just one more item on the buffet line, that as long as you put Him on your plate, you’ve got a healthy meal.

pause

Remember the Road to Damascus account.  Paul, known as Saul at the time, is a leading member of the Jewish Pharisees.  He’s studied at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the most famed leaders of their day.  He’s been persecuting, arresting, even helping kill followers of Jesus across the Middle East.  He asks permission of the high priest to go to Damascus, that if they would find any members of the Way of Jesus there, they might arrest them. And so he gathers some men, and sets out.  And this is when he meets the risen Lord.

On that road, Jesus calls Paul to leave it all behind.  The knowledge, his wealth and status in the community, his hatred of Christians.  Nearly all that he knew and all that he had.  It’s absurd!  Asking a man to give up all he knows, all he has, all he is.  Yet that is precisely what Christ asked of Paul on that road.  And it’s precisely what Paul does.

He put on the new self.  Taking any and every chance he could get to tell others about Jesus and the richness of His grace and His mercy.  Paul shared the good news all around the Mediterranean Sea, even to Caesar himself.  For Paul, the putting off of the old self, and the putting on the new self is crystal clear to Christians today.

pause

All of us here started as Gentiles.  For most of us, that was being born into America, into her land, her values, her way of life.  We find ourselves desiring life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness just as much as the people that share our community with us.  We find ourselves longing for the comforts of this world in the here and now.  We chase after the American Dream of being happy at all costs.  We strive at the polls to make sure our voice is heard.

We often forget that we’ve put off the old self.  That we are called to live, not as Americans, not as people of this world, but as the body of Christ.  As Lutherans, we are weak on this.  Because of our desire to always let the gospel dominate, as it rightly should, we often forget to even talk about what it looks like to live as the people of God.  How will we know unless someone first teaches us?

That’s what Paul’s doing in this text.  The second half of our epistle reading today is Paul’s attempt at giving some guidance to the church.  Shedding light on what it looks like to put off the old self, and put on the new.  That in Christ, we might love our neighbor.

He gives us three examples that we can look at today.  The first deals with anger.  Every one of us here today gets angry.  Not a doubt about it.  I sure know I do.  But what happens once we get angry?  Paul here says that we can get angry as long as we refrain from sinning.  But we don’t.  We even talk about how quickly someone gets angry by describing the length of their fuse.  “Oh, that guy’s got a short fuse.”  We’re like bombs, just waiting to explode and unleash our wrath on one another.

Who here has never held a grudge?  Who here has never withheld forgiveness from another?  We struggle mightily with anger.  And as such, there’s really not a point for us trying to figure out if our anger is righteous or not, justified or not.  It doesn’t matter.  “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  Paul encourages us in our putting off of the old self, to put off our anger. That’s what we see in verse 31 – “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put way from you, along with all malice.”  “Give no opportunity to the devil” to lure you into sin.

Paul talks about a thief.  In putting off the old self, the thief is to stop being a thief.  Find honest work, take up a job, bring home a paycheck.  And then, rather than take from others, take from yourself, take from your paycheck and provide for the needs of those around you.  We may not think of ourselves as thieves.  But we steal.  We steal from our employers when we aren’t working hard on the job, we steal from our neighbors by treating our paycheck as though it were an idol.  It’s mine!  My precious!  You can’t have it!

And lastly in this section, Paul talks about our way of speaking.  Put away falsehoods and speak the truth.  Put away corrupting talk, words that tear down or do harm to your neighbor, your mother, your child.  Instead, fill your mouth with words that build up, words that encourage, words that teach, words that forgive.

In the Middle Ages, it was fairly common for people to pick up titles behind their name.  Frederick the Wise.  Richard the Lionheart.  Charles the Simple.  That one wasn’t a compliment.  Wisdom, power, courage, foolishness.  But you didn’t hear the trait Paul mentions next.  He encourages us to be tenderhearted.  People don’t go down in the history books for their forgiveness, for their willingness to love other’s even before themselves.  If you’re seeking fame, to leave a legacy that sticks, so that your name or your deeds are remembered for generations to come, put off the old self.  We are not of this world.  Your name is written in the Book of Life.  Who needs a legacy when they get to live forever?

In a way, this sermon is an introduction to our fall Bible study.  We’re going to be looking at topics like these.  How have we been raised, trained, and taught to think about the life we live?  And, does it actually match with the new self, or has the old self crept in again?  Does our thinking come from being American, being of this world?  Or does it come from Scripture?  I’ve got a vast range of topics for the class: the purpose of life, science, equality, liberty, our income, technology, citizenship, government, philosophy, love, marriage, vocation, work, warfare, taxes, death, loneliness, persecution, suffering, and so on and so forth.  This class will challenge each and every one of us to examine who we are, how we live our lives, and whom we trust on a daily basis for all that we need.  I’m greatly looking forward to it, and I hope you can join us in September.

Because even though we’ve been called to this, even though we are called to be in the world, but not of the world, even though we’re called to put off the old self and put on the new, it’s all easier said than done.  Paul was keenly aware of this.  In his first letter to Timothy, he calls himself the worst of sinners.  In his writings to Rome, we see him wrestling and confessing that even though he knew what he shouldn’t do, he still did it anyway.

This is me.  This is us.  We are children of God.  And yet the world is enticing.  Our flesh longs for earthly comfort.  Our mind thinks like an American and not a Christian.  Our daily lives often look no different than those of someone who doesn’t know Christ.  We’re sinners.

This is why the gospel must always dominate!  Because if it’s up to me, I fail.  If it’s a matter of doing good to my neighbor, and forgoing my own desires, I’m really bad at it.  If my good works could earn the favor of God, I’d be in a handbasket to Hell.

Yes, we are called to put off the old self, and to put on the new self in Christ.  But this happens every day.  Luther described it as the daily remembering of our baptism, the daily drowning of the old Adam, our old self.  We talk about the value of being regularly in His Word, regularly in His house.  There are actually churches around the world where our brothers and sisters in Christ gather daily to sit at His feet, to feast at His table, to receive His forgiveness.  As often as you drink it.  We are right now: sinners.  And yet at the very same time, we are justified in Christ.  We are His.

This is to where Paul turns at the very end of our text.  But it’s the root of it all: “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  The gospel is the good news that we have life that knows no end.  The gospel is the good news that we are children of God. The gospel is the good news that God forgives even me.  And you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are the forgiven children of God.  Daily put off the old self.  Daily put on the new self, that is, Jesus Christ and His righteousness, given for you.

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Leave it All Behind January 21, 2018

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Mark 1:14-20

Epiphany 3

January 21, 2018

 

Focus:  God calls us to leave everything behind as He delivers us in Christ.

Function:  That the hearers build their worldstory based on the Scriptures of Christ.

Structure:  .

 

Leave it All Behind

 

Could you do it?  Could you leave it all behind?  That’s what we see of the disciples mentioned in our gospel reading together today.  Simon and Andrew are casting nets.  They’re fishermen, it’s what they’ve been trained to do, it’s all they know.  And Jesus, simply walking by, calls out to them to leave the nets behind and follow Him.  And they do.  Could you do it?

Then we see a pair of brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  They were together with their father fixing the family boat.  They, too, were fishermen.  Zebedee was wealthy enough that he owned the business, even had some hired hands.  This was their life.  Fishing.  And we know all about the idea of an inheritance.  This is it.  Their life, their business, their family.  Everything they know.  And at Jesus’ simple call, they leave behind everything they know, including their own father, and they follow Christ.  Could you do it?

The Scriptures are full of examples.  Think of Abraham in the Old Testament, and how absurd his call was.  Think of the Apostle Paul, on the road to Damascus, what he was traveling to do.  Giving up everything they knew, leaving behind everything they would have found comfortable.  Could you do it?

Could you leave behind the years of training that you’ve received?  The way you’ve been raised, the way you’ve been taught to look at world around you, to process the daily events of life, and incorporate them into your worldstory.  It’s taken decades to build you.  Could you do it?

This is the call of Christ.  This is the call of the gospel.  That we would leave behind our worldly desires and follow Him.  “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

This is what makes evangelism, sharing the good news of Jesus, so difficult.  It usually isn’t heard as a free gift.  We are so overwhelmed with stuff that we have the phrase, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”  A gift, what’s the catch?

But with this gift comes change.  Painful change.  Tearing down the things that you once loved, the things that once occupied the place of God in your life.  Our idols have to go.  For the rich young ruler, that was his wealth, and he couldn’t do it.  For the Pharisees, it was their pride, and most of them couldn’t do it.

And so as we reach out to the community around us here in an American context, just what is it that we’re asking them to give up?  You can feel free to challenge me on this if you’d like, but after closely observing our culture these last few years, the average American citizen sees the primary goal of life as happiness.  That’s their worldstory.

As they process the news, “how does this make me feel?”  As they think about their future, “what do I want to do so that I’m happy?”  As they process the little moments of their day, “can I put a smiley emoji when I text my friend about it?”  If it makes them happy, they go for it.  If it causes pain or discomfort or sadness, they avoid it at all costs.

So when everything becomes about self-fulfillment, we can see why American culture hates the message of Christ.  “Who are you to tell me I’m wrong?  Who are you to say that I can’t do whatever I want to do?”  Christ’s simple message, “Repent and believe the gospel,” is calling for them to die to self.  To give up their idols for salvation that comes through Christ alone.

Pastor Otto preached last week on our need to hear the voice of God, the authoritative Word of God.  To continue to build upon that teaching, the Scriptures teach that our entire worldstory is to be built by the Word of God.  Who am I?  Why am I here?  Where am I going?  How do I process everything going on around me?  What should I value?  Who should I listen to?  The Scriptures are our foundation as followers of Christ.

This stands against the world’s idea that life exists apart from theology. Life is over here (raise one hand), and theology is separate (raise other hand).  This is extremely evident as we see several Christian cases, First Amendment cases, go through the nation’s courts.  The argument is that you’re fine to worship however you want.  As long as it stays over there (raise “Theology” hand again).  You can’t bring it with you when you re-enter life.  But this is simply false.  The teachings of Christ in His Word, the gifts of Christ given to us, inform everything we do.  They color the way we live life in the face of suffering and death.

Earlier I asked you again and again, “Could you do it?  Could you leave it all behind?”  But it’s not your work.  It’s not something we are capable of doing.  The only thing we can do is fight back.  Scratch and claw and growl as we cling to our idols, to all the false stories and information that built our worldstory through the years.

Yes, foreign worldstories still cling to you.  We still would rather be happy than suffer.  We often identify first as American, and then as a Christian.  Right along with the rest of culture, we want to believe that we’re basically good, when in reality, we’re evil through and through, and any good in us is the work of God.  We struggle to overcome worldly views on everything: life, death, marriage, work, money, goals, learning, education, progress, government, individuality, success, believing in ourselves.  The list seems endless.

Satan tempted Jesus in this manner, also.  And not just in the wilderness, but even in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus knows He’s been betrayed, He knows His arrest is coming.  He knows the next twenty hours will bring immense amounts of pain, suffering, bloodshed, and scorn.  And so He prays.  And He prays.  And He prays.

36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)  Christ submitted Himself to God the Father, and to His will.  He was arrested, tried by night, flogged, beaten, mocked, tortured, and then forced to drag His own cross to the top of the hill where men would drive nails through His flesh into the wood.  And then they hoisted Him up, to humiliate Him before the world, and to slowly, but surely, suffocate Him to death.

Christ’s sacrifice, of His own self, of His very life, won for us salvation.  His blood shed there upon the cross is the atoning sacrifice for all of our sins.  His blood covers us.  And then, on the third day, He rose again, declaring to the entire creation that death is defeated, that the devil is done, and that the wretchedness of sin, and all its ways, are being put to an end.

These gifts are ours.  Through baptism, you have been buried into Christ’s death.  The Old Adam, the old sinful nature, drowned there in that water, by His Word.  But more than that!  Not only are you united to Christ in His death, but also in His resurrection.  Because Christ is risen from the dead, we know and can trust that we, too, will be raised to new life.

This is what prompted the Apostle Paul to write:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

 

As the people of God today, He calls us by His voice, through His own authoritative Word.  He invites us to build our lives, our minds, our very selves around Him.  He calls us out of our own worldstory, into His worldstory.

And in His worldstory, when we struggle, when we fail, when we fall, when we scratch and claw to hold onto our worldstory and our old worldly ways, Christ is ever present.  That in His Word, and in His Sacraments, indeed in His house, you continue to receive the forgiveness of sins in the fellowship of this altar.

This is our life, in Christ.  And it takes more than a lifetime.  Yes, we teach our children the Word of God.  We teach them to think and to process life through the lens of Scripture.  We constantly take ourselves back into His Word in order to put off the old self, the old worldstory, and to put on the new self, His worldstory.  And on the Last Day, when Christ returns, all other worldstories will pass away.  And we will live with Him, the Creator of heaven and earth, we will live with Him forever.

 

 

From Him, Through Him, and To Him August 27, 2017

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Romans 11:33-12:8

Proper 16

August 27, 2017

 

Focus:  God tears down the prideful but builds up the humble.

Function:  That the hearers offer themselves as a living sacrifice through service to their neighbor.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

From Him, Through Him, and To Him

 

One spring, two ducks and a frog became close friends on the small, local lake where they lived.  As summer came and the heat of the sun began to dry up the lake, the ducks grew concerned.  They could fly somewhere else to find a new home, but what of their friend, the frog?  After thinking for a while, the ducks came up with an idea.  They decided to share a stick by each grabbing an end in their beaks.  The frog could then hang on to the stick with his mouth as they flew him away to a new home.

While they glided over a nearby farm, the farmer looked up and was amazed at the ingenuity.  “Hey, what a great idea!  Who came up with it?”  And as the frog opened his mouth to yell out, “I did!” well, let’s just say he croaked.

There’s an old saying that pride comes before the fall.  And this is something that Pastor Fritsch spent some time last week exploring in his sermon on how the Scriptures teach us to think about racism.

We looked at the Tower of Babel, where the goal of the people was to build a tower so high, that they would make a name for themselves.  That the world around them would look to them and their power.

And it’s always been this way.  The early church around the fourth or fifth century came up with what we now call the Seven Deadly Sins, based largely on Paul’s writings in Galatians 5.  But of these seven sins, they identified pride as being the chief sin, and the one that leads to all the others.

And this is still the way it is today.  While we as Lutherans don’t normally talk about the Seven Deadly Sins, we do currently live in a culture that’s built on pride.  From the view of capitalism, companies take pride in their work and in their products, and even in their bottom line.  We see their statements of self pride become ads, slogans, and even t-shirts we pay them to wear for them to advertise for them.

On a social level, pride in equality, pride in our differences, pride in our progress.  On a national level, pride in our military, pride in our government, pride in our institutions.  Patriotism or national pride.

On a more personal level, we are taught from childhood that we should take pride in ourselves and our own accomplishments.  We are taught individualism, that we have to stand up for ourselves.  That we have to work for what we want.  If you want something in life, you have to take it.  That we should be proud of who we are.  That we are all special. We are taught that whatever we believe to be true is true.  We must believe in ourselves.

We can debate any particular one of these.  Maybe there’s a place for some, maybe not.  And not everyone is taught each of these things.  But my point in listing them out like I did was just to show you how much pride is a part of our worldstory in this culture.  Really, in any culture.

But our epistle reading today calls us out of pride and into humility.  The last part of chapter 11 is a helpful reminder: we’re not God.  We can’t even figure out all the secrets of nature and our existence.  We don’t know what’s inside a black hole.  We can’t cure every disease.  We can’t even agree on whether or not the earth is overpopulated. Or apparently, flat.

There are limits to our existence, limits to what we can accomplish, limits to who we were made to be.  The turning point verse of this particular pericope today is 11:36 – “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever.  Amen.”  The more I pondered that one phrase, the more richly I saw it.

FROM HIM – Things flow out of God.  All things come into existence because of God.  Here we can truly cherish the beauty of creation and the beauty of life.  These things are gifts from the Father, from God Himself.  Your hands, your hair, your feet, your lungs, your ability to breath, and walk, and run, and laugh, and cry.  These things are all from Him.

And while sin and pride may not come from God, He does have the answer to them.  He watched us, He watches us, as we revel in ourselves, in our own pride, in our own ability, in our own institutions.  And as we live day by day not even giving Him a thought, what did we get from God?  Was it wrath and destruction?  Far from it!  From God, we received life and salvation.

God sent His Son Jesus Christ to be our Savior.  A gift, from God.  His response to our sin and our pride and our death is forgiveness, forgiveness that flows from the pierced side of Jesus Christ, from the nail scarred hands, and from the scourged flesh.  But coming down from that cross is not wrath, but love and life in Jesus.

THROUGH HIM – John introduced his gospel account, the third verse by saying that “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.”  John connects Jesus to creation.  It wasn’t just the Father’s act, but it was an act of the Trinity.  We were made in the likeness of God, in His image, through His speaking.  He spoke, we live.

A favorite verse for many people also uses this language.  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:13.  Now, granted, this verse is usually taken out of context.  What Paul was actually saying to the Philippian church was that through his trust in God alone, he could face any challenge this sinful world had.  Beatings, imprisonments, going before Caesar to tell him he’s not God.  Enduring times without food, times with plenty of food.  Times of great need, times of abundance.  With faith in God, Paul knew that whatever came, good or bad, through faith in God, Paul could point them to Christ.

And that’s the last turn of the phrase.  TO GOD – Where do all the verses of Scripture point us?  Where does all of creation point?  All of these things are meant to point us to Christ.  To God.  As we talk about liturgy, every part of the divine service used by Lutherans around the world points us to Christ.  Nearly everything up here points us to Christ.  Bonus points if you catch me after church and tell me what doesn’t!

Everything that we are as the people of God is to point others to Christ.  Think about that for a moment.  Why are we commanded to love our neighbor?  Is it so we can all get along?  Is it so they can live a happy life?  Is it so we can benefit a little bit, reap the rewards of a good relationship.  I have sweet tooth by the way, just gonna leave that here.

Not at all.  We are to live our lives loving our neighbor not for our good, but for theirs.  We love our neighbor to point them to God.  To Christ and Him crucified for them.  This is where Paul is going, both in the Philippians verse and here in Romans.  This is why chapter 12 is all about not pride, but being humble.

Paul calls on us, as brothers, as children of God, to sacrifice ourselves.  Not in a gruesome, bloody way, but in love.  True love is giving of yourself for the benefit of another.  I’ve become convinced recently that that’s the definition of what it means to be a man.  To give of yourself.  Self-sacrificial love as Christ gave Himself up for us.

Whether it’s racism last week, pride today, or any other topic, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Our worldstory, our very identity as Christians is not as Americans, but as children of God.

And it’s a humble identity, as we realize that everything we do points others to Him.  As Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthian (10:31) church, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  And so he continues to instruct his fellow Christians in this section.  He comes as clearly as he can in verse 3 that we should be humble, that we should put others before ourselves.  That we should love our neighbor.

It took me a long time to overcome the individualisms that I’d been taught.  It almost stopped me from being a pastor.  And I mean that, I had spoken to the seminary, to the proper people about leaving my first trimester.  I had a foot out the door.  I just couldn’t understand original sin.  I didn’t get it.  It wasn’t fair or just for me as an individual to be blamed, held accountable, and punished on account of something I didn’t even do.

And even today, I know that individual pride still lurks in my life, and still clings to me as I try to live to the glory of God.  I see it in my life, in my home, in my work, and I truly rejoice that God sent His Son to die for all of us.  That in Christ all of our sins are forgiven, all of our punishment, paid for.  All of our death, defeated by an empty tomb.

Paul spells this out.  What does this look like?  What does it look like to be the people of God?  We are the body of Christ.  Each and every one of us is a part, a member, of the same body.  Paul gave this speech more than once, to more than one church.  Maybe you’re a hand, maybe you’re an eye, or an ear.  Each person has their own place within the body.  Not as a thing of pride, or a “You owe me one.”  No.  As an interdependent family.  We, as the people of God, trusting in Him for all things, live life together, as a church, as a community, doing all things to the glory of God.

Whatever vocations you have, God is working through you in those various roles in your life to share His love, His provision, His forgiveness, His Son with the people around you.  And so Paul encourages us to do our vocations precisely as they are.  If serving, serve, if contributing, be generous, if leading, do it with zeal, with passion.  Do all to the glory of God.