Sunday, January 30, 2022

It's Bigger Than You Think

Romans 8:18-23

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 1/30/22

It's Bigger than You Think

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

C.S. Lewis wrote a "space trilogy" because he noted that science fiction was becoming so popular. As he had in his "fable," "The Narnian Tales", he deliberately made his space trilogy theological. Once he had been converted, everything he did was an expression of his faith. His space trilogy was "Out of the Silent Planet" about a trip to Mars, "Perelandra" about a trip to Venus, and "That Hideous Strength" a story about the spiritual battle on Earth, involving the same hero as was in the first two books.

In the first book, the hero encountered intelligent, talking plants and animals of every description. Not every plant or animal was intelligent or could speak, but there were many that could. The intelligent plants were mobile and lived in plant communities, as the animals lived in animal communities. Everyone on Mars - called "Thalcandra" in the book - worshiped God and knew Him. There was no sin on Mars before the arrival of man.

At some point in the story, which I do not recall right now, Ransom, the hero, learns that the talking plants and animals are the last of their kind, in terms of God's creative activity, and God no longer creates intelligence in such forms. Ransom expresses amazement and asks "why?". The answer, from a Hrossa - a walrus-type creature of remarkable intelligence - is that once God had chosen to take on human nature and human form in Jesus Christ, in what other form could one imagine intelligence would be found? Ransom was surprised - and as an avid Science Fiction reader, I was deeply moved. It had never occurred to me that the incarnation of Jesus would have such far-reaching effects.

Of course, that was fiction. Nonetheless, it opened my mind to the thought of just how radical and transforming the substance of the Gospel really is. We tend to think of it as merely forgiveness, and life, and salvation, as though the word "merely" could be applied to things so vitally important and utterly significant and urgently needed. Our text reminds us of the true enormity of what God has done for us. Our theme is "It's Bigger than You Think."

Paul was in a better position to judge the glory that is to be revealed to us than we are. He had been brought to the "third heaven" and seen things that no other man on earth has seen and heard things that it is not even permitted for a man to speak, according to Second Corinthians 12. He would know something of the realities of heaven that you and I can just fantasize about. He tells us that, in his estimation, nothing we can endure in this world is capable of being so bad as to be worth comparing to the good that God intends for us. Now, if this were merely his opinion, we could debate his conclusions, but this is also the inspired Word of God.

Whatever you may have to face, when you get to heaven, you will discover that it is so worth whatever you endured that you might well be willing to come back for seconds – you know, "If I had known that eternal life and glory was going to be this wonderful, I would have gladly endured much more - and worked much harder!" It's bigger than you think!

The whole of creation anxiously longs for the day of the revelation of the sons of God. The way Paul puts it makes it sound like the entire creation is standing on tippy-toe trying to peek over the fence and see which of us are God's people and which of us are not! There is cosmic excitement over the anticipation of the Day of Resurrection when we shall stand revealed, and men will either find praise from God for their steadfastness or be condemned for calling Him a liar and refusing His gift of salvation and grace.

There is a good reason for that, too. All of creation was subjected to futility for our sake. It was because of the sin of mankind that God cursed all things with corruption. Could you imagine a world where the only thing to grow old, to fail and die was the people in it? It has been suggested that such an existence would have driven mankind irredeemably mad. Imagine a world where even mosquitoes don't die - and you can't kill them. The family dog or cat is passed down through the generations because it cannot die. You are stuck with the same shirt forever because it doesn't wear out, it has no curse of corruption attached to it. Even the flowers in your garden are more permanent than you. It could well be maddening!

God knew that since we are but dust, and we will grow old and die and decay, so must the world around us. Sometimes it decays too quickly for our taste, but that, then, is part of the curse upon our sin. And the whole of creation is waiting eagerly for that day when the curse is lifted, and it is no longer subject to the futility old age and death, but freed from corruption and decay, it can live out the glories God created it to show forth. When I visited Maui, I got a sense of what the difference might be like. I walked through a forest where plants we call ‘house plants' and keep in six-inch pots were growing up the trunks of trees fifty and sixty feet tall, with leaves the size of meat platters! Creation groans under its burdens due to our sins - and yet it longs not just for its freedom, but for bearing witness to the revealing of who the true sons of God among us are!

Our sin is bigger than we tend to think - because we don't consider our gossip, and rudeness, and indifference towards the troubles of others, to be all that bad. We even like some of it. But these things are sin, and our sin is of such cosmic significance that God has condemned us to die for it, and has shackled nature with pain and death and decay on our behalf because of it. Every sin, every hatred, every lust is much more serious than we like to imagine. Each one alone makes us worthy of death and hell, and we spend our lives in sin, even as Christians, and pretend that it is no big deal. Well, it's bigger than you think!

The price paid for our salvation was a cosmic price. It wasn't just the life of one man, however significant He was. The price was Life itself dying for us. He suffered both in time and in eternity for you. He did not bear simply the torments of the passion and the cross - as grisly as we know them to be because we saw the movie - He bore the wrath of God, and He who is God from eternity was forsaken by God, as incomprehensible as that is for us. He endured the torments of hell of us.

And by His death in your place, your sins have been atoned for and you have been redeemed. By His resurrection from the grave, you have been absolved, and your sins are forgiven! You now stand before God as righteous and holy in Jesus Christ, and as beloved as Jesus was and is in the eyes of His heavenly Father. Heaven is open to you, and to everyone who believes this grace of God. You don't have to measure up. You don't have to earn your way. Jesus has done it all for you and pours in out on you in abundance.

You are now the focus of the world. The world belongs to you, as God tells us in His Word, "All things belong to you." All of creation is standing on tippy-toes to see you revealed and to see you honored, and to be set free from its bondage to pain and corruption by your final resurrection to everlasting life and glory.

You can feel it yourself. The Holy Spirit in you works that longing for heaven and perfection and full and eternal life. We see a bit of the goodness of it in the fruits of the Spirit in one another. We get a hint of how wonderful life with Christ will be by how wonderful life together as the people of God here at Immanuel Lutheran Church of Bartlett Township is.

The pains of life and the troubles of growing old remind us all that we look forward to the resurrection. That resurrection is the real beginning for us of the good which cannot end. There will be no more sorrow. When life is good we can forget sorrow for a moment - but this will be a forgetting about sorrow forever. There will be no more sickness. No colds. No fevers. No Covid. There will be no more pain - arthritis and the slipped disks will be gone. The glasses will be a thing gone by, and hearing aids unnecessary. Cuts and scrapes and rashes and headaches will be banished. And there will be no more dying. The good will simply get better, and we will never have to worry about the end of vacation and returning to the pain and monotony and the grind of sin. It's bigger than you can imagine!

The final step in completing the whole of our salvation is the resurrection of our body. The child of God groans and yearns for it. And it is our task here to encourage one another so that we do not lose hope as we wait for the fulfillment of our hope and faith. It is also our privilege to share this wonderful good news with those who don't seem to know and surely cannot imagine even the wee bit we know of it! One of the reasons that we don't do either more and better may be that we forget to look at the thing, and consider our salvation for what it really is. It is genuinely delightful and glorious beyond our imaginings, and more important and more valuable than anything we know. It is so good that even our agonies here are not worthy to be compared to it. It's that good. And it's that big! It is God's gift to us and to all who take Him at His Word and trust Him to do all that He has promised to do, through Jesus Christ. Trust me, it's bigger than you think!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)


Sunday, January 02, 2022

Do Not Be Surprised!


1 Peter 4:12-19

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas 1/02/22

Do Not Be Surprised

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Many people think that their religion ought to be insulated from the attacks of others. That is part of the American dream. We dreamed, as a nation, of the freedom of religion, where you could be any religion you wanted and practice any faith freely, and no one could or would do anything about it. You are free!

That is a dream. It has never been quite true. Sadly, there are also many who would use that precise freedom to destroy that freedom for others – such as those who practice Islam - although they are not unique in this regard. The right to practice whatever religion you wish is a goal, but it is not one we are likely to actually achieve, because some people use that liberty as a tool to attack others and to undermine our liberties. Besides, the devil does not want us to practice our religion, freely or otherwise, and his agents, which is pretty much the whole world, will work to make sure that it cannot happen. Jesus promised us that while He walked among us, so we should not be surprised. And that is the theme of our sermon this morning: Do Not Be Surprised.

Jesus promised that if we faithfully followed Him, the world would hate us and we would be persecuted. World history has demonstrated the accuracy of that prophecy. Christians of every age, and in every corner of the world have been hated and persecuted for their faith. Even here, in America, it is considered narrow-minded and rude, not to mention hopelessly backward, to stand firmly on one's faith and not go along with the socially approved ecumenical spirit of our times. Anything is Christian, in the opinion of our culture, and anything is okay, except, of course, standing firm on the faith once delivered to the saints, and refusing to recognize the validity and worth of the random thoughts of others on the topic of religion. If you stand firm in the true Christian faith you are ridiculed, mocked, verbally assaulted now and again, and sometimes even physically assaulted even here in the United States. In other places in the world, people are dying for simply calling themselves "Christian".

Peter says, do not be surprised! He was talking about "the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing." That was the persecution of the earliest Christians. They, too, had thought that if they were God's chosen and favorites, that life ought to be good, and the pains and troubles of life ought to flee from them, and blessings should be the order of the day. That is how the human mind works – patronage and favoritism and that sort of thing, which we see so commonly in politics. After all, what good is position and favor if it doesn't work out to feather your bed, so to speak?

Well, things didn't work out the way they thought that they should. They had persecution, and poverty, and pains. They could not make sense of it, just like you cannot make sense of some of the things that happen in your life. Peter was reminding them that being the child of God in the devil's kingdom was not going to be easy, or fun, necessarily.

Our nation has a different way of persecuting the truth, and the faithful of God. We don't face physical violence so much as we face ridicule and disapproval and dismissal, today they call it being "canceled." You should not be so narrow-minded and you should not hold yourself and your religion up as something special. We face the disdain of others, and the dismissal of our values and of our confidence, and of our truths. Everyone knows that you cannot be right and all those others wrong. Everyone knows that holding too tightly to your truths and your values is radical, and fundamentalistic, and terroristic, and, well, just wrong! Our culture is prepared to embrace a deliberate and well and publicly identified lie as true, but if you stand on your religion as true and theirs as in error, well, that is judgmental and discriminatory and unacceptable - and can be legally actionable.

Our persecution is peer pressure, which we are all trained to be sensitive to. And we all hate pain. So, we just naturally tend to bend away from suffering. I know that I do! But when it comes to suffering on account of your faith, you should not be surprised. You should rather expect it.

That doesn't mean that you will enjoy it. You won't. Pain hurts. Ridicule is difficult to bear. The unexpected attack for nothing, in particular, that seems worthy of attack is hard to handle. But when it happens, we are to learn to say, "Ahhh! Here it is. I knew this was going to happen at some point."

There are things you can do, of course, to make people attack you. Doing bad things, for example. That is why Peter writes, "By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God." Christians are not always above crimes or bad behavior. They should be, but they are not. There is no glory and no benefit in suffering that you bring on yourself by evil conduct or stupidity. But if you are hated, spoken evil of, or attacked on account of being a Christian or making a faithful and clear confession, there is no shame in that, only glory - and you should give the glory to God!

There were times in the history of the church where people deliberately sought out pain and trouble, believing it was a mark of blessing and a good thing to be a Christian who suffers. The monks in the monasteries would deny themselves, beat themselves, torture themselves, believing it was a holy thing to do. That was wrong. It is not a good thing to suffer. Suffering is only a good thing if the suffering is occasioned by your clear and faithful identification with Christ and with the Gospel. Early in the history of the church, some believers would attack Roman Soldiers in order to be martyred. They were thinking that suffering and death as a Christian was blessed - without any notice of its cause. Peter says, don't let it happen to you on account of your bad behavior. It is only filled with glory if it comes as an attack on Christ in you.

And it will, if you stand firm in your faith, and confess Christ. Family members will tell you to get off your high horse. Friends will tell you to keep your religion to yourself - and will distance themselves from you if you don't. Employers may tell you that your faith - and its symbols - are not welcome around the workplace. People will find things to criticize and nit-pick in you because you are supposed to be something special, better, without any flaws, real or imagined. Perhaps bigger things will happen among us as persecution in time – we cannot tell. One thing we do know, our faith is not welcome out in the world, and not really even among others who style themselves as "Christian."

But when this sort of thing happens, even though it hurts and irritates, count yourself blessed. First, it means that someone can see that you are really a Christian. That is a good thing.

Second, imagine how it will be for those who do not believe, when they face the wrath of God, if being a faithful child of God, and one of His favorite people, can be so irritating and painful. Peter wrote: "For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER?" Imagine how disquieting and uncomfortable it will be to have never stood up for Christ, and have never confessed Him. If this suffering in this present age is part of heaven, what must the agony of hell really be?

"Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right." The answer in any suffering is prayer, and entrusting yourself to God. He has promised to keep you and not permit you to have to endure more than you are able. So you do what is right. You do what God lays before you to do.

How can you do that? By remembering what Jesus did and endured for you. You do it by keeping the love of God for you before your eyes. You do it by constant prayer, faithful attention to His Word, regular participation in the fellowship of the saints, by eating and drinking of this holy meal, set before you for your forgiveness and strengthening.

Jesus died for you, and your sins have been forgiven. We remember as life becomes difficult, particularly when it becomes difficult on account of your faith, that God loves you, and nothing is for nothing. God will bless you for your troubles, and He will return the pain and difficulty given to you upon the heads of those who cause such trouble. They may not be able to connect the dots right away, but their troubles are part and parcel of the troubles they cause the children of God, and if we suffer as God's elect, what will it be for them on that great and terrible day?

So, let us be clear. When your faith and your confession bring ridicule or any other pain on you from the world around you, do not be surprised. It is likely to happen, and Jesus predicted it. Don't do anything deliberately to bring it on yourself. It will find you of its own accord. Remember that this is part of the plan of God, and remember that they will ultimately bear the fruits of their evil unless they repent. Remembering the pain of ridicule and persecution, we should be eager to spare our attackers the pains they are bringing on themselves by bringing them the good news of Christ and forgiveness. And finally, when trouble and pain do come, pray and entrust your soul to God, and just keep on doing what you know you should, what God has given you to do. He will tell you when it is time to stop.

And do not be surprised – suffering is to be expected when you are God's child living in the devil's kingdom.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)