Sunday, May 29, 2022

Facing Reality

 1 Peter 4:7-11

The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.  Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.  Be hospitable to one another without complaint.  As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.  Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Sermon for Exaudi Sunday                                                          5/29/22

Facing Reality

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I once had a postcard which read, "Why should I add to my troubles by facing reality?"  It was a personal motto of sorts.  I thought of it again as I was preparing this sermon because the text sets before us a fundamental truth about reality that is essential for the Christian to face.  Christians should be first to be willing and even eager to face reality, since Christians are among the few people in the world who actually have any possibility of knowing what reality is.  Our theme this morning is, Facing Reality.

Reality isn't all that much fun to face, at times.  It has its unpleasant aspects like poverty, misfortunes, illness, and inability to do some of the things we imagine we would like to do.  Those are issues of reality most every individual can face - and must at some point - and they are not what this sermon is about.  The reality that most people don't want to face is the reality mentioned in our text; that the end of all things is at hand.  We are coming up against the end of time.  It is a reality that is not apparent to everyone, and you can ignore it if you wish, which most people do.  The world goes on, blithely, as though it were going to continue like this forever.  The Bible, however, says that this is simply not so.

We stand at the very edge of eternity, the world is coming to the end, and we, who have God's Word on that, should be living facing reality.  And how do you live as though the world is about to come to the end?  It is not done the way the world would want to do it.  The world would say we should kick up our heels and reach for all the gusto and make the most of it since it is not going to last long.  God's Word tells us that the proper response to the situation is to exercise sound judgment, be of sober spirit and pray – and love one another and serve one another with all that God blesses us with to use.

Sound judgment makes sense, when one is facing reality.  We should not live as though there is no end in sight.  We should be using our time and our resources to prepare for that end, and in a way that reflects that we understand that the end of all things is at hand!  Again, the world would probably tell us to throw caution to the wind and dig for all the pleasure and personal experience we could get of this life.  But, when I think of it, that is what the world always counsels.  Go out, make the most of it, party hardy, and celebrate you.

But the Gospel tells us that everything we need has already been won for us, and all that we need accomplished for our salvation has been accomplished.  You cannot do that for yourself, since Christ has already done everything for you.  He lived for you.  He died for you, He redeemed you from sin, and He pours out forgiveness, life, and salvation for you freely.  You already have all that you need.  So how should you live, facing the end of all things?  For others.  That is what the rest of the Epistle lesson says.  It says be of sober spirit for the purpose of prayer; be praying for others, for their conversion, their blessing, their salvation.  The end is coming for them too - because this is not just the end of you, but the end of all things.  This world is almost over, and anyone who does not know Christ is not going to make it through to eternal life.  They will fall into eternal death, prepared for the devil and his servants.

Sound judgment would keep you living as one who has been rescued from sin and death.  It would keep you hopeful, and remind you that the worst that can happen in the terms of this world would merely place you into the loving arms of your Savior for everlasting life.  Sound judgment would keep you looking forward, and rejoicing in the salvation you have, and remind you that God works all things together for good for those who are called by Him according to His purposes.

And then, because Jesus has given you everything that you need, you live for those around you – church and family first – that they too will endure in the faith until eternal life, until the great transition from what is to what God is going to bring about in Jesus Christ.  That is why Peter writes about loving one another.  The end is not going to be inviting or thrilling, at least not in ways that most people will be able to appreciate.  It will be frightening, and threatening, and painful many times, and difficult.  We who know what is coming will need one another to encourage one another here at the end.  We will need to remind each other of the great truths of our faith, which the world will try to undermine and destroy.  We will need to help one another hold fast to the hope we have been given.  That is why God gave us one another, and commanded us to love one another.

Prayer will help, for we speak with Him who has all power, and has promised to hear us and answer each prayer.  Much that we will face will be able to be endured only by the strength which God gives - and He will give it abundantly when we ask.  We will be tempted to turn away from facing reality into the deceits and deceptions of the world around us, distracting ourselves with the amusements of the world.  Sound judgment and a sober spirit, ready for prayer will be a great help.  But we will need one another.

Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."  The love that we will need is not necessarily the love of affection, but the love of caring about one another.  Hopefully, we will also continue to like one another, but we need that concern for the well-being of each other, to encourage one another and support one another in whatever ways we need.  That is why Peter describes us serving one another: As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.  Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Peter assumes each one of us has a gift, because God has informed him that we do.  Not all of us can do the same things or each thing as well as another, but each of us is part of the body and we are each one here for a reason.  We are to be a body - not turning to one another as a last resort, or when we cannot find what we need in the world, but leaning on one another by choice and depending on one another as family, and serving one another because God has put us together to serve one another and to find our help here first.  When we serve one another, we are to do it with the attitude that this is why God put us here as a congregation.

We are to serve each other gladly, as those given to serving each other, rather than grudgingly or reluctantly.  First, the gift is to be used as or in the pursuit of being a good steward of the manifold grace of God.  The grace of God is manifold in that it has many aspects to it - forgiveness being the one we focus on most frequently, but also His good will toward us and the abundant blessings He pours out on us.  All of the goodness of God towards us for Christ's sake is part of that grace, and our use of the gifts - each a part of that grace as well - are to be as part of our stewardship of that grace.

That is why the one who preaches, speaks as it were, the utterances of God.  It is from the grace of God that he can do so, that he has a message, or has the skill to speak, or the understanding to lay forth this aspect of the grace of God before the people.  The ones who serve do so as by the strength which God supplies because their ability to serve and the opportunities to do so are also various aspects of the multifaceted grace of God.  We can see that the opportunities to serve one another are not by chance, in the light of this Word of God, but by His design and the circumstances are not burdens but gifts in and by which we serve God by serving one another - and Jesus said, in describing the Judgment scene,  'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'

Facing reality, we love one another - because that demonstrates more clearly than anything else that we are His disciples, and because the reality is that the world hates us, and always will if we stand with Christ and in His grace.  

Facing reality, we serve one another because that is what the Lord has given us to do, and because we love one another, and because we know that what we do for and with one another is from God and serves God and glorifies God.

Facing reality, we love one another and serve one another because it is His will, and because although the world is coming to an end, we are not, because we have been purchased and won from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that we may each be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

This reality is not something we can see.  The world would have us all believe that everything is going on as it has for centuries, and we are just a small, inconsequential piece of that long chain.  But we know better.  The Son of God gave His life for us, shed His blood for us and counted us precious - and He has explained that we are just about at the end - the end of all things is at hand.  So we will keep sober in spirit and exercise sound judgement, be busy praying for one another and love and serve each other as our exercise of the multifaceted and varied grace of God.  That is how one properly goes about Facing Reality.

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

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Giving Thanks for theGood Stuff

 1 Timothy 2:1-8

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time.  And for this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.  Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.

Sermon for Rogate                                                        May 22/22

Giving Thanks for the Good Stuff

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

When Christians give thanks, it is a different sort of activity than when others give thanks.  It can be confusing to someone who doesn't understand the difference between Christians and others - including Christians who do not understand the differences.  First, We give thanks with sincerity, not as though the thanksgiving is extorted from our lips.  We know that God is the Creator and the Giver of all things, not just the things we particularly enjoy and find pleasing to our flesh.  God gives air and muscle tissue.  He gives light and the power of thought and hearing, and the pleasures associated with certain sound combinations, which we call music.  He also presents us with our challenges and sorrows for our maturing and growth.  It is the hard things and the controversies that sort out which are God's and which are hanging around just for the treats.

Secondly, even when we give thanks, it is not about us, primarily.  Our thanksgiving, as noted by Paul in First Timothy, is on behalf of and for the welfare of others as much as for ourselves.  The world knows nothing about such things.  The only time they think about others is when it will profit them personally.  Otherwise, it is always all about them.  But our is never rightly about us.  We are to be like our heavenly Father, concerned about others.  We are also to live out our faith, which means that we know that we already possess everything we will need, and everything we will genuinely want, so when we give thanks, it needs to be in that context.

With those few thoughts, let us look at what Paul wrote to the young Pastor, Timothy, with the theme, "Giving Thanks for the Good Stuff."

There has never been a time in history quite like the days in which we live.  I don't think that they are the best of days or the worst of days.  I imagine how you look at it might depend on what is happening in your life when you make the judgment.  What is true, is that this time in history is different from any other time.  Of course, some people are looking back on "the good old days".  The phrase was coined by a 64-year-old former mayor of New York named Philip Hone in the middle of the nineteenth century.  He wrote "This world is going too fast, . . . Railroads, steamers, packets, race against time.  .  .  .  Oh, for the good old days of heavy post coaches and speed at the rate of six miles an hour!"   That was before our "good old days", I would venture to guess, but still it was when life was simple and people were honest and moral, and prices were down where they ‘belong'.  Those "good old days" are, of course, more myth than reality.

On the other hand, we have the future before us.  How it looks to you probably depends on who you have been listening to.  We have weird weather - and with a Democrat in the White House, the "Global warming" nightmare scenario's are being thrown at us again.  We Have BLM and Critical Race Theory, massive inflation, shortages and predicted shortages, and another election season coming to stir up the media.  The stock market has been insane, and the dollar is hitting record lows against the Euro and the Yen, and oil prices are hitting record highs.   Add to those worries the Twitter controversy with Musk and the war in the Ukraine, and, well, the future could be troubling for many.

We stand here, today, sandwiched in between the "good old days" of yesteryear, and the disquieting possibilities of the future.  And the Apostle tells us to give thanks.  I am suggesting that we should be giving thanks for the good stuff - but I would describe ‘the good stuff' differently than you might.

You see, the life of a Christian is a life of thanksgiving.  In our text, St. Paul is urging us to give thanks.  In other places the exhortation becomes a command, as in 1 Thessalonians 5:18:  In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  The life of a Christian is to be a life of thanksgiving.  But in our text, our thanksgivings are not alone - they are coupled with "entreaties, and prayers,. . . and petitions on behalf of all men."  We are to pray for the sake of all men everywhere - and especially for the blessing and benefit of those who are charged by God with governing and protecting us - "for kings and all who are in authority".

We are offering these prayers not just to be praying, but with the goal of being able to lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity.  Hidden behind this command is the truth stated clearly elsewhere, that the world exists for our sakes, and for calling the lost and erring into fellowship with Christ.  Luther wrote "The world continues to exist because the Church is in the world.  Otherwise heaven and earth would burst into a conflagration in a moment; for the world, being full of blasphemy and godlessness, is not worth one grain of wheat.  But because the Church is in the midst of the godless, God for her sake permits them also to enjoy the common blessings of this life; and whatever the world has, it has for the sake of the Church.  Thus the angel says to Paul in Acts 27:24, ‘Behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you' though they were certainly idolatrous and godless people."

We are to give thanks constantly, as though we breathe in blessings and breathe out thanksgivings.  We give thanks because are among those chosen by God to be His holy people.  And because we are His people, we give thanks because it is the will of our God and Father that we do so.  St. Paul writes to Timothy that these thanksgivings and entreaties and petitions are good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.  What other reason do we need?  God heartily approves of this simple thing.

And such concern for others, rather than just for ourselves, is so like our heavenly Father, who causes the sun to shine on the good and the evil, and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.  We don't merely say "thank-you"- we give thanks and we pray for men and women everywhere.  We ask God to create the conditions favorable to life and godliness for all of us.  We thank Him as we entreat Him for those blessings for ourselves and others, because we know that God is listening, and that when we pray as our faith would urge us to pray, "not my will but Thine be done," our heavenly Father smiles and answers each time, "Yes, my beloved child, I shall accomplish my good and gracious will."

Men will climb mountains, travel great distances, beat themselves and deny themselves and starve themselves, trying to do a good work and please God.  Men and women give up their right to marriage and even take vows of poverty for the sake of doing something they believe will look good to God.  Yet none of these things are specifically commanded by God.

Thanksgiving is commanded, along with intercession of behalf of all,  and it is declared by God Himself through the Apostle to be good and acceptable to God.  Here is something we can do, that God has set before us as pleasing to Him.  This is something the weakest and smallest, the poorest and least talented among us can do that is pleasing to God and acceptable to Him, and we are assured of the good pleasure of our God.  We can give thanks.

Not only does God tell us that this is pleasing to Him, but He provides us a rewarding goal for all of these entreaties and petitions, prayers and thanksgivings, that we might have a life of tranquillity and quietness in all godliness and dignity.

Have you ever wondered why life goes haywire?  One reason, suggested by our text, is that we fail to recognize the Giver of all things and we forget or neglect to give Him thanks, or to ask Him to bless us.  James, the half-brother of our Lord Jesus, tells us by the Word of God about this truth.  He writes, "You lust and do not have; so you commit murder.  And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.  You do not have because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motive, so that you may spend it on your pleasures."  See, giving of thanks is not supposed to be about us!

What James and Paul are focusing on is that we, of all people, are to recognize where our blessings come from.  Some people think that they are the source, or the processes of life in this world just work the way we observe them working –  rather automatically, as if nothing else could naturally happen. Strangely enough, when people do think of God they often think of Him as the source not of their blessings but of their troubles.  Some even blame God when things go wrong, when life hurts, and when they suffer sorrow.  "It must be the will of God."  But then, when times are good and abundant, such people tend to forget God, and revel in the things and the pleasures of the moment.  But that is not the part of God's holy people.

What do we have to give thanks for?  Whether your immediate circumstances are pleasant or difficult, we have Jesus Christ and salvation to be thankful for.  That is the primary "good stuff".  No matter what happens in this life, or how we choose to perceive it, we can give thanks for salvation and we can ask God to extend His grace to others.  Remember, this world, as real as it is, is not the main event.  If life is good today, we know that this is a passing condition.  If life is bad or our health is falling, we know that our troubles are temporary at worst.  Resurrection from the dead, eternal life and salvation are going to be vitally important and of ultimate significance for each of us.

We owe God thanks for the gift of His Son.  The world around us gives thanks, now and then but to an unspecified deity.  We give thanks to the God that really exists – the Triune God.  Think about his; Jesus died in our place.  Now, people visit the graves of those who die for them or lose their lives saving others.  Some visit every year for the rest of their lives.  It is a duty.  They say, "It's the least we can do!"

You and I cannot gather at the grave of Jesus, because He is risen!  No Grave holds Him!  We can, however, gather here each week to speak aloud our great thanks to God for His gift of forgiveness and life through His Son!  Jesus took our punishment, Thank God!  Jesus died in our place, thanks be to God!  We shall rise from our graves to everlasting life of joy and peace and glory, all thanks be to our God!

Even more, we have a High Priest who stands as Mediator for us with God.  Our text says, "For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time."  He is not some unrealistic and unknowable God-figure who cannot understand or sympathize with us in our lives, but one who has been here and done all that we must do.  He knows our weaknesses and our sorrows. He cares deeply for us.  He hears our prayers and He loves us so deeply that in all things, He works for our blessing and good.  We can be just like Him - we want to be just like Him - righteous, and holy, and filled with love for those who do not deserve it.  Just as He lived and died for us, we can live for others, and pray for them because we understand by faith that all we need is ours in Jesus Christ - and we have no needs He will not meet.  So we can pray and give thanks on behalf of others, a very Jesus-like thing to do.

We can see the signs of His goodness toward us all around us.  We have all that we have from Him, but even if it were all gone, we would still have the bright and certain assurance of salvation.  Times are generally good, but even if they were not, our salvation is sure, and we have the proven love of God with us.  So let us lift up holy hands, as Paul says, in prayer, petition entreaty and thanksgivings on behalf of all men.  

Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

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

Sunday, May 15, 2022

His Word / His Will

 James 1:16-21

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.  Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.  In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures.  Therefore, my beloved brethren, let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.  Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.

Sermon for Cantate Sunday                    5/15/22

His Word, His Will

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The Bible was written a long time ago.  No surprise, right?  It was also written in a different language, several different languages, none of which are spoken in their Biblical forms today.  The New Testament was written in Koine Greek; a form of Greek that was spoken and written for about thirty or forty years, while this form of Greek was the language of commerce of the Roman Empire, just as English is the language of business today, throughout most of the world.

That is a good thing, in some ways, and not so good in others.  The good thing is that the language has limited flexibility in terms of meanings.   A word tended to mean specific things - and did not usually have the wide variety of meanings words often come to have if the language is widely used for a long time.  Take English, for example: we have words which mean one thing here and another thing in another location, and often have many diverse meanings.  Without working at it too hard, I can come up with soda, pop, trunk, boot, lift, elevator, ladder, run, and drunk.  Each of those words has a number of meanings, sometimes connected to one another and sometimes not.  Soda is a chemical used in baking and cleaning - or it is a drink, which some call pop, which is also what some people call their father, and others do to a balloon. A trunk is a box into which one places stored items, or it is that area of your car that you place things you don't want in the cab of the vehicle - and the British call it a boot, which is something one wears on one's feet in bad weather, in America.  ‘Lift' is something you do to items to get them from the floor to the table top, or you give someone a ride, and call it a lift, or it is another word for an elevator.  A ladder is something you climb, or it appears in nylons in England, also called a runner - when not referring to a jogger - and American women call ladders in their stockings "runs", when not referring to scores in baseball games, or the activity of jogging.  And, of course, drunk can refer to drinking, or one who has had too much to drink, or the condition of having had to much to drink, or having experienced something, usually pleasant, or being overwhelmed by something or obsessed with it, as in when one is drunk with power.
The reason for this display of linguistic confusion is to highlight how good it is that Koine Greek was in use so briefly.  The language of what I consider the most important part of what is unarguably the most significant book in history is relatively unambiguous, even if it is not our native tongue.  Our distance in time makes for some confusion in translation, but not so much as one might imagine.  That is the long way of saying that God's Word is clear.  Nevertheless, we can still understand it better, at times, if we restate it in our own common way of speaking.  The only issue is that we must not change its meaning when we restate it, or it ceases to be the Word of God and becomes our distortion of it.  With all of that in mind, our theme this morning is, His Word, His Will.

God's Word speaks to us through the pen of James, the half-brother of our Lord, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem until his martyrdom in the middle of the first century.  Our text begins, "Do not be deceived".   We might rephrase that admonition in modern American English as, "Don't kid yourself", or "Make no mistake" about what is about to follow, or "Let us be clear on this one thing".  What we want to be clear about is that every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down to us from God - the Father of lights.

This basically means that we should always understand that everything good - morally good or delightful to us and good for us, is from God.  When it says "every perfect gift", the word "perfect" refers to being whole, or mature, or finished, and the word "gift" in this case is masculine.  I noticed that because the words for the good things bestowed were feminine in gender in the Greek.  That seems to be significant in that everything is embraced in these words about gifts, but the perfect gift is masculine.  I read Christ as the perfect gift.  The gift of salvation is complete, whole, accomplished, and identified personally with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He and our redemption and forgiveness comes down from God.

But more than that, James tells us that it comes down from the Father of lights, One in whom there is no change.  James says that there is no shifting or turning - the Latin here is instructive - there are no vicissitudes or transmutation.  God simply does not change - He does not change His mind, or His attitudes or His disposition towards us.  The perfect gift of salvation is the gift of God without shifting, or subtle alteration.  Your sins have been forgiven - the gift is perfect, complete: It is finished!  God will not change His mind.

Which is good!  It is particularly good in the light of the next words from the pen of James, that you are God's chosen and your faith is the work of God in you, and not dependent on you at all to work it out or make it happen!  In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures.  It is His Word and His Will at work in us and on us.  He brought us forth as believers and He did it by His Word - the Word of Truth!

You are the child of God, a believer in Jesus Christ by the exercise of the will of God.  And He does not change.  You are secure in Him.  He chose you to be among His chosen people.  The translation we use calls us the first-fruits, but, at this point in time, we are not among the first to believe.  If that is the meaning of these words, then this word, at least, does not apply to us.  But I noticed in one of the translations that we were called God's "choice possession".  

That inspired me to take a closer look at the original Greek word.  It means "a first portion" - and the lexicon said that this was a Jewish term for anything set apart to God before the remainder could be used.  Now, the verse did not say that we were chosen to be the first among those who believed, but the first among God's creatures - literally the "first-portion among His created things".   We have been set aside by God to be dedicated to Him something like the holy tithe set aside for God before anything else can be done or used.  These words, then, do apply to us - and to all who believe!  We are the holy, sacred, set aside remnant of mankind, reserved by God to be His own.

This is the same meaning as when Peter said that we "are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION".  As in Peter, James sees an appropriate response to our election - to God's will in making us His people: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.  Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls."

In short, because you are God's by His choice and through the agency of His Word, you should be focused on that Word.  Be quick to hear.  It was not human effort or wisdom that saved you or brought you to be God's own, but His Word and His Will, so be quick and ready to hear - and not so quick to speak and judge and act on human opinion.  Listen to the Word of God.  Find His will there and learn His values and His attitudes.  Our ways do not match His, even as believers.  We need to listen and learn.  The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.

The reason that James mentions anger is that once we are the children of God, the ways of the world and the assaults of the world are going to inspire anger.  What God holds out to men everywhere is so good and precious and free, and yet men reject it.  The world hates Christ and attacks those who are His, and the injustice of it is offensive.  But it is not ours to correct or address.  It is the world and its master, Satan in their assault on God - and God will finally address it in the judgment.  Until then, we are instructed to pray about it, and endure it with patience, trusting that God will finally resolve it all with perfect righteousness.

Our task is to set aside the filthiness and wickedness which so easily appeals to our flesh, and receive the Word.  It is seed of life, the power of God coming to us in the most humble and unassuming way - His Word.  He plants it in us by our hearing it, and causes it to grow up in us unto everlasting life.  It is the same seed that Peter wrote about in his first epistle, 1 Peter 1:23, "for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God."

That is the seed that is able to save your soul.  God's Word.  His Word and His Will.  And we do not have to wonder what His Will is because He tells us in His Word, and He tells us that He does not change His mind - We are His people, His chosen ones.  We are chosen to receive all that Christ has won for us on the cross.  Your sins are forgiven, and you have been given the gift of everlasting life!  You have been redeemed and rescued and salvation is yours.  So all that is left for us to do is believe it, and live in this gracious choice and the reality of God's favor toward us, and live it out - walk in His Word and trust in Him.  Putting aside all that other stuff, we humbly receive His Word implanted - planted like a seed in us, to bear fruit for everlasting life.

James was writing to a first century crowd who wanted to take control of their situation and make things happen, make them turn out right.  There are a million differences between their situation and ours, but people are still people.  We still feel the urge to make things happen.  We want to feel it and make sure of it by what we do.  But it is still from God.  It is His will and His Word that makes the difference.  Every good thing given is from God.  And that perfect gift - completed by Him is still coming down to us from the Father.  And God is still the same: unchanging and faithful.  And He has chosen us to be dedicated to Him as first fruits of all that He has created - the holy portion, set aside for Him.

So, trust in Him, and expect Him to save you, and cling to His Word - be quick to hear it, and slow to take matters into your own hands.  Once again, it is the message of salvation by faith, and trust in God.  That is His Word/ His Will.

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

Sunday, May 08, 2022


Peter 2:11-20
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.
Sermon for Jubilate Sunday                                                            5/08/22
How Free Men Act
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
One of my favorite scenes from the Narnian Tales, a series of books by C.S. Lewis that tries to tell the story of Christ and the Church in a fable, is the scene near the end of Narnia. Some evil dwarves are captured and imprisoned in an old barn. Then the bad guys show up and capture the heroes of the story and throw them into this dark barn as well. When they are tossed in, however, they find themselves in a sunny, field, a wide, green, pleasant pasture with abundant fruit all around. It is a delightful place. I think it is C.S. Lewis' image for death, especially of Christians, all dark and gloomy on the outside and filled with light and joy and every good thing on the inside.
Anyhow, while the heroes of the story are all amazed at this place which is larger on the inside than on the outside and all bright and wonderful inside when it looked so foreboding from the outside, the evil dwarves are all huddled together in a circle, cursing the darkness and complaining of hunger. So, one of the heroes gives them an apple. A dwarf takes a bite of the apple and spits it out cursing and says it is a horse dropping that he has been given as food. The heroes all try to show the dwarves that they are outdoors, in the light and it is wonderful, but the dwarves refuse to see it and bitterly accuse the good guys of mocking them in their horror and despair.
The picture painted by C.S. Lewis' words might well be a picture of earthly life. For the unbeliever it is darkness and pointless, ultimately, and cramped, death and trouble, and for many it is filled with nothing but sorrow and pain. For a Christian, however, it is filled with blessings and hope, and not bounded by death, for we await also the resurrection to everlasting life. We walk in the sunshine, so to speak, while the unbelieving dwarves huddle in the darkness and curse those who try to show them the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus. While they are really free, unbelievers choose to act as captives and slaves. Unfortunately, many who call themselves Christian also think and live as slaves of sin and death and meaninglessness. With that in mind, our theme, this morning, is "How Free Men Act."
The dwarves acted as captives when they were free because they refused to see the truth of their situation. When Christians choose to live in sin, or choose to live as those enslaved by rules and commandments, they are also acting as captives while they are perfectly free. 
You are free. Jesus Christ set you free from sin and death and hell – and the coercion of the law – by His suffering and His death on the cross. Your sins have been atoned for, the power of sin in your life has been broken, the sentence of death has been lifted, and the power of the Law to coerce and threaten has been destroyed by Jesus. Only those who sit in the darkness, like those dwarves, and refuse to see or accept the grace of God in Jesus Christ are lost. "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that does not believe shall be condemned."
You are the beloved of God and free from sin and death and hell by what Jesus has accomplished. That is the Gospel truth. Peter is describing how free men act.
"Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God." The immediate temptations we face as those who have heard the Gospel are to either limit Christ's atonement so that we have to be worthy or become worthy, or remain worthy – or to dismiss any claim of God's will on us, covering our sins in forgiveness, and wrapping ourselves in a blanket of license to do whatever our flesh may desire, as though sin doesn't matter anymore. The devil takes us to either extreme and some people to both, alternately. The Gospel guides us right down the middle - where we do not deny the Word of God either as to the Gospel, or the Law.
The truth is that in this world, we are never absolutely free. Romans 6:16-23 describes for us how we are either free from righteousness, and therefore slaves of sin and evil, or we are free from sin and evil, and therefore slaves to God and to righteousness. Paul ends that section with the thought that "the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." That is the reality of our existence before God. You, who believe the Gospel and hope in Jesus Christ, have been set free from the Law and sin and evil, so God tells us through Peter to "act as free men." Using your freedom as a covering, an excuse, or a license to sin and evil is to live as slaves of evil, but free from God and salvation. Acting on your freedom from sin means that you use your freedom as the slave of God, bound to be holy and to do what is God-pleasing.
One of the "Lutheran Questions" is, "How is this done?" That is the substance of our text. Peter is telling us how free men act. For example, "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul." The lusts of the flesh are the desires of the sinful nature. They might include sexual desires, the lust to be in control, the desire for victory or apparent justice (rather than waiting on God and His will and His justice), the lust for comfort, the desire to be wealthy, or any desire which focuses on you without any regard for others. 
When we dream, we dream of what we can be or what we can do. We may include others along in our good fortune, but our dream is almost always about ourselves, first. That "fleshly lust" wages war against your soul. It accustoms one to the idea of "Me first!", rather than the will of God which is compassion and concern for one another, and humility which places each of our neighbors as more important to us than ourselves in our estimation.
The other general rule about how free men act is, "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation."
The world around us is hostile to Christianity. They don't mind the sort of Christian that builds free housing for others, or builds a hospital, or gives money to any charity designed to redistribute wealth to others. Good deeds are always welcome. It's that good theology that is irritating. It is morality that is obnoxious. It is making sinful men even marginally aware of the coming judgment, or reminding them of the reality of God and who He really is, that makes them crazy with anger. That anger involves the abandonment of reason, often the irrational sloganeering, and hatred that is surreal. The hostility of the world is the anger of the world when faced with even a gentle hint of morality, and even a whisper of the voice of Christ.
But we don't need to go to the secular world to experience that anger. We can see it in the strenuous rejection of Lutheranism by others who call themselves Christian. You can see it in the irrational and noisy hostility of those who no longer want to remain Lutheran, but don't want to change churches. Jesus First, Daystar, and the ELCA are angry and aggressive and hostile toward the historic truth and those who cling to it, while demanding patience and tolerance for themselves and their theology.
The hostile world is looking for excuses to point the finger at God's children, and is even willing to make stuff up. Peter tells us to keep our behavior excellent among them, so that they will be revealed as slanderers, on the day of Jesus' return in glory, and will be forced to give God the glory of acknowledging the truth of our good conduct before all of mankind. In other words, we are to make their criticism and accusations slander by living holy lives and behaving rightly. For example, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right." Government is not always right, or always friendly to us, but since God establishes human authority among us, we submit.
Every nation that has persecuted Christianity has tried to assuage their conscience by saying that Christianity is subversive - but we are not. We are to be faithful citizens, submitting to the law in every respect, except when doing so sets us against God's clearly expressed will. A true Christian cannot be a revolutionary. We trust, rather, in God. "For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men."
Free men, free in regards to sin and death, also do things like, Honoring all men, and obeying and respecting those in office in our government. We will love the brotherhood - the Church, and our fellowship first, naturally. We will love one another with the love of compassion and action, not just of words and feelings. And we will do what is right and holy, no matter what.
Peter uses the example of the slave, but if it is true for slaves, how much more for us. He instructs slaves to be "submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle but also to those who are unreasonable". The principle is that we don't just do what is right and holy and good when it is easy or popular or acceptable to others. We do it in all circumstances. Peter even highlights the situation where you do what is right and suffer for it.
So, we are to speak the truth and bear that backlash patiently. We are to take the risk of reaching out to help someone or to tell them about your faith, or invite them to your church, and if they turn on you, bear it with patience and grace.
It involves forgiveness. You need it, and Jesus forgives you. Others need it from you, and you can act like a free man and give it to them, even when they don't deserve it. We are called to do what is right and follow Jesus, no matter how it feels or what others may say. Their hearts and behavior are not to shape ours. "For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly."
"For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God" This is how we live out our forgiveness and our freedom. We do what is right, and we endure whatever doing what is right imposes on us. Peter tells us that this finds favor with God - and it is how free men act.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Follow the Shepherd

 1 Peter 2:21-25

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.  For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

Sermon for Misericordias Domini                                                       5/01/22

Follow the Shepherd

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The life of a Christian is easily described.  Living it is a challenge that confronts us every day, but it can be described in very few words; Follow the Shepherd.  Sometimes this is presented in a light and airy way that makes it sound pleasant and admirable.  There are things about following Christ that are delightful, but not everything.  Much of what it takes to follow the Shepherd is painful, unwanted, unpleasant and objectionable.  That is the part Jesus spoke of when He said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."  We refer to it as "bearing the cross".  That is the part that Peter focuses on in our Epistle lesson this morning.  Our theme is, "Follow the Shepherd."

Our Epistle seems to start in mid-thought.  "For you have been called for this purpose," It doesn't specify what "this purpose" is.  We are to get that information from the context.  The context before the Epistle begins is that If when you do what is right and suffer for it, you endure this suffering patiently, this finds favor with God.  The context immediately following is the phrase, "since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps".  It would appear, therefore, that the purpose for which you have been called is to bear the cross, and suffer - even if innocently - and to bear such suffering with patient endurance.

That is the example of the Shepherd.  Peter even details some of what the example teaches us: "WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously".  This is how and where we are to follow the Shepherd.  We, too, are to be holy, be honest, and never curse or cuss or complain, but simply trust God, trusting that He is still with us, still guiding us, and that things are happening in accord with His good and gracious will.

To be honest, most of us are willing to suffer for Christ, but it has to be like in the movies - grand and glorious and inspiring.  This nitty-gritty, day-to-day stuff that we face in our lives is all wrong.  Give the big stuff, where it is crystal clear that it is glorious suffering for a great and glorious end.  I want to hear the background music!  I want it to make sense to me and the world around me to see it and gush at my devotion and courage.  This un-glorious and boring doing without, having nagging troubles, struggling with budgets and rude people around me is no fun.  The crosses that God appoints for me are not inspiring or majestic – they are just painful and so ordinary seeming.  My suffering is not the stuff people sing about or write really interesting stories about.  It is just being ignored, doing without, and pain without really good press-coverage.

Most people are willing to suffer in theory and in imagination.  It is only the suffering of real life and the day-to-day grind that we find objectionable.  But that is the sort of cross we are called upon to bear – the real ones that strike our budgets, take our precious spare time, and niggle at us constantly.  The truth is that the glorious suffering of the heroes of the faith was not all that glorious for them.  The luster of glory that descends on them comes from time and space between us and them.  For them, it was the pain of the moment, and the ache that was happening right then.  There was nothing of glory or fame or pleasure about it while they endured it.  That stuff came later, in the eyes of others who recognized what it was that these heroes had done, and why they had endured.

The cross of Christ was not all majestic and glorious to endure.  It was pain and nails and sweat and humiliation and burning agony inside and out.  Then it was death.  That is what the price was for your salvation.  By His stripes you are healed!  Your sins have been forgiven for Christ's sake.  Now He has been made Shepherd of your soul.  Now we are called to follow the Shepherd.

Luther described it like this:  Therefore St. Peter says: "To this you have been called." To what? To suffer wrong, as Christ did. It is as if he were saying: "If you want to follow Christ, you dare not argue and complain much when you are wronged; but you must suffer it and be forgiving, since Christ suffered everything without any guilt on His part. He did not appeal to justice when He stood before the judge. Therefore you must tread justice underfoot and say: ‘Thank God, I have been called to suffer injustice. For why should I complain when my Lord did not complain?' "

Furthermore, He surely had the power and the right to avenge Himself. Yet He permitted Himself to be reviled, scorned, blasphemed, and even killed; and He never opened His mouth. Why, then, should you, too, not suffer this, since you are nothing but sin? You should praise and thank God for being worthy of becoming like Christ. You should not murmur or be impatient when you are wronged, since the Lord neither reviled nor threatened but even prayed for His enemies.

So you might say: "Do you mean to say that I should justify those who wrong me and say: ‘They have done well?' " Answer: No. But you should say: "I will suffer this very willingly, even though I have not deserved it and you are doing me an injustice. I will suffer it for my Lord's sake. He also suffered injustice for me." You should leave the matter to God, just as Christ leaves it to His heavenly Father. God is a just Judge. He will reward it richly.

I hope you noticed that Luther points out that we are to endure what is unfair and what we do not deserve with patience.  We don't do it because it is right for others to abuse us, or because it makes us holy, somehow.  We endure it with patience and forgiveness for two reasons.  First we endure it patiently because Christ gave us the example.  If He suffered, so can we - and to the degree we do suffer unjustly, we can mark it as a sign of Christ's favor - or that He is clearly seen in us, for the world to hate and attack.

The second reason we endure such outrages and affronts - as Luther might describe them - with patience and forgiveness is because we know God, and we trust Him.  We know that He is with us, and He knows what we are suffering.  He will keep us and bring us through everything.  And He knows who is abusing us and will deal with them with perfect justice.  That is what Peter meant when he wrote that Jesus kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.  Just trust God, and He will take care of it.

[A]nd He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.    When we suffer, we need to and we want to keep in mind the blessed outcome of the sufferings of Jesus.  His sufferings, which are far worse than ours will be, bought us life and immortality and eternal glory.  By His wounds you were healed.  While we endure the troubles of life and cross which may come to us, we may be tempted to think of them as just pain, just trouble, just sorrow.  But we want to remember that we are the Lord's and it is because He went through these pains first that we can know that He understands, and He has compassion, and He will bless us and guide us and protect us and bring us through.

Whether we sense it or not, it is God's revealed truth.  For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.  Now we have a Shepherd.  He leads us faithfully and for our blessing.  And the path through which He leads is difficult and often painful, and usually frightening or depressing to us - unless we keep the Shepherd in sight and trust Him to lead us.  He is both Shepherd AND Guardian of our souls.  We are always in His care.

I have often quoted ‘The Weaver' to you, about how God has a pattern for our lives.  On the backside of that tract is a poem that our text reminds me of.  I will close the sermon today by quoting that poem for you.

My Father's way may twist and turn,
    My heart may throb and ache,
But in my soul I'm glad I know,
    He maketh no mistake.

My cherished plans may go astray,
    My hopes may fade away,
But still I'll trust my Lord to lead
    For He doth know the way.

Though night be dark and it may seem
    That day will never break;
I'll pin my faith, my all on Him,
    He maketh no mistake.

There's so much now I cannot see,
    My eyesight's far too dim;
But come what may I'll simply trust
    And leave it all to Him.

For by and by the mist will lift
    and plain it all He'll make.
Through all the way, though dark to me,
    He made not one mistake.

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