Sunday, July 31, 2022

You Are A Slave!

 Romans 6:19-23

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.  For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed?  For the outcome of those things is death.  But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sermon for 7-SAT                                     7/31/22

A Slave Either Way

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Commonly thought of as his greatest work, Luther wrote his Bondage of the Will as part of his debate with Erasmus of Rotterdam.  Erasmus had written "The Freedom of the Will ".  Erasmus believed the Roman doctrine of the necessity of the involvement of the will of the person in becoming a Christian.  To be saved, they teach, the individual must prepare him- or herself by an act of will and by good works and love.  Roman theology looks at sin as a ‘stain' or blemish on a person, rather than the corruption of the will and nature of the person, so they believe that even though troubled by sin, there is something that a man can do to prepare himself for conversion and faith, and thus co-operate with the Holy Spirit in his conversion.  That is the freedom of the will, in Roman theology, and that is the distinguishing characteristic of the one who is saved over against the one who is lost - he did the work, prepared his heart, and cooperated with God.

Luther disagreed.  On the basis of Scripture, including particularly our Epistle this morning, Luther categorically denied the freedom of the will, and spoke of the bondage of the will instead.  He pointed out that while one might speak of someone as being free, either as a Christian or as an unbeliever, that freedom was not absolute.  It was, in fact, relative and in relation only to the bondage of that person, which bondage was, in fact, absolute.  It worked out as our text explains, and as we will talk about this morning.  Our theme today is - A Slave Either Way.

Now, I want you to make note of the fact that Paul says that "[he] is speaking in human terms because of the weakness of [our] flesh."  He means to say that what he is saying is not as it is in and of itself, but this is the closest human analogy can come to the truth of it.  What he says is true, but the reality is deeper and more far-reaching than our concepts can readily express.  Keep in mind also that we have jumped in here, as it were, into the middle of this discussion, not at the beginning.

Our freedom is not absolute, and our slavery is more complete and deep and thorough-going than we can imagine.  No one can control the heart or the mind of a slave in this world.  You can make them obey, even make them afraid to misstep, but you cannot actually control their thinking.  They do that.  You cannot make them love you or admire your cause.  They may choose to do that, and even become a terrorist-like zealot for your cause, but it is by their decisions, not your work.  Even brainwashing doesn't work until the victim cooperates by choice - horrible and extreme choice, perhaps, but a choice nonetheless.  Hypnosis requires a willing subject to really work.  Because we are insulated and actually quite alone inside our heads, no man can make another his absolute slave without his cooperation.

Our slavery in sin is another matter.  We are corrupt.  Sin has become entangled in our very nature since the fall.  To use a farming image, the original breeding stock became corrupted and so all of their offspring carry the same corruption of sin.  We are twisted by nature.  Sin turns us from looking to God and caring about others - as we were created to do - into creatures that turn their gaze to themselves, and view our families and our neighbors, the world, and God Himself, through the twisted perspective of ourselves, our wants, our needs, our lusts, our personal advantage, our feelings, and our own guilt and sin.  The Latin, and you know how I love the Latin, is "curvatus in se".  It means "turned in on one's self".

And the one who pulls our strings is the father of evil, the devil himself.  We are absolutely his slaves – slaves of sin.  We no longer possess the capability, by nature, to think without sin, to speak without sin, to act with proper motives.  Worse than that, when sin calls, our very nature jumps to serve.  We want to do it, and we feel cheated when we hold ourselves back from it, let alone when someone else prevents us from doing it.  We can do hideous things to others simply because they are not US.  They are not ME.

This evil, to which we are enslaved by nature, earns death.  Paul writes, "Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death."  The death Paul writes about is eternal death, not merely death of the body.  He means to put the reader in mind of that death which is not the cessation of existence and consciousness, but the beginning of the torments of the damned.  The outcome of sin is death, for "the wages of sin is death."  That is what sin earns, merits, deserves, and receives without fail.

This is where the Gospel comes in for us.  Our sin receives the sentence of death, too.  It is carried out - but not on us.  Jesus bore that sentence on the cross.  He died, what we have earned, and endured the very torments of hell on the cross and in His passion.  Because Jesus died for our sins, we have been redeemed, and by His resurrection God the Father has declared us forgiven, and given us the righteousness of Christ as a gift of grace, which is received through faith.

When you were a slave of sin, you were entirely free in regard to righteousness.  You couldn't choose it, and you couldn't do it.  It had no appeal to you, and even if you did the same things as a righteous man did in righteousness, they were evil and sinful because they flowed from a sinful heart and mind.  The good tree produces good fruit, and the evil tree produces evil fruit.  The good tree cannot produce evil fruit and the evil tree cannot produce good fruit.  You and I were, and most of mankind is yet today, slaves of sin.

But now that Jesus has redeemed us by His death on the cross and claimed us in the washing of Baptism, and adopted us into His family, we have been set free from sin.  "Even so, reckon yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus."  "He who has died is freed from sin" and we have died with Christ in our Baptism.  Romans 6:14 promises - and commands, "Sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace."  So you are freed by Christ from sin, but you immediately become the slave of righteousness.  If you are dead to sin, you cannot live in it any longer.  Since you live this new life by the power of the Holy Ghost, you must humble yourself to be guided by the Holy Ghost.  Jesus is now your Master, and you are at the same time His brother and His slave.  But when the outcome of this ‘slavery' is life everlasting and righteousness - who objects?

And this slavery is deeper and more thorough-going than you realize.  You cannot feel it in its truth because you still wear the quisling flesh.  Your flesh is still hungry for sin and evil, but you are now the holy servant of God.  Your will is shaped to be like His will.  He shaped it, not you.  You cannot "feel" that will, but it is at work in you.  The outcome of your new slavery is "your sanctification."  You can see it in your life more easily than you can feel it in your consciousness.  God is at work in you, bringing your life and conduct into conformity with His will.  The task is never complete while we wear this flesh, infected with sin, but it is happening, and in the end, the outcome of all this work of God is eternal life for us!

So, since we must be slaves, Paul encourages us,"so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification."  In other words, if you are going to be a slave either way, – and you are – choose to be deliberately God's slave while you have the power, His power, in you to make that choice.  Be deliberately Christian.  Think about what you do, and what you say, and even where you allow your mind to go, and serve the one whose rewards and wages are what you want to receive.

Of course, we want to remember that while death is earned, eternal life is a gift, given to those who do not deserve it, for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Your service does not earn you a thing before God, since God is working all these good things in you by His will and His power, but those who are His slaves have been selected by Him to receive the free gift of life everlasting.

I want life eternal.  I am sure you do too.  My flesh wants to sin, and, in fact, it is still enslaved to sin.  But I want to go to heaven, and so I discipline my body, and I apply the one thing God has given me to combat sin in my life - the Gospel.  I apply it by hearing the Word.  I apply it by remembering my Baptism.  I apply it by receiving the body and blood of my Lord Jesus often, taking what is called "the medicine of immortality".  I apply it by reading the Word of God daily.  I apply the Gospel by fellowshipping with believers, and being encouraged in my faith and life as God's slave by them, and encouraging them in turn.

Since I am a slave either way, I give up notions of what I deserve, or what my rights are, and I choose to live more for Christ.  I suffer insults and discourtesies for Him.  I stand alone, if needs be in the battle of life, upon His truth, and holding His banner high.  I welcome all who are His, and I invite the slaves of our enemy to join us in Christ's saving service by speaking God's powerful Word to them.  I want to do this, but even that desire is by the power of God in me, and not by my own will.  Even in the good I do, I am a slave - cheerfully and gladly - but a slave to righteousness and sanctification, and a slave of God.  If you gotta be a slave either way, and you do, serving God and receiving eternal life is the best way to go.

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

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Nature of Baptism

 Romans 6:3-11

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Sermon for 6-SAT                                                          7/24/22

The Nature of Baptism

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Have you ever wanted to see a miracle?  The problem is, we have to define what a miracle is before we can identify if we have seen one or not.  Scriptures uses the term, in English, to translate a couple of different Greek words.  One word is dynamis, a term for something powerful - used of a powerful sign, a work of power, or a wonder.  Another word that is sometimes translated "miracle" is sameion, which means "sign" and is often translated "sign" as in Matthew 16, where the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign from heaven, and He gives them the sign of Jonah, pointing to His coming resurrection.  

We tend to think of miracles as extraordinary things that happen, seemingly contrary to the laws of nature, like turning water into wine.  The Bible seems to use the word "sign" as the word for miracle - sometimes referring to the great power required or demonstrated in the sign.

So, if you are looking for something "extraordinary," you may have seen a "miracle" without realizing it.  That could be the case if someone recovers from an illness, especially if they were not expected to recover.  If you were looking for a sign of God's presence or His activity, you definitely have seen "miracles".   You see that whenever the church gathers for worship, or you hear His Word read or preached, or if you partake of the Sacrament of the Altar.  
If you are looking for flash and dazzle, and something contrary to the laws of nature, or seeming to be so, you may or may not have seen miracles.  It is hard to tell.  What we don't often see are miracles performed to order.  If you want to see that, you need to watch a Baptism.  Our theme this morning is, the nature of Baptism.

Is Baptism a miracle?  You could argue either way.  First, it is a Sacrament, which is "a sacred act, ordained and instituted by God, with certain visible means, and which promises , conveys and bestows forgiveness."  Does being a Sacrament mean it is a miracle?  Let's compare it to our earlier description of a Miracle.  It is surely a sign of the presence of God.  He is at work in Baptism.  It is His Word working and although the preacher speaks the words, they are not his, nor is what happens in baptism a result of the pastor's natural abilities or spiritual qualities.  God is at work there, doing what He has promised to do.

Is it something extraordinary?  That depends again on your definition of extraordinary, I suppose.  It is not something unusual.  People get Baptized all of the time.  In some congregations, there seems to be a baptism or two a week.  We seem to average one a year, or so.  But something quite remarkable is happening, even though we may not sense the remarkable-ness of it many times.  Nothing else can do what Baptism does, that much is for sure.  So by that measure, Baptism is extraordinary.

If you are looking for something that is contrary to the ordinary course of nature, and something that is an act of impressive power, Baptism fits the bill.  It may look all simple and ordinary, and even a bit like a ritual, but it is far more.  Some churches use special bells and candles and clothes and all sorts of ‘stuff' to dress it up because they see it as outwardly so plain and uneventful, but all that stuff just distracts from the true wonder of what Baptism is and does.  Baptism is no less amazing than a resurrection from the dead!  That is because Baptism is a resurrection!  Listen to our Epistle today, "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."

Now, don't get lost in the words.  Paul is saying that we actually die with Christ in our Baptism, and are raised again to new life.  That is the "born again" that so many Christians make so much noise about without understanding that it happens here, in Baptism.  When Paul writes that "we might walk in newness of life", the word "might" is not expressing mere possibility, it is pointing to the purpose of Baptism.  In Baptism, we. die. with. Christ. We have been buried with Him through baptism into death.  That means that we are buried with Him in the mystical union, which is created in our Baptism, and raised again in His resurrection to a new and eternal life.  And the death and the resurrection are as real for us as they were real for Jesus.  The reason most people don't notice it is that it is our spirit which dies with Christ, and is raised again.  It doesn't happen to our flesh.  That is also why we must face the death of the body one day, and why, just as certainly, our bodies shall rise again from the grave on that great day of the resurrection of all flesh, and we shall be reunited with them for everlasting life.

We are born again.  All of that Protestant babbling about being born again that focuses on our decisions and our experiences is not taught in Scripture.  If you want a real experience of being born again, you gotta be baptized!  But only once.  You don't need a second dose.  God gets it right the first time.

We need Baptism because of our sin.  Baptism is the cure for sin, and we have been born in sin, with original sin, the corruption of our very nature, handed down to us from Adam and Eve.  There is only one cure for sin, and that is death.  Jesus died for us and in our place, and in Baptism He brings us along, and shares His death with us, and His resurrection, and makes us part of His family, adopting us, and shares that cure for sin with us.  We need that death, For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.  

We need that death because He who has died is freed from sin!  His death, shared with us in this mystical union created in Baptism, frees us from sin.  It frees us from the guilt and punishment of sin - because Christ has borne that on our behalf - and it frees us from our bondage, our slavery, to sin.  You are set free by your baptism from the wrath of God and from the need to sin.  Of course, you don't necessarily feel that way.  Your flesh did not die, not yet.  But your spirit has shared in Christ's death and resurrection and is no longer a slave of sin.  The battle of the Christian life is that liberated spirit wrestling against a body of flesh which is still enslaved and still desires to do the will of sin.  That is a battle we need to fight.

Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.  Scriptures says you are no longer a slave.  In fact it tells you to consider yourself dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Sin no longer rules in you, and sin can no longer threaten you with death and hell.  For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all.  So you have been set free – and even when you do not feel that freedom, you may proclaim it to yourself by simply recalling the Word of God here in our text.

This is your power to live a holy life as well.  You are not a slave any longer to those desires and thoughts.  They may hang around, but you can overcome them by calling on the power of God in you to set those sins and temptations aside.  And you have that power in you!  Eph. 3:16, Paul prays, that God would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man. And He describes God's power in you like this in verse Ephesians 3:20, 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.  And when you stumble over a temptation in weakness, you can repent and ask for forgiveness – and it is yours because Jesus died that death to sin for you, too.  You should look at sin as no longer natural, but a mark of the enemy, and calling on God to aid you, stand firm against it.

But the best part of all of this is that your salvation does not depend on your successful struggle against temptation.  You want to win, of course, but Christ has already died for your sin – for all of it.  Because Jesus Christ has died for you, and risen victorious in the fight, your sins are forgiven!  Just as death is no longer master of Jesus, it is no longer master over you.  We have to face the death of our bodies, but it is not death in its fullness because you have already died in your baptism.  So you cannot die again, not as long as you cling to Christ.  Death of the body is just a temporary thing.  When your body dies, you will be with the Lord, and you will receive your body back on that day of resurrection, refurbished, as it were, and outfitted for eternal life with the Lord.

The last time you were privileged to witness a baptism, you may not have thought about it then, but you were witnessing this miracle – this sign from God of His love and of our salvation.  The child was made a member of the body of Christ, and he or she experienced all of these things, mostly without being aware of them happening.  But there it was.  God claimed him or her as His child, adopting him into His family, making him a fellow participant in the grace of salvation, calling him by name and joining him to each of us.

How can Baptism do all of this?  Because it is God at work.  It is not something WE do, but something God does. Your Baptism has given you all the promises of the Gospel, and had washed away your sins.  You can use it every day, saying aloud, "I have been baptized", and reminding yourself that you belong to God now, and your life is never going to end, not even when your body lies in the grave.  
How do you know that you are saved? You have been baptized!  The sign of God, a sign of His presence and of His working, and time and place where you ceased being merely mortal and began a life that will continue forever because God says so!

Is Baptism a miracle?  Yes.  More than that, it is a mystery - something wonderful that is so much more than it seems just looking at it.  But God has revealed its true nature to us.  We are buried with Christ by our Baptism into His death, and raised with Him in His resurrection to a new life with Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Think about that next time you are troubled by life or tempted by sin.  Your life is no longer about you, but, like Christ, you are alive to God in connection with Jesus Christ.  That is the true nature of Baptism.

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

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Totally Unnatural

 1 Peter 3:8-15

To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.  For, "LET HIM WHO MEANS TO LOVE LIFE AND SEE GOOD DAYS REFRAIN HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING GUILE.  AND LET HIM TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD; LET HIM SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT.  FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE UPON THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL."

And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;

Sermon for 5-SAT                                                           7/17/22

Totally Unnatural

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

There are tremendous advantages to living in this time in history.  We enjoy comforts and abundance that was unknown to the world, even unimagined, just a generation or two ago.  One of the big disadvantages is that we do not live in the world our parents grew up in.  We have not experienced the world they knew, and we do not have the tools to live in that world.  That makes correctly understanding reality and much of what they left behind for us in literature and art very difficult, if not impossible.  It can make the future very spooky too, because the artificial world of technology in which we live is fragile and easily destroyed, and if it ended, we would face pain and troubles unimagined by most people today as well.  The world we live in is totally unnatural.

Imagine a world without cell-phones, without computers, without television or radio.  I now, some of you are saying, "I can do that.  I don't have a computer, and I don't use those modern contraptions all that much anyhow."  Now imagine that your car doesn't work because the computers in it are disabled - and almost everything in a modern car is computer controlled - even the brakes and the transmission.  Imagine life without air conditioning or central heat.  Imagine having no refrigeration at all, and having to go back to ice boxes and to do without quickly perishable foods we are so accustomed to today.  I know some of you lived like that as children, but we are not children any longer, and we have grown accustomed to our luxuries.  Many of our neighbors have never seen a non-technological world, and they will panic, possibly violently, if they are confronted with such a life, and it may be coming soon.

The world that lived before those advances is the world in which the Scriptures were written and in which they were read for centuries.  That world would seem totally unnatural to us, and yet it must inform our understanding of what people were saying when they wrote in the past, because they had no way of imagining the world as we live in it today.  Even in that world, the Christian faith was not a natural thing.  In our text, Peter describes how a Christian should live and conduct himself or herself.  He describes a pattern of behavior that is simply not natural for sinful man.  Our theme, as we examine these exhortations of Peter, is "Totally Unnatural".

What Peter describes sounds wonderful, "let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead."  Wouldn't that be nice?  But where have we ever seen this sort of thing?  I cannot recall it.  Harmonious?  We get along pretty well, but if the group is much larger than our congregation, divisions and contentions seem to arise quickly, and over the most insignificant things, at times.  We can do sympathetic and brotherly most of the time, but even at that, when someone pushes it too far or for too long, we can become impatient and unsympathetic in a hurry.  Even kindhearted seems do-able, but I know that some people are more kindhearted around me, as pastor, for example, than they are with some other people.  But even ignoring that, these are qualities we can show now and again, and here and there, but to be consistently and always so is something we have trouble with.

The truth is, however, that these are to be the consistent qualities of the child of God.  And then we are called on to be humble in spirit.  Humility is just not natural for most of us.  Sin finds its strength in our desire to put ourselves first.  We want to succeed.  We want to be comfortable.  We like to be right, and so forth.  Then Peter gets to the "not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead" and we know we are in trouble.  It is one thing to be nice to those who are nice to us, but when they get up in our face, we want to shut them down.  We have been taught not to take "stuff" from others.  Getting them back, returning the ‘favor', and zinging them in return is more our style.  But blessing them when they are rude and crude to us?  That is just not natural - nor is it easy to do.  It is not easy to do it once or twice, but to do it consistently?  That's totally unnatural.

We are called by the Word of God to live up to a standard that is, to be quite frank about it, beyond us.  It means telling yourself that the proverbs of your youth were wrong.  You do not put number one first.  That is the natural way, the way that appeals to our sinful nature.  We are to put someone else first - pretty much everyone else!  This is a kind of living and set of behaviors that is totally unnatural for us.  It must find its power in Christ, not in you.  It is given to you.  Even then, it requires exercising what God gives you – humility, love, and faith.  That is why humility of spirit was named first, I suspect.

You have the text right in front of you on the insert.  Notice that the next verses are all in capital letters, which means that Peter is quoting or paraphrasing the Old Testament:  "LET HIM WHO MEANS TO LOVE LIFE AND SEE GOOD DAYS REFRAIN HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING GUILE.  AND LET HIM TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD; LET HIM SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT.  FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE UPON THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL."  Peter quotes that because it is the from the only Bible he has, and it shows us that these ideas, these rules for living as the child of God, are not new with the New Testament.  This is the way it has always been.  Being the faithful child of God is always counter-intuitive and contrary to our nature.  That is because sin is our nature and quite natural to us, even as believers.

And, although it is totally unnatural to us as sinners, this unnatural behavior is natural to our nature in Christ.  It is part of our nature because it is His nature.  He lived for us, and not for Himself.  He died for us, because He did not deserve death by Himself.  He paid the penalty of the wrath of God against us, and rescued and redeemed us from sin and all that we have deserved.  Peter refers to that when he writes, "for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing."  The blessing we inherit is forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.  

He is also indicating that these ways of conducting ourselves are not optional, or just suggestions.  They are the conduct of the Children of God.  They are not laws in the sense that you must do them or you will miss the mark and not get to go to heaven.  They are law - for they tell you what you are to do and how you are to be - but they are descriptive of those who actually are the children of God.  If you blow these off and do your own thing, you simply demonstrate that you are not the child of God, and you are not going to inherit that blessing.

He who means to love life and see good days - the child of God - refrains from speaking evil or guile, which means any sort of dishonesty.  He turns deliberately away from evil and does good and seeks peace.  He does it because he knows that such is the way of the beloved of God, and it carries the promise that the Lord is attentive to their prayers, as well.  Those who cannot bring themselves to do these things, or who deliberately choose to do evil - in an on-going way - put themselves at odds with God and reject His grace.

Peter asks the question, then, And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?  Doing good is usually not a problem.  Everybody appreciates being treated well and honestly.  This should make this conduct a no-brainer.  But the truth is that it is so totally unnatural to sinful man that it does draw the ire and hatred of some, simply because they hate what is holy.  There is even a common proverb about that, "No good deed goes unpunished."  It is not Biblical, but it is true enough.  Holiness draws the fire of the servants of the Old Evil Foe. God inspires Peter to write about that truth too.  But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.  Peter quotes the Old Testament again, and he reminds us that this has always been so.  Faithfulness to God is never the majority opinion.  But we, like the people of old, are to trust God and not fear them.  I am put in mind of the words of Christ in Matthew 10, "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."  

Peter says to sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.  That means deal with Christ as your God, and treat Him in your inward being as holy by doing what is right and holy without regard for the intimidation of the world.  Instead of fear, we are to see the opportunities that God may be setting about us.  Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.  The gentleness and reverence speak to how we speak, and that we remember that we are not God-chosen because we deserve it, but because of His great grace and love - and even our enemies may be converted and saved by that same grace of God.

Of course this sort of self-control and self-possession is totally unnatural.  It is the gift of God, the Holy Spirit at work in us through Word and Sacrament.  Like every gift from God, He gives it to us to take it out and use it.  It doesn't overwhelm you and force you to behave - at least not usually, but God gives you the power to do so, and teaches you in His Word and guides you by the Spirit.  It is in your hands to do it, as the chosen child of God in Christ Jesus.  If you try and fail, we rejoice that we have a Savior!  He forgives you and stands you up again and invites you to do it right next time.  He gives you the power to do that which is totally unnatural!

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

Sunday, July 10, 2022

The Hope of Salvation

 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 4-SAT                                                           7/10/22

The Hope of Salvation

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

A common mistake that we encounter in the world of religion today is when someone says that their religion or their faith is a private thing between them and God.  Many people have this idea, although it has nothing to do with what Scripture teaches.  They imagine – and say out loud sometimes – that their relationship with God is something strictly between them and the Lord, and no one else is involved or has anything to say about it.  I understand the feeling, and it is very American in its individualism, but the concept is still contrary to the teachings of the Bible.  And nowhere in Scriptures are we going to see that more clearly than right here, in our text.

Now, it is true that what you believe is personal and individual in the sense that you are the one doing the believing and you personally will either go to heaven or hell, but our text shows us how wrong the idea is that "its just between you and God."  Here, our text says that the whole creation waits, and the whole creation groans as it eagerly awaits the public revelation of just who is and who is not the child of God.  The creation also awaits that day looking forward to the freedom from the curse of corruption and decay and futility under which God placed it for the sake of man, who had just fallen into sin and death.  Far from being just between you and God, your faith and your relationship to God is of cosmic significance and has the very fabric of reality involved in it.  Let us look at our text this morning, and our theme is the Hope of Salvation.

We are going to focus on two important truths from our text, this morning.  These two truths are; first, that we have been saved, and, second, that our salvation is in hope.  Everything else taught here is a reflection of those two truths, or something that we understand because of these two truths.

I think people are often tempted to think of one's being saved as a presently inconsequential "spiritual" matter.  They think of heaven, perhaps.  Many people imagine that salvation is something like getting a ticket upgrade, or going to New Orleans rather than Nashville.  Somehow they see it as a one time event of personal and eschatological value.  But our salvation is the undoing of the damage of sin!  And what has sin done among us?  It has killed us, our friends, our parents - and everyone we know, one-by-one.  Sin has spoiled our lives and our plans and our joys.  Sin is why things rust and decay and get old.  Sin is why the good old days seem to be the "good old days."  It isn't your imagination, things are going downhill morally, socially – and, sadly, physically.  All of this is the work of sin!

Even the world of nature around us has been subjected to futility – that is how God describes our corruption and decay.  You cannot build forever because it is just going to fall apart eventually – futility.  Raise the perfect tree and it will die one day – futility.  Weed your garden immaculately, and the stupid weeds will just keep on coming – futility.  Dust the house today, and next month it will need to be dusted all over again.  God subjected the entire creation to this futility of corruption and decay for our sakes, because we sinned.

If He hadn't, could you imagine how hard it would be to have flowers last longer than you?  Sin leads inevitably to our death and corruption.  Every meaningless bit of flotsam and jetsam would have more permanence – more reality – than you, if God had not condemned the world to corruption and futility for you.  Your sin possesses cosmic influence and significance – and so does your salvation!

There are two ways to look at that, of course.  First, your salvation is of cosmic significance because the Creator of all that is personally got involved on your behalf.  He came, He became one of us, He suffered for you and in your place the agonies that you have earned and deserve, and then He died in your stead.  God Himself did all of that for you.  He humbled Himself – even to the point of death on a cross, taking upon Himself His own curse upon anyone who hangs from a tree.  What love!  What cosmic importance!  The One who holds all of reality together and guides the destiny of entire galaxies took a personal interest in you, had mercy on you, set Himself aside for your redemption and forgiveness, and died that you might live!

Because of Jesus Christ, because of the cross, because He rose from the dead, and because He promised it to you, your sins have been forgiven!  Because your sins have been forgiven, death has been set aside, and you have been given eternal life!  And while you walk through this life and this world, He who holds all things in His hands is your benefactor.  He loves you and blesses you, and watches over you, and rules all things for your good – little things like your car starting this morning so you could be here to hear His Word, and big things, like the course of history and the fate of nations – is all for your good.

Of course it doesn't always feel good.  We don't necessarily experience it as pleasure or enjoyment.  Sometimes it is downright miserable and painful.  That is where the hope part comes in – and we will get to that soon, but first we have the other half of the cosmic significance of your salvation.  Not only is it of cosmic significance because God was personally involved, but your salvation is the present point of this world and this life, and all of nature – every bird, tree, bush, rock, and catfish out in the lake – is awaiting eagerly the revealing of the sons of God – they are looking forward to the day of judgment publicly pronounced to see who is God's.  Their existence is for our sake.  Their work, their lives, and their deaths are for our well-being.  They don't know which of us they serve, but they are waiting eagerly to see.  

The way St. Paul describes it, it sounds almost as if the whole creation – right up to the sun and moon and stars – are standing on tippy-toe trying to peek over the fence and see who we are – and who is not among us in truth.  God speaks of creation as having a will, and intelligence, and a hope – and we dare not say that it does not, just because we do not perceive it.  He tells us through Paul that, The anxious longing of creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.  So when you are tempted to think that your faith and your religion is just a personal, private matter just between you and God, think again!  All of creation is involved – and vitally interested.  Not that you can tell by looking around you.

The world seems the same for everyone – believers and pagans alike.  We cannot see who are the hypocrites or distinguish them from the true believers.  At least not usually.  And neither can creation.  None of this cosmic significance stuff appears to be true.  You can't see it or feel it.  Those who clearly reject Jesus seem to thrive and prosper, often better than many of those who cling to Him.  You would think that having all of that cosmic significance, that power and all of nature working with you and for you would make some sort of difference you could feel!

But that is where the hope comes in.  Hope in the Biblical sense of the word is that knowledge which has no clear support in the experience of life, just the attestation of God's Word.  It is the possession of realities which are not fully sensed or experienced here, but are guaranteed to us and will be fully revealed – and experienced – in the future.  Hope is confident expectation of something God promises which you cannot empirically prove to be so.  It is precisely what the writer to the Hebrews called faith in Hebrews 11:1, Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

We have been saved  ———  in hope.  Our salvation is sure, and yet it is not felt.  If you think you can feel it, you are experiencing a feeling about your salvation.  You cannot feel salvation.  You may be feeling about your forgiveness, but you are not feeling forgiveness itself, for we have no nerve endings in the soul to experience the sensation of forgiveness.  It is in hope, confident and certain and sure, and a real possession, not just wishful thinking, but without that certain something that we can press to the litmus paper and prove it to the unbelieving around us, demonstrating that it really is so!  The verses in Romans just after our text say it well, For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

The one thing we can be sure of feeling in this world is suffering.  The world hates us, just as Jesus said that it would.  The flesh hates denying itself the fruits of sin.  The world around us hates us and the judgment implicit in our faith –


that WE ARE GOING TO HEAVEN and that THEY ARE GOING TO HELL, if they remain without faith in Jesus Christ.

They hate it and they try to lure us away from the faith, or to destroy us if we will not be moved.  That is the only way to silence the implicit judgment that our confident hope speaks to them.
 Then there is the old evil foe, whose one mission and goal it has been to destroy.  He will attack wherever he can.  He will use mobs, as we can see in some Islamic countries and in many of the protests in ours by BLM and Antifa and those hoping to cling to abortion, or individuals, such as terrorists, or governments, as we observe in the rising wave of anti-Christian persecution in Europe.  He will use the talking heads in the media who daily assault believers and accuse us of being more dangerous than those who go about actually killing others. I think of Frank Schaeffer, the son of the once renown Francis Schaeffer, who writes today that Christianity ought to be eradicated.  

The Adversary may even use church members, as is becoming the pattern even in our own Synod, to silence our words, destroy our faith, or crush the life right out of our bodies, if he can.  The one feeling you can be confident of experiencing as a Christian is suffering.  And St.  Paul tells us the truth about suffering in the midst of this cosmic relationship we share with one another and with God, 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.

God has always been aware of the already-not yet nature of the salvation He was pouring out on us.  He understood long ago the suffering we would have to endure in order to still remain faithful, and He did not leave us utterly without that which we could see and hear and taste and touch.  He left us His Word.  He pours out His Spirit through the Word, that we who hear might believe.  He tells us, in His Word, that what He has prepared for us is so wonderful that the sufferings of this present age are not even worth comparing to it.  When we get there, we will find it so glorious that we will wonder that we were so reluctant to endure the little while and the little bit of pain and trouble here.

And while we are here, enduring, He has also given us the Sacraments.  Baptism allows us to "see" the pouring out of the Spirit on us and on our children and to hear God speak our names and claim us as His own.  And in the Holy Supper Christ gives us His body, once given on the cross, to eat — and His blood, once shed for us and for our forgiveness and salvation, to drink.  He has arranged for His salvation to be delivered to us personally and individually so that we cannot ignore that this good will and love is meant for us, personally, individually.

But, as Luther said, we will not be rationalistic know-it-alls who doubt and question the Word of the Lord, but we will expect and believe and trust in all that He has promised, and so confess and believe that here, in this Holy Supper is something also of cosmic significance – the body and blood of the one who died for us and won for us peace and freedom, forgiveness and salvation.  And it is in a "communion" – a sharing together in something sacred.  So particularly here where God deals with you individually – your faith and your relationship with God is nothing strictly personal, or "just between God and you."  It is a fellowship thing, and a common confession, and a shared thing.  So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

We are linked.  Each of us and our faith and our relationship to God is part of that cosmic thing called "the body of Christ" or "the Church".  What we believe and the salvation we possess and share is not merely personal, but also communal – a family thing shared by us all.  And your healthy participation in it makes a difference to the whole body of Christ here as well – and to the world of nature around us, although we do not always perceive that difference and significance, except through the Word of God.  And what we share, that unites us, is summarized by our sermon theme – the Hope of Salvation.

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

Sunday, July 03, 2022

The Challenge of the Christian Faith

 1 Peter 5:6-11

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.  Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.  And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.  To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Sermon for 3 SAT                                                          7/03/22

The Challenge of the Christian Faith

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our lives appear to us to be something that they are not.  We live in a world of physical objects and sensory data – and in a world of spiritual realities which are not open to our senses.  In fact, the only way we know about these spiritual realities is that God has opened the door for us and revealed them.  Most of what people commonly think they know about those realities is wrong.  It is a fiction designed by the imagination of man and by the schemes of the one whose name means "Adversary".  People imagine all sorts of things about the spiritual realm and the spiritual truth and no one can directly contradict them because no one can directly sense or open the spiritual realm for immediate observation.  We either trust what God has revealed, or we trust someone else's creative imaginings.  Common beliefs about this spiritual realm are generally inaccurate, and they serve to deny or to distract us from the realities which God has chosen to reveal.

Both truths - the connection of our senses to the physical world and the imperceptibility of the realm of the spirit - naturally work against our knowing the truth about our lives.  The truth is that we Christians are caught up in a cosmic struggle.  It isn't a war, really, for the victory has already been won, but, as we see in almost every war, the enemy continues to struggle, much like a terrorist, until he is finally utterly destroyed or disarmed.  The nature of our predicament is addressed briefly in our epistle lesson this morning.  Our theme is what our text tells us about - The Challenge of the Christian Faith.

The true challenge of the Christian faith is to live in a reality we cannot fully perceive and confront those realities without the comforting reinforcement of being able to sense the truth and the depth of those realities.  The first thing that comes to mind are the realities of sin, and of Satan, and of eternal life and eternal death and hell and all of those things which we cannot directly perceive.  We know they are there, but this world seems so much more real and urgent and significant, and the reality of demons around us - and angels - of the relative value of holiness and faithfulness is muted in the face of the present and oh-so-sense-able stuff of this world which is so much more persuasive.

Look at TV and the movies these days.   There are stories of people with mystical powers, like Harry Potter and his friends, some of which seem like they would be handy to have to handle daily chores.  There are vampires and werewolves – and angels and demons that do not behave anything like the Bible suggests that they should.  Either there is no reality beyond what we can sense, according to the message of this world, or it is entirely different than the Bible presents.  If we did not have the teachings of Scripture on these things, with the world trying to deceive us in these matters, we would have no hope of sorting our own way through this maze of competing visions of the other side of reality- the spiritual side.

Even among Christians, so-called, there is a great deal of fiction proclaimed about angels and miracles, and how prayer is supposed to work, and what we can do and expect from the spiritual realm.  Part of the challenge of the Christian faith is to stand firm and hold fast to what God has revealed, without being distracted or deceived by the imaginings of the mind of man.

But the greatest part of that challenge is that the experience of being a Christian is so contrary to our expectations.  There is no apparent advantage.  There is no spring of wonderful feelings and victorious living, and no fountain of power to be tapped to show the world that we are the ones who stand in the truth.  Instead there is pain, suffering, ridicule, disadvantage, and even, sometimes, persecution and true misery.  It comes coupled with those phony Christians around us who proclaim the power, the victorious living, the advantages so physically evident to them of being one of God's people.  And we have to fight our own flesh, which likes the idea of having that special edge, being favored, and expects that as God's favorite people, life is just going to work out better for us somehow.

We need to listen to the Word of God and not allow the world to deceive us or seduce us into ‘misbelief, despair, or other great shame and vice.'  Listen to our text:  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.  It goes on to speak to us about suffering.  It warns us of the devil prowling about, seeking to devour us as prey.  This isn't describing "victorious living".  It is describing what Jesus talks about, bearing the cross.

Living the Christian faith requires things of us that are simply not natural to us or comfortable for us.  The first thing it requires is humility.  "Humble yourselves".  We don't want to be humble.  Our nature tells us that we should be first.  It is natural to feel that we should be special and privileged.  We should be comfortable.  After all, pain hurts!  The cross is fine as a piece of jewelry, but not as a burden!  I speak from experience here.  I want things easy, comfortable, and favoring me!  I don't like enduring contrary experiences.  I don't like people ignoring me, let alone saying bad things about me or my faith, or my church!  When I preach the truth and stand firm in the faith and do what is faithful, people should love me and our congregation should grow.  But we are still small.  And even the leaders of our church body tell me I should get with the times, update the message, do things the new way, and then we would grow!

Your lives have the same sorts of challenges.  Compromise seems to be successful for others.  There is only so much time, why spend it on prayer, or Bible Study, or worship?  If you just keep your head down and don't say much, no one will be bothered by your faith.  The temptations to anonymity and expedience are everywhere.  And temptations to expect that your life ought to be better, are everywhere.  This is where humility should lead you to honestly look at your life and realize that you don't deserve better.  Your flesh just expects it.  But when you look at yourself, you should see your sin, too, which should lead you to repentance.  And repentance should bring you to recall the forgiveness of sins which is yours in Christ.

The challenge of the Christian faith is to live in faith, holding fast to the truth, and not surrender to the false ideas and feelings which life will urge upon you.  To do that will not just require humility, but it will require holding your faith consciously in mind.  You are something special, and counted among God's favorite people, but that is so because of the grace of God, not on account of anything you personally have done or deserve.  Jesus died for you, that is why you are beloved of God.  Jesus Christ is why your sins are all forgiven.  It is by grace and through faith.

And God desires that you walk by that faith.  You are not to allow the conditions of your life to persuade you that God's Word is not true.  When the Word of God says that God is with you, you are to trust that Word of God and expect God to be with you.  Peter tells us, "Cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you."  Rather than live life according to how it feels, God invites you to live life according to how He tells you it is.  When it hurts, and when the cares and troubles of life surround you, He invites you to cast them aside – to Him, and leave the worries and issue of life in His hands.

 That is what Easter is all about.  God was demonstrating victory over sin and death.  He showed us what He has in store for us and demonstrated His power to overcome even death.  And now He invites you to give Him all your troubles and worries, and trust Him, and believe the simple truth that He cares for you!

God has not left us without help, nor does He expect us to suffer in silence.  He wants us to cry out to Him when we are in danger, when we are in pain, and when we are in fear of anything.  "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you, and you will glorify me!"  God often permits us to endure difficulties so that we are humbled, and brought to seek His aid.  He wants us to talk to Him and trust in Him - not just with our heads but with our lives and wills and deeds.  He has invited you to pray, and commanded you to pray, and has promised to listen to every prayer and answer each one because of His great love for you.  Jesus said it in John 16, you know, "In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father."  So pray!

Then He wants you to be sober and on the watch for the temptations of the adversary.  Sober covers being aware of the truth of things, and expecting life to be just as God has warned us in His Word.  And you are to be on the alert precisely because the adversary is hunting you with temptations and troubles, seeking to make you his prey.   "If the householder had known the hour in which the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into!"  Peter reminds us that this suffering is the situation with every Christian.  It feels unique to us, because it is happening to us - and we feel our own stuff more than we feel the troubles of others - but what we are enduring is nothing worse or more difficult to endure than the troubles that others suffer in holding fast to Christ - and sometimes, we suffer less.

God says, resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.  And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.   The troubles of the present moment are not permanent, nor are they the last word.  And you are not alone!  Remember He has also promised, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it."  When you are suffering, it may seem like forever, but it is not.  God will rescue, perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. That is about forever.  Forever is the word for eternal life in glory where is there is no sorrow, no sickness, no pain, and no more death.

The challenge of the Christian faith is to remember that.  The world around us considers that thought escapism.  God calls it reality. Finally, unless the Lord returns first, we will all die the death of this age and of the flesh.  They have nothing to offer except gritting your teeth and toughing it out.  The only peace they have to offer is the peace of the grave - and Scripture tells us that their grave is not going to be as peaceful as they imagine to be.  The only hope that the world holds out is - - - well, the world doesn't really offer any hope.  It just holds out cold, hard "reality" and then reminds you that not everybody suffers the way you are.  But, we know that everybody dies, eventually.

God holds out peace of mind, and the knowledge of His love, and the hope of the resurrection, and the forgiveness of sins.  He also comforts us and strengthens us with His holy Supper.  And when the door of the tomb closes behind us, the door of eternal life opens – the gift of God, not on account of works, so that we can confidently hope and fully trust in God.  The world won't see it, nor do they understand how the people of God can be at peace, and find hope and joy, but that is because they have already become the prey of that roaring lion who seeks someone to devour.

We stand firm in faith.  We call upon God for help and rescue.  We hope for all that He has promised.  And we face this world with our eyes wide open to both sides of reality, and we have our hearts fixed upon God.  And we pray, and give God thanks for His blessings, and meet the challenge of the Christian faith with the cross of Jesus Christ before our eyes.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)