Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Details

 1 Corinthians 15:1-10

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.  For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

Sermon for 11-SAT                                      8/28/22

The Details

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

They say, "The devil is in the details."  That is not a theological proverb, but a description of the importance of the little things, the details.  Something may look good on a broad overview, but trouble may lie deep in the details of the thing.  Building plans work like that - looking pretty good in general, but the little details about material specifications and what-not can make a building a disaster waiting to happen.  Computer programming is that way too.  You can write a brilliant piece of program to do wonderful things, but those little details that you overlook - and everyone does it - cause malfunctions, computer hang-ups, program failures and other things which go by the generic title of "bugs".  That is why a big part of programming is de-bugging the program – finding those overlooked details and fixing them before the program gets out to the public.  Many of those program upgrades and patches your computer downloads each time you go on-line are the result of the failure of debugging to catch all of those errant details.

This morning, our Epistle lesson makes a similar point; only it is that the Gospel is in the details.  Theologians write books, series of books, large compendiums of books about theology and the Gospel, but they are all writing academic and theoretical sorts of stuff.  Don't get me wrong, many of those books are good and useful and even necessary, but the Gospel is so much simpler than all of that.  The Gospel - and the Christian faith - is not some unifying theory or complex set of theological principles that require years of study to understand.  The Gospel is, quite simply, the details.  It is isn't hidden in them or drawn from the distillation of them, or reasoned out from them.  The Gospel is the details.  And that is our theme this morning - simply, "The Details".

Paul's words at the beginning of this Epistle are that he intends to share in writing the Gospel which he preaches.  He clarifies that by saying that it is the very same Gospel which they heard from him, the same Gospel which they believed, and the same Gospel which saves them as long as they hold fast to the message that he has preached to them.  He adds the caveat, "unless you believed in vain."  That line has double edge to it.

The first edge - the first thought - that one could connect to this idea is from chapter 14, where Paul has assailed a number of faulty doctrines, such as the value of tongues-speaking among Christians and in worship, and women who try to assume the leadership of the church and become its teacher and pastor.  He addresses these controversies, and then asserts that truth did not originate with them, and that if they, or anyone, cannot recognize that the teachings he is explaining have come from God, they are not to be recognized as Christians.  So, "unless you believed in vain" can certainly be a reference to those who stubbornly hold to false doctrines, and thereby believe something, but not unto salvation.

The other edge of this phrase points to the critics of his teaching, those who espoused another Gospel and asserted that if anyone believed what Paul taught that they were deceived and lost forever.  Even yet today, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, who espouse the faulty and false doctrines that the false teachers in Corinth were teaching two millennia ago, still brashly proclaim that anyone who foolishly believes the Gospel Paul teaches is so seriously in error that they forfeit eternal life – which the Mormons believe is almost impossible to do.  So, Paul makes an object lesson of their claim, and tosses in "unless you believed in vain" as if to say, unless you think those false apostles are teaching you the truth and what I am teaching you is going to lead you to destruction.

The words were a challenge to the Corinthians -and to us - to make up our minds: is the Gospel what Paul preached, or not?  Can we trust his words?  Is this the truth of God's grace - or are those works-righteousness people right?  What follows is that Gospel.  And notice that it is all very precise, reality oriented, and detail laden.  These details of history are "of first importance".  "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also."

Did you take note?  The Gospel is all in the details.  The history, real events in real time, is the saving good news.  Christ, with all the truths and doctrines that this honored title carries with it, died for our sins.  This is not about philosophy, but about a sacrifice for us.  Someone died for what we have done - to rescue us - and that someone was Christ, the Anointed One, God's own Son.  We have to fill in from our own learning that God came in the flesh.  We must understand that Jesus did no sin so that this sentence of death did not belong to Him, but the confession of the Church is that this One did die, for us and in our place.  Paul also says, "according to the Scriptures," which means, "just as the Scriptures of the Old Testament people prophesied that he would."  To the time that Paul wrote these words, there were no "Scriptures" of the New Testament to report this.  He wasn't saying that it is just as the New Testament says.  Paul was saying that all of this Gospel stuff had been clearly prophesied in the Old Testament.

Not only did Christ die, but He was buried, just like any dead person would be, and then He rose from His grave on the third day, just as the Old Testament had promised that the Messiah would.  And Paul didn't expect them to simply take him at his word about this resurrection.  He adduced witnesses — the Apostles, that is, the original eleven surviving disciples — who had followed Jesus for years and would not be deceived or confused by hoaxer.  He identified Cephas - that's "Peter" in Aramaic, transliterated into Greek.  Then he spoke of the Twelve.  There were only eleven still alive of the original group, but that was their name, as a group, just like the Three Stooges were still the Three Stooges even after Curly had died.

But the list of witnesses was not just a small group that might be persuaded to join in on some sort of deception.  There were five hundred of those who had come to believe in Jesus during His ministry who saw Jesus alive after His death and resurrection.  Not just 500, but five hundred at one time!  Some of them had passes away - fallen asleep - by the time Paul wrote this twenty-five years later, but most of them were still alive to give their testimony - and perhaps some of those five hundred lived in Corinth and were part of the congregation who received this letter first!  Five hundred people would make a good sized congregation today, but it was probably the entire Christian Church on earth on the day that they saw Jesus alive from the dead!  Each of those 500 could confirm every detail of this Gospel.  If it were not so, we would know, after all, you know how hard it is to keep a secret if any large group of people know it, right?  Just think of leaks to the press.  We don't know anything about this appearance, except these few words written here, but these words confirm the details.

Paul finishes up by reporting how James, the half-brother of Jesus finally saw Jesus - which accounts for how the brother who did not believe and did not understand while Jesus was alive became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, and one of the early martyrs for the faith.  And then He talks about himself.  Everyone probably knew the story of the Damascus Road encounter and so He did not repeat it here.  He humbly admits his late coming to the Gospel, and his horrible history of the persecution of the Church, but he does so to illustrate the marvelous grace of God.  And that wonderful grace is part of the Gospel, too.  It is shared here for those who think that they cannot be loved by God or accepted into his grace.  Paul embarrasses himself with his own history so that those who think that they cannot come under God's grace can see how great a sinner and enemy of the faith God will re-claim and love.  He can love and forgive even such a great sinner as you, or you, or me.

These are the details.  It is not profound theology that we are called upon to believe, but that the Son of God took on human nature, and human flesh and blood for us.  Then He kept the whole law of God for us, in our place, because we not only could not, but would not.  Then He died a death He did not deserve - dying in our stead and paying the penalty for our sins.  And we are called on to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and we have the record of a host of witnesses who saw it, and touched Him and talked with Him, who know He was dead, and know that He is alive again!  We called on to believe these facts, these details, and just one other thing - that we who believe these details are saved by believing - and that salvation means that we, too shall rise from the dead, from our own graves, and shall live forever with Him.

This is not a course on some theory of atonement.  There is no moral code laid out here.  There is nothing more than these details, which teach us the love of God for us, and promise us that this death and resurrection and salvation are for us, too.  Other "gospels" are no Gospel at all, Galatians 1:7.  It is still the simple facts, the details of the case, and the promise of God which are our hope, and make up the Gospel which we believe.  It is the simple gift of God. Simple enough for a child – and Jesus once said that he who does not enter the kingdom of heaven like a little child, he shall not enter therein.  It is all in the details.

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

Sunday, August 21, 2022

To Each One Is Given

 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

Sermon for 10-SAT 8/21/22

To Each One Is Given

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our text this morning deals with the topic of "spiritual gifts". In the last twenty years, this was a very controversial topic. The trick of teaching about controversial topics is always not to say too little while being careful not to say too much. When the devil has his foot in the door, so to speak, in a controversy, one needs to teach precisely what God teaches, and nothing more or less. On one side of the road is the denial of the Holy Spirit, and on the other is the charismatic excesses which, thank God, are not currently a problem in our congregation.

This particular text offers a number of emphases and teaching points for us to consider. It speaks of the unity of the church. It talks about faith as the work of the Holy Spirit, and it addresses the importance of every individual within the congregation. We will look at each of them, this morning, under the theme, "To Each One Is Given".

First, our text tells us that faith is the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. In a church where one cannot distinguish between believer and unbeliever – which isn't so much of a problem in our world today - unbelievers generally don't bother coming to church - but in such a world, it is important to know that no one who has the Holy Spirit at work in them is going to deny Christ or curse Him. That was happening under persecution, in the days of the Apostles. People were being asked, at the point of a spear, to curse Christ or die. Even back then, however, the intellectuals in the church - few though they were - were always tempted to be too wise to fall for the ‘superstition' of the Gospel, and so they would deny Christ, and Paul says quite plainly that no one can deny Christ if the Holy Spirit is at work in them.

Why is that important? Because the Holy Spirit alone works faith: no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. You can pronounce the words, of course, but you cannot confess the faith with integrity unless the Holy Spirit has created faith within you. The Church and the Christian faith in each and every believer is the work of the Holy Spirit. So, aside from those pesky hypocrites, you can tell believer from unbeliever by whether they confess Christ or deny Him.

Of course, denying Christ means far more than simply saying the words "Jesus is accursed." The modern scholars who deny that He said the things He said or did the things Scripture tells us that He did are denying Him. When they try to picture Jesus as merely a great man, they are denying Him. When men hijack the church for their own purposes – fund-raising, or political action, or social service alone, or just to turn it into a psycho-therapeutic society – they are denying Jesus. By taking Him and His Church for any purpose other than the Gospel and the salvation of men - and women, of course - they are, by their deeds, as much as saying, "Jesus is accursed."

The Church is God's work, for the purpose of the nurture of His holy ones, and the sharing of the good news that Jesus has conquered sin, death, and hell on our behalf with those that do not yet believe. Christ's death paid the penalty due according to the justice of God for our sin, and His resurrection declares the forgiveness of our sins and the favor - the goodwill and love - of God for us. Because of Jesus, your sins are forgiven. Because of Jesus, you will live forever. It is by grace, through faith, and the Church exists to nurture that faith, and enable you to stand firm in it until you reach God's promised rest in heaven. He has knit us together into a family and given us the charge to show forth His glory by holy lives of faith and by telling others the same Gospel that we believe.

Now and then, some Christians get it in their minds that they are insignificant. They think that they do not matter. The church is so big, and they are so small that they are inconsequential – or churches are generally so big and their congregation is so small that it doesn't make any difference in the world or in the mission of Christ in the world.

This text argues against those ideas as well. While the text doesn't mention church sizes, it does address the individual's place in the church. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. The manifestation of the Spirit is a fancy way of saying, the gift which the Spirit brings. Notice that every single one - each one - is given the manifestation of the Spirit. You have a place of significance in the Church. You have something to offer that the church needs. No one is unimportant.

Now the ordinary Christian is tempted to fall off the straight and narrow of sound doctrine and thinking in one of two ways. Some people think that they are not significant, and others begin to imagine that they are so talented and so important that the church cannot do without them, and that they ought to be accorded special consideration for being so bright, or talented, or important, or rich, or whatever. Paul apparently was facing both ideas in the church in Corinth, because he effectively addresses both.

First, each of us has a manifestation – a gift. It is for the common good. The church is stronger and better off when each member uses their gifts. You are a blessing, intended for our well-being as individual Christians and especially as a congregation.

Secondly, He goes on to explain how each gift is worked by God - and he cleverly works the Trinity into the explanation. There are gifts, ministries, and effects named, but they are all worked by the same Spirit, same Lord, Same God. Whatever good things happen in the church happens by the power and under the direction of the Lord. The evil men do in the church is not done by God's power - but He knows about it – and sometimes He uses it for His own purposes, such as disciplining the lazy Christian, or trying to awaken the church that is losing its confession to its dangerous situation. But the good stuff, blessings, growth in faith or in numbers, unity, and such, that is all accomplished by God.

He takes several verses here to point to specific gifts, and claim each one is worked by the Spirit. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, and all the other manifestations of the Spirit mentioned are worked by God where and when it pleases Him, for the good of all. This is where we come face-to-face with the idea that each of us is important. God gives each of us our abilities and fits us into our place for the common good. We don't have to know what all we accomplish. We are not responsible for rating the value of any gift. We are merely called on to use what the Lord gives us - whether we see it as precious or we don't even see it as a gift – in the situation in which He places us, for the glory of God and the life of the congregation. How it works out from there is up to God.

We are not responsible for figuring out why or how things work. Paul writes that the Spirit distributes them to each one individually just as He wills. We have what we need, and the congregation needs every one of us. Sometimes it is easy to discount this and think we are here, but we are not all that important. That is just the sin-sickness of the flesh talking. We are important because God says so.

Let me give you examples from history. Some of the most famous congregations in history were small. They did what they could, what they saw as set before them to do. And so people remember them as great congregations - like the church in Neuendettelsau where Pastor Loehe (Löhe) served, and sent missionaries to a new land, America. His sendlinge - the sent ones - became the backbone of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other States, which we now call the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It was a small congregation, but vitally important in our Synod's history.

I have also noted that many of our favorite hymns were written by people who were weak and sick. I think of Frances Ridley Havergal. She lived just 43 years. She was in frail health life-long. Still, she wrote ‘O Savior, Precious Savior', ‘Take My Life and Let It Be', ‘I Gave My Life For Thee', ‘I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus', ‘Now the Light Has Gone Away', from the hymns in our hymnal, and the tune we use with the hymn, ‘We Are the Lord's, His All-Sufficient Merit'. She is not the only example, but I think she is one of the best. I cannot imagine that she felt important or powerful or that she was making a big difference. She was weak and sick and died young, but no one who sings her hymns would count her or her contributions to the church as insignificant. What faith she proclaimed - and still proclaims. What joy she has brought to the hearts of millions of Christians. What comfort her hymns contain and impart.

We do not know what God is doing in us or through us. We get to be there when it is happening, but we cannot know how God will use our humble faithfulness. As a pastor, I have seen where the seemingly insignificant people were quietly doing the things that made the biggest difference down the road. I have also witnessed where the man or woman who did nothing extraordinary, simply was always there, always kind, always praying, was considered the "rock" for so many, an example of patience, of kindness, of faithfulness by others, often the more important seeming others, at the time of their passing. That very faithfulness and goodness was their particular gift for the common good. After all, to each one is given that manifestation of the Spirit. And generally, people don't know what it is, or how significant they are in the lives of others - or how they are significant. That is why it requires our faithful doing of what God gives us to do.

It is very much like our salvation: planned by God, earned by Jesus, given to us by grace, that is to say, without considering our value, worth, or beauty. Our lives are given to us in the family of God, the Church, too. God has planned the good works we are to walk in - He says so in Scripture, Ephesians 2:10. He has given us gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, according to His plan and will, not our wisdom or wishes, for the common good. We are permitted the glory of doing what God does through us, but it is God at work, not us – so it doesn't have to make sense to us now or reveal itself as the thing it is in the hand of God. We are simply called on to receive His blessings with thanksgiving, and walk in the light of our salvation faithfully.

God grant it for Jesus' sake.

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

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Take Heed

 1 Corinthians 10:6-13

Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved.  And do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY."  Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.  Nor let us put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.  Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.  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.

Sermon for the 9-SAT                                                                  8/14/22

Take Heed

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I ran into a Baptist at the gas station, one day.  I didn't hit him with my car, we just happened to be gassing up at opposite sides of the pump at the same time.  He noticed my unusual attire and asked me if I were a Roman Catholic priest.  When I said, "No, I am a Lutheran Pastor," he began to tell me about a neighbor of his, now gone from this life, whose faith was such a joy to this Baptist.  "He was so certain and so confident of his salvation."

It turns out that his neighbor has been dead for many years, but his witness to his faith was so striking and powerful that this Baptist was still deeply moved.  I was struck by the fact that this man, from a denomination that teaches the doctrine of eternal security (you know, "Once saved, always saved") was still struggling with confidence in his own salvation.  Needless to say, we talked, and I was about a half-hour late for my appointment with a shut in to bring him communion.

He said that his preachers were always preaching uncertainty and the obligation to do more.  He knew better, in his head.  I discovered that as we talked.  But the effect of law preaching instead of Gospel preaching was to make this man uncertain, and he could readily identify the monster of uncertainty about which Luther spoke and wrote in his own life.  He even knew it's name, from his former neighbor.

I could turn this illustration into an example of how important, and how powerful your faithful witness to your hope in Jesus Christ can be - but the text doesn't go there, so, just preach that sermon to yourself later.  I want to talk about our text which also speaks about our security in the faith.  Our theme is, "Take Heed".

The Baptists generally teach the doctrine of eternal security.  They say that they believe that once you possess salvation, you cannot lose it.  Period.  The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians just the opposite message.  You can fall from grace.  You can be a real Christian, and then lose your faith and, therefore, your salvation.  You are secure in Christ, but you must remain ‘in Christ'.  While a Christian may be absolutely secure in Christ, as a good Lutheran is (and such as this man's neighbor was), you may never be secure in yourself.

Paul tells us in this message that not everyone makes it.  He describes the fall of many in Israel in the verses leading up to our text, and then tells us that, "these things happened as examples for us".  We can fall away, even though we have been baptized, and have been confirmed, and have attended church regularly, and have even received the Lord's Supper with some regularity.  We can all remember people who joined the church, and seemed quite excited about it for a time, who have since stopped coming, or going, to church.  We don't have much of that in this congregation yet, but we have seen it in other places.  Those people were not necessarily hypocrites.  They were probably true believers, and had salvation full and free within them, for a time, and then they turned away.

Such people are the seed that falls among the rocks, or among the thorns, in the Parable of the Sower.  They are the ones who fulfill the proverb that Peter tells us about in 2 Peter 2, "It has happened to them according to the true proverb, "A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire."  The plain truth is that it can be lost.  That is why we are exhorted to take heed.

A second thought that you want to keep in mind is that not everyone who calls themselves a Christian is.  I am not speaking here about those hypocrites who know that they are not Christians, but have their own reasons for playing the part, or their own agenda which has nothing to do with the Gospel.  I am not even meaning to refer to those who think that they are Christians but know that they do not believe what they hear preached.  They are certainly among us in the visible church, and clearly present in our Synod.  They are not Christians, ofttimes, but I don't mean to address that group either.  I mean to bring to your mind the person who thinks of themselves as a Christian, accepts what is preached, to some degree, but still doesn't believe.

How can that happen?  They have what the Church has called "an historical faith".  They believe the truth of the statements.  They may even know doctrine pretty well, but they just don't have any confidence in God.  They don't actually trust God to come through for them.  They live by their own wits, strength, riches, and "luck."  They cannot see any difference between a real Christian and themselves, so they presume that they are just like the others.  Spooky eh?  That is why Paul - and God speaking through Paul, says "Take Heed."  "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."

Paul gives us the example of Israel.  They were God's People, right?  They sure thought so, and no brush with reality through the mouth of the prophets seemed to shake their identity.  But they did not live like God's people.  They did not trust God.  They didn't trust Him for protection, and they did not trust Him for prosperity, and they did not trust Him for a good and enjoyable life.  They decided they had to make it happen themselves, but their own methods, by their own wits, and by their own efforts.
The results are what we see in our text.  They craved evil things.  These were sins of thought, which led to sins of action.  They desired what they knew was forbidden.  They did not care about the Lord enough to measure their desires against the rescue from slavery by God.  The simple fact that they wanted it was enough for them.  Never mind what God's will is.  The result of these "cravings" were the sins that followed.

They were idolaters.  The statement in our text about sitting down to eat and rising up to play is a description of the practice of Idolatry in the ancient world.  There was the sacrificial meal, and then the ritual sex - the play.  Israel had sacrificed to the Golden Calf, and then they indulged in the pagan debauchery of the worship of the Calf that they had observed in Egypt.  It was gross idolatry.

But what if it wasn't?  It was, but what if those words described something less overt.  It sounds innocent, doesn't it?  So also do many of our idolatries.  We worship success and people can call it ambition.  But when it gets in the way of God, and fellowship with His people, and hearing His Word, then it becomes idolatry.  The Bible says, in Colossians 3:5, that greed amounts to idolatry.  Our movies often teach us lust and adultery.  The fact that we insist that they are okay, innocent things, may speak about our heart's desires, our worship of physical pleasure, or entertainment.  Much of what we call entertainment involves what used to be called the sin of indolence.  We sit and vegetate rather than doing something useful.

Besides that, you have to admit that at times, the idolatry of Israel sounds like fun.  They ate, and they played.  Many of our distractions are fun, too.  We have people who want worship their way.  They want fun music, and they want sermons that entertain, and they want it all wrapped up in an hour, so as not to interfere with the rest of Sunday.  They want the sermon to be short, concise, and interesting.  They are not there to hear and learn, they are there to "go to church" or to "do religion".  We have less of that here, but it is common in the church today, even within our Synod.

Today we don't think too long and hard about immorality.  Too many of our children have "shacked up" before marriage.  Too many of us, or our children have been divorced.  What used to be a scandal in the Church hardly raises an eyebrow today.  I had to set a policy in my last parish, that I would not perform the wedding for any couple from among the members of the congregation that were living together before marriage.  It was so common that I had almost no experience of marrying those who were not living together without the benefit of wedlock - even among the elderly!  Its so bad that some people are advocating for the casual acceptance of homosexuality within the church.  God, on the other hand, took it seriously.  Twenty-three thousand died in one day.  Paul means for us to understand that God's attitude toward such things hasn't changed, even if we are not being overwhelmed by plagues.

Paul mentions "Putting Christ to the test."  Whatever form it may take, it boils down to doubting God's power to save or that His will toward us is love and blessing and good.  During the Exodus, the people became impatient with the journey.  They had everything they needed, and what they had desired most - rescue from slavery and oppression in Egypt.  But now that the monkey was off their backs, it was almost like they were saying, "That was yesterday.  What have you done for me lately?".  Now that they had everything they needed, they wanted much more.

How often do we find ourselves tempted with the same thing?  What is there that we need, that we lack?  We have food in abundance.  We have clothing.  We have cars and boats.  We have toys of every description.  We have comforts the likes of which mankind had never seen until within our own lifetimes.  Do those things make us happy?  We are wealthy by history's standards, wealthy by world standards today.  We are so abundantly supplied that many people are looking to make life "simpler" and less crowded.  Does that make us feel secure in the good will of God?

So often we are tempted to seek signs.  We worry.  We look for some event, or some special blessing, or some feeling to make us sure that God loves us.  Ultimately, it means that we are doubting the Gospel - or the Word of God.  Ancient Israel doubted God's provision.  They were always afraid they were going to die.  Paul reminds us that God sent serpents to kill them.  It is like He gave them what they trusted in Him for.  They refused to trust God's expressed love for them.  They would not take Him at His Word, and trust that no matter what it seemed like, He was with them for their blessing.  Water out of solid rock and bread out of heaven did not change their attitude.  So they died.

We know that God Himself took on human form and human nature, and lived for us, and died on the cross for us.  That is how deep His love is.  He became sin who knew no sin of His own, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  He suffered in our place, and pours out life and forgiveness upon all, and has chosen you and me to be among those who believe and so grasp, receive, and possess those rich blessings.  How can we ask for some other sign of the love of God for us.  We have the sign of the cross.

Israel was also held accountable for grumbling.  They complained about being free.  They grumbled about free food from heaven.  At every opportunity, at each inconvenience, at every challenge or danger they saw, they grumbled.  They were unhappy with God's will and God's way.  They were irritated with the work of God and the plan of God.  So who did they grumble about?  Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of causing all of the troubles of Israel.  This would be like turning on the faithful leaders and pastors because we don't get our way, or because things aren't happening as quickly or as wonderfully as we might imagine they could.  Thank heavens, that never happens in modern times, eh?  God showed His displeasure by destroying many of them.

All these things happened to ancient Israel as examples for us and were written for our instruction.  That is what our text says.  It happened for us, who live at the very end of time.  And the message is, Take Heed - pay close attention.  Take note.  God took their lives and used them as object lessons.  He recorded their failures and their punishments for your benefit.  Learn from the example, so that you don't learn by personal experience.  Each of these failings of Israel is a species of unbelief.  Idolatry is easiest to recognize - at least gross idolatry.  And yet, our Synodical leaders seem to have some confusion about what even that might entail.

But when we don't trust God's Word, and we put Christ to the test - whether it is the protestant "laying a fleece before the Lord" - or simply looking for some sort of sign or feeling - it means that we don't believe.  If we crave evil and feel cheated by not being allowed to run after the wickedness of the world around us, we don't believe that God's will, which we find confining at times, is really for our good and blessing.  If we grumble, we are saying, in effect, that we know better than God, and we don't believe God is doing what is right and good for us.

Now, these things occur to us in the course of life.  They come into our minds both by the temptation of the devil and by our own sinful flesh.  Nonetheless, as Luther used to say, "You may not be able to keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair."  When temptation arises, take heed.  Paul reminds us, "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."

God will help.  Take heed.  Make note!  God has promised help.  When we face trials, or temptations, God will help.  You never need doubt His love, or worry that He has forgotten you.  He will always provide what you need to bear up under the temptation.  And His will for you is always the same - always judged by the cross, and not by what we think is happening to us or around us.

"Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."  Temptations and troubles will come.  If you think you will be spared, or that you will not be truly tested by what God permits to come to you, you are wrong.   Take heed.

Why does God give us this warning?  Because we are living in the end of the ages.  We stand trembling on the brink of eternity.  The battle is going to be fierce, and long.  It will go right up to the end.  And, even the Christian can stumble and fall.  There is no "once saved, always saved."  No one can snatch you out of His hand, but you need to know that the old evil Foe can deceive you and seduce you into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice if you are not alert.
Our lesson today has three main points: Trouble and temptation will come.  God will help those who trust in Him.  So, trust Him.

As Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight."

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

Sunday, August 07, 2022

The Big "IF"

 Romans 8:12-17

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!"  The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

Sermon for the 8-SAT                 8/07/22

The Big "IF"

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Last Sunday we talked about the freedom versus the bondage of the Christian.  St. Paul teaches that our freedom is an illusion and that we are slaves, either of sin and death or of righteousness and of God.  This Epistle lesson begins with that understanding, stated explicitly.  "So the, brethren, we are under obligation."  We are not free in the sense that we can do whatever we like and that sin or holiness does not matter.  We are under obligation!

Strangely, Paul doesn't complete the thought exactly.  He breaks off into a parallel thought and never quite returns to define our obligation, or to whom or what it is.  He proceeds instead to make a number of conditional statements - you know, the kind that begin with "if".  In five short verses, he uses the word "if" four times.  Three of the if's flow smoothly in the course of developing his point, and seem quite clear and natural, and then we come to the big "if".  Our attention is drawn to that big, uncomfortable conditional statement, and we want to look at it in context, this morning.  Our theme is "The Big ‘IF'."

We are under obligation, Paul says.  That is true, of course, only if we are Christians, only if we believe.  But IF we believe, then we are under obligation, and, although Paul doesn't say so explicitly, it seems pretty clear that we are under obligation to live by the Spirit, and so we are under obligation to be about the business of "putting to death the deeds of the body".  We have no obligation to the flesh.

It often feels like we do.  The desires of the flesh are so urgent and pressing and feel so important.  When you stop to discipline your body it is painful.  You feel like you are being denied something.  The yearning for what you know is not right is almost intolerable.  I think that is why Paul describes the process of disciplining yourself as putting to death the deeds of the body.  It feels like something is dying, or that not doing, or not saying, or not permitting yourself to dwell on something will almost kill you.  It hurts!

But, "If you are living according to the flesh, you must die."  That is one obligation; death for sin if one declines to live the life of righteousness - or you are obligated to live a holy life, a life guided by the Holy Spirit.  It sounds like the choice is yours, but it is only after the choice of God.  First, you must be one of His, which is His choice of grace.  He gives you the Holy Spirit and gives you the power to follow the life of holiness - and He gives you the will to do so.  Then and only then, do you have the choice of following Him.

But that is the choice that you must make and exercise.  We are under obligation.  Having all of the gifts of God, to fail to choose to follow Him is to turn away from Him and salvation, which you already possess by His gift and grace!  That choice is death.  Jesus said, "He that is not with me is against me."  He also said, "I would that you were cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth."  

What has come so far sounds very much like the Law, like you must do certain works, or all is lost.  While he is encouraging a life consistent with having the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, he is not intending to suggest that we are facing the judgement of God if we do not perform certain works, or if we fail to live up to a particular state of holiness.  The Gospel tells us that all of our holiness is from God.  Jesus exchanged His righteousness for our sin and then paid the penalty for our sin.  He died on the cross because that is what we have earned, and, the Gospel teaches us, we also receive what He has earned - namely the favor of God, perfect righteousness, and life everlasting.  It is ours, not on the basis of anything we have done or any righteousness of ours, but because Jesus made the exchange, and took what we had coming to us, and then bestowed on us what He has merited as a gift.

So, Paul turns quickly from the exhortation to following the Spirit and leading a life which is guided by the Holy Spirit, and which, therefore, includes putting to death the deeds of the body, to a gospel reminder that we are not to live our lives out of fear, but out of love for our Lord.  First he tells us that, "all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God," then He reminds us, "you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba!  Father!'"

The spirit of slavery is the spirit of the Law.  It is the idea that we must do certain things, must establish a personal righteousness of a certain quality before we can hope to enter heaven.  It is the bondage of the Law and the fear is that monster of uncertainty that Luther described which always asks, "Have I done enough?  Have I believed enough or strongly enough?"  The fear is the fear that we haven't made it, and that we don't deserve it.

Which is true, we don't deserve it, but it is a gift of grace received through faith in Jesus Christ.  Our sins are forgiven.  Heaven is opened to us because Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose triumphant from His grave on Easter morning.  The ‘Monster of Uncertainty' has been put to death by the Gospel, which tells us that our salvation does not depend on us.  We have not been called to fear or given a spirit of slavery, but the Spirit of Adoption by which we cry out to God the Father, "Daddy".  We received that Spirit in our Baptism, in which God adopted us.  And that is what the "Abba" means, it was the Aramaic word a child would cry out for ‘Pappa" or "Daddy", and Paul translated it with the next word - "Father".  Our trust in God is like that of a small child in their loving father.

Your faith and confidence in God bears witness to your relationship to the Father, and so does the Holy Spirit as He dwells in you.  When doubts arise, you want to listen to that witness.  He will bring to mind the Word of God and remind you of the evidence of faith and sanctification in your life to show you the truth.  And He will keep you united to Christ, who is our Life and our Salvation.  And because of this union with Christ, you will not only have His protection and forgiveness now, you will be a co-heir.

Co-heir means that you will receive a share in everything Christ has from the Father.  Christ says He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  You get a share of that as a co-heir with Christ.  Christ receives all glory - and you are a co-heir in that!  Christ lives forever, and He has risen from the grave - and all of that and whatever Christ receives from the Father, you get a share in all of it.  It doesn't mean that you will become His equal, but He is giving to those who are His a share as fellow-heirs with Him.

Then comes the big "IF".  "If indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him."  This sharing with Christ is the meaning of "salvation", when we talk about "forgiveness of sins, life and salvation".  All three go together, but there is more to salvation than just unending life.  The blessings of God are rich, and abundant, and beyond fully expressing.  The Bible says that in eternal life – in heaven – there is no more pain, no more sorrow, no more sickness, and no more death.  Here, God tells us that we get something more than that - we share in all that Christ receives from the Father.  What that entails I cannot say with any precision, because the Bible doesn't say, but it is good!  And it is yours, IF . . .

If you suffer with Christ.  If you want to take part in this Gospel salvation, and you want to share in what Christ receives from the Father, then you will also share in all that He received - pains and sorrows and death included.  This isn't a new message or a big surprise.  Jesus told us that the world would hate us, and He told us why.  It hates God and it hates Him, so, if we are His, and like Him, we will also be hated.  He told us that they would persecute us.  He told us that they would lie about us.  He told us that the world would even kill us.  And He told us that if we wanted to be His disciples we would have to take up our cross and follow Him.

Being the child of God and co-heir with Jesus means that you are an enemy alien to this world.  You do not think the way the world around you does - and that fact should not surprise you.  You should not be acting like the world around you - for that is the behavior of the lost and condemned and the dying.  You are called to use this world like a tool, for God's purposes, but always aware that it is but a cheap and transitory thing.  You do this - not to curry favor or to impress someone – but because this is who you are, who you have been created to be by your baptism and by the Spirit's transforming work in you.  If it hasn't happened, then you are among the dying - and you must die.

IF you want to take part in all that Christ has and gives to His brothers and sisters, then you must take part in the unpleasant stuff as well.  It comes naturally to God's people.  If you try to avoid it, you come under the judgment of God - "He who would save his own life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for My sake, and for the Gospel's sake, shall keep it."  We cannot run from Christ, precisely at the point of conflict and pain, or we deny Him.

But if we endure - and that is the big "IF", and if we suffer whatever we are called on to suffer - we are His and "heirs of God", and co-heirs with Him.  You don't have to go out and look for the cross - it will find you.  You don't want to invent some pain of your own - Luther and the entire monastic movement tried that and it came up wanting.  You merely want to put to death the deeds of the body, and stand firmly and faithfully on the Word of God and the love of Christ.  Pain and trouble will come and find you.  The sufferings of Christ will find you as you show Christ to the world.  His enemies are still out there.  Just show them Jesus and you will find the pain.

Don't be surprised - although we are always surprised and disappointed by the pain and persecution and the betrayals.  Such things are coming as surely as Christ is the Son of God, and you are His disciple.  The suffering, whatever form it may take in your life, is part of the package.  Just trust God, endure patiently because you understand what is happening, and you believe God's promises - of help, of comfort, of a way of escape that you may be able to bear it, of resurrection from the grave and life everlasting.  Just as surely as Christ rose from the dead, so too, all those who are His and share in all of His things, including the cross, shall rise with Him.

The big question is, are you His?  That is the big "IF".  If we are His, "if indeed we suffer with Him, in order that we may also be glorified with Him."  From the perspective of faith, of course, it isn't really a big ‘if', is it?

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