Sunday, October 30, 2022

Simply the Gospel

Romans 3:19-28

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Reformation Day 10/30/22

Simply the Gospel

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Luther was a stubborn German. On October 31st of 1517, he posted an invitation to debate the sale of indulgences on the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg. He did not intend a reformation of the church. He was still a faithful priest of the Roman Catholic church. His action was a typical call for a debate on an issue by a Doctor of Theology in his day and age, and Luther's issue was the sale of indulgences. Forgiveness was not for sale, in Luther's opinion.

It seems that everybody found Luther's tract interesting, and although he never got the formal, academic debate he had been aiming for, Luther sparked a war of pamphlets with the chief salesman of indulgences for the Pope in Germany, Johann Tetzel, and an escalating controversy which caused Luther and the whole of Christianity to rethink many issues and doctrines of the faith which resulted in what we call the Reformation. So, October 31st is known as Reformation Day among most Lutherans.

As Luther debated, he found that the Gospel itself was at issue, ultimately, and being a stubborn German, he would not let go of the issue. Being a sincere Christian he could not let go of the Gospel — the simple Gospel laid out by the Apostle Paul in our epistle lesson this morning. Our theme today is Simply the Gospel.

Paul began with the law and sin. That is where we must always begin. The law teaches us that every single one of us is a sinner, and as such deserve nothing but God's wrath, death and Hell. The function of the law was never primarily to teach us how to behave, but to demonstrate before our eyes and intellects that we are sinful through and through. We need to be rescued, and we lack the character and ability to do anything about that need.

So God did what was needed. He sent His only-begotten Son into the world and into our flesh to do two things: keep the law of God perfectly, and then die innocent of any personal fault or need to die – He was to take on our need to die for us and die in our place. Having done that, the death our sins demanded before the justice of God was accomplished, used up, if you will. Then God justified us, counting Christ's perfect righteousness as our own because Christ counted our sins as His own. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Simply the Gospel. There was nothing left to buy. Our forgiveness is the gift of the Gospel. Everyone is covered by this gift. The only way out of it is to reject it and deny it and to refuse to be covered by this grace of God. Because man's nature is sin and hostile to God, being ignorant of God and His grace is the most common way of rejecting the gift of grace, but many do so deliberately as well. They simply will not believe it and will not accept it, and sometimes believe that they must do something that makes them fit for God's grace – which is to call God a liar both in the judgement of the law and in His goodness, grace and mercy in the Gospel.

The Gospel - the life and death and resurrection of Jesus – was to show [God's] righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Faith is all that is required, and God gives faith and creates faith when and where the good news of His love is proclaimed. He has to give faith because we are unable to believe accept, or truly understand the Gospel without the enlightening of the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. 2:14, a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

So we celebrate simply the Gospel on Reformation Day. God pushed that stubborn German into a fight he did not want, first by making such a big deal of the 95 theses, then making Luther dig into Scriptures to defend himself – where he discovered that his religion had been missing the gospel all along. And God taught Luther to believe and forced him to teach and defend what God had shown him in the Scriptures, what I have called simply the Gospel, For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

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


Sunday, October 23, 2022

Old Man / New Man: The Change

 Ephesians 4:22-28

(T)hat, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.  Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH, EACH ONE of you, WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.  BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.  Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.

Sermon for the 19th SAT                                                          10/23/22

Old Man / New Man: The Change

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I have a confession to make this morning.  I have been a Christian all of my life.  I was baptized when I was two months and five days old.  I have no time in my life of which I am aware that I was not a believer.  I was raised in the Lutheran Church and have loved going to church and singing the hymns and hearing the sermons all of my life, from my earliest memories to now.  I enjoyed doing memory work as a child.  I like talking about God - and I like talking to Him.  He listens so very well.  I have hated being alive at different times of my life.  I have wished my life circumstances were entirely different at one time or another, but I have always believed in God and trusted in Him and hoped for eternal life.

So a passage like the Epistle lesson this morning has always struck me.  I have sinned at times in my life, but I have never known a time when I did not live with a consciousness of God, and of His will, and of His love.  When I sin, sometimes I have had other things more prominent in my mind, and sometimes I have deliberately pushed God out of my mind so that I could sin more boldly at the moment, but I never had the time before I believed to point to and say, now that was my former manner of life, that was my "old self".  But I have always known what Paul was talking about when he wrote about that old self and that former manner of life.  Our theme this morning is, "Old Man / New Man: The Change".

Before we go any farther, let me say that I do know how this passage applies to me.  I know the old man and I know where he lives.  He lives in my flesh, in my sinful desires and in my inability to resist sin.  This passage often sounds like it speaks only to those who used to be pagans and are now Christians, but it doesn't.  It speaks to me, and to my weakness and sin, and it speaks to yours as well.  So let us talk about the Old Man and the New man and the change in us due to Christ.

The first thing we notice is that the old man is not a nice guy.  Paul tells us that the Old Man is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit.  There are three ideas there: corruption, lust (which is any strong desire, but usually refers to a sinful desire), and deceit.  There is nothing attractive or pleasing in that list.  Corruption takes you from good to bad, or from bad to worse.  That is the human condition.  We recognize it, in our own backwards way, when we grumble about the decay of our society, and when we yearn for "the good old days".  Sin is corrosive to human nature, and we are corrupted by it.  I often find myself looking at the news and wondering how anyone could do the things I see have been done by someone that day.  It is spooky when I have to confess that it is only by the grace of God at work in me that I am not capable of such things, or that I am not doing them.

There was a program on TV that featured the capture of internet predators who came to a house in a suburbs somewhere, seeking to molest twelve and thirteen year old girls - or boys.  Several of their "guests" have made repeat appearances, and some of them were teachers, rabbi's, and even ministers.  These were outwardly good, decent, normal people – at least by all appearances – who found themselves corrupted by sin and the lusts of deceit.   I would like to think that I am "bullet-proof" in this regard, but the Bible - and just watching the world around me - instructs me that it is not necessarily so.

That is why St. Paul urges us to lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self.  That is something you can do, by the power of God the Holy Spirit who dwells within you.  Unbelievers cannot.  They are mired in the corruption, and the lusts, and the deceit.  They need to be rescued - and not just from sin, but from themselves.  They need the help of someone sharing with them the hope of salvation and the good news of forgiveness of sins, salvation and forgiveness bought and paid for by the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf, and proclaimed by His resurrection!  They need to hear that they have been redeemed.  They have been purchased and won from that corruption in accordance with the lusts of deceit – not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent sufferings and death.

You, too, have been redeemed, You have also been made the child of God through Baptism, and fed salvation in His holy Supper.  You have God's own power within you to lay aside that old self, and put on the new man.  You don't have to create that new man.  Paul tells us that God has already created him.  Paul writes, "that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. " That renewal is God's work, as we talked about last week, but Paul exhorts us by God's own inspiration to be renewed, that is, that we live in that renewal, and not in the confusion and corruption of the deceits of this life.  We are God's holy people.  He even tells us that we have been newly created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

But, although God has done the work - redeeming us, and creating in us that new self, we still have to put it on, that is, we need to deliberately live the life of holiness and righteousness and truth that God has created for us.  You have to live out the renewed spirit and renewed mind that God has given you.  You have that power, and the ability to make that choice.  It is all God-given, poured out into you by the gift of the Holy Spirit, so, you can do it.  

Sadly, some, who call themselves "Christian" do not.  They remain in the ways of the world, they behave as though nothing has changed, and that there is no difference between a Christian and anyone else.  But, simple reason will show you, if there is no difference, then we have no different hope either.  If being a Christian makes no difference in you, it makes no difference for you either.

This is not to say that a Christian does not sin.  Paul himself wrote about the problem in Romans 7, "The good that I want to do, I don't do, but I find myself doing the very evil things I don't want to do."  That is one of the reason Paul encourages and exhorts us.  He knows we need it, and he knows that sin is still natural to our flesh.  So He encourages us to lay aside the old self – repent – and put on the new self.

"Laying aside the old self" and "putting on the new self" is the change that our sermon theme speaks of.  It means allowing the Word of God to change your mind, and shape your thinking, and end the deceit of self-justification.  That can only happen when we hear the Law and confess our sins, and then trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and life and salvation.  Paul doesn't describe what this change looks like in every detail, but he does give us a couple of important aspects of it.  Because it is a renewal in truth, he tells us to be people of truth - "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH, EACH ONE of you, WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another."  When we undergo this change, we set aside the deceit – the old self – and adopt the truth – the new self, just as He who is the Truth has chosen us and made us members of His own family.

It is important that we do this for more reasons than one.  Not only does this truthfulness reflect who we are but we need to deal with one another honestly because we are connected.  We are members - the word means "body parts" - of one another.  In the body of Christ, we are inter-connected.  It makes as little sense for division and dishonestly to appear among the people of God as it makes sense for your hand to chop off your foot, or your mouth to refuse to feed your stomach.

Another issue – a putting on of the new self – that Paul instructs us about deals with anger.  Anger is toxic, but it is also unavoidable as long as we wear this sinful flesh.  Keeping that in mind, Paul wrote, "BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity."

Anger itself is not the whole problem.  It is what we do with anger that is the problem.  As the children of God, we are to deal with everything honestly, including our anger.  We are to confront our anger, and we need to deal with the cause or source of our anger.  Sometimes that means we need to get a grip and deal with the reality of our lives like grown-ups, and sometimes it means to address the situation that stirs up our anger, and find a solution - which almost always involves confession and repentance by someone – and forgiveness from someone else.  

At all cost, we are to avoid allowing anger to stew within us and fester into a bigger problem.  Paul says, "do not let the sun go down on your anger".  In order to do this, it requires the courage to speak about what's bugging you, and the courage and willingness – and humility – to really listen when someone responds to you, and, on the other side, it requires the compassion to care when someone else has an issue to share with us.  This all demands the new man, because the old man is not up to either end of this conversation.

The issue at the bottom of it all is that we do not allow the devil an opportunity.  The Greek there is interesting; it says, literally, "do not give a place to the devil."  Our anger, particularly when we don't deal with the causes, gives the devil a place within us from which he might diminish us, or seduce us.  Dishonesty works the same way.  It opens the door to the devil to twist our perceptions, to lead us from the truth, and to give others cause for bitterness against us.

The final example in our text of the change is the example of the thief who has been converted.  He stops his life of taking and begins to work so that he may have to give to others instead.  It marks the size of the change worked by this change from the old man to the new man - putting off of the one who takes from others and putting on of the child of God, the new self who gives to others, just as Jesus gave to us.  This change is part of being the people of God, and result of it.  It is also part of how we remain the people of God and resist the corruptions of the lusts of deceit.

As I earnestly desire to stand firm in the faith and be faithful unto death that I may finally obtain that crown of life, as Revelations 2:10 promises me, I also want to walk in this truth of the old man/new man and of the change which Christ brings.  I want to put away the "old" and be renewed in my spirit and in my mind, to the new man, who is being renewed in righteousness and holiness of the truth.  I want it, but that is a change that God alone works.  I know you want the same things - and here Paul teaches us that God has created that new man in us that we may live in Him by grace and through faith.  May we deliberately and consciously walk in the newness of Christ by His power and according to His will, reflecting the Old Man / New Man: the Change.

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

Sunday, October 16, 2022

God's Work All the Way

 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sermon for the 18th S A T                                                           10/16/22

God's Work All the Way

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The thought is inescapable, if you read the Scriptures. You have to want to miss it to miss it.  Strangely, though, many people who claim to be Christians and claim to believe the Bible miss it, or ignore it.  It is one of the most comforting thoughts that the Bible teaches, and yet it is, to be quite frank, somewhat unsettling for many people.  It is the theme for our sermon this morning, "God's Work All the Way".

By that, I mean to say that our faith and our lives in Christ are the work of God and not our work.  We receive them as gifts of the grace of God.  We often feel as though we are doing something, that we make choices and we make it happen, but it is the consistent witness of Scripture that our participation in Christ – in faith, in being a member of the Church, of continuing in faith – is the gift of God.

We do make choices all by ourselves.  That is the unfortunate part.  We make choices like missing worship because we think we have something more urgent to attend to.  We choose to doubt God's good will – that it is good, or that it is right.  We choose to listen to the voices of society  – or family – around us and place emotion before doctrine, our sense of things before what God's Word tells us, and how things look to us before what the truth is from God.  We choose to justify ourselves for our lapses and sins rather than repent of them, and confess them, and allow Christ to justify us.  Yes, we do make choices, but when we do so under our own wisdom and power, we are invariably making sinful choices.  The good stuff is God at work in us, and faith is his gift.

That is why Paul begins this short piece of 1 Corinthians with thanksgiving.  I thank my God always concerning you.   He knows that its God's work all the way.  They are who they are because of God.  They believe because of God.  They not only are what they realize they are, but Paul wants them to know more, that there is so much more to it than it seems at first blush.  But His teaching begins with the thanksgiving.

He thanks God for the grace of God which has been poured out on them.  Since it is grace, it obviously cannot be anything but a gift.  That is so because grace is that undeserved favor of God.  It is seen first and foremost in the forgiveness of sins.  That is not the specific grace that Paul is focused on, here, but whenever we approach the idea of the grace of God it is good to remember that Grace starts with forgiveness.

Paul is thankful for the grace of God given to them (and to us, I would assume) in connection with Jesus Christ.  That is, of course where all grace is connected.  This brings me back to the seminary definition of grace that I use in confirmation classes: Grace is the new attitude of favor in God toward us, sinful men, for Christ's sake.  All of our dealings with God are made possible and powered (if you will) by Christ's death on the cross for us, and His resurrection.

In our text, Paul is talking about how, by the grace of God, we have been enriched in Christ.  The specific riches of which he is writing about are in speech and knowledge.  Paul is effusive in his praise - he says we are enriched in everything, then says in all speech and in all knowledge.  What the grace of God has enriched us in is everything concerning Christ and salvation - not necessarily absolutely everything.  God has taught us about Christ, and taught us how to speak about Christ.  Worship and the confession of our faith is a good example.  The best worship is when we say back to God what He has said to us first.  That is why so much of our worship is drawn directly from the Bible.  We con-fess, we speak with God, and say what He has said first.

Paul talks about how the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in the Corinthians.  That confirmation is their faith.  That they believe is confirmation of the Gospel Paul preaches.  The Corinthians also seemed to have had a number of the more remarkable gifts of the Spirit as a validation of the Gospel message they had heard.  Paul directly addresses the issue of the gifts of the Spirit in later chapters of this letter, and he appears to bringing the topic up right here at the beginning of the letter.  But he is not speaking about the Corinthians having special gifts that no one else has, or that some churches lack.  Their faith, and the church among them, is the confirmation of the testimony of the Gospel concerning Christ among them – as it is for us.

The testimony concerning Christ is that He had died on your behalf, suffered for your sins, and has risen from the dead bringing forgiveness and life and salvation to you.  The only confirmation of that good news is the Holy Spirit at work in you, creating and sustaining your faith.  The congregation gathered around you is the confirmation of the testimony of Christ.  Nothing else would actually work.  Think about it.  The children of Israel saw the great plagues that struck Egypt, they had the pillar of cloud and fire, they heard the voice of God at Mt. Sinai, and received the gift Manna six out of every seven days for forty years, and yet they wandered.  They committed idolatry.  They refused to believe the Word of God about the promised land.  Signs and wonders can only do so much.  Even being a witness to the resurrection of Christ, as the Jews of Jerusalem were, did not make the difference for them.  For confirmation of the Word of God concerning Christ, only faith, and the church He has assembled for over two thousand years, can serve.

Paul then asserts that the Corinthians were not lacking in any gift.  That didn't mean that they had everything they could imagine.  They didn't.  They had everything they needed.  Every gift that the church needed to be the people of God and to do the things God had planned for them to do was already given to them.  They were not lacking in any gift needed to await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Likewise, we do not lack any gift needed for us to accomplish what the Lord would have us to do while we also await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  That revelation, of which Paul writes, is what we call ‘the return of Christ to sum up the ages', and to judge the quick and the dead, and to bring us all home to eternal glory with Him.  We await that revelation eagerly, as Paul says.  We want no more sin, or sorrow, or sickness and death.  We look forward to that final step in our salvation which brings us to the fulness of the promises of God.  The troubles of this life are wearying, and we eagerly await that day when they are ended.  We don't look for - or hope for - annihilation or unconsciousness, but the life everlasting and the joy and peace of which the Gospel speaks.

Paul also promises here, by the Word of God, that our Lord will confirm us to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  While we await His return, we have the promise of the Lord to continue to keep us in forgiveness, so that when He comes, we are found to be fit for heaven, righteous with His righteousness, and blameless in day of judgment.  We not only have every gift needed to accomplish what God would have us accomplish, but we have the gift that we need in the final day, when Jesus shall bring all mankind before Himself and shall separate the sheep from the goats - those who are His from those who have chosen to walk away from His grace and love.

Every step of our pilgrimage through life as the child of God is the work of God.   He has seen our need for rescue from sin, and worked out or salvation.  The story is older than any of us here, but the wonder of it is still the same, God conceived the plan to be both the just Judge, and the one who justified the sinner through Jesus Christ.  The soul that sins is justly condemned by divine justice, and yet, it is redeemed and forgiven and given eternal life of the righteous by the same divine justice – and the plan and the work of putting that plan into action is God's work all the way.  Now He brings that good news to us, and proclaims it to those who are powerless to respond, and so God creates the response, and gives us faith by His own power and work, forgiving us and cleansing us, and strengthening us through both Word and Sacrament, and holds us in faith, as well.  He works in us and works every good thing we do through us by His power, and rewards us as though it were our work, when, in fact, we would be utterly undone if He were not sustaining us minute by minute.  It is no wonder Paul began this passage with thanksgiving, and ends it with the confession that God is faithful.

God is faithful because He has called us into fellowship with His Son, and He sustains us in it.  It is that very faithfulness of God that we depend upon for both our physical life and blessings, and our spiritual life and well-being.  Paul writes about all of this both to give the Corinthian church a reason for thanksgiving, and to comfort them in the midst of whatever they will have to endure, for God is faithful.  They do not need to worry about the future or the challenges that it may bring.  They can and will succeed and hold fast to the faith – and we can and will hold fast to the faith and succeed in all that God has planned for us to accomplish – because it is God's work all the way.

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

Sunday, October 09, 2022

A Manner Worthy of Your Calling

 Ephesians 4:1-6

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Trinity 10/09/22

A Manner Worthy of Your Calling

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Who are you? Your answer to that question will determine the course of your life and the values you live by. It is said that people actually live out what they believe. And they do, although they don't always live out what they say that they believe. Such people don't, evidently, know who they are.

Now, I'm sure you think you know who you are. If you want to be sure, look at the decisions you make - decisions about your time; decisions about your behavior; decisions about your stewardship of all of that which God has entrusted you for a time. What you do and how you decide will show you just who you are. If you look at yourself honestly and have the courage to face the truth about what you see, you will discover that you are not who you think you are - or at least who you think you want to be - or want others to think you are!

That is because of the flesh, the part of you that is still under the sway of sin. For most people, that is their entire being, but since you are here, this morning, I am going to assume that you are genuinely Christian, and that what you see is a reflection of that part of you that is still awaiting the resurrection. I said ‘that part of you' that is awaiting the resurrection because when you were baptized, part of you - your spirit - died and was born again to a new and everlasting life in connection with Christ Jesus. We don't actually see the baptized die or be raised to new life, we merely witness the means by which God accomplishes this miracle, Holy Baptism. Because God says that this is what He is doing in Baptism, we know that we witness it happening, although we cannot point to a moment when the spirit dies to sin or is raised to new and everlasting life in Jesus Christ.

We don't actually see it because the flesh does not die in Baptism. It continues alive and well, and infected with sin, just as we all are! It is that sinful flesh that leads us astray. It is the flesh that leads us to say things we know we ought not to say, and to do things we know we should not do, and to fail to do those things we know we just should do, as God's people. Things like prayer, forgiving one another, gathering for worship with all God's holy people on a regular basis, and the like.

The Apostle Paul wrote that we should walk - that is to say we should live - in a manner worthy of our calling - the calling with which you have been called. That is the same as saying that you should live out what you confess - or what you believe. As we look at our text this morning, our theme is "A Manner Worthy of Your Calling."

You act on what you believe because what you believe makes you what you are. Think about it. Pagans act like pagans. They live without a consistent moral center, because their gods, if they profess to have one in today's world, are of their own making and imagination, and they are shaped according to their own desires. They do what they want to do, and they justify their actions by reference to their god - as Muslims or Satanists do - or by explaining that they have no god, and they are free to do whatever they are strong enough or clever enough to get away with.

Sensualists live for the pleasure of it - however they may define pleasure. The Connoisseur lives for the pleasure of food, or wine, or whatever he or she claims is their specialty. The practitioner of extreme sports lives for the thrill of being on the edge. Some live for the more erotic sensual pleasures. They do so because that is where they believe the meaning of their lives exists.

People who believe that this life is all there is live for the moment, and when life is no longer fun or profitable, they throw it away. The Hemlock Society, for example, lobbies for the right to exit this life at the time of one's own choosing, before it is no longer worth living, in their estimation.

Christians will live out what they believe – or, to put it as Paul does, they will live in a manner worthy of the calling with which they have been called in Christ Jesus. They have been called to faith in God and forgiveness of sins, and the hope of salvation. Please note that they are not called to live in such a manner as would make them worthy of their calling. They are called, rather, to live in a way that is appropriate for one who has such a calling.

Judging by our Epistle lesson this morning, to "walk in a manner worthy" means to live deliberately as a member of the church, as a member of the body of Christ, living out our forgiveness, and our unity with one another and with everyone who places their hope completely on the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

The question is, how do you do that? What is the worthy manner?

We turn to the text again. Paul indicates that the worthy manner includes humility. That makes sense, since we live by the grace of God, which is the undeserved choice of God to bless and save us, through Jesus Christ. We do not merit Christ's gift. The fact that we need to be saved says that much. We are just like everyone else, deserving God's wrath and destruction, if we do not consider the work of Jesus on our behalf. So we have no particular reason for ego and pride that we are Christians or that we will be going to heaven. We have reason for joy, but it is a gift, not something we have earned.

The worthy manner also includes gentleness. The manner worthy of our calling is ‘like Christ.' Jesus did not come with violence or aggressiveness. He had good cause for violence and aggressive behavior, but He came humble and gentle for our sakes. He didn't demand His rights or push people into the pattern in which He wanted them to live. He came teaching and preaching and setting and example, and enduring the sin of those around Him even when it was focused on Him. He chose to lead the flock, not drive the herd.

Paul also included patience in that worthy manner. It just goes with humility and gentleness. Patience doesn't demand its own way or its own time schedule. The manner worthy of our calling is one that recognizes that we have been called to represent Christ on earth - not as employees, but as members of the family who share the same focus, that through Jesus Christ men and women might find salvation. This humility is linked to forbearance. We bear with the weakness and folly of one another, knowing that we, too are weak and foolish, but without regard to our weakness Christ has chosen us and rescued us from sin, death and hell.

Finally, the worthy manner is to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Basically, that means living in the reality of the oneness we have been given in Jesus Christ — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God (who is Father), one body and one Spirit. The body is the Church and the Spirit is the Holy Spirit who dwells in each one that believes.

Jesus said, "By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." We are to love each other first. We are to "preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." This love is not about feeling a certain way or doing good deeds, although it certainly doesn't exclude them. This love is about sharing sound doctrine, about peace and harmony and patience and humility with one another. In other words, the love we are to have for one another is another way of expressing the worthy manner to live out the calling of Jesus Christ to eternal life and salvation.

Our unity is first that we are part of that "one body" that Paul writes about. He means "the body of Christ", which is the Church. We share that one Spirit. And we all partake of that one hope - the promise of resurrection from our graves, and eternal life in glory with Him and with all those who have loved the Lord and shared in this unity. This is the truth of God, revealed to us in God's Word, but not by our senses or our feelings, or our earthly experience, necessarily.

Naturally, all those that believe have the same Lord - the Lord Jesus Christ.

We confess one faith. Denominational labels do not matter in this. Everyone who goes to heaven believes what we believe, that is to say we share the same fundamental doctrines. One way I have stated this before is to say that everyone who goes to heaven is a Lutheran, whether they know it or not, because they believe the same Gospel. They hold to the same salvation. They repent. They trust in Jesus alone for their salvation by grace alone through faith alone - or they are not Christians. It isn't enough to know how to pronounce the name, Jesus. A false faith hopes in that which is not saving and trusts in those things which are not promised. So one might say that the Baptist, or the Catholic, or the Methodist that trusts in Jesus alone for salvation is a Lutheran under the skin and unawares, for they share that one faith of which Paul has written to us. That is a big part of our true unity.

Each of us shares in the one baptism. It is the Baptism of Jesus, commanded in Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:16, in Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16. It is a baptism that clothes us with Christ, washes away our sins, causes us to be born again to a living hope, and makes us members of Christ's body, the Church. Without that baptism, we are not a part of this thing called the Christian Church. It is the same baptism no matter where it is done or what method we may us - immersion, pouring the water, or sprinkling. It is all the same, and it is all by Christ's command and by Christ's hand - for He calls the hands of those that baptize into His service, and gives them the command - "Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."

We all worship the same God and have but one heavenly Father who is over all, and in us all, and He works through all of us to accomplish His gracious will here on earth. Living deliberately within this unity, and deliberately seeking to preserve it in peace and concord, is part of what we are called by in this text to live in, the manner worthy of your calling.

Each of us is in the same delicate condition, clinging to a hope which is beyond our power to choose to believe in the first place. We earnestly want nothing to shake us, and, if we are true Christians, we want nothing to shake each other. God has given us to one another to help us stand fast and firm in this evil world.

The American dream of independence is strong in our culture and strong in our flesh, but it is not a part of the Christian faith. We are united, walking together in the manner worthy of our calling, deliberate in love because the Holy Spirit in us works love in us for one another - by this will all men know that you are disciples of mine, if you have love for one another.

So, we answer the question "Who are You?" by walking in the manner worthy of your calling because it is who we are as God's holy people.

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

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Comprehending the Love of Christ

 Ephesians 3:13-21

Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.  For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.  Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity                                     10/02/22

Comprehending the Love of Christ

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

People often struggle with the idea of a loving God.  People respond to war, to human tragedy, to illness, and to sorrow , and ask, "How can a loving God permit this to happen?"  They act as though they believe that God should be responsible for these sorts of things.

When we confront human tragedy and sorrow in general terms, we rarely consider the sort of control that God would need to exercise in order to prevent or control the things which cause such trouble and sorrow in our world - such as war, crime, and abuse of one another.  Much of the freedom of decision and action which we enjoy would need to be taken from us, if God were to prevent every difficult experience from confronting us.

Also, when we ask how a loving God can permit such things, we also have to ask how we can permit them, or what are we willing to do to prevent or ameliorate such difficulties.  Are you willing to surrender your freedoms?  Are you willing to give up your free time and work to solve these problems?  Are you willing to divest yourself of your treasures and your wealth to eliminate human sorrow and suffering from this cause or that?  Of course, the answer is that if you were willing to do so, you would already be doing it.  If we are not willing to expend our resources to eliminate our troubles, how is it that we can hold God accountable?  It is only when we can seriously ask these sorts of questions that we can begin to ask the right sorts of questions that might help us understand God and His love.  Our text addresses that issue briefly, and our theme, this morning, is "Comprehending the Love of Christ."

The love of Christ is far more complex and thorough-going than we are accustomed to think.  We tend to love far more simply and shallow.  Our love often is a love of pure emotion, and very little intellect is applied.  Many parents have trouble doing the things that are wise, in regards to their children, simply because they are difficult or painful to endure.  So we have an entire generation of parents who say, "My child is not going to have to do this - or do without that," simply because they had to do or endure it, and did not find it delightful, or understand it well.  They never stop to think of how their experiences – whether they thought them good or bad – schooled them and made them the people that they are today.  They just know that they did not like it (or them) and they resent it, and they will not allow their children to experience it.  And that is that!

The love of Christ is far wiser and deeper and more compelling.  God permits us to do the difficult and even painful things that we need to do in order to achieve the good that He has planned for us.  Take for example the opening words of our Epistle lesson by Paul, Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.

Paul realizes, undoubtedly by God's inspiration, that the troubles he is enduring are going to work out for the better for him and for those Christians to whom he is ministering.  He doesn't necessarily know exactly how, nor does he need to.  He simply trusts God - and accepts that what God has said is so.  The tribulations he is enduring will work out for their glory.  In fact, he says that his own tribulations are their glory.  We also have the Word of God which tells us that our difficulties will work out on our behalf.  So all we really need is to take God at His Word, and trust that He will do what He has promised.  That is the nature of the Love of Christ for us.

Paul then writes this prayer, For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  Paul never met any of you, and yet this prayer is also for you.  Such is the love of Christ.  Paul is praying that you might have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you with His mighty power so that you might believe - and so that Christ would dwell in your hearts through faith.  The purpose for this is simple, that you may comprehend the love of Christ.

Paul writes, "and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God."  This isn't simply a prayer that you will realize that Christ loves you, but that you will begin to understand in some measure the nature and enormity of the love of Christ.

Don't feel bad if you have trouble capturing it all in your mind - Paul writes to us that it surpasses knowledge.  You simply cannot think that big, or in such complexity and detail.  The Gospel is a good place to start, if you want to understand the love of God, but it just isn't clear enough for us to get an accurate fix on that love.  Because I am talking about things beyond my comprehension, I may sound like I am babbling at times as I try to impress you with the love of God, but bear with me.

The Gospel tells us that God the Father loved us enough to send His Son to live for us and die in our place, innocent of any guilt, and not deserving to die at all.  Some try to draw an analogy which would make the staggering depth of the love of God for us clear, such as comparing us to ants, and one of us being willing to step down to the existence of an ant for their benefit.  It fails as an accurate analogy because we have more in common with ants than God has with us, by nature.  We are created things, with bodies and such.  Besides, ants never did anything to really offend us.  We may find them inconvenient but they have never sinned against us.  They are not even capable of doing so.

We have to grasp the nature of sin and its offense against God to understand what He chose to do for us.  We could probably compare it to a stinging slap of insult and rejection - although it is far more.  It is also destructive and evil and caustic and contrary to God in every way.  Yet His love fervently desired to rescue us from sin - even though we are willing participants.

Then try to imagine the love of Christ, who took on human nature and came to live among us offensive sinners.  He did not walk about holding His nose, mincing through the crowd as though He feared touching the pollution, as we might if we were working with foul, smelly, and contagious people - especially if they were flinging their feces on us and calling us names and spitting on us as we worked to help them.  The love of Jesus was enormous.  He came among sinners to save sinners, and endured the wickedness and the hypocrisy and the hostility of sinners toward Him while He did good and healed them and prepared to suffer and die hideously for them.

Then, He took your sin, that foul stench, on Himself and then paid the penalty for it as though it was His own - so you could have life everlasting, and joy and peace and freedom.  That was His love.  And yet the love of Christ is still more, and larger.  It is not that we can take those few words and clearly imagine how it was for Jesus or what that love must be like.  We cannot!  But that love is just part of it!

Another aspect of that love is how He blesses and protects and guides you each day.  He takes you at times where you don't want to go, and where you only go kicking and screaming and doubting His love, His presence and power.  He takes you where you need to go, and blesses you with all sorts of blessings - the soft and wonderful kind, and the rough and prickly sort that we hate to experience.  He walks with you and watches over you and strengthens you so that you can endure, and that you can accomplish what He has set before you to do, and you receive the glory - whatever it is here and now, and all that it shall be in His heaven, there and then.

He has promised to feed you - and in all the years of your life, He has kept that promise.  He has promised to clothe you, and none of you have stumbled in here naked this morning.  He has promised to guide and protect you, and here, in the fellowship of His people, He does through Word and Sacrament.  He provides everything you need, but it may not always be in a way you expect or coming to you as you would prefer.  But unlike your typical parent, Jesus takes us where we need to go even when it is painful and difficult for us to experience, because His ultimate goal is our ultimate good and salvation.  He is not so much worried about being our friend as He is being our Savior.

Comprehending the love of Christ is not easy.  Our culture and our natural tendencies work in a different direction.  And Jesus has perfect vision when it comes to what is right and good for us.  He is not limited by our sense of things.  Jesus is willing to bear our frustrations and confusion when we don't understand the paths our lives take.  He can take even our sins and turn them to our blessing, at times, although I would not suggest sinning in order to provide Him with opportunities of that sort.  But I would recommend trusting God – and that is aided by diligently applying yourself to comprehending the love of Christ, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.  These words make a fine way to end a sermon, but you want to listen to them carefully, as well.  We confess in these words that Christ is able to do "exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think."  He can do far more than you can imagine, or ask of Him.  And He does it all by the very power which dwells in us through the Holy spirit.  It would nice, according to the way we think, if we could access that power and do what we desire to be done - but He loves us too much for that.  We would do the things which benefit the flesh, but hurt the Spirit.  We have the power in us, but He is using it for us and for our good.  But when you are facing the difficult, threatening and challenging things of life, it is a great comfort to know that power you need is not a long ways off, or hidden somewhere.  It is in you.

All you need is to remember the love which Christ has for you, and trust Him.  This moment, this problem, this illness, this situation is going to work out for blessing and good.  That is the promise of God, who loves you.  Even if it works out for death, in the end, it is a blessing, for death is but the next step to eternal life.  To see the blessing, however, you must take God at His Word and trust Him – but the blessings is there, and, when you comprehend the length and breadth and height and depth and know the love of Christ, you can look forward to the blessing of God in any and every situation.

To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

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