January 24, 2021 Sermon

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Jan 242021
 

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2 Corinthians 5:14-21

Unity. Reconciliation. Those were words we heard often this week as our nation went through a peaceful transition of power. Since we have never experienced a military coup as many other countries have, we can’t truly appreciate what a blessing this is. At the same time, it’s also clear that most who are calling for unity and reconciliation don’t truly understand the only way true unity and reconciliation can occur. Paul makes that way clear to us today.

The first and greatest problem we have is not a lack of unity with each other. The first and greatest problem we have is that we are born into this world as enemies of God. We are born in Adam’s sinful image. By nature, we are completely opposed to anything God says or wants. We are born into this world spiritually dead and unless that changes, unless we have a spiritual birth, our physical death will send us straight to eternal death, eternal enmity and separation from God. Any other problem we face in this world pales in comparison to this greatest problem. We and all humans are born enemies of God.

How do we solve this problem? We don’t. By nature, we don’t want to solve it. We don’t want to be reconciled to God. And since we are born spiritually dead, we couldn’t do anything to initiate a reconciliation with God if we wanted to. We can’t reconcile ourselves to God, he has to do the reconciling.

How did he do it? How did God go about making people who by nature were opposed to him and wanted nothing to do with him his friends, people who now love him and are eager to do his will?

Paul makes it very clear. God reconciled us to himself in Christ. He sent his Son into the world. Jesus became flesh. He put himself in our shoes. He experienced joy and sadness, pain and pleasure. He was tempted in ways we can’t even imagine. But unlike us, he never once sinned, not even by responding with angry words when he was unjustly mocked and beaten. Then, God made him, who did not know sin, to become sin for us. On the cross, one died for all. And Paul explains, therefore all died. Everyone ever born, except Jesus, deserved to die, deserved what Jesus got. But because Jesus volunteered to be our substitute, God considers that we all got what we deserve when Jesus was forsaken and died on the cross. Paul makes the same point in Romans 6 when he reminds us that through our baptism we were united with Jesus in his death.

I like the following example because, when you mention doing something wrong, people sometimes say, “you better be careful, or God might strike you down with a bolt of lightning.” That’s what we all deserve, to have God strike us down on the spot with a bolt of lightning and send us straight to Hell. And if God is the one aiming the lightning bolt there is nothing you can do to escape, there’s nowhere to hide, you can’t run away, he’s not going to miss. But when Jesus was forsaken by God on the cross he was stepping between us and God and absorbing all of those lightning bolts of God’s wrath headed right at us. God’s wrath and punishment for every sin was poured out on Jesus. God made him to be sin for us. When he was forsaken and died, we were forsaken and died because he took our place.

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. In Jesus we have become the righteousness of God. God counted our sins against Jesus, he put our debts on Jesus’ account, so he no longer charges them to our account. In Jesus, he no longer sees us as sinful and deserving his punishment. He sees us as righteous as Jesus was righteous. He sees us as his beloved sons and daughters with whom he is well pleased.

That’s what God has done for us, but there is still a problem. By nature, we don’t care. By nature, we still don’t want anything to do with God. We don’t want to be his friend. We don’t want to be reconciled to him. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.

By God’s grace, someone reached out to us and shared the message of reconciliation with us. Most likely, for most of us, it was our parents and grandparents. But for some, it was a friend or a neighbor, or a teacher, or someone who just happened to knock on their door. In one way or another, God caused us to hear about what he had done for us in Jesus. And the Holy Spirit used that message to move us to say, “Wow, that’s just what I needed to hear. Something has been bothering me. I’ve had this feeling that nothing I do is ever good enough. In fact, I was angry and hated God because he seemed to demand more than I could ever give him. But now I see that he has given me everything I need. In Jesus he has paid for my every sin and given me the righteousness he demands.”

When the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and enables us to see who God really is and what he has done for us we are born again, born from above. We are a new creation. The love of Christ compels us because we realize that he loved us so much, even when we were his enemies, that he died for us. As a result, we no longer live for ourselves, following our selfish sinful nature, but we strive to live for him who died in our place and was raised again.

  What a change God accomplishes! By us to himself, removing our sin and unrighteousness, he removed all the things that put a barrier between him and us. He enables us to see him as a God of love who takes no pleasure in giving us the punishment we deserve but wants to save us and give us the heaven we don’t deserve.

We don’t want to miss what Paul says about how this change in our relationship with God also affects our relationship with others. He says, as a result, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. We don’t judge them by their outward appearance. We understand that there is only one race, the human race, so the color of a person’s skin, their nationality, their language, none of those fleshly things matter. We understand that every human is a descendant of Adam. Every human is born dead in sin. Every human is someone for whom Jesus, the second Adam, lived and died. God our savior has proven that he wants all to be saved.

All the talk about race and culture and some people being more advanced than others on the evolutionary timeline is pure fiction. It is being used by Satan to divide us, to make us look at each other according to the flesh. Yes, sinful humans have prejudice like Jonah, and sinful humans have done terrible things to each other. But the only way we can be truly united and reconciled is by recognizing the truth- Everyone is a sinful descendant of Adam. No one is better or worse than anyone else in God’s eyes. All have sinned and deserve his punishment. When Jesus came into the world he came as a substitute for everyone, no matter what their color or status in society. God put the sins of every human being on Jesus. He paid for the sin that every human ever has or ever will commit. In Jesus we look at every other human as our equal, a sinner like us for whom Jesus lived and died. That’s where true unity and reconciliation comes from. No law, no amount of reparations, nothing else that exists, will bring about true unity and reconciliation.

What can we do about this? We live in a world that rejects God and doesn’t want anything to do with those who talk about Jesus. So, maybe we should just be quiet, keep our faith to ourselves and hope that Jesus returns in glory sooner than later.

Well, Paul lived at a time when there was a lot more persecution than we have experienced and he was writing to people who lived in a place that was at least as sinful, if not more sinful than the place in which we live. His encouragement to the Corinthians and for us is this. You know these things, that God was in Christ reconciling the WORLD to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. The Holy Spirit has brought you to believe this and as a result the love of Christ compels you and enables you to look past the outward appearance and see that everyone is a sinner and a person for whom Jesus died. So, guess what. God has entrusted you with the message of reconciliation. He has given you a ministry of reconciliation. God is making an appeal through you to the world, to everyone you meet. Through you he wants to reach out to everyone with an urgent plea: Be reconciled to God!

The solution to our problems is not government. It’s not who is president. It’s not diversity. It’s not saving the planet, or the whales, or any other political or social movement. None of those things addresses the real problem. The real problem is sin. The real problem is that by nature everyone is an enemy of God. The real solution is God and the fact that, in Christ, he has reconciled the world to himself. Only in Christ is there a new creation, a change of heart toward God and our neighbor.

May the love of Christ for you, and for your neighbor, compel you. May the love of Christ for you, and for your neighbor, enable you to regard no one according to the flesh. May the love of Christ for you, and for your neighbor, move you to serve as ambassadors of Christ and urgently plead with friends and enemies alike, be reconciled to God. Only then can we enjoy unity and reconciliation now and for all eternity.

 

Sermon from January 17, 2021

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Jan 172021
 

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2 Peter 1:5-12; 3:17-18

The Sunday school children say, “teacher, we’ve heard that Bible story 100’s of times before, do we have to hear it again? We know it inside and out, what could we learn from it that we don’t already know?”

The adults say, “why do we still follow the church year in worship. We know all about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We have been hearing it all our lives. Can’t we study something else from the Bible?”

The Apostle Peter, speaking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, answers: I intend always to keep reminding you of these things, even though you already know them and are established in the truth you now have.

The saying goes, “repetition is the mother of learning.” If something is important, like hearing your spouse, or your parent, or your child say, “I love you,” we don’t mind hearing it a million times a day. That’s the way it should be with God’s word. In his word, especially the words that tell us about Jesus, who he is and what he has done for us, God is saying, “I love you.” And there is a very important reason we can never hear that enough- The reason is that we sin every day. Every day our conscience reminds us that God should not love us, that we don’t deserve his love. Every day we feel the burden of guilt. Every day we get the sinking feeling that we deserve to have God send us to Hell for all eternity. So, every day we need to hear, over and over and over again, how God showed his love for us in Jesus. We need to hear every day, over and over again, that our guilt has been removed and our sins have been forgiven because of Jesus. In Jesus, God loves us no matter what. There is nothing that can separate us from his love for us in Jesus.

The hymn says, “I love to tell the story for those who know it best are hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.”  If you think it’s old and boring it might be that you don’t truly understand how sinful you still are and how much you need Jesus.

Our need to be reminded of God’s love for us is the most important reason that we need to hear the facts about who Jesus is and what he has done over and over again. But there are other important reasons that Peter mentions. He uses three words to describe what that reason is. They are: add, increase and grow.

For over 65 years I have heard about the angels and the shepherds on Christmas Eve. It was only this year that I noticed something I had not thought about before. The angel never told the shepherds they should go to Bethlehem. He didn’t have to. When he told them that the Messiah, their Savior, had been born they wanted to go. I’m sure you can think of some examples of portions of Scripture you have heard and read maybe hundreds of times, but each time you hear or read it your heart rejoices and maybe you notice something encouraging or comforting about the verse that you had not noticed before. There is always more to learn. There is always room for growth.

With the exception of babies and middle schoolers, growth doesn’t just happen – and even then, their physical growth wouldn’t happen without proper nutrition. If you want to grow, if you want to add to your knowledge about Jesus and increase your faith, Peter says, it doesn’t just happen. It takes every effort.

I heard a good example this week. You know how we say that we are going to try to do something – maybe it’s lose weight, manage God’s money better, read through the Bible this year- whatever it might be. But what you say you are going to try to do you rarely end up doing because you aren’t really committed. It’s more of a wish than a commitment. But if you set a specific goal, then you can plan what you have to do each day, each week, each month, to meet that goal. You aren’t just trying, you are in training. So, if it’s weight, just saying I want to try to lose some weight is only a wish. Saying I’m going to lose 10 pounds by June is a goal. Now you can make every effort to reach your goal and you can track your progress, or lack of progress. If it’s reading the Bible in 365 days, you can figure out how many chapters you will have to read to accomplish your goal and you can track your progress. You aren’t just trying, wishing, you are in a training program.

Peter lists some things that are good things to add to your faith. There is moral excellence. If you want to add moral excellence to your faith, it’s going to take some effort. You will have to set a goal of studying Scripture to learn what God says is moral and immoral. As you do you will learn that what God says is quite different than what most people around you say. You will have to examine your own thoughts and actions and confess the things that are getting in the way of adding moral excellence to your faith. You will need to be reminded of how Jesus lived a perfectly moral life in your place and then paid for your immoral thoughts and actions by his death on the cross. You will need to spend time in prayer asking for God’s help, and maybe you will need to find a fellow Christian who will hold you accountable.

If you think you have accomplished adding moral excellence to your faith, you aren’t finished. Peter’s list is fairly long and not exhaustive. It will continue to take every effort to add knowledge, and self-control, and patient endurance, and godliness, and brotherly affection and love. And Peter says, once you have added these qualities to your faith there still is work to do. We are not to look at these virtues as something we check off and say “done.” They are things that need to be increasing. In fact, Peter implies that if we aren’t continuing to make every effort to be in the word so that we are adding to, and increasing our faith, we will become ineffective, unfruitful, short sighted, and blind. As Jesus says, we become salt that has lost its savor.

Peter concludes his letter with “therefore.” Therefore, since you already know these things, be on your guard so that you do not fall from your own firm position.  You need to be a perpetual learner. You need to hear the important truths of the gospel over and over again, as long as you live. You need the reminder that you still have a sinful nature, that there are still many false prophets out there, and if you think you already know it all— Paul said it well. If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall. Be on your guard at all times.

What helps you do that? Continuing to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To do so takes effort, more than just saying “I’m going to try to get to church more often. Or I’m going to try to read my Bible more often.” It means setting a goal and making a plan to reach that goal. The Holy Spirit is still the one who creates the growth, increases faith, and adds Christian virtues, but he himself says that he works through the word and sacrament. If we don’t make the effort to stay in contact with the word and sacrament how will the Spirit do his work?

Now, what does this have to do with missions or outreach? If we are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Savior, we are going to be excited and filled with a kind of peace the world would love to have but doesn’t have. People will ask us about our excitement and our peace, and because we are growing in grace and knowledge, we will be ready to give them an answer that points them to Jesus.

If people see that we have added to our faith moral excellence, knowledge, and self-control, and that we seem to practice patient endurance, and godliness, and brotherly affection and love in our dealings with others, like a moth to light, they won’t be able to keep from being drawn to us. They will ask us how we can be so loving, so patient, and so self-controlled in this messed up world. Then we will have the opportunity to tell them about Jesus and to invite them to hear the old, old story with us so that they too can be established in faith and join us in making every effort to add to and grow in faith all to the glory of God.

January 10, 2021 Sermon

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Jan 102021
 

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Hebrews 10:19-25

Worship and outreach. What is the connection between the two? That is a topic that has been widely debated over the last 20 years or more. Back then, statistics showed that there were a lot of people who were seekers. They were looking for something. As a result, many churches tried to offer people what they were looking for by changing their style of worship and offering seeker friendly services. They did attract a lot of people, but they soon found that a lot of people didn’t stay connected to the church because there was no depth of doctrine. Giving people what they want isn’t the same as giving them what they need. What people need, according to the Bible, is solid law and gospel messages and opportunities to continue to grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Worship is outreach in the sense that anyone who comes gets to hear about their sins and that Jesus is their savior, but it assumes that the majority of people are there because they already know about their sins and their savior and want to continue to grow in the grace and the knowledge of the Lord. It’s main purpose is not outreach.

Over the last 20 years or so a lot of things have changed. Statistics now show that there aren’t very many people today who are what we would call seekers. The largest category, especially among the younger people, has been labeled “nones.” These are second generation non-churched people. They have rarely, if ever, been in a church building. They may believe that there is a god, but they have no strong feelings about who that god is or about a particular religion. One writer has described their mindset as “apatheism” a “disinclination to care all that much about one’s own religion, and an even stronger disinclination to care about other people’s.” Whatever you do in your worship service isn’t going to make an apatheist want to come.

What’s the response to this situation we face in our world today? Pastor Jonathan Bauer writes, “Rather than designing our gatherings to bring people in, more and more we will need to disperse from those gatherings and seek people out. Pastors and laypeople will need to invest in relationships with the people around them, build trust by demonstrating genuine love and concern, and look for opportunities to share the gospel.” Another writer says, “You don’t have to treat the worship services like a coffee shop conversation if you’re actually engaged in coffee shop conversations with unbelievers.”

So how do worship and outreach connect? Worship encourages us and equips us to do outreach by holding before us what God has done for us, and by giving us opportunities to put our faith into practice.

As the writer to the Hebrews moves toward his encouragement not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, he begins by holding before us the faithfulness of God.

He is talking to people who knew the Old Testament worship at the temple well. He knows that they understand that the temple had two rooms separated by a curtain. They knew that no one could enter the Most Holy Place behind the curtain except the high priest. And he could only enter once a year, on the Day of Atonement. He could only enter after he had washed himself and put on special clothing, then offered sacrifices for the people, and for himself.  When he had done these things, he would slide burning incense under the curtain to fill the Most Holy Place with the smoke of incense. Only after having done all these things, could he go behind the curtain carrying with him blood from the sacrifices to sprinkle on the atonement cover of the Ark of the Covenant which represented the throne of God.

Did you get all that? Old Testament worship had a lot of rules, but it also had a wonderful way of picturing important truths. These ceremonies made it clear that no one, not even the High Priest, could enter directly into the presence of God. All people are sinful. God is Holy. In order for people to enter into the presence of God our sin needs to be atoned for and in order for that to happen there has to be a sacrifice, there has to be blood. Someone has to get the punishment we deserve for our sin.

What was pictured by the Day of Atonement and practiced for 1500 years God fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus was the sacrifice we needed. He shed his blood on the cross as a lamb without blemish, without any sins of his own. That holy blood was precious because it alone was sufficient to atone for our sins and the sins of the whole world. When Jesus cried out from the cross, “it is finished”, bowed his head and entrusted his spirit to the father, and the father accepted his sacrifice as the payment for sin, you remember what happened. The curtain that symbolized our separation from God because of sin was torn in two. The old way of entering into his presence by having a priest offer animal sacrifices for you was dead. We now have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus. It is a new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, his flesh. Our hearts have been sprinkled with his blood assuring us that our sins are forgiven. His blood is on the door posts of our hearts so that when the destroyer comes, he passes over us without harming us, without giving us the punishment we deserve. Our bodies have been washed with pure water. The OT had many cleansings with water, but Jesus sanctified baptism for us at his own baptism by John and by his command that we baptize. As Ananias told Saul, Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his, Jesus’, name.

In worship we are reminded that these things are true. We can have confident faith and unwavering hope because God, who communicates these truths to us is faithful. Since this is the case, how can we not be like the Shepherds, like the Apostles, like Paul, who couldn’t help but share this good news with others!

The answer is, we like to be comfortable. We don’t want to put ourselves in a situation that might bring about some kind of confrontation. We don’t want to be seen as unloving, or judgmental, or exclusive, or holier than thou. We don’t want to lose friends or family because of religion. We want to avoid persecution or any kind of suffering. The devil suggests to us all kinds of reasons for keeping the good news of salvation in Jesus to ourselves and all too often we listen to him.

We need the constant reminder of our forgiveness for the sin of keeping the good news of salvation in Jesus alone to ourselves, and for all our other sins. We need encouragement from those who believe what we do and have the same struggles that we do.

The writer says that as we gather as fellow believers in Christ it’s not just to listen to God speak to us through the word and Sacrament, as important as that is for it is the way the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. Like everything else we do, gathering together is to reflect the two great commandments – both love for God and love for our neighbor. So, the writer says, consider carefully what you can do for others.

That’s a strong word. It means more than saying, “good morning, how’s it going.” It means really think hard about those around you and what they might need. Of course, in order to know what they might need you are going to have to talk about more than the weather or sports. You are going to have to build a relationship with those who worship with you so that you become comfortable sharing struggles, and asking for prayers; and so that there is a high level of trust between you.

The writer reflects what Jesus predicted and what we are experiencing. In the last days being faithful to God and his word is increasingly difficult. We are bombarded on every side, at work, at school, in all forms of media, in music, even by the headlines on the tabloids you see as you check out in stores. We are bombarded by messages through which Satan asks, “Did God really say?” and “if you sin you won’t die, God won’t send anyone to hell” and “knowing evil is a good thing. In fact, God is just a bully trying to spoil your fun, an idea invented by those who want to control your life.” We are bombarded day in and day out with messages that are the opposite of the truth God gives us in his word. That’s why we need to carefully consider how to encourage each other, how to remind each other of what God says, of what is true and what is false, to use God’s law to point out sin and then to apply the healing salve of the gospel of forgiveness.

It’s good to remind each other that, as we worship, we are confessing our sins not just to God, but to each other. We are receiving assurance from God and each other that Jesus has paid for our sins. We are confessing our faith, not just to God, but to and with each other. We are reminding each other to find ways each day to put our faith into practice. We are spurring each other on to love and good works, which begins with showing love and doing good to those of our family of faith, but then extends to everyone we meet.

There is nothing new under the sun. The early church gathered together often to worship in the temple courts. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Their hearts were glad and sincere. People saw how they loved and cared for each other. They praised God among the people, in the community. And here’s the connection between worship and outreach, the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Why gather for worship? So that we are reminded of the faithfulness of God, that he kept his promise and sent his son to be the sacrifice of atonement for our sins and the sins of the whole world. Filled with this good news we can’t help but put our faith into action, showing love and doing good for our fellow believers and everyone we meet. When that happens, the world takes notice and we have opportunities to tell others about the reason for the hope we have, Jesus.

When we have our faith confirmed by gathering around the word and sacrament, and then take the time to think about how we can meet each other’s needs and encourage each other to put our faith into action, we will gladly share God’s word and the Lord will add to the number of those who are being saved.

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