November 10, 2019 Sermon

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Nov 102019
 

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2 Thessalonians 1:5-10

Please turn your attention to our second lesson for today where Paul reminds us that, at home with Jesus, we are completely safe.

 

The old hymn by Bernard of Cluny begins, “The world is very evil, the times are waxing late.” He wrote those words sometime in the 12th century. We who live in the 21st century would agree. The world is very evil. The love of most has grown cold. Parents sacrifice their children at the modern altar of Molech called abortion and infanticide. People shoot up schools for no apparent reason. People are filled with greed and envy. They think they are entitled to things they want and expect others to pay for it. Social media is full of angry and hateful words, and sometimes we let ourselves get dragged into the negativity. Bible based morality is bashed as old fashioned and out of touch with reality. Persecution is on the rise all over the world. Here at home, Christians are told to keep their beliefs to themselves, and speakers who espouse Biblical principles are banned from speaking on college campuses.

The world is a scary place for Christians to live. But that should be no surprise. Jesus reminds us that the world hated him, the perfect son of God who never sinned and always treated others with love and compassion, who helped many people with their physical needs through his miracles. Yet, because he spoke the truth; because by his words and his perfect life people were convicted of their sins, he was hated and crucified. So, Jesus says, if we are his disciples, if we identify ourselves with him, if we strive to follow him and share the things he said, the world will hate us too.

The world was a scary place to live for Martin Luther, who had a price put on his head by church and government because he spoke the truth of God’s word. The world was a scary place for Bernard of Cluny. The world was a scary place for Paul and the Christians in Thessalonica. They were in danger from Jews who believed that Jesus was not the Messiah but a false teacher and who did miracles by the power of Satan. They were in danger from Romans who couldn’t understand why they would be so unpatriotic as to refuse to call the Emperor a god.  But, in spite of the troubles and persecution they were experiencing because of their faith, they did not give up following Jesus. Paul says that they were a shining example to others because of their perseverance in the faith in the midst of suffering and persecution.

Paul says in verse 5 This (perseverance in the face of suffering and persecution) is evidence of God’s righteous verdict that resulted in your being counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also suffer. Paul and the Apostles rejoiced when they suffered because of Jesus because if the world loves you, you are very likely compromising your faith.

Paul told Timothy, Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. We died with him at our Baptism. He reigns in our hearts through faith. As servants in his kingdom we are perfectly safe from all the evils of the world.

You might be ready to tune me out right now because you are thinking, “wait a minute. I don’t feel perfectly safe. I still experience a lot of evil. How can you say we are perfectly safe?

Paul says in verse 6 Certainly, it is right for God to repay trouble to those who trouble you, and to give relief to you, who are troubled along with us. In another place Paul says, The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Paul had seen evidence of God’s protecting hand even in the midst of beatings, shipwrecks, and imprisonment. He trusted that God would remain faithful to his promise to give him eternal life because of what Jesus had done for him. He understood what the Psalmist learned when he was troubled by all the evil in the world and the fact that unbelievers often seemed to have a better life than believers. He understood that life on this earth is not all there is. There is a Judgment Day, a day on which everyone who has ever lived will have to stand before God to give an account, as Jesus pictures for us in our Gospel lesson for today.

Paul says, When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his powerful angels, he will exercise vengeance in flaming fire on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. If the wicked seem to prosper; if evil seems to have the upper hand; don’t give up. Remember that Jesus is coming again, this time in glory, with flaming fire. He will give those who are in his kingdom through faith relief. Those who trouble us because of our faith in Jesus will receive trouble from our Lord. They will receive a just penalty: eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from his glorious strength. They will be thrown into outer darkness where there is no water to cool their tongues; where there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth.

When you read what the Bible says about the last day it sounds even more scary than the evil we experience living in the sinful world today. A lot of people don’t want to read the book of Revelation because it pictures a lot of scary things. Peter talks about everything being destroyed by fire. We might worry that we would be like Lot’s wife and look longingly on the things that are being destroyed and be turned into a pillar of salt as she was. It is important that we don’t get attached to the things of this world that will be destroyed. But, despite all the scary things pictured in Revelation, every vision ends the same way. Jesus wins. Those who are a part of his kingdom, those who persevere in the faith, who remain faithful, who hold fast to what Jesus has given them, they win with Jesus. They share in his victory. They get eternal relief, not only from trouble and persecution of unbelievers, but from all the effects of sin- sickness, pain, death, mourning. When Jesus comes again, he will be glorified among his saints, and marveled at among all those who have believed. Eternity won’t be long enough to give him the praise he deserves for all that he has done for us.

How do you know that the last day will be a day of complete relief and not a day of complete terror for you? Paul says, our testimony to you was believed. Like the Thessalonians we have heard the testimony that Paul and the Apostles have given us about Jesus. We have heard that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He is God and man, God with us, Emmanuel. He showed who he was by his miracles and his teaching. He allowed himself to be arrested, beaten and crucified so that he could be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. On the third day he rose from the dead. He showed himself alive to over 500 different people, including Paul who was persecuting him by persecuting Christians. Through the testimony of Paul and the Apostles the Holy Spirit has brought us to faith. He has enabled us to believe that what the Bible says about Jesus is true. He really is the promised Messiah. He really did pay for the sins of the world, and since I live in the world, he paid for my sins as well. The Holy Spirit has enabled us to believe in our hearts and confess with our lips that Jesus is our, “my” savior. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. In him, because of what he has done for us, we are completely safe. As Luther said, “take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth.”

We talked last week about where our focus needs to be—on the cross, on Jesus. That reminder helps us in our dealings with our fellow Christians as it reminds us that we are all equally sinners and all saved only by grace in Jesus. It also helps us to remember that safety is not found in the kingdoms of this world. Governments come and go. Programs to provide safety aren’t perfect. No law, no police force, no army can provide perfect safety on earth. When we talk and act as if they can we have made them our god. Only the one true, triune God is almighty. Only he can provide true safety. It is only when we are citizens of his kingdom through faith in Jesus that we are perfectly safe for all eternity.

November 3, 2019 Sermon

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Nov 032019
 

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Hebrews 2:9-18

Please turn your attention to our second lesson for today as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us of what Jesus did for us by becoming our brother.

 

It’s a long-standing tradition that we call those who believe the same things we do brothers and sisters in Christ. We talk about a church building being God’s house and we consider those who worship together in God’s house our family.

Those are wonderful sentiments, but there are those, and their number is increasing greatly in the younger generations, who would say that’s all it is. It’s just a nice sounding sentiment, but not something that the church I used to attend put into practice. They might cite abuse that they suffered at the hands of a priest, a pastor, or a youth leader. They might talk about how the church they used to attend was click-y and they felt left out because people were talking to each other but never seemed to include them. They might mention that when they were sick, or down on their luck, no one bothered to check on them to see if they were okay, or to offer to help. They might point out that those in leadership positions made arbitrary decisions and never listened to any of their suggestions or ideas. Whether there is merit to what they say or not doesn’t really matter. For them, perception is reality, and Satan uses these perceptions, real or imagined, to keep us from being what God intends us to be – the family of God, brothers and sisters in Christ.

No matter how hard we try this side of heaven a church will never be a perfect family just as no one’s own family is perfect. There will always be petty arguments. There will always be times when someone does or says something hurtful toward another member of the family. The verse right before our text reminds us that, right now we don’t see perfection. We see the imperfection of a world that is subject to sin. And the church on earth is not made up of perfect people. It’s is made up of people who are sinners just like everyone else. It’s not a gathering of those who have gotten to the point where they live without sin. It’s a gathering of those who have gotten to the point where they know that they do sin and need to hear about a savior.

So, the writer says, because we don’t see perfection, we need to look to Jesus.

Think about that as you enter a Christian church building for worship. Think about where your focus needs to be. What’s the focus of your attention when you enter the church building? It’s the cross, isn’t it? That’s a reminder that the focus of your attention shouldn’t be on that person across the aisle who hasn’t treated you in a very brotherly way. It’s a reminder that the focus of your attention shouldn’t be on why a certain person is present or not present. It’s a reminder that the focus of your attention shouldn’t be on the financial information on the back of the folder. Your attention needs to be on Jesus.

What an amazing thing that Jesus did! Think of the worst thing that anyone has ever done to you. Now multiply that by thousands of times. Would you still consider that person who did such terrible things to you a part of your family? Would you still call them “brother?”

Consider all the times that you have sinned against God. And yet, Jesus, true God from all eternity, the one for whom and through whom everything exists, still wants us to be a part of his family. He still wants to call us “brother, or sister!” In fact, when he saw how much trouble we were in. When he saw that we were in danger of being condemned and sent to suffer in Hell with Satan for all eternity, he chose to give up everything to save us.

He chose to give up his place at the right hand of the father. He chose to set aside the perfection and glory of heaven to be made a little lower than the angels, take on flesh and blood just like ours, and live in this imperfect, inglorious world of sin. He did this even though he knew what it would take to save us. He took on flesh and blood so that he could taste death for everyone, so that through (HIS) death he could destroy the one who had the power of death (that is, the Devil) and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. He reached his goal through suffering and is now crowned with honor and glory. He rose bodily from the dead and ascended back to the right hand of the Father with his glorified body.

He still has his flesh and blood. He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified all have one Father. For that reason, he is not ashamed to call them(us) brothers. And because his death in our place paid for all our sins, and because he suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. He is able to put himself in our shoes.

How great is the love and grace of Jesus, that in spite of all our sins against him he would still want us to be a part of his family and be able to call himself our brother. How great is the love and grace of Jesus that, instead of saying what we too often do, “if they apologize, if they are sorry enough, if they make it up to me, then I might still consider forgiving them and calling them my brother or sister and a member of my family.” No, he sacrificed everything for us. He did it while we were still sinners. He did it even though we can never be sorry enough for our sins against him; even though we can never make it up to him.

As we enter a Christian church building the cross reminds us that we are to look to Jesus, the author of our salvation. He is to be the primary focus of our attention. And when he is, when we realize how he loved us in spite of all the times we sin against him, it will change our view of those sitting in the pews next to us.

Jesus tasted death for everyone! Not just for me, but also for everyone else in the building and everyone else in the world. He tasted death to pay for the times that someone who is supposed to be a brother or sister in faith didn’t treat you in a very brotherly way. He tasted death even for those who took advantage of others or let the power of leadership go to their heads. They are not a separate class of people to be looked down on or avoided. They are sinners just like us, and Jesus paid for their sins just as he paid for ours.

Seeing each other as sinners for whom Jesus died goes a long way in learning to accept each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, as fellow members of God’s family. And following the example of Christ, who was willing to humble himself and to make sacrifices for others, goes a long way in promoting peace and harmony in the family of God.

When Jesus is our focus; when he is the tie the binds; we are moved to humbly apologize to our brothers and sisters in Christ when we see that we have wronged them. When Jesus is our focus, we are enabled to forgive each other and continue to work together as a family of God. When Jesus is our focus, we will be constantly looking for opportunities to help and encourage one another, especially because we know that the world is continuing to grow even more evil as the last day gets closer and closer. When Jesus is our focus, we are reminded that he literally put himself in our shoes. We are reminded that, before we think judgmental things about our brothers and sisters in Christ, things like “Why do THEY do that, or why don’t THEY do this?” we will do our best first to put ourselves in their shoes, to understand their situation in life. Then, instead of judging, we will be able to encourage one another as we speak the truth in love.

Amazingly, Jesus has chosen to be our brother. In spite of the way that we have treated him, he went out of his way to help us, even tasting death for us. Through faith in him as our Savior, we are now a part of his family, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been rescued by Jesus from the devil and the fear of death. That makes us want to say with Jesus, I will declare your name to my brothers. Within the congregation I will sing your praise. I want to gather with my fellow believers and give thanks and praise to God. I want to be like Jesus, to be humble; not to be served, but to serve others; to forgive for Jesus’ sake, as I work together to do God’s work with those who confess their faith in Jesus with me at this place. I look forward to living forever in God’s presence with everyone here today, and as many others as Jesus calls his brother and sister.

 

October 27, 2019 Sermon – Reformation

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Oct 272019
 

John 8:31-36

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The truth will set you free. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It’s a popular phrase sometimes even used by non-Christians, politicians, or protestors. But that statement all by itself raises more questions than it answers. What is truth? More specifically, what is THE truth? What is meant by free? Free from what? How does this truth set us free?

There is a truth that does not set you free. It’s the truth of God’s word that we call the law. Because it’s part of God’s word, people often mistakenly think that the truth of the law will set them free.

We hear an example of this in the context of the first time Jesus spoke these words. Those who heard what Jesus said responded by saying, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” They thought that they already had the freedom that Jesus was talking about. But, Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

  If you think you have freedom by birth, think again. Just because you were born a descendant of Abraham doesn’t make you free. In fact, just the opposite. If you are a descendant of Abraham, you are a sinful human being just like he was. You were born with a sinful nature and you sin against God every day by doing things he has forbidden and failing to do everything he commands.

If you think you have freedom because you were born in this wonderful country that says you are free and has a bill of rights designed to protect your freedom, think again. It doesn’t matter where you were born. If you were born of parents who are sinners, then you are a slave to sin. Like sinful Adam and Eve, your parents had a child in their own sinful image, not in the perfect image of God in which they were created; an image they lost when they sinned.

Like the Jews who heard Jesus say these things, we too want to object. We too what to say, “How can you say that we shall be set free? We already are free. We have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, freedom to do almost anything we want or can afford as long as we aren’t hurting others.” But, despite all those outward freedoms, you still aren’t truly free.

By nature, you are a slave to sin. No matter how hard you try you cannot live without sinning. That’s why the truth of God’s law can never set you free. God’s law makes you conscious of your sin. It points out all your failures, all the times you have failed to follow God’s will for your life. When you become conscious of your sin you also become a slave to guilt. As soon as Adam and Eve disobeyed God they felt guilt and shame. The guilt of our sin is a weight that restricts our freedom. And, when God’s law is broken it speaks judgment. It calls for justice, blind justice that is not swayed by who you are, or by how many good things you have done, or by your status or lack of status. It asks no reasons and accepts no excuses. It’s a simple yes or no. Did this person break the law or not? When the answer is yes, as it is for all of us, the only power the law has is to condemn. The sentence is death, both physical and eternal.

As we celebrate the Reformation, we are reminded of how keenly Luther understood that the law could not set him free. He was told that it could by the church of his day. He believed that it could and so he did everything he could think of to keep it. But, the more he tried, the more he realized that he couldn’t keep it, not perfectly. The law didn’t set him free, it only made him realize his sin and made him a salve of guilt, and the fear of death and eternal punishment.

How then can we, or anyone, be truly free? The truth will set you free. What truth? The teaching of the Son! Only the Son, Jesus the son of God, can set you free.

What is that teaching? Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd who gives up his life for the sheep. He says, I am the resurrection and the life. He says, whoever believes in me has eternal life.

The teaching that sets you free is that, just as God sent Moses to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, so God sent his one and only Son Jesus to lead us out of the slavery of sin, guilt, and the fear of death, to the Promised Land of Heaven.

The teaching that sets you free is that Jesus satisfied the demands of the law for you. He did what you can’t do, what you don’t do; he kept God’s law perfectly in your place. He lived his life without sin; even when he was tempted by the devil himself; even when he was mocked, and beaten, and tortured unjustly He didn’t retaliate. He never even spoke a hurtful or careless word.

The teaching that sets you free is that Jesus satisfied the law’s demand for justice. The law demands that sinners be punished and the punishment for sin is death and eternal separation from God. Jesus satisfied that demand when he was forsaken by God in our place. He claimed that his mission to set us free was accomplished when he proclaimed from the cross it is finished! And on the third day the Father put his stamp of approval on all that Jesus had done to set us free when he raised him from the dead.

By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has set us free from sin. He has removed our sins from us as far as the East is from the West. Because our sins have been removed there is no reason to feel burdened by guilt. Because our sins have been paid for in full and God’s justice has been satisfied there is no reason for us to be condemned. And, even though we must still return to the dust as an earthly consequence of sin, Jesus rose from the dead as a first fruit. Because he rose bodily from the grave, so will we. He has removed the slavery of the fear of death.

He has even set us free from Satan. Satan is the accuser who loves to call God’s attention to our sins and demand that we be punished with him for all eternity. But Jesus is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. He points out that whatever sin Satan holds up, he has already paid for in full. And, when we call on the name of Jesus for help in any time of temptation, Satan has to flee from us. He has been defeated by Jesus.

If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed. In Jesus you have freedom from the guilt of sin. You have freedom from the power of the devil’s accusations and temptations. You have freedom from the fear of death and hell. That’s true freedom. That’s being freed indeed. That’s a freedom that is yours even if you lose all your earthly freedoms, like the freedom of speech or the freedom of assembly. It’s freedom that is yours even if you are persecuted, imprisoned, or executed.

It’s also important to note that Jesus didn’t come to set you free from sin, death and the devil so that you could be like a pig, who after being washed, goes right back to wallowing in the mud. Jesus has set you free so that you would be able to do what God created you to do, to serve him without fear.

That’s what Adam and Eve did before they sinned. They served God without fear. They cared for the garden, expressing thanks for all the beautiful things God had graciously provided for them. They worshiped God every time they walked past the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and did not eat from it because they respected the one command that God had given them. So, when God walked in the garden and made his presence known, they felt no shame or fear.

As long as we live on this earth, we will not be able to serve God in such perfection. But, when the Holy Spirit brought us to know and then believe the teaching about Jesus, to trust that he is our savior, a new man was created in us. The image of God is being restored in us. And the more we hear the teaching of the Son, the stronger our new man of faith grows, and the more we are filled with the desire and the ability to serve God, not in fear, but in love and thanksgiving.

In Jesus, we are no longer slaves. We are considered Sons. Children of God. Heirs with Jesus of eternal life. Through faith in Jesus we no longer see the law as a task master that can never be satisfied. We see that it has been satisfied for us by Jesus. Instead of feeling obliged to keep it or else, we rejoice that it gives us guidance as we look for ways to express our thanks and praise to God for the freedom we have in his son.

As we welcome each other to God’s house each week, let’s rejoice together that we are free to be ourselves. We see and treat each other as fellow sinners who have earned God’s wrath and punishment just as much as anyone else. We see and treat each other as fellow slaves who have been set free from sin and guilt by Jesus. We see and treat each other as fellow members of God’s family who, by God’s grace, get to serve God and each other together at this place and in this time in history; and who look forward to basking in God’s grace together for all eternity.

As we celebrate the Reformation may we never forget what Luther discovered. The law cannot set you free. But if the Son, Jesus, sets you free, you will be free indeed. Hold to his teaching. He is the one who laid down his life for you. He is the resurrection and the life. That’s the truth, the only truth at sets you free.

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