August 19, 2018 Sermon

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Aug 192018
 

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Ephesians 5:15-20

 

I invite you to open your folders or your Bibles to our second lesson for today, Ephesians 5, as we consider what God has to say to us in these verses.

 

School has started. If you were or are a teacher you have probably said it, and as a student you probably heard it, “make good use of your time.” Most of us know from experience that if we goof off, or day dream; if we don’t make good use of our time; we will pay for it later. Instead of little or no homework and being able to enjoy some free time, we have lots of homework. Instead of being able to leave work on time, we have to stay late, or come early to finish the things that could have been done while we were wasting time.

Having a lot of homework we didn’t have to have, or having to stay late or go in early for work when we wouldn’t have had to, isn’t a huge deal.  But failing to make the best use of our time when it comes to spiritual things could be a big deal. It could affect where we spend eternity.

Make good use of your time because the days are evil. They aren’t getting any better and they won’t. Jesus said that this should remind us that this world isn’t going to last forever. Each day we are one day closer to the end, to the day when Jesus will come again in glory, and everyone will be called to stand before him in the judgment. Make good use of your time making sure that you are ready to meet the Lord, either at your death or at his second coming whichever comes first. And, you are ready, not because you are always doing the right thing, no one is always doing the right thing, but because you are trusting that, in Jesus, your sins are forgiven.

Make good use of your time because the days are evil. There are a lot of temptations out there. There are a lot of ways that we can use our time for things that are displeasing to God. So Paul suggests that one of the best ways that we can use our time is to understand what the will of he Lord is. That means using some of our time everyday listening to, reading and studying the word of God. It is in the word that he has reveled his will to us. He hasn’t promised that we will understand what his will is by trusting our feelings or taking a survey of our friends’ opinions. The only place we can learn what the will of the Lord is, is in the Bible. So, if you want to be wise, not unwise or foolish, study the word daily. The Psalmist says meditate on it day and night, and you will learn what the will of the Lord is.

Consider the alternative. If you don’t know your Scripture well you will be easily deceived by the arguments of the evil world around you. When your faith is challenged you won’t know what to say and may be convinced to give up your faith.  When people make it sound so loving to accept alternative life styles, saying, or implying, that if you don’t you are hateful and unloving you might be swayed by their argument. Who wants to be unloving? Aren’t Christians supposed to be loving? If you don’t know the Scriptures well you might not be able to point out that encouraging someone to live contrary to the will of the Lord is the most unloving thing you can do. Ignoring God and his word could cost you a place in heaven. When a very smart professor says that anyone who accepts creation is foolish, if you don’t understand the Lord’s will you might be swayed by his arguments. Who wants to be considered foolish by those who seem to be so smart? If you don’t know the Scriptures you might not be able to respond that the real fool is the one who says there is no God. And it is only by faith that we understand that God is the creator of all things. By studying the word we understand that it’s foolish to trust in what man says, in scientific theories that change day to day and year to year, when we can trust in the word of the one who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

God’s ultimate will is that all be saved through faith in Jesus. He calls those who do have faith in him to consider carefully how they live and to turn away from things God says are against his will. His will is that we recognize and confess our sins, look to him for forgiveness, and ask for his help to struggle against temptation and those things he says are sinful.

Paul gives us one example. If we are making the most of our time here on earth each day and being careful that we are living as wise servants of our God who has saved us through Jesus, we won’t get drunk which causes us to lose control. Whether it’s alcohol or drugs, whatever affects our brains to the point that we lose control and are willing to do foolish things that we would not otherwise do, that is something to avoid. There’s a reason God tells us to be sober and alert at all times. If we aren’t, we become an easy target for the prowling lion Satan. If you are filled with spirits you become an easy target for the evil spirits who are out to get you to do something foolish that you will later regret, something that they can use to put a wedge between you and God. Spending a lot of time drinking with friends or using drugs is the opposite of making the most of your time here on earth. Instead of being filled with spirits, be filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit who works to produce in your heart and life the fruit of self-control.

What helps you be filled with the Spirit? Not gathering with your friends at the bar every night, but gathering with fellow believers. Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (singing and making music with your hearts to the Lord). In fact, Paul tells the Corinthians that the number one reason to gather together as a congregation of believers is to encourage one another. Everything else you can do on your own. You can read Scripture on your own. You can pray on your own. You can sing praises to God on your own, and you should be doing all those things on your own. But if you remain on your own you will be missing something very important. You won’t be able to share your faith with others nor will you be able to receive the encouragement others can give you. If you are going through a difficult time and you stay on your own you will miss out on the encouragement a fellow Christian can give you who has been through similar a circumstance and can share with you some words of God that helped and encouraged them. Instead of wallowing in your own pity party, you can be lifted up by a Psalmist who has felt what you are feeling, or by promises of God set to music and sung with your fellow believers. Even King Saul was comforted when David sang his Psalms for him.

What helps you be filled with the Spirit? Always giving thanks for everything to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Being reminded of what God has done for us in Christ. Being reminded that we deserve much worse than anything we are facing in life because the just punishment for our sins, small or great, is the eternal fire of Hell. For every time we have lost control because of alcohol or drugs; for every time we have wasted our time doing things that we knew were the opposite of God’s will; for every time we have failed to gather with our fellow Christians to give them encouragement; for even one sin we deserve God’s eternal punishment. But in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ he has forgiven every single sin. Because Jesus never lost control through drunkenness or for any other reason; because he always knew and did God’s will perfectly; because he always gathered on the Sabbath to encourage others; because he went to the cross and paid for all our sinful lack of control, foolishness, and failure to watch our lives and make the most of our time here on earth; God has said “I declare you not guilty. You are free from the guilt of your sin. You are free to serve me and your neighbor in love.”

What a difference that makes in our lives and the way we make use of our time! No matter where we are or what we are doing, whenever we think about what we deserve and what God has done for us instead, we can’t help but give him thanks. In fact, because of what Jesus has done for us, we can even give him thanks when bad things happen and when our bodies wear out and we are facing our last hour. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we have forgiveness and eternal life.

There’s one more thing we should notice here. It’s hard to miss the contrast that Paul draws between drunkenness and lack of control, and being filled with the Spirit and self-control. But you might miss this contrast. The focus of drunkenness is self. I want to have “fun”, I want to drown my sorrows, dull my pain, be popular; whatever it is, it’s self-focused. The focus of being filled with the Spirit is just the opposite. The focus the Spirit gives us is God and others. The spirit moves you to use Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to encourage one another. The Spirit moves you to give constant thanks and praise to God because, in Jesus, when your time on earth is gone, you know you have the gift of eternal life.

Make good use of your time. Your time here on earth is limited. Be in the word every day so that you know what God’s will is, so that you can watch your life closely, so that you can be filled with the Spirit giving thanks to God for your salvation and encouraging one another with the word.

August 12, 2018

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Aug 132018
 

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Ephesians 4:30-5:2

Fellow Dearly Loved Children of God,

What a wonderful thing it is to say that. You are all dearly loved children of God. But if you think it means what most people in the world think it means, you might not realize how wonderful it is.

Most people, when they hear the phrase children of God, think only of what we would call the first article. They assume that, if there is a God, then everyone must be his child. Interesting that they would think that even though most of them reject the Biblical account of creation. And, if we stopped at the first article, they would have a point. We confess that God made us, we are his children. He gave us our body and soul, eyes, ears and all our members, our minds and all our abilities. That’s true. But, as Bible believing Christians we know there is more to the story. Adam and Eve sinned. Their rebellious sinful nature has been passed on to everyone. When they had children, the Bible says that those children were born in their sinful image, not God’s perfect image. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned no one is born a dearly loved child of God. Everyone is born a child of sinful Adam, unworthy of God’s love.

So, how can I address you as dearly loved children of God? Because through the powerful word of God connected to the water of Baptism, you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable. The Holy Spirit of God has worked the greatest miracle ever in your hearts. He has brought you from death to life, from darkness to light. He has moved and enabled you to see and trust that Jesus lived, died and rose again; that he has paid for all of your sins; that in him and him alone you have forgiveness and eternal life. At your Baptism God put his name on you and adopted you into his family making you an heir with his perfect Son, Jesus, of eternal life. In Jesus, even though you were born in sin and continue to sin every day, God sees you as his very own, dearly loved, child. I hope you know and appreciate how wonderful that is!

How many of you clomped around the house in your dad’s shoes, or stood at the mirror and pretended to shave with him? How many of you tried to wear your mom’s high heels, or got into her make up? If you love your parents, you want to be just like them. You imitate them. And we love our parents at least in part because of all they do for us. They not only gave us life, but they cared for us and fed us when we couldn’t do those things for ourselves. They give us hugs, read us stories, and even give us presents. They often sacrifice a lot for us, putting our needs ahead of their own.

Now consider your heavenly Father’s love for you. He gave you something your parents couldn’t give you, spiritual life. He sends his angels, who are more powerful than our parents, to watch over us night and day. And most importantly, he sacrificed his only Son Jesus to rescue us from a fate worse than death, the eternal fire of Hell. We love because he first loved us. And if we love him, and are thankful for all that he has done and continues to do for us, won’t we want to imitate him?

Assuming we want to imitate God because of all he has done for us, what does that look like?

The Apostle John reminds us that God is Love. Paul says that imitating God means walking, or another translation might be, conducting your life, in love. And as you might guess, the kind of love that John and Paul are talking about is not a feeling, it’s love like God’s that shows itself in action.

Jesus, the perfect child of God, imitated God’s love by giving himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice.  He showed the same kind of unselfish, giving love that the Father showed by giving his one and only son for the sins of the world. He and the Father both showed self-sacrificing love, not for friends, but for enemies, for those who hated and blasphemed them.  Being imitators of God means to show self-sacrificing, giving love to God and to our neighbor, even if our neighbor hates us.

So, Paul says, Get rid of every kind of bitterness, rage, anger, quarreling, and slander, along with every kind of malice.  These are all the opposite of love, things that imitate Satan, not God.

Like Jesus, Paul starts with issues of the heart. Bitterness, hostile feelings toward others, rage and anger, allowed to continue to live in our hearts will come out. They might show themselves first in quarreling and slander. Quarrels with your spouse or your parents are an indication that something isn’t right in your heart. You are allowing it to be filled with bitterness and anger rather than God’s love for you and others. Saying negative things about others, either to hurt them or to make yourself feel superior, shows that you are allowing your heart to be filled with bitterness and jealousy instead of God’s love for you and others. And, if you continue to allow these negative things to fill your heart it will lead to every kind of malice, a Greek word in which we hear the English slang word, Kaka- so every kind of stinking bad thing.

But the worst thing is that such negative, unloving, feelings, words and actions grieve the Holy Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit makes your body HIs temple through faith. He is God’s seal, a deposit indicating that God considers you his child and that you are redeemed by Christ. He is the one who sanctified you, who works through the Word and Sacrament to strengthen and keep you in faith until the Day of Redemption, the day when Jesus comes to take you to live in the presence of the Father forever. So, the last thing we should want to do is the make the Holy Spirit sad, to make him want to leave. We do believe that the Bible clearly teaches that you can fall from faith.

Instead of things that grieve the Holy Spirit of God we want to think, say and do things that are pleasing to him. Paul suggests what some of those things are, be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one other, just as God in Christ has forgiven us. Nothing good can happen in our hearts or our lives until we know and appreciate the fact that God in Christ has forgiven us.

Remember, bitterness, jealousy, slander, all such unloving things are what come naturally, from our sinful nature. Just like getting rid of fat, you don’t get rid of these things by sitting and watching TV. It will take a plan and some effort. It will take reading Scripture and asking for God’s help to overcome our sinful desires. When we fall; when we realize that we have let bitterness fill our hearts; when we realize that we have said or done something displeasing to God and hurtful to our neighbor; when we see our sin, we confess it. We say, “Lord, you know what has been in my heart, you know what I have said and done. I have grieved your Holy Spirit. I am not worthy of your love and forgiveness. Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Forgive me for Jesus’ sake, and renew a right spirit within me. Help me to do your will.” Then listen to what God’s word says. God has forgiven you in Christ. His blood cleanses us from every sin. Jesus makes us smell good to God. Then come to the Sacrament and listen to Jesus himself say to you, this is my body given for you, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.

As long as we are living in this sinful world we will never completely get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, quarreling and slander. We still have a sinful nature and are influenced by the sinful world around us. But, the more we hear the word and think about how wonderful it is that God has made us his dear children; the more we receive the Sacrament and are personally assured that all our sins are forgiven because of what Christ has done for us, the more often we will be kind and compassionate, imitators of God our heavenly Father, forgiving others as he has forgiven us in Christ.

Be reminded each day that you are a dearly loved Child of God because of what Jesus has done for you.

 

August 5, 2018

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Aug 062018
 

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John 6:24-35

 

I invite you to open your folders or your Bibles and turn to our Gospel lesson for today, John chapter 6, as we consider what we are to learn from Jesus’ teaching that he is the Bread of Life from Heaven.

 

The word bread can have a lot of different meanings. At one time it was a slang word for money. It’s a word that is used by Jesus to mean basic necessities, as he teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And, Jesus calls himself The Bread of Life to remind the people that he is our basic spiritual necessity. With him we live. Without him we starve spiritually and eventually die eternally.

The day before Jesus called himself the bread of life he had gone with his disciples to an unpopulated place across the lake from Capernaum so that they could get some needed rest away from the crowds. But, the people had figured out where they were going and were waiting for them when they arrived. Jesus didn’t send them away and say, “I can’t deal with you today, I’m on vacation.” His heart went out to them and he spent hours teaching them. It was getting later in the day and Jesus was concerned about their physical welfare too. If they tried to travel back home without a meal they might faint along the way, so he fed them, all 5000 men, plus the women and children, with a few loaves of bread and two fish, and there were twelve basketfuls of leftovers after everyone had eaten all they could.

During the night the disciples had struggled to cross the lake back to Capernaum until Jesus came to them walking on the water. In the morning some of the people realized that, although the disciples left without Jesus, and they had taken the only boat that was there at the time, he was no long there. When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats (that had arrived that morning) and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

That sounds great, doesn’t it? People were looking for Jesus. They wanted to be near him. They wanted to listen to him. They wanted to find out how he had crossed the lake when the disciples had left with the only boat. How wonderful that they were so interested in Jesus! But it turns out that it wasn’t so wonderful because they were interested in Jesus for the wrong reason.

Jesus knew their hearts and he calls them out: “Amen, Amen, I tell you: You are not looking for me because you saw the miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not continue to work for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

Jesus knew the real reason they were looking for him. He knew that they wanted to make him king, and the reason they wanted to make him king was so that he would continue to provide them with free food. That becomes clear when they suggest that he be like Moses through whom God had provided all of Israel with Manna for forty years.

We are tempted to think, “how foolish. At least we know better than that.” But sometimes we fall into a similar temptation. We are tempted to look for Jesus, to be active in the church, to do the right things, because we think that then our lives on earth will be better. We are tempted to think that if we hang out with Jesus then we will always have plenty of “bread”, food and money. We are tempted to see Jesus as the one who grants our wishes for an easy, pleasurable life one earth. But Jesus calls out anyone who looks at him that way. He reminds us that we are not to focus on earthly things that spoil, but on the things that last forever. He reminds us that’s what he came to do, to give us food that endures to eternal life. And we can be sure that he is telling us the truth because the Father has given his approval. He did that audibly at his Baptism when he declared that Jesus was the son he loves, and every miracle was a sign of the Father’s approval, as Nicodemus recognized when he said that no one could do the miracles Jesus was doing unless the Father was with him.

The crowd seems to get that Jesus wants to talk about spiritual things, so they ask him what they think is a spiritual question. What should we do to carry out the works of God? What do we have to do to get into God’s good graces and have eternal life?

Of course, their question revealed that they were still in unbelief. The natural unbelief of mankind always thinks that we have to do something to get into God’s good graces before we can have any hope of eternal life. That thought still lurks in your heart, even though you may know better. It rears its ugly head when something bad happens in our lives and we say, “what did I do to deserve this,” which implies that you thought you had done something for God to deserve better.

Behold the loving patience of Jesus. After hours of teaching the day before, and after his warning about seeking things that spoil, they still don’t get it. But he continues to patiently instruct them. Often we don’t get it. But he continues to patiently instruct us. He says, This is the work of God: that you believe in the one he sent.  He keeps pointing them, and us, back to himself. He keeps reminding them, and us, that even believing is God’s work in us. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us that we can believe that God exists, that he loves us and sent his only perfect son to save us. No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

Surely they got it now, right? Surely they saw that Jesus was the one the Father sent, the promised Messiah. Surely they believed and gave up their desire to have him serve as their earthly king who would make sure they always had plenty of food to eat. Unfortunately not.

It’s good to remember that Jesus himself, the perfect teacher, is the one who is teaching them, and they still don’t get it. It’s a good reminder for us not to get discouraged. If, when Jesus taught, not everyone immediately believed and praised him as their savior; we shouldn’t be surprised if, when we tell people that Jesus is their savior, we don’t see immediate conversions.

The people showed what was still governing their hearts. They asked Jesus to perform a sign, a miracle that would prove to them that he was the one the Father sent. Apparently feeding 5000 with five loaves of bread and two fish wasn’t enough of a sign for them. In fact, they suggested what might do it for them. If only Jesus would be like Moses and not just feed them one miraculous meal, but provide all the food they needed for forty years, or as long as they thought they needed it. Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’

Again, Jesus demonstrates great patience with them. What a good reminder that is when we realize that we have been focusing too much on the things that spoil, when we have allowed ourselves to be distracted by earthly things, by our busy lives, and failed to focus on Jesus and eternal life. Jesus is patient with us too. He reminds us that he always overcame that temptation for us. He reminds us that he went to the cross to pay for our lack of focus on him and eternal life. He patiently works to bring our attention back to him where it belongs.

Jesus said to them, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the real bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said to him, “give us this bread all the time!” “I am the Bread of Life,” Jesus told them. “The one who comes to me will never be hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

   Don’t get too excited about Manna. God gave manna to Israel, and it was wonderful, but those who ate it still died. God still gives us daily bread, but no matter how much daily bread we have, it won’t, it can’t give eternal life. But there is bread from heaven that’s better than manna. It’s not food for the stomach, but food for the soul. It’s not just for Israel, but for the world! If you eat this bread you will never be hungry. Who wouldn’t want such bread? Where is it? How can we get it?

Jesus said, I am the Bread of Life. You get it through faith, by believing in me.

Jesus said that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, not for earthly food and drink, are blessed.  Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? Do you have a hunger to be right with God? Have you tried to satisfy that hunger by trying to be a good person, by pretending to be religious, by trying to make up for your sins? That doesn’t work because you can never make yourself right with God by anything you do. You will always fall short and your hunger will continue to gnaw at you. The only thing that will satisfy your hunger, your desire to be right with God, is the Bread of Life, Jesus. He was not only perfectly righteous in your place, but he paid for your unrighteousness on the cross. He now comes to you, as he did the crowds in Capernaum, and says, “come to me, believe that I am the one who came down from heaven, that I am the only one who can satisfy your hunger. Believe that I Am The Bread Of Life, the Son of God who has life, and who wants to give you eternal life for free.

Unfortunately there are many today who are like the crowds who came to Jesus looking for the wrong thing. We are constantly tempted to join them and to look to Jesus only, or primarily, for what he can do for us right now. Listen to Jesus’ warning. Don’t look to him for food that spoils, but for what lasts for all eternity. He is the Bread of Life! Come to him. Believe that he is the Son of God, your savior. Let him feed your soul every day by feasting on his word, and you will see that your daily bead is provided as well, for he has promised, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.

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