June 25, 2017 Sermon

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Jun 252017
 

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2 Timothy 1:5-10

Dear Friends in Christ,

Today is the 487th anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. In 1530 there was no such thing as the separation of church and state. The Emperor, Charles the V, felt that there should be only one religion in his territories. He thought religious division would hinder his ability to defend his territories against the advance of the Islamic armies of the Turks. He intended to use the meeting at Augsburg to re-establish unity, by force if necessary. The Lutheran Dukes, Princes and representatives of a few Free Cities presented the summary of their faith based on Scripture. This confession, written by Melachthon because Luther had already been declared an enemy of the state, clearly stated what they believed on the basis of Scripture, and what they rejected on the basis of Scripture. I don’t think we can truly appreciate the gravity of the situation. This was not just stating that you believe in Creation and reject evolution before a professor who might give you an F for confessing your faith. This was stating what you believed before the most powerful people in the world, knowing that they were probably going to reject what you had to say and that there could be physical consequences for you and possibly military and economic consequences for the people in your territories.

Seven Dukes and Princes together with the Mayors of two free cities took a big risk. It would have been easier to keep silent, or to acquiesce and compromise. But their bold and faithful confession helped to Pass the Faith. That’s what Paul thanked God for and encouraged Timothy to do. That’s what is still needed today. Pass the Faith. Pass it down to the next generation. Pass it on to others, even in the midst of threats and persecution.

As Paul thinks about Timothy he is moved to give thanks and praise to God for the faith that was passed down to him. When he thought about Timothy he saw the faith being passed down from one generation to another, from grandmother, to mother and then to Timothy. He knows that was not something easy. Lois, Eunice and Timothy didn’t live in Israel. They lived in what is modern Turkey. They didn’t live in a place where the majority believed in the one true God. In fact, when Paul healed a lame man in their city the people thought he was a god and tried to make sacrifices to him. Timothy’s Father is never mentioned by name, only that he was a Greek which seems to indicate that he was not a believer and maybe was not a big part of Timothy’s life. Yet, in spite of all of these obstacles, Lois and Eunice made sure that Timothy learned the Word of God. And, when Paul came to their town and not only performed a miracle, but told them the good news that the Messiah they had learned about in God’s word had come; that as Isaiah had foretold, Jesus had suffered and died for sin and then risen from the dead; they believed. God’s word did not return empty. The Holy Spirit used the word they had learned and the good news Paul proclaimed to bring Lois, Eunice and Timothy to trust in Jesus as their savior.

What better thing could be said of your family than that you passed the faith from generation to generation! The world thinks the best thing would be that you pass on a big inheritance, but that’s not always a blessing, and it can all be lost in some disaster or wasted by ungrateful heirs. The best thing that you can pass down to the next generation is the faith. And unless you realize that, you won’t be willing to do the hard work it takes to make it happen.

No matter who you are, like Lois and Eunice, you will face challenges if you want to pass the faith to the next generation. Like Eunice, you may not have a spouse who supports you. You may live in an area where you are surrounded by idolaters, or have an extended family who thinks you are wasting time, money and effort in trying to pass down the faith. You will have to battle sinful nature- your own that doesn’t want to take the time to do what God says and talk about God and his word with your children at every opportunity throughout the day, that doesn’t want to do the work of having home devotions and saying prayers every night; and the sinful nature of your children who don’t want to put down the tablet, or the phone, or shut off the TV, who don’t want to be weird because none of their friends have devotions and prayers at their house. You might have to put up with scorn and anger from other parents and from your children if you refuse to participate in certain sports teams because it will interfere with worship and Sunday school. But passing down the faith is more than attending church and Sunday school; it’s letting your children see that God and his word are the most important things in life and that you are willing to take a stand, to do a difficult thing, to live your faith, not just talk about it, or go through the right motions for an hour or two on Sunday, but live your faith.

We don’t have the details of what Lois and Eunice did to pass the faith down to Timothy, but Paul saw the results. He rejoiced. He thanked God that the sincere, unhypocritical faith he had seen in Lois and Eunice he also saw in Timothy. The Faith had been passed down. But there was still work to be done. Paul encourages Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God. He reminds him that when the Spirit works faith in our hearts he does not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. Lois and Eunice had done something wonderful and important. They had passed the faith down to Timothy, but now Timothy had the responsibility of passing the faith on to others.

Passing down the faith had not been easy for Lois and Eunice and passing on the faith would not be easy for Timothy. His mentor, the one who had told him about Jesus and who had given him on the job training to be a Pastor and missionary was in prison. The temptation would be great to begin to question whether what Paul had taught him was true. If God is so great and loving why would he let his great missionary, Paul, sit in prison? The temptation would be great to be ashamed to be associated with Paul; maybe to deny any connection with Paul so as not to end up in prison with him.

The confessors at Augsburg must have felt those same temptations. Their leader, Luther, had not been imprisoned, but he had been declared an outlaw by the state and a heretic by the chruch. The temptation must have been there to question whether Luther was right when he opposed indulgences and proclaimed salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. (By the way, apparently indulgences are alive and well and you can get one by following Pope Francis on Twitter.) The temptation must have been there to be ashamed to be associated with Luther and his teaching.

Many of you who have had the faith passed down to you face the same temptations. You see how your faith is ridiculed by government leaders and professors and scientists, those who seem to be the smartest and most powerful people, and you are tempted to question whether or not the faith that has been passed down to you is true. You are tempted to be ashamed to be associated with a church, with parents and grandparents who believe those things that everyone else seems to be calling at foolish and a waste of time, if not dangerous.

How do you overcome those temptations and continue to pass on the faith to others? Remember what Paul says, fan into flame the gift of God, which has been given you by the Holy Spirit. Remember that God did not give you a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of those who passed the faith on to you. But join them in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. This fanning of the gift of God into flame; this bold and sincere confession of faith even in the face of persecution, comes only as you are reminded every day of what God has done for you. He has saved you and called you to a holy life. He has defeated sin, death and Satan for you. He has called you out of the darkness of sin and unbelief and he has called you to live, not for yourself, but for him. He did this for you –not because of anything you have done but because of his own purpose and grace. In fact, as proof that it wasn’t because of anything you have done, this grace was given you in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. Even before you were born and had done anything good or bad, God chose you to be his. And, now that you have been born he carried out his purpose for you by letting you know that, Christ Jesus has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Like Timothy, by God’s grace, against all odds, the faith has been passed down to you. All thanks and praise and glory to God for that gift! By God’s grace you know that all your sins are paid for and that you have something that no one can ever take away, even if they kill you. You have immortality. You have an eternal home in heaven that has been purchased for you by Jesus. Fan the joy of that good news into flame through daily contact with God’s word and through the receiving of the Sacrament. Then others will see the fire of your love; then you will be unashamed as you boldly and sincerely confess the faith with Timothy and Luther and the Confessors at Augsburg and many others. Then God will use you to pass on the faith so that others may rejoice that they too have life and immortality through Jesus.

June 18, 2017 Sermon

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Jun 182017
 

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1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Dear Friends in Christ,

Two of the classes I attended at the conference this past week were about reaching people in the 21st century with the Gospel of Jesus. As you would hope and expect, both presenters emphasized that the message of the Gospel has not and cannot change. But we are facing some challenges in communicating the Gospel, especially in America in the 21st Century, that we have not faced in America before. It used to be that you could assume that almost everyone you met went to church at some point in their lives. If nothing else, their parents dropped them off at Sunday school. In fact, in the South, many churches used to have busses that would go through the neighborhoods picking up children for Sunday school. But, as we make calls on people in our community that is still in one of the more churched areas of the country, we regularly find people who tell us that they have never been to church. What’s worse is that most people, even if they have never been to church or read the Bible, think they know what Christianity is all about. They have blindly accepted what teachers and professors have told them about Christianity, and what has been portrayed on TV, in the movies, and in the media. They have a very negative view of Christianity, so if you try to talk to them about Jesus often the walls go up immediately.

This is not completely the fault of unbelieving professors and the media. A lot of the blame lies at the feet of those of us who call ourselves Christians, but don’t do a very good job of living our faith. The thing that turns so many people off is hypocrisy, in politics, in the media, and in the church. In a world that says that there is no such thing as absolute truth, people are still looking for authenticity, for people and organizations that are true to their purpose, that mean what they say and say what they mean, that have actions and programs that align with their stated purpose.

Since there is really nothing new under the sun, the Bible guides us in thinking about how to reach people with the gospel when the culture around us is not just unchristian and Biblically illiterate, but more and more antichristian, the way it was for the first Christians. Consider how Paul, and Jesus, answer the question, “Who will enter the kingdom of God?”

When you hear God’s word through Paul, Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind? If you are like most church-going people you probably think, “That’s right! That’s what people need to hear.” Many times throughout my ministry I have heard people say that the church is getting too soft. We need more law. A nice old gentleman who had been a school administrator all his life and who attended a Bible class I conducted at an assisted living home said that schools ought to require students to study the book of Proverbs. Why? Because it would teach them right and wrong, morality, the law of God.

While it is certainly true that everyone needs to know God’s law, to know what he says about right and wrong, such an attitude is part of the problem. You see it, don’t you? It’s the attitude that the Pharisee had in his heart when the sinful woman came and anointed Jesus’ feet. His thought was that Jesus should not let her touch him; she needed to be told that she was a sinner, a wicked person who would not be able to ender the kingdom of God and should not be allowed to enter his house. It’s using the law of God to point out the sins of others in a way that makes you thankful that you have not committed their sins; in a way that makes you think that you have a good shot at entering the kingdom of God because you are better than they are.

Listen to God’s word through Paul again and think about what words stick in your mind. Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. If you are like most people I’m guessing you remember the words that describe things that you have not done and think you would never do. You probably skip lightly over the ones that could maybe hit home, like greed, or slander/gossip, or swindlers/cheaters/liars. We like to use this passage to point out the sins of others, but we don’t like it so much when we see ourselves in the list. Because of our sinful nature we want to say, “I thank you God that I’m not like those people! They are really bad. They are wicked. They should never be able to enter the kingdom of God.” We don’t want to say, “Yes, that’s me. I’m an idolater. I have at times feared, loved or trusted someone or something more than God. I have at times been sexually immoral, at least in thought if not in deed, which breaks the same commandment and deserves the same punishment from God as homosexuality. I have at times had a little too much alcohol, been greedy and jealous of others, lied or cheated to get what I wanted, and I have said unkind and maybe even untrue things about others.” We don’t want to see ourselves in these words because then we would have to admit that we deserve the same punishment as those wicked people, those sinners.

The real answer to the question, Who should enter the kingdom of God, is “no one, including me.”

That’s the point that Jesus wanted Simon the Pharisee to see. He was quick to think that the woman who was anointing Jesus should not be able to enter the kingdom of God. But he failed to realize that he should not enter either. He too was a sinner, maybe not in the same way that she was, but a sinner. And as a sinner, he should not be able to enter the kingdom of God.

Don’t make the mistake Simon did. When you hear a clear preaching of God’s law as we do in the list of sins God gives us through Paul this morning, don’t just think of others. See yourself in that list. Every one of us is there. Let it sink in to the point that you say to yourself, “I don’t deserve to enter the kingdom of God. I have sinned and the wages of sin is death.” Then you will be moved to join the tax collector who recognized his sin and prayed for God’s mercy. Then you will be like this woman who recognized her sin and humbled herself to crash the party, knowing what those around the table would think of her, and wash Jesus’ feet hoping for his mercy.

Who will enter the kingdom of God? The answer is surprising, isn’t it? Simon was surprised. How could this sinful woman enter the kingdom of God? Jesus indicated clearly that she had entered. And remember what Paul writes immediately following that list of sins he says keeps you out of the kingdom! He says, And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. You who have found yourself in the list of sins that should keep you out of the kingdom of God, you who have been greedy, you who have slandered and swindled, you who have committed sexual sins in thoughts or actions, you who have abused alcohol or drugs, you who have been idolaters for every sin no matter how great or small is idolatry; you who have found yourself in that list and been terrified by the statement that YOU, not someone else, but YOU do not deserve to enter the kingdom of God; you were washed, sanctified and justified.

What a beautiful sentence that is, especially when you have seen yourself in that list of sins that should exclude you from God’s kingdom! You saw how dirty you were. You felt ashamed. You didn’t want anyone to know what you did, or what dirty things were done to you. But you have been washed. You don’t need to feel dirty and ashamed. Jesus’ blood has washed all the dirt of sin away so that, in God’s eyes, you are clean and can stand before him unashamed.

You realized how unholy you were, that in God’s eyes even the holy things you tried to do were like filthy rags; that no matter how hard you tried, you could never be perfect as God demands. But you have been sanctified. God has made you holy in his sight by covering you with the perfect righteousness of Jesus.

You realized that, when you stand before God you should hear the verdict “guilty” and the terrifying sentence, “depart from me into internal fire.” But you have been justified. God has declared you “not guilty” because your defense attorney Jesus volunteered to serve your sentence for you.

You are a sinner, born in sin, piling up a mountain of sins every day. You don’t deserve to enter the kingdom of heaven. But, in Jesus, you have been washed, sanctified and justified. Every sin has been forgiven because of Jesus’ life and death in your place. Like the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, when we realize that we have been forgiven much we will also love much.

Jesus’ lesson for Simon was really the same lesson he tried to teach others like Simon. He repeatedly tells them to go and learn what it means that, “God desires mercy, not sacrifice.”

That’s the lesson we need to learn if we want to reach people in the 21st century with the gospel. If we use Paul’s list of sins that keep people out of the kingdom of heaven the way Simon did. If we think “those people out there are really bad sinners. They need to know that, unless they clean up their act they can’t enter the kingdom of God, and until they do clean up their act I don’t want anything to do with them; we have not learned what it means that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. We have failed to include ourselves in the list of sins that keep people from entering the kingdom of God. We have not experienced the mercy, the loving forgiveness of God, and therefore, we will not love much, not God or our neighbor.

When we do see ourselves in Paul’s list of sins, and then we hear those wonderful words, you have been washed, sanctified, justified in Jesus, we will realize how much we have been forgiven and we will love much. We will see “sinners” not as those who need to be avoided or condemned, but as those who need to hear the good news; not that God excuses their sins, but that Jesus has paid for them in full! They need to hear that they can enter the kingdom of heaven through Jesus.

The way to reach people in the 21st century hasn’t changed. Jesus and Paul make it clear. Those who realize that they have been forgiven much will love much. They will be authentic. They will understand what it means that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. They will be able to identify with sinners like themselves and share with them the inexpressible joy, beauty and peace of being forgiven for Jesus’ sake and knowing that you are in the kingdom of God, now and forever.

June 4, 2017 Sermon

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Jun 042017
 

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Acts 2:11-12

Dear Friends in Christ,

As you know, this year is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Some of the themes being used for the celebration of this anniversary are, “It’s Still All About Jesus,” and “A Return to Grace.” We are celebrating the fact that God used Martin Luther to remind the world that the Bible is all about Jesus, and that through Martin Luther a large portion of the church was brought back to the truth that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus.

We also celebrate the fact that Luther translated the Bible into the language of his people, which then inspired others to do the same for their people. In a sense, it was a modern Pentecost because through these translations many more people could hear about the wonderful works of God in their own language. We celebrate the fact that Luther gave us the Catechism which presents the basic truths of God’s word for us to memorize, and then asks the question that many in the crowd on Pentecost asked, “What does this mean?” Like Peter, he understood that it’s not enough to hear and memorize words that you can’t understand, even if they are in your native language. You need to understand what they mean; that the words of Scripture point you to Jesus as your faithful Savior.

At a time in history when there was no TV, or radio, or social media that could spread news quickly, God found a way to make the good news about Jesus go viral. At one of the three great OT festivals, when all faithful OT believers were gathering in Jerusalem from all over the Roman world, God sent the sound of a mighty wind; just the sound, no destructive wind. In addition, he caused what looked like tongues of fire to appear above the heads of the disciples. As you might guess, large crowds of people gathered to see what was going on. When they did, they heard the disciples proclaiming the mighty acts of God to them in the native languages of the people who had gathered to hear them. The people realized that this was a miracle. The disciples were from Galilee; not a place where people were usually taught to speak other languages. They recognized that the sound of the wind, the tongues of fire, and the ability to speak other languages was a mighty act of God. But what did God want them to learn from all this? “What does this mean,” they asked?

Peter answered them by first of all pointing them to Scripture. God was fulfilling the promise that he had made through the prophet Joel. He was pouring out his spirit on people, not just on a prophet here and there, or on the High Priest, but all people; on both men and women; on all who would hear the good news about Jesus.

It’s important for us to learn the lesson Peter is teaching here. When things happen that we don’t understand we are not to speculate, based on our own wisdom or experience, what God is trying to say. If we do, we will come to conclusions like some in the crowd did; that the sound of the wind and the speaking in other languages didn’t have anything to do with God at all. It was just “mother nature” and a bunch of drunks babbling. No. Peter teaches us to go to the word; to search the scriptures and see if the things that are happening might be a fulfillment of either a threat or a promise of God.

As we consider the things that are happening in our world today, wars and rumors of war, famines and earthquakes, persecution of Christians, family strife, false prophets who use Christianity as a means of financial gain, what seems to be a majority of people being lovers of themselves instead of lovers of God, we should be asking the question, “what does this mean?” We should then go to the Scriptures to find the answer. As we do it will be clear that God is keeping his promise spoken through the prophet Joel, and through Jesus. These events mean that we are living in the last days, the time between Jesus’ first and second coming. They mean that we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We need to be always watching and ready for him to return in glory, and we need to do all we can to let others know that he is the only savior and he is coming back soon. As we continue to search the Scriptures, we will also be reminded of his promise that he is with us always; that there is nothing, not natural disasters, not war, not famine, not persecution, not even death that can separate us from God’s love.

When we, like those in the crowds on Pentecost, are moved to ask the question, “What does this mean,” Peter, and Luther like him, teach us that the best thing we can do is run to God’s word and search for answers there. As we do, we will be comforted by the fact that God is faithful, he is always keeping his promises.

Peter and the disciples were using this gift of speaking in other languages, this brief undoing of what God did at the Tower of Babel, to do one important thing. They weren’t using it to prove to others that they were really born-again Christians, or to talk with God in some mysterious angel language. They used this gift from God to proclaim the wonders, the mighty acts, of God to as many people as possible. They didn’t use it to bring glory to themselves, but to bring God glory.

When you hear the phrase “the wonders, or mighty acts, of God,” what comes to mind? Do you think of God creating all that exists in six days by the power of his word? Do you think of dividing the Red Sea, or giving Israel water from a rock? Do you think of the sun standing still, or the walls of Jericho falling down? Do you think of God saving the three men from the furnace, or Daniel from the lions? The list of God’s mighty acts is very long. But from the rest of Acts chapter 2 we learn that the might acts that Peter and the disciples focused on all had to do with Jesus. There was the mighty act of his conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. There were the many mighty acts that Jesus performed during his three-year ministry, including the raising of Lazarus from the dead. There was the fact that his betrayal, arrest and crucifixion had all been foretold in the Scripture and that they happened just as God said they would. Then there was his resurrection from the dead, and the fact that all of these things combined produced the greatest mighty act of God ever; salvation offered for free to all. In Jesus God provided forgiveness of sins for the whole world, he destroyed the work of Satan, and turned death into nothing worse than sleep. He enabled Peter and the disciples to boldly proclaim to the crowds that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

What a wonderful promise of God that is! But before we can call on the name of the Lord to save us, like the crowds on Pentecost, we need to be brought to repentance as they were. We need to be brought to realize that there is an almighty and holy God and that we have sinned against him. Among all our other sins we have failed to always look to Scripture to answer the question “What does this mean?” We need to be convinced that we deserve death and eternal punishment in Hell because we have sinned and continue to sin in our thoughts, words, and actions. There is nothing we can do to escape the punishment we deserve. Once we realize that we are not saved and that we can do nothing to save ourselves, then we are ready to hear about the wonders God has done for us. Then we are ready to hear that Jesus, the son of God, became a man so that he could live and die in our place and pay for our sins, for our failure to search the Scripture for answers, and our failure to always trust his promises. Then, as the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus we are moved to call out to him “I can’t save myself, Lord, save me.”

The miracles God performed on Pentecost; the sound of the wind, the tongues of fire, the ability to speak in other languages, caused thousands of people to gather around the place where the disciples were staying. But those miracles didn’t bring people to faith. The miracles brought people to the disciples, and then disciples proclaimed the wonders of God to them. When the people asked “what does this mean,” the disciples pointed them to God’s word for the answer, and proclaimed to them what God had done for them in Jesus. Those who were moved to confess that they could not save themselves and who called out to the Lord to save them, 3000 of them, were saved.

When we hear the crowds on Pentecost ask the question, “What does this mean?” we are reminded that Peter, and Luther, point us to the Scriptures to find the answer. When we go to Scripture we will see that God is continuing to keep his promises. We are reminded that Peter, and Luther, point us to Jesus because it’s still all about Jesus. God’s greatest mighty act was sending his Son Jesus into this world of sin to live and die in our place and then rise again from the dead so that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

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