March 22, 2020 Sermon

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Mar 212020
 

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Romans 8:1-5

Dear Friends in Christ,

The Corona Virus has changed our lives drastically. Schools are closed. Business is disrupted. The stock market is in free-fall. Travel is restricted. People are worried about getting sick, or losing their life savings, or if they have been laid off, even being able to purchase food and pay the rent. But for the majority of people, even if they did get the virus, it would not be a death sentence.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that there is something a whole lot worse than the Corona Virus. It’s something we all have. We were all born with it. It’s the inherited disease of sin. We have a sinful flesh.

In the previous chapter Paul talked about this problem that we all face. No matter how hard we try we can’t keep from sinning. He says, For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not keep doing what I want. Instead, I do what I hate. Indeed, I know that good does not live in me, that is, in my sinful flesh. The desire to do good is present with me, but I am not able to carry it out. So I fail to do the good I want to do. Instead, the evil I do not want to do, that is what I keep doing.

Now, we tend to like to brush this off by saying things like, “nobody’s perfect so it’s not that big a deal.” Or, “as long as I do more good than bad I should be Okay, right?” But that’s not what Jesus says. He says, be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. And, if you aren’t perfect, Paul says, it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the law.” Not being perfect is a big deal. It means that we are under a curse, God’s curse. We are condemned.

What is condemnation? What does it mean to be condemned? It’s a courtroom term. When the jury returns from deliberation and their verdict is “guilty on all counts” and “we recommend the sentence of death,” that’s condemnation.

This is the verdict we all have hanging over our heads. We all want to argue, “but Lord, look at all the good things I’ve done.” The Lord responds, “were you perfect? No? Then you are condemned.” “But Lord, there are so many people that have done much worse things than I’ve ever done.” The Lord responds, “were you perfect? No? Then you are condemned.” “But Lord, give me a chance to do better. I’ll try even harder to keep your laws.” The Lord responds, “can you live without ever sinning, not even once? No? Then you are condemned.”

We all need to say with Paul, who will rescue me? I’m doomed to spend all eternity in the fires of Hell where finding hand sanitizer won’t be our problem because there won’t even be a drop of water to cool our tongue. Who will rescue me because I can’t rescue myself?

Paul’s answer? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Try to imagine being on the gallows with the noose around your neck. Or try to imagine being strapped to the gurney in the prison, hooked up to IV’s with the executioner just about to push the button that releases the lethal drugs into your veins. Imagine that, at just the last second word comes from the governor to call off the execution. You have been pardoned. Can you imagine the relief?

That’s what Paul is picturing for us in Romans 8:1. We were condemned, and rightfully so because we didn’t measure up to God’s demand to be perfect. The punishment God’s law demands for all those who have not been perfect is condemnation, spending eternity separated from God and from everything good. But before our sentence could be carried out God stepped in and pardoned us.

Why did he do that? Why did he pardon us if he knew we were guilty and deserved the punishment we were about to receive? Most people would answer “because he loves us.” But that’s not the whole story. You see if someone loves a person who is condemned to death their love alone doesn’t change the verdict. In fact, a governor may despise a person who is about to be executed and still pardon him. It takes more than love. When it comes to God, no matter how much he loves us, and he does love us, he can’t pardon us unless his law’s demand for justice has been satisfied.

  Paul says, Indeed, what the law was unable to do, because it was weakened by the flesh, God did, when he sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to deal with sin. God condemned sin in his flesh, so that the righteous decree of the law would be fully satisfied in us.

Do you see it? God condemned sin in His, that’s Jesus’, flesh. In this way the righteous decree of the law, the decree that we be condemned, was fully satisfied. As Paul says in another place, God can now be just, and at the same time, the one who justifies, declares us not guilty and free from condemnation.

There’s an interesting connection here with the season of Lent. As Jesus is on trial before the Sanhedrin they are having trouble finding anything that Jesus has done wrong. Of course, we know that he was perfect and without sin so there was nothing that could be found. So finally, the chief priest puts Jesus under oath and demands that he answer the question, “Are you the Son of God or not?” When Jesus answered that he was and that they would see him coming in the clouds of heaven one day, they condemned him for what they considered the sin of blasphemy, calling himself God. Jesus was condemned, but not just by the Sanhedrin. God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us. God put our sins and the sins of the whole world on Jesus. He gave Jesus the sentence, the condemnation we deserve. So then, there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He was condemned in our place. Our sentence is commuted. We are set free.

Think again about that person who was pardoned at the last second as they were face-to-face, moments away from death. Imagine the relief they would feel! Imagine the inexplicable joy! Imagine how thankful they would be toward the one who pardoned them!

God has pardoned you! He has rescued you from the condemnation you deserve. That realization has to fill you with relief, with inexplicable joy and with extreme gratitude. In fact, Paul says, it gives you a new mindset, a new way of looking at things. To be sure, those who are in harmony with the sinful flesh think about things the way the sinful flesh does, and those in harmony with the spirit think about things the way the spirit does.

  As we think about the Corona Virus, what is the mindset that is in harmony with the spirit? It’s peace, the kind of peace that nothing and no one in the world can give. It’s the peace that comes from knowing Jesus and trusting his promises.

Watch out for those who try to imply that if you really trust God he won’t let you get sick. Such people are like the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day who kept telling the people that God would never allow Jerusalem or the temple to be destroyed. Don’t put words into God’s mouth that he has not spoken.

Focus on the promises that he has given in his word. He has promised that he is with us in the midst of whatever storm we are facing, just as he was with the disciples when they thought their boat was going to sink.

He has promised that whatever happens in our lives he will make sure it turns out for our good, especially our spiritual and eternal good. There is no better example of this than Joseph who told his brothers who had sold him as a slave, you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good… the saving of many lives, as it turned out, even their lives were saved, and the line of the Savior was preserved.

We can already see some good that has come from this. It has forced people to realize that they are not as in control of things as they would like to think they are. Look at what one little invisible virus can do! Hopefully that makes them think about their need for God.

It has caused many people to have to slow down. It has cut down on the busyness of life and hopefully people are using this as an opportunity to spend more time as families in the word and in prayer.

Hopefully it causes everyone to realize the important truth that we are all mortal. We will all have to appear before God someday. If we try to appear before him on our own merits, we will be condemned. But there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Will God keep us from getting this virus? He has not promised that he will. But no matter what, trust that he is at work. Know that the most important thing is that you have eternal life in Jesus.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Amen

March 15, 2020 Sermon

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Mar 152020
 

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John 9:1-5

When a natural disaster strikes people look for answers. Why did this happen? Who is to blame? Could the government have done more to prevent flooding, could the warning sirens have been triggered sooner? When someone has a miscarriage they naturally wonder if there might have been something they could have done to prevent it, maybe more vitamins, less exercise. As we face what’s being called a pandemic people are looking for answers. Where did this virus come from? What can we do about it? Who is to blame?

Those who are Atheists will look to blame government, or fate, or themselves, but they will also use whatever bad thing is happening as proof that there is no god. They will say things like, “If God is as loving and powerful as you say he is, then he surely would not let things like this happen, therefore he must not really exist, or if he does he’s worthless.”

Those who are Christians struggle with disaster, disease and loss too, but in a little different way. We are convinced that there is a God and that his power and love are beyond what we can imagine. We know that the reason for disaster, disease and loss is sin. But, like everyone else, we want to place blame somewhere when bad things happen.

That was the case with the disciples. They passed by a man who had been born blind and they were struggling trying to figure out why this happened. If he had become blind later in life it might have been easier to explain. Maybe there had been an accident. Maybe someone dropped him when he was a child, or he was climbing on something and fell. If he became blind when he was older, maybe he had contracted a disease because of a sinful lifestyle that caused his blindness. But none of those things applied if he was born blind. So, was it God’s fault? If so, wouldn’t that be saying God is evil? Was it the man’s fault? But how could he sin before he was born? Was it the parents’ fault? Maybe they had done something that caused his blindness? When something bad happens, we are always looking for someone or something to blame.

Sometimes that’s easy to do. If someone is driving drunk and smashes into a tree it’s obvious that the one to blame is the person who chose to drive drunk. But, in most cases, it’s not that easy. Yes, when something bad happens it is because of sin, but often it’s not the result of one specific person’s sin. Often it’s the result of many peoples’ sins, or just the fact that Adam and Eve sinned and because of that every human became subject to sickness, disease and death.

As Jesus was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that God’s works might be revealed in connection with him.

Was Jesus saying that neither this man nor his parents were sinful? No! He was saying that there was no specific sin that either this man or his parents had committed that resulted in his being born blind. The reason he was born blind was simply the fact that we live in a sinful and imperfect world. In the process of his conception, growth in the womb and birth, something went wrong. Maybe his eyes didn’t form properly. Maybe his optic nerve didn’t form properly, or didn’t connect to the proper place in his brain. Maybe the portion of the brain that decodes the messages from the eye didn’t form properly. Our bodies are unbelievably complex. Considering all the things that could go wrong in our conception, growth in the womb and birth, it’s a miracle that there are not more defects than there are.

What exactly was the problem that caused this man’s blindness Jesus doesn’t say. He lets that remain hidden. But he reminds his disciples and us that, no matter what it is, God will use it for good. In this particular case, God would use his blindness to reveal his works, to show not only his power even over blindness, but to highlight the fact that Jesus is the Light of the World. He would use it to contrast those who claimed to be able see but were really blind with this man who was both physically and spiritually blind, but was given that ability to see Jesus as his savior both physically and spiritually.

God often keeps the specific answer to why things happen hidden. Jesus did this on another occasion when he was asked why certain people were killed by Pilate in the temple courts, or why certain people were killed when the tower of Siloam fell. By nature, we want to know, we want to fix some blame. Like the disciples, and Job’s friends, we assume God is punishing someone. Jesus makes it clear that those people were not being punished by God because they were great sinners and deserved such a death. But he doesn’t say what the reason was. Instead he uses the question as an opportunity to do the work of God. He uses it as an opportunity to call people to repentance. He says, do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.

This should be our response whenever there is a natural disaster, or an illness, or disease we have no control over. Why is this happening? Because sin entered the world and death through sin and so death passed to all because all have sinned. Don’t worry so much about fixing blame. Those who get sick aren’t getting sick because they are more guilty than everyone else. A pandemic, or even just the common flu, doesn’t care who you are or what you have done. It affects Christians, Atheists, Muslims, every race, rich and poor because everyone is a sinner living in a world that is subject to sin and is headed for destruction.

Like Jesus, we can and should use the feeling of helplessness and lack of control that people have in times of trouble as an opportunity to do the work of God. First of all, it’s a reminder for ourselves that this life is not permanent. Some illness or disaster could strike us at any moment. No matter how faithful we are, we are still sinners living in a sinful world and, sooner or later, in one way or another, we will have to face death. As the Bible reminds us often, we need to be prepared for our death, or Jesus’ second coming, every minute of every day. The night is coming when no one can work. And the only way to be prepared is by having the Light of Christ shine on us.

As he did with the man born blind, Jesus has shown us who he is. He has graciously brought us into contact with the word so that the Holy Spirit has enlightened us and brought us who were once darkness, to the light of faith, who were born dead in sin, to life. He has opened our spiritual eyes so that we see Jesus as the Light of the World, as the Son of Man who has lived in our place, died to pay for our sins, and risen from the dead.

So, “Why did this happen?” Only God knows the full answer to that question and he’s probably not going to reveal any more to us than he already has. It happened because of sin. But, it also happened so that the work of God might be displayed. It’s a stark reminder that humans are not as much in control as they think they are. It’s a stark reminder that everyone is mortal. It’s a reminder to know and then share what’s most important, even more important than a cure for every disease. What’s most important is knowing where you would be if you got sick and died from this or another illness, or if some accident took your life. Are you and your loved ones right with God? Are you blind, or can you see that Jesus is the light of the world, the only way of salvation for anyone?

If you do see that Jesus is the Light of the World, your savior from sin, Paul says that you are now light in the Lord. Especially in times of trouble and uncertainty, it’s important for you to live as children of light, to let your light shine and declare the praises of the one who has called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Let people see that the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. People will sense that you have a peace and calm about you that they want and need. So be prepared to tell them why. Be prepared to tell them something similar to what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told king Nebuchadnezzar. “God can deliver us from a virus, or anything that may threaten our lives. He is almighty. There isn’t anything he can’t do. But, he has not told us that he will deliver us. Either way, I’m going to continue living my life for him, striving to avoid the deeds of darkness, and trusting that he will either deliver me, or even better, he will take me to be with him in heaven.”

Why did this happen? Don’t get all caught up in trying to answer that question by fixing blame on yourself or others. Instead, take the time to examine yourself, recognize your own sin, and rejoice that you know that Jesus is the Son of Man, the Light of the World, your savior from sin. Look for opportunities to do the work of God and remind others that disease and disaster are reminders of sin and of our need for a savior, and that Savior is Jesus.

March 8, 2020 Sermon

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Mar 082020
 

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John 4:5-26

 

There was an argument a number of years ago among beer makers about who used the best water in their beer making process. One argued that their water was the best because it came from underground artesian wells. The other argued that their water was the best because it came from fresh mountain streams. In the final analysis, it probably doesn’t matter where the water used to make beer comes from. But what if a brewer could claim that the water they used to make their beer could heal whatever ails you and give you eternal life? Even people who don’t like beer would want to drink their product!

Of course, no brewery can make such a claim, but Jesus can. He claims to be able to give us the water of life that bubbles up inside us and gives us eternal life. This water isn’t bottled and sold anywhere. It’s free and only available in one place, right here in the Bible. Jesus told the crowds in Jerusalem, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. 

Living water is the good news of the gospel, the only thing that can quench the thirst of those who feel the flames of Hell licking at their feet because of their sin. It’s what the Holy Spirit uses to bring people to believe that Jesus is their Savior, that baptism washes away their sins so that they have eternal life. You have that living water. By God’s grace, you have heard the Gospel. The Holy Spirit has used it to bring you from death to life, from unbelief to faith. By God’s grace you have been baptized into Christ and been united with him in his death resurrection. You know that everyone needs this living water, or they will suffer eternal death without even a drop of water to cool their tongue. So, share it. Let it flow from within you. No matter how much you give away, it will never run out.

This morning, we see Jesus modeling for us how to share the living water of the gospel with others.

John tells us that Jesus was traveling from Judah to Galilee, and that he was traveling by the most direct route which took him through Samaria. He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the piece of land Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Then Jesus, being tired from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

Most of you probably know why John tells us this. In verse 9, he reminds us that Jews and Samaritans don’t associate with each other. They aren’t friendly with each other. In fact, most Jews would go through the trouble of crossing to the other side of the Jordan river just so they would not have to go through Samaria on their way back and forth from Galilee to Jerusalem. By going through Samaria Jesus was showing us that the water of life needs to be shared in uncomfortable places, places where it might not seem that we, or the gospel would be welcome.

What’s your uncomfortable place? Where would you feel uncomfortable, or unwanted if you tried to share the water of life? Would it be work, or at the coffee shop, or on an airplane, or maybe at a family dinner where you knew some people were hostile to Christianity?

Whatever your uncomfortable place is, it couldn’t be more uncomfortable than it was for Jesus, a Jewish man, resting at the well of Jacob in Sychar. But he wasn’t looking uncomfortable. He was looking for an opportunity to share living water with someone even in that place where he knew he might not be welcome. And an opportunity presented itself.

    Verse 7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  Normally a Jewish man might have just ignored her as if she didn’t exist, or maybe made some derogatory comment under his breath. The hour of the day also implies that she was a social outcast even in her own city, probably because of the number of times she had been married. She was coming to the well when she knew it was unlikely anyone else would be there. But Jesus initiated a conversation with her, which took her by surprise.

Jesus was willing to share living water with unlikely people, people like the tax collectors and sinners, like this Samaritan woman. Who would you consider an unlikely person? Someone with green hair, tattoos and piercings? A homeless person? Someone of a different color? Someone with a strange accent? Your neighbor who rarely comes out of the house? Bottom line, we know what Jesus knew. No matter how unlikely it might seem to us that someone might be willing to listen to the gospel, if they are human, they need the living water of the gospel. Be willing to talk to anyone with whom you come in contact, no matter how unlikely it might seem to you that they will listen. They need what you have.

That brings us to the next thing that Jesus did. He peaked this woman’s interest. He let her know that he had something she wanted, something she desperately needed. Jesus told her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

  How can you peak someone’s interest and let them know that you have something they want, something that they desperately need? Listen for clues. Watch their body language. Do they talk about how worried they are about Corona virus? Do they seem sad about something? Do they talk about a lack of justice or fairness in the world? Whatever it is, you have what they need. You know that God promises that he is in control. You have the peace of knowing that God may put an end to the Corona virus very quickly, but if he doesn’t, even if you become infected, you know that God can heal you, or he can use it to take you to be with him in heaven. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. You know that even in the midst of the saddest experiences in life you have joy, a joy that comes from knowing that your sins are forgiven, a joy that comes from knowing that when someone dies believing in Jesus they have eternal life. You know that unfairness and injustice exist because of sin, but that Jesus suffered the worst injustice of all, he was punished for our sins. When he comes again, he will establish perfect justice for all eternity. Let people know that you have something they want and desperately need.

Jesus let this woman know that he had something she wanted and desperately needed. At first, she was only thinking of earthly, physical things. At first, she thought Jesus could make it so that she wouldn’t have to keep coming out to get water from the well every day. So, Jesus helped her recognize her real need, her sin and her need for forgiveness.

Verse 16 Jesus told her, “Go, call your husband, and come back here.” “I have no husband,” the woman answered. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say, ‘I have no husband.’ In fact, you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.

Unlike Jesus, we can’t see into someone’s heart and know their sin. But we don’t have to. All we have to do is let their conscience go to work. We can do that by asking them, “are you ready for eternity? If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would be?” Getting someone to think about their mortality gets them to begin to think spiritually, even if they say that they don’t believe in anything after death.

Of course, talk of death and mortality makes people uncomfortable and often, they will try to change the subject. That’s what this woman did. She tried to make the discussion about a controversial subject – differences between places of worship. And Jesus could have easily followed her train of thought made clear to her what the Bible has to say. Yes, God did say that the location of the Temple and the only place where sacrifices were to be offered to him was Jerusalem. But he managed her objections and kept the focus on God and not the place or manner of worship.

People will try the same thing today. They might try to derail the discussion and bring up all the terrible things that have been done in the name of religion, or how there is only one Bible yet so many different religions that can’t agree on what it teaches. Those might be topics to discuss at some point, but be like Jesus, don’t get distracted. Keep the focus where it needs to be. Regardless of what may or may not have been done in the name of religion, regardless of the fact that there are many different religions and only one Bible, you will still have to face death one day. Do you know where you will be?

Jesus kept the focus where it needed to be. Verse 21, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will not worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem… a time is coming and now is here when the real worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for those are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. What matters is your relationship with God, not what others have or haven’t done, or where you worship.

Her response is interesting, I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ). “When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Sounds a lot like what many people say today. “I know who Jesus is. He is love, and when he comes, I’m sure I’ll be just fine because, if he is love, then he surely won’t punish anyone.”

The problem this Samaritan woman had, and that so many people today have, is that they know something about Jesus, but they don’t really know Jesus. If you think that because you have heard Jesus is loving he surely won’t punish anyone, you don’t know Jesus. If you think that just because you belong to an organization and help it do a lot of good for others in the name of Jesus you are one of his disciples, you don’t know Jesus. He made it clear to this woman that worship needs to be in Spirit and in truth. You have to know the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done. He is I AM. He is true God and true man so that he could live a perfect life in your place and then be punished in your place. He rose bodily from the dead and has ascended into heaven. If you deny any of these truths, as many do, you don’t know Jesus. But when you know who he is and what he has done for you, that he has given you living water, that he has washed your sins away and given you what he earned by his life and death as a free gift, you can’t help but worship him in spirit. As he continues to pour living water into you through the gospel in word and sacrament, the joy of your salvation bubbles up inside of you and streams of living water flow from within you.

Share living water- even in uncomfortable places, with unlikely people. Let them know that you have what they desperately need. Help them recognize that they need it. Manage their objections by avoiding peripheral arguments. Keep them focused on who Jesus is and what he has done for them.

 

 

Share Living Water

  • In _______________________ places
    • Like:
  • With _____________________ people
  • Let them know you have ____________________________________________
  • Help them recognize their ______________________
  • Manage their objections by
    • Avoiding ________________________
    • Focusing on _____________________

 

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