May 15, 2022 Sermon

John 13:34-35

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Our Nebraska District Mission Board met this week with a pastor who was doing canvassing around the church. When we asked him what objection most of the people he talked to had about church or organized religion, he said that the objection mentioned most often was hypocrisy. When asked how he responded to the accusation of hypocrisy he said that after trying a number of responses he had settled on this one. Everyone has some hypocritical views, the important question  is how strongly you cling to them?

Hypocrisy is openly on display in our world and not just in the church. People have noticed that many people, from politicians to next-door neighbors have made rules for Thee but not for me, rules that they want to impose on others but want to be free to ignore for themselves when they are inconvenient. We know where this attitude comes from. It’s a manifestation of the sinful nature that is all about self-gratification. The sinful nature loves to have us look at the speck in everyone else’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own eye. It moves us to judge ourselves better than others, to think they need the rules, but we don’t because we are so much better or smarter than they. The sinful nature moves us to only and always think about me, myself and I. If it moves me to do something nice for someone it’s only in anticipation of receiving some benefit in return.

So, what do people see about the church that seems hypocritical to them? I’m sure you have seen or heard the accusation in connection with abortion. The church, some Christians, want to outlaw abortions but they don’t do anything to help those who are pregnant and in difficult circumstances. The church, Christians, are opposed to divorce, but just as many churched people are divorced as there are in the general population. The church, Christians, condemn homosexuality, but a lot of church people break the same commandment by having multiply partners, or living together before they are married. They say Jesus loves everyone but the church, Christians, are often unloving to people who don’t look like them.

There is some truth to all these objections. But that’s where the pastor’s response fits so well. Everyone has some hypocritical views, some hypocrisy. The question is how strongly do you cling to those hypocritical views? When your hypocrisy is pointed out do you continue to hold to it, or do you admit it, confess it. Yes, the church is full of hypocrites. The world is full of hypocrites. The difference in the church should be that we recognize our hypocrisy, confess it as sin, and look to Jesus for forgiveness and strength to overcome it.

The hypocrisy that flows from the sinful nature’s desire for self-gratification is overcome by selfless love, and selfless love brings glory, not to self, but to God.

God is love, selfless love.

You know the passage. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. Who can even imagine that! God helped Abraham imagine giving up the son he loved when he asked him to sacrifice him, but Abraham didn’t have to go through with it. What Abraham didn’t have to do God did. He sacrificed his beloved Son, not for people who loved him, but for a world who constantly rebelled against him. We see God’s glory in the selfless love that motivated him to sacrifice his beloved son for us while we were still sinners.

God is glorified in his son, Jesus, who because he is one with the Father demonstrated the same selfless love as the father. He was not forced to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. He volunteered. He willingly gave up the glory of heaven so that he could live on earth as our substitute. He prayed in the garden, not my will but your will be done. If there is no other way to save sinners than by suffering a painful death on the cross, I willingly offer myself as a sacrifice in their place.

God is glorified when we see his selfless love in being willing to sacrifice his beloved son. God is glorified when we see his son, Jesus, willingly sacrifice himself for a world full of sinners, hypocrites. There was no self-gratification in Jesus. He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for all.

With that in mind, Jesus says to his disciples, and us, a new commandment I give you: Love one another. If you know the Bible, you might wonder about that statement. You might wonder what is new about that? The Bible clearly taught from the very beginning that people are to love their neighbor as themselves. Jesus makes clear what he means by new. As I have loved you, so also you are to love one another. What’s new is that we get to see more clearly than anyone in history before Jesus what is meant by loving one another. As Jesus had explained in his sermon on the mount, it’s not love those who love you, or love your neighbor and hate your enemy. It’s love even those who hate you and who persecute you  and who do all kinds of evil things. It’s remembering that Jesus loved you even when you were still a sinner, breaking all his laws, rebelling against him, hating him. When there was nothing lovable about you Jesus loved you anyway. And he didn’t just say it, he showed it. He loved you even though loving you cost him dearly – giving up heaven for a while, being betrayed, rejected, beaten, and crucified, all because he loved  you.

Love, selfless love, the kind of love Jesus showed for us, overcomes self-gratification that shows itself in hypocrisy.

We saw how Peter learned that lesson in our first reading. Jesus used a sheet full of unclean animals to remind Peter to show selfless love. He told him that the message of the vision was not to call anything clean that God had declared clean. When the invitation from Cornelius, a Gentile, came Peter would be tempted with self-gratification, with the thought that his record of cleanliness was more important than accepting the invitation to go and share God’s word with Gentiles. The vision made it clear that he would be a hypocrite if he were to say no because he wanted to hold on to his record of cleanliness at the expense of sharing God’s word with others. The selfless love Jesus showed him overcame his objections and later, the objections of some in the church. In selfless love they were led to praise and glorify God and rejoice that God had granted repentance that results in life also to the Gentiles.

Paul talked to the Corinthians about how even good things can become forms of hypocrisy and self-gratification. If you speak in tongues, or proclaim God’s word powerfully, in a way that shuts down all arguments and speak God’s truth about the beginning of life and gender and marriage; if you have faith that can move mountains, or that enables you to suffer martyrdom; but you do those things looking down on others and judging yourself better than others you are not loving others as Jesus loves you. You will be rightly seen as a hypocrite. Instead of bringing glory to God you will distract people from seeing the glory of God.

What God says through Isaiah is clearly true. Even all our righteous acts, even the good things we do are like filthy rags in God’s sight. Everything we do is tainted by sin. Nothing we do is done 100% in selfless love. We never have a reason to judge ourselves better than others. With Paul, we see ourselves as a chief of sinners. With the tax collector in the temple we pray, God be merciful to me, a sinner.

Paul tells us to speak the truth, never compromise God’s truth no matter how unpopular it might be. He tells us to speak the truth of God’s word in love, in a way that reflects the selfless love of Jesus, in a way that shows that we are more concerned about others than we are about ourselves, that we are not just trying to make a point or show our superiority, but we are just as sinful as anyone else and are truly concerned for everyone’s soul – tattooed or not, long hair or short, well dressed or dressed in rags, gay or straight. See everyone you meet as a sinner like you for whom Jesus lived and died. Love them as Jesus loved you.

When we realize that we are all too often motivated by our sinful nature, by self-gratification, seeking to show ourselves better than others, instead of holding stubbornly to our hypocrisy, may we humbly confess our sins. Then, as we see the selfless love of Jesus who died for us while we were still sinners, and we see God glorified in Jesus, our desire for self-gratification will be overcome. We will be moved by the Spirit to love others, both those who love us and those who hate us, in the same way that Jesus loves us.

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2022-5-15 Worship Folder

2022-5-15 Grace

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2022-5-8 Sermon

Acts 13:38-39

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Empty words. Unfulfilled promises. We experience a lot of those in our world. The infomercial makes all kinds of promises about a product. It looks like it does all the wonderful things they say it does. So, you order it, and you find that it’s not what they said it would be. It doesn’t live up to the promises. Those promises were empty words.

The politician makes all kinds of promises about jobs and taxes, but once they are elected many seem to forget what they promised, or even end up doing the opposite of what they promised. Their promises were empty words.

I’m sure you can think of many more examples, but the point is clear. Promises are just empty words when they go unfulfilled.

Paul knew about empty words. He had been one of those who preached empty words before he met Jesus on the Road. He had been among those who told people that the way to be right with God was by not only following God’s laws, but all the laws his fellow Pharisees had added to God’s laws. They had added all kinds of rules that defined what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath, like exactly how far you could travel before it was considered breaking the Sabbath, and exactly how you had to wash your hands after you had been to the market. You might remember that they accused Jesus’ disciples of not washing properly and of “harvesting” on the Sabbath when they stripped some grain off the stalk as they walked through a field.

The reason these rules of the Pharisees were empty words was not because they went into all kinds of unnecessary detail, but because they promised something they couldn’t deliver. The Pharisees, and at one time Paul, said that following these rules, some of them God’s rules, and some of them man’s rules, could justify you. They could make you right with God. The problem is that they can’t. Keeping the rules of God and man can only make you right with God as long as you keep them, as long as you never break them. Once you have broken a law, keeping that law again, or keeping every other law, doesn’t make up for the one time you broke the law. That mark against you doesn’t go away. The laws of God and man were not designed to grant forgiveness. They only demand obedience and accuse you of sin when they are broken. Paul makes it very clear to the people in the Synagogue in Antioch, “you cannot be justified through the law of Moses.”

We need to watch out so that we aren’t deceived by empty words. Our sinful nature is a sucker for the empty promise that there is something we can do to make ourselves right with God.

How many people like the saying, “God helps those who help themselves?” Those are empty words. They are not found anywhere in the Bible. They imply that if you work hard then God will have to help you. But that’s not what God says. In fact, a definition of God’s grace could be that God helps those who cannot help themselves. He gives us things we have not earned or deserved.

A member once said that they were taught in a previous church that God loves those who love him. That sounds good, but as you study Scripture you learn that those are empty words. They are not true. They imply that if you love God first, then he will respond by loving you. The fact is that God loved us before we loved him. He loved us even when we were his enemies and hated him. We love because he first loved us.

The preacher speaks empty words when he tells his listeners that if they have a strong enough faith, and if they worship faithfully, and if they pray fervently, God will have to bless them with health and wealth. Those are empty words because Jesus says almost the exact opposite. He says that if we follow him faithfully we will have to bear crosses in life. He says that if people see that we are like him they will hate us just as they hated him. Paul told Timothy everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Paul wanted the people in the Synagogue in Antioch, and everyone who reads what he said to them, to know that anytime someone promises that by keeping laws or doing something good you can earn anything from God, or especially that you can make up for a sin and be right with God by doing something good, those are empty words. They are promises that will go unfulfilled because they do not have the truth of God’s word behind them.

Instead of the empty words the people had been hearing from their sinful nature and from their religious leaders, Paul proclaims to them fulfilled words. God’s promises kept.

Paul gave the people a list of fulfilled promises going back to his rescue of Israel from Egypt. He reminded them that God had told Abraham that he would give his descendants the land of Canaan, but not right away. They would be strangers in a foreign land for 400 years because it was not time for him to bring judgment on those living in Canaan. Then, when the time was right, God did exactly what he promised. He brought a bunch of shepherds out of Egypt, kept them alive for forty years in the wilderness, knocked down the walls of Jericho and gave them victory after victory over nations and people who were stronger and better equipped than they were. People might have thought it would never happen after so many years had passed, but God’s words were not empty. He fulfilled his words. He did what he promised.

Paul reminded the people of God’s promise to David, that he would never fail to have one of his descendants on the throne. Those seemed like empty words to many. There had not been a descendant of David on the throne of Israel for over 500 years. And when Jesus, a descendant of David came and claimed to be the one who would sit on David’s throne forever, his own people condemned him and handed him over to Pilate for crucifixion. Was that promise of God to David and to the world, empty?

Paul says, “no!” In fact, by condemning him they fulfilled the statements of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. In their blindness they ended up doing what God had foretold, what needed to happen in order for Jesus to fulfill his mission and be the one to sit on David’s throne forever.

In order for there to be forgiveness of sins the world needed a perfect substitute. We needed to have someone who lived without sin who was willing to take on himself the punishment God’s law demanded for everyone else’s sin. That’s why Jesus had to suffer and die. He needed to do what keeping the law could not do. He needed to pay the price that God demanded to expunge the record of our sins and choose to remember them no more.  So, gentlemen, brothers, let it be known to you that through this Jesus forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you, also forgiveness from everything from which you could not be justified through the law of Moses. In this Jesus, everyone who believes is justified.

How do we know those aren’t empty words, a promise that will go unfulfilled? God has fulfilled his promise by raising up Jesus. As Paul wrote the Corinthians, If Jesus didn’t rise, God’s promise of forgiveness would be empty, worthless. If Jesus didn’t rise we would remain in our sins and putting faith in Jesus would be worthless. But Jesus did rise from the dead. Jesus showed himself to over 500 different people over a period of forty days before he ascended back to heaven. Anyone who thought Paul was speaking empty words could ask around and learn from people who were there, who looked for his body and couldn’t find it, and who saw him in his resurrected body, that what Paul was proclaiming was true. The promise that God’s Holy One would not see decay wasn’t empty. Jesus rose from the dead just as he said he would, just as Scripture promised. Jesus truly was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification. Everyone who believes in him is justified, declared not guilty, forgiven.

Because Jesus rose from the dead every promise of God is completely trustworthy. We aren’t speaking empty words when we tell someone that Jesus paid for their sins. We aren’t speaking empty words when we tell someone that Jesus is with us always, that he is ruling everything that happens in the universe for the good of those who trust in him, that he has gone to prepare a place for us and that he will come in glory to take us to be with him. The fulfilled words of God are victorious over the empty words of man.

What a great comfort to know that because Jesus lived and died for us, and then rose from the dead God’s promises are not empty, but completely trustworthy.

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