Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
Called to Be Saints - January 19, 2014 - Second Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Beginning this morning and for the next few Sundays as we work our way through the church season of Epiphany, we will be following along in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul is writing to the church at Corinth in order to address many practical questions that are dividing the church, questions concerning things like spiritual gifts, marriage, food offered to idols, and the resurrection. Paul is writing to instruct and restore the church in the areas of weakness and false teaching. As Paul is writing this letter to the Corinthians, we would do well to understand that God’s Word through Paul to the Corinthians are also God’s Word through Paul to us, here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield, in the year 2014. I believe if you listen closely to the issues Paul address some 2000 years ago, you will find that these are some of the same issues we need addressing in our world today. Sometimes the issue may be labeled something different, sometimes it may be more acute, but they are the same issues nonetheless. Well, what can we say, we continue to be conceived and born in sin and we continue to live in a sin filled world, so why would we not be tempted with the same sins, even today.
Paul begins by greeting those he is writing. He begins by spelling out his authority that is that he is an apostle, set apart by God. We read verse one, “1Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes” (v. 1). Paul is not writing of his own need to be writing. He is writing as he is being moved to write by the Holy Spirit. Thus, these words are not intended to be words from Paul, but we are to receive them as words from God Himself.
And, as I mentioned before, these words are not to be taken to be written only to the church at Corinth, but are to be taken to be written to us today. Paul writes, “2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (v. 2). We might well read, “to the Church of God that is in Westfield” We are the Church, that is, by faith in Jesus, each one of us is a part of the invisible Church, the one, only, Holy, true Church.
By faith in Jesus we are sanctified, that is we are made Holy by God. Although we are conceived and born in sin and although we may daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness, by faith in Jesus we have forgiveness of sins and we are declared holy and just in God’s eyes.
And by faith in Jesus we are saints who call on the name of Jesus. How marvelous it is to think and know that when we call upon the name of the Lord, our voices are joining with the voices of other Christians who are calling on His name as well. It is this name, Jesus and faith in Jesus that unites us all, as Christians, as one in the Body of Christ, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of saints.
Paul continues his words of salutation speaking words of grace and peace on the Corinthians and on us. We read, “3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). Paul speaks God’s grace on us that is God’s undeserved love. I still like the acronym for GRACE as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. That is what God’s grace and undeserved love is all about, the fact that although God’s riches cost us nothing but it cost Jesus everything, including His life for ours.
And so we have this peace that Paul places on us. This peace is true peace, not a peace of a few hours of quiet and calm in the middle of what may appear to be chaos, but true peace, that peace which comes only through forgiveness, true spiritual peace.
Paul goes on to express words of thanksgiving for the Christians at Corinth and for us here in Westfield. We read, “4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—6even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 4-9). First Paul gives thanks to God for His grace which He has given to us in Christ Jesus. This grace is free as are all God’s good gifts and blessings and Paul thanks God that it is ours.
It is God who gives and we who are given to. God gives freely. We are given to by God in Christ Jesus. It was Jesus who paid for and earned the good gifts and blessings we are given. And thus we are enriched in every way. We are enriched in that as Jesus is a part of our lives, as Jesus dwells in us and is a part of our lives, as Jesus sends His Holy Spirit to work in and through us, we are moved to be the people He would have us to be, that is we are moved to speak as He would have us to speak and we will know better what we are to do and not do and what the good works are that He has prepared in advance for us to do.
We are not lacking. We are not lacking, as individuals nor as a congregation. We are not lacking any spiritual gift. Unfortunately, in the recent past, and even in the present, there are those who have attempted to make a lot of this spiritual gifts stuff, suggesting that we want to find our spiritual gift and use it for service in God’s church. Certainly that is an admirable goal. Unfortunately, this type of spiritual gift searching has its problems as well, because in our fallible humanness, we tend to distort what God gives. We tend to equate talents and interests as spiritual gifts and some even use the finding of their spiritual gift as an excuse to do or not do whatever they have in mind to do. Paul says that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift. God has given to us, St. Matthew Lutheran Church all the spiritual gifts we need to be His people and His church in this place, even if we cannot name which gift each person might have. According to God, we have all the gifts we need and so we are not lacking.
God has, is and will sustain us through life, until Christ comes again. As we talked about last week, so we are reminded again this week, we always point to Jesus. It is Jesus who earned forgiveness for us. It is Jesus who sent the Holy Spirit to give us faith. It is the Holy Spirit who is with us, working through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments in order to strengthen and keep us in faith. And it is Jesus who keeps us guiltless, that is free from sin through His work of redemption and forgiveness for the day when we will meet Him face to face, either on the day of our own physical death or on the day of Judgement.
And our confidence is in this, that God is faithful. We are not faithful. We see that fact time and again in our lives just how unfaithful we are. Oh, we may try to be good. We may have made a New Year’s Resolution to do better, but how quickly we fall back into our own sinful ways. How quickly we think we do not need the gifts God gives and we refuse and reject the gifts He has to give. Thanks be to God that it does not depend on us, but on Him, who is faithful.
So, we have fellowship, but only in Christ. The very word, “fellowship,” implies a connection and that connection is our faith in Christ. Without faith in Christ, we cannot be in fellowship, in communion with one another. Paul assures us that as Christians, as believers in Jesus, we do have fellowship with one another, with all the other Christians in this world.
So, what does this mean? This means that we, as always, begin, continue and end with Jesus. It is God who calls us to faith. He calls us to faith as individuals, giving us faith, forgiveness, and life. He calls us to faith through the means that He has given us to call us, His means of grace. That is how our Lord comes to us today to give us His good gifts and blessings, through His means of grace. He calls us to faith through His Word and through Holy Baptism, as we talked about last week, the mystery of how He can do such great things through simple earthly water and His powerful Word and name.
God calls us together through a common faith in Jesus to be Church and to be church in this place. As Christians we seek out other Christians in order to live in fellowship together. This fellowship is a fellowship of unity of faith and doctrine, that is teachings. Unfortunately, where there is no agreement on the teaching of our church, there is no earthly fellowship. And agreeing to disagree does not mean we agree. Yet, although there may not be agreement between all denominations making us not in earthly fellowship together, and this happens because of our sinful nature and will never happen this side of eternity, that is that we will all agree, yet, there is a fellowship in the invisible Church, that is among all those who do believe in Jesus as only He can see in our hearts.
God sustains us as individuals and helps us to sustain each other as Church. Here again, this is what fellowship and church is all about. We are all members of the One Holy Christian Church, the Communion of saints by faith in Jesus Christ alone. And as members of the Holy Christian Church we are encouraged to bear one another’s burdens and to build each other up in the body of Christ. How fitting for us to care for one another, to call one another, to encourage one another, as many of you here are already doing.
God calls, God does, God gives and we are called, done to and given to. Always the focus where it needs to be, on our Lord who initiates, stirs in us and completes all things. And of course, as the focus is on our Lord we know that, even though we may fail, He never fails and He always gets it right. And there can be no greater confidence than confidence in Him.
Today we acknowledge Paul’s call to apostleship and our call to be saints. We acknowledge our call to faith and Paul’s words of thanksgiving for our faith. We acknowledge our calling to be God’s people in this place knowing that our Lord continues to bestow on us His free grace and favor working in and through us to be His people in this place giving a defense for the hope we have in Christ Jesus. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.