Welcome

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!

Disclaimer

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, July 27, 2014

Working Together for Our Good - July 27, 2014 - Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12) - Text: Romans 8:28-30

Last week we were reminded by Paul that God never promised us that life would be easy. I might suggest that the phrase, “God never promised us a rose garden,” is quite true, because the fact is that even roses have thorns. So, even with the beauty of the rose comes the pain of the thorns. There may be times in our lives when everything is beautiful and there may be times when things are thorny. Yet, Paul’s ultimate reminder was that our present suffering is nothing, really nothing, compared to the glory which will be ours forever in heaven. This morning Paul again reminds us of the fact that our God is a God of love who never leaves us nor forsakes us and as He is always with us through good times and bad times. Paul even reminds us that it is God who works all things together for good.
 
This morning, in order to better understand our text, we will begin in the middle, at verse thirty, and work our way back to verse twenty-eight. First, which is the middle in our text, Paul talks about predestination. We read verse thirty, “30And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified”(v. 30). Very often people have questions concerning this thing called predestination. Who did God predestine? Did God predestine only some to go to heaven and others to go to hell. The logic is that if He predestined some to go to heaven and we know others are going to hell, then, logically speaking, He must have predestined the others to go to hell. However, that argument is not substantiated by God’s Word. As a matter of fact, God’s Word tells us the opposite. According to Paul, writing young pastor Timothy, God’s will is that all people are saved. Paul says, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4). God’s desire is not that some are saved and others are not saved. His desire is that all people are saved. So this negates the human logic that God has predestine some to be condemned.
 
How does God work out His desire? He has called all people to be saved. How has He called all people to be saved? The way in which we have been talking about over the past few weeks, through means, namely, through the means of grace. Through the Word of God all people are called to believe in Jesus as their Savior. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to give faith and forgiveness and with faith and forgiveness is also given life and salvation. This is God’s usual way of working with us in His world today. This is God’s usual way of calling people to faith. Certainly He can call directly as He did the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, but that is not His usual way of dealing with us in our world today. God’s desire is that all people are saved and He calls all people to faith through His Word.
 
Then, the question is asked, “How come some are not saved?” Some are not saved because some refuse the call. This should not be a surprise to us. Even as God has called us and given us faith and all His good gifts and blessings, we constantly refuse the gifts He has to give as well. Whenever we fail to remember our Baptism, we are refusing the gifts God gives through our Baptism. Whenever we fail to read our Bible, we are refusing the gifts God gives through His Word. Whenever we fail to confess our sins, we are refusing the gift of God’s forgiveness. Whenever we fail to come to the Lord’s Supper, we are refusing the gifts of God’s forgiveness and strengthening of faith. Whenever we fail to be in worship and Bible class, we are refusing the gifts and blessings God gives through His Word and the hearing and study of His Word. Yes, we daily, and weekly refuse the gifts God has to give. Fortunately for us, the only condemning refusal, that is the only unforgivable sin is the sin against the Holy Spirit. What that means is, refusing the Holy Spirit is refusing faith in Jesus. In other words, the only unforgivable sin is dying in unbelief. So, although we may at times refuse the gifts God has to give, we still cling to our faith in Jesus. Whereas, those who refuse faith in Jesus are refusing all God’s gifts. Thus, to complete Paul’s words in this verse, one who dies in unbelief has no glory because he or she desires to stand before God of their own justification meaning they are refusing Jesus’ justification, meaning they are standing before God as sinners, condemned sinners. Thus, they have refused God’s call to faith and His desire for their salvation.
 
This predestination does not negate nor contradict the fact of God’s foreknowledge. Backing up to verse twenty-nine, Paul says, “29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (v. 29). Although God’s desire and will is that all people are to be saved, being God, He knew before He even began creation who would refuse. Again, just because God knew who would refuse and reject does not mean this is what He has determined would happen. He does not make this refusal and rejecting happen. It is like when a teacher has a certain student in her class. She knows when that student is sitting next to another certain student what will happen, they will get into trouble. It is not that she has predetermined this, but she just knows it will happen. The only difference between this and God is that what God knows will happen.
 
A part of God’s foreknowledge is that He knew He would send Jesus to take care of our sins. Even before He created the world. Even before Adam and Eve were created, God knew they would sin. Even before you and I were conceived, God knew us and He knew our name. He knew when we would be conceived. He knew when we would sin. He knows when we will continue to sin. Before sin entered the world, God knew what He would do. It was no surprise to Him that Adam and Eve disobeyed and brought sin into the world.
 
God created a perfect world, which He knew His creatures would mess up, but God knew He could and would make everything right. He knew He would send His Son, even Himself to take on human flesh and blood, to became as one of His creatures, except without sin, in order to do for us, in our place, what we are unable to do. Jesus came to bring us back into a right relationship with Himself. And God knew this beforehand as well. God knew us, before we were created. His will is that we will be as His Son, that we will believe in His Son so that we might have eternal life with Him in heaven.
 
Because God knows all things, it is not difficult for Him to work out the good for us, His children. We back up to verse twenty-eight. Paul says, “28And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (v. 28). Last week we mentioned again the question which is actually the title of a book, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People, and we mentioned that the premise of the book is wrong. A better title would be, Why Do Good Things Happen to Sinful People? And the answer is, of course, because God loves us.
 
Now, Paul says that it is for those who love God that the good is worked. We understand from other parts of Scripture that this is not the first and prime thing. We understand that we cannot love God unless He first loves us. And time and again we are reminded by His Word of His love for us. Greater love can no one have than this, that one would die for another. Jesus shows His love for us in that He gave His life for ours. We are called by God, who knew us from before creation, to believe in Him, to be given His gifts, to be justified and glorified by Him. And as Paul lays out in the last half of our text, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” And, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Indeed, God is the prime mover.
 
Again, we love because He first loved us. We love as we reflect His love back to Him and others. You have heard me use this illustration before, it is like the Sun and the moon. The moon has no light of its own. Whenever we see the moon shining in the sky, it is because the moon is reflecting the light of the Sun. We have no love of our own. When we love God and when we love others it is because we are merely reflecting the light of the Son of God.
 
So, what does this mean? As the phrase, sort of goes, “life happens” and God knows what will happen, but He does not predestine or predetermine  life to happen or what will happen in life. God gives each of us a mind to think and to make decisions. Many times it does not matter to God what decision we make, if we choose this or that, He will bless us either way. Please understand, this does not mean that God does not care, sometimes He simply gives us more than one option and He will bless us no matter what we choose. Certainly when it comes to temptation and sin His desire is that we make the right decision, which we can only make with His help. God’s desire is that we do what is good and right. He does not predetermine our doing what is good and right, just as He does not predetermine when we do what is wrong and sinful.
 
God is the prime mover. He has created us to love us and He has given everything to us. He gives us life at conception. He gives us new life, eternal life through the waters of Holy Baptism. He gives us faith and strengthening of faith through His Holy Word. He gives us forgiveness of sins through confession and absolution and through His Holy Supper. He gives and He gives and He gives and we are given too.
 
God loves us so very much and He has so many gifts and blessings that He desires to give to us. He shows the ultimate love in the giving of His life, in the giving of Jesus’ life on the cross for us and for our sins. And God continues to watch over us and work out the best for us, according to His good and gracious will. We may not understand what His good and gracious will is at the time we are going through the struggles of life. We may not even see it later. But, by faith in Jesus we can be confident that God is working out the best for us.
 
By faith in Jesus, given through the means of grace, we have been predestined to eternal life. We have been justified and Jesus works to conform us to His image.  Because of His love for us, all who love Him, as a response of His first love for us, know that all things work together for our good according to His good and gracious will. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

We Have Hope - July 20, 2014 - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11) - Text: Romans 8:18-27

You may remember back at the beginning of this season, the season of Pentecost, I told you that the color for this season is green. Green is the color of growth and so that is what we do during the long Pentecost season, we hear God’s Word and we grow in our faith. We have been growing as we have been listening to Paul teach us about the need to hear the law and the Gospel; to properly distinguish between the law and the Gospel; that we are at the same time sinners and saints; that we are on our way through this road of life to heaven; and today Paul continues teaching us. This morning we hear that this road of life may not always be an easy road, but we do have the promise that God is with us as we travel this road of life and that no matter how bad things might seem to get while we are here on this earth, they are really nothing compared to the glory that will be ours in heaven.
 
Paul begins by describing our present sufferings. We begin at verse eighteen, “18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (v. 18-22). There has been much debate over the years as to why there is suffering in this world. Some have asked the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” And here Paul explains that suffering is a result of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Before Adam and Eve sinned everything was perfect, was good and even was very good, but after Adam and Eve sinned, God punished Adam and Eve and cursed the earth.
 
So, now the whole of creation is subject to the curse, is subject to death and decay. This is not a happy scenario. Sin brought death. The bottom line is that at the moment of conception, we begin our journey toward physical death in this world. There is simply no way around it. All people, all animals, all things in this world are subject to death and decay.
 
But the good news is that this is merely a temporary thing. Our suffering in this world is merely a temporal suffering, in other words, it is only while we are living in this world. Our suffering is not, and will not ever be an eternal suffering. An eternal suffering is eternal spiritual death in hell. By faith in Jesus, who suffered the eternal punishment of sin for us, in our place, we will never suffer that eternal punishment. Certainly we may at times suffer for the consequences of our sins, our actions, while we are living in this world, but thanks be to God we will never suffer the eternal spiritual punishment of eternal spiritual death in hell.
 
So, although we may experience some suffering at the present time, we still have hope. Paul outlines our present hope beginning at verse twenty-three, “23And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (v. 23-25). Yes, we have hope. We have God’s promise, that is that He has taken care of everything, that He has fulfilled everything in the Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus took care of our sins. He took care of our inborn, original sin as we call it, that is that sin with which we are born. And He has taken care of the punishment for our actual sins, those sins we daily commit, those sins of thought, word and deed, those sins of omission, not doing what we should be doing and those sins of commission, doing what we should not be doing. Jesus paid the price, on the cross for all sins, all sins of all people, of all places, of all times, and most especially for your sins and my sins.
 
Not only do we have hope because we have forgiveness, we also have been given faith. Through the waters of Holy Baptism we are given faith and thus are saved. Through the Word of God we have what He declares, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Through the means of grace, that is through the Word of God, through the sacred acts of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, through the gift of confession and absolution, we have exactly what our Lord declares us to have, faith, forgiveness and life, even eternal life. These are not things we get ourselves, but these are indeed gifts from our gracious and loving Lord.
 
And thus we have hope. Of course, we understand, as Christians, that our hope is not the same as the hope of this world. Hope in this world usually refers to something that is a maybe, an uncertainty. Our hope as Christians is a certainty. Our hope as Christians is a confidence. As we fix our eyes on Christ our Savior, our hope embraces, expects, trusts and patiently awaits the gifts our Lord has to give to us.
 
Not only do we have hope, but we also have help. Paul goes on to tell us of our present help. We pick up in our text beginning at verse twenty-six, “26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (v. 26-27). The work of the Holy Spirit is to give us faith and as we have said, He gives faith through means, namely through the means of grace.
 
Not only does the Holy Spirit give us faith but He also works to strengthen and keeps us in faith and this He does as well through means, the means of grace. Sometimes I believe this is where we tend to sit on our grace as Lutherans. And I believe we sit on our grace because we do not actually believe we are sinners, at least not too bad or too big of sinners, after all, we are constantly told by the world that we are pretty good people and there are a lot of people who are worse sinners than we are in this world. What we fail to recognize is that God’s demand is perfection. When we place our imperfect lives next to God’s demand of perfection, then we see just how sinful we are. As I have mentioned to our Bible class, one of the differences between we Lutherans and other denominations is that other denominations confuse the Law and Gospel and turn the Gospel into Law. They suggest that we should be and we can be the good people God would have us to be and as we grow in our faith we do become the good people God would have us to be, and actually we become so good we really do not even need Jesus any more. As Lutherans we believe that as we grow in our faith we see more and more just how sinful we truly are and how much more we need to cling to Jesus, just Jesus for our salvation.
 
I believe this understanding or misunderstanding explains our misunderstanding of what God means by regular worship attendance. I believe that as members of this congregation we believe that we are in worship on what might be considered a regular basis. And you know how I encourage making regular, and diligent use of the means of grace. Now, by regular I believe that for some people that means once a year, or once a month or once every other week. Thus, we may be regular, according to our own definition of regular, but we are not really diligent. To be regular and diligent means that God wants us to be in worship whenever the doors are open for worship. Now, I know, for some of you I am preaching to the choir, because you are here every Sunday, but some of us are not here every Sunday. Understand, I am not saying this to shame anyone or to belittle anyone, I am saying this because, if we really believe that our Lord comes to us through means and that the Holy Spirit strengthens us through means, and that we are sinful, imperfect human beings in need of forgiveness, then we will desire, we will want to make sure that we are where the means are present and the gifts are being given. So, I guess this is one of those areas where the Holy Spirit still has work to do, at least on many of us. And where we are to encourage each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
 
Yet, the Holy Spirit has more work and that is that He also prays for us. Certainly we are to pray for ourselves and others, but we do not always know for what we need to pray. We may think we know what we need, but more often than not we only know what we want. God knows what we actually need. And thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit does pray for us, because, again, who knows better what we need and what we need to be prayed for than the Holy Spirit.
 
What does this mean? We are reminded that when God created the world He created everything perfect, holy, and sinless. Everything in the beginning was good and even very good. In the beginning there was no sin and there was no death. In the beginning there we no temporal consequences for actions.
 
But then man messed up what was perfect. Eve and Adam disobeyed God. They questioned God, “Did God really say?” They desired to be like God, knowing good and evil. They partook of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, the forbidden tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and they brought punishment and death into the once perfect world. Adam and Eve sinned and yet God did not reject them. Instead He came and promised to mend the relationship that was broken between Himself and His creation. He promised to take care of the punishment which He had imposed on Adam and Eve and all humanity, the punishment of eternal spiritual death.
 
Jesus came, God in flesh in order to bring us back into a right relationship with God, with Himself. Jesus did what God demanded and what mankind could not do. Jesus lived perfectly. He obeyed all God’s commands perfectly. Then He took our sins and the punishment for ours sins upon Himself. He suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty for us in our place. And He also suffered much of the temporal consequences for our actions for us in our place as well. Jesus died. But death and the grave had no power over Him, because He rose from the dead, victorious over sin, death and the power of the devil. Before He ascended He promised that He would come again and that He would send the Holy Spirit to work on us.
 
Today the Holy Spirit continues to work. He continues to come to us. He continues to give, strengthen and keeps us in faith. He continues to work through the means of grace, as we make regular, every Sunday, and diligent, everyday use of the means of grace, reading our Bible, remembering our Baptism, confessing our sins, coming to the Lord’s Supper, He works to strengthen and keep us in faith.
 
And finally, we have hope. Just as God fulfilled His first promise, to send a Savior and just as Jesus fulfilled that promise, so we know that Jesus will fulfill His promise to return. Ours, then, is a certainty that Jesus will return. And so we spend our time getting ourselves ready and keeping ourselves ready for that return.
 
God never promised that life would be easy. But He does promise that He is with us and that He will be with us as we face the trials and difficulties in this world. And we know for certain that whatever we do suffer in this world, is really, nothing, compared to the eternal glory which we will share in heaven. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Our Adoption - July 13, 2014 - Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10) - Text: Romans 8:12-17

The Apostle John tells us, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is” 1 John 3:2 (ESV). In other words, John tells us the same thing Paul has been telling us. Over the last couple weeks Paul has been telling us the importance of hearing the Law and the Gospel, the importance of properly distinguishing between the Law and the Gospel, and the importance of realizing our own state of being, that is that we are at the same time both sinner and saint. John simply expresses this as telling us that we are now, at this time, not what we were before, and what we were before was complete lost and condemned sinners, and yet we are not what we will be in heaven, that is in heaven we will be complete saints, but instead we are on this road of life as sinner/saints. This morning Paul out lines for us what we were like before being saved, as he says, before being adopted, and what we are like after our adoption.
 
Remembering David’s words, ‘we are conceived and born in sin,’ Paul tells us, beginning at verse twelve, “12So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (12-13). Immediately after birth and truly from the moment of conception before we were baptized, before we were given faith, we were lost and condemned creatures. There is no way around this unhappy scenario. Before our Lord gave us faith our spiritual status was that we were lost. But as I say that, let me assure you especially if you have lost a child as a stillborn, that God can and does also work through the means of His Word, so as a young pregnant mother attends divine service, indeed God can and does work through the Word that child in the womb hears to give faith as well. My point is that we are conceived and born in sin, it is in our DNA and thus we see the need for the washing waters of Holy Baptism as soon as after physical birth as possible.
 
Perhaps we were not given faith until we grew older or perhaps we rejected the faith given to us at an early age. And yes, even at this time in our own lives, even after being given faith there are times that we try to live according to the law. We try to live as if there is something we can do to earn, at least some bit of our own salvation.
 
And then something wonderful happened. Paul tells us about our adoption in verse fourteen, “14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (v. 14). We are adopted as children of God. How are we adopted? We are adopted as the Holy Spirit gives us faith through means of grace. We are adopted at Holy Baptism. When we are brought to the waters of Holy Baptism and water and God’s name are put on us we are saved. As we heard Peter say it back a few Sundays ago and as we hear him say every time we have a Baptism, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). Yes, Baptism saves us. Baptism is not something we do, but is what God is doing and what God is doing is that He is saving us, giving us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
 
Yet, not simply through Baptism are we saved. If we are not saved through the waters of Holy Baptism, then we may be saved by the very Word of God. The Bible is also a means through which our Lord adopts us as His children. Remember the Bible is the Word of God and it does what it says. So, as we read or hear His Holy Word, the Holy Spirit works through that Word to give faith, to strengthen and to keep us in faith. Of course here we understand that if and when we are given faith though the Word of God our natural desire will be to want to be baptized, not to show God anything, but as a natural response of faith. These are two of the means our Lord has of giving us His good gifts and blessings.
 
But there is more. Not only does our Lord adopt us through His means of grace, He continues to be with us to strengthen and keep us in faith. The Holy Spirit strengthens faith through means as well. We pick up with Paul’s words in verse fifteen, “15For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (v. 15). We are a church that believes as our Lord so teaches in His Word that our Lord comes to us through means, namely the means of grace. That is why we worship the way we worship, that is liturgically. Because we believe that Holy Baptism is important we begin each service with an invocation, an inviting of the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reminding us of our Baptism. Because we believe the Lord comes to us through the Word of God our service is permeated with the Word of God, even our saying back to God the very Words He has given us to say. This is not simply a way to flatter the Lord, but because our Words are inadequate and because His Word is His Word, there is no better way to worship than to say back to Him the very Words He has given us to say. Because we believe we are sinners and are in constant need of forgiveness, in almost every worship service, in one way or another we have a time of public confession and absolution. We believe that through the very Words of God, spoken through the pastor that we have what God gives, namely, forgiveness of sins.
 
We hear the very Word of our Lord read to us straight from Holy Scripture and as it is proclaimed through the preaching of the Law and the Gospel. And we also hear the Word through our liturgy and the hymns we sing.
 
And finally, because we believe our Lord has also given us His Holy Supper as a means through which He also gives His good gifts and blessings, we come to His Supper wherein we are given to eat His body and drink His blood until He comes again and through this sacred means we participate in His life, suffering, death and resurrection and so we are given forgiveness of sins and strengthened in faith. Yes, these things, these means of grace are the ways in which our Lord comes to us to give us His good gifts and blessings and that is why we worship the way we worship. If we believed something else, then certainly we would worship in a different way, and as we see others worshiping in different ways, then we can see it is because they do have different beliefs.
 
To sum it up, our Lord adopts us as His children and He does this through His means of grace, the Bible, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution and the Lord’s Supper.
 
Now that we have been adopted into His family what is life like now, after adoption. We pick up with Paul’s words at verse sixteen, “16The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (v. 16-17). Now, since we have been adopted as children of God, now we live life as children of God, that is we live life as brothers and sisters of Christ. With God’s help, and even though we know we will make mistakes and we will backslide, yet with God’s help we strive to do the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do. We strive to build each other up as brothers and sisters in Christ. We look out for one another. We realize that caring for one another is not simply the elder’s and the pastor’s job, but is a joy we all share. We realize that being a member of this congregation and of the family of God means giving of ourselves, our time, talents and treasure, for the purpose of building the Kingdom of God. We have a whole new attitude about our life.
 
And we live life looking forward to eternal life, our eternal inheritance. We no longer spend all our time with our eyes focused on this world and the temporariness of this world. Instead we spend our time on getting ourselves ready and keeping ourselves ready for our Lord’s return or for our passing and going to Him. We spend our time making regular and diligent use of the means of grace because we know that this is how He comes to us. We have a desire, a yearning to worship as often as worship is offered. We read the Word every day. We remember our Baptism, every day. We confess our sins every day and every Sunday we publicly confess and hear those most beautiful words of forgiveness. We partake of the Lord’s body and blood and as often as we do this we participate in His death and resurrection.
 
So, what does this mean? As usual, and as we need to hear every week, Paul reminds us that we were conceived and born in sin. Not only that, but we daily add to our sinfulness. We cannot help ourselves. We are conceived and born in sin so sinning comes natural to us. And so we know that daily we need forgiveness.
 
We are reminded and each week we need to be reminded that we were given faith. Faith is not something we got ourselves, it is not something we did, but it is a gift given through means, namely through the means of Holy Baptism and through the means of His Holy Word. And since these are the means through which we have been given faith, then we realize our need to make diligent and regular use of these means so that we might be strengthened and kept in this faith.
 
Being given faith, forgiveness, life and salvation we are reminded that now we live lives of faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the Holy Spirit is alive and well and continually working through the means of grace to give us the strength and courage to live lives of faith. So, what is there to fear in this world? What is the worst thing that can happen in this world? Most people will say that dying is the worst thing that could happen. Well, when you die, by faith in Jesus you go to heaven, and that is a great thing, so then back to the question of what is there to be afraid of? Nothing. And the Holy Spirit works in us to give us the courage we need to live lives of faith in this world
 
And finally, we look forward to eternal life, not in fear, but in anticipation. We know that heaven is a wonderful place filled with God’s glory and grace. We know that we have the certainty of eternal life in heaven, it is ours now. Certainly we will not move in until we pass on from this world, but heaven is ours and so we may rejoice and even anticipate our final move into our heavenly home.
 
Paul’s words this morning are nothing new. He knows about our adoption as children of God and he knows about the importance of the means of grace. Perhaps our Old Testament reading was on Paul’s mind when he penned these words to the Romans. “10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,  11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11). Yes, God’s Word does what it says. And if you listened closely to the Gospel reading for this morning, even Jesus related the importance of the Word of God and its power to give faith, meaning to bring us into adoption as His children.
 
Finally, we are again reminded that it is all God’s doing, all God’s giving and all our being given to. It is God who runs the verbs and so we know we get it right. And so we rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Good That I Would - July 6, 2014 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 09) - Text: Romans 7:14-25

This week we pick up where we left off last week. Last week we read Romans 7:1-13, this week we pick up at verse fourteen. Last week Paul reminded us of the importance of the Law, that is that the Law shows us our sins. The Law shows us our need to repent so that we might have forgiveness of sins. It is not that the Law makes us sin, but the Law shows us how what we have done or what we have not done is sin. And the Gospel is what shows us our Savior. The Gospel reminds us of all that Jesus has done, all that Jesus does, and all that Jesus continues to do for us. The Gospel reminds us that Jesus has done everything for us, at least everything that is necessary for our eternal salvation. And it is the Gospel that motivates us to repent so that we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This week Paul reminds us of the struggle we continue to have, even as saved, redeemed Christians.
 
First, Paul outlines the dilemma we face. We begin at verse fourteen, “14For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (v. 14-20). Of course, after hearing Paul for the first time we might go, “huh.” But I think most of us understand Paul and most of us say, “yeah, that is exactly how it is so often in my own life.” We try to do what is good and right and yet we go on sinning instead. We try to not do what is wrong and we do it anyway. It is as if we just cannot help ourselves.
 
How often are we are like Paul? We want to do good. We want to do the right thing. We want to do the good thing, but instead we do evil. Again, it is almost like we cannot help ourselves. When someone says something mean or hurtful to us, we want to be nice and turn the other check. Perhaps we even practice by ourselves saying the right thing. Maybe we stand in front of the mirror working on saying the right thing, but when it happens, what do we do? We say something  mean in retaliation. When someone cuts in line in front of us, when someone cuts us off on the freeway, we want to demonstrate that the “fish” sticker on the back of our car is not just for show, but what do we do, we curse at them, even if it is only in our mind, we shake our fist at them, we call them a name or two. We just cannot help ourselves. Yes, we want to do good, but our first reaction, our natural instinct is to do evil.
 
On the other hand, or to say it a different way, we want to not do evil. We want to not do something bad or mean or harmful, but we sin anyway. Our intention is always to not do something wrong or bad. We want to not react negatively to others and we may even practice and plan as such, but when it happens, we find ourselves sinning.
 
So, whose fault is it when we sin? Paul, sort of, helps us to make an excuse. He tells us that it is sin that dwells in us that causes us to sin. When we do something wrong we want to blame someone or something else for our “lapse” of judgement. You might remember the comedian Flip Wilson. He always said “the devil made him do it,” but I have to tell you, the devil cannot make you do anything, he really does not have that kind of power over you. No one can make you do anything, if we could, believe me, this church would be packed every Sunday morning. Certainly Paul is correct, it is sin dwelling in us that causes us to sin. The fact of the matter is that we are conceived and born in sin. And we add to that fact that we daily sin much in thought, word and deed, sins of commission and sins of omission. We are most certainly in need of forgiveness. But we cannot blame our sin on anyone except ourselves.
 
Paul then goes on to explain this Sinner/Saint syndrom as we read picking up at verse twenty-one, “21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (v. 21-25).
 
When I first started preaching a few years back, I joked with my wife that I always knew when I preach too much law in my sermon, because that is when I usually got the most compliments. I said that because the fact is that we like the law. We like the law and we like to hear the law, because we think that through the law we can justify ourselves. Yes, we actually think, in our own minds, that we can do what the law requires. Well, after all, we do, pretty much, obey the laws of this country, how much harder could God’s laws be? Well, actually, God demands perfection. We live in a country, in a world where we like to do it ourselves. Even from childhood we make a big deal about doing things ourselves. It begins with learning to walk. What a “big” person we are when we can walk without holding on to anyone or anything. And it just gets worse from there. What a big person we are when we can obey all God’s laws, what a good Christian we are when we can live like God wants us to, without any help from God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, as if we could.
 
The problem with trying to justify ourselves, that is the problem with thinking we can make ourselves right in God’s eyes is that the law only condemns. Remember, from last week, and before? Remember from confirmation class, the purpose of the law is to show our sins. The Law simply shows us that we are sinful and how sinful we really are. The law can do nothing more.
 
And so we have this inner battle going on inside ourselves. The battle is between our sinful nature and our saint nature. The battle is between our inborn nature, remember we are conceived in sin, and our reborn nature, remember, at baptism we are given faith and made saints. Although it may seem rather demeaning to put it this way, it is like the old cartoon where the character has an angel on one shoulder encouraging him to do what is right, and a little devil on the other shoulder tempting him to do what is wrong. Yet, this battle is more real than is simply depicted in any cartoon character, for the battle that wages in our selves is a real battle and is waged on a daily basis.
 
Thanks be to God for the answer. And, as we joke about this answer in Bible class, that is that if you do not know the answer to a question then simply answer, Jesus. But in this case the answer is, of course, Jesus. I am conceived and born in sin. Jesus is conceived and born in perfection. I break the law, continually. Jesus kept the law perfectly. I sin daily. Jesus never sinned. What I cannot do, Jesus did. What I do that I should not do, Jesus never did. Where I have failed Jesus has won the victory. This does not mean that we stop trying. This does not give us an excuse to go on and sin boldly. No, rather this simply gives us confidence to go on living and even though we make mistakes, that is even though we sin, with Jesus there is forgiveness.
 
Jesus is the answer. He fulfilled the Law perfectly, all the law. Everything that I cannot do and everything that I have done that I should not have done, every sin I have committed or will commit, He has taken care of, for me, in my place. The price for sin is death and that is the price that Jesus paid. He gave His life so that I might not have to die, that is so that I will not have to die an eternal, spiritual death. He gave His life so that I might have life, eternal life.
 
So, what does this mean? This means that we recognize that our nature is to sin. Sin is what we do. We do not need any practice. It comes natural to us. Our first inclination is, always to sin. We cannot get around the fact that we are, as David tell us, conceived and born in sin, and as Paul tells us, we are captive to the law of sin. Left to ourselves we would be lost and condemned creatures. Our greatest spiritual problem is the fact that we are sinners and our greatest need is forgiveness of sins.
 
But there is hope, thanks be to God as Paul says. Our hope is in our Lord Jesus Christ. God, in Christ, has taken care of our sin. That is why Jesus came into our world. Jesus came to do for us what we are unable to do. He came to resist temptation for us, in our place. He came to live perfectly for us, in our place. He came to take our sins upon Himself and to suffer the price for our sins, that is the eternal spiritual death penalty. And He came to rise for us. He did everything He did, for us, in our place, as our substitute, because we cannot, because of His great love for us.
 
And now, even today our Lord continues to send the Holy Spirit to work in us to do the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do. Yes, we are to strive to do what is good and just and right. And even though we fail and even though we know we will faith, time and again, with the Lord’s help we are to work to do what is good and just and right. And on those rare occasions when we do live and act in such a manner, we know it is not because of our own innate and good selves, but is it because God is working this in and through us and so we are inclined to say, “thanks be to God.”
 
When all is said and done, our lives do follow Paul’s description. We know what we are to do and what we are not to do and yet, we tend to not do what we are supposed to do, what we know we are to do and we tend to do what we know we are not supposed to do. We do not want to sin and that is exactly what we do is sin. And yet, we do not give up. We cling to Christ who is the one who did for us what we are unable to do and who did not do what we do, for us. We cling to Christ who has taken our sins, all our sins, upon Himself and paid the price for our sin, not to give us an excuse to go on sinning, but to give us the confidence that we can go on living lives of faith and He will bring them to be lives lived to His glory. Yes, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.