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, August 31, 2014

Love - August 31, 2014 - Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17) - Text: Romans 12:9-21

Let me begin this morning by reminding you of the difference between justification and sanctification and I will do so by reminding you that we know we are getting it right when we get right who is doing what. Simply stated, justification is that we are justified, that is we are made just and right in God’s eyes, even though we are sinners and remain sinners, we are made just and right in God’s eyes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, faith which He has given to us. We are made just and right because of Jesus living the perfect life demanded of us, for us in our place and then taking our sins upon Himself and paying the price for our sins on the cross. We have no part in justification except that it was done for us and it is given to us. When it comes to justification we know we are getting it right when it is all in Jesus’ hands. Now as for sanctification. Sanctification is the process of being made holy. We speak of sanctification in terms of our response of justification. However, I would remind you that our sanctification also has its beginning outside of us, in other words, we do the good works which God has prepared for us in advance to do, but only as He motivates us to do them, as He works in and through us to do them and that they are done to His glory. So notice, the beginning of justification and sanctification is God. In justification God is doing all and we are being done to. In Sanctification God is working in and through us to do the doing. This distinction is important, because in our text for today Paul is speaking in the area of sanctification. Paul is exhorting and encouraging us to live lives of faith, that is to live lives of sanctification, which we can only do as we are first justified and made right in God’s eyes. It is true that once we have been justified we may indeed make good decisions, but only with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
 
Paul begins with love. We read beginning at verse nine, “9Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (v. 9-13). Paul urges us to outdo one another in loving each other. Paul’s words remind us of the “Golden Rule,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This “Golden Rule” was first given by Jesus and the emphasis is placed on our loving others  first, as we would have them to love us. Yet, notice again who is the prime mover. We love because Christ first loves us.
 
We are encouraged to love others and to rejoice in hope. Here again, we have mentioned this before, the hope we have as Christians is not an iffy, maybe hope, but is a certainty. We do not merely have an iffy hope of heaven, we have the certainty of heaven. Heaven is ours, right now, at this time. It is ours because it was earned for us by Jesus.
 
We are to rejoice in our hope and we are to be patient in tribulation. When trials come upon us we are to be patient and wait for the Lord. At the same time we are to be in constant prayer. Certainly times of trials and tribulations may be difficult, yet during these times our Lord would draw us closer to Himself so that He might give us comfort and aide, healing and strength. Interestingly enough, Paul begins with love and the word love that is used here is the word “agape,” which is that selfless concern for others. Unfortunately, because of our sinful nature, in and of ourselves we cannot agape others. This is the type of love that God has, the type of love He demonstrates in the giving of His life for ours. Thus, the prime mover, again, is our Lord who agapes us and who works in and through us to love others.
 
Paul moves from instructions in love to instructions in blessing. We pick up at verse fourteen, “14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (v. 14-18). Paul speaks some difficult words, yet words which echo the “Golden Rule.” We are to bless and not curse, even those who persecute us. And we see again how we cannot do this ourselves. This is one of those agape love things where in we can only bless and not curse those who persecute us as the Lord stirs in us to do so.
 
Even more, Paul says we are to have true empathy for others. This means not only are we to rejoice with those who rejoice, which is pretty easy. But we are also to weep with those who are weeping. The cliche of the world says, “Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.” Certainly we could attest to this happening in this world, but God tells us, through Paul, to be truly empathetic, to not only rejoice with those who rejoice, but also to cry with those who cry.
 
Paul says we are not to be haughty in other words we are not to be a snob, but we are to associate even with those we believe to be the lowly.
 
And we are to live at peace with one another. Here is another indication of the fact that Paul is speaking about agape love, because true peace can come only from forgiveness. Thus, we are to continually forgiven each other as Christ has forgiven us. So, notice again, as well, who is the prime mover. We do only as Christ has done for us and as He works in and through us.
 
Which brings us to Paul’s last bit of instruction and that is to let God be God. We continue at verse nineteen, “19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 19-21). Paul encourages us to go against our natural instinct. Our natural instinct is not to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us,” but rather our natural instinct is to do unto others as they do unto us, as they first do unto us. Paul encourages us never to avenge, but to leave vengeance with whom it belongs, namely to God, alone.
 
Instead of being vengeful, we are to be nice, good, and so on to our enemy. Interestingly enough, if we are nice, good and so on to our enemy, that is the worst thing we can do to him, because in so doing we will put him to shame and put burning coals on his head. Perhaps you have heard the cliche, “Kill them with kindness.” I believe this text is where this cliche comes from. We all know how it is. When someone is being purposely mean, they expect us to retaliate, which, in their mind, vindicates their meanness. Once we have retaliated to their meanness, then there can be an escalation of the battle. However, by retaliating with kindness, by retaliating in an unexpected and even kind way, this turns one’s meanness to shame, thus their pain is increased. Kill them with kindness is not just an expression, but a possibility.
 
And so we are to overcome evil with good. It is amazing how often a tense and difficult situation can be defused with a kind word. And yet, we must keep reminding ourselves that this is what we can do only as God is the prime mover. We can only overcome evil with good as God works the good in and through us.
 
What does this mean? Paul’s words of instruction, exhortation and encouragement are good words, good sound advice. Yet, Paul knows as we know that in and of ourselves we are unable to heed his advice. It is only as God gives us the ability to act and react in such a way that we can attempt to heed Paul’s advice. And God gives us that ability even if only inadequately. God is the prime mover. He is the one who’s love is genuine and we see His genuine love, His agape love in His Son, Jesus. Jesus is the one who has accomplished all that Paul encourages us to do. This is the fullness of the Gospel message, not only that Jesus died for us, but also that He lived for us. Jesus has accomplished all that Paul here encourages us to accomplish and yet Jesus did it all, perfectly. What we cannot do, Jesus has done, for us, in our place and by faith in Him this is credited to us.
 
Jesus has accomplished perfection for us and now God stirs in us to respond to all that He has done and all that His has given. We live lives of sanctification, we do the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do. Yes, we do them imperfectly, but with Him stirring in us, we do them.
 
And in our doing, we glorify God. We glorify God as He lives in and through us. Yet, we are always pointed back to Him as the prime mover. And so, we see that even in terms of sanctification, God continues to do it all and He continues to get the credit and the glory. God gives, God does, God moves in us, and we are given to, we are done to, we are moved in and through.
 
And so, I exhort you as Paul exhorts you, I encourage you as Paul encourages you. First and foremost, be given to as God gives. Make regular and diligent use of the means of grace so that the Lord can work through these means to give, strengthen and keep you in faith. Then, continue to be given to as God continues to give. Be given to as the Holy Spirit works in you to respond to all that the Lord does for you and gives to us. Be given to as the Holy Spirit works in you to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for you to do.
 
Let me leave you with Paul’s words because I cannot say it any better than he can: “9Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Our God Is a Big God - August 24, 2014 - Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16) - Text: Romans 11:33-12:8

Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “God is good.” I have to admit, usually I do not get too warm a feeling when I hear that phrase, because it is usually uttered by someone who really does not understand how good God really is. Let me explain. To those who believe that God has promised and will give us only good things and a lot of good things in this life; to those who believe that if you just believe enough and ask God and expect from Him then He will be good to you; these are usually the people that I hear express this sentiment (we call this a theology of glory). Of course, I would agree that God is good, but I believe He is good because I am so bad! It is only as I recognize my sin, the greatness of my sin and my ineptness and my inability to do anything about my sinfulness and my unworthiness to have God do anything about it for me and then realize that He has already done everything that needs to be done for me, in my place, then and only then can I really say, “God is good.”
 
Paul begins, this morning, by helping us, or at least trying to help us to understand the mind of God. We begin at verse thirty-three of chapter eleven, “11:33Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34'For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ 35‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ 36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (v. 11:33-36). About God we know that His judgements and ways are inscrutable, in other words, we better not attempt to scrutinize God’s decisions. Well, that should be obvious, but how often it is that we do attempt to scrutinize God and His decisions. How often we find ourselves wondering, if not aloud, at least in our own hearts, “I wonder what God is trying to do?” “I wonder why God did this or allowed that to happen?” Yet, God is so much wiser than we are or could imagine ourselves to be. As a matter of fact, in his first letter to the Corinthians Paul reminds us that God’s foolishness is so much wiser than our wisdom. Yet day in and day out we continue to try to be smarter than God. How often do we find ourselves playing God in our own lives, working to make our own decisions and leaving God out. One of my favorite ways of doing this, and please, I am not trying to pick on anyone, but the whole question of “What would Jesus do?” is an example of this. When we have a decision to make, we ask, “What would Jesus do?” and then respond appropriately. That sounds great. But what about a difficult question, one which God does not directly address. What we end up doing is making our own decision and then blaming it on Jesus, because, of course, Jesus would always do what we think He would do, right? Anyway, when it comes to understanding God, let me say that I never want to get to the point where I believe I completely understand Him, because if my little brain can completely understand God, then He is not very big. I am glad He is so much bigger than me!
 
But Paul is not done. Not only are God’s judgments inscrutable, we must recognize that He is the prime mover in all things. How many of us think we are doing God a favor by coming to visit Him here in church, or by bringing Him our offering? What is our attitude in bringing our offering? Paul points out the fact that there is nothing we can give God that would make Him indebted to us. Yet, we guard our finances as if they are ours to do with as we please and think God has nothing to do with our amassing our nest egg. The fact of the matter is that we have nothing with which to repay Him and He has given us everything we do have, one way or another. And He has paid it all, including and most importantly His life.
 
Paul expresses God’s giving as, “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” He is the one who does all and gives all and we are the ones who are given to. Did we choose to be conceived? Did we choose to have certain gifts, talents or abilities? Did we choose to have good health in order to be able to work? Did we choose God or Jesus to be our God? Did we choose to whom we would be born? Certainly not. We are always and always have been at the mercy of our great and good God who does all and gives all. To Him be the glory forever, Paul says.
 
Now, with this as the backdrop, Paul moves on to give an appeal to sanctification. Remember sanctification? Sanctification is the Holy Spirit working in and through us to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. We begin with the first two verses of chapter twelve, “12:1I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (v. 12:1-2). Paul begins where we are to begin, with God as the prime mover. He says, by the mercies of God, live lives of faith. We cannot do it ourselves. Because of our sinful nature, we sin and we sin some more. When it comes to good and doing good, God is the prime mover. It is only as He fills us with Himself and works in and through us that we are able to live lives of faith as He would have us to live.
 
The difficult part is that he tells us not to conform to the tolerant society as many are doing. Our tolerant society says, “Live and let live.” “Do whatever you want as long as you do not hurt anyone else.” “It does not matter what you believe as long as you believe sincerely enough.” “There are many gods and many ways to enlightenment.” And we buy into this. We forget that God is not tolerant, that He abhors sin and that He tells us what is sin and what is not sin. We forget that apart from God there is only eternal spiritual death and yet we go on living life as if God might have an alternative plan for all those who do not believe in Jesus. Yes, day in and day out we acquiesce to the thoughts and ways of our society. Instead of standing up and saying, “No,” God’s Word is His Word and it us just and right and true and the only rule and norm for all.
 
And so we would do well to be discerning. I would encourage you as Paul encourages the Corinthians, be as the Bereans, who were of a more noble character and who checked everything Paul said with Scripture to make sure what He was saying was true. Do not believe everything you see on TV or read in the newspaper or in books. Please do not believe it. Instead, check everything against God’s Word. In this way you will be able to “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
 
Finally, Paul outlines our role as a member of the Church. We pick up at verse three, “3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (v. 3-8). Paul’s first bit of instruction is probably the most difficult. He says that we are to give sober judgement to the gifts, talents and abilities God has given us, yet how many times do we think more highly of ourselves, perhaps we are a legend in our own minds of how gifted and talented we are and how much God needs us. As if God needs anything from us.
 
Instead, we are to come together as members of the Body of Christ and individually use our God-given gifts, talents and abilities to His glory. There may even be times when we are to do things that we believe we are not gifted to do, but understand that even then, as the Lord works in and through us we can do all things as we do them to His glory. Yes, Paul does bring up the issue of stewardship this morning, but he is not side tracked by simply talking about money. Our stewardship is not a one issue topic, but our stewardship is a life topic. In other words, it is not whether we return a portion of our time or our talents or our treasures to the Lord, but that we return a portion of our time and our talents and our treasures recognizing that these are first given to us by the Lord and so we give or return a portion to Him in service to Him and His kingdom. Thus, we are to work together as individuals for the good of the collective body.
 
What does this mean? God is far wiser than we are and we are so grateful that this is so. I pray that we never get to the point that we believe that we are wiser than God, and we have examples of that in our world today as people constantly question the Bible, asking the question Satan asked Eve in Eden, “Did God really say?” Perhaps you have heard of the Jesus Seminary in which smart men, or at least men who believe themselves to be smart, vote on such things as which words of the New Testament are really Jesus’ words and which miracles, if any, did Jesus really perform. In other words, anytime we place the Bible, God’s Word, below our intellect, we are placing ourselves above God and we become our own gods. Thanks be to God that He is so much wiser than we are.
 
And there is more. We also recognize that God does everything for us and we are grateful. In and of ourselves we can do no good thing. We have been talking about this in Bible class as we have been reviewing what we believe, teach and confess from the Book of Concord and especially the Apology to the Augsburg Confession. The fact of the matter is our free will or what was our free will has been tainted by the fall into sin and so our will is subject to sin. Left to ourselves and our own free will we would be eternally condemned, actually we would be like many people in our tolerant society as we have made note earlier. Thanks be to God that He has done, does and will continue to do everything necessary for us, for our salvation. Thanks be to God that Jesus took care of the one thing needful, giving His life for ours on the cross. Thanks be to God that Jesus is, as Peter recognized in the Gospel reading for today, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And thanks be to God that He stirs in us to recognize Jesus as such as well.
 
Remember, as I constantly remind you, who is running the verbs, who is doing what. We get it right when God is doing the doing and we are being done to. And when God is doing the doing and we are begin done to, then God is glorified. He is glorified  in all that He does for us and we are grateful.
 
Because God is so much greater than the world, with His help we are not conformed, but transformed by His gifts of faith, forgiveness, life and salvation so that we live lives of faith in response to His gifts of grace. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Understanding Liberalism?

I do not usually post anything "political" but because I believe this is what is being taught in our schools, of which I pay taxes to support, I must speak up and speak out. And besides, the two most important things in life are religion and politics and we are told to not talk about either. Why not?

I find it interesting and disheartening that those on the left, the Liberal left, dare teach such revisionist history as to accuse Christopher Columbus of such atrocities of genocide and the like and attack imperialism as being bad all the while enjoying the benefits of the founding of this nation and all the work of those who built this great nation, including the blood, sweat and tears, whether the discovery, founding, blood, sweat and tears was right or wrong.

Certainly, as sin tainted human beings we do not always make good, right and salutary decisions. This fact of not making good decisions, however does not negate what good may come from not so good and even bad decisions. The fact that Columbus discovery of America may have brought some disease and death, I believe, is well overshadowed by the fact that his discovery of America just a few years before the Reformation, gave many Christians a place to practice freely their worship of God as well as brought Christianity to many native Americans. Of course I am sure any liberal would suggest that the bringing of Christianity was wrong as well.

The fact that America has achieved greatness through capitalism attests to the fact that capitalism thrives on our inborn sinful nature of looking out for number one. However, capitalism, while making some people “rich” also brings out the best in the fact that those with more are in a better position to help those with less. In other words, contrary to the myth that there is only so much wealth in the world, the fact of the matter is that wealth can be made and the result of some making more is that those with less also benefit in what is well called trickle down economics.

The opposite of trickle down economics is to believe the myth of limited wealth, taking the means from some, who actually hire and support many, to give to the few so that those with much no longer are able to hire and support others meaning there truly is less wealth and what we have is trickle up poverty so that all have less and less.

So, the liberal world view is curse a world where people strive and thrive at doing their best, creating more and more wealth so that everyone is better off, and instead taut the greatness of a world where people have no incentive nor drive to accomplish anything and instead live dependent on a system that simply makes everyone equally poor.

To me the whole thing is like having your parents give birth to you, raise you, feed you, clothe you, and constantly discipline you to help you become a good productive citizen. And then all you can do is criticize them and complain because you do not understand that all the work they did is what made you the person you are, or at least the person they were intending to raise. I think the saying is, “Biting the hand that feeds you.”

The only word I have is “amazing.”

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Call to Faith - August 17, 2014 - Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15) - Text: Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32

What must I do to be saved? Last week Paul answered that question simply and succinctly, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” And he said, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Although this may seem simple, at least to those of us who do confess faith in Jesus with our mouths and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, and who call on the name of the Lord, for many in our world this is a difficult thing indeed, that is why there are so many who have refused and reject this simple gift and remain unsaved. As a matter of fact, the people of the world in which we live today more and more question the authority of the Bible and instead want to believe that the Christian Church is intolerant because of their exclusive claim of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus alone. In our text for this morning Paul continues expressing his concern for his own people, his own family and friends, his own fellow Jews, those who continue to reject Christ and refuse faith in Him.
 
As Paul expresses his concern, especially for his own people, he reminds us of God’s faithfulness. We begin at verse one, “1I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (v. 1-2). The fact that many of Paul’s own family are condemned to eternal spiritual death is not due to God’s rejection of these people. As a matter of fact, God has not rejected His covenant people and Paul is an example of such. Paul is a member of the children of Israel, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, and one called to faith by God.
 
Why then are many of Paul’s family condemned? Because many of his own people have rejected and continue to reject Jesus as the Savior. Again this week, as week before last, Paul’s words might be difficult for us, especially as his words call us to think in terms of our own family and friends. God has not rejected anyone, yet how many people, family and friends do we know who continue to reject Him and thus are condemned. And how often do we fail, even to pray for these people, that the Lord might work to give them faith, but instead we consol ourselves thinking that certainly God has another plan, because we simply do not want to think of the alternative. Indeed, we have become as those of the world who question the authority of the Word of God and the exclusive claim of the Christian Church.
 
Paul goes on to speak to the Gentiles. By the way, if we have not been paying attention, as all of these words of Paul are Words of God to us, but especially here we would do well to pay attention, because we are Gentiles. We pick up at verse thirteen. “13Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (v. 13-15). Although Paul is praying for us, he is also praying for his fellow Jews. His prayer may be a bit of a selfish prayer. He is praying that his preaching to the Gentiles might make his fellow Jews jealous. In other words, he is praying that our being given faith and being made a part of the Kingdom of God will stir in the hearts of his fellow Jews the desire to be a part of God’s Kingdom as well. Of course, when we use the word “jealous” here we are using it in a positive way. Normally we would say that being jealous is not a desirable thing, but when it comes to faith, we understand that even God is jealous in that He demands that we worship Him and Him alone. Again, thinking in terms of our own situations, perhaps as we live our lives as Christians, enjoying the blessings we are given, the hope that we have, we may hope that all this will bring our unbelieving family and friends to jealousy so that they too might be stirred to faith.
 
Paul explains his logic in that it was the rejection by the Jews that made it possible for the Gentiles to hear the good news. Remember, the Church started as a Jewish Christian church. Most all the first Christians were of Jewish descent. As these people rejected the message of Jesus, so then Paul was appointed to take the message to the Gentiles.
 
Paul goes on to explain. We picking up at verse twenty-eight, “28As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (v. 28-32). What Paul describes is a reversal of fortunes. Once the Gentiles rejected God and now they are being given faith. Now the Jews are rejecting God so the Gentiles may be given faith.
 
At the same time, God’s call to faith is irrevocable. Remember, the promise to send a Savior, the promise of salvation was made back in the Garden of Eden before there was a Jew or a Gentile. In the Garden of Eden there was Adam and Eve. They sinned and God promised to them that He would send a Savior, for all people. Eve thought the next son she bore was that Savior. She did not realize that it would be another four thousand years or so before God would fulfill this promise, nor did she realize how many different cultural groups there would be on the earth.
 
After the flood as the earth again began to repopulate, and even after the events of the Tower of Babel and the people were separated because of their different languages, God continued to wait to fulfill His promise to send a Savior. As the people who had separated at the Tower of Babel began to grow in families, the various cultures of the world began to emerge. Unfortunately, many of the fathers of the various cultures failed to share the message of the promise of a Savior with their children and so people began to fall away and lose faith in the Lord and His promises. Then, at the right time, God reiterated His promise to send a Savior. At the right time He issued His call specifically to Abraham and to his children. God called Abraham, his son Isaac, and his son Jacob whose name was changed to Israel and from there we have the Children of Israel. This call and narrowing of the promise line from which the Savior of the world would be born did not negate God’s call and promise to all people.
 
Jesus came to fulfill all God’s promises and He did, perfectly, all of God’s promises. Jesus came to do what all of humanity was created to do but could not do. Jesus came to do what Adam and Eve could not do, obey God perfectly. Jesus came to do what you and I cannot do, live perfectly, without sin, in thought, word or deed. Jesus came to His own people and although many did believe in Him, especially after His death and seeing Him alive, many of His own people also rejected Him. As the Apostles went out into the world to declare the good news of Jesus’, life, death and resurrection, unfortunately too many did not believe. All the while, God’s promise to send a Savior and His call to faith was also and always a call to the Gentiles who were included in His promise and call to all.
 
And Paul reminds us that God’s promises to all is irrevocable. In other words, God does not go back on His promises. God’s promise was made to all people and so all people are called to believe in Jesus and have a part in God’s Kingdom. Unfortunately, many, even today, continue to persist in refusing and rejecting that call to faith. For too many in our world today we would rather have life our own way, much like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
 
What does this mean? First and foremost, I want to remind you again, God’s promise to send a Savior was first given in the Garden of Eden and it was given to all. God’s promise was not a promise of compromise, nor a promise of a bargain. God’s promise was not a deal. God never said that there was something which we need to do on our part. As a matter of fact, as you read through the first three chapters of Genesis you will notice that the whole while that God is doing His thing, creating and so on, the whole while God is the actor everything is good and even very good. When we finally get to the man and the women and their actions and what they are doing, that is when sin entered the world. And it continues today. We mess up and God cleans up. God’s promise in Eden is His promise to us today, He will take care of our sin, our broken relationship with Himself, but He will not impose nor force us to believe.
 
God’s promise was first made in the Garden of Eden. Later God reiterated and narrowed down His covenant, to Israel, the line through which the Savior would be born. This narrowing down of the line did not negate that the promise was to all people. Nor did this negate that the promise was a promise of faith, not a right of birth. In other words, simply being born of a certain descent does not guarantee one’s salvation. Faith is what brings salvation, but only that faith which has Jesus as its object.
 
God made a promise. God narrowed the line of fulfillment of His promise. God kept His promise and Jesus came and brought us back into a right relationship with Himself. And now, yet today, we continue to have God’s call to all to faith. God calls us to faith through His means of grace, namely through His Word, the Bible and through His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And yet, unfortunately for us, God’s call to faith does not mean that we cannot refuse and reject what He has to offer. At the same time, our refusal or rejection does not negate God’s continual call.
 
The fact of the matter is, God’s gifts and promises are certain. We are the one’s who are wishy washy. We are the one’s who stray and fall into sin, daily, hourly, every minute. And yet, our sinning does not negate our being given faith. In other words, yes, even as Christians, even as believers in Jesus, we too continue to sin, but as we continue to repent we are given forgiveness and strengthened to face the trials and temptations of the world each and very day.
 
For God and His part, it is a done deal. For us and our part, we fail miserably time and again. Thanks be to God that we do not need to depend on ourselves, but we continually place ourselves and our faith in Jesus knowing that He always keeps His promises and that His gifts and calling are irrevocable. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

What’s The Difference?

I find it rather perturbing when I read disparaging remarks concerning Roman Catholic Christians when especially made by Evangelical (Reformed, Anabaptist, etc.) Christians. My questions is what is the difference? Both Roman and the Evangelical theology confuse Law and Gospel and change God’s grace into a new type of works righteousness. To be fair, at least the Roman Church is honest and confesses that they believe that one is saved by faith and works. Whereas the Evangelical attempts to hide the insistence on being saved by faith and works by suggesting that they believe one is saved by grace and dedicating ones life to Jesus, or committing ones life to the Lord, or making a decision for Jesus. What is the difference when anything is added to Grace except that one is no longer saved by Grace, but by what is added. To put it in mathematical terms, zero plus anything is the anything, so 0+1=1, 0+2=2, etc. And so it is when anything is added to Grace. Grace is zero, zero requirement on our part. Thus, Grace, zero, plus anything, i.e., works, decision, dedication, committing, etc. means one is no longer saved by Grace, but by works, decision, dedication, committing, etc. In essence there is no difference because Grace is on longer Grace and instead one is pointed to oneself and one’s own devises for being saved.

Grace is Grace and needs nothing added. Grace always and only points to Jesus. I am “saved by Grace (God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense) through faith and this is a gift of God so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). Such boasting as, “I chose Jesus, I dedicated my life to Jesus, I did this or that for Jesus.” Notice that Paul says there is no pointing to self, to works, to decision, dedication, committing, etc only to the gift of God. I make mistakes. I get it wrong. I cannot depend on my doing anything. But I know that God gets it right. He is never wrong and I can depend on Him. Thus I am saved because God chose me. God put His name on me at my Baptism. God put faith in my heart. God gave me forgiveness of sins and wrote my name in the Book of Life. Jesus, just Jesus is the reason I am saved.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Part of the Family - August 3, 2014 - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13) - Text: Romans 9:1-6 (6-13)

This morning, as we move from Romans chapter eight to chapter nine, Paul shifts gears. We have been following along as Paul has been encouraging and teaching us about the importance of the law and the Gospel; about making a proper distinction between the law and the Gospel; about the fact that we are sinner/saints making our way through life; about the fact that there will be difficult times and easy times, but that no matter what life brings God is with us, He will work out the best for us, and really the difficult times in life are nothing compared to the glory which will be ours in heaven. This morning Paul shifts gears, and perhaps this is what he has been leading up to, especially in his own life as a “Messianic Jews” (as Jewish Christians are sometimes called today). The fact of the matter is, for Paul, as he realized his own people are rejecting Jesus, he has a concern.
 
We read about Paul’s concern beginning at verse one. Paul says, “1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—2that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (v. 1-5). Paul’s concern, Paul’s anguish is over his own people, his own flesh and blood, his own relatives and family. He knows his own people are being condemned because of their lack of faith and this is a difficult thing for him to acknowledge.
 
Paul knows that salvation is no longer the birthright of his own people because they have given up their birthright. And his own people did have a birthright. They are able to trace their lineage back to Abraham whom God called and promised to make a great nation and that through Abraham’s Offspring all nations would be blessed. The covenant God made with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to send a Savior for all people, Jew and Gentile was narrowed so that the Savior would be born through the line of Abraham. The most important part of God’s promise to Abraham was the narrowing of the covenant He first made to Adam and Eve that the Savior of the world was born through the line of Abraham and all the famous people of that line; Isaac, Jacob, King David, King Solomon and so on. But Paul knows that this line of descent does not guarantee one’s own salvation. Perhaps we would do well to take note of Paul’s concern as we think in terms of our own family and friends. Are there people we know who do not believe in Jesus? Do we realize and acknowledge that these people, unless they are given faith in Jesus, will be eternally condemned? Unfortunately, we live in such a “tolerant” world that we never like to think about such condemnation. I cannot tell you have many people I know who rationalize and think; certainly God has a different plan for my friend who does not believe in Jesus and after such rationalization, we go on living and never share the good news of the saving grace of our Lord. And so, we condemn them because Jesus is quite clear that apart from Him and faith in Him there is only eternal spiritual death.
 
Paul understands that his own family, relatives and friends are at risk for eternal spiritual death unless they turn from their unbelief and are given faith in Jesus. Thus, his wish is that he might be condemned so his people might be saved. That is quite a wish, but one we know cannot come to fruition. We cannot give our lives for another, at least not spiritually. Only one person has ever been able to do that and that of course is Jesus.
 
Paul goes on to explain what he means, we might say to give his defense from God’s Word. We pick up at verse six, “(6But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son.’ 10And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call—12she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ 13As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’)” (v. 6-14). God made His covenant way back with Abraham. God reiterated His covenant time and again. God fulfilled His covenant in the sending of Jesus to gives His life on the cross. Unfortunately, for many of the children of Israel, they rejected God’s fulfillment. They rejected Jesus. Paul wants us to know that just because the children of Israel have abandoned the covenant, this does not mean God has abandoned the covenant. God is faithful and just and He always keeps His Word.
 
God’s covenant was not a covenant of flesh. God’s covenant was not a birthright but a covenant of faith. In other words, God did not come to Abraham and promise him that just because children would be born from his lineage that they would be saved. As a matter of fact, God’s covenant, even to Abraham, was a covenant of faith. In the book of Hebrews we are reminded that “Abraham believed and it was reckoned (or counted) to him as righteousness.”
 
As a matter of fact, continuing on through the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the writer continually reminds us that the patriarchs are shown to have been a part of the covenant because they believed God’s Word, not because they were children of a certain person. Abraham did what he did, left his family and went to where God showed him to go because of faith. The children of Israel crossed the Red Sea in faith. Rahab hid the spies because of faith. The covenant was a covenant of faith, not a right of birth.
 
Remember the covenant was not first made with Abraham. He was the one to whom God called and specifically said that through his family the Savior of the world would be born. The covenant goes back to the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin. The covenant goes back to a time before there were Jews and Gentiles. The covenant was God’s covenant to all people. And now that God has fulfilled His covenant Paul is reminding us that all people are a part of that covenant. Not only the Jews, but only those who believe, are a part of that covenant. Even the Gentiles, again, those who believe, are a part of God’s covenant. We are a part of that covenant but only by faith.
 
Today, God’s Word continues to be true as His covenant continues. And His covenant continues to be a covenant of faith. God has not called a certain culture or nationality of people to be saved. God has called and continues to call all people to be saved. God’s salvation is not offered to any because of their lineage, their birthright, but He calls all people to be saved by believing in Jesus.
 
What does this mean? This means that we are not saved because of who we are or who our parents are. This means we are not saved because we are members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield. This does not mean we are saved because we important people in our community. This does not mean we are saved because we know someone who is saved. Our salvation is not a birthright.
 
Nor does this means that we are saved because of how good we are, or how good we might think we are, or for that matter for any reason on our own part. Our good works, our civil good works do not earn or merit any salvation for us. Our volunteering for service to the community and to the church and to anything and everything else neither earns nor merits anything in God’s eyes, because His is not a covenant of good works.
 
Instead, this means we are saved by grace through faith, given through the means of grace. We are saved because God has made a covenant with us to save us. God made His covenant back in the Garden of Eden. God fulfilled His covenant in His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to do for us and for all people what we are unable to do, live a perfect life. Jesus came to take care of our sins because we cannot, that is He came to give His life, to pay the price for sin, for us in our place. Jesus died and rose. He showed Himself to be alive, again and again, so that we might have the certainty of His death and resurrection and the certainty of our own eternal life. Jesus ascended and sent the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is with us today, working through the means of Grace, the Bible, God’s Word, confession and absolution, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit continually works through these means to give, strengthen and keep us in faith. And so again, we see the importance of making regular, every week, and diligent, every day, use of these means.
 
Finally, this means we rejoice because we are a part of the covenant and we never take that for granted. Being a part of the covenant is a gift. It is not something we do, although, as we have heard time and again, this is something we can refuse and reject. As Paul calls us to rejoice in our own part in God’s covenant, he also calls us to lament those of our family and friends who have and who continue to refuse and reject God’s call. He calls us to pray for them, that the Holy Spirit might continue to call them to faith, and that we might have the opportunity and courage to share God’s Word with them as well, so that they too might become a part of His Kingdom.
 
The Word of God has not failed. The promise is made to all people. God has fulfilled His Holy Word. God will continue to fulfill His Holy Word, and ultimately He will fulfill His promise to come again to take us and all who believe in Jesus to be with Himself in heaven. Until that time, until the time of our Lord’s return, He gives us opportunities to be given His good gifts and blessings. He gives us opportunities to share His Word with others as well as to invite others to come to worship and to hear His Word. Thanks be to God that He continues to call people to faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. And thanks be to God that He has given us these gifts and blessings as well, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.