Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, 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.