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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, September 28, 2014

God Works in You - September 28, 2014 - Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21) Text: Philippians 2:1-4, (5-13) 14-18

Again this morning as the past several Sundays, Paul, writing to the Christians at Philippi is writing to us here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church to encourage us in our Christian faith walk with Christ, in our Sanctification. As we continue to be reminded, our justification, that is our being made just and right and holy before God flows from God’s love for us and His living for us, taking our sins and dying for us and His rising for us. So also our sanctification, our living lives of faith flows from God’s first love for us in that we love because He first loves us. Paul outlines both these teachings well as he speaks to us words of encouragement and shows how our lives of faith flow out of what God in Christ has first done for us.
 
Our text begins with Paul’s words of encouragement, beginning at verse one, “1So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others”(v. 1-4). Paul speaks words of encouragement to us in that he encourages us to love one another. Paul’s words, especially in verse four, to “look not only to [your] own interest” reminds me of the old saying that joy is spelled, J - Jesus, O - Others, and Y - Yourself. We find true joy when Jesus is first in our lives, which is in keeping with the first commandment of not having other gods before our One True God. We find joy as we keep Jesus first every day as well as every Sunday being in divine service and Bible class, rather than letting something else take first place as many in our society tend to do. So Paul encourages us to love one another which he knows we can do only as we are first loved by Jesus.
 
Paul also speaks words of encouragement that is to have a unity of mind and in this instance he is not simply talking about agreeing on some current social issue nor some popular idea, rather he is speaking in particular about having a unity of doctrine or teaching, a unity of beliefs. There are many in our culture who like to celebrate diversity and tolerance, which at first hearing sound reasonable, yet to do so blindly would be detrimental. In response to the desire to celebrate diversity, I have said it before in our circuit and district meetings, diversity is fine, however, the word divide is in diversity. To blindly celebrate diversity in many instances brings more division than anything. If we want unity, we need to be united in what we believe, teach, confess and practice. So Paul encourages a unity of mind.
 
But Paul is not done. He goes on to talk about our attitude that is that we should have the attitude of Christ. We pick up at verse five, “5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (v. 5-11). In the four Gospels we are continually pointed to the fact that Jesus is truly human and He is truly God. He is shown to be human according to His human birth by the His human mother, Mary and He is shown to be truly God through the signs, wonders and miracles He performed; signs, wonders and miracles only God can perform. So, Christ is God, but as Paul points out He did not fully or always use His divine powers. He did not raise everyone from the dead. He did not heal everyone and so on.
 
Paul says that Christ took the form of a slave and understand that slave is the actual word, not servant as some translations attempt to tone down the language of the Word of God. Jesus became a slave to the law, all the law, the ceremonial law, the moral law, and the civil law. Jesus slavishly obeyed all the law perfectly. He slavishly did for all of Israel, and for all of us what they and we cannot do, He lived perfectly. He obeyed God’s love to be perfect, perfectly for us in our place because we cannot.
 
And Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death even death on the cross for our sins. The price for sin is death, eternal spiritual death. Being conceived and born in sin, the judgement on us at our birth is death and yet, Jesus, because of His great love for us, after living perfectly and He could have traded His perfectly life for heaven for Himself, but instead, because of His great love for us, He took our sins upon Himself. He who knew no sin became sin for us and took our sins to the cross in order to pay the price for our sins.
 
Yet, death and the grave had no power over Him. Instead, Christ rose from the dead defeating sin, death and the devil. Because He defeated sin, death and the devil for us in our place, they have no power over us. Indeed His victory is our victory.
 
And Christ is exalted above all, as true God. And in the end, as Paul so well says, and as John tells us in his revelation from God, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord, Yahweh, God. Of course, we know the unbelievers will confess to their judgement and attempt to blame God for their unbelief and every Christian will confess to their eternal salvation.
 
But Paul in not done. He continues to encourage us in his absence. We pick up at verse twelve, “12Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (v. 12-13). As we were encouraged last week, so we are encouraged today. We are encouraged to be obedient, which we know we can do only with God’s help, but this encouragement from Paul is especially that we are obedient when we are away from the church, in other words, we live lives of faith, not just at church on Sunday mornings, but at home and at work, even at school or wherever we are every day we know that no matter where we are, the Lord is there with us.
 
Again, our encouragement is to understand that it is “God who works in you. . .” to do good works. We do not do good works in and of ourselves. We do good works as God motivates us, works good works in and through us and as they are done to His glory.
 
And so, finally in our text Paul encourages us to rejoice. Picking up at verse fourteen, 14Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me” (v. 14-18). Paul encourages us to live lives of faith without grumbling or questioning, a most difficult thing to do especially in a world in which we might believe life is rather unfair, at least or especially for Christians. Certainly we can always look at life and people and see how we have it worse than everyone else, or that everyone else seems to have it better or easier than we have it. How often do we look out and see how someone else has it so much worse than we have it or how our life is so much easier than someone else? Not too often I would suggest. Paul encourages us to be optimistic rather than pessimistic, but not simply for the sake of optimism or pessimism at least from a superficial human perspective. Indeed, as Christians, as brothers and sister of Christ, as children of God, how can we be anything except hopeful, encouraging and rejoicing, after all, our fate is set and secure, heaven is our home.
 
Paul encourages us to hold fast to the Word of God which is a light to the world. Might I suggest that Paul is here encouraging us as I continually encourage you, to make regular, each and every Sunday, and diligent, all the time, use of the means of grace. It all begins and ends with Jesus. We are conceived and born in sin. Jesus is perfection. We have no love of our own. Jesus loves us. Jesus forgives us. Jesus gives us forgiveness. Jesus gives us faith. Jesus loves us and shines through us so that we might forgive and love others.
 
Therefore, Paul encourages us to rejoice, no matter what our lot in life. Our time in this world, compared to eternity in heaven, is but a breath. The minor inconveniences we suffer in this world  are nothing compared to the glory that will be ours forever in heaven. Certainly, as we look at our lives in this world, indeed as we live day by day, our sixty, seventy, ninety and if God is willing our hundred years of life in this world might seem like a long time while we are in this world living day by day, yet, compared to eternity, forever, which has no beginning and no end, our time in this world truly is nothing and will mean nothing when we get to heaven. No one in heaven will care about what car we drove, what house we lived in, what team won or lost, what career path we took, what school we attended, how smart we were or anything. What will be most important is whether or not we had faith in Jesus, whether or not we rejoiced in His love and forgiveness and shared that love and forgiveness with others.
 
I am not Paul, nor would I consider myself to be inspired in the same manner as any of the Apostles or writers of Scripture, yet, I would encourage in the manner of Paul’s encouragement, to have the attitude of Christ. First and foremost I would encourage you to live a life pleasing to the Lord by making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, that is by first and foremost being given to by God through the means He has to give to you. Do not refuse and reject His gifts. Do not be complacent in being given His gifts. Make begin given His gifts a first priority of you life, thus keeping the first, second, and third commandments. I would encourage you to be strengthened in the faith and gifts the Lord gives, also by making regular and diligent use of His means of grace. I would then encourage you to live a life to the glory of God as He gives you faith, strengthens you in faith and works His good works in and through you. I would encourage you to encourage one another without grumbling or questioning. And finally, I would also encourage you to rejoice in the Lord always. God loves you so much. He has shown His love for you in Jesus. And He will continue to love you because He is love. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

To Live Is Christ - September 21, 2015 - Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20) - Text: Philipians 1:12-14, 19-30

We live in a world where physical health is a great concern. At times we obsess with physical health. Statements are made concerning what is called one’s “quality of life.” And we are bombarded with the message that, unless we are in good physical health, life is not worth living and we are not worth being allowed to live. There are even laws in some countries which make it legal to put to death those who are deemed unfit to live by those living in the society. This is what we often call euthanasia. Interestingly enough, the word “euthanasia” means good death, but I would suggest that for the person being put to death, it may be anything but a “good death.” This morning Paul helps us to understand how we Christians are to deem life and one’s value in this world. At the same time, I believe Paul also has words for us on how we are to view struggles and afflictions in this life, such as Sept. 11, 2001 attacks as well as the 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as other struggles and afflictions in this life.

Our text begins as Paul outlines what he believes to be his fate. We read beginning at verse twelve, “12I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 18bYes, and I will rejoice, 19for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again” (v. 12-14, 18b-26).

At this time Paul is in prison and yet even while he is in prison he is continually proclaiming the Gospel. He is able to do this because he is not in a maximum security prison as we think of prisons today. He is in a house where he is being guarded and he has friends taking care of his personal needs. Thus, he is able to proclaim the good news of the Gospel to those who are caring for him as well as any others who come to visit him. Notice how Paul does not lament his imprisonment, but embraces this, too, as an opportunity to share the Gospel.

Paul does not know what his fate will be. He knows he will soon face the judge at his trial and he does not know whether the judge will rule in his favor or not. Yet, Paul is ready for any outcome of the trial. He is ready to go on living and he is ready to die. Perhaps that would be a good question for each one of us to ask ourselves each and every morning. When we awake or when we go to bed we might ask ourselves, “Are we ready to die?” The fact of the matter is that since the moment of conception our lives have been leading to this ultimate end, our own physical death. Thus, are we ready to die this physical death? Paul’s attitude is that to live is Christ, in other words, if he is acquitted, if he is innocent and if he is allowed to live then for Paul this means the opportunity to continue sharing the Gospel.

On the other hand, if Paul is not acquitted, if he is found guilty, if he is sentenced to die, then to Paul to die is gain. To die is gain because Paul knows his lot is secure. He knows that death is not an end, but is only the beginning. He knows that when he dies in this world it means eternal life in heaven.

And so, for Paul, to live is to continue to serve the Lord and he will be happy to continue to live and serve the Lord. However, to die is to go to heaven, which he understands is far better. And so Paul is not concerned about either outcome because both outcomes have their advantages.

With his own fate stated, Paul goes on to give us words of encouragement. We pick up at verse twenty-seven, “27Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (v. 27-30).

Paul, again this week, encourages us in our sanctification. He encourages us to live a life worthy of being called a Christian. He warns us to not just be a Christian in name only. Too often I hear pastors and others encourage, especially, our young people to remember what they have learned in the Catechism. Better than simply remembering is to live what we have learned. And of course, as we have said before, Paul’s encouragement is not an encouragement that this is something we can do in and of ourselves. We can live lives of faith only as the Holy Spirit works in and through us to live in such a way and as our lives then, are led by Him they are lived to His glory.

To make sure we understand, Paul wants the Philipians to live as Christians even when Paul is not around. Today these words of encouragement would be that we are to live as Christians even when we are away from church.

This morning Paul gives us another glimpse into why Christians are so hated in our world. He reminds us that our salvation is a clear sign of the destruction of non-Christians. In other words, here again we understand the exclusive claims of Holy Scripture. There is only one way to eternal life in heaven and that one way is Jesus Christ alone. Apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus is only eternal spiritual death. This means that our salvation, by grace, through faith in Jesus is a clear sign to the non-Christian of their eternal doom. And because the non-Christian world does not wish to be condemned, nor do they wish to change their ways, they hate Christians.

Therefore, the life of a Christian may include religious conflict. I would suggests that as the churches in the United States and around the world, continue down the road of questioning the Bible, whether it is or is not the very Word of God and as our churches continue to acquiesce and be absorbed  by the culture, so that there is no difference between the church and the culture, but they become one and the same, this conflict for “real” Christians will only increase. Time and time again in our world today we have church after church deny the exclusive claims of Jesus in His Word such that what is often proclaimed is a damning message that states that “we all believe in the same God, we just call him different names,” and “it does not matter what you believe as long as you believe sincerely enough,” and so on.

What does this mean? Paul reminds us that God never promised an easy life and he shows us his own life as an example of this. I suppose that if some of the TV evangelists of today looked closely at Paul’s life they would dub him a failure, after all, how often are we told by TV preachers today of how God wants us to be successful, how God wants us to be financially secure, how God wants us to have an easy life and Paul had none of this and yet he rejoiced and gave glory to God for all, even for his times of persecution, imprisonment, beatings, and so on.

God does not promise life will be easy, but He does promise to be with us. As a matter of fact, as we read the words of our Lord in His Holy Scripture, we are reminded again and again that Jesus has already undergone everything we can imagine. Jesus has suffered all that we will ever suffer and even more. Jesus suffered all the temptation we will ever face and even more and He never sinned. Jesus was perfect and yet He took our sins upon Himself and He suffered the punishment of eternal spiritual death for us in our place. And He promises to be with us as we face the trials and tribulations, the persecutions of this world.

God’s promise is that He will give us the strength and courage to carry on. We cannot do it ourselves, as a matter of fact, if we were left to ourselves we would completely fail. Thanks be to God that we never have to be left to ourselves. Thanks be to God that He has promised and that He is with us all through life.

Certainly we rejoice because God gives us the victory. He has won the victory over sin, death and the power of the devil. He gives us this victory as He gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith. And He gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith as we make regular and diligent use of His means of grace.

We began by talking about the value of life. What is the value of life? Is our life of value only while we are in this world? Is our value only as we have pain free, productive, (sic) making money, lives? Or, is there anything better than eternal life in heaven? Paul reminds us that our value is not based on the assessment of this world. Life is precious because it is a gift from God, thus even when we are in pain, even when we are in prison, even when we are on our death bed, our value is not such that we are to take one’s life because we believe it is not worth living. Rather we are to esteem life as value because it is a gift from God. Thus, we do not fear death or suffering because we know that Christ has suffered even greater things, because we know that God promises to be with us in our times of suffering and pain, and because we know that our present sufferings are nothing compared to the glory that will be ours in heaven.
 
What great opportunities lay before us as Christians, that is as true Christians, not simply Christians in name only, as we go out into the world of today. We have the privilege of sharing with others the good news that even in times of suffering, even in times of persecution, even in times of hardship we have a God who continues to love us and shows His love for us in the giving of His Son and the life of His Son for us and for our forgiveness. Interestingly enough, as we read through the Acts of the Apostles and other books of the Bible, as we look at times of persecution throughout history, it is during times of persecution and suffering that the Christian church thrives. This is so, because it is during these times that people are drawn to someone outside themselves for hope, and many are drawn to the Lord and faith in Him to sustain them during these times. What great opportunities we have as Christians in our world today, as people face the fears of today, terrorism, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and so on, and as our Lord tells us, these will increase as we approach the end of days, so what great opportunities we have today to call others to faith as we share the good news of Jesus with them. Remember, our value is not on what society deems it to be, based on some concept of finance, or based on some lack of pain, rather our value flows out of the fact that God loves us so much and He showed His love and value of us by living for us, dying for us and rising for us. Thus, we continue, with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live lives of faith so that others may have ample cause to give glory to Christ Jesus. Yes, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Confess, Believe and Live: Jesus is Lord - September 14, 2014 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19) - Text: Romans 14:1-12

When I did my student teaching a couple years ago in college (smile), my cooperating teacher continued to remind me that the best way to teach was to teach and re-teach, in other words, to repeat the same lesson over and over until the children got it. When I began the Doctor of Ministry program one of the books I read reminded me that as children we like to hear the same old familiar stories, over and over again. As we grow older, too often we want to hear something new and exciting. That is the way I am, I do not necessarily like to watch the same move twice, especially not twice in a row. Now that I have children, I cannot tell you how many times we watch the same movie or read the same book, over and over and over again. Interestingly enough, however, as Christians, we are very much God’s children and we do want to, like to and need to hear the same old stories over and over and over again. Yet, the same old stories we hear are not just “old” stories, but they are the message of life and salvation, from Christ’ birth, through His life and to His death and resurrection.
 
The reason I bring this up is because for the first twelve or thirteen weeks of this Pentecost season we were following along as Paul and sometimes Peter were telling us about our being saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, faith given and strengthened through our making regular and diligent use of the means of grace. For the past two weeks we have moved from these words of justification to hearing Paul speak to us about living lives of faith, that is about living the sanctified life. And again, like the last two weeks I am compelled to remind you that while we are hearing Paul talk about living the sanctified life we want to continue to remind ourselves that our sanctification has its roots in God as the prime mover just as our justification has been completed by God. So, as always we are reminded of who is running the verbs and the fact that we get it right when we remember that God is the prime mover and anything and everything that we do is done for our good only as the Lord stirs in us and motivates us, as He works the good in and through us and they are done to His glory. Again, this morning Paul continues giving us lessons in sanctification.
 
Today is one of those Sundays when all three of our lessons work well together. Our Old Testament lesson reminds us of the proper understanding of forgiveness, that is that we to forgive and forget. Joseph had forgiven his brothers many years earlier, I would suggest even before they entered Egypt to buy grain because I believe Joseph realized his greater importance in God’s plan before his brothers arrived. Yet, here, after Jacob’s death the brothers have not forgotten their sin and guilt against their brother which was still bothering them and so they ask, again, for forgiveness. Joseph, on the other hand, knew and understood the meaning of forgiveness because he had forgiven and had “forgotten,” their sin and moved on. Certainly, now he had the opportunity to remind his brothers, again, of their forgiveness.
 
The Gospel reading also reminds us of the proper understanding of forgiveness, that is that we are to forgive as we have been forgiven. Certainly we are like the first debtor in Jesus’ parable in that our sins amount to the fact that we owe our very lives to God. And the debt of sin of our fellow human beings is certainly nothing compared to our debt to God, so certainly we will even more be moved to forgive the tiny debt of others as our good and gracious Lord has forgiven our huge debt.
 
And our text for today, the Epistle Lesson reminds to us of the proper understanding of forgiveness, that is that we are to forgive those weaker in faith because of their weakness.
 
Paul begins by speaking of those weaker in faith. He says, “1As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (v. 1-4). Very often, most of us, when we hear Paul speaking about those who are weak in faith, our first reaction is to think that Paul is speaking about others, not us. We never like to think of ourselves as being the ones who are weak in faith, and maybe that is true. So, if we are not the ones who are weak in faith, then certainly we will want to pay attention as he speaks to us about being strong in faith.
 
When it comes to living lives of faith; when it comes to living lives as Jesus would have us to live our lives; we know that in our world many people do many things in the name of “faith.” Some people do good things, some people do maybe not so good things; yet ours is not to judge, at least we are not to judge the motive behind a persons actions. Paul reminds us that the Lord will be the judge in the end.
 
Paul goes on the speak about church traditions. He says, “5One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living”(v. 5-9). Now please understand, Paul is not speaking about rightly preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. He is speaking about rites and ceremonies in any particular place, in other words, how we do a wedding, or how and when we do confirmation, and the like. Each congregations celebrates certain traditions according to their own reasoning and these can be good or not so good. If we have a tradition of having confirmation on Palm Sunday, then that is good for us and we are not to think less of a congregation who celebrates confirmation on Pentecost Sunday.
 
The “bottom line,” according to Paul, is that we do whatever we do to the glory of the Lord. And here we might remind ourselves, as with sanctification, we can do good things to the glory of the Lord only as we are motivated to do them by the Lord and as He works them in and through us.
 
Finally, Paul speaks about the final judgement. He says, “10Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (v. 10-12) Ultimately, God is the final judge. And in the end, on the last day, on Judgement Day, every knee, believer and unbeliever will confess Jesus as Lord. So, it is not important, and it does not necessarily matter what we may judge in our own minds at this time.
 
Again, the “bottom line,” if you will, then, is forgiveness. When I speak to couples getting married I usually remind them of what is the most important thing in a marriage. Many people talk about love as being the most important thing, yet that is too often too much of a vague topic, from a feeling to a state of mind or whatever. Some people talk about communication as being the most important thing in marriage and I suggest that communication is important, yet I can communicate how much I do not like you and that would not be a good thing to communicate. I suggest that forgiveness is the most important thing in marriage, that is to be able to say to each other, “I’m sorry,” and “You’re forgiven.” As we have heard here before, true peace is only that peace which is ours when we are free from guilt and we are free from guilt only as we are forgiven. And we have also heard here before how the most beautiful words we hear are those we hear every Sunday morning after we confess our sins and those words are, “Your sins are forgiven.” Our readings for this morning remind us of the importance of this forgiveness which is what shows our faith and opens the doors to eternal life.
 
What does this mean? We want to admit, if we have not done so yet, that no one is perfect, except Jesus. We are conceived and born in sin. We daily sin much adding to our sinfulness. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of commission, doing the things we should not be doing. We sin sins of omission, not doing the things we should be doing. We sin daily and are in constant need of forgiveness. And so we need to constantly repent and confess our sins.
 
We are also to encourage and educate each other. Perhaps our neighbor is the one who is weak in faith and perhaps it is simply because he or she has not been taught what is or is not good, bad or indifferent. Perhaps we are the ones who are weak in faith and perhaps it is because we need to be more regular and diligent in our making use of the means of grace, perhaps we need to be in Bible Class and in worship every Sunday so we are strengthen in our faith.
 
We are to forgive each other. How can we not forgive even as we have been forgiven by God. The law motivates us through guilt. The Gospel motivates us through love. As we hear and hear again of the great love our Lord has for us, the great love He has shown us in the giving of His very life so that we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life, how can we not help but love and forgive others?
 
Because, finally, God will be the final judge and all will confess Jesus is Lord. Here again we go back to God as the prime mover, the beginning, the middle and the end. God is the beginning, He created all. God is the middle, He redeemed all. God is the end, He is the judge of all. “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
 
We all have opinions, according to our own understanding or misunderstandings. Some opinions are stronger than others. The same is true of convictions. And so we are to not quarrel over opinions or over things neither commanded nor forbidden by God. We are, however, to encourage one another, knowing that in the end, Christ will be the judge of all and all will stand before Him and rightly confess Him as Lord. And we do this as our Lord works in us and through us so that our lives are lived in such a way that they say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Owe No One Anything Except to Love - September 7, 2014 - Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) - Text: Romans 13:1-10

Last week we began listening to Paul give us some instructions in living lives of faith. We call this sanctification. We also made note of the difference between justification and sanctification and we want to do that again this morning to make sure we hear Paul correctly. Justification is what God has done for us. It is a completed act. Justification is that by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus we are declared innocent in God’s eyes, that is we are declared just and right. We are declared just and right because Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross and by grace through faith we have what He earned, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Sanctification, on the other hand, is defined as a response to justification. Yet, sanctification also has its beginning with God. We are sanctified, that is we respond to our justification, by doing the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do, but we do them only as we are motivated by the Holy Spirit; as they are worked in and through us by the Holy Spirit; and as they are done to the glory of God. This distinction is important, because this morning Paul encourages us again in our sanctified lives to be subject to those in authority over us as well as he encourages us to live lives of faith by loving one another.
 
Paul begins with authority and the purpose of government. We begin at verse one, “1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (v. 1-7). The purpose of government is simply to maintain order and I would add so that we might rightly worship God. God is the ruler behind every government, whether that government be good, bad or indifferent. But please do not misunderstand, although God is the ruler behind every government that does not mean that He approves of corrupt governments. Just as a bad marriage in no way takes away from God’s good gift of marriage and just as a bad church (a Christian church gone bad) in no way takes away from God’s good gift of a Christian congregation, so a bad government in no way takes away from God’s good gift of government.
 
Because government is from God, when we disobey the government we disobey God. The only exception would be when the government would tell us to do something contrary to God’s Word, then and only then are we permitted to disobey the government, but we must also then be prepared to suffer whatever punishment may be meted out for such disobedience. This is what is often referred to as being persecuted.
 
So it makes sense that when we are doing what is right, according to the law of the land, we do not need to be afraid of the government. It is only as we disobey the law of the land that we need to be afraid. When we drive according to the speed limit we do not need to be afraid of getting a ticket. When we go beyond the speed limit and disobey the law, then we do need to be afraid of getting caught and getting a ticket. When we respect others life, property, possessions, family and the like then we do not need to be afraid of the government. When we take another’s life, property, possessions or family, then we are disobeying the law and we do need to be afraid of the government.
 
God is the ruler behind every government, thus one purpose of government is to mete out judgement and punishment on behalf of God.  Here we see how God does not rule us directly, but indirectly, through other persons, institutions and agencies. In the Fourth Commandment we are reminded that this is how God rules us as we are reminded that this commandment is the basis for all authority. God rules us not directly as a theocracy, but indirectly, through governments, through our parents, teachers, pastor, employers, police departments and the like.
 
Because God rules us indirectly through these other agencies, especially through government agencies, it is important that we support these agencies especially that we support them as we pay our taxes. Our taxes are what make it possible to have the protection we need so we are to support our government by paying our taxes.
 
Yet, not only are we to support our government financially, we are also to support those in authority by giving honor to them. We are to be respectful to those who serve in the various law enforcement fields as well as to our elected representatives, all the way up to our president. We are to be respectful to those who serve in authority over us in various other places, including our employers, our teachers, and so forth. And even if we may not agree with certain persons in authority, we are still to respect the position of authority, in other words, I may not like the mayor as a person, but I must still respect him because of the office of authority in which he resides. From time to time some of us may disagree with the president of the United States and that is okay, yet we must still respect him because of his office of authority. In giving such respect, to all those in authority, we obey God.
 
What gives us the ability to respect government? Paul goes on to remind us of love. Love is the summary of the commandments. We pick up at verse eight, “8Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (v. 8-10). Very often we think of the commandments as legalistic rules, yet even Jesus reminds us that the summary of the commandments is love. The first three commandments, which deal with our relationship with God can be summarized as, “love God.” If we could love God, then we would never break any of the other commandments. Of course we know, because of our nature, we are unable to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” and so because we fail at this starting point, we fail with the other commandments as well.
 
The last seven commandments, which deal with our relationships with each other, can be summarized as, “love your neighbor.” If we could love our neighbor as ourselves, we would not disobey those in authority over us, we would not kill, nor would we in any way hurt nor harm our neighbor, we would not lust after our neighbor’s spouse, we would not try to steal anything from our neighbor, nor begrudge them of any of their possessions, we would not speak evil of our neighbor nor covet anything that was our neighbors. Rather, if we could love our neighbor as ourselves we would seek to help our neighbor in any and every way to protect their life, their family, their possessions and their reputation.
 
Again, love is the fulfilling of the law. If we could love, that is if we could love as God loves us, we could fulfill all the law. The problem is that we cannot love as God loves us. God has shown His love for us in the giving of His Son and the life of His Son for us. Jesus shows His love for us in that He gave up the glory that was His in heaven and took on human flesh and blood to do for us what we are unable to do. Jesus subjected Himself completely to all authority even and including the death penalty although He was without sin. Thus, Jesus lived for us, doing for us what is demanded of us yet what we are unable to do and Jesus died for us, paying the price, the spiritual death penalty for us in our place.
 
What does this mean? This means that we are reminded once again that the beginning is God. God does, God gives, and we are done to and given to. God gives us life at conception. God gives new life, eternal life through faith and the waters of Holy Baptism. And God gives and cares for us while we live in this world. God gives government for the sake of order, to keep the peace. With order and peace we are able to live without fear, as long as we obey the laws of the land.
 
God has given us here in America a place where we may worship as we see fit to worship. We have the freedom of religion, which for too many has translated not in freedom of worship, but in freedom from worship. Yet, we do have the freedom to gather and to worship as we see fit.
 
Our freedom also affords us the opportunity to practice our faith. Although we may be persecuted somewhat subtly in our land, our persecution is nothing compared to the overt persecution of Christians in other countries where they are punished, maimed and even killed for being Christians.
 
God has provided for us, here in America, many good things. He has provide a place for us to live and worship in freedom; to be able to worship as we see fit to worship; to be able to share our faith with others without fear of reprisal. And so we will, with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us, be respectful and supportive of those in authority over us. We will seek not only to love God above all things, but also to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are able to keep the paradox in tension, that is we are able to pay off our debts, yet, at the same time we are able to continue owing this, that we love one another.
 
Please continue to keep in mind the order of Paul’s words. First, as always, is what God gives and does. God gives, God does and we are given to and done to. Justification is completed. Christ has taken care of everything. Sanctification is our response to justification and yet the beginning of sanctification is also God. The Holy Spirit working through the means of grace moves in us to do the good works which God has for us to do, He works these good works in and through us and they are done to His glory. Thus, with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to love one another and to be subject to the governing authorities. And living lives in such a way says, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.