Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, January 31, 2016
The Greatest Is Love - January 31, 2016 - Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 12:31b - 13:13
Love is a many splendid thing. Love is that real good feeling you get inside. Love is never having to say “I’m sorry.” Love is a verb. Love is . . . and you fill in the blank. There are many clichés about love and we could spend some time going through all the clichés and telling what is right and not so right about each one. I think the Greeks were on to something when they decided that there was more to love than what one word could explain, so they have several words for our one word love. Maybe you have heard some of these words, maybe not. One word for love is, phila. Phila is a word which means brotherly love. We get the word, Philadelphia from this word, which means, “city of brotherly love.” Another word for love is the word, eros. Eros is more of a physical attraction and physical love. We get the word, erotic from this word. This word has to do with physical attraction. And the word with which we are probably most familiar is the word, agape, which means a selfless concern for another person, a love so deep that you would give you life for that person. Unfortunately, I do not know of any word in the English language that contains this word. Evidently and unfortunately we do not talk about this type of love very often. In our text for today the word which is translated love is this word agape.
We begin looking at our text for this morning by looking at the end of our text. Our text ends by saying “so now faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love” (v. 13). This verse begs three questions, What is faith? What is hope? What is love? First, what is faith? It has been said that faith is based on the things of the past. This makes sense because we have faith in something we know is a fact or because we have seen it in the past. As Christians, we have faith in Jesus because the Holy Spirit, working through the Holy Scriptures shows us that He is the promised Messiah. This is seen by the events of the past, the facts as laid out in the Bible, by Jesus birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection which happened in the past.
Faith is also a gift. Faith is given to us. For most of us our faith was given to us at our Baptism. At our Baptism the Holy Spirit put faith in our hearts. It is this faith which grasps all the other gifts and blessings which are given to us through Holy Baptism. Yet, we understand that it is not faith that saves us, but it is the object of our faith that saves. The object of our faith is Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection. Faith is like the hand that reaches out and grasps the gifts which God has to give. God gives us the hand. He gives us the ability to use the hand. He gives us the object that He puts in our hand. Notice the focus is all on God who does all and gives all. So we see that faith is important, but even more important is the object of faith.
What is hope? It has been said that hope is based on the future. We look forward to something and we hope that it will happen. We hope that we will be able to move into our new house. We hope it will rain or we hope it will be clear weather. We hope we will pass a test. We hope we can afford payments on a new car. We hope we will have a healthy baby or healthy children. We hope for many things.
There is a distinction, however, between the hope of this world and the hope of the Bible, the hope we have as Christians. The hope of this world is an uncertainty, just as predicting the weather is an uncertainty. The hope of this world is an iffy, maybe hope. As Christians we have the hope of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But our hope is not a maybe hope, as is the hope of this world. Our hope as Christians, the hope of the Bible, is a certainty, a reality, even a truth. As Christians, we know we have forgiveness. We know we have life. We know we have eternal life. These things are ours now. As for eternal life, as for heaven, certainly we will not move in until our time on this earth is complete, until we pass away, or until our Lord returns, which may be in the late or even near future, but it is ours as a possession now.
What is love? Love is said to be based on the present. As I said earlier, the word that is translated love in our text is this word agape. Agape is a Christ-like love, a selfless concern for another person. A love which moves one to put another’s wants, needs and desires before their own. A love for someone, so much, that a person would lay down their life for another.
Agape love is the very fact that God created the world. Even in His divine foreknowledge; even knowing what would happen; even knowing that His creatures would mess up His creation; even knowing that Adam and Eve would sin; even knowing that He would have to take care of their sin and our sin; even knowing that He would have to die on the cross; knowing all that would happen before it happened; God still created the world, that is truly agape love.
Agape love is the fact that God promised to send a Savior. He did not have to send a Savior, or promise such, He could have simply decided to do away with all He created, but that is not what He did. After His creation messed up His perfect world, God showed His great love, His agape love by immediately stepping in and promising to take care of the sin of Adam and Eve who ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. God came to them in the Garden and confronted them with their sin. As a part of His confrontation He promised to send them a Savior, Christ the Lord.
And so, agape love is seen in God, taking on human flesh, being born a man, to give His life for ours on the cross. Love is God restoring the relationship that was broken between He and His creation. Love is not that we loved God, but that He first loved us and gave His life for us. While we were still in our sins, striving, struggling against God, actually being His enemies and being hostile against Him, Jesus gave His life for ours.
And love is Jesus sending the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith, to strengthen us in our faith, and to keep us in faith. We do not choose Jesus, He chose us, past tense, even before the foundations of the world were laid, He chose us. Love is the fact that God created us and that He gives us life at our conception. Love is that fact that God gives us new life through faith, given through His Word and through Holy Baptism. Love is that God continues to strengthen us in the faith He gives us through our remembering our Baptism, through our confession and absolution, through our reading and hearing His Word, and through our eating and drinking His body and blood in His Holy Supper.
And here I do want pause and to make an aside this morning since I did not do so week before last or last week. It is suggested that Life Sunday, the Sunday of the anniversary of which we are reminded of the passing of the law allowing for the killing of pre-born babies in our country, be celebrated on either the second or third Sunday of January, the Sunday closest to the enactment of the law. So, even though we did not speak too much on the subject other than that we prayed for our country and for the end of abortion the past two weeks, I believe our Old Testament reading is more fitting for this subject so I want to say a word today. Yes, sometimes I am a bit behind. For those of you who are not sure about the issue, I believe that the Bible speaks quite clear. In our Old Testament lesson for today we hear God calling Jeremiah and telling him that before he was even conceived he was a person, chosen by God. Jeremiah became a living human being with a soul at the moment of conception, at his being formed in the womb. When we get to the New Testament we hear about the baby, John the Baptist, leaping in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary, the mother of Jesus, comes to visit her. The word which is used for the baby in the womb is the same word that is used for a baby outside of the womb. The Bible makes no distinction, a baby is a baby. The Bible is quite clear that life begins at conception. At conception a person becomes a living being with a soul and a body. Unfortunately, our society does not think too much of the value of the life of the child, instead our society thinks more highly of a person’s right to chose what to do with that foreign object within that person’s body. Our society says that we should have the right to choose. I suggest that we should have the right to choose also, but I believe the choice comes before the child is conceived, not after. What greater love can there be than this, a husband and a wife sharing their love for each other, conceiving a child and bringing it up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. What greater love can there be than for a person to think, not of themselves, but of the precious life which is a gift from God, no matter what the circumstances, because those who have had a struggle with having children know what a gift they are.
Now, getting back to my previous point, our Lord loves us so much that He gives us life at our conception. He gives us new life at our Baptism. He gives us forgiveness of sins. He gives us eternal life, earned by Jesus giving His life for ours on the cross.
This week, instead of asking, “what does this mean?” of this text, I think we would ask the question, “how do we ‘use’ this text in our daily lives? We could use this text as a litmus test for love. Of course we need to be mindful of the fact that if we did attempt use this text as a litmus test of love it would show us that we fail miserably. We fail miserably because we cannot love others as God loves us. It is humanly impossible to love as God loves. It took the God-man Jesus to love in such a way and only Jesus can love in such a way.
Which means that this text shows us that we cannot love as God does. God loves us with a pure love, a perfect love. We love from motives that are not always or necessarily Godly or God-like. We love conditionally, or temporarily. We are better at phila and eros love. God loves perfectly, unconditionally, and eternally. God and only God loves with agape love.
This text shows us that Jesus is our example, but He is more than just an example. If we put Jesus up as just an example and were told that we had to be like Him in order to be saved that would lead us to despair, because we cannot be like Him. He is our example, yes, but He is so much more. He is also the fulfillment of His example. He loved us as our text says, because we are unable to. He loved us and gave His life for us. He is the prime mover. He loves first.
Jesus is our example. He fulfilled His example and now He works His love in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace. We have used this example before and we will continue to do so because it is such an appropriate example. We are like the moon. We have no light of our own and to use the words of our text, we have no love of our own. We merely reflect the light, the love, which is shined on us from the Son, the Son of God who shows us what perfect love is in the giving of His life for ours. Finally, Jesus moves us to our ultimate goal, to love to the glory of the Lord. Of course, we realize that is perfection and we will not fully reach that goal until we reach eternity.
Love is . . . Love is a part of our whole being, physical, spiritual, emotional. Love is a part of our present which is motivated by our faith in the past and our hope, our certainty for the future. Love is this, that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life. Love is basking in the forgiveness won for us and given to us by Jesus. Love is our response of faith, even rejoicing and saying, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Being the Body of Christ - January 24, 2016 - Third Sunday in after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Last week Paul was tell us about the fact that God gives gifts. God gives spiritual gifts for the purpose of strengthening His people and that is done through our encouraging and building each other up as brothers and sisters in Christ. God gives spiritual gifts for extending His Kingdom and that is done through our living lives of faith and sharing the good news of Jesus with others. And God gives spiritual gifts so that we might give Him praise and glory, which He rightly deserves and this is done through our encouraging and building each other ups as brothers and sisters in Christ and through our living lives of faith and sharing the good news of Jesus with others. This morning we continue reading through Paul’s letter as he compares Christ’s Church, the Holy Christian Church, and we as one congregation of the Holy Christian Church, to a body.
Just as Paul began with God last week, so He begins with God again this week. The function of the body of Christ, that is the function of the Christian church in a local congregation or in the body as a whole always has its roots in God. God does and God gives and we are done to and given to. Thus, Paul begins by reminding us of our redemption. We begin at verse twelve, “12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (v. 12-13).
As we read and hear Paul’s words for this morning we want to make sure we do not misunderstand Paul, nor take his words out of context, nor put them in opposition to any of God’s other word. In our text Paul is speaking about the order of redemption. The order of redemption is that by faith in Jesus we are all, everyone of us as individuals, at the same time sinner/saints. When it comes to the order of redemption there is no distinction made among the people of the world, no distinction between race or culture, gender or ownership. Before God we are people, individuals, who are sinners, who have, by faith in Jesus, been redeemed and made saints.
What we want to be careful of is that we do not make the order of redemption take the place of nor negate the order of creation. The order of creation continues alongside the order of redemption. The order of creation continues to be the fact that God has created the world in an orderly manner, that He has set certain boundaries within His creation for the sake of good order, for the sake of peace and harmony. These boundaries have not been negated by the order of redemption.
Paul helps us to understand the order of redemption and he does so by what I call making the comparison in negative. We pick up at verse fourteen, “14For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” (v. 14-25)
Notice what Paul is not doing. Paul is not making a one to one comparison, in other words, he is not saying that the feet are one board or committee within the congregation and the hands another board or committee. He is not comparing the fingers with Mr. Evischefski and the toes with Mr. Jones and so forth.
Notice that Paul is not mentioning what he believes to be the weaker or indispensable parts, although I cannot imagine him thinking in terms of appendix or tonsils. Perhaps he understands that different people look at their own bodies differently as we do today and so he is leaving this to the readers understanding.
And notice that Paul is not mentioning which are the parts which receive greater or less honor. Again, perhaps there were people just as vain then as they are today who wish to hide certain parts of their bodies and to show off other parts. The fact of the matter, for Paul and for us, is that we do not necessarily look at the Church or our congregation in the same way that God does. Although our human thinking might tend to elevate certain people or positions, Paul reminds us that in God’s eyes we are of equal value and importance.
Continuing on, Paul gives us a more positive comparison. We pick up at verse twenty-six, “26If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31But earnestly desire the higher gifts” (v. 26-31a).
Anyone who has been sick and in the hospital and has one part of their body breakdown or malfunction, such as having a heart attack, or a kidney stone or a gall stone, or a stroke, or whatever, will certainly understand that Paul is telling us the fact that a body has to have all its parts working to function properly. When one part fails the whole body struggles.
Here again, Paul is comparing the fact that we may humanistically put more emphasis on some parts of our body and hide other parts, we may humanistically believe that certain positions or boards and committees are more important or less important, but he reminds us that all parts are equally important.
And Paul reminds us that when one part suffers the whole suffers. Again, anyone who suffers from one part of the body suffering knows that this is the way it is, that when one part suffers, the whole part suffers. Likewise, when one member is suffering we do indeed all suffer, even if we may not feel like it at the time.
So, what does this mean? And what does this mean for us? We need to constantly remind ourselves that it is God who redeems us and He has redeemed us for a purpose. He has redeemed us so that we might be His people, so that we might live lives of faith, so that others might see how we love each other and give glory to God, so that others might see our faith and praise the Lord.
We want to constantly remind ourselves that it is a privilege to be the people of God in this place and to do the works of service He has prepared in advance for us to do. We want to constantly remind ourselves that God is the one who gives us not only to do works of service, but also the gifts to do them.
And so we will continue to work together and working together means we will work together. Working together does not necessarily mean we will always agree with one another, nor does it mean we will always get along together, after all, we are still sin tainted sinners. It is because we are God’s people in this place the devil is going to work on us even more in order to divide and conquer. Working together them means to recognize when the devil is tempting us to be divisive; tempting us to refuse and reject the gifts of God; tempting us to speak half-truths and false statements or prodding others to do so; tempting us in order to move our focus from being God’s people in this place by encouraging each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, especially encouraging each other to be in Divine Service and Bible Class. With the help of the Holy Spirit we recognize the devils temptation to move our focus away from being God’s people in this community working to share God’s Word with those nearest us, instead of focusing all our attention inward as if we are some country club for the Lord.
We need to constantly remind ourselves of the bigger picture. We are not here to be self servicing, but we are here to be of service to our Lord who gives us the gifts to use in the first place, in other words, we are here in this place to work to serve our own members so they might be strengthened in faith; we are here in this place to be of service to the community so they might be brought to faith; and we are here in this place to give glory to the Lord. Does what we do give glory to the Lord?
Paul’s last statement is “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” Paul encourages us to desire to be God’s people the best way we can.
Finally, let me remind you that we do fail. Time and again we fail, that is why I need also remind you that God never fails. God continues to give us forgiveness and through His Word He continues to guide us to be the people He would have us to be.
In the Gospel lesson for this morning we were presented with the story of how Jesus own family, friends and congregation treated Him and how they treated Him in person. Perhaps this lesson causes us to pause and ask ourselves how we treat Jesus? Remembering that whatever we do for one of the least of His children, we are doing it to Him.
In the Gospel lesson for this morning we were presented with the story of how Jesus own family, friends and congregation treated Him and how they treated Him in person. Perhaps this lesson causes us to pause and ask ourselves how we treat Jesus? Remembering that whatever we do for one of the least of His children, we are doing it to Him.
Now, let me take you back to the beginning of our text. Remember, Paul began with God. And so we began with God and this morning we will also end with God. God is indeed the prime mover. The whole reason Jesus came was to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus came to live perfectly for us because He knew that we cannot live perfectly. Jesus treats us perfectly, as sinner/saints. Jesus hurts when we hurt. Jesus suffers when we suffer. And Jesus suffered the greatest suffering, indeed, He suffered the eternal punishment for our sins, for us, in our place because of His great love for us. Jesus forgives us so that we may start over again and again and again. That we would desire the higher gifts would be that we would desire to be more Christlike, that is that we would desire for our Lord to have His way with us, loving us and loving others through us. And ultimately, that our desire would be that our very lives might be lives that bring Him praise and glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Concerning Spiritual Gifts - January 17, 2016 - Second Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Last week we began by briefly mentioning that we celebrated Epiphany on January 6. Actually and unfortunately, I guess not too many people really celebrate Epiphany in our world today. I might suggest, tongue in cheek, that the reason it is not a big celebration is because it does not sell very well. Think about it, the big holidays according to our world are those that sell; Halloween, Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day.
Before we get to our text for this morning, I do want to speak another brief word about Epiphany, because we are now in the Epiphany season and will be until Ash Wednesday, which is three weeks from this Wednesday, and is the beginning of Lent. As I said last week, the word “epiphany” means appearing or manifestation. If you ever wondered where we get the word in the hymn, “God in flesh made manifest,” the word “manifest” means to appear in the form of. And so, during Epiphany we celebrate that God appeared, was born in flesh in the form of the person of Jesus.
But there is more to Epiphany. Epiphany is proclaimed by many as the Gentile Christmas. When the Magi followed the star and finally made it to the house where Jesus was with His mother and father, these were the first non-Jews, the first Gentiles, to bear witness to the manifestation of God in flesh. Thus, we are reminded, as the promise was first made in the Garden of Eden to send a Savior and that promise was given even before there was a Jew or Gentile, indeed as all nations and cultures were in the DNA of Adam and Eve, so Jesus was born to save all people, Jew and Gentile alike. Yes, we celebrate Jesus coming for us, Gentiles.
Now, getting to our text for this morning. Paul speaks to us concerning spiritual gifts. And we might say, “Praise the Lord for Paul’s words,” as there are many in our world who get confused about such gifts. Paul begins by pointing us where we need to be pointed. He begins by speaking of the gift Giver. It all begins with God. God is the active party giving the gifts He has to give. God gives and we are given too, especially concerning what we call these spiritual gifts. Paul begins by speaking of the gift of faith. We begin at verse one, “1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit” (v. 1-3).
Paul’s words here remind us that faith is a gift from God. Faith is not something we get or do on our own. Faith is not our cooperating with God, nor is it making a decision for God, nor saying the “Believer’s Prayer.” Notice Paul’s words. First, he tells us that noone who is a Christian can curse Jesus. Notice the flow: no one speaking in the Spirit of God is a reference to us Christians, because the Spirit of God is not in a non-Christian, as they are the ones who refuse and reject the Spirit of God, thus they are non-Christians. So, only a non-Christian, one who refuses and rejects God can curse God.
On the other hand, no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. These are God’s Words through Paul. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, one cannot choose Jesus. Thus, we rightly understand that faith is a gift from God and lack of faith is the fault of one refusing the gifts. If we are saved, God gets the credit. If we are condemned, it is our own fault. And so we see the importance of baptism, and we see God’s work especially when we baptize an infant, they are not choosing Jesus, but being passively brought, and having Jesus choosing them. Jesus puts His name on us at our baptism as the water and the words spoken by the Lord’s instrument, the pastor, are put on us. As a pastor, all I am in a baptism is an instrument. When we witness a baptism we see the Holy Spirit of God doing the doing, putting faith in the heart of the one being baptized, giving that person forgiveness and writing their name in the book of Life. It is all God’s doing.
And why does God give faith? Paul continues by explaining the gifts and works of the Holy Spirit. We pick up at verse four, “4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (v. 4-11).
Paul mentions a variety of gifts including wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, as well as the ability to speak and interpret tongues. These are gifts that are given only to Christians, only by the Holy Spirit, and only for the purpose of service to the Lord in His Kingdom. The main purpose of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for the Church as a whole and not for anyone’s special interest or usage.
So, we must understand what the gifts are not. The gifts are not necessarily individually given nor discerned. In other words, Paul does not specify that each Christian will receive any one specific gift. A few years back, and I would suppose it goes on even today, there were “spiritual gifts inventories” that a person would fill out in order to discover one’s own spiritual gift. One of the problems with this misunderstanding of the gifts God gives is that this can be misleading. People can be “tested” and find they have gifts they do not really have, because God has not given them such gifts, such as a woman discovering she has the gift of being a pastor. Although the Lord can do whatever He wants to do, the evidence is that some of these gifts has faded as we have moved past their purpose in the first century. In other words, although the Lord gave the apostles gifts of healing, speaking in tongues and the like, in order to attest to their authority, as that generation passed on, so did the gifts and the use of such gifts because they were and are no longer necessary.
Today, the Holy Spirit continues to give gifts. The gifts He gives He gives through the means of Grace. And He gives these gifts for the purpose of strengthening His people, extending His Kingdom here in this place, and for the praise and glory of His Holy Name. Any use of these gifts beyond this usage is indeed a misuse and is not from God. In other words, any misuse for personal gain, power, fame or privilege is not from God. Yes, I am speaking of such usage as we might see in particular among TV evangelists, faith healers and the like, as if what they are doing is in fact real.
So, what does this mean? What is Paul telling us this morning? First, Paul is reminding us of the bondage of our will. We may think we have free will and we do, but the free will we have is completely tainted by sin. According to our free will all we do and all we want to do is sin. Even as Moses writes, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Paul puts it this way, we cannot say “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, we do have an indication of one’s salvation. Paul’s words remind us that when the Holy Spirit gives faith, He also gives spiritual gifts. And, although we may not be able to discern exactly what our spiritual gift is, we might rightly discern that the purpose for our spiritual gifts is to use them in service to our Lord and in service to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
We will then say, “yes,” the Holy Spirit gives gifts to do good works. We are to do good works, not for the sake of doing good works, not for the sake of earning something, but simply as a response of faith. In other words, to do good works, truly good works, is a natural response of faith. I would suggest three guides for knowing if we are truly doing good works according to God. A good work in God’s eyes is one that is motivated by Him, working in and through us by Him and done to His glory. So, most of the time when we are actually doing a good work, we do not even realize it as such. I guess that gives us an indication that this is really not something that comes natural to us.
And one more word on good works. According to Paul, our good works are to be done for the whole of the Church. Even Jesus reminds us that whatever we do for one of the least of His children, we have done it for Him, who is the head of the Church.
As we make our way through the Epiphany season, we continue to celebrate that Jesus also came to save Gentiles and to give us faith and spiritual gifts. Paul’s words, from God, remind us that God knows us. He knows our nature, that we are conceived and born in sin. He knows that we cannot do anything to save ourselves. He knows that we cannot choose or accept God. As we well confess in the explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason our strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
Again, as always we are then pointed back to God. God gives, God does and we are given to and done to. And lest we forget, God gives and does through means or instruments. When we are privileged to witness a baptism we are witnessing God working through Holy Baptism, so we also almost every service of worship witness God working through Confession and Absolution to give us the gifts He has to give. Although we might not recognize it is through the readings of Holy Scripture and at this moment through the preaching of that word, and in a bit we will witness God working through His Holy Supper to give us the gifts He has to give. Through these means, these means of grace, our Lord gives the gifts He has to give, faith, forgiveness, strengthening of faith, life and salvation.
And our response is simply a response of faith, a response of thanks and praise. Thanks be to God. We can do nothing else and we can do nothing else except by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us as Paul so well reminds us this morning, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” No one can give thanks and respond to faith except in the Holy Spirit.
And so we do simply respond with a response of faith this morning and say, To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
Yesterday was the end of our Christmas celebration. I hope everyone celebrated up until yesterday. Yesterday was the day we celebrated the Epiphany of our Lord. The word “epiphany” means appearing. Epiphany is the day we celebrate the appearing of the Savior to the first non-Jews, to the Gentile Magi who had traveled from the east to see the newborn King. We, as Gentile Christians, especially celebrate Epiphany because this day reminds us that Jesus was born, not just for His own people, but for all people, for Jew and Gentile alike.
To set the stage for our text for this morning, we want to make note that Paul’s words in our text come after his explanation of justification, that is that we do not justify ourselves, we do not make ourselves right before God, especially by anything we should think we do, but we are made right before God by grace, through faith. Again, we are made right, we are passively made right, even apart from anything we do. Now we move to our text.
Paul’s question is, “Does Grace give license to sin?” We begin at verse one, “1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (v. 1-4). Our human thinking and logic is this, that more sin means more forgiveness means more grace, so in order to help grace abound we should sin more. And I guess, according our human, tainted by sin logic, that would be the logical conclusion. And we might add that this is the way of the law and of law thinking, which, again, is the way we, as sinful human beings, tend to think.
The fallacy of our law logic is that we have forgotten the gospel. We have forgotten that faith means one does not want to sin. Perhaps we have forgotten that when we live according to the law the temptation to sin is even greater. We all know how it is, when we are told not to do something the temptation to sin is greatest. “Don’t eat the cookies you will spoil your dinner.” “Oh, I have got to have one of those cookies.” However, to live according to the Gospel frees us from temptation. The Gospel reminds us that we are already forgiven. We are forgiven because Jesus paid the price for our sins, He died for our sins. Because we are forgiven, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will want to not sin.
As Paul puts it, death causes one to no longer be susceptible to temptation, in other words, being tied to Jesus’ death means one is no longer susceptible to the stimuli of temptation. Certainly temptations will continue to come, but being reminded that our sin caused Jesus to die, the Holy Spirit stirs in us to resist temptation and sin.
But Paul is not finished, he continues, “5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin” (v. 5-7). Paul reminds us of the importance of Holy Baptism. Holy Baptism is not simply a ritual. It is not an act of obedience, that would be pointing to us as if it were something we are doing. Holy Baptism is a sacrament, a sacred act, instituted by God and connected with His Word which ties us with Jesus. Paul says we have been united with Jesus. The word united literally means we have been planted with Jesus. When a seed is planted in the ground it dies and then comes to life. Likewise, through Holy Baptism, our old nature is drowned, is killed and we arise as new creatures.
In this uniting with Christ, His life is our life. Here we are reminded that this is the fulness of the Gospel, not simply that Jesus died for us, but that He lived for us. God’s demand is that we are perfect and we fail at being perfect. We fail miserably at being perfect, at it is getting worse. You know, I believe one of Satan’s greatest victories today is that our churches are beginning to look like the rest of the world. Instead of the Christian community shaping our society, too often our society is shaping our Christian community. Have you noticed that what was taboo and illegal in our society a few years ago is now legal and even encouraged. The same can be said for what was taboo and prohibited in our churches. Things that would not be thought of years ago as being allowed in church are now hailed as meet, right and salutary, and anyone who opposes such is called intolerant, a bigot and mean spirited. You may recall that this is indeed what happened to Jesus during His earthly life as He called all people to repent. The fact that Jesus life becomes our life through our being united with Him in Holy Baptism first and foremost gives us confidence in our forgiveness and salvation and it also gives us courage to stand up and, at least according to our society, be intolerant, bigoted and mean spirited.
Not only has Jesus’ life become our life, by faith in Him His death is our death. Remembering the fact that if we are born once (physical birth only) we die twice (physical death and eternal spiritual death), but if we are born twice (one’s physical birth and Holy Baptism) we only die once (physical death), we rejoice that Jesus has suffered eternal spiritual death for us in our place so that we will only suffer physical death, we will only fall asleep in the Lord. By His death Jesus has paid the price for our sins.
And finally, Jesus’ resurrection is our resurrection. Because Jesus rose again we know that death and the grave have no power over us, we know that we too will rise again. Thus, the fulness of the Gospel is that Jesus has taken care of everything for us in His life, death and resurrection and He offers everything free to us.
But Paul is still not done. He goes us to remind us that we need not fear. “8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 8-11). We just celebrated Jesus birth. Today we celebrate His baptism and the beginning of His earthly ministry. In a few weeks we will begin the trek to the cross. On the cross Jesus defeated death. Not only did He defeat death, but He rose from the dead.
The reason Jesus was born was to give His life as a ransom for all. As our substitute, His death was once and for all, in other words, it never needs repeating. So, because He died, because we are united with Him in His death, we no longer need to fear death. For us, the only death we may face is a falling asleep in faith, a passing on from this world into heaven.
Again, Jesus’ defeat of death and our connection to Him means we never need to fear death. By faith in Jesus we are not subject to the second death, eternal spiritual death, because that is the death He faced and defeated for us.
What Does This Mean? Paul’s words remind us that Jesus took care of our sin. That Jesus took care of our sin does not give us a license to sin. That Jesus took care of our sin does not gives us a license to emulate the world. Yes, there are a lot of things that are legal in our country today, things that were not legal years ago, and for good reason. Just because something is legal does not mean it is good or not sin. And just because we know we are forgiven does not give us encouragement to go out and sin either. As a matter of fact, the fact that we are forgiven is what gives us the encouragement to not sin.
Temptations do abound in our world today. In times of temptation we fall back on our faith in Jesus who helps us especially during times of temptation. As we remember Jesus’ baptism this morning we might also remember that right after His baptism He was lead into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days and yet during those forty days He never sinned. And as He has suffered all the temptations we might suffer and even greater temptations, and never sinned, so we know that He is with us to help us to fight against temptation and sin as well.
This morning then, we are reminded that Jesus gives gifts. Jesus gives faith and forgiveness. Jesus gives these gifts through means, namely through the means of grace. He gives faith through His Word, the Bible as well as through Holy Baptism. He gives forgiveness through these means as well and through confession and absolution and through His Holy Supper.
And Jesus gives life and salvation, again, through His means of grace. What a great God we have. What a loving God we have. What a gift giving God we have.
Unfortunately the fact remains that we do continue to sin, that is our nature. We sin and then we come up with excuses, or exceptions as to why our sin is valid. Paul’s words to us this morning remind us of the good news, the Gospel, that through our baptism, through faith given to us, we are united with Jesus so that our sins have been taken care of, so that we do not need to be afraid of the consequences of our sins, eternal spiritual death, but instead we may be confident that we are forgiven and that we have life, even eternal life. It is this good news, this Gospel that encourages us to live God pleasing lives. And even when we fail, which we do daily, even when we backslide, which we do weekly, there is still forgiveness. As always then, we are pointed to Jesus who does all and gives all. To Him be all the glory. For His names sake. Amen.
Sunday, January 3, 2016
This morning we continue to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child, God in flesh, Jesus. Our Gospel reading moves us some twelve years from last week when Jesus was presented in the temple to Jesus participating in the Passover with His parents in Jerusalem, perhaps this may even be His own barmitzpha wherein He is now considered an adult in the Jewish community.
Our text is the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He begins this letter as he begins most of his letters, with words of praise. Paul begins by saying, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” or literally, “‘Good words’ be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is praised, or using not so good English, He is “good worded” in connection with Jesus. God is praised because Jesus has accomplished His work of salvation and is seated in the heavenly realms. God is praised because He has accomplished what He said He would accomplish. His Word, spoken and written, have been fulfilled in Jesus, God in flesh, who gave His life for all people.
Paul continues by telling us that God is praised because He chose us, before creation, to make us holy and blameless. We did not choose God, neither do we choose Him. He chose us. He chose us, not because of anything deserving within us, not because He knew we would do anything to deserve His choosing. He chose us by the death of His Son which He told us would happen.
Paul goes on to tell us that in love, that is in agape Christlike love, God adopted us and made us a part of His kingdom. He did this according to His good will and pleasure. It is God’s will that all people come to faith and are saved. And He works out His will according to His plan of salvation.
God’s plan of salvation is that according to His grace, His undeserved love, a love that is freely given, He gave us His Son, the Word made flesh to give His life for ours. It is through the death of the One He loves, His only Son, that He works His plan of salvation.
Continuing on in our text, Paul says it so well, explaining that the mystery of God is that it is God’s will that all people are saved, however we do know that some people are not saved because they refuse God’s gift of salvation. Even Jesus says that we are to “Struggle to enter in through the narrow door, because many, I say to you, will seek to enter in and they will not be able” (Luke 13:24). One of my commentaries puts it this way, “the struggle through which one enters is repentance, which is a work of God in the human heart. The struggle is produced when the Word of God . . . calls one to repent and trust in Christ, but sinful human nature wars against God’s Word. The struggle is resolved as the old Adam is put to death by the Law and the person of faith is raised to new life with Christ by the power of the Gospel.” To say that another way, our struggle is that our sinful nature can only refuse and reject the gifts of God, so it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace, the Word of God in particular, that we are given faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
Paul goes on to explain, “7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (v. 7-14).
Paul gives a true definition of grace that is that grace is the free outpouring of Jesus’ blood, not God’s giving us the ability to do anything. Perhaps you have heard me say it this way before that Grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace is gift. Indeed, to require or to imply that anything is required according to grace means that it is no longer grace. To say one is saved by grace, but all one has to do is, x, y or z, would mean it is no longer grace, but the x, y, or z that would save. Remember, grace plus anything is no longer grace, but the anything. Just as zero plus anything is the anything, so it is with grace. Grace plus works, means works is what saves. Grace plus being good, means being good is what saves. Grace plus accepting Jesus as your Savior, saying the “Believers Prayer”, means that it is the accepting or the saying of a prayer that saves. Grace that is true grace is gift and always and only points to Jesus. Jesus does and we are done to. Jesus gives and we are given to.
In His wisdom and understanding, true wisdom and understanding, Godly wisdom and understanding, it is God who has lavished us with His grace. Certainly in our finite human wisdom we cannot fathom nor understand God’s wisdom and understanding. Oh, we might think we are wise and understanding, as we find many in our society who think they are as smart or even smarter than God and can explain this world and its existence outside of and without God, but we know that our own human wisdom is limited and even more is tainted by sin and the curse given in the Garden of Eden. Certainly, God’s foolishness is so much wiser than man’s wisdom just as God’s weakness is so much stronger than man’s strength. We would do well to always remember that when so called brilliant men of science speak and what they say is contradictory to what God has said, we would do well to believe that the brilliant scientist is wrong and has made a mistake and perhaps needs to go back and see a better explanation, and instead we will trust what God says.
God reveals the mystery of His love in Jesus, reconciling the broken relationship of Himself to His creation from Genesis. As we have discussed before, for too many in our sin filled world, they cannot understand how a Creator God could love His wayward, sinning creation so much that He would give His all even His life to make it right. Even more, how can a Creator God, knowing that His creation would rebel, even create it in the first place. Yet, God’s love is so great, even beyond our understanding.
God’s will is that all people are saved and to that end He sent Jesus and now He sends His Holy Spirit who works through the means of grace to give us faith and to make us a part of His eternal kingdom. God is not slow in His return as some count slowness, but He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, that is how great His love is toward us all.
As I read these words from our Epistle lesson today I realized how relevant and how fitting Paul’s words are for us today. And so I come before you to tell you that as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, so I pray the same thing for you.
First, I want to remind you that God has chosen you. He has not chosen you because of something you have done, or will do. In the same way He does not disown us because of something we do or do not do. He has chosen you because He has given the life of His Son, whose birth we just celebrated, for you.
Next, I want you to know that you are saved by God’s grace alone. Again, this is not something we can accomplish in and of ourselves. This is not something we can earn, deserve or work for. We are saved by God’s grace, by His undeserved love for us. We are saved by the blood of Jesus poured out for us on the cross. But we are not saved for no reason. We are saved and given a purpose, indeed a response of faith. First and foremost we are saved to be loved by God and He does love us and has shown us His love in the giving of His Son. Next we are saved so that we might respond by doing good works. Yes, we are to do good works. We are saved so that the faith which is given to us at our baptism, at our conversion, is reflected in our love for each other, indeed, in our reflecting His love for us to each other.
My prayer, then, is that you will continue to make use of the means of grace so that you might be strengthened in your faith. In the same way the you were brought to faith by God’s good Word, I pray that you will continue to use that good Word to be made stronger in your faith. Remember, the mystery of why some are not saved is because they refuse God’s gifts. We refuse God’s gifts by not making use of the gifts that He gives, the gifts of His means of grace, the gifts of His Word and Sacraments. My prayer is that you will make good use of that good Word, written and given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
And my prayer for you is that you will have the hope, that is the certainty, of heaven. Too often I hear a person say, “I hope when I die I will go to heaven.” I pray that you can say, “I know that when I die I will go to heaven.” I pray that you will have that certainty because that certainty comes from the good word of the Lord. That certainty comes from knowing the Good Word of Jesus. That certainty comes from faith given by the Holy Spirit and strengthened by Him through His Word and sacraments.
I read a shirt once that read, “So many books, so little time.” If you like to read you know how true that is. There is a plethora of reading material available in our country today. Unfortunately, not all of it speaks favorably or even speaks of the most important Word, the good Word, the Word made flesh, the Word given to us to eat and drink at His holy Supper. I will continue to pray for you, that the Lord will continue to give you a real hunger for His Word, that you may be weaned off the milk of the Word and hunger for the meat and potatoes of God’s Word through which the Holy Spirit will strengthen and deepen your faith in the Lord and your love for each other. May it be done to the glory of the Lord. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.