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, June 26, 2016

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself - June 26, 2016 - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 08) - Text: Galatians 5:1, 13-25

This morning we continue with our reading through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The points which we have touched on so far have been that Paul is an apostle and that he has “proven” his claim as an apostle and he has shown that as human beings, according to our spiritual nature, that is according to the order of redemption, we are all equal in God’s eyes, equal as sinners and saints. This morning Paul addresses the issue of what it means to be equal as sinners and saints in God’s eyes. Coincidentally enough, as we will be celebrating the freedom we have, at least the freedoms we still have as a country next week, Paul addresses the issue of our freedom. What does it mean to be free? What does it mean as a Christian to be free? Does being free mean that we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, and however we want? Of course, Paul’s question of freedom is a question of spiritual freedom and really does not seem to affect us in the United States because we are free. We do have the freedom of religion, or I would suggest we have what has become for too many the freedom from religion. The situations we face are much less dire than in other parts of the world. The situation we face are, such as when we are put into a situation such as: You are with several of your friends and they start talking about someone else, what would you do? Would you join in the bashing of that person, would you walk away, or would you tell them that what they are doing is wrong? That is the tough situation we face. But what about the scenario of being awakened in the middle of the night and being asked if you are a Christian, knowing that if you answer yes it means prison and maybe death? What does it mean to be free? What does it mean as a Christian to be free?
The first verse of our text sets the context of our text. In the first verse Paul tells us, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). Paul’s words sounds awful strange. Why would anyone want to make themselves a slave again after tasting freedom? To help us understand what Paul is saying, we need to understand what he means by the freedom of the Gospel. The freedom of the Gospel is the forgiveness of sins or freedom from sin. Remember, the Gospel shows us our Savior. The Gospel tells us that we are forgiven. The Gospel reminds us that Jesus died for all our sins, even those which we have yet to commit. But, the freedom of the Gospel is not a license to sin. In other words, just because we know we are forgiven, even for those sins which we have yet to commit, that does not mean that we can go out and sin. We might compare it to our prayer being something like, “Lord, please forgive me because I am going to have to tell a white lie to stay out of trouble.” The freedom of the Gospel is not a license to sit on our grace and not do anything. Complacency is not a sign of faith but is a sign of faith refusal.
As human beings, we need something in our lives. Really, we need a god, whether the god we make our god is the one true God or any other god, we need a god. In essence we need to be a slave of something or someone, that is just our human nature. The freedom of the Gospel means giving up being a slave to sin and instead becoming a slave to Jesus. To say that in the words of our text, the freedom of the Gospel means giving up trying to save ourselves by our own good works and leaning only on Jesus’ work on the cross for our salvation. And the freedom of the Gospel means becoming a slave to Jesus, giving our lives to Him, responding to His good gifts and blessings with our works of service.
The context of our text reminds us that the freedom of the Gospel really means giving up freedom. The imagery that Paul uses is that the Law is like a yoke which is placed on oxen so they can plow a field. The Law is a yoke of slavery hung around our necks. We must do this and that according to the Law. The Gospel has set us free from the “have tos” and “don’t dos” of the Law. Yet, when the Law is thrown off, that does not mean that we can do whatever we want. It is like when a person becomes an adult in our world, when a person turns eighteen or twenty-one, that does not give a person license to do whatever he or she wants, rather it makes a person responsible for himself or herself. The new freedom seems to be lost in a new responsibility. If that responsibility is abused it could cost freedom and imprisonment, thus you give up your freedom to be enslaved.
To make sure that we understand what he is talking about, Paul outlines what is the fulfillment of the Law. Remember, the Law tells us what we are to do and not do. You might think that the fulfillment of the Law would be something like always not doing what you are not to do and always doing what you are supposed to be doing. But, Paul tells us that the fulfillment of the Law is to love your neighbor as yourself.
How can that be, that the fulfillment of the Law is to love your neighbor as yourself? Well, if you can love your neighbor as yourself you will not be “consumed by one another,” to use Paul’s words. If you can love your neighbor as yourself you will not steal from your neighbor, you will not lust after your neighbor’s spouse, you will not want to kill your neighbor, nor hurt or harm your neighbor, you will not want to defame your neighbor, nor will you want to covet anything that is your neighbors. Instead, if you love your neighbor as yourself you will want to do whatever you can to help your neighbor.
The problem is, we cannot love our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot fulfill the requirements of the Law. We cannot do what the Law says we are to do and we cannot help not doing what the Law tells us we are not to do. In our text Paul lays out the acts of our sinful nature. These are the things which we are prone to do, we simply cannot help but sin, it is natural and it is easy to sin.
We have an inner struggle. We have a struggle of our flesh, our sinful nature verse the spirit, our saved nature. It is a lot like those little cartoon characters of an angel and a devil sitting on your shoulder, one tempting you to do evil, the other telling you to do good, but it is not funny like the cartoon character.
The little devil, our sinful flesh wants us to sin. “Go on, have a good time, do whatever you want to do, do not worry about the consequences of sin,” and so we are egged on by our sinful human nature. The devil would have us believe that these are the things of freedom.
On the other hand, the new person inside of us, the redeemed person within, our spirit nature wants us to do right. Paul outlines the acts of living according to our spiritual nature. He calls them the fruit of the spirit. According to the spirit we are to show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The devil would have us believe that these are the things of slavery.
So, what is a person to do? We can walk according to the freedom of the flesh, or better said, we can be slaves to sin, or we can walk according to the freedom of the spirit, or better said, we can be slaves to freedom. To walk according to the flesh we need no help, we can do that on our own, as a matter of fact we are pretty good at it and we do not even need any practice. To walk according to the spirit we need help. And we get the help we need as we make use of the means of grace.
Getting back to our original questions, What does it mean to be free? What does it mean as a Christian to be free? Does being free mean that we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, and however we want?
To be free and to be free as a Christian means that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. We are free from sin. We are free from fear of death, eternal spiritual death and yes even temporal physical death. We are free from fear of the devil because we know that he has no power over us. We are free to do the work which Christ has for us to do.
However, we are not free to go on sinning. But we are free, we are saved to do good. Our freedom brings with it the desire to do the good works that God would have us to do, even that He has prepared in advance for us to do. If we are not living in our freedom, doing the good works that God would have us to do, if we are not responding with our lives, to the freedom we have in the Gospel, then we are refusing the freedom of the Gospel and are re-enslaving ourselves to sin. In other words, if we are not living our lives, if we are not responding by giving of ourselves, then we are refusing God’s gifts.
This brings us back to the seeming catch twenty-two of our text. Remember, Paul says that the freedom of the Gospel means that we are free to be slaves to God. If we are not slaves to God, then we are slaves to sin. Which does not sound like much freedom, either way. We have the freedom of the Gospel and we live in that freedom, responding to that freedom, only as the Lord works good in us. Here again, as always, then, we are pointed back to God.
I began with two scenarios of freedom. One with what we might call political freedom: What if you were awakened in the middle of the night and asked if you are a Christian, knowing that if you answer yes it means prison and maybe death? What would you do? This freedom is what we enjoy to a great extent in this country. Paul is speaking about spiritual freedom. What if you are with several of your friends and they start talking about someone else, what would you do? Would you join in the bashing of that person, would you walk away, or would you tell them that what they are doing is wrong? Our freedom and slavery to God shows itself in resisting temptation and sin and walking in accordance with God’s Word, with His help, of course. This is true freedom.
Have you noticed that Paul’s writing is not always a nice, “how do you do?” letter. Paul purposefully sets up tensions in order to help us to understand ourselves and our relationship with God and each other. This morning we are reminded that our relationship with God is based on His grace, earned for us by Jesus on the cross. We are in relation to God by His grace. We are outside of that relationship as we chose to follow someone or something other than Him. Paul uses the imagery of slavery. Just as a person can be the slave of only one other person, at a time, so we can have a relationship with only one god at a time. Our relationship with God is not so much our choosing as it is our being brought into a relationship by God Himself. Our choosing amounts to refusing or rejecting God’s gift of Himself and His Son. And, Paul points out that the relationship that we have can be seen in our actions. Do our lives show forth that we are slaves to sin, or slaves to Christ? My prayer is that our actions show we are slaves to Christ. I will conclude with Paul’s words from our text, “24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:24-25). Then, in the spirit we will say together, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Putting on Christ - June 19, 2016 - Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 07) - Text: Galatians 3:23-4:7

This morning we again have an opportunity to join in with the secular world and celebrate the social holiday of Father’s Day. To that end, certainly we rejoice in God’s gift of fatherhood and pray God’s guidance to all fathers so that not only are they good fathers who care for the physical, mental and social needs of their children but most especially that the care for their greatest need, their spiritual well-being. As we can bear witness in our world today, when the father’s fail to care for the spiritual upbringing of their children we may indeed lose that generation for time and eternity. So, we say happy Father’s Day to our dads and pray that God would work in and through you so that you might raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Now, getting to our text for this morning, we continue in our reading through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In the past two weeks we have been hearing the words of Paul as he worked to establish his apostleship. He is an apostle and the letters that he writes are not just his words written only to the churches to whom they are addressed, but his letters are God’s Words written, even, for us today. This morning our text is one that is often quoted with the addition of words something like, “See, we are all equal in God’s eyes, so women and men should be able to serve in all roles equally.” The question we might ask of our text this morning is this, “Is Paul talking about the roles given to men and women, especially those roles given in the Garden of Eden, or is Paul speaking about something different?”
Paul begins by talking about the role of the Law. When we attended confirmation we talked about the threefold purpose of the Law. Maybe you remember that the Law serves as a curb, a rule and a mirror. The Law serves as a curb. Have you ever noticed the curbs on streets? I grew up out in the country and our streets did not have curbs. There was nothing to keep you on the road, except for the fact that you really did not want to drive off the road into the ditch. Thus the ditch somewhat served the same purpose as a curb, but in a different manner. In the city we have curbs. Curbs keep us off the sidewalk, or at least they attempt to keep us off the side walk, and instead keep us on the road. In much the same way, the Law serves as a curb to keep us from sinning. The word Paul uses in our text is not the actual word curb, but is the word “supervision.” A supervisor would be the same as someone today we might call them a care giver or guardian, except that a supervisor specifically had the job of watching over a child to keep the child from sinning. Unfortunately, a supervisor can only do so much to keep a child from sinning. We all have our ways of getting around the Law and sinning.
A second purpose of the Law is that it shows us right from wrong, in this way the Law is often described as a rule. If you ever play games you know that there are rules to follow to make the game fair. The rules tell you what you can and cannot do. Often the rules even tell you the penalty for doing something you are not supposed to do. Very much like the curb, the rule is used to keep us from sinning, but also, very much like the curb, we can break the rules as easily as we can jump the curb. And very often we can, at least we think we can, justify our breaking of the rules so that we really did not do anything really wrong, at least in our own minds. It is called justifying our actions.
The third purpose of the Law is to show us our sins, in this way the Law is described as a mirror. If you have ever looked into a mirror you know that a mirror does not lie. I do not think you need to say, “Mirror, mirror on the wall . . . ” The mirror simply reflects what is before it. The Law tells us what we are to do and not do and in so doing it shows us what we have done and not done, how we have sinned and what that sin looks like in our lives. Why do we use a mirror? We use a mirror in order to check our appearance and perhaps to improve our looks. The Law is used to check our lives for sin and to help us rid ourselves of that sin. As we can see then, the first thing in our text is that Paul reminds us of that purpose of the Law is to show us our sins.
Paul then moves to explain the role of faith and the first thing you will notice is that faith is simply an instrument. Faith must have an object. The object of saving faith is Christ Jesus, and Christ Jesus alone. Certainly we can have faith in many other gods or other things than in Christ Jesus, but those gods and things will not save us. I can believe with my whole heart and be very sincere in my faith that some stone image or statue will save me and all it will do is condemn me. I can believe and be very sincere in my faith that my good works and deeds will earn for me a spot in heaven, but that is not what will save me. I can look deep within myself and have faith in myself, but that too will not save me. The object of faith is important and the only object of saving faith is only Christ Jesus. This exclusive claim by God is why Christians are so hated by the world.
Paul reminds us that faith is a gift. Faith is given to each one of us through conversion or through baptism. Faith is given to each one of us by the Holy Spirit. Faith is given through the means of grace, the Word, the Bible and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Faith is not something we get for ourselves. Faith is not something we claim. On Trinity Sunday I read the book to the children comparing an apple and its parts to the Holy Trinity. You might remember that we said, just as an apple cannot plant itself, so we cannot plant faith in our own hearts. Faith must come from outside of us and it must be given to us.
And yet, again, not only is faith important, but the object of faith is important. Paul reiterates his point that the object of faith is important. In verse twenty-five he literally says, “now that the faith has come.” “The faith” of which Paul is speaking, is faith in Christ Jesus and that is “the” thing that saves. So, Paul reminds us of the role of that Gospel is to give faith in Jesus and to bring salvation.
Getting back to our question, is Paul talking about being equal in the roles in which we live in this world or is there some other way in which he is saying that we are all equal? We have talked about this in Bible class and I know I have talked about this in sermons before, but we need to talk about it again. We are all equal as human beings in God’s eyes. That is, we are all sinners. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Of course, that is not the way in which we like to think about that we are all equal in God’s eyes. We live in a world in which we like to make everything a power struggle. If that were not the case, then the question of equality would not come up. This power struggle shows the truth of the statement that we are all equally condemned sinners in God’s eyes.
The good news is that even though we are all sinners in God’s eyes, equal sinners, we are also all forgiven by God’s grace through faith, earned by Jesus’ death on the cross. However, although forgiveness has been earned for all, we have the option that we can refuse God’s forgiveness. When we deny our own sinfulness we are refusing the gift of forgiveness. When we deny that Christ is the one who earns forgiveness we are refusing forgiveness. When we deny the validity of the cross we are refusing forgiveness. Our only option is to refuse forgiveness, because it is given whether we refuse it or not.
So, as we look at this text we can see that Paul is not talking about the roles, our vocations that God gives to us. He is talking about our spiritual nature. Paul does not take away our roles, the vocations God has given in the Garden of Eden, what we call the order of creation. As a matter of fact, there are other places in Paul’s writings in which he carefully delineates the order of creation, the roles, the vocations that God gives to men and women. As Lutherans we talk about our standing before God as “at the same time sinner and saint,” and that is what Paul is talking about in our text for today.
So what do we take from our text for today? We take from our text the fact that we need to hear the Law. We need to know our standing before God. We need to be reminded of what God expects of us, which is perfection. We need to be reminded of what we are to do and not do. We need to be reminded that we have sinned so that we might confess our sins and be given forgiveness. As Paul reminds us, “I would not have know what sin was except through the law” (Rom. 7:7b).
Even more, we need to hear the Gospel. We need to hear the good news that Jesus died for you and me. He died for your sins and for my sins. Jesus does not save our sins as I have heard little children say, but He saves us from our sins. We need to be reminded of our Baptism, that at our Baptism we are given faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Daily we remember our Baptism and know that we are forgiven. It is much like the person who prayed (and this is not exactly the way the prayer went) Lord, I have not thought evil of anyone today. I have not misused Your name. I have not told a lie or gossiped about anyone. I have not stolen anything. I have not lusted after anyone. I have not coveted. But, Lord, I will need Your help today, because in a few minutes I will be getting up.
Our text reminds us that we need Jesus. The object of faith is important. I can sincerely believe that my empty tank of gas will get me twenty more miles down the road, but if my tank is empty no amount of sincere faith will move me. It does matter what we believe. It does matter in whom we believe. We need Jesus. Our faith must have as its object, Jesus Christ our Lord. This morning we take from our text that we need to hear both the Law and the Gospel and we need Jesus.
Paul uses the imagery of being locked up in prison. The Law is like a prison. While we wallow in our sins, we have no hope, we are like being in a prison. The Law puts us in a place where we can think about our sins. Christ comes to offer the pardon for our sins. Christ comes as the key to unlock the prison door. Certainly, we can refuse His unlocking the door. We can refuse Him because we do not believe that He is there to help, only to get us deeper in trouble. We can refuse because we think that His forgiveness will endebt us to Him. Or we can thank and praise Him for His love for us. Paul is speaking to us as men and women, as sinful, forgiven persons. My prayer is that the Lord will fill you with His Holy Spirit. That He will stir in your heart to hear this Word and be given His forgiveness. And that He will move you to respond in faith by your actions of love toward one another. Then we will say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Christ Lives in Me - June 12, 2016 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 06) - Text: Galatians 2:15-21; 3:10-14

Our text for this week picks up a little after where we left off last week. Last week, you may remember, we began Paul’s defense of his apostleship. After skipping Paul’s rebuke of Peter that we mentioned last week, we pick up with Paul laying out a proper distinction between Law and Gospel, between the purpose of the Law and the purpose of the Gospel. The question we asked last week was, “Why was Paul defending his apostleship?” and “Why was this so important?” Maybe you remember that we determined that Paul’s apostleship is important so that we can know for sure that the letters which Paul writes to the various churches are not just meant for those churches, but are meant for us today, and that the Word’s which Paul writes are not just Paul’s words, but are God’s Word, given to us through Paul. So, this week we can be sure that Paul’s words are God’s Word concerning this distinction between Law and Gospel.
Paul begins with the Jews. He is a Jew and he says that “we” Jews had the Law, but “[we] know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” In other words, Paul is saying, they, and his reference was in particular to Peter and the Judaizers, those who were insisting that the Gentiles must become followers of the Jewish law in order to be saved, should have known better.
Paul reminds us that the Jews and the Gentiles were alike in their sin. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We are all equally guilty and condemned in God’s eyes. But, the Jews and the Gentiles are also alike in their salvation. “For God so loved the whole world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Being saved comes from God’s grace through faith. There was something important in the actions of the Judaizers that threatens the heart of the Gospel. What the Judaizers were saying and living is that we are not saved by faith in Jesus alone. What they were demonstrating is that we are saved by faith plus. And what Paul is saying is that faith plus means no faith at all. If you add anything to faith then you are saying that faith is not what is important, but the “anything” that is added to faith is what is important.
It is important, vitally important, that we make a clear distinction between faith and works. We are saved by grace through faith, alone. We are saved because of what Jesus has done for us, that He gave His life for ours on the cross for our forgiveness. This does not negate the truth that we are called to do good works. Good works are those things that are done as a result of, as a response to, what God has done for us. Good works are not a have to, but a get to. Suppose for Christmas one year someone were to give you a brand new car. Would you reach into your wallet, take out a five or even a twenty dollar bill and say, “Thanks for the car, here let me give you this for it”? Of course not, that would be very insulting to the gift giver. So, too, with the gifts God gives. God gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Do we dare take out our good works and say, “Here, Lord, let me earn some of what You are giving me”? I would hope and pray not.
Paul goes on to explain the danger of one thinking they might save themselves by works of the law by properly distinguishing the two. As for the Law, Paul reminds us that “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law and do them’” (v. 10). The very purpose of the Law is to show us our sins and it does this by being a rule so that we can see that we do not live up to the rule of the Law; by being a guide, again so that we can see that we do not always follow the guide of the Law; and by bing a mirror, that is by being a reflection of our life to show us how we have and continue to transgress God’s Law. As we remember that God’s demand is perfection so we see that in and of ourselves we are not and cannot be perfect, indeed, as we are shapen in iniquity and have been conceived in sin so we see we can never be perfect, thus we can never get to heaven by ourselves.
Paul expounds the Gospel by telling us, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us . . . “ (v. 13a). The Gospel always points us to Jesus, just Jesus. The Gospel shows us our Savior. The Gospel proclaims to us the forgiveness of our sins, all our sins and with forgiveness it gives life and salvation. The Gospel gives faith and strengthens faith when and where God pleases.
We talked about this a bit last week in our adult Bible class, in the fellowship hall which meets every Sunday morning at 8:45 am with coffee and donuts at 8:30 am, the fact that so many people in so many denominations, Christian denominations cannot seem to get it right when it comes to the Law and the Gospel and instead of speaking words of Gospel are always speaking words of Law. Now, please understand, I do believe there are Christians in all Christian denominations, just as I believe there are hypocrites even in our own congregation, but the fact remains that I believe that as Lutheran Christians we have it the most correct. As I continue to remind you we get it right when we point to Jesus. The Law points us to ourselves, the Gospel points us to Jesus.
As we listen to our Christian friends we can get an idea of their faith and who they are relying on for salvation by listening to them talk. For some they will openly say that one is saved by faith and good works. For others they will tell you that you are saved simply by faith, but all you have to do is something. Both of these confuse and commingle the Law and the Gospel and truly nullify the Grace of God. Remember, the purpose of the Law is to show us our sins and how we are completely lost and condemned persons and cannot save ourselves. However, left with just the Law we would either be in despair believing we have no hope for eternal life, or we might be lead to works righteousness thinking that we can do something to save ourselves, especially if we do not believe we are such bad people after all. And the purpose of the Gospel is to show us our Savior, to point us to Jesus, to tell us how much Jesus loves us so much that He lived for us, took our sins upon Himself and suffered for our sins, paying the price for our sin, that He died for us, and the He rose victorious over sin, death and the devil for us and that He gives us this forgiveness freely to us without any merit or worthiness within us.
So, what is the big deal in today’s text? The big deal is the difference between being saved by Jesus’ work on the cross, by faith alone, or by thinking we are saved by faith plus. The plus being any attempt we would make to earn our own forgiveness. Remember, faith plus anything equals no faith at all.
When it comes to being saved by faith I like to think of it in much the same way as the Gospel Lesson for this morning. Jesus died for your sins and mine. If we do not think we sin much, if we actually think of ourselves as good people, if we actually think we can be the people God would have us to be then we believe that Jesus did not have to suffer or die too much for us and so Jesus’ death does not mean much to us. But, the more sinful we realize we are, the more we understand that we daily sin much, indeed that we are complete lost and condemned persons apart from Jesus and His forgiveness, the more God’s grace means to us.
Faith is the top priority. Good works are also important, but only as a response to faith. Let me say that again, because our emphasis this morning is faith alone. Faith is the top priority, but good works are important as a response to faith. There is the connection between faith and works. Faith is seen in our living out our vocations in our lives. Faith is seen in our doing the good works which God has for us to do, indeed good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do. Good works are not what we have to do but what we a get to, they are done in response to faith. It is much like the person who said they recently purchased a new car yet continued to drive around their old junker. No one will believe they have a new car unless they see it. So, too, with our Christian faith. If we say we have faith, yet continually show otherwise, then who will believe that we do have faith and really, do we have faith?
This morning the main idea of our text is the importance of understanding that we are saved by faith alone, or better said, by grace through faith alone. And remember as we were reminded last week, the object of faith is just as important as faith. Indeed, to have faith in anyone or anything besides Jesus, even as sincere a faith as one might have, does not save, but only condemns. Faith in Jesus Christ alone is what saves because Jesus Christ alone is the One who saves. Paul is saying, faith plus anything equals no faith. Faith plus good works, faith plus making a decision for Jesus, faith plus being the person Jesus would have you to be, faith plus dedicating your life to Jesus, indeed, faith plus anything means that one is dependent only on the anything. Anytime we try to add anything to faith as a need to be saved we are denying that we are saved by faith alone and we are denying the Gospel message. So, we might ask ourselves, “What, if anything, are we adding to faith in our own lives in order to save ourselves? What are we doing to keep Jesus from having to die too much for our sins?”
If we could keep seven of the ten commandments on a daily basis, which is a 70%, a passing grade, that would mean that we would only sin three times a day. However, when we realize that those three sins a day times 365 days in a year means that we have sinned over 1000 times in one year, times how old we are, we get an idea of just how sinful we are. With that said, I would imagine that if we were truly honest we would add an extra zero to the end thus our sins would not simply be in the thousand but in the ten thousand and more.
The good news, the greatest news, the Gospel news is that because of His great love for us, not only did God gives us life at conception, not only did He gives us new life through the waters of Holy Baptism, He also took all our sins and put them on Jesus who suffered the complete suffering, the complete price for our sins so that when we stand before our Father in heaven He will see only Jesus’ perfection, made ours by His grace through faith in Jesus given to us through His means of Grace. Thanks be to God.
When we realize the full extent of our sins and the full extent of Jesus’ death for us, for you and for me, then and only then will we come to cherish the sweet message of the Gospel of forgiveness of sins. Then we will say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Gospel Received from Christ - June 5, 2016 - Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 05) - Text: Galatians 1:11-24

Throughout history people have tried to discredit Christians and the Christian faith. Some have tried to discredit the resurrection. One of the main “proofs,” if you will, of the resurrection is the fact of the change of the people who come in contact with Jesus through His Word. Why would the disciples boldly proclaim the resurrection of Jesus if it were not true, especially since it usually meant their death. The same is true for countless Christian martyrs throughout history. This morning we hear Paul as he begins with a defense of his apostleship and in hearing his defense of his apostleship we also hear the validity, the power and the affect of God’s Word.
Paul begins his defense by telling the Galatians about his background. Paul says, “13For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” v. (13-14). In other writings Paul says that he was the son of a Pharisee and a Pharisee of Pharisee’s himself. Paul was educated in the best of Pharisee schools. He was educated under Gameliel. By the way Paul talks and by the history we know of Paul if he would have continued in his life as a Pharisee he may well have worked his way up to be the chief Pharisee.
Paul tells us that he excelled in legalism. He was advanced in the rules and regulations of Judaism, especially in the traditions of the church. Remember, these were the religious leaders that had over six hundred rules to “help” a person to keep the ten commandments. We might say that when it came to works righteousness, Paul would have been at the head of his class.
Paul was so ingrained in the traditions of Judaism that he was even persecuting the Christian church, trying to put down this uprising of heretics as he thought they were. Paul was very zealous for his faith, which reminds us that not only is faith important, but so is the object of faith. A person can have tremendous amounts of faith in something, in anything, but if that something or if that anything is not Jesus Christ then that person stands condemned. Faith is important, but the object of faith is just as important.
Paul was zealous for Judaism, but then Paul was called by God. Paul says that he was called even before his birth. He writes, “15But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace” (v. 15). In Paul’s words we see God’s foreknowledge. God called Paul from before birth and to that end, so that Paul would be well equipped to carry the good news of salvation to the Gentiles and to be able to speak authoritatively to the Jews, Paul lived the early years of his life being trained in the Old Testament. Paul knew his Old Testament well, which, after begin given faith and the call to be an apostle to the Gentiles, and after his eyes were opened, he could see and boldly proclaim that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises.
God called Paul specifically on the road to Damascus. Paul was on his way to be rid of the Christians in Damascus. He had letters from the church in Jerusalem to do away with these people, but it did not happen as he had planned. On His way into the city he was met with a bright light and a voice, Jesus’ voice, who asked him why he was persecuting Jesus. And we know the rest of the history, that Paul was taken to Ananias’ house on Strait Street where, after three days he was given his sight, was baptized and began “proving” to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. Then he began his missionary work as the apostle to the Gentiles.
In his defense, that the Word which he is proclaiming is the Word of God and not the word of humans, or his own words, Paul’s tells the Galatians about his training in being an apostle. He says, “11For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.15But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20(In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they glorified God because of me” (11-12, 15-24). Paul begins by telling the Galatians that what he is preaching did not come from humans, but was given to him by revelation from God. What he is preaching is not his own ideas, but is from God, given to him on the road to Damascus and during the three days that he was blind in Damascus.
To dispel the thought that he was trained by the other apostles he tells the Galatians that the only time he spent with the other apostles was fifteen days and that was after three years of being out sharing the good news with others. Paul admits that he saw Peter and James, but only for a little while. He also tells us that he had to confront Peter because of his heresy in dealing with the Gentiles. He did not see any of the rest of the apostles because they were out doing their own missionary work.
So, what is the big deal? Why are we spending so much time with Paul’s conversion and his defense of his conversion. One reason is because Paul’s letters and writings are not just letters and writings to the people of Galatia, or Colosse, or Thessalonica, or Philippi, but Paul’s writings are for us. Because his writings are for us we want to be sure that we know and believe that His writings are not simply his own thoughts and ideas, but that what he is writing is in fact God’s Word. God spoke through Paul, as He spoke through the prophets throughout the Old Testament. Paul’s writings are God’s Word given to us through which the Holy Spirit works to give us God’s good gifts and blessings.
Paul’s words remind us that God’s Word is not bound by time and culture, rather God’s Word is for all time and eternity. Yes, Paul often was speaking to a particular people concerning a particular sin, even at a particular place and a particular time, but Paul’s words have the same meaning and application to us here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in 2016? Paul’s words and writing transcend time not because they are Paul’s words, but because they are God’s Word.
Paul’s words, which are God’s Word, have power. We know and understand that God’s Word is a Word with power. God’s Word is a Word which does what it says. God said He would send a Savior, that is the promise He made to Adam and Eve and to all of humanity in the Garden of Eden. God kept His promise in the sending of His only Son, Jesus in the manager in Bethlehem. God promised that His Son would live for us, and for all people, doing what no one can do, live perfectly and Jesus did live perfectly. God said His Son would fulfill all righteousness, that is that He would obey all God’s laws perfectly and would fulfill all God’s promises, all His prophecies, perfectly, and He did. Jesus kept all God’s laws, perfectly. Jesus fulfilled all God’s promises, all His prophecies concerning the Messiah, perfectly. God said His Son would give His life for ours on the cross and we see that God kept His promise on the cross at Calvary. God said that Jesus would be raised from the dead and we see that God kept His promise when on Easter morning we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection. Before Jesus ascended into heaven He promised that He would send the Holy Spirit and He promised that He would come again. On Pentecost we see Jesus promise to send the Holy Spirit fulfilled and even today we continue to wait for Jesus to fulfill His promise to come again. We know He will come again, because He has promised that He will come again, and just as He has kept all His other promises, so too will He keep this one.
Paul’s words remind us that we misuse God’s Word when we fail in keeping, especially the first three commandments, when we fail to personally read and hear the Word read, have personal and family devotions, when we fail to be in divine service and Bible class as often as it is offered, all of which is gift refusal. We misuse God’s Word when we attempt to twist God’s Word in order to justify our thoughts, words or actions, or when we simply refuse to read parts of God’s Word because we know it speaks against what we are doing because we believe if we do not know then we will not be accountable (although we know that even in our society, ignorance of the law is no excuse) and even when we simply want to make everything a gray area instead of simply admitting and confessing our sins so we might then be given forgiveness.
And so, Paul’s words remind us that God’s Word is a means of grace. God comes to us through the means of grace, the Word, the Bible and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as well as through confession and absolution. He comes through these means to give us all His good gifts and blessings. He comes through these means to give us forgiveness of sins, earned for us through Jesus’ death on the cross; which is why these means are so important; which is why our divine service is permeated with these means, because these are the means our Lord has to come to us and to give us the good gifts and blessings He promises. Yes, God’s Word does what it says. When God’s Word says we have faith, we know we have faith. When God’s Word says we have forgiveness, we know we have forgiveness. When God’s Word says we have life, even eternal life, we know we have life, even eternal life.
That God’s Word is a means of grace means that God’s Word works faith in the heart of the unbeliever. We read and hear time and time again about people who have read God’s Word for the first time, or even to try to disprove it and instead have been brought to faith through it. God’s Word works faith when and where God pleases, but it also, especially for us who have already been given faith, it strengthens our faith, and preserves our faith. God’s Word keep us in faith until Christ comes again.
Thus we see that God’s Word is a most precious thing and is something of which we will want to continually make use. We make use of His Word by daily reading our Bible, by daily have personal and family devotions, by daily speaking to Him in prayer, by regularly, every Sunday and whenever it is offered, being in Divine service and Bible class, and by responding to that Word by living our lives as a reflection of that Word. We make use of His Word by hungering and thirsting after His Word so that we simply cannot get enough of it.
Paul’s defense is important because it reminds us of what a gracious, loving and forgiving God we have and how, in His love He has given us His Word so that His Word through Paul’s letters as well as all of Holy Scripture are not the Words of human beings, but are the Words of God spoken to us through the various apostles and prophets. Our Bible is God’s Word. It does not just contain God’s Word, so that we have to find His Word in and amongst the rest of the words. The Bible is God’s Word and is profitable for reproof, for correction, and most importantly, for working faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. God’s Word is that means through which our Lord comes to deliver the gifts He has to give and so our response is to rightly always be eager and ready to be where that Word and those gifts are given out. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.