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, September 11, 2016
A Trustworthy Saying - September 11, 2016 - Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost - (Proper 19) - Text: 1 Timothy 1:(5-11) 12-17
Our text for this morning is another letter. This letter is one in which Paul is writing to the young pastor, Timothy. The main emphasis of Paul’s letter is to warn and instruct Timothy concerning the heresies of Gnosticism, decadent Judaism, and false asceticism. To help you get a handle on what these heresies are let me make a general comparison to attach these heresies to something from today. The comparisons that I can make to today of these heresies would be something like this: Gnosticism might in a small way be compared to the New Age teachings that the spirit is the main thing and this physical world is just a holding place until we all reach our spirit goal; decadent Judaism might be compared to decadent Judaism of today, that is, the false teachings and myths that are promoted in many Jewish churches, especially those concerning Jesus; and false asceticism might be compared to our modern day “post-modernism” with its understanding that image is everything. Out of these three I believe the one which speaks most to us today is the last, that is, that we are more interested in image than substance, we are more interested in what something looks like rather than what it really is inside, which leads to the question I often ask which is, “What do our actions say concerning what is in our hearts?” With that said, I would, again, remind you that this is a letter. Paul is writing to Timothy, but God through Paul is also writing to us today.
Paul is speaking to us today concerning what were we like before faith was given to us. Using himself as an example, Paul says he was a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent aggressor. We know about his former way of life. We know about how he was there at the stoning of Stephen, watching the coats, and approving of what was happening. We know about how he was a Pharisee of Pharisees. We know about how he went about persecuting the Christians thinking that he was doing what God wanted him to do. He was indeed practicing decadent Judaism, as he calls it. We know that Paul speaks from experience.
What about us? What is our background? How were we before faith was given to us? We confess that we are born spiritually dead, spiritually blind and enemies of God. We confess with David, “surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). We confess, every Sunday morning, that we are “by nature sinful and unclean.” We confess that this is something that stays with us as we confess that we “have sinned against [God] in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” To the person who says they do not go to church because there are hypocrites in church, I say, “yes, and that is why we go to church, to repent and be given God’s forgiveness for saying we are Christians and then acting otherwise.”
Paul says that he was the foremost of sinners. He literally says he is the first. Paul humbles himself, reflecting on his own life, knowing his own sins. He admits that he should be a better person, but he is a sinful human being who deserves nothing but God’s condemnation.
Paul’s words remind us that we too should confess with Paul that we are the foremost of sinners. One quick trip through the ten commandments reminds us of our own sinful human nature, not that we have broken all the commandments by actually committing crimes against them, but that we break them daily in thought and in word, what we say and even how we say it, as well as many time actually in deed. Here, as we contemplate and confess our sins we are reminded of Jesus’ words, “he who is forgiven little loves little, he who is forgiven much loves much” (Luke 7;47). Think how much more Jesus’ death means to us when we realize how sinful we really are. If we think we have only sinned a little, then we live a life which says that we think we are actually good people and do not have much need for Jesus, thus we fail in our making use of the means of grace and we actually often refuse and reject God’s gifts. When we realize how sinful we truly are, as Paul says, when we confess we are the foremost of sinners, then we realize just how much we need Jesus and thus we live our lives in such a way that others see our clinging to our Lord for forgiveness and life as our desire is to be where and when His gifts are given out.
We are conceived and born in sin, but that was then, and this is now. How have we changed? Or have we changed? First, we have changed, or we have been changed at our Baptism. At our Baptism we have had Jesus’ name put on us. We have been given faith, forgiveness and life. We have been given grace, God’s riches at Christ’s expense. We have been given mercy, God’s mercy, because without God’s grace and mercy we would be lost. God’s mercy is this, “while we were still sinners [while we were in the middle of sinning, being enemies of God and actually fighting against Him] Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God’s mercy is seen in this, “very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7-8).
We have been given faith, that instrument which takes hold of and makes the rest of God’s good gifts and blessings ours. We have been given faith at our Baptism. We have that faith nurtured and strengthened through regular divine service attendance, regular reading of God’s Word, and regular Bible class attendance. We have been given faith because without faith we would be lost.
We have been given love, that thing which reflects that faith which God has put in our hearts. Love is the culmination of all that God gives. If we do not have love, can we say we have the other of God’s gifts (1 Cor. 13)? Faith, poured out in our hearts shows itself in the fact that we show love for God and for one another. Which reminds us that the opposite is true as well, if we are not showing love then that is an indication of gift refusal and no faith in the heart. John says it this way, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:19-21). God’s grace and faith show itself in our love which is seen in our actions and in our giving of ourselves, our time, our talents and our treasure, not that we give out of compulsion, because we have to, but that we give because God has first given to us. We have been given love because without love we would be seen to not have faith.
We have changed, but what brought about our change? Was it that we looked deep within ourselves? Society tells us that change comes from within. Look inside yourself for the answer we are told, over and over again, ad nausea. Today we have the electronic e-mail to help us to look inside ourselves. How many e-mails to we receive and forward that encourage such behavior, looking inside ourselves, making a decision for Jesus, don’t feel guilty, just forward this and all will be well we are promised. But what do we find within ourselves? Earlier we made note that we are by nature spiritually blind, spiritually dead, and enemies of God. All we find inside is a person completely against God. Really, there would be no change in us if it had to come from within.
Did this change come because we worked for this change? Again, society will tell us that we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and make our own way. We are pretty good people after all, at least we are not as bad as our neighbor down the street. “Pastor, I know I am a sinner, tell me what I have done right,” but there is the rub. Can we change ourselves for good? Here again, when we remember that our nature is that we are spiritually dead, spiritually blind and enemies of God we realize that there is nothing that we can do to work a change in ourselves, at least not by ourselves.
So, was this change something that came from outside of us? Yes, as always, change, faith, forgiveness, all things must come from outside of us. Faith comes by the Holy Spirit working in us through the Word and the sacraments. Forgiveness is given to us through the Word and the sacraments. Strengthening of faith is given to us through the Word and the sacraments. Change that is good change, that is life changing and life giving change must and does come from outside of ourselves.
As I said earlier, Paul is speaking to you and me. Paul reminds us that we are dependent on God for our salvation, it does not come from ourselves. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot choose Jesus. We cannot be good, we cannot, we cannot, we cannot. It comes from God and God alone.
How, then, is our dependence on God reflected in our life? I always tell people, “you do not have to tell me your priorities, they show.” What does your life show is important? Does your life reflect self-dependence or God-dependence? Take a look at your life and you will know. How do you spend your time? Do you spend your time concerned with the cares and concerns of this world or with the cares and concerns of your spiritual well-being? How about your talents? Where and how do you use the talents and abilities God has given you? Do you use them simply as a way of making a living, or do you also use them in service to the Lord in His kingdom? And what about your treasure? Where do you spend you money, on the things of this world or in service to the Lord in His kingdom? And when you do give to the Lord, of your time, talents or treasure, do you do so begrudgingly, as if under compulsion, because you have to, or freely, as a response of faith, because you get to. As Paul says to Timothy, so he speaks to us, “5The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (v. 5). And our aim is the same today, that is that we love because God first loves us, that we love and show our love through the life we live, a life that is guided by our faith and good conscience. Because, as we said, the opposite is just as true, a life of lovelessness, a life of thinking, speaking and doing sinful things reflects a lack of love, a lack of gifts received and instead it reflects a life of gifts refused and no faith and no love.
If image is everything, what do our lives say concerning our faith in Christ? On Christ’s part, He gave everything for us. Because of His love for us, His creation, His creatures, He gave up the glory that was His in heaven in order to take on human flesh and blood. He owned nothing except the clothes on His back while He was here on this earth and He never was concerned about where His next meal would come from, He lived perfectly, obeying all God’s commands perfectly and fulfilling all God’s prophecies perfectly, for us, in our place as our substitute, because that is what is demanded of us and what we are unable to do. Ultimately, He took all our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price for our sins, that is to suffer eternal spiritual death and hell, even to die for our sins. He gave His life for ours. He died and He rose and now He is seated at the right hand of the Father where He is watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us. God created you to love you and He does love you and He shows His love for you in His desire to shower you, to lavish you with His good gifts and blessings which He does through His means of grace. May the Holy Spirit work in your life so that you may be moved to respond in such a way that your desire is to be given even more of our Lord’s good gifts and blessings and finally that your life says, thanks be to God and to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.