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, April 30, 2017
Fellowship - April 30, 2017 - Third Sunday of Easter - Text: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Last week we heard words of forgiveness. Actually, every week we come to hear words of forgiveness. We need, so desperately, every week, even every day to hear words of forgiveness. A few years back in one of the Portals of Prayer devotions, the writer wrote the following: “Marghanita Laski, one of this century’s best known secular humanists, said shortly before her death: ‘What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.’ It’s so easy for Christians to take for granted the precious gift of the forgiveness of sins—a gift so many people have never truly known.” Yes, as Christians we have that most precious gift of forgiveness of sins. Last week we heard Peter’s words of Easter’, of Jesus suffering, death and resurrection. This week we hear the very conclusion of Peter’s sermon, the response of the people, and the result in the church.
Being the good Lutheran that he was, Peter preached a beautiful Lutheran sermon of both Law and Gospel. The effect of the Law was that it convicted the people of their sin. Peter’s words of law were that you crucified Jesus. And yes, he is speaking to us today. We have crucified Jesus. With our sins, with our continuing to sin, with our sins of thought, word and action we crucify Jesus. When the movie The Passion of Christ came out there were some who attempted to discredit this movie by suggesting that it was an anti-Semitic movie, blaming the Jews for crucifying Jesus. Obviously this charge was made by those who did not see the movie and do not understand the Word of God. The movie well portrayed what is true, the fact that although Jesus was convicted by the ruling Jewish council and put on the cross by the Romans, it was for our sins that He died, in other words, truly it was us, you and me that put Him on the cross. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. We even sin by coming and hearing God’s Word and being given His good gifts and blessings, but not responding, not letting Him make a difference in our lives. Have you ever noticed the build up to Easter, the large crowd on Easter and then the low attendance the Sunday following Easter? Someone was prompted by these events to ask, “does Easter matter?” We come to hear the message, but does that message bring about a change in our hearts and lives?
The events of 9/11/2001 caused a change in the behavior of many Americans. People were nicer. People seemed to care a bit more, at least for a while. Even church attendance was better, at least for a while. Again, there was a change of behavior. But that change did not last very long. It did not take long for people to go back to the way they were acting before 9/11. The problem was that there was no change of heart. And unless there is a change of heart, a change of behavior is never permanent. It is only as our heart is changed that we will be truly changed.
Our text tells us that Peter’s words, “cut to the heart” of the people present. That is what the Law does, it cuts to the heart. They did believe in Jesus. They did recognize their sin. They admitted their sin. They confessed their sin. They were “cut to the heart.”
The people’s response was “what must we do?” Theirs was not a question of earning forgiveness. Theirs was not a question of what must we do to work off the sins which we have committed. They were not asking how may “hail Mary’s” or “rosaries” they must do to make satisfaction for their sins. They were not asking if they should be re-baptized, or if they should rededicate and recommit their lives to the Lord. They were not seeking to be more obedient to the Lord or to His laws and commandments. They were not looking to forward an e-mail to five friends in five minutes. They were not asking if they should make a donation to their favorite charity. What they were asking is how could they be given God’s greatest gift of forgiveness. The person who breaks an ancient one-of-a-kind vase knows that there is nothing they can do to replace it and so their question of “what must I do?” is not one in which they expect an answer of “glue it all back together.” Rather their question is one of “how can I be given your forgiveness?”
Theirs was a response of guilt produced by the Law and a motivation to confess produced by the Gospel. Remember, the Law only leads us to recognize our sins. Without the Gospel the Law leads either to self-righteousness, thinking we can do something or ultimately to despair, thinking we have not hope. The Gospel alone gives us hope which leads us to confess our sins and be given forgiveness.
Peter’s response to their response is not a formula for working out their forgiveness, rather his are words of gift getting. Peter says to “repent and be baptized.” Peter says, do not refuse the gifts, rather be given the gifts of forgiveness, faith and life.
And the response of the word was faith. The people heard the Word. The Holy Spirit worked through that Word to give faith. The best illustration of how this works is this: Suppose someone came up to one of the people who stand out at I45 and 1960 begging for money and put a million dollars into their hand. They took the persons hand, pulled it out from their side, put the money in it and pushed it back to them. What part did that person play in getting that money? Did he do something to earn it? Did he dedicate his life to the gift giver? Did he recommit himself to anything? Did he do anything to receive, or be given that money? No, he did nothing. The only option he had was to refuse the gift. Likewise with us. God comes to give us all His good gifts and blessings. We stand in our sin. We do not even reach out to Him. We do nothing to deserve being given to, yet, God gives all to us. He is the one who lifts us up out of our lives of sin, washes us, puts His robes of righteousness on us, gives us faith, forgiveness and life. Our response is a life of thanks.
Which brings us to the second part of our text which is a look at the early church. Several things you will notice about the early church. They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, that is, to the Word of God. In other words, the Word of God was important to them. They did not just say it was important, they made it a part of their lives. It was not just a Sunday thing, or a once, twice or three times a month thing. Rather than live their lives around the world and the things and events of this world, they actually lived their lives around the Word, so that nothing got in the way of being in the Word first and foremost, it was that important. They devoted themselves to the study of the Word, nothing got in the way or hindered them from their study of the Word. Or as you so often hear me say, they made regular and diligent use of God’s Word.
They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread, that is, the Lord’s Supper. They continually met and participated in the Lord’s death and resurrection, in the forgiveness of sins through His Holy Meal. They made regular use of the Lord’s Supper and by regular they meant daily.
They devoted themselves to prayer. They prayed without ceasing and that does not mean that they constantly were kneeling, folding their hands and bowing their heads. Their very lives became lives of prayer. Their lives were lived in such a way that their faith in Christ showed through.
They devoted themselves to one another. They called on one another. If the person that usually sat next to them was absent they gave them a call. They did not worry about it being someone else’s job, they called, they were concerned.
They devoted themselves to sharing the Word of God with others. They did not keep their faith a secret. They lived their faith. They invited people to divine service and Bible class. They talked about their faith. Even during times of persecution, they continued to share their faith with others, even if it meant their own life.
And they grew, by the power of God working through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. Can we say these same things about ourselves, about St. Matthew Lutheran Church? Are we devoted to the Word, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, one another and the sharing of the Word with others. Are we growing through the means of grace, or are we sitting on our grace? Does Easter make a difference for us?
God has given to us all things. He has given His Word, the Word made flesh to dwell among us, to give His life for ours. He has given us His Word through which He gives us all His good gifts and blessings.
God has given to us to be a church on the Word. He has given us His Word as the foundation for St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Our liturgies, our readings, our messages, our Bible studies, all these are grounded and founded on the Word of the Lord.
God has given to us to be a church in the Word. He has given us His Word. He has given us time to live. He has given us time to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest His Word.
God has given to us to be a church growing in the Word. We grow in the Word when we as individuals read and grow in His Word. We grow in the Word when we as a congregation read, listen to, and grow in His Word. We grow in His Word as we grow and are strengthened in our own faith. We can only grow in numbers as a church as we grow as individuals in our own faith life. If we are not growing in our own faith the result is that we will not share that faith with others, but as we do grow in our own faith it is shown in our response of faith, in our giving of our time, our talents, ourselves, our first fruits, our fellowship and sharing of that faith with others.
My prayer is that the Lord will stir in us a change of heart, even before we have a change of behavior, because as we mentioned, it is only as our heart is changed that our behavior will be a permanent change. My prayer is that we might become like the disciples in the Gospel reading, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, that is that our hearts might burn with zeal for our Lord. My prayer is that the Lord will bless us so that we are filled with the Holy Spirit, so that we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. My prayers is that the Lord will bless us so that we are filled with awe, and that many wonders and miraculous signs may be done among us. My prayers is that the Lord will bless us so that we can be together and have everything in common, so that no one will be in need. My prayer is that the Lord will bless us so that we are moved to meet together, be in divine service together, share the Lord’s Supper together, and praise God together. And that the Lord will bless us so that we might be a blessing to Him. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.