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, July 31, 2016

Focus Heavenward - July 31, 2016 - Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13) - Text: Colossians 3:1-11

I have a habit of reading billboards, church signs and especially bumper stickers. I would suggest that you can learn a lot about a person from the bumper sticker that is on their car or truck. One interesting bumper stickers relates well to our text for this morning. It is the sticker that announces: “The One Who Dies With The Most Wins.” I would suspect that this sticker in particular is not speaking about the most faith, but about the most as in the most possessions in this world. The teacher in Ecclesiastes this morning reminds us of the vanity, or meaninglessness of toiling for material possessions. Also this morning, Jesus, in the Gospel lesson, reminds us of the foolishness in storing up wealth for this world. And God, through Paul, reminds us not to put so much effort into this world but to “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” This morning we want to spend a little time looking at some of the things that are vying for our attention; looking at how our attention reflects where our own focus is; and prayerfully, with the Lord’s help, we will be strengthened in our struggle to focus our attention where it should be focused.
In order to follow our text and maybe to give us a peek at where we are going with this text, we begin where Paul beings, by looking at where we would do best to focus our attention. Paul reminds us to focus our attention heavenward. He says, “1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (v. 1-4). We do this, focus our attention on things that are above, by first and foremost remembering our Baptism. At our Baptism God’s name was put on us, faith was put in our hearts, we were given forgiveness of sins and the gift of life and eternal life. Through Baptism Christ’s life has become our life. His suffering has become our suffering. His death and resurrection have become our death and resurrection. Our Baptism has brought us into oneness with Christ who is seated at the right hand of God where He is watching over us, ruling over us, interceding for us. And this is indeed a heavenward focus.
Yet, when we consider all the important details of our Baptism we must also remind ourselves that although our new life in Holy Baptism will be revealed fully in heaven, it is often hidden from this world. In other words, people cannot just look at you and see that you are Baptized and a Christian. It is only through your words and actions that are witnessed by others that will demonstrate your Baptism and faith. Thus, the question we might first ask ourselves is, “does our life, our words and our actions demonstrate the fact that we are Baptized and that we are a Christian, or do they demonstrate something else?” If we were really honest with ourselves, taking a sober look at ourselves, we would have to admit that more often than not our words and actions do not truly demonstrate what it means to be a Christian, especially as we criticize and nit-pick at one another, speak unpleasantly about others, failing to always put the best construction on everything, and as we fail in our own faith walk.
The teacher in Ecclesiastes, in our Old Testament Lesson for this morning, reminds us of the meaninglessness of toiling for the things of this world, as he says, because we will die and leave what we have amassed to someone else who may simply waste what we have worked hard to amass. And in our Gospel Lesson for this morning, Jesus reminds us of the rich fool who worked to amass a fortune thinking that this would help him enjoy life and that he would worry about his spiritual life later. Unfortunately, for him, that very night he was condemned to hell because he forgot to focus his attention heavenward, on the things that are important. How often do we find ourselves living like the person the teacher is describing or like the rich man Jesus is describing?
Is our attention focused heavenward or on something else? In our text Paul makes a list of the something else’s to which we are often called on to focus our attention and which demonstrate that our focus is not on things heavenward. He reminds us to keep from the sins of this materialistic world. Paul says, “5Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices ” (v. 5-9). Maybe Paul read our Old Testament and Gospel lessons for today? He lists the sins and temptation from which we are to flee: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” What Paul is asking is not an easy thing. We are now living in what is being called a post-modern world, some have suggested even in a post-Christian world. We live in a world where, according to many in the world, there are no longer any absolutes. There is no absolute god, no absolute right or wrong, no absolute truth (and we can prove it). Everything is relative. Everything is permissible and we are told to be tolerant of everyone. We are even threatened that if we do not rejoice in the deviancy of others we may lose all we have. With that as the case it is very difficult, if not impossible to talk about anything as sin and then to ask people not to be a part of these sins because these sins bring temporal and eternal consequences.
How often do we find ourselves, as Christian people, reflecting the beliefs of our society when we say such things as, “well, it is no one’s business but their own, what people do in private.” Have we forgotten, “I am my brother’s keeper?” Or we say, “As long as they are not hurting anyone, it is okay.” Have we forgotten that we do not live in a vacuum and that what we do does affect other people? Or (one of my favorites) “after all, we are living in the 21st century,” as if that gives us permission to throw out the Word of God in order to do what we want to do. Have we forgotten, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price” and that price is the blood of Jesus as He gave His life for ours on the cross? Listen close to the response you make when talking about sin and see if what you are saying does or does not reflect the attitudes of our society and not the attitude of Christ.
Yes, I will stick out my neck in this post-modern, post-Christian world and still preach and proclaim that there is such a thing as sin. There are absolutes. There are rights and wrongs. There is an absolute truth. And yes, the sins and temptations of this world do bring God’s wrath and punishment. Thanks be to God that by His grace, the punishment which should have been ours, the wrath which God has against sin, was all taken out on Jesus, for my sake and for yours.
Very often we talk about the fruits of the spirit. In our text Paul reminds us that we are also to put aside the fruits of unrighteousness which he tells us are: “anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Much like the fruits of the spirit reflect Christ in our hearts, the fruits of unrighteousness reflect a lack of Christ in our hearts. What do our words and actions demonstrate?
How can we refocus our life and attention? We can refocus as we remember that Christ came to save us all, as Paul says, “10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (v. 10-11). God’s Word reminds us that we belong to Christ and that we are Christ’s who created us and redeemed us. We are reminded that we are all alike, that is we are all sinful human beings deserving death. “The wages of sin is death.” What we have done, what we do, and what we continue to do, according to our inborn human nature, earns for us death. Yet, before we despair, we are reminded that we are also all alike in that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The death which our lives has earn was died by Jesus on the cross. His death became our death. His life has become our life.
Again, “how can we refocus our life and attention?” We cannot refocus our life and attention by ourselves. Might I remind you of our confession that, “I cannot by my own reason or 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. In 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.” We refocus our life and attention only as the Lord helps us refocus and He does just that, as we confess He does, namely, through the Gospel, through our Baptism, through His Supper and through the forgiveness of sins. Thus, when we absent ourselves from these means, we limit His helping us refocus our life and attention, but when we make regular and diligent use of these means He can and He does do amazing things for us.
So, what is God saying to us this morning? He is reminding us of the importance of the focus of our life and attention. We are to focus our attention and our lives heavenward, especially thinking about what He helps us to do to extend God’s kingdom in this place. With His help we are to keep away from the sins and temptations of this world, especially the temptation of falling for the lies of this world which speak in contradiction to what God’s Word says. With His help we are to continue to remind ourselves of God’s grace which is what brings our salvation.
I want to summarize our text for this morning with an illustration of sorts. How often do we find ourselves reading the Bible and thinking, “I did not remember that it said that in the Bible?” Too often I hear people quote what they think is something from the Bible and it is nothing but what our society has come to believe is in the Bible. I call this Television, Radio, and Newspaper theology. Too often we get into discussions with others about the Bible and we forget to check the Bible, instead we rely on our own memory of the Bible which has been “written over” by other things we have read, seen and heard. As our society continues its slide into relativism, that all things are relative and that there are no absolutes, it is important that we anchor our faith and hope in what we know is the only one true absolute and truth, Jesus Christ and His Holy Word. Otherwise, we may be tempted and we may fall for the temptation to think that “The One Who Dies With The Most Wins” and what we will win will certainly not be what we had expected to win, instead we may be left as the words of a corollary bumper sticker states, “The One Who Dies with the Most Still Dies!” My prayer for you continues to be that the Holy Spirit will stir in your heart a strong desire to be in His Word, to read His Word on your own and to be in Divine Service and Bible class every Sunday and as often as offered, so that He might work through that Word in order to help us focus our life and attention on heavenly things and not on the transient things of this world. And my prayer continues to be that you may continue to rejoice in the gifts of God, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Walking the Walk - July 24, 2016 - Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12) - Text: Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)

New and improved, that is what everyone wants. Do not give me the old stuff, give me the new and improved stuff. The latest Ipad, Iphone, the newest Galaxy S, the fast Tablet, the latest micro processor. We want a faster car, a bigger house, a detergent that gets the whites even whiter, a microwave oven that cooks so fast it is almost like going back in time. Even when it comes to our Christian faith too many in our world, and even some in our own church want the new and improved. We want a faster service, one that will not take up as much of our precious time as the old service. We want a “with-it” service and a sermon that makes us feel good. We do not want that old sin and death stuff, we want alive, new and innovative. Do not tell me about my sins, that I am doing anything wrong or how to change my life. Do not tell me how much more important my spiritual well being is compared to my life in this world. Tell me that what I am doing is okay, because everyone else is doing the same thing. Tell me how good I am compared to others who are less good. Tell me I do not need too much forgiveness, or Word of God. Of course, my father would always ask me, “just because everyone else is jumping off into the lake, does that mean you need to too?” This morning our text is another chapter in Paul’s continuing battle with the new and improved Judaizers. But, if we take a step back and look at what the Judaizers are teaching as new and improved, we will notice that it is the old and stale. Similarly, in our world today, what is being touted as new and improved in many churches is also the old and stale. As the preacher says in Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun.”
I do not hear it said as much today as I did a few years ago, but I believe there was the saying that went something like this, “If you are going to talk the talk, then you need to walk the walk.” Even longer ago I believe the saying was “Practice what you preach.” I believe that is how Paul might have began his letter if he were writing today. In our text Paul reminds us of the talk and the walk. He also reminds us of the trials and temptations that work to keep us from talking and walking in the ways of the Lord and instead want us to talk and walk in some other “new and improved” way, which is not new and improved at all. What is the talk and the walk to which we are called? Paul begins by reminding us our talk and walk is our speaking and our acting out our faith. And as we read Paul’s letter we will notice that our talk and walk of faith takes on two dimensions. The first dimension of faith is the root of our faith which is Holy Baptism. At our Baptism the Lord’s name was put on us; faith was put in our hearts; we were given forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Unfortunately, the devil does not like this talk and walk and he is doing everything that he can to shut us up and sit us down, that is stop our walk.
The enemy is the devil and he wants you. He wants you simply for the sake of a victory. The devil does not want you because he loves you and wants you to be on “his side.” The devil hates you and because you belong to the Lord he hates you even more. The devil only knows hate and so he does everything that he can to destroy anything the comes from God and is good. Thus we know, as Jesus tells us that he is a liar and the father of lies reminding us never to trust what he says.
One of the tools of the devil, that Paul points to in our text, is human wisdom. Human wisdom trips us up, especially when we take the bait as Eve and Adam did in the Garden of Eden, thinking that we can be “as gods, knowing good ‘and evil.’” But, of course, we are too wise for that old ploy. But are we? Look around at the churches and denominations today who have become wiser than God, so much so that they do not even need God’s Word anymore. So what if God’s Word speaks against idolatry; disobedience; abortion and euthanasia and all other forms of killing; adultery, fornication, homosexuality and all other forms of sexual impurity; stealing; defamation of one’s name and character; and coveting, those things are old things, we want a new and improved god. We want the god we have created in our own image. We want a god who is tolerant of us. We want a god who is tolerant of sin. We want a god who will see it our way and even let us have our own way. Remember from a few years back, the Jesus Seminary? They were a group of wise Bible scholars, or so they believed themselves to be. They were so wise they weeded through the New Testament and “discovered” which words Jesus actually spoke and which ones He did not speak. Their last effort was to show their wisdom in “discovering” the actual miracles of Jesus and which ones were just “exaggerations.” I wonder how secure they feel in themselves because, in their own minds, they are wiser than God.
Even our own church body is struggling with these temptations of wisdom. Remember, God’s usual way of coming to us is through means, the means of grace in particular, the Word and the Sacraments as well as confession and absolution. Where these means do not exist, we limited God in coming to us to give us His good gifts and blessings. Today too many Lutheran Churches and way too many so called “Christian” churches have thrown out the Word of God in worship in order to show their wisdom in putting in their own human words. Thus, instead of getting the choice “cut” of the Word of God, people are getting the hot dog and bologna word of human wisdom. With that in mind I will tell you as I have told many before, the most important part of our divine service is not the sermon. My sermon is important and is of value only in so far as I proclaim to you the Word of God. The closest I can come is probably ninety-nine and forty-four one hundredths percent pure. God’s Word is God’s Word. God’s Word is one hundred percent pure. I cannot add to it and I dare not take away from it. My preaching is an attempt at proclaiming God’s Word to you in all its truth and purity. And my preaching is important in so much as I proclaim God’s Word to you. Thus in our Divine Service we have a reminder of our Baptism, Confession and Absolution, the reading of Holy Scripture in the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel, and the Lord’s Supper.
This brings us back to our text. Paul reminds us of our talk and walk so that we might remain in the truth. Paul reminds us that we are one with Christ (v. 9-15) and we are not to give that up. He reminds us that Christ is true God and true man. Christ is true God who took on human flesh and blood making Him true man. Christ is God, that is, he is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Paul makes a connection with Baptism and circumcision. He says that circumcision is being rid of only a part of our sinful flesh, whereas, Holy Baptism is ridding ourselves of our complete sinful nature. He also gives a strong argument for infant baptism in that as circumcision was a part of the Law, it took place on the eight day after the child was born, thus baptism, as a command of God, should take place as soon as possible after the child is born. As for circumcision, this and all the Law Christ fulfilled, perfectly, and dying on the cross He removed the demands of the Law. The Judaizers were trying to demand circumcision as a way of work righteousness which would make the demands on the law legally binding. In other words, if you are going to try to get to heaven by obedience to the Law, it is an all or nothing proposition. Either obey all the Law completely and be saved or miss on one count and be condemned. But remember one other thing, Baptism cancels the demands of the Law. Christ is victorious over the powers of this world. Baptism makes Christ’s victory our victory.
Also included, parenthetically in our text for this morning, are other examples of giving up the Gospel that Paul places before us, such things as elevating traditions over the Word of God (v. 16-19). Paul’s example is that of elevating food laws and even festival or Sabbath laws. Paul is not suggesting that traditions, festivals and rites are not important and cannot be helpful, but he does warn that they must always be evaluated in the light of God’s Word and that God’s Word must prevail. Paul warns us of what we have seen happen and what is continuing to happen in our world today, that is of elevating one’s own reason and self judgement over the Word of God. Perhaps you have noticed how, in our world today, God’s Word is given short shrift, is regulated to being simply a book among other books with no power or authority over any other. And Paul’s greatest warning is the thinking that one is a Christian or can be saved apart from Christ who is the Head.
Paul is writing to us today. If Paul were to use the words and situations of today he might say it something like this, “do not be taken in by the religions and philosophies of this world.” Anytime you hear someone proclaiming a “new truth” or a “new way” or a “new revelation” or anything so new that “all you have to do is . . .,” and you fill in the blank, then you know that this is not new, but rather this is one of the devils old lies. The Gospel, the Good News of God’s Word is not what we do, but what God has done, what God is doing and what God continues to do.
Paul tells us to remember our Baptism. What truly wise and profound words. Remember your Baptism. At your Baptism God’s name was put on you. His life became your life. His suffering became you suffering. His death became your death. His risen, eternal life became you risen, eternal life. And remember Jesus’ victory on the cross. His victory is your victory. The talk is grace. The walk is faith. Let me say that again. The talk is grace, the walk is faith. Which is the other part of the talk and walk, to live our faith. There are people in this world who are being put into prison and killed for their faith in Jesus. The tough choices we have are whether to attend divine service or to volunteer to serve at church or to let the other things of this world get in the way of our walking in the ways of the Lord? Should I give my tithe to the Lord in response and in recognition of all that He has given me, or should I give only a little so I can pay for all the things I think I need and want? We talk that talk, but do we walk the walk?
Yes, the devil is alive and well in our world today. He is seen everywhere there is talk of what you must do to be saved. He is there everywhere there is talk of the wisdom of humanity. He is seen everywhere there is talk of a new and improved religion or god. So, how do you know what is of God and what is not? How do you talk the talk and walk the walk? You become as the Bereans. You get into the Word and compare it to what you see and hear. You test the spirits to see if they are from God or from another. You become as the Colossians, remembering your Baptism, that you belong to the Lord because He has given you your life. He has given you faith. He has given you forgiveness. He has given you eternal life. As a response, you put your faith and God’s Word into practice, walking in His ways and according to His will, doing the things that He would have you to do as He moves you to do them. My prayer is that the Lord will be with you as you struggle to talk the talk and even more to walk the walk, so that we might together be able to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Separated for God - July 17, 2016 - Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11) - Text: Colossians 1:21-29

I love the people who say that children are perfect, that is without sin. When they say this I wonder if they actually have children, or have been around children, or even know what children are. Have you ever watched two little children play together? They are very selfish. I would imagine that if you gave two children one toy and asked them to share, instead of sharing there might be a big fight on your hands. Even if you were to give them two toys to share, inevitably each one would want what the other one has. Children, much like many adults even, want and think the world should revolve around them. Children are the best illustration of original sin. We adults are the same way. You hear it all the time: “it’s a dog eat dog world,” “you gotta get what you can,” “you gotta step on a lot of people to get to the top.” If that is not fighting against everything Christ taught, I do not know what is.
Our text says, “21And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col. 1:21-22). The King James version translation says that we were enemies of God. Indeed it is true, once we were alienated, separated, hostile in mind, even enemies of God, but even worse, we were not just enemies, but spiritual enemies, not passively being disobedient, but actively working, fighting against God. But thank God we have been reconciled, brought back into harmony, by Christ’s death and resurrection in His human body. Paul’s message to the Romans is his message to us today, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8b). And two verses later he says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Rom. 5:10). While we were actively working and fighting against God being His enemies, He sent His one and only Son to live the perfect life demanded by God of us in our place, to suffer the suffering we deserve, eternal spiritual death in hell for us in our place, to die the most horrible death in our place. And most importantly Christ rose for us in our place. He rose for me and He rose for you! By faith in Jesus, His work has become our work. Now when God looks at us He sees Jesus’ work as our work, and He is satisfied. Christ has accomplished all things for you!
Now Paul encourages us that we must continue firm and steadfast in our faith in the hope of the Gospel. Saving faith is not a “once saved always saved” proposition as some people would have you believe. That type of faith is not a faith in Christ, but is actually a faith in self. We are continually reminded, but in an opposite way in which it was meant, that our country was founded on the principle of the separation between church and state, with the true meaning being that the State, the government was not to impose any national religion on the citizens of this country, not that we may not attempt to influence our government while being guided by our Christian principles. What this means is that people have the right, the freedom to believe and worship as they please. Today it would appear that has been changed to the idea that people have the right to not worship as they please. Rather than a freedom for worship it has become a freedom from worship. Church has become a place to get baptized, get confirmed, get married, and get buried. I believe the affectionate way of saying it is that the church is the place where you are hatched, matched and dispatched. Church has become a place to go when we have a problem or a struggle, or when we need something, otherwise it gets in the way of our day off. Confirmation has become graduation. We think we know everything, or at least enough about God and our faith and we sit on our grace. We believe we have done our duty and it is time to get on with our real life. Faith is like a lot of things in life. It is like playing a musical instrument. It is like being physically fit. It is like being good at a sport. It is even like being good at our job. It is like all things that require daily work and practice. If we do not practice our faith, it becomes weak and non-existent. We can fall away from grace, and sometimes we do fall away from grace.
Saving faith is not something you do, or something that if “you have enough, then you will get what you want.” Do not be conned by those TV preachers who tell you that you “just have to believe enough and you can get whatever you want.” They tell you that you do not have what you want because you do not believe enough. They tell you that the Lord wants you to be rich, that He really wants you to have everything you want here on this earth. Listen real close to those statements. Who is it you are having faith in? Listen again, if you have enough faith. If you do this or that. If you pray this or that. If you! The faith is not in God, it is in you, yourself. And especially do not believe the TV preachers who tell you that you can be the person God wants you to be. If we could be the person God wants us to be then we would not need Jesus and without Jesus we would still have our sins on us and we would be lost and condemned persons. As I have said time and again, always listen for who you are told is to run the show, who is to save you, yourself, or Jesus.
Saving faith is complete trust in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection worked in us by the Holy Spirit. True saving faith is that faith which is worked in our heart by the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word and the Sacraments. We did not do anything. We could not do anything. We did not decide to accept Him. We did not choose him. If it were up to us, our natural inclination would be to say, “No, Lord, not today, maybe some other day,” as we see happen every Sunday when more than half, even three-fourths of our own congregation and people across the world put something before God and refuse and reject His gifts by absenting themselves from His Word and Sacrament in His Divine Service. But that does not and never will negate the fact that He chose us and made us believers out of his love for us.
Our saving faith is strengthened firm and steadfast by continuing in the means of grace, the Word and Sacraments. He has brought us to faith; now we are to be strengthen in that faith. We are to be strengthen in faith by continuing to read and study His Word and partake in the Sacrament of His Supper. We are to strengthen that faith by attending Divine Service as often as we can, by going to Bible class, by having personal and family daily devotions, by remembering our Baptism, by confessing our sins and hearing His most beautiful words of absolution that is that our sins are forgiven, and by partaking of His true body and blood in His most Holy Supper as often as we can. Our faith is strengthen as we make and take opportunities for the Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith through these very means.
Our response is one of joyful living for Christ. Our response is not dying for the Lord, we have enough people ready to do that. Everyone wants to die for the Lord today. That is too easy. As Paul says to the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). It is easy to die and go to heaven. It is a lot more difficult to stay on this earth and live for Christ. There are so many temptations in this world, so many things that draw our attention away from Christ. There are so many times when it is easier to deny our relationship to Christ than to admit faith in Him and be ridiculed for it. It is difficult to live as a Christian. However, our living is not in order to gain heaven; we already have that. Our living is in response to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for us. Because of all that He has done for us we want to live our lives according to His will.
Our response is one of joyfully living, even suffering for the Lord. Sometimes our living causes us to suffer, not that we want to suffer, but because of opposition to Christ. Opposition to Him is turned on us. In other words, it is not us that people are opposed to, but to Christ. Because we are here, however, we receive what was meant for Him. I can only tell you this, rejoice in your suffering, knowing that you are worthy to suffer for Christ. When my mom was going through surgery several years ago she said, “I know the Lord chastises those whom He loves, I just wish He had love someone else a little more.” But she did not despair in her suffering. I remember her telling me that, as she was being anesthetized, she kept praying the Lord’s Prayer over and over. And although she continues to have medical difficulties yet today, she is stronger in her faith, and I believe the whole family is as well, because of her suffering. She goes on rejoicing in her Lord, Jesus Christ.
Where do we get the strength to live for the Lord? It comes through the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, makes it clear that if you think you do not have enough faith to do something, go ahead and do it, in so doing the Lord will give you the faith to do it. The Holy Spirit is with us, He will never let us down. He is the one who gives us enough faith to go on. He is with us to the end of the earth. Here in our sanctification, just as in our justification, we always get it right when we point to God doing the doing and our being done to. Indeed, the Holy Spirit gives faith, and works to strengthen us and keep us in faith.
At one time we were separated from God, actively fighting against Him, that began at the moment of conception. Now we are His because He has reconciled us to Himself through the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ which he has given us in His place. Now with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can respond by fulfilling the “if” Paul includes in his epistle. That is, “-if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (v. 23). Perhaps we might say it better if we point back to God and say, as we continue in the faith, or as the Holy Spirit stirs in us to continue in the faith, we continue to have hope, which is a certainty of eternal life. May the Lord continue to strengthen you in the firm foundation in the hope of the Gospel which you have heard, always pointing to Jesus, until His kingdom comes. Ultimately then we say together, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Do Good to All - July 3, 2016 - Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 09) - Text: Galatians 6:1-10, 14-16

This morning we come to the end of Paul’s letter to the Galatians and a splendid letter it has been. All along we have pointed to Paul’s purpose in writing this letter. His purpose was to 1) establish his apostleship, 2) to refute the Judaizers, those people who were teaching a confusion over the Law and the Gospel, telling the Gentiles that they had to follow the Old Testament Ceremonial Law in order to be saved, and 3) to prevent the Christians from falling into the bondage of legalism, again telling them they had to keep the Law in order to be saved. This morning we read Paul’s words of encouragement to be helpful to one another and his words of closing. The questions we might ask of our text are, “what is it that God wants us to do?” and “how can we do it?”
Paul begins by encouraging us to bear one another’s burdens. A part of bearing someone’s burden is to correct them when they err. Concerning our correcting someone Paul says that we are to be gentle in correcting someone who errs. Paul says, “1Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (v.1,2). Notice that he does not say to “let it go.” Notice he does not say, “that’s okay.” What he says is to be gentle in correcting. This is difficult for us today because we do not like the word “sin” or the word “forgiveness” because both tend to make us think, “who are we to use these words.” As an example, when someone hurts you and says “I am sorry,” what do we say? More often than not we say something like, “That’s okay.” But sin is not okay! We should say, “you are forgiven,” but we think, who are we to announce forgiveness to someone. Paul reminds us that we are God’s children, charged with the words, “forgive as you have been forgiven.”
Yes, we are not to think more highly of ourselves for being able to forgive our neighbor. We are not to think that we are better than the person who has hurt us and is asking for forgiveness. Rather we are to think, “but by the grace of God, there go I”. We are to take a sober look at our own life. Paul says, “3For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5For each will have to bear his own load.” (v.3-5). As we look at our own lives we see how blessed we are that the Lord has preserved us from sin. When it comes to sin we can always find someone, at least in our own eyes, who looks like a bigger sinner. We can also find someone who is less a sinner. Our problem is that when we make a comparison we tend to compare ourselves to the wrong person. When it comes to our sinfulness we always like to compare ourselves to someone we think is a greater sinner. Yet, if we are going to make a comparison we are not to compare ourselves with others, but to Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God. Then, when we compare ourselves to Jesus, we can see our sins and our need for forgiveness. It is only as we make a careful look at our own lives that we can begin to work at bearing the burdens of others.
What is it that God wants us to do and how can we do it? God wants us to do the works of service He has prepared in advance for us to do. In our text Paul gets specific. Paul says, “6One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. 7Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (v.6-8 ). Paul says that we are to do good especially in sharing with our instructor. Paul is specific in saying instructor, or literally, the one who catechizes. The instructor is the one who has the Word. He is the one who shares the greatest gifts with you. It is through the Word that you are given all God’s good gifts and blessings, especially the most important gift, forgiveness of sins, because without forgiveness we know we do not have eternal life. It is only as we are given faith and forgiveness that we have the assurance of heaven, which is the greatest gift. So, Paul says that you are to share your benefits with him who distributes these gifts and blessings and this is not charity. In other words, we should not want to be credited for what we should be doing. Our motivation should not be human credit, rather we are to do what we are doing as if we were doing for the Lord. Our motivation is not a thank you, but that the Lord is glorified. God knows what is in our heart. He knows what is our motivation. He knows if we are working for a thank you or if we are working for His glory. Here we could go out on a tangent and talk about Jesus remind us not to let our left hand know what our right hand is doing and so on, but that will be for another sermon.
Paul talks about these works of service as either sowing in the flesh or sowing in the spirit. If we sow in the flesh we will reap corruption. In other words, if we concentrate and put too much effort into this world and the things of this world and not enough in the world to come then we are left with nothing, because we will inherit this world, eternal death and not heaven, eternal life. On the other hand, sowing in the spirit, concentration on and putting effort into the world to come, reaps heaven. In other words, Paul is stressing the importance of making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, of our being in the Word, our being in divine service at every opportunity, our being in Bible Class and Sunday School, our having personal and family devotions, our reading our Bibles. Now, here we could go out on a tangent and talk about Jesus’ visit with Mary and Martha, and other times when Jesus stress the importance of being ready for the world to come rather than concentrating on this world, but, again, that will be for another sermon.
This does lead to Paul’s reminder that faith is demonstrated in actions. Paul says, “9And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (v.9, 10). As I have said before, you do not have to tell anyone what your priorities are. People can tell by what you do. You do not have to tell God what your priorities are, He can look in your heart. Too often we find ourselves speaking about the importance of our faith yet we allow the “more important” things of this world to busy us out of faith. Every Sunday morning in our own church here and in churches around the country and around the world we can see the empty pews where people are not here because they have something more important to do than be in divine service and although they may protest that this is not the reason they are not here, because of something more important, if that is not the case, then they would be here! The fact is, we act according to our priorities. One of Satan’s greatest strategies is still being used today. In his book, Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis writes as a senior devil instructing his junior devil in the art of temptation. He writes that the greatest victory is not the lie that there is no god, but the lie that there is plenty of time. And even today the devil would have us believe that there is plenty of time. There is plenty of time to work on our faith as he involves us in so many things that we do not have time for our relationship with the Lord. Now, here we could go out on a tangent and talk about the story of the rich man who built bigger barns and said, “today I will eat drink and be merry and tomorrow I will worry about my soul,” and that very night his life was taken from him, but, again, that is for another sermon. What is it that God wants us to do? First and foremost He want us to be given the gifts He has to give so He can work in us to do the works of service He has for us to do.
But there is more to it than just doing works of service. There is the question of “How does God want us to do it?” He wants us to do works of service without boasting. Or, at least without boasting in ourselves. Paul says, “14But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (v. 14-16). Paul reminds us that he boasts, but only in the cross of Christ. What is it that motivates us to do works of service? Only the cross of Christ. Christ gave His all for us. Christ gave His life on the cross so that we might have life. Where would we be if Jesus had been to busy to die on the cross? Jesus came to give His life. His focus was clear. His course was resolute. It is His life, death and resurrection which brings us peace, true peace. Certainly we can be motivated by the Law. I could preach a lot of good guilt inducing sermons and I am sure that I have done so. And actually, we should admit that we like to hear Law sermons because they tend to make us feel justified in our sin. And if you do not believe we like law motivation, then look at the amount of e-mails you receive that use the law and guilt as a motivation to “keep the e-mail going.” But, Law motivation only goes so far. The greater motivation is the Gospel motivation. Certainly, and unfortunately, it takes longer to get one motivated by the Gospel, but the lasting effects are so much greater. The two scenarios are these. One way of getting a person to do something is through guilt and fear and guilt and fear are good motivators. This method of motivation is used quite often in our world today. If you do not pay your electric bill, your electricity, your lights, your air conditioning, everything  will be turned off. Fear motivates payment. The other method of motivating is the Gospel. This method is a gentle, because method. We look at how good our God has been to us and are motivated to respond. It is much like a child who gives a hug or says thank you even without being prodded. How does God motivate you? Do you respond out of guilt and fear or out of love?
God wants us to respond with works of service. God wants us to do this out of love for Him. With that in mind maybe we need a plan of action. How can we move from being motivate by guilt and fear to being motivated by love? We can begin by being in the Word, by making a regular habit of reading our Bible. This too takes work and determination, because there is always going to be the temptation to skip one day, then the next day, then the next and so on. It is the Word, the message of God’s great love for us, seen in the cross of Christ, which will stir in us to respond with works of service. And as we respond with works of service we will reap the rewards of more gifts from God. Remember, you cannot out give God. The more you give back to Him, who gives to us first, the more He gives back to us. And finally, it is these works of service which demonstrate our faith. As I said earlier, our priorities are seen in our actions.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is God’s Word to us. God’s Word to us through Paul might be summarized in this way. We are sinful human beings. This is our nature from conception. We are also saints. It is not that we will be saints, but we are saints made so by God’s grace through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Because of what Jesus has done for us we are motivated to respond by living our lives to His glory. First, we are loved by Him and given all His good gifts and blessing and then, as the Holy Spirit works in and through us, we do the works of service that God has for us to do, and we do them with our hearts and lips pointing to Christ and saying, To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.