Giving, Serving, Witnessing. Trinity 14, 2014
14th Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
September 21, 2014
“Giving, Serving, Witnessing”
Beloved in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Through the past few weeks we have been hearing that “you are a letter from Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
What does that mean? It means that by the Holy Spirit Christ writes into your hearts the promise that you are redeemed and righteous through His death on the cross and that alone. And He writes this promise in your hearts through the Holy Scripture and the means of grace in the Divine Service.
Today’s sermon is about the good works that follow from this writing of Jesus in serving, giving, and witnessing.
Good works are a necessary part of Jesus’ letter. They aren’t necessary for our salvation. The good news is that our salvation has been accomplished by Jesus. But good works are necessary because when Jesus is writing His promise of salvation on our hearts by the Holy Spirit, our hearts are being changed. We want to do what pleases God because we are thankful and joyful because of this promise of salvation in Christ which He has written into our hearts.
But it’s not quite that simple. The writing of Jesus’ letter in our hearts is opposed by the old writing that is already there—the writing of sin, which has defaced and distorted our human nature. So Christians are conflicted. They are carrying two letters in them, one from the Holy Spirit, whose message is life and salvation. The other from the flesh, whose message is sin and death.
Paul described this conflict in the epistle reading. “But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh. For these are opposed to each other, that you may not do what you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”
As Christians, we have these two competing writings within us trying to make their story the story of our lives. Paul’s seemingly simple advice is to “walk by the Spirit”—that is, let the Spirit’s letter define our lives.
But that that is easier said than done is the experience of many Christians. We hear the list of the works of the flesh and seem to hear our own lives being read out loud:
“Hostility, quarrels, selfish ambition, divisions…” Not to mention the grosser vices: “fornication, impurity, witchcraft, idolatry, drunkenness.” Then Paul seems to damn us with his concluding remarks: “I warn you…those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Is there any way out of this terrible sentence? Yes: “Walk by the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh…If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”
To be under the law is to be under a curse. It is to be under the sentence of death. The Law of God is holy and good, but God gave it to the Israelites in fire and thunder on Mt. Sinai to terrify them because they were wicked. The law was added because of transgressions. It was given to reveal the wickedness of our flesh, so that the continual lusting of the flesh against God’s holy will would be revealed.
To be under the law is to be under force and compulsion. When the law says: “Honor your father and mother,” our old nature suddenly sees all the ways it doesn’t want to obey our parents. When the law says, “Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy;” that is, “gladly hear and learn God’s Word,” the sinful flesh says, “How much?” “How often?”
The law doesn’t produce glad obedience in us. It compels us to obey outwardly from fear of God’s punishment. Meanwhile, our sinful hearts would rather break the law.
To be under the law in this way is to be under a writing that produces death. Because even when you try to fulfill the law’s demands your heart is still warring against the law. And the law of God doesn’t reward partial attempts to keep it. If you are under the law you are obligated to keep all of it—not only to honor your father and mother outwardly but also inwardly to cherish and love them. Not only to hold God’s word sacred outwardly by attending church and studying scripture, but inwardly to gladly hear and learn it. Not only to refrain from committing adultery but to love, honor, and cherish your spouse in your heart.
And to fail to fulfill the law is to be under the sentence of death and wrath. That’s what it is to be ruled by the flesh. It is a vicious circle. You desire what is against God’s law and come under His curse. His curse makes us love Him even less, which only increases our guilt.
But Christians, thank God, are not under the law. This is the letter Jesus is writing on our hearts. We have been redeemed from the curse of the law by Jesus, who was made a curse for us, being crucified on the tree. There with Him the handwriting of the law that stood against us was taken away. The guilt of our sinful flesh was atoned for when His flesh was pierced for us. From Jesus’ pierced side came flowing the water and the blood, signifying the means by which the Holy Spirit cleanses us of guilt—the water of Holy Baptism and the holy blood of Christ which cleanses us within when we drink it at the altar.
Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of the law. He has atoned for the sin that still lives in our flesh and put it out of the way so that it is no longer counted to us. He writes this promise in our hearts by His Holy Spirit.
To be led by the Spirit is to walk by faith in this promise. It means to look to Jesus’ cross for assurance of salvation instead of to the law and our own good works. It means to walk in repentance and turn away from sin to works that are pleasing to God, meanwhile trusting not in our changing our ways but only in the blood of Jesus that was shed for us.
When you walk like this, you are not under the law. It means you resist the selfish desires of your flesh, but it also means when you see the many ways your flesh lusts against the Spirit you take refuge in the promise that the blood of Jesus was shed for all your sin.
So we come to church. We confess our sins and are absolved. We hear the word of God declare the cross of Christ and the death of our sin and the end of God’s anger toward us. We come to the altar and Jesus consoles us with the body and blood He gave on Calvary to redeem us from the curse of the law. We go home and during the week let God write on us by reading Scripture. WE call on Him in prayer to bring forth the Spirit’s fruit in us.
Then what? We pour ourselves into serving, giving, and witnessing.
Serving is done first and foremost in the callings God has given us. If I am an employee, I serve my boss and my customers, not myself. If I am a boss, I seek to serve my employees and my customers. If I am a parent, I serve my children by teaching them, disciplining them, giving them my time and attention. This is the first place we learn to serve, and we need God’s grace and the Spirit’s help that we serve God faithfully in our callings.
Secondly, we serve our neighbors, we serve at the church, we serve those in need. When people are as busy as they are today, this takes grace. We need God’s help to manage our time and energy so that we have it to give to other people, and this requires nourishment in the form of Scripture, Divine Service, and prayer, that God would help us serve.
We give of the wealth with which God has blessed us. Here we are in the same situation as with time and energy for serving. We need to ask God for His grace to help us manage our money so that we have something to give. But also it is a matter of faith, trusting that the Lord who provided His Son for our redemption will also provide for our earthly needs.
We set aside a percentage of each paycheck for the Lord which we give at the congregation in which Christ feeds us His word and Sacrament. 10 percent is a good starting point, since it is what God commanded in the Old Testament. It’s a starting point, not an ending point or a bragging point, because our goal should be to excel at giving. Jesus has given us everything. We have heaven bought and paid for with His blood and His innocent suffering and death.
It is a joy to get to give together with the Lord. Beyond and above the percentage we give to our congregation, we give to missions and to those in need.
Finally, we witness. As we are written on by Christ, as He more and more writes His promise of salvation in our hearts in Divine Service and Scripture, as we grow in prayer, as we become better servants and more generous givers, we will have more and more opportunity to bear witness to Jesus who died for our sins and the sins of the whole world. This is the most priceless gift we can give, and it is the highest honor for Jesus to allow us to give it. We should pray that Christ would give us this opportunity, precisely as we see and complain about so many drifting away from Christ and His church. In fact, let us pray for this now.
Our dear Father, we thank you that through Your Holy Spirit You make us Your letter. You write the promise of the forgiveness of sins through Christ into our hearts through Your Word. We pray that You would continue this writing on us. Make us more diligent in reading and hearing Your word proclaimed and in receiving your blessed gifts of Holy Absolution and the body and blood of Christ. Give us opportunities to bear witness to You and lead us by Your Holy Spirit so that we find joy in serving you and our neighbor and in giving to support the preaching of Your holy Word. Grant that through Your writing on us we may be living letters declaring Your free salvation to the world, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.