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Jesus Raises Us Up In the Divine Service. Trinity 16, 2017

widow-of-nain_thumb[1].jpgThe Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Ephesians 3:13-21, Luke 7:11-17

October 1, 2017

Jesus Raises us Up: Divine Service and Scripture

 

Jesus

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith (Rom. 1:16-17).  Those verses are our theme this year for the fall stewardship series as we approach the anniversary of the Reformation.

 

The Gospel has great power, even if that power is not apparent to human eyes.  That is the reason why the devil goes to great lengths to ensure that it is not heard.  Whenever it is proclaimed, God’s power goes forth against Satan’s power, both to save those who do not believe and to strengthen those who do.  If we are to continue to salvation and eternal life, if we are to have joy as we walk the road of the cross to salvation, we need the Gospel.  We need God’s power.  The place God gives the Gospel is in the Divine Service and in Scripture.

 

In the Gospel reading for today, God gives us a living picture of what the Gospel does to a person who first hears it with faith; and in the epistle reading He explains what the Gospel does for those who believe it and continue to receive it.

 

In the reading from Luke Jesus goes in to a town called Nain with His disciples.  As they come near the gate of the city, they meet a funeral procession coming toward them.  It is a funeral procession, and the body being carried out to burial is a young man, the only-begotten son of his mother, who is a widow.  It’s as if Jesus is meeting Himself and His mother.  He is moved with compassion for the grieving mother and says, “Don’t cry.” 

 

Supposedly, the rule for a Jewish teacher like Jesus was that, if they met a funeral procession, they were obliged to join it and share the grief of the bereaved.  But Jesus instead touches the coffin, and the procession stops.  Instead of mourning death with the funeral, He simply ends it.  He speaks a short command: Young man, I say to you, rise!  The man sits up in his coffin and begins to speak, and Jesus gives him back to his mother.  See the power of Jesus’ word!  He doesn’t do any magic, any elaborate ritual.  With the same simplicity with which He commanded sickness and demons and storms on the sea, He speaks to death and it releases the dead.

 

When Paul says, The Gospel is the power of God for salvation, you can picture this funeral, where Jesus simply speaks a word and the dead man sits up in his coffin.  That’s how the Gospel works; it releases those who are spiritually dead so that, all at once, they become alive to God.

As soon as a person believes that his sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who made atonement for them by His suffering and death, his sins are forgiven.  God is perfectly pleased with him.  He imputes or accounts to that person Jesus’ righteousness.  He is an heir of eternal life.  All that happens the very moment a person believes.

 

Yet we still have not taken possession of all that is His.  His kingdom is ours.  The joys of heaven are ours.  The full measure of His love is ours, and so is His glory and holiness.  But we still have to press on to take possession of these things, so that Jesus’ love, power, wisdom, and goodness become manifest in us, and so that the old sinful nature dies off.  Paul describes this in his prayer for the Ephesians: For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:13, 16-19). 

 

In the Divine Service and in Scripture, Jesus raises us up through the Gospel.

 

We forget where we are.  We deceive ourselves and let ourselves be deceived most of our lives.  We come to church and think we are taking a couple of hours away from our lives.  No!  When you come to the service of God you are taking an hour or two away from death. Death doesn’t visit you in your final hours.  Death attends your whole life.  We are all flying towards death.  Death sits at the foot of your bed with an hourglass in your final years, but he was there when you were young, too, laughing as with the sins of youth you forged the chains that would ensnare you in middle age.  He held the hourglass in his hand all the time, and the sands were always running out.

 

But that is just the death of the body.  But from the very moment you were conceived you were not just dying.  You were already dead in the real sense of the word.  Unable to hear God, unable to know Him or to have the joy of life that is truly life.  You were dead in trespasses and sins.

 

Then, one way or the other, you were brought in your lifelessness through the doors of the

Church, and you ran into Jesus with His disciples.  And Jesus had compassion.  He poured water on your head and preached the Gospel to you.  He said, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  He proclaimed to you how He paid for all your sins, giving Himself up to be crucified, to die, to be placed in the tomb, and to be raised for your justification.  And you sat up in your body of death and began to speak your first words of life in God, confessing your faith in Jesus to others and your sins to God, calling upon Him.  And the Lord gave you to your spiritual mother, the holy Christian Church, so that she would continue to care for you, and you would serve her as the widow’s son did his mother.

 

But what happened after that?

 

You found that being a Christian wasn’t easy.  You were still tempted by all kinds of evil.  And even when you wanted to do what was good and pleasing to God, you found that you fell short.  You found that you struggled to honor your parents.  Maybe you made your teachers and other authorities over you angry again and again, even when you tried to do better.  In confirmation perhaps you weren’t diligent and zealous to learn the catechism.  You were constantly tempted to impress your friends, even when that meant turning away from what pleased your Lord.  You struggled with pride, or with forgiving and loving your enemies.  You neglected prayer or were inattentive in worship.

 

It never gets any easier.  As long as we are in this world, we have the flesh, what Paul calls this body of death (Romans 7), that fights against the new man in us.  This body of death is always working to drag us back down into death, to keep us from reaching the fullness of life that God has promised us in Christ.

 

So even today when we came here today, even believers in Christ, came here with death at work in us.

 

But Jesus came here today to meet you and raise you up so that you may receive His Spirit and have strength to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  (Eph. 3:19)  Jesus has come to put death into remission in us with a word.

 

So He absolved you and loosed you of your sins from the past week and all the ones before.  Now He preaches the Gospel to you.  And in a moment He will strengthen the inner man, the man in His image, with His flesh and purify You within with His atoning blood.

 

The same compassion He had for the widow and her son motivates Him to come here and do this.  In the Small Catechism’s questions in preparation for the Lord’s Supper, Luther asks Finally, why do you wish to go to the Sacrament?  And the answer is: That I may learn to believe that Christ, out of great love, died for my sin, and also learn from Him to love God and my neighbor. 

 

Jesus comes to the Divine Service to raise you up, to put to kill the body of death that is so strong in us, to make you comprehend the height and depth of His love, to dwell in your heart through faith and manifest His power and love in you until you are fully raised to the right hand of God.

 

 

In the Divine Service and in Scripture, Jesus raises us up through the Gospel.

 

If we grasped this, how eager we would be to meet Jesus in the Divine Service!  When we have such a fight against our old nature and faith is cold and weak and temptation is so strong, this place where Christ meets us is where we find divine help in the gospel and sacraments.

 

But so often we don’t feel this help.  I am sure that someone here is thinking, “I’ve been going to church for decades, but I’ve never experienced any miraculous transformation from the Divine Service.”

 

I have experienced the same thing.  Often it is because I come to the Divine Service but neglect the Scripture during the week.  Then I am often cold and distracted during the Divine Service.  This happens because I mistakenly think that life is found in all the other things I do during the week—whether work or play—and that the Scripture and the Divine Service are interruptions of life.  They are not.  They are interruptions of the death that is at work in my body.

 

That’s how it is with me, and I am forced to go to church and read Scripture because of my calling, even if I am lazy.  But it has become common for so many of our members to come to the Divine Service once or twice a month.  To have strength to comprehend the love of Christ, to know the love of Christ in its fullness—can that happen if you are exposed to it only a few times a month?  Or even once a week?  As long as we have death at work in us, we need the power of God, the Gospel preached and read, and the Sacraments, to raise us up.  We come to know the love of Christ as we come to know Him through meditation on His Word.  This is not a chore, a job you have to do.  It is heaven—to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. 
And so if Christ is to dwell in our hearts by faith, and increasingly display His power among us, it will happen as we gladly hear His Word and grow in the knowledge of it.  Then we will also grow in our knowledge of His love.

 

In the Divine Service and in Scripture, Jesus raises us up through the GospelEven today He raises you up.  He pronounces you righteous, sinless, and an heir of eternal life.  He invites you to come with your body of death to His table and learn to know His love that surpasses knowledge, that moved Him to die for your sin.  He doesn’t hold against you the ways you have neglected His Word in the past.  He invites you to know and experience His love by reading your bible every day, by confessing your sins and being absolved, by letting the called minister of His word teach you it.

 

I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation.  Jesus’ Gospel is God’s might that gives us faith in Him and makes us alive, and it is His mighty power that strengthens us in the inner man, so that we grow to know His great love for us and reflect it in this world.

 

Oh Lord, grant us to know Your love that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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Thanksgiving for the Lord’s Discipline. Thanksgiving Day 2016. Deuteronomy 8:1-10

January 11, 2017 Leave a comment

puritanos-peregrinosThanksgiving Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Deuteronomy 8:1-10 (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

November 24, 2016

“Thanksgiving for the Lord’s Discipline”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Setting apart a day to give thanks to God has a long history in America.  The Pilgrims didn’t invent it.  The French and Spanish explorers are said to have had their own “thanksgivings” to give thanks to God for allowing them to arrive safely in the new world.  A group of English settlers in Virginia wrote a constitution for their colony in 1619 that said “that the day of our ships arrival … in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”  Both Catholics and Protestants set aside days of Thanksgiving because they recognized, or wanted people to recognize, that they didn’t get to America safely or accomplish anything here on their own.  God enabled them and allowed them.  Without His favor they would have died on the voyage, and without His favor they would not be able to succeed in anything once they arrived.  So together, as a society, they gave thanks to God, recognizing His hand in the events of their lives, and thanking Him for the good He allowed them to receive in spite of their many sins against Him.

 

We aren’t like this anymore in America.  We don’t recognize God’s hand in the things that happen to us as a nation.  And imagine the President or Congress announcing a national day of thanksgiving, or a national day of supplication and prayer, in response to some great blessing received or tragedy experienced by the nation, announcing that schools and businesses and the stock exchange would be closed so that the nation might turn to God for a day!

 

Things are not much better in the Church among Christians.  If we announced a special service of thanksgiving in response to a special blessing of God on a day that people are not accustomed to coming to church, I know very well what would happen.  Even, say, if someone wrote a check to St. Peter for several hundred thousand dollars, covering the whole cost of our roof repairs.  This is an indication that for many people worship is not the spontaneous, living response of their hearts to God’s love and gifts; for many people it is a formality, doing what they think is required and no more.  Worship is on Sunday, period.

 

But God does not stop being our God at noon on Sundays.  He doesn’t stop giving us gifts then or providing for our needs of body and soul.  Every day He lets His sun shine on the just and the wicked alike.  I believe that God has made me and all creatures, that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them [or preserves them] Luther’s Catechism teaches us to say.  And it goes on to remind us of all the gifts He gives us, day in and day out, whether we please Him or not: He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.  He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.  He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.  For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

 

Yes, as we sing in the communion liturgy each week, “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, Holy Lord, Almighty Father, Everlasting God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  It’s only right that we should recognize that God has given us our life and existence, and that He constantly provides for our lives to be sustained, whether we do good or evil.  And recognizing this, it’s right that we should give thanks from our hearts to Him at all times.  And when He shows us special kindness as a church or as a nation, it is right that we should publicly thank Him in the Church with a special service of thanksgiving.

 

This has immediate practical importance for your lives as individuals, this issue of recognizing God’s hand in your life and thanking Him.  Because if we do not recognize God as the giver of the good things in our lives and give Him thanks—the things that we need and the people and things we love—we will not be able to recognize Him as the giver of the things that seem evil to us.  When we get sick and when we suffer in various ways, we will feel ourselves abandoned or cursed by God, because we have not learned to recognize Him and His hand in all that we experience in life.

 

Consider the reading from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy chapter 8.  You would think that the people of Israel would have no difficulty understanding that God was intimately involved with what happened to them.  He had, after all, sent ten plagues on the Egyptians to make Pharaoh let them go; led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night in the wilderness; parted the Red Sea to bring Israel through in safety and then drowned Pharaoh and his mighty army.  He had fed them with bread from heaven in the desert.  He had come down on Mt. Sinai in fire and spoke the Ten Commandments to them.  He had entered into a covenant with them there that they would be His people and He would be there God.

 

And yet they did not recognize that God was among them and leading them.  At the beginning of their exodus, right after coming through the Red Sea, they went a few days without water and began to say, “Is the Lord among us or not?”  (Ex. 17:7)  Then Moses struck a rock with his staff, and water came out for the whole congregation of 3 million.  But after 40 years in the wilderness they had still not learned to recognize God’s presence among them and how He was providing for them and teaching Him the whole way.  So Moses explains to them, not long before his death: You shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord…Know then, that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.  Deut. 8:2-3, 5

                                                                                                                                  

The Israelites did not understand the reason why they experienced the things they did, why after God gloriously led them out of Egypt, He allowed them to wander in circles in the desert for 40 years.  Maybe many of them began to think that God’s promise that He loved them and had chosen them to be His own people out of all the nations on the earth was just religious talk that doesn’t actually have any significance in real life, because they seemed like they were going nowhere, and the promised land seemed a long way away.

 

But Moses explained that no, God did have a reason for their wandering in circles.  As a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.  A man disciplines his son because he loves his son.  Kids with strict parents look at other kids whose parents let them do whatever they want and think those kids have it better.  But as adults we understand that parents who let their kids do whatever they want on the internet without paying attention, who let their kids run around as teenagers without paying attention to what they’re doing are parents who don’t love their kids very much.  Parents who love their kids allow their kids freedom when their kids have proven that they can handle the freedom without ruining themselves.  They “test” their kids “to know what is in [their] hearts.”

 

This is why God led the Israelites in circles in the desert forty years, why He humbled them so that they had to rely on God to drop bread down from heaven if they were going to eat.  He didn’t allow them much freedom at all, did He?  It was to discipline them so that they worshipped Him—that is, so that they believed in Him, so that they trusted Him, so that they learned faith in Him.  Then when they entered the promised land and suddenly had houses that other people built, and rich farmland that other people cultivated, they would not turn away from Him and think they had gotten all this for themselves, or worship the idols of the people who lived there before them.  They would remember the Lord who brought them out of slavery and give Him thanks for the good land that He had given them.

 

Another amazing thing is hidden in that sentence: Know then in your heart, that, as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.  It’s easy to focus on the word “discipline” and think of a dad in the old days taking his son behind the woodshed with a switch or something.  But that is not the key word: the key word is “son.”  I don’t think anywhere before the exodus of the people of Israel did God call any human being his “son,” not even Abraham or Noah or Enoch, who walked with God.  But here Moses tells the people of Israel that God has been treating them like His Son.  A man disciplines his son not only because he loves him but because the son is going to inherit everything that belongs to his father, and he needs to learn to be wise so that he will be capable of managing his inheritance instead of destroying it and himself.  God is dealing with Israel, rebellious Israel, idol-worshipping Israel, as His own son, whom he is preparing to inherit everything that is His.

 

This would have little meaning for us as Gentiles, as non-Israelites.  Our ancestors worshipped idols, and God did not discipline them and deal with them as His sons.  But long ago someone came to them and taught them about Jesus and proclaimed Him as the Son of God.  And our believing ancestors taught their children about Him until it came down to us.

 

We learned that Jesus, the Son of God from eternity, through whom God the Father created and preserves the world, became the son of Adam, one of us.  He lived among us so that we might see in Him the exact image of God the Father.  And being our brother, He died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and ascended with our human nature to the throne of God.  Through His suffering the wrath of God for our sins, He caused human beings to be adopted by God as sons; and He received the inheritance of eternal glory in human flesh as a pledge of what is to come for all who believe in Him.

 

Because of Him, you have a certain pledge from God about what His heart is toward you and what He is doing in the events of your life.

 

They are not random, meaningless events, like the Israelites were tempted to think.  God is dealing with you as sons.  He is dealing with you like a father who loves his son and who wants to prepare him to inherit all that is his.

 

A father loves his son, so he provides for him; he gives him food, shelter, clothes, and defends him from danger.  At the same time, because he loves his son, he also tests him and disciplines him.  He humbles him so that he learns to be faithful and obedient when he is not entrusted with much freedom.  He schools him so that when he grows to be a man and inherits his father’s house, he will not squander it and ruin himself.

 

Many of you are dealing with personal suffering that is hard to see as God’s love.  You are sick or have constant pain.  It may be that the doctor has told you you have a limited amount of time left on earth.  Others are suffering from seeing their children or relatives in conflict or unforgiveness, or having abandoned God.

 

We grieve over what our nation has become, many of us, since many of our people have forgotten right and wrong, forgotten what is decent and good.  Most have also forgotten God and seem to be past repentance.

 

And then for many of us there is the grief at the state of the church—especially our own congregation, but also the Christian church more generally in our country….

 

 

How can we give thanks?

 

God has not stopped being kind, gracious, and merciful.  See how freely Jesus heals the lepers of their diseases, even though 9 out of 10 are unthankful.  He continues to provide us with wealth, peace, safety.

 

But when we suffer He is dealing with us as sons.  See how His only begotten Son was chastened with the lash for your sins, how He hung on the cross, suspended by nails in His hands and feet, crowned with a curse, abandoned by God.  Did the Father love Jesus?  He did.  Yet Jesus, though He was a son, was made perfect through suffering.

 

God is dealing with you as sons, preparing you to inherit glory with Jesus.

 

Do not lose heart.  Go against your heart and praise Him “at all times and in all places.”  Recognize His love not only in your daily bread, in the turkey on the table and the family gathered around it, but also in your afflictions.

 

Amen.

 

SDG

Letting Jesus In, Letting Jesus Out. Trinity 22, 2016 Revelation 3:14-22

January 11, 2017 Leave a comment

revelation-1Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Revelation 3:14-22

October 23, 2016

“Letting Jesus In; Letting Jesus Out—Witnessing”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Lutherans are not known for being fanatical.  No one faints from emotion in our Divine Services like they sometimes do in worship in other churches.  We aren’t known for looking for every opportunity to turn conversations toward spiritual matters or for peppering our speech with “God-talk.”

 

As a result, we may get the impression that as Lutherans we believe in moderation in spiritual matters or religion.  Yes, we believe that Jesus is our Savior.  But everything has its place.  We shouldn’t get too carried away with religion and end up making a spectacle of ourselves.

 

But that conclusion would be a mistake.  Emotional excesses in worship can be bad; it can also be bad to be preachy and act hyper-spiritual in your daily life.  Martin Luther criticized the “fanatics” or “enthusiasts” of his day for these things.  But Divine Service in his church in Wittenberg was not an emotionless formality, even though the congregation was made up entirely of normally stoic Germans.

 

An example of this: toward the end of his life, Luther was distributing the blood of Christ at Holy Communion.  He was old, and his hands shook.  As a result of his trembling, he spilled some of the precious blood on the stone floor near the altar.  The person who wrote down the story said that Luther’s eyes filled with tears at the dishonor he had inadvertently done to the Lord’s blood, and he said, “O Lord Jesus, help!”  Then he got down on his old hands and knees and sucked the consecrated blood of Christ from the stone floor, lest someone step on it.  And the congregation, instead of laughing or being disgusted at Luther’s piety toward the consecrated wine of the Lord’s Supper, toward the blood of Jesus, broke into sobs, seeing the old reformer do this.

 

Quite a bit of emotion, quite a visible display of zeal in practice for something Luther had taught people so zealously—that the Sacrament of the Altar is “the true body and blood of Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.”

 

Lutherans are, or should be, against making laws about the proper amount of emotion or the proper amount a Christian should display his faith in Christ in public.  A person may have true, living faith in Jesus and yet not talk about it a lot in public or display a lot of emotion at church.  Some of that has to do with a person’s temperament, some of it with the strength of his or her faith.  Some of it has to do with the fact that genuine faith is not a matter of outward display.

 

We make those allowances, yet we should never make the mistake of thinking that moderation in Christianity is good or even possible for a genuine Christian.  A Christian cannot be “lukewarm”, as the Lord tells the church in Laodicea that they are.  A Christian cannot be “neither cold nor hot.”  And a church that has become “neither cold nor hot” is one in which the cold and dead members have mixed to such a degree with the living, believing members that the entire church has become nauseating to the risen Lord Jesus.  “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit (or vomit) you out of my mouth.”  (Rev. 3:16)

 

Why does lack of zeal, “moderate Christianity”, “reasonable Christianity”, lukewarmness make Jesus sick?  We forget that Jesus Himself was not “moderate.”  He was (and is), we might say, a zealot, a radical.  Yes, He is amazingly gentle and patient with the weak, the sinful, and the fallen, so that He didn’t speak a harsh word to those crushed and overwhelmed by their sins, cast off by their society as “deplorable” and “irredeemable.”  Yet His graciousness toward sinners was never grace toward sin itself.  He “gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).  He was so committed, so passionate in His hatred of sin that He gave His life not only to forgive and cover sin but also to remove and destroy it.  He was so passionate in His opposition to false and hypocritical worship that He went into the temple and threw down the tables of the money changers.  He was so zealous in opposing the false teaching of the Pharisees, scribes, and chief priests that He continued to preach and teach the Gospel of grace in opposition to them, and to denounce them, until they connived to have Him crucified.  Jesus was and is not cool and moderate.  He is fiery.  His feet gleam like gold coming out of a fire.  His face shines like the sun.  His eyes are like flames.  He is hot and burning with love for His Father and for you.

 

Because He burns with charity He is infinitely gentle with the weak, but He is nauseated by lukewarmness.  When people and churches claim to be Christian but are moderate and reasonable in their love for God, His good news of grace, and for other sinners, when they are lukewarm, self-satisfied, content, and unwilling to do anything that might risk their comfort, it makes our Lord ill.  He can’t stand it.  He will spit such Christianity, such so-called “Christians”, such churches out of His mouth.  That, says the Lord of the Church to the congregation is Laodicea, is the kind of church you are.

 

How did the church in Laodicea become this way—lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, disgusting to its Lord?    He tells them: You say, I am rich, I have prospered, I need nothing…(Rev. 3:17)  The church in Laodicea had become wealthy and prosperous in earthly goods.  But this wasn’t the cause of their lukewarmness.  They were lukewarm because they were not “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).  They foolishly believed that since they had earthly wealth they “lacked nothing.”  We can draw this conclusion as well—their wealth indicated that the church in Laodicea had not had to endure the persecution we saw in the other churches.  Persecuted Christians are typically denied the opportunities available to the rest of society.  High positions are often denied them.

 

It may also be that the church in Laodicea had made a practice of compromising with the pagan world around them.  Back a few generations ago lots of people belonged to secret societies like the Freemasons or the other lodges, but it was forbidden in the Missouri Synod, because the members of those societies took part in religious rites and confessions of faith that were contrary to the confession of faith they made as members of the Lutheran Church.  Today people are often offended by the practice of “closed communion” which is the practice and teaching of the Missouri Synod.  By practicing “closed communion” we are saying that communing at a church is tied to confessing faith in that church’s teaching.  As a result those who believe another doctrine, or who are in fellowship with those who teach another doctrine, should not commune at LCMS altars, nor should those who confess our doctrine commune at a church with another doctrine.  That teaching offends people today; but for a century and a few decades, the LCMS’ teaching about lodge membership was an offensive teaching to many (even inside the LCMS).

People typically belonged to lodges or to the Masons—at least, this is what most people said—for the sake of business.  Lodge members helped each other out and sent business one another’s way.  Not being a member of a lodge could hurt people financially.  It was this way for people in the early church too.  If you wouldn’t step foot in the temple of an idol or burn incense to Caesar, it could hurt your business opportunities.  Yet the church in Laodicea was prosperous.  It’s quite possible they had become this way by compromising their witness to Christ by engaging in the worship of idols, or giving the appearance of this being possible for a faithful Christian.

 

The church in Laodicea put its trust in its earthly wealth and in the freedom from persecution it had experienced.  Since it had those things, it didn’t think it needed anything else.  It became a church where Jesus was left outside in the cold, knocking on the door to be let in.  But the Laodiceans wouldn’t let Jesus in.  Jesus was sure to take away their prosperity and their seeming peace and security.  He would bring with Him white robes to put on—His innocence and righteousness before God.  But He would also rub eye salve on their eyes and make them see that they were really wretched, pitiful, impoverished, and naked before God.  And He would bring gold refined in the fire—that is, faith in Him instead of in earthly prosperity and security, and the fire of persecution, of suffering and trial that purifies our faith in Christ.  That true gold from Jesus very probably would mean the loss of the perishable gold that they had come to trust in and see as a sign that God was pleased with them.

 

The churches in the nations that have had Christianity for centuries have a lot in common with the church in Laodicea.  Christianity was the dominant religion in Europe for almost 2000 years in the south, and by about 1000 A.D. it had travelled to the northernmost reaches of Europe.  From there it spread to every continent that Europeans colonized or settled.  And for most of that time the churches did not experience persecution in an overt way.  There was persecution of faithful Christians, but it was always by others who also claimed to be Christians; in Europe and America no one persecuted the church with the open admission that it was Christianity they were attacking.  Only in the French Revolution in 1789 did we see the first explicit persecution of Christians by non-Christians.  It happened again in Russia and other places where communism took hold.  But in America the church has never experienced that.  On the contrary, up until recently the churches experienced peace.  They were large and prosperous, and its members became wealthy.

 

And as a result many people came to expect earthly peace and prosperity.  They saw full pews not with suspicion, as a sign perhaps that the church had compromised with the world, but as a sign of the church’s success, perhaps even of its godliness.  They became content.

 

And now that the pews are emptying in many churches, and the heat is being turned on by forces that oppose Christianity’s formerly dominant position in our country, we see many churches and Christians scrambling to find ways to fill the pews up again, to regain our former position of cultural dominance.

 

Why?  Because the churches have come to trust in earthly peace, freedom from persecution, and earthly prosperity.  They think that when they have those things “they need nothing,” but if those things are gone, they have lost everything.

 

But a church that trusts in earthly peace and prosperity is a church that leaves Jesus outside in the cold, knocking to be let in.  A church like this can’t witness to Jesus.  Their witness will not be faithful and true (Rev. 3:14); they may preach and talk about Jesus, who was crucified.  But if their trust is in the earthly peace and security that comes from large numbers and cultural dominance, when the fire and heat of persecution comes to purify them, they will cast Jesus aside.  Witness to Jesus means faithfully teaching His Word, but it also includes the witness of suffering for that Word.  That is the way the devil is conquered, just as Jesus conquered Satan not by gaining the whole world but giving His life on the cursed, shameful cross.

 

During this fall series we have heard with our ears “what the Spirit says to the churches.”  I pray that God also gives us ears to hear with repentance and faith.  What does the Spirit say to this church, St. Peter, in the letter to the church in Laodicea?

 

It is a hard question to face willingly.  Are we also “lukewarm, neither hot nor cold”, about to be spit out of the mouth of our Lord?  And if so, what should we do?

 

If I say “Yes,” how easy it will be simply to get angry at me, and reject my answer as my opinion, not Christ’s.  How easy it will be also, if you accept the judgment, to simply put your head down like a beaten dog and say, “It’s impossible to please God.”

 

But that isn’t why Jesus speaks this way to the church in Laodicea.  He didn’t write them off as hopeless.  He came as a petitioner, knocking on the door, calling to them to let them in to His house.  He does the same with all churches that have become lukewarm, just as He once called out to Adam when he was hiding in the garden, running away from his Lord because he had sinned and was afraid of the punishment.

 

–similarity:

Idolizing the earthly prominence we once enjoyed

 

That prominence was not evil, but we have something better than that—Jesus, who was crucified for us, Jesus, the risen Lord of the church and of the world

 

That idolizing has kept us from witnessing to Him in a community where we have great opportunity.

 

Jesus not only knocks on the door to come into the Church, but He wants to go out in us to extend His kingdom through the preaching of the Gospel which He has given to us.

 

+Let Jesus in

 

-recognize our sin in clinging to earthly security, peace, prosperity

-desire to bear “faithful and true witness” to Him in our families, to our friends and neighbors, as a church in our community.

 

–believe the Gospel: His zeal covers our natural lukewarmness; His love our lovelessness; His willingness to suffer for others our self-seeking

–your lukewarmness which you will struggle with till the day you die is covered, cleansed, forgiven

 

–this repentance and faith is the work of the Holy Spirit alone

–but it has begun where there is the desire to change and be forgiven.

 

+Let Jesus out

–witnessing to Jesus: two parts.  Proclaiming His Word faithfully, and standing fast under the hardship and even persecution that comes because of His Word.

 

–proclaiming the Word—both law and gospel

Sin and righteousness

 

–home/family/neighbors

–as a church: planning, going into the community and inviting them in.  Welcoming those who come.

 

–Suffering and persecution:

This comes by itself

Enduring it, and continuing to be faithful and true witnesses to Christ, is witnessing embodied, not simply in talk

There we give a picture in our lives of the Christ who suffered to save sinners.

 

+Jesus comes in to us

This is “dining with Jesus” having fellowship and communion with Him

By faith we cling to Him, are joined with Him.  We share His grace and His suffering.

 

Sharing with Him in suffering is followed by sharing with Him in glory.

 

May we go out with Him, even if these are the final years of our congregation’s life, so that we may rejoice forever in our fellowship with Him.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

The Church’s Lord. Trinity 17 2016. Revelation 1:9-20

January 11, 2017 Leave a comment

revelation-117th Sunday after Trinity (First Sunday of Fall Series)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Revelation 1:9-20

September 18, 2016

“What the Spirit Says to the Churches about the Lord of the Church”

 

Iesu Iuva

Six things—Divine Service.  Scripture.  Prayer.  Giving.  Serving.  Witnessing.  A person who is growing in faith in Christ through His pure Word also grows in these six things.  That’s why for the last nine years I’ve taught about those six things every fall, and urged you to work to grow in them.

 

And so we can easily evaluate right here this morning, in the quiet of our hearts, whether we can say of ourselves that we have grown in these six things in the past nine years.  Whether we have made a serious effort to do so.  Not in order to make ourselves feel guilty—or proud—but realizing that whether or not I am growing in faith is a serious thing for which I will one day give an account to God; realizing that our growth or decline in faith and its fruits has consequences not only for ourselves, but for this congregation’s health.

 

Those six things—attending Divine Service, reading Scripture, praying, giving, serving, witnessing—are all gifts from God.  And yet a person could easily look at them and think that they are all things that we have to do. 

 

But there is one other thing in the fall series that is not something we do in any respect.  It is something we can only receive from God.  And without it our efforts to grow in the other six will be in vain.  We can only rightly do and grow in them if we first receive this first thing.

 

That thing is Christ.

That is so basic that it may seem insulting for me to mention Him.  Of course we’ve received Christ!  We’ve been coming to church for decades!

 

And I’m certainly not disputing that you have received Christ.  I’m a Lutheran pastor, not a Baptist.  So I preach and believe that when you as a little baby were baptized you received Christ—or He received you.

 

Yet many people receive Christ and then lose Him again.  It’s easy for the real Christ to be replaced by a false Christ in the preaching of the Church and even in the hearts of Christians.  Again, if I was a Baptist or a Calvinist pastor I would deny that it’s possible for a true Christian to ever lose Christ.  If you lost Him, they say, you never really had Him to begin with.  But Scripture teaches: “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for awhile, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word, immediately he falls away.”  (Matthew 13:20-21)

 

Christians are led away to false Christs.  In the Catholic Church the Jesus who atoned for our sins with His death and gives us the forgiveness of sins freely, only through faith, is replaced with a Jesus who came to give us a new law to fulfill.  But for many Christians the false Jesus that replaces the true one is a “tame” Jesus.  It is a Jesus who is gracious and forgives us and may even help us when we die.  He makes few demands on us and He is kind.  He makes us feel comfortable and peaceful when we are able to get away from all the irritations and stresses we have to deal with in this life.  He certainly doesn’t do anything that scares us or terrifies us or causes conflict.  And people usually divorce this Jesus from the suffering in our lives. He doesn’t have anything to do with that, because He loves us and doesn’t want us to feel pain.

 

The problem with this false Jesus is that He is impotent.  He comforts you when you die and any time you happen to really feel guilty about your sins.  But since He has nothing to do with pain and suffering, when we experience pain and suffering we are, in essence, dealing with something beyond Jesus’ control.  He doesn’t want us to suffer, and yet we do—all of us—and some of us a lot.  He never does anything that makes us uncomfortable or afraid, and so—in spite of ourselves—we sometimes get bored with Jesus.  We know what He’s going to say before we walk in the doors of the church.

 

This may be a little bit of a caricature, but isn’t it at least a partially accurate description of the way people think about Jesus?

 

That is the problem with idols, though—they are often boring.  They’re boring because we have them under control.  They can’t hurt us or scare us.  But they can’t help us either.  Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.  They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.  They have ears, but do not hear…feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.  Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.  (Psalm 115:4-8)  Idols are perfectly safe—but boring.  And if we worship an idol we will probably be boring also.

 

However the safe, tame picture of Jesus that interferes with faith in the real Jesus and that sometimes replaces it is not the Jesus who stands before us in the reading from Revelation.  Spiritual health begins with receiving Jesus—the true Jesus.  Not just one facet of His character or person isolated from the rest of Him.  If we want Jesus, we have to receive also the beautiful yet terrible Christ who appeared to St. John.  But this Christ many of us have forgotten.  He is not merely the friend of the church, but the church’s Lord.

 

In the reading, St. John is on Patmos, a small island off the coast of modern-day Turkey.  He has been imprisoned there for preaching the word of God, bearing witness that Jesus is Lord.  And one “Lord’s Day”, one Sunday, the Holy Spirit comes upon him, and he has a vision.  He hears a voice behind him that sounds like a trumpet blast, telling him to write down what he sees in a book and to send it to seven churches on the mainland of modern-day Turkey.

 

Imagine if someone came up behind you and blew a trumpet, how startling that would be!  So when John turns around to “see the voice”, he suddenly sees seven golden lampstands, “and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man (Rev. 1:13).”  And this person who is “like a son of man” has hair as white as snow, eyes like a flame of fire, feet that gleam like burnished bronze.  His voice is like the roar of many waters.  He holds seven stars in His right hand.  Out of His mouth comes a sharp two-edged sword, and his face is like staring into the sun.

 

The phrase “son of man” we recognize, because it’s what Jesus always called Himself.  But the rest is alien to us.  We’re used to thinking of Jesus’ voice as a comforting sound, like the sound of a shepherd’s voice is to a sheep—but here it sounds like the roar of an ocean; and the word that comes out of His mouth is not a collection of comforting truths but a weapon of war.  His eyes are a flame—suggesting zeal and passion or jealousy and anger.  The light that shines from His face is like the sun shining in full strength, threatening to burn our eyes.

 

We know that people outside the church today have false ideas about who Jesus is.  Some people claim that He is a myth, a person who never existed.  Others say that He was simply a man who thought He was the Messiah and was proved not to be when He died on a cross.  Many others think Jesus was a prophet, a great religious teacher who taught the same thing as all the other so-called great teachers, like Buddha or Muhammad.

 

But what about us?  Haven’t we forgotten this side of Jesus? That in Him all the fullness of God dwells bodily (Col. 2)?  That He is the first and the last (Rev. 1:17), the Creator of the World, and also the one who will end it—its judge?  Have we forgotten the flame of His eyes, His jealousy that hates sin with a passion more hot than any human love?  Have we forgotten the power of His voice, roaring like the ocean, that swept the world into being in the beginning and will sweep it away in the end?  That His Word, His doctrine, is not a safe, tame philosophy that we can master in a few months or years, but a divine weapon that maims those who handle it clumsily, and that He uses to kill His enemies?

 

When we are dealing with Jesus, we are dealing with the eternal God in human flesh, to whom all glory belongs, who is coming to judge the living and the dead.  He is not a god that we have made and that we can control.  He startles John in this reading and causes him to fall down at His feet as though dead.  Jesus is the Lord of the world and most especially the Lord of the Church.  He doesn’t exist to fit into our lives the way that we think He should.  The church answers to Him. We exist for Him.

 

And we have forgotten where the Lord Jesus is.  We would expect that when John sees this vision of Jesus’ glory that he had been transported to heaven.  But Jesus is in the midst of the lampstands (Rev. 1:13).  Jesus is in the midst of the churches.  He is not somewhere else, far away, in His power and glory.  He is here, in the midst of the congregation of people who bear His name.

 

Which means that His omnipotent power is in the midst of us.  Yet so often Christians behave and talk as if Jesus has left us to build the church and govern the church.  And when a church becomes weak or is dying we say, “What can we do when the society we live in no longer is interested in church, and nobody wants to come to the neighborhood we’re in, and we don’t offer the types of programs that attract new people to the church?”  The creator of the world stands in the midst of the churches with omnipotent power, and we say, “Yeah, that’s nice, but without a better zip code, how can we make it?”

 

We have forgotten what our Lord has.  He says, I am the first and the last, and the living one.  I died, and behold I am alive for eternity of eternities, and I have the keys of Death and hell. (Rev. 1:18)  He has all of history under His control—He is the first and last.  He was there before we existed and He knows how all things will end—for you individually, for this church, for the whole world. For him it is not a question waiting to be answered; it is done, and He knows the ending.  He has everlasting life, into endless eternities.  Death and destruction have no power over Him.  And He also holds the keys to death and hell.  He has the power to unlock its prisoners, and the power to keep them bound.

 

To receive Christ means first of all to receive the Lord of all the earth.  But our flesh cannot bear to face Him in His glory.  When we see Him, we see the God we have rejected and despised since our childhood.  Every time we inwardly groaned at the thought of listening to a sermon or going to Sunday School we were despising Him.  Every time we declined to serve in the church or put less than our best into serving the church, we turned our back on the one who spoke to John.  Whenever we have neglected to learn and continue to grow in His Word we pushed the Lord of the Church into the background, tried to steal His church and remake it according to human wisdom, as though it was ours.

 

The first part of receiving Christ is receiving Him as our judge.  And to do that is to die, like John fell at his feet as though dead.  (Rev. 1: 17)

 

Only then do we receive Christ as our Savior.  Because He comes to those who are dead and lays His right hand on them, the hand of His power, and says, “Do not be afraid.”  That’s what He says to all of us this morning who realize that we have not borne the fruit of those whose faith in Him is growing and increasing.  The voice like the roar of many waters tells you not to fear Him; and His right hand of power raises you up to live not by your own strength, but His.

 

He is the first and the last.  Long before you were created He knew you and He knew this church.  And He is the One who will bring about the end of your story.  The end of our story is in front of His eyes of flame as though it has already happened.  Yet He says, Do not be afraid.

 

It is not the ending we fear or that we deserve; our ending is tied to the end of His story.  I am the first and the last, and the living one.  I died, and behold, I am alive for eternity of eternities, and I have the keys of Death and hell.  He is the living One.  He is the life, and endless life was in Him before the world began.  Yet the living One died.  He entered our flesh, our nature.  He suffered the curse that had come upon us.  The living one died, bearing the penalty of sin; He was forsaken by God.  The mighty judge was judged as having committed Adam’s sin and all its offspring—all the sins that flowered in His children.  Yet behold, He lives for endless eternities;  He was stronger than sin and death.  He passed through them like a spider’s web.  And the end that He sees for you, terrified sinner is life to eternity of eternities in Him.

 

And He doesn’t have life merely for Himself.  When He died He took the keys to Death and hell.  And now the Lord who is in the midst of the lampstands is here to use those keys.  He does what no human power could dream of doing.  He unlocks the door of Death and hell and lets its prisoners out.

 

That is what is happening when He sends His messenger, His angel, to say, “I forgive you all your sins in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.”  Death and hell is opened, no matter how many times you seem to have gone back to your cell.

 

It’s what happens when the word of Christ is proclaimed.  It’s not merely that a man is talking.  The key of death and hell in the Lord Christ’s hand is inserted into the lock of your cell, and the lock clicks open, that you may enter into endless life and freedom—that you may enter into Jesus by faith.

 

Only when this happens do the other six things—divine service, scripture, prayer, giving, serving, witnessing—become possible.  Until then they are just ways that we are trying to escape from the prison of death and hell.  But for one set free they are the new life of freedom, an endless life.

 

Write therefore Jesus tells John.  Because I have raised you by my power and freed you from death and hell, bear witness to me.  Not to by your own power, to build your own church, bearing witness to me, the Lord of the Church.  I build it.  I wish to speak to the Church and to the world that I purchased with my blood.  Your calling is merely to testify to me with your words and your life.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

I Have Not Found Your Works Complete In the Sight Of My God–Serving. Trinity 21, 2016. Revelation 3:1-13

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

asleep-in-the-garden.jpg21st Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Revelation 3:1-13

October 16, 2016

“I Have Not Found Your Works Complete: Serving”

Iesu iuva

 

Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to Him at once when He knocks. Luke 12:35-36

 

I know that many times I have made reference in my preaching to St. Peter, how he swore to Jesus he would never deny Him, even if it cost him his life; and how soon afterwards he fell asleep in the garden when he needed to be awake, watching and praying with the Lord.  Soon after he denied that he knew Jesus or was ever with Him; the rooster crowed, and the Lord, standing in chains in front of the high priest, turned and looked at Peter across the courtyard.

 

I mentioned this story so often because if it happened to that St. Peter then, it could easily happen to this St. Peter now.  I was trying to make sure you are awake before the cock crows.

 

But even more, it is because St. Peter’s story is my story.  I know how easy it is for me to fall asleep when I am supposed to be awake and watching, to be dressed for service, ready when the Lord calls upon me to serve.  What I have preached to you I have been preaching to myself.

 

Peter’s fall happened because he overestimated his own strength and underestimated the strength of those who opposed him—his invisible enemies, Satan and his armies.  Peter was full of passion during the last supper, vehemently insisting that he would die before he denied Jesus.  He didn’t know just how evil he was in the flesh, how apart from God’s Spirit he would sell out Jesus in an instant to save his skin.  He had no idea how strong Satan is, how he is able to shake and shatter every human virtue and resolution—everything in us that is not supported by the Spirit of God.  And so, going to Gethsemane clothed in his own good intentions, he couldn’t stay awake to wait on his Lord, or even to prepare himself for the trials that lay ahead.

 

This also seems to have been the condition of the church in Sardis, which we heard from the third chapter of Revelation just read.  He who has the  seven Spirits of God and the seven stars says this: “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of my God.” (Rev. 3:1-2)

 

Being awake and being alive are often the same thing in the New Testament.  Paul quotes a saying that was common in the early church: “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”  (Eph. 5:14)  No doubt the church in Sardis had been awake and alive at one point.  They had believed that Christ rescued them from their sins and death, and they joyfully served Him, loving other Christians, caring for the needy, proclaiming the Gospel in their city.  And they got a name for themselves.  “The Church in Sardis is really alive.  Have you heard about what’s happening there?”  And then, by and by, they came to believe their own press.  They prided themselves on being the living church that others said they were.  And when your faith and your boasting shifts from Jesus and what He has done for us to yourself and the great things He has done in you—or even worse, the great things you are doing for Him—it’s the same as when Peter was walking on the sea and his eyes turned away from Jesus to the wind and the waves.  He began to sink.  The church in Sardis also began to sink—into sleep.  Since they were a church that was so alive and doing so well spiritually, they drifted into a spiritual stupor.  They stopped depending on the forgiveness of sins so heavily, stopped listening so closely to the word of their Lord, stopped being awake and ready to serve.

 

It’s a striking thing if you read the Epistles of Paul that He frequently begins his letters saying something like this: “And so, from the day we heard [of your faith in Christ], we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy…” (Col. 1:9-11)  The apostles were never satisfied when a group of people had been brought to faith in Christ and were baptized that now everything was finished.  They continued to pray for them and to provide for ongoing preaching and teaching and pastoral oversight so that they would “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.”  They worked and prayed that their churches would go on to maturity in Christ and not remain babies.  Maturity meant the death of the sinful vices and habits that clung to them from their time as idol worshippers.  Maturity also means that a Christian grows in the knowledge of God’s Word until he not only knows the Christian faith in all its parts and firmly believes it, but also is able to hold on to it in temptation and teach it to others.  Finally, a mature Christian also becomes equipped and competent for every good work—not just the simple ones like faithfulness in hearing God’s Word and coming to the Divine Service, but also difficult ones like seeking out and restoring a brother Christian who has wandered away from Christ into spiritual death.

 

Being eager to serve the Lord and do good works that please Him, however, doesn’t belong to Christian maturity.  It is the everyday dress of a Christian.  Every day a Christian is to remember his baptism, that he has died with Christ and been raised from the dead with Him; and assured of the forgiveness of sins he is to go into the day to serve Christ by serving his neighbor.  He is to go do what God has called him to do not as a job but as an honored position of responsibility and trust from God.  And he is to be awake to the Holy Spirit’s promptings as he opens our eyes to opportunities to serve our neighbor.

 

But often Christians are asleep.  We go about our daily work because we have to, and we don’t see the need of other people nor our ability to assist them.  This often happens because you are so wrapped up in your own problems that you can’t think of anything else.  Sometimes it happens because you think that you are doing all you are required to do already, or even that you do more than is required.  In both cases you are asleep.  The sun has risen.  Christ our righteousness is risen from the dead, and even if you don’t have the answer to your problems, He proclaims that His victory over all the sin and suffering in the world is yours.  And the brilliant light of Christ also makes clear that our works are not yet complete in the sight of God until we have become like He is, until we do not ask what we have to do, but joyfully serve everyone who is in need without thought to ourselves.

 

We are justified before God apart from our works only by faith in Jesus and His perfect works.  God counts us righteous while we are still sinners.  Yet you should not think that it is God’s purpose to declare you righteous but leave you in the sinful flesh.  Only those who put off the sinful flesh and put on the new man, Christ, will enter eternal life.  That will happen at the resurrection.  But the Christian life is one lived putting off and burying the sinful nature each day, and putting on Christ by faith.

 

The end result of not doing this is not just sleep but death.  It happened to Peter.  First he fell asleep and did not stay awake, ready to serve Jesus, praying together with Him.  Shortly after he denied Jesus and fell into spiritual death.

 

It also happened to the church in Sardis.  Jesus said, You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  They became satisfied with themselves, took off their white robes and went to bed.  Not everyone in the church did this; there was a remnant who Jesus says have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.  (Rev. 3:4)  But the others were not worthy to walk with Christ in white robes.  They quit even though their works were not complete in the sight of God; they had not continued to watch for opportunities to accomplish the works that God had prepared for them to walk in (Ephesians 2:10).  When a Christian does this, he falls from faith in Christ and becomes spiritually dead.  And when it becomes the norm in a congregation, Jesus calls that congregation dead, even though there are still some living members in it.

 

Are we awake?  Are we alive?  Or have we become like the church in Sardis—convinced that we are living and doing all that is required of us, and therefore permitted to take off our work clothes (which are also our white robes and wedding garments), put on pajamas, and go to bed?

 

On one hand it can’t be denied that there are many people at St. Peter who work very hard.  They serve in all kinds of ways.  They make coffee on Sunday, put on dinners and potlucks, attend a lot of meetings in evenings when they could be relaxing.  They count the offerings, put together the epistles for mailing, put together the budget for the annual voter’s meeting, pay the bills, get bids to repair the roof, mow the lawn at the cemetery, ring the bells, usher people to the communion rail, record the services for the radio, help distribute the body and blood of Christ.  They teach Sunday School, spend hours preparing to host VBS, inviting people to come and recruiting workers; they plan and put on events for the church’s youth.  In a few days a number of people will put in countless hours buying, cooking, carving up turkeys, setting tables, sweating over the stove, clearing dishes and washing them, as well as selling crafts at the bazaar that they have spent hours and days making.  Those of you who do this work know that I am not getting anywhere near all the work that is done at St. Peter, and I apologize for those I’ve left out.

 

This is all serving.  No one gets money or honor for doing these things, and they are done not simply for themselves but for the whole church.  And many of the people who do these things have been doing them for decades without much help and with little praise.  No one has a potluck in their honor, as was done for me last week. And maybe we should.  Those of us who aren’t involved doing these many tasks often aren’t fully aware of them and certainly don’t appreciate them as we should.  However, the Lord is fully aware.  I know your works, He says.

 

And He will honor and reward those who serve Him—that is, those who believe that Jesus has served them with His life and who serve Him and His church because they rejoice in His service.

 

Even though your reward is with the Lord, I thank all you who serve like this, for the way you have benefited the little flock of Jesus in this place.  It is often the case that there are many weak Christians in the church who do not serve, and many of you have carried the burden for many years so that your weaker brothers may still be able to come into this church and be built up by the gracious word of Christ.

 

Yet, though many of you have served for many years, don’t ruin it by becoming like the church in Sardis, by becoming content and self-satisfied.  How much is a Christian required to serve?  We are called to serve as our name indicates—Christians, little Christs.  We’re called to serve as Christ served—to serve everyone with all we have.

 

That sounds like an enormous burden, and it is if you stare at it and not at your Lord.  His burden of service was so heavy that it killed Him.  But He did it, not staring at the heavy burden and grumbling, but for the joy set before Him (Hebrews).  He had before His eyes not the pain and difficulty and thanklessness of the service to which God called Him, but the joy of victory when the work was finished, not only for Himself but for all His brothers.

 

We are not called to the service of redeeming the world with our blood.  We are called to bear the portion of service He assigns each one of us—some more, some less.

 

First and foremost we are called to serve Christ and our neighbor in our earthly callings—as mother or father, son or daughter, husband or wife, worker or employer, citizen or ruler, pastor or hearer.  When we serve in these callings from God, which are often not much to look at in human eyes, God calls us to see them as divine callings, and to serve in them not merely to get a paycheck or to keep people from criticizing us, but out of love for Him.  And even though these callings are humble, they are not easy.  The more seriously you take them, the more difficult you realize they are; the more you need the strength of knowing your sins are forgiven to keep going, the more you need prayer to accomplish anything.

 

Secondly we are called to serve in our church, and put the gifts God has given us to work for the good of the entire body of Christ.  And for this we need to be awake; we need the Spirit to enlighten us to see the needs around us and give us the willingness to try to help those people in need.

 

And it is this need to be awake where, with all the serving that goes on in St. Peter, we are weak.  There are those who do not serve at all in the church, and there are those who do, but all of us are, to one degree or another, not awake to the suffering which the Holy Spirit would use us to alleviate, both inside and outside the Church.

 

For instance, how many who are here today are aware that there are several chairmanships on the church council that have been vacant for years?  One of them is the stewardship committee.  We didn’t stop needing workers to help teach stewardship and motivate the congregation to give generously to the Lord’s work, yet we have no one willing to serve as its chairperson.

 

We also are in need, and have been for some time, of workers who will strive to bring back, or at least warn, those members of St. Peter who have been absent from God’s house.  If we were awake to their spiritual danger, that many of these people who are the responsibility of this congregation to care for are on the road to damnation, we would not leave this to someone else to worry about.

 

And that leads to the need of our community.  Many people have bemoaned the terrible condition of our neighborhood, how it is full of crime and poverty.  But we have not been awake to the Holy Spirit’s leading.  He would lead us out with Jesus into the poverty and crime to serve.  Not that He expects you to go out with a cane or a walker and go knock on doors—although imagine what a witness that would be!  But there are other ways to serve.  There is planning that needs to be done.  There is simply the willingness to allow the church to be open to serving people who are, perhaps even through their own fault, crushed by poverty, degraded by an environment where sin flourishes.

 

The willingness to serve and the joy of serving in thankless and difficult circumstances, as well as the watchfulness to recognize opportunities to serve, is not something we can manufacture.  It is a fruit of hearing the word of God with faith and of learning to pray.  Without this all serving becomes mere duty and gradually loses the love that it is meant to express.

 

Through faith in Jesus we become servants of Him, of one another, and of all who are in need of grace and help, just as Jesus became our servant and gave His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:27).  To serve with Jesus is to conquer our sinful nature, the world, and the devil.  And our Lord promises that those who conquer, believing in Him, and growing in service to others, will be clothed in white garments, and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels.  (Rev. 3:5)

 

What a day that will be, when Jesus acknowledges you by name before the Father on His throne and the gathered angels!  Today, before the same company of heaven, He does it ahead of time, inviting you to eat His body given for you and drink His blood, shed for the forgiveness of your sins.

 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Reigning with Jesus–Giving. Trinity 20, 2016. Revelation 2:18-29

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

sacrifice.jpg20th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Revelation 2:18-29

October 9, 2016

“Reigning With Jesus—Giving”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.  Revelation 2:27

 

On Friday I was going out to make visits and I saw some of you hustling around the building to get things ready for the luncheon this afternoon, and others coming in to work.  Then yesterday I was gone with a couple of the members of the altar guild but my wife told me how so many people were down here for hours setting up tables and silverware.

 

Seeing that and hearing that, I thought about how you who were doing all this are already overworked and how you’ve spent years, decades at this place doing this kind of thing, many or most since before I was born.

 

And if you look at it in purely human terms, what did I bring you in the ten years since I was ordained right over there into the office of Jesus’ ministry?  I remember one thing about that day in particular.  It was sweltering hot.  The air-conditioning wasn’t working.  Neither was the organ—both for the same reason, I think, which to was that lightning had struck the church a few days before.  That was day one.

 

Then over the past decade a lot of people have died; a lot of people have left.  We had a fire one year.  The president of the congregation resigned after years of conflict with me.  After years of struggle we voted to close the school.  And if I didn’t cause the declining attendance, I wasn’t able to do anything to turn it around.  So did I bring anything to you during these ten years that’s worthy of honoring me like you are doing?

 

No.  I am a weak and sinful man, with failings that are obvious to everyone that knows me.

 

I was sent here by Christ with something that would bring you honor.  The one who conquers…to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them…even as I myself have received authority from my Father.  (Rev. 2:27)  Jesus sent me here to proclaim the word of His cross, by which He conquered Satan and the demons, and made you free from them.  He sent me to proclaim that Word to you, His Word, not mine, in which He gives you authority to reign with Him—over death, over sin, over Satan, and also over the nations, the world that serves the devil, not believing in Jesus.

 

The honor of ruling the nations with Jesus belongs to you if you believe that He cancelled the record of debt that stood against us…This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame…triumphing over them in [the cross.].  (Colossians 2:14-15)  Jesus the Lord sent me to bring you the word that tells you that honor is yours.

 

Now how is the world going to recognize that honor that He has sent me to announce to you?  The world that rebels against its rightful ruler, Jesus, and resents Him—is it going to be friendly toward the people that Jesus has given authority to rule them with Him?  Of course not.  The world nailed its King to the cross.  If He has made you a conqueror with Him by faith, you won’t find the honor He promises you in the world.  You will find it treats you like it treated Him.  The honor He promises you you will only have by faith in the Gospel until He appears and you appear with Him in glory.

 

What’s true of you is true of me too.  I proclaimed to you that Jesus conquered the devil and cancelled your sin on the cross, and that He seals this victory to us in Holy Baptism, in Absolution, and in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.  I preached that we should trust this word and these sacraments and not in human power or wisdom or virtue to save our souls and preserve the Church.  And what did this preaching bring you?  Not earthly wealth, comfort, or peace, but suffering, hardship, and the shadow of death—the hard wood of the cross.  He didn’t send me with a message or ministry that would win me honor on earth.

 

Yet the Lord Jesus Himself will honor me on the day in which His glory appears if He finds me to be what I claim to be.  That is, if I not only stand in front of the altar of the One who was crucified for me, handle His gifts, take His Word in my mouth and live on the gifts of His people, but if I believe in the One I was ordained to preach.  If I believe in Him, I will also keep His works to the end—preach His Word to His people and endure the cross that comes with it instead of living for my own pleasure in this world.

 

That is true of this church too.  He called it into existence in order that it may reign with Him, that you may receive authority to rule the nations with Him.  But on the day of judgment He who searches mind and heart…and will give to each of you according to your works (Rev. 2:23) will not ask whether you were a decent church member in your own estimation, or even what other people thought about you.  On that day it will be irrelevant how long you came here or how much you think you did for the church.  It will be irrelevant whether St. Peter was miserable and weak, or great, glorious, and honored in this world.  Jesus will see whether you kept His works until the end and conquered and overcame Satan.

 

Now my time is practically up, and I haven’t begun to talk about the church in Thyatira and number 4 in the seven things in which Jesus calls His church to walk—that is, giving.  Bear with me a few minutes more and I will speak to you about how learning to give is learning to rule with Christ.

 

The church in Thyatira is in a similar situation to the church in Ephesus, the first church Jesus wrote a letter to.  Jesus had much to say in praise of the church in Ephesus—they lacked only one thing, which was that they had lost their first love.  Jesus told them to repent and do the works they did in the beginning, or He would come and take away their church.

 

The church in Thyatira hadn’t lost their first love.  Jesus praises them for their love and faith and their patient endurance of suffering for the Gospel.  Also He tells them, “Your latter works exceed the first” (Rev. 2:19).  Their love had not cooled off, as the Ephesians’ had—they had grown in faith and love and thus had grown in good works.  This is the way the Christian life is supposed to be.  It begins when the Word of God falls into a person’s heart and takes root there by faith, like a seed.  But once faith in Jesus begins, the story isn’t over.  Faith grows like a plant.  A farmer isn’t happy once he’s planted his corn and he sees little corn plants sprouting up in the spring.  The little plants have to become big plants with multiple ears of corn, and there’s a lot that can go wrong between planting and harvest.  When you have come to faith in Christ, you are like a seed that has just begun its little dental-floss roots and tiny leaves, but the mature plant that you must grow up into is Jesus.  Nothing less. We may not see our growth very well; it’s hard to notice your own growth.  But a Christian who is not yet perfect in the image of Jesus should not be content; he should be straining forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13). A plant that isn’t growing anymore—ask the farmers what it’s doing.  It’s dying, even if it looks healthy.

 

But there was a problem in Thyatira that the church in Ephesus didn’t have.  In Thyatira they had tolerated, or been reluctant to deal with, false teaching.  There was teaching going around there that seduced the Christians into eating food sacrificed to idols and practicing sexual immorality.  Sexual immorality and eating meat sacrificed to idols were two practices associated with the worship of pagan gods which was everywhere around the early church.  Christians were tempted to engage in them not only because eating meat and fornication are pleasurable, but also because by abstaining from them they became outsiders in their society.  You could never really be a full member in pagan Roman society if you refused to have anything to do with idol worship, which would make it hard to advance socially or in business.

 

Some of this is not very different from today.  People don’t worship Artemis or Apollo today.  But sexual immorality has taken on political significance today, and people fight for the right to engage in it with an almost religious devotion, don’t they?  Why is this?  Because people think your sexual preference or orientation is a vital part of who you are, and to live out your sexual desires is necessary to being “who you really are” and finding true happiness.  At the time Revelation was written, people visited temple prostitutes to worship Venus or some other idol.  Today sexual immorality has become part of the worship of self.  People in our time have made themselves, or their ideal selves, into a god.  It is probably the chief idol of our time.

 

But we shouldn’t think self is only worshipped by political liberals who fought for homosexual marriage and now for transgender rights—and who knows what will be next.  Also more conservative people have been seduced into the worship of self.

 

In the first century, like many centuries before it, it was normal for people to make sacrifices to gods.  To not do it was to invite the gods to curse you.  So people as a matter of course sacrificed some of their livestock every year, or set apart some of their money to pay for an animal to be sacrificed periodically in order to gain or keep the favor of the gods.

 

In our day that isn’t true anymore.  Somewhere I read that Christians on average give something like 1.7 percent of their income in offerings.  Where is the rest of their money going?  Some to food, clothes, shelter, transportation no doubt—but also to flat screen televisions, ipads, the newest cell phones, computers, video game systems, boats, vacations, dining out, movies, Starbucks, and all the delights of consumer culture.  And we have come to the point that we no longer consider these luxuries, but necessities.

 

So when it comes time to talk about giving, and I tell you what my mother taught me and what probably you were taught, that we should set a percentage of our income aside for the Lord before buying or paying for anything else, and that the Old Testament law of tithing—ten percent—should be the place we begin, people say, “I can’t afford that.”  Why can’t we afford to give ten percent?  Because, usually, we have already committed more than 90 percent of our income to the god of self.

 

Do we have an obligation to give offerings, and to contribute to the relief of those in need?  Indeed, we have an obligation to give everything we have, including our bodies and lives, to the Triune God who created us and redeemed us.  We have an obligation to love our neighbor as ourselves, which means we are obligated to sacrifice whatever is necessary for our neighbor’s good.  Also the synod’s catechism says that the 3rd commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy,” requires that we not only hold the Word of God and its preaching sacred and gladly hear and learn it, but also that we “honor and support the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.”

 

What is true of individuals is also true of congregations.  Our budget this year designates 10,000 dollars to give to the synod for mission work, which does not come out of the general offerings but only when a person designates money to missions on their envelope.  This works out to 1.9 percent of our budget.  But by September, we had given less than 50 percent of that goal of 10,000 dollars.

 

I looked in an old book I found in a closet that contained the minutes for the “Board of Finance and Efficiency” for St. Peter—which later became the stewardship committee.  In this book I found the budgets for St. Peter for 1952, 1953, and 1954.

 

In 1954 it said that 50, 155 dollars were budgeted for “home purposes.”  In today’s dollars that would be 449,000 dollars.  Then below that it said, “Synod, Budget—15,300”—in today’s dollars, 137,00.  Then, “Synod, non-budget—10,000”—89,500 today.  33.5 percent of St. Peter’s budget was slated for missions—fully 1/3.  2/3 were for “home purposes.”

 

The book said that St. Peter’s membership was 1600 souls around that time.  Ours is around 500.  Of course we know our active membership is much lower, but there were many inactive members at St. Peter’s then as well, as the minutes of those meetings point out repeatedly.

 

But let’s assume that we have only 200 members at St. Peter—1/8 of the membership of the fifties.  If we reduce the 1954 budget by 7/8, we end up with 28, 312.50—nearly 3 times ours.

 

People have many explanations as to why St. Peter, like so many other churches, has declined to the point where the trend seems irreversible.  We ought to consider, besides all those other explanations, that our attempt to serve the god of self alongside of the Triune God, has separated us from Him.

 

Jesus conquered Satan on the cross by giving Himself up for us.  He sends messengers to proclaim this to you, to baptize and absolve you, to feed you His saving body and blood.  And everyone who believes His message is honored by Him.  He gives you authority to rule with Him.

 

Jesus conquered and began to reign by giving Himself, and He still gives Himself.  That is why there is hope for us even when we have sinned.  Even if we have dishonored Him by giving Him what was left over after we had worshipped the false god of self—even if we have done that for many years.  He calls to you today and invites you to come to His altar and receive His flesh and blood that He gave for your salvation.

 

But to believe in Him who conquered by giving Himself, and thus to conquer with Him, it is necessary for us to repent of trying to be Christians without being willing to give sacrificially, whether as individuals or as a church.  It’s not possible to believe in the Jesus who saved you by giving Himself for you and then refuse to give yourself and your wealth for Him and others.

 

So let us come and honor Him who has honored us by giving what was most precious in all the universe for us—His own life.  Let us begin as a congregation to conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil today.  Let us renounce the worship of self and receive the treasure of the one who gave Himself up for those who were undeserving; let us come desiring to grow up into Christ, and receive the flesh and blood He gave to purchase us that we might grow into what He is.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Faithful Unto Death–Prayer. Trinity 19, 2016. Revelation 2:8-17

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

polycarp_of_smyrna.jpg19th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Revelation 2:8-17

October 2, 2016

“Faithful Unto Death—Prayer”

Iesu iuva

 

The church at Smyrna left a lasting legacy in the history of Christianity.  One of its sons, a man named Irenaeus, wrote perhaps the greatest work of theology in the Christian Church prior to its becoming legal in 313 A.D.—his book Against Heresies, which identified and refuted the major false teachings that had arisen to trouble the Church up until his time.  Irenaeus was born in Smyrna and grew up listening to the preaching of Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John.  He later became the bishop, or head pastor, of the church in Lyon in modern-day France.

 

Before this another disciple of John named Ignatius was arrested and sent in chains to Rome to be tried and sentenced to death in the arena, where he was fed to hungry lions.  As he made his voyage to Rome, he sent several letters that have survived.  One went to the Christians at Smyrna, and survives as one of the few early witnesses to the life and faith of the Christian Church in the first generation after the apostles had died.

 

Another early witness to the life of the early Church is a short work called The Martyrdom of Polycarp.  It is the account of the death of the bishop of Smyrna around 160 A.D. during the persecution that arose there in fulfillment of the words of Jesus’ letter to the church at Smyrna which we just heard.  It is the earliest surviving account of a martyrdom outside of the New Testament, and has encouraged generations of Christians to be faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10).

 

Why did this church, which was slandered and despised by the people of Smyrna, which lived in poverty and suffered so much persecution, receive such a great name and reputation among the churches of its time?  Why did it leave such an enduring legacy to the Christians who came after it?

 

Smyrna’s glory came precisely because it was despised, poor, and full of suffering—and remained faithful to Christ.

 

That is the way God glorifies the church.  Long before this, St. Paul told the first churches he had planted that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)  Faithfulness through suffering and death are the way to glory and honor before God for individual Christians and for the Church just as they were the way to glory and honor for the head of the Church, Jesus Christ.  Though He was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.  (Philippians 2:5-11)

 

If a person wants to go to heaven, wants to be exalted to reign with Christ at the right hand of God, he must follow Jesus, and expect to endure disgrace with Jesus, to suffer with Jesus, and to die with Jesus.  And if a church wants to be honored by God, it must remain with Jesus.  It must proclaim and confess Jesus and His doctrine without wavering and endure the shame of the cross.

 

There is, however, an easier way to glory and honor.  It was first offered to the Lord of the Church after His Baptism.  The devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to Him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9)  This is the shortcut to glory and honor, and many churches throughout history have chosen this way that the Lord of the Church refused.  It is glory and honor given not by God but the world and the ruler of this world.

 

Jesus warned about this danger.  Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.  (Luke 6:26)  Nevertheless many pastors and many churches have chosen this way, convincing themselves that they could remain faithful to Christ while seeking the praise of the world, or to lighten the burden of the cross.

 

A church does not have to stop claiming Christ as its Lord to have bowed down to the devil.  It just has to surrender to the devil in one area.  Sometimes Christians do this to escape suffering or make it less intense.  Other times they do it with the delusion that by making Christianity more acceptable to the world they will advance Christ’s kingdom.  We see this today in the non-denominational churches.  Many of them have a sincere zeal to bring unbelievers to Christ, but they rely on human techniques to make this happen instead of the pure Word of God.  As a result, they tend to sprout up quickly for a decade or two, then dry up when the original pastor dies or leaves or when a new man comes along.

 

But why is it that it is so easy for the church to surrender to Satan, to choose a Christianity that does not stay with Jesus under slander, suffering, and death?  That’s not hard to answer.  Our flesh doesn’t want to suffer, experience poverty and disgrace, or die.  It’s not just that we have an instinct to survive; it’s that we have unbelief lodged in our flesh.  If we want to live, we ought to embrace the cross of Jesus, because it is the way to eternal life.  But our flesh doesn’t believe that.  It believes that the only life is the life we see and experience now.  It doesn’t believe Jesus when He says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6); our flesh doesn’t believe that in order to have life we must first die with Jesus.  Our flesh refuses to believe that Christ has been raised from the dead.

 

But the true Church of Jesus crucifies the flesh with its thoughts and desires.  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  (Rom. 6:3)  We died with Jesus in Baptism, and Jesus’ true Church, His faithful ones, continue in their baptismal life.  We continue to die with Jesus to the desires of our flesh—its desires for honor and praise in this world, for wealth, for ease and comfort instead of tribulation.  We die daily with Christ so that, when we are finished dying, we may share in His resurrection.

 

Christ’s way to glory and honor through suffering and death is a way proceeding from love toward the world, but it is not a way of compromise with the world.  Christians gladly surrender their possessions, reputation, time, even their body and life out of love for the world.  But they do not surrender or compromise their Lord’s word.  To compromise with the world, to depart from Christ’s command, or to edit His teaching, is to forsake Christ and join the world.

 

Nor can the Church tolerate compromising teaching in its midst.  If it does, it allows that teaching to spread and deceive others, and it joins those who teach it in their concessions to the world and the devil.  Jesus is the Lord of the earth.  He doesn’t share His throne with Satan and those who share Satan’s rebellion.  He proclaims God’s rightful judgment over all men, and God’s forgiveness through His condemnation on the cross.

 

Compromise with the world and false doctrine is surrender—to the world that is at war with Jesus and His Father, and to the prince of this world.

 

Whatever peace, honor, or security may come from bowing the knee to this world’s prince, it is only for a short time.  Then death comes, and with it, “the second death” (Rev. 2:11)—the everlasting agony and death that will be given to those who refuse Christ’s kingdom—who refuse to suffer with Him in order that [they] may also be glorified with Him. (Rom. 8:17)

++

Christians are not called to compromise with the world.  They are called to conquer it, as Jesus conquered it.  This is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith (1 John 5:4).  Jesus overcame the world by not participating in its worship of the devil and not giving in to its enticing nor its threats.  He was faithful unto death, even death on a cross.  Then God raised Him from death and seated Him at His right hand to reign until all His enemies are made His footstool.

 

By faith in Him the Church also overcomes.  The moment we believe in Christ, His righteous life and atoning death are credited to us by God.  But we must persevere in this faith to the end, even to death, if we are to share in the eternal victory of reigning with Christ.  We conquer by remaining in faith in Christ.

 

If all that was necessary to conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil was an intellectual understanding of the doctrine of justification, it would be easy both to come to faith and to remain in it.  But faith isn’t mere knowledge.  It is trust in Christ that assures us of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  It also renews the heart so that we being to love our neighbor and resist and overcome sin.

 

But whenever a Christian is led into willful, knowing, conscious sin, he is no longer in the faith that conquers.  Rather he is overcome and conquered by the evil one.  When a Christian is tempted with sin and submits, he falls from saving faith in Christ.  When a Christian is threatened with suffering and death for faithfulness to Christ and gives in, he falls from saving faith.

 

This is what happened to St. Peter the apostle…

 

Peter didn’t want to do this.  Neither do many of the young people who are confirmed and who renew their baptismal vows to be faithful unto death.  Why do they?

 

Jesus told Peter: Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

 

The faith given in Divine Service is lived in prayer; as a Christian grows in faith, he also grows in prayer.  Prayer comes from faith, expresses our utter dependence on God and our trust that He will hear and help us.

 

Prayer necessary for the growth of the Church, the extension of God’s kingdom, the ability of the church to stand in temptation.

 

We have neglected prayer and relied on ourselves

 

But God promises to hear the prayers of the repentant, is able to do far more than all we ask or imagine, to deliver those at the point of death and to raise the dead

 

Let us call upon God for the forgiveness of our sins and the deliverance of this congregation.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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