Visions of Peace IV: An Advent Sermon based on Romas 1:1-7
Visions of Peace IV
† In Jesus Name †
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,Christ, give you grace and peace!
I could leave the sermon with just the blessing, a simple blessing that plus or minus a word, begins every letter Paul writes to the churches.
If you all believed this promise, if you all knew that God gives you grace and peace, and you shared that with all your relatives, friends, neighbors and enemies, and lived life counting on it… well – sermon is done… let’s get to communion!
The problem is that little three letter word “may” in the translation. It doesn’t sound… solid enough.
Is it going to happen? Is it just Paul’s dream for the church in Rome? In my case, if someone says something good “may” happen, my instinct is, “what will I do that will mess this up”
That’s why we have to take a step back – and to understand that this “may” is not dependent on us, but on the who Jesus came to be, and the promise of God that is ours, because of Jesus.
In this case, “may” means, “this will definitely happen…”
- The evidence
So what gives Paul so much confidence in blessing people like this?
The short answer is the gospel—the good news.
1 This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. 2 God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. Romans 1:1-2 (NLT2)
Paul tells us he was called by God to speak.
Not only him but God promised this through the Old Testament prophets over and over throughout scripture.
The reason we have confidence that we will have grace and peace because of Jesus has been communicated over and over, it was ingrained in the people of God, even if they didn’t understand it.
The promise was there, and Paul revealed it was there—now. As it is for us now…as we will see.
Paul will then say this,
The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, 4 and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.
Here is the summary: Jesus is who the prophets said he would be. He was the promised Messiah, the Savior who restore David’s kingdom, who would restore the people of God, whose arrival would result in an eternal, everlasting kingdom.
So he had that going for Him, fulfilling that part of the promise. But then, the mystery that was promised – but never seen before.
Jesus, the Son of God, the one who would lie in a feeding trough when born, would be raised from the dead.
We consider this often around here, not just at Easter
Alleluia! He is risen! (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!)
And therefore, (We are Risen Indeed!)
And at every baptism, and every celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we realize that we’ve died with Him, so that we may… no we will live with Him.
“He is, He IS Christ our Lord”, Paul tells us.
And before we can come up with another excuse… he makes us understand we are the ones Christ died for, and rose for…
5 Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name.
6 And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ.
You are included.
That’s my privilege. I don’t care what you’ve done in the past, or what you are presently struggling with guaranteed. God raised Christ from the dead—for you.
His Body was broken, His blood was shed—for you.
Look at the blessing
- Grace and peace!
Therefore, you know this blessing is more than a casual “may”, and a fond wish for a friend.
This is the blessing that has been planned for you since before the foundation of the world
Grace – the gift of salvation. And let me be absolutely clear—salvation is not having sins forgiven. That is what leads to salvation.
And let me be clear—salvation is not the forgiveness of sins. That is how we are saved. Salvation is the relationship that is guaranteed.
I was reminded of that in one of my devotional readings this week. Eugene Peterson wrote,
“The way a pastor uses the language is a critical element in the work. The Christian gospel is rooted in language: God spoke a creation into being; our Savior was the Word made flesh. The (pastor)/poet is the person who uses words not primarily to convey information but to make a relationship,”
My role, just like the apostle Paul’s is not to lecture you, not to teach you Greek or Hebrew, or make you feel guilty about your past. Some of that may happen along the way—but my one purpose, the way I am to use my words, is to make sure you know the grace of God–which is the relationship that Christ claimed for you. It is why you were redeemed.
It is what makes Christmas and Easter special, this incredible relationship we have with God the Father, Jesus Christ His Son and the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
Therefore, we are here…to know God’s grace…
And knowing that, we find ourselves at peace.
Knowing this love, knowing all the promises God has in store for us, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
This is what it is all about—this incredible relationship.
This is what makes the difference now, and for eternity.
Knowing He is here, knowing the grace that accomplishes this—may you realize this peace which is beyond understanding… as Jesus keeps you in this peace, your heart and mind secure in it.
Evangelism is More Than a 10 Minute Presentation
Thoughts that drive me to the cross:
22 Among the weak in faith I become weak like one of them, in order to win them. So I become all things to all people, that I may save some of them by whatever means are possible. 1 Corinthians 9:22 (TEV)
28 So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29 To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me. Colossians 1:28-29 (TEV)
I think we cannot experience that which we have not believed. I still think we must instruct and urge men and women, toiling along in average and common Christian ways, to move forward and claim spiritual victory they have not yet known.
The joyful and the sad should be advised differently. Before the joyful are to be set the sad things that accompany [eternal] punishment, but before the sad the joyous promises of the kingdom should be set.
It was nearly 40 years ago that I was “trained” as an evangelist and trainer of evangelists. Somewhere I even have the certificate from Evangelism Explosion, and the neat talking cards they equipped me with, so that I could be an evangelist, and train others to do the same.
Forty years later, I feel less equipped, having seen that a practiced monologue doesn’t make someone an evangelist. I know now that the role of an evangelist, like that of a pastor, is something that can take years, that requires the patience of a shepherd, and the willingness to sacrifice time and energy helping people see the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Because we struggle in this world, because we struggle in our own worlds, we need to hear the gospel-the truth that God loves us-daily ourselves. We need to believe, as Tozer points out, what we are sharing. We need to have revealed the victory that God provides. Otherwise we cannot provide it for those who we love and care for, for we cannot give what we’ve not had given to us.
The other part of this is that we can’t give to someone else when we don’t know where they are at. We have to be like them, as Paul so eloquently points out. All of us are evangelists and therefore serve as a conduit of God’s grace. But conduits connect two points, in this case, God and one or ten or 100 of His people. Some of these know they are God’s people, some are beginning to discover it, and some are fighting it. So we come alongside them, and bear their weakness, we share in their trials, and we love them…
The work of an evangelist is never clean, it is never simple. I learned that when on one of my first EE calls, the door we knocked on to visit a couple was answered by the wife’s “friend”, and she would come to the door, well, not adequately dressed. They both, and the husband, needed God’s presence, in the days ahead, yet no card in my stack addressed their situation in a way that would draw them to Jesus. It would take them years to work through life’s issues, as the gospel and the church showed them God loved them. Not a ten-minute presentation followed by a prayer and baptism. More like a spiritual rollercoaster that seems out of control. But God knows the tracks… we just ride with our people.
This is ministry, an investment of time and love, to help the broken find healing they need for the wounds of life, as they get to know the Lord who loves them. This is whether you are a pastor, or a parent, a elder or just a friend. For we all can share the Lord’s love that we’ve come to know.
Let us depend on God’s love and presence, as we share that with those around us….
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopoulos, vol. 34, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 93.
Do I Need to Read the Bible? Go to Church? Yes – but not why you think so..
Thoughts that drive me to Jesus, and to His cross
So then, my brothers and sisters, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-3 GNT
Did you know that it is possible for a Christian believer to live day after day, clutching the book of Ephesians, and still not realize that he is spiritually lean and hungry? If a pastor or evangelist suggests that this person could be in a more prosperous spiritual state, his reaction may be bristling: “Am I not accepted in the Beloved? Is not God my Father and am I not an heir with God?”
Yes, and my job is not to solve people’s problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives. It’s hard to do, because our whole culture is going the other direction, saying that if you’re smart enough and get the right kind of help, you can solve all your problems. The truth is, there aren’t very many happy people in the Bible. But there are people who are experiencing joy, peace, and the meaning of Christ’s suffering in their lives.
For a man to be alive, he must exercise not only the acts that belong to vegetative and animal life, he must not only subsist, grow, be sentient, not only move himself around, feed himself, and the rest. He must carry on the activities proper to his own specifically human kind of life. He must, that is to say, think intelligently. And above all he must direct his actions by free decisions, made in the light of his own thinking. They must tend to make him more aware of his capacities for knowledge and for free action. They must expand and extend his power to love others, and to dedicate himself to their good: for it is in this that he finds his own fulfilment.
It is easy to understand what is meant by this man’s (Matt 21:1-13)being without a wedding garment, namely, without the new adornment in which we please God, which is faith in Christ, and therefore also without truly good works. He remains in the old rags and tatters of his own fleshly conceit, unbelief and security, without penitence and without understanding his own misery. He does not from the heart seek comfort in the grace of Christ, nor better his life by it, and looks for nothing more in the gospel than what his flesh covets.
Yesterday, I had the incredible blessing of sharing in the Lord’s Supper three times. All three groups (2 people, 4 people, and 1 person) had reasons why they can’t make it to church, and they know I will, or one of our elders will bring the sacrament to them, pray with them, and share the love of God, revealed in the scriptures.
As much as I want to, desperately want to, I cannot solve their problems. Peterson nailed it, and yesterday – all three divine appointments proved it. I don’t have to – what I have to do is help them see God – and God active in their lives. Then the joy Petersen mentions in is there, while they join in His suffering, and He in theirs. (Phil. 3:10)0 The longer i serve as a pastor, the more I realize this is where ministry truly occurs, in the midst of those wounded and broken.
I think that is Tozer’s point about those who carry the Bible, or a couple of verses (that they treat like cliches), without living in the truth of them. I think that is why some (especially Lutherans) love Ephesians 2:8-9, but miss out on the truth of verse 10 – that we are masterpieces created to live life loving others and helping them. You see this again as Merton points out that choosing to love and sacrifice for others is life—a life many don’t choose to live. This is also the poorly dressed man at the wedding banquet that Luther points to, the man trusting in his old ways, but wanting to be part of the party. The modern equivalents to this are those people who talk about being a Christian, but not needing church, prayer or even time in the Bible. They may pray, talk about prayer, but they deride organized religion (as if churches are organized!) as unnecessary.
Being alive in the faith looks like this: a dependency on God, which is only fed through word and sacrament, and loving others who are broken. This is what pastors can bring to people, it is why churches exist. It is an intimate relationship that starts with God and then, in Him includes all people, even those who don’t know they are loved, and don’t recognize the presence of God…
That is where pastoral care, and general love of the brethren come into play. The church can point out to each other the presence of Jesus, they can point out the healing available, they can point out the healing that will take place as we are gathered together by God. And they can model the life begun in them.
This is the church, the people God has gathered, whom He is healing, who we need to be part of, that we can grow closer to Him. Come join us…
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Eugene H. Peterson, Introduction, ed. Rodney Clapp, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 13.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 4.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 388–389.
It is not preaching unless…It is not worship unless…
Come and see the wonders of God; his acts for humanity are awe-inspiring. Psalm 66:5 (CSBBible)
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11:26 (CSBBible)
When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross, when we profess Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly; we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.
When somebody inquired whether a person [under the papacy] would be saved if he had not embraced this teaching of ours, he [Martin Luther] replied, “I really don’t know. God might have had regard for his baptism. This could do it. Even so, I have seen many [monks] die with a crucifix held before their eyes [as was then customary]. In spite of everything else, the name [of Christ] proved to be effective on their deathbed.”
When Jesus comes to the soul in Holy Communion, he brings to it every grace, and specially the grace of holy perseverance. This is the principal effect of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, to nourish the soul that receives it with this food of life, and to give it great strength to advance unto perfection, and to resist those enemies who desire our death.
Most of my college professors were focused on reading, studying, and preaching the Bible verse by verse. That is called exegetical preaching. Exegesis is the art of drawing the message from the text. All the professors taught this way, except one, my preaching professor. He would criticize me to no end, saying that “unless you preach the gospel, you may have given a good message, but you haven’t preached. And that gospel requires you to bring them to the cross. (Doug Dickey, multiple times in 1984-1986. He wanted you to include God’s grace, God’s love, God’s mercy, and if you didn’t – back to the library you went until you did!
I think that needs to be a rule, not only for preaching but for worship. We need to bring the people of God to the cross – We need to be there as well! Oh, do those who preach and lead worship need to come to the cross! We need to see with the Psalmist – the wonders of God as He acts on our behalf! We need to see Him take on death and destroy it! We need to see Him triumphant over our sin! That is why the Lord’s Supper explains the giving of Christ’s Body and His Blood shed for us! The entire service needs to focus there to journey with the cross throughout the week!
The cross needs to be there; the sermon and the sacrament need to draw us to Jesus! Look at the monks Luther describes, as they die, they just wanted to focus on the crucifix, to be in awe of God’s love for His people.
Can you preach verse by verse and still proclaim the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus? I believe so, but will the cross and the resurrection be your primary focus? The same question may be asked to those who preach topically,
who do a series on marriage or faith. Or those who preach from the pericope, the rotation of verses over 1 or 3 years. You must go to the scriptures, see how they point to Jesus, and work on that passage until you figure out how! The same as the worship service is formed, how does each song, each reading, each prayer draw people into Christ and make them more aware of His love! Of course, the decision on whether to offer commune fits there as well! Where else is the work of God as manifest at that moment, as people commune with the Body and Blood of Christ? (1 Cor. 10:16)
It is not preaching unless Christ crucified is revealed, nor is it worship if we are not brought to that cross in awe and celebrate that death was for us. This is why we gather… this is the refreshment given. It is time to celebrate!
Pope Francis, A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings, ed. Alberto Rossa (New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013), 125.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 87–88.
Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 224.
The Paradox of the Gospel. You are Valjean and you are the Bishop
Devotional Thoughts of the Day:
9 That was the true light which shines upon every man as he comes into the world. He came into the world – the world he had created – and the world failed to recognise him. He came into his own creation, and his own people would not accept him. Yet wherever men did accept him he gave them the power to become sons of God. These were the men who truly believed in him, and their birth depended not on the course of nature nor on any impulse or plan of man, but on God. John 1:9 (Phillips NT)
He told me that I have a soul
How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go? (Jean Valjean’s Soliloquy- Les Mis)
Go out into the streets to look, find, knock on doors,instruct and evangelize!
In a history marked by vulnerability our Lord Jesus Christ breaks in with an unstoppable strength and courage. That’s the Good News,the core of our preaching: the outright proclamation of this irruption of Jesus Christ incarnate, dead and risen, in our history.
The humblest Christian is called to live a miracle, a life that is a moral and spiritual life with such intensity and such purity that no human being can do it—only Jesus Christ can do it.
Yet this is no evangelicalistic theology, which is grounded in the same triumphalistic anthropology of the “I” (“I have decided to follow Jesus—no turning back, no turning back”). Instead—I believe that I cannot believe—the reversed Trinity of Luther’s catechism holds in tension the human inability in theology, faith, and life with the Holy Spirit’s work through Word and Sacrament. Thus, the third article is the actual turning point of the entire catechism, because everything that follows (prayer, sacraments, living in community) is precisely what happens to unbelievers when, the Holy Spirit acts on them, turning our “Woe is me!” into “Kyrie, eleison” (Lord, have mercy!). The theology of the reversed Trinity is literally “theo-logy” (God word), where God speaks to us and by speaking declares the old new, the sinner a saint, the unbeliever a believer—God’s service to us, not ours to God.
This mornigns devotional readings were accompanied by Les Mis, and the words of Jean Valjean kept echoing in my ears, as he considers the humble bishop who paid for his salvaiton…and yet Jean’s attitude was not to face who he was, but to create a new life, ignoring who he was. (In the book, this is a constant theme, for him and Javert.)
Their journey is the vulnerability that Pope Francis notes, a vulnerability we need, a lack of resistance to the incarnation, for Jesus must become incarnate in each of our lives.
It is the only way to change our cry of despair, as Wengert notes, from dismay and despair to the expecation of God hearing and acting on our cry for mercy. That is the only way we can live in the life of Christ that Tozer explains, a life that is obviously not ours, for it is not within our ability.
How does the bishop know Jean ValJean has a soul? Because the bishop has one, and has seen Christ invade it. It is why the silver is worth far less than Jean’s soul. It is why the investment is worth it, though it will take decades, with only a glimpse of the return here and there. Not until his death…is it revealed. ( I believe Colossians 3:1-4 explains this quite well)
You have a soul, and I have one as well. It is where the Holy Spirit dwells, bringing us peace, even as we struggle within this life.It is were our faith, our dependence on God is formed. It is where joy resonates from, when anxiety and trauma threaten to overwhem us. It is where peace exists, far beyond our comprehension, it is where we know His love more intimately than we can express.
Yet, we can share it with others… for that to is a miracle. You are ValJean and you are the Bishop.
Pope Francis, A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings, ed. Alberto Rossa (New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013), 366.
A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
Timothy J. Wengert, Martin Luther’s Catechisms: Forming the Faith (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009), 46.
The Greatest Secret in all History…and it concerns you.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
The wisdom I proclaim is God’s secret wisdom, which is hidden from human beings, but which he had already chosen for our glory even before the world was made. 8† None of the rulers of this world knew this wisdom. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9† However, as the scripture says,
“What no one ever saw or heard,
what no one ever thought could happen,
is the very thing God prepared for those who love him.”
10 But it was to us that God made known his secret by means of his Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:7-10 GNT
27 God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God! Col. 1:27 GNT
Imagine you were nine again, and you saw your parents and a couple of other adults whispering, and as you walked closer, they all stopped talking. Or they walked away from each other. Then your brother and sister looked at you with a strange smile.
You would know something was up. It might be a good thing, it could also be something, well not that positive.
Now think about work, and something similar happens. People are gathered around, talking quietly, occasionally glancing at you, only to snap their head around if you made eye contact with them.
You might become slightly paranoid! I would definitely more than just a little anxious.
And yet there was one secret, that secret definitely concerns you and I. The secret of redemption, and reconciliation with God. The secret that God has prepared for us, planned since before He created the world, that Jesus would come, live, be tortured to death, and rise again, so the secret could be fulfilled.
And because of that life eternal will be more than we can ever imagine. The amount of love and serenity we will experience will be glorious.
And yet it was a secret. It was hidden from the world, and yet hidden in plain sight. The promise Paul quotes is there in the Old Testament, the promise that there would be a light for the nations, and the glory of Israel, overlooked. The patience and love of God was not contemplated, and even in Jesus day, there were preachers who maintained that religion was for this life only, that there was noting more.
They missed it, allowing Jesus to become incarnate, to dwell among us long enough for us to kill Him. And He did this because the Father and He loved us so much!
There is the secret, the reason something more stunning that we’ve ever laid our eyes upon, more amazing than anything we have ever heard, and more increible than anything we have ever thought and dreamed awaits us. To be so clean we can enter God the Father’s presence, and not only will we see God face to face, we will be welcomed home into the glory He has planned to share with us.
Lord, help us believe Your promise. AMEN!
Directions for the Culturally Challenged Evangelist
Devotional Thought of the Day:
After this the Lord chose another seventy-two men and sent them out two by two, to go ahead of him to every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2 He said to them, “There is a large harvest, but few workers to gather it in. Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest. 3† Go! I am sending you like lambs among wolves. 4 Don’t take a purse or a beggar’s bag or shoes; don’t stop to greet anyone on the road. 5 Whenever you go into a house, first say, ‘Peace be with this house.’ 6 If someone who is peace-loving lives there, let your greeting of peace remain on that person; if not, take back your greeting of peace. 7† Stay in that same house, eating and drinking whatever they offer you, for workers should be given their pay. Don’t move around from one house to another. 8 Whenever you go into a town and are made welcome, eat what is set before you, 9 heal the sick in that town, and say to the people there, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near you.’ Luke 10:1-9 GNT
Certainly, those who do not know Christ also do not know their right to hear His love and His plans for them. Nonetheless this right is real: it is, we might say, intrinsic to their humanity which God wills to fulfil in Christ.
Some people are tempted to abstain from announcing Christ because they believe that by this they would show themselves to be more respectful of the human and spiritual values already present in the cultures and religions of the world. In reality this is to show respect for a partial value, rather than allowing that value to come to its definitive realization—which is what happens when it encounters the Gospel. It is on the contrary a lack of respect for the values present in the cultures and religions of the world, as well as those in whom those values are found, when, in silencing the Gospel, we deprive them of what would have brought them to fulfilment.
66 These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Living in one of the most diverse parts of the world is a challenge. Within 5 miles of my house are Islamic Centers of different types, A Center of Jainism, Mormon Stakes, Jehovah Witness Kingdom Halls, various forms Buddhist temples, A Namaste Center for Spiritual Living, and 20-30 other Spiritual and Religious communities I cannot identify.
As I look at this, my heart aches, for as these people seek for God, they miss the revelation of God’s love for them, the revelation of His love, as He sent Jesus, His Son to dwell with us. The apostles would testify as to His glory, and they were sent to share that glorious love with the world.
For century’s the way the church dealt with this was through force. Not a good idea and the church wasn’t the only religion to do so. This violence, seen in wars, personal attacks, and martyrdoms and many self-fulfilling “martyrs” today.
So how do we balance out this need (both ours to share, and their need to hear) the message of God’s love?
How do we respect their traditions, their journey trying to find divinity and the peace that comes from being united to God, while showing them the way God revealed to us that He would draw men and women to Him? How do we work with those who are cults, who have perverted the teaching of Jesus?
It is a difficult road to travel, and yet, the fact that it is a life long journey should help us on the road. For we can invite them to share a part of that journey, we can explore with them their beliefs. We can share with them the hope we have, even in the face of death.
Not as competitors to see whose belief system is better, to see who “wins”. But to know God’s heart toward us all. For there is the key, to know we are loved, to know His mercy and healing when we fail, to rejoice in the presence of God.
That is what we are called to do, to share the reason we have hope in this broken world, to draw people to Jesus with the promises made to us, and delivered through word and sacrament.
It is challenging, no one said it would be easy. But God is with us, and this is how he ministered to us.
Rey, D. (2012). Adoration and the New Evangelization. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 10). London; New York: Burns & Oates.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 419). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Matters of the Heart: A sermon on Mark 7 from the Concordia Lutheran Church!
(if you would rather see the service, and hear the sermon, it is posted on my FB page and at Concordia.org_
Matters of the Heart
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
May this grace, the love and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, show you how He is transforming your heart so that you can love Him and your neighbor! AMEN!
The Gospel? Really? ( O wait = there it is …Bacon is fine!)
Passages like the gospel always bring out my sense of irony.
I mean, we read these nine verses, talking about how our vile hearts defile us, and then I get to say, “This is the gospel of the Lord!”
Using less religious language, “This is the good news that Jesus has for you!”Yeah! Good news! You are defiled because your heart is vile! Not really a balance there between Law and Gospel…this passage is 100% law. Well, Bob found some good news in it, in our deacons and pastor study Monday night. There down within the parenthesis you see it, “Every kind of food is acceptable in God’s sight!” Which means bacon and shrimp and lobster are as acceptable as broccoli or kale or that horrid pumpkin spice stuff that is invading our stores! But how do we take a passage so focused on our failure, our sin, our being defiled, and find good news there? Where is the gospel in this gospel reading?Or put another way, while this passage tells us we really need help, how do we find it? Or are we always going to be defiled by our vile hearts?
We are defiled/vulgar (but that isn’t what you think it means_
Inigo Montoya, the famous swordsman in Princess Bride, uttered these works. “You keep using that word (inconceivable). I do not think it means what you think it means!”We’ve got a couple of those words in today’s reading. The first is the word defile. It sounds like it means rotten, disgusting, horrid, sickening, to use an old word, gross.
It isn’t actually bad as bad as it sounds, though, in reality, it is worse.
It is the opposite of holy, it means common. Which was the original definition of vulgar.
Using last week’s illustration about holiness, to be set apart for a special purpose, I said Missy’s guitar was meant to play music with, not to be used as a stepping stool to change a light bulb. You defile something when you take something that has a special purpose and use it for something… far less. Say instead of using it for playing beautiful music, Missy used her guitar to move fertilizer around her parent’s backyard. That would be defiling is, making it something used for something in common.
Or imagine you are going into surgery, and you see the surgeon opening his latest package from Amazon with the same scalpel.
Our hearts’ purpose had never been to be the place of origin for sin. We were meant to be set apart, our purpose to be the people, the children of God. We were set apart to dwell in His love, and love the family of God. Sin simply wrecks that, destroying our heart and soul, making us no better than any other biological creature, controlled by physical needs and desire for pleasure.
Sin changes us, from being the children of God, and that sin comes from a heart that doesn’t recognize God. And that sin finds its origin, not in the world, but in our hearts. That is what Jesus keeps coming back too…
It is not what is us that is wrong, it’s not the bacon, it is the heart that is a glutton that causes the desire to overeat. It’s not the beauty that causes the sin, it is the uncontrolled desire for pleasure.
It is what is within us, what controls our heart, and our will that causes us to engage in sin.
The gospel – a heart transplant The OT Promise
If this is true, then what hope exists for us, in this world so oppressed by the sin which has ensnared us? What hope is there for our friends, of children, our grandchildren? If all there is to life is living without a special purpose, without reason,
We find the law in the Gospel today, so let’s look back at the Old Testament to find the gospel. If sin originates in our hearts, then what is underlined in this passage is the only way to deal with it. Let’s read it together
26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.
There is our answer, a cardiac transplant. To allow God to change our heart, from the one in which sin, passed down from Adam, and which dominates our heart. Changing our heart like he did with David, making us men and women after God’s own heart, men, and women who share His desire.
This is the promise made sure in us, as it was for Ethan last week, as God pours water on us, and cleanses us from all sin, and He makes us His people.
This new heart changes us… and enables us to do things that please God, it allows us to walk with Him, and relate to Him. For as He changes our heart, as He puts His Spirit in us, we return to being holy, a people are special to Him, for we are His children!
What does this mean?
How can we believe this, I mean, we still sin, don’t we?
How can sin still come from a heart that has been changed? From a heart that is supposed to beat in rhythm with God’s own heart? The simple answer is, that sin is the old us, and as we walk closer to God, depending on Him more and more, others may see the change in us, while we never do.
I think that’s so we never stop depending on God, so we learn to run to Him when we are tempted, so we learn to run to Him, assured of His mercy and forgiveness, so that we learn to run to the God who has poured water on us, cleansed us of sin, given us a new heart, put His Spirit within us…
and who promises this as well
6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6 (NLT2) Amen!
Already Broke Your Resolution? Good! Now you can really change!
Devotional Thought for your new year!
4 “Israel, remember this! The LORD—and the LORD alone—is our God. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (TEV)
14 Their minds, indeed, were closed; and to this very day their minds are covered with the same veil as they read the books of the old covenant. The veil is removed only when a person is joined to Christ. 15 Even today, whenever they read the Law of Moses, the veil still covers their minds. 16 But it can be removed, as the scripture says about Moses: “His veil was removed when he turned to the Lord.” 17 Now, “the Lord” in this passage is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. 18 All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:14-18 (TEV)
503 Love Our Lord passionately. Love him madly! Because if there is love— when there is love—I would dare to say that resolutions are not needed. My parents—think of yours—did not need to make any resolutions to love me: and what an effusion of tenderness they showed me, in little details every day! With that same human heart we can and should love God.
In Lutheran thought, most commands are what are known as “Law.” Law has three purposes, The first is to keep civil peace. The second use of the law is to show us that we are guilty of sin and deserving eternal punishment. Knowing that we can be drawn to Christ to receive grace, the merciful forgiveness that restores us, and welcomes us into the presence of God. The third use of the law is simply to show us how to live, now that we are bound to Him, for Christ’s life is the picture of a life lived in full harmony with the law.
But the command following the words of the Lord being our Lord, the phrase known as the Shema, is not Law in the Lutheran sense.
Yes, we may struggle ot love God with everything we are, and if we think about it, this could make us wallow in guilt and shame. Most of us can keep our resolution longer than we can maintain a love for God that includes every part of our life! But if we feel guilty, or if we just ignore our shortcomings, we are missing the incredible, glorious, life-changing words that come before it.
The Lord, and the Lord alone, IS OUR GOD!
This line is why this isn’t Law, it I the purest of Gospel, for it describes what it means for us to have God (using His name YHWH) as our God. Loaded into that phrase is the idea that God takes responsibility for us, provides what we need, loves us. It means His nature of loving mercy (cHesed/Agape) is at work in us, bringing to completion the work began in us.
And as we consider this, as we think it through, there is no need for a resolution, no need for goals to change us. As we think and meditate on God loving us, we love Him, we adore Him, we become more and more hungry to hear of His love, and to share it with others.
So maybe you made a resolution or four to change in this new year. To lose weight, to be more patient with people, to be more determined in your spiritual disciplines. Maybe you already broke one or two.
Real change in our lives starts with something else.
Being still, and knowing He is our God.
Knowing His passion and love for you…
Just sit there for a moment, and let His love sink in…
and find yourself changed.
Godspeed my friends!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1920-1925). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.