Saturday, April 18, 2015

We Are God's Children!

1 John 3:1-7 When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he began this way:  “Our Father, who art in heaven…”  That is how Jesus wants us to understand our relationship with God! 
We have prayed those words thousands of times over the course of our life but I wonder if we have really considered what they mean—how wonderful, how incredible they really are—that we can, at Jesus’ invitation, call God:  Our Father?!
What those words mean is that the one, true and living God of the universe—the Creator and Sustainer of all things—the One who simply is and was and always will be—is our Father!
Can you even begin to imagine what a wonder this is, what a blessing this is, that God is our true Father and we are his true children!?  But –so- we- truly -are because of his love for us in Jesus Christ.  The Bible says:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
            That we are children of the heavenly Father is the fulfillment of God’s purpose and plan for us.  The relationship of a loving Father and his beloved child is why he created us in the beginning—so that we would live in loving fellowship with him through time and eternity.  It’s what he wants for us and from us.
That is what God wanted for all people-- but sin wrecked that divine purpose and ruined God’s creation and separated us from our heavenly Father.  But such is God’s love for us that sacrificed his own Son so that we could once again be God’s children.
That is the kind of love that our heavenly Father has for us—that is how far he would go-- to make sure that we have a place in his family as his own dearly loved children. 
And so then, even when we go through hard times, and even when we suffer some terrible loss, and even when we stumble and fall, even when the world rejects us, how can there ever be any doubt that we are loved by God with an everlasting love?
We are his children and he is our Father and we can count on him to help us and we can come to him in our need and call to him in prayer and know that he hears us and will answer us for our good. 
God loves us and he will protect us and provide for us and guide us on life’s journey until that day he brings us to our heavenly home.  It was this incredible, glorious good news that filled John’s heart when he wrote these words:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
            And so we are.  John has to emphasize that.  We really are God’s children!  So why do we need to emphasize that?  It is because our identity is not immediately obvious to those around us.  Who we are as God’s children is often hidden by the brokenness of our lives in this world.
Let me explain:  if you knew nothing of Jesus or of the true things of God (as so many in our world do not) you might have a very different idea about what it means to be God’s child.
If that is really true, the world says, if you really are the royal sons and daughters of God then why are so many of you being martyred across the world?  Why are so many of you poor and weak and humble and obscure?  Why do you suffer?  Why are you held in contempt by the powers that be?
The world wants to know:  if you Christians really are children of the living God of the universe, why aren’t you rich and powerful and prominent?  God has an answer:  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Jesus.  
            There is a reason that the world does not recognize us for who we are as God’s children and that’s because they did not recognize Jesus for who he was as God’s Son. 
When John began his Gospel he said that Jesus was God and the world was made through him and he was the light and life of all men but the world did not know him or receive him.
That’s exactly the way it is for us as God’s children.  The world persecutes us and ridicules us because that’s the way they treated our elder brother.  The world thinks that we are fools because that’s the way they think of Christ.  The world scorns our deepest held values because they scorned the words of Jesus. 
But there is coming a day when the world will see Jesus for who he is and they will know us to be God’s children.  The Bible says:
Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when Jesus appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 
            We are God’s children right now-- and even though that status and identity is not clearly seen by the world, there is coming a day when it will be revealed and made manifest.
            As we live our lives on this earth as Christian people, we experience the hardships of life in a broken world just like everyone else.  We get old and sick and die like everyone else.  In fact, life on earth is even more difficult for us than for others because we are Christians.  That is what the Bible means when it says that our life is hidden in the humility and meekness of Christ.
But Jesus is coming again in glory—not in the weakness of the Baby of Bethlehem and not in the humility of the suffering servant—but in the glory of Almighty God as the King of kings and Lord of lords—and he will raise us from our graves and with our own eyes, in our own flesh we will see Jesus and we will be like him.
Our bodies will be glorified like his body—no longer subject to death and disease.  The image of God will be perfectly restored in us so that we will dwell forever in righteousness and holiness. 
We are God’s children and that is our glorious future --and that identity and that hope have a direct, powerful, and meaningful impact on how we live our lives.  The Bible says:
Everyone who thus hopes in Jesus purifies himself as he is pure.   Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that Jesus appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 
            There is no sin in Jesus.  He was the faithful, holy Son that God intends all of us to be and he sacrificed himself to take away our sins.  There will be no sin in heaven where God and the angels dwell in holiness and light.
It is because we are God’s children through faith in Jesus-- and it is because we have a sure hope of heaven-- that we take the sin in our life seriously and deal with it through heartfelt repentance and amendment of life.
The life of a child of God is a spiritual battle and we might as well come to grips with that.  It is not a life of ease or safety or comfort—it is a battle against the sin and impurity that Jesus came to take away—the sin and impurity that have no place in heaven or in our lives.
And so then, what does it mean that those who hope in Jesus, those who are children of God, purify themselves? 
It means that by God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit we hate the sin in our lives as God’s hates it.  We make no place for sin any more than Jesus allowed money changers in the temple for we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  We struggle against temptation as Jesus struggled in the wilderness against the temptations of the devil.
From the perspective of the Bible, it is absolutely inconceivable that the child of God would be content to abide in sin.  The Bible says:
No one who abides in Jesus keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 
            Here’s the thing:  you can either abide in Jesus or you can abide in sin but you cannot do both.  That is not my opinion—it is what God says.  Now maybe you are saying to yourself, “But pastor, I sin all the time!  What exactly do you think I am doing during the confession part of our worship service?!”  I get it, me too, but here’s the thing…
The sins that we fall victim to through the weakness of our flesh and the constant temptation of the world and the devil—the sins that we hate—the sins that we are sorry for and fight against and resolve to amend--are a very different thing than abiding in sin and practicing lawlessness and living in open rebellion against God. 
Abiding in sin is living in sin without sorrow or a willingness to change.  Abiding in sin is making a place for sin in our lives.  Abiding in sin is excusing our sin and finally saying that it is no sin at all. 
And that is exactly what is happening all over Christendom today as entire church bodies have abandoned the moral teaching of the Bible for the immoral spirit of the age so that they can tell people what their itching ears want to hear rather than the plain word of God. 
The same thing was happening in John’s day and this is what the Holy Spirit has to say then and now:  Little children, let no one deceive you. 
Children of God, you should be very, very clear in your own mind that there is a concerted effort in the world today on the part of the media and our government and the false church to deceive you into believing that what has always been a sin- is no longer a sin- and that God has changed his mind about sin and now puts a stamp of approval on immorality. 
That is a lie from the devil and it smells like smoke and the child of God must not believe it, much less participate in it! 
Instead of practicing lawlessness and abiding in sin the Bible says that the child of God is to practice righteousness.  Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as Jesus is righteous.  We are righteous in God’s sight through faith in Christ Jesus.  By virtue of our baptism into Christ, we have been adopted into God’s family as children.  We will one day be like Jesus.
Because this is our identity, we make it our practice to live righteous lives like Jesus did.  There was no “disconnect” between who Jesus was and how he lived:  he was God’s Son and so he spoke his Father’s words and did his Father’s will. 
So it is for us who are adopted into God’s family as his children.  Our lives and our words and our values are a reflection of our heavenly Father and we dedicate ourselves to putting this into practice in our lives—not to earn our salvation or work our way into heaven—but simply because that is who we are.
We are God’s children!  What a blessing it is to know that!  What a blessing it is to live it out in time and eternity!  Amen.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Grace-filled Life

Ephesians 2:8-10 We gather here today to mourn a family man, a fellow member of the church, and a friend in this community.  Our grief is real.  It’s always difficult to say goodbye to those we love-- but it’s especially difficult when it is someone like Allan who was such a blessing to so many of us.
I know that everyone here today has happy memories of him and what a blessing that is!  To have lived such a life as to inspire the admiration of this great family is a testimony to what kind of man he was!
I know that everyone has a story they would like to tell about a man who was such a squirrel-catching, jackrabbit chasing, domino playing character as he was!
But I would like to take this opportunity to tell you another kind of story—not a story about something that Allan did—but a story about what God did for Allan—a story of God’s grace that is still being told as his soul rests in God’s presence.  The Bible says:
By grace you have been saved through faith.   And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
            Saved.  I would have you know and believe that above all else:  that Allan is saved.  Safe and secure in his heavenly home.  This day is not about the painful news that he is gone from us—but that glad Good News that Allan has gone home.  Saved by grace.
When we hear that word “saved” many Christians think of a moment when they became particularly aware that they were sinners who needed saving and were glad and thankful that Jesus had done that for them in his death and resurrection.
Allan was certainly “saved” in that sense.  He confessed the same each week in this place:  I a poor miserable sinner confess all my sins and iniquities.  Each week he said:  I believe in Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary who was crucified, died and was buried.  Allan knew that he was a sinner and that Jesus was his Savior.
Other Christians, when they hear that word “saved” think about the moment when the saving merits of Jesus Christ became their own, especially in the waters of Holy Baptism and that was true of Allan too. 
He was baptized by his father at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Schroeder, Texas on April 20, 1930.  The Bible says that in that moment he died with Christ and was raised with Christ and is united with Christ in his resurrection.  And so he will be!
But that word “saved” in the Bible includes even more than these moments.  It includes everything that God has done for us (from everlasting to everlasting) to forgive our sins-- and bring us to faith in Jesus-- and lead us to our heavenly home.
The comfort that we have today even as we mourn his passing is that Allan was saved:  God chose him in Christ, sent Jesus to die and rise for him, brought him to faith and sustained his faith in Jesus until that moment Monday evening when God called Allan home, saved by grace—safe and secure in the place Jesus prepared for him.
And so he is even at this moment!  He is saved from the sorrows of this life.  He is saved from illness and disability.  He is saved from worries and cares.  He is saved from failure and sin and eternal death.  The Bible says of the saints who are entering heaven:
“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb… They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

So it is for Allan right now--saved by grace.  I recently heard a wonderful little definition of grace that I would like to share with you.  You may already know it but it was new to me and it vividly describes God’s gracious work in Allan’s life.  It goes like this…
Grace is:  God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.  “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.  I just love that!  How true that was of Allan’s life and he knew it!
During this last month or so of his life, a month full of sickness and pain, Allan could be heard constantly singing “Amazing Grace”—the song we just sang.  “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
You see, the faithful child of God finds no shame in claiming for themselves words like “poor and wretched and blind” –Allan certainly didn’t! 
The words of “Amazing Grace” were a comfort to him because they reminded him of how far God had brought him--that there was something even greater and more powerful than his sins and weaknesses--and that is the mercy and forgiveness that God extends to us in Jesus Christ.
That we are saved-- and that God is gracious towards us-- is all because of Jesus Christ.  We are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Allan knew that Reformation rallying cry and believed it and built his life upon it.
He knew that Christ had carried his sins to the cross and suffered there in his place and shed his life’s blood to wash them away.  He knew that Christ was raised to give him eternal life.  And his confidence, especially in these last days, was this promise of Jesus:  I am the resurrection and life.  He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.
That was Allan’s faith—a faith that was given to him as a gift by the Holy Spirit and sustained in him throughout his life by God’s Word and Holy Sacraments. 
Every time Allan heard the Word of God and received Holy Communion, the Holy Spirit was right there in that moment, through those humble means, strengthening the faith he had first been given as a gift in Holy Baptism—a faith that allowed him to confess that he was, as God’s says, God’s workmanship.
And so he was.  His heavenly Father had created him and Jesus Christ had redeemed him and the Holy Spirit had sanctified him and set him apart as belonging to God.  He was God’s child, blessed by God with countless earthly gifts.
God caused him to be born to Christian parents who loved him and saw that he was brought up in the Christian faith.  God watched over him and protected him during his military service in the navy during the Korean War.  God gave him work to do in the oilfields of West Texas that provided for his family. 
And it was here especially—in Allan’s family-- that God graciously blessed Allan.
By the goodness and grace of Almighty God, Allan and Marie were brought together in Holy Matrimony.  They were married by Allan’s father at Elim Lutheran Church in Kenedy, Texas on June 25, 1955. 
Their love for one another was blessed by God with children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great great-grandchildren—a beautiful heritage from the Lord. 
I can’t tell you what a blessing it was for me to see nearly forty members of Allan’s immediate family fill the hospital room and hallway when he first was admitted to the hospital.
This wonderful family is a testimony to their love for one another-- but more importantly they are a testimony to God’s gracious love for them. 
Allan believed that.  And he knew that as God’s workmanship he had been created and redeemed in Christ Jesus to live a life of good works.
And so he did.  Not only did he work in the oilfield he always had an extra job so that Marie could stay home.  He made time every day to play cards and dominos they both loved so much.  He served our church by helping the men’s group with their golf tournament and Bar-B-Q and fertilizer sales.  Pastor Budewig called him “the fireman” because he kept our fire extinguishers serviced.
Allan understood that being saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus has a purpose and that purpose is to serve God and others. 
His was a grace-filled life and now his earthly purpose has been fulfilled and God has called him home to rest in his presence until that day when Jesus returns and raises our bodies from the grave, never to die again. 
I pray that everyone gathered here today would know and believe what Allan knew and believed and built his life upon:  that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.  Amen.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Of First Importance: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

1 Corinthians 15:1-10 On September 18, 2007 Randy Pausch, a computer science professor, stepped in front of a groups of students and fellow faculty members at Carnegie Mellon University and gave a lecture entitled “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. 
It was a lecture about what was most important to him.  It was his last lecture and he knew it.
He had slides on his computer that he projected on a screen beside him.  They showed CT scans of his pancreas, ravaged by the cancer that would in short order rob him of his life; his wife of her husband; and his three young boys of their father. 
A teacher to the end, he wanted this one last chance to tell his students and colleagues and family what really mattered to him—to tell them that which was of first importance.
What about you?  If given the opportunity to tell those you loved and cared about what really mattered to you—what was of first importance—what would you tell them? 
That’s the situation we have in our lesson today:  Paul taking one last opportunity to tell the Christians at Corinth- and us here today- that which was of first importance:  the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He said: 
I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day…
            The Good News of Jesus crucified and raised was of first importance to Paul and not only was of first importance to Paul, it was of first importance to God. 
Paul wasn’t the one who prioritized this message and said it was first, he received it from Christ as that which was most important and passed it along the same way.
There are all kinds of important things in the Bible.  In fact, everything there is important!  God the Holy Spirit inspired every word and caused it to be written down without error.
But in the Bible there is something that comes first:  what Jesus Christ has done for us in his dying and rising-- for that alone is the way of salvation.  Paul wrote:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  
            In Paul’s ministry- and in the life of the Corinthian Christians -the gospel of Jesus Christ came first.  The Good News of Jesus crucified and raised was the content of his preaching and it was the content of the Corinthians’ faith.  When Paul preached—the Corinthians listened and took his words to heart and believed what he said. 
Now we may say “well, of course—that’s the whole point of preaching”—and it is—but we should never become cavalier about the gracious way that God brings us to faith through the preaching of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 
The bible says that:  Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.  That means that if we are to have saving faith and be right in God’s sight there has to be a preacher who will tell us about Jesus-- and we have to be willing to listen to the truth and believe it-- and there can be a failure on both ends.  But there in Corinth…
Paul preached the Gospel- and the people believed the Gospel- and they were being saved by Jesus Christ. 
How blessed we are to say that the same is true for us and for our congregation—that we stand in the Gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection! 
And yet Paul knew that we need to hold fast to the Gospel throughout our life --or it all will have been in vain-- for Jesus says that it is only those who remain faithful to the end who will be saved.  Paul said:
You are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.    
It is important to begin well when it comes to our faith.  That is why we baptize our babies.  It is important to continue in faith.  That is why we come to church and bible study to be strengthened in our faith.  But it will all be in vain if we do not continue in faith until that day we are called into the Lord’s presence. 
There are many things that can trip us up along the way in our journey to heaven which is why we return to the main thing again and gain.  Paul says:
I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day…  
            The gospel message that saves is simple:  I am a sinner in need of a savior and Jesus is that savior who died for my sins and rose again to give me a new life. 
This way of salvation in Jesus was what God promised from the very beginning to Adam and Eve and renewed again and again throughout the Old Testament.  This Gospel message is of first importance because it is the only way to have a life with God.
            This message tells us the truth about ourselves—that we are sinners who need a savior.  In fact, we are such great sinners that it takes the death of God’s own Son to make things right again between us and God. 
The Gospel message tells us the truth about God:  that he loves us with an everlasting love and sent his Son to take upon himself all of our sins and suffer the punishment we deserve on the cross where he died for the whole world full of sinners.
The Gospel message tells us the truth about God’s plan for our future:  that since Jesus Christ has conquered death and the grave by his dying and rising we too can live a new life and be certain of an eternal home with God. 
That is the Gospel and if it seems too good to be true, it is important to remember that Paul sets this Good News on the rock-solid foundation of real people in real places in real moments of history.  Paul says that after the resurrection, Jesus:
appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  
            The message of the Gospel (that which is of most importance) is a matter of eternal life and death and so it can never be of the same quality as the myths and fables of ancient Greece and Rome.  Rather, it is an accomplished fact of history.
The apostles proclaimed:  a man they knew; events they saw; and places they traveled to.  The faith they proclaimed was not, first of all, a dogma—it was a person.  The Gospel they proclaimed was not a myth or metaphor-- but real events and concrete places and living people who were witnesses of the risen Christ.
It’s is important for you to know that God does not ask you to commit your life here on earth and your eternal future to a myth or metaphor—but to a real person:  Jesus Christ—and to real historical events:  his death and resurrection that makes a way back to God for even the worst of sinners.  Paul said:
Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am
            Paul not only taught the truth about what mattered most—his own life was a testimony and enduring example of what matters most. 
When Paul wrote these words about being unworthy he had been an apostle for decades.  He had seen the risen Christ.  His mission field was the entire Gentile world. 
And yet even after years of faithful service to Jesus and his people-- there was no thought in his mind of how deserving he was of God’s salvation—no thought of how much better he was than everyone else. 
He said that he was the least of the apostles—that, in fact, he was unworthy to be called an apostle.  There was simply no thought in Paul’s mind of his own holiness—but only of the goodness of God that extended grace and mercy to a sinner like him.
So it is for us!  What God has done for us in Jesus Christ—that which is of first importance—is a gift of God’s grace from beginning to end.  It is not given to us because we are better than others or because we deserve it. 
It is given to us because we are sinners who can not save ourselves but can only cast ourselves upon the mercy and grace of God and receive his forgiveness in word and sacrament.  At the same time, that grace and mercy DOES makes a real difference in how we live our lives.  Paul says that God’s grace:
was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Our life with God is a gift.  Christ has done it all by his dying and rising.  All of us can say with the apostle Paul that it is only by the grace of God that I am what I am.
But it’s also important for us to understand that just because our salvation is God’s gift, that doesn’t mean we then sit back and do nothing once we come to faith in Jesus.
In fact, just the opposite is true!  What God has done for in Christ moves us into action --and the greater our awareness of our sin is and the greater our awareness of God’s goodness is, the more profound a change there is in our life.  That was certainly true of Paul!  Of the other apostles he said I worked harder than any of them. 
The Christian life takes effort on our part.  Luther says that faith is a living, busy, active thing.  We repent of our sins.  We ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to amend our ways and our deeds.  We open our eyes and our hearts and our hands to the needs of those around us.  Our Christian faith calls us into action and witness.
Earlier in the sermon I asked the question:  If given the opportunity to tell those you loved and cared about what really mattered to you—about that which was of first importance—what would you tell them? 
Well that opportunity does exist right now—to share with our friends and family and this community that which is most important:  the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and risen and the difference he makes in our lives.  Amen.