Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Foundation of Our Faith

1 Corinthians 3:10-23 Last week we heard the Good News that we are God’s building—that far from abandoning us or giving up on us when we do not progress in our Christian faith as fast and as far as we should—God continues to patiently build us up just like a construction manager raising a building from the earth one girder at a time.
Today we hear just exactly what kind of structure God is building out of our lives:  that we Christians are the temple of God—the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit!  As we meditate on God’s Word, we are going to talk about the foundation for that temple—and how it is built—and what it means that we are the temple of God.  Paul writes:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
            Earlier in our sermon series we heard Paul say that he consciously made a decision to proclaim nothing else than Jesus Christ crucified for the sins of the world.  This “word of the cross” was the necessary foundation for everything else that would follow and without that foundation of Jesus’ blood and righteousness a dwelling place for God could never be built in our life! 
The irreducible minimum for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a confident faith and trust in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the sins of the world—that in him, we have a life with God.  The foundation for that life was laid by Jesus 2,000 years ago and it still stands today and to try and build a life with God apart from this foundation is impossible.
Just like with any building—if the foundation is not sound—the structure itself cannot remain standing.  That is why Christian pastors are so insistent that Jesus Christ is preached and taught to God’s people—because the foundation must be true if the spiritual temple built upon it is true.
Not only must the foundation be sound—but the living, breathing temple of God that is built upon it in our lives must also be constructed out of those things that are true and beautiful and precious and lasting.  Paul writes:
If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done
            Paul laid the foundation for the temple of God that was being built out of believers’ lives there in Corinth.  He showed himself to be a skilled, master builder.  But he could not stay there forever—other pastors would be responsible for the spiritual building project in that place and throughout the world as the Church grew. 
The pastors who followed him in Corinth—and the pastors who serve God’s people today-- have the same responsibility to choose spiritual bricks and mortar and girders and beams that are the best. 
None of us would intentionally let a contractor choose cheap building materials when it comes to our homes.  How much more do we need to hear and heed these words of Paul that what our living, breathing, eternal temples ought to be built out of-- is the very best—what Paul calls gold, silver, and precious stones!
Paul is using a word picture for those things that are true and beautiful and good and lasting.  In other words, pastors have a responsibility to build on the foundation of Jesus’ blood and righteousness by faithfully using the Word and Sacraments to build up the people of God into a beautiful dwelling place for God. 
But you folks also have a responsibility to insist that, when it comes to building up your spiritual life, your pastor preaches the Gospel faithfully and administers the sacraments according to Christ’s institution.  You have a responsibility to use of the means of grace and study his Word.  You have a responsibility to avoid those things that can tear down the temple that God is building in your lives. 
Paul calls these of things wood, hay, and straw and they are being used all over Christendom.  Marketing strategies and gimmicks—sermons that could just as easily be delivered at self-improvement and self-empowerment seminars—lies and false gospels nowhere taught in the Bible.  None of this rubbish is suitable to build up the people of God for it will not endure his judgment!
There is coming a Day when what has been used to build living, breathing temples for God will be shown for what it is:  that which can endure the purifying fire of God—or--that which will be burned up as chaff on the Last Day.  Paul writes:
If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Pastors and people who have made use of that which is valuable and good and lasting will receive their reward.  Those who have used what is cheap and temporary will see their life’s work reduced to ashes—though God promises to save even those folks if only the foundation of Jesus Christ remains true. 
But those who have ruined that foundation—those who tried to build on something else—will be destroyed.  Paul writes:
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
            When we understand who we really are, then we will understand everything that Paul is teaching us today about the importance of using the spiritual building blocks of life.  We ARE God’s temple:  the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit—our lives set apart for the living presence of God—each part of it holy to the Lord.
The only way for that to be true is to be built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and the only way for us to endure the fire of God’s judgment-- is for each part of our spiritual life to be built out of spiritual building blocks that God himself gives in Word and Sacrament.  God desires that this living, breathing temple that he has made out of our lives would endure forever.  
To destroy that temple by tearing down the foundation of Jesus that it is built upon —is to engage in outright warfare against the purpose and plans of God himself—and with that rebellion will come destruction.  Paul writes:
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”  So let no one boast in men.
            The world regards the word of the cross as foolishness and weakness--and yet the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is really the strength and wisdom of God.  We know this and believe this to be true!  But none of us are immune from the temptation to set that rock-solid foundation aside. 
The devil tempts us to boredom when it comes to hearing about the death and resurrection of Jesus each weak and gives us itching ears to hear something new. 
Our own flesh regards the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood as an occasional extra rather than an essential building block of faith that builds us up as a temple to God.
Pastors and congregations and church bodies want to treat the church as a business, and employ the methods of the world to accomplish its mission rather than step out in faith with the values and ways and tools of the Kingdom. 
Paul calls this so-called wisdom:  folly—with the only cure for it a return to the cross and the man who died there.  There in that place and in that man is where we find all that we need for this life and the life to come.  Paul writes:
For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
            For the child of God, there is no need to pick and choose which pastor to align ourselves with-- for they are merely servants to bring us to Christ and bestow Christ’s gifts upon us.  There is no reason to pick and choose which events and circumstances to regard as blessings from God-- for all things work for our eternal good and are a part of the temple he is building in our lives.
Joys and sorrows are written into the blueprint of our lives as a necessary part of the dwelling place he is constructing in us.  Even death now serves his purposes as the tool God uses to move us from this earthly life to our eternal heavenly life.  All things become part of his construction plan for the sake of Jesus who has chosen to make us his dwelling place and earthly temple.
The Good News for us today is that we are the temple of God.  A rock-solid foundation for our life has been laid in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God himself has appointed workmen—his fellow servants to build us up spiritually through Word and Sacrament. 

And God is carefully working out his perfect plan for our lives so that they would be a shining, glorious example of what it means that God chooses to make his dwelling with men.  May God grant this to be true of each of us for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

God Grant Us a Growing Faith!

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 Paul once said about his own life of faith:  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.   God expects the same of us-- that we would “grow up” spiritually into the mature sons and daughters that he created us, redeemed us, and sanctified us to be. 
Over the course of our lives, God wants us to become more mature in our Christian faith—more mature in our Christian worldview—more mature in our Christian life.  That’s what we’re going to talk about today:  what spiritual immaturity is- what undermines our spiritual growth -and how we can “grow up” spiritually into mature believer in Christ.  Paul writes:
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready…
When someone tells us to “grow up” it’s difficult to hear that in any other way than as an insult—and we quickly get defensive.  That’s why I want you to focus on that one little word that begins our text and let is inform us as to how we are to hear these words to “grow up”—and that is the word “brother.” 
Paul addressed the Corinthian Christians—and he addresses the San Angelo Christians—as brothers and sisters in Christ—members of the same household of faith—children of the same heavenly Father.  And so God’s command through Paul to “grow up”-- is spoken out of genuine love and concern for our spiritual well-being—that there would be growth and progress and maturity in our spiritual life.
When people in Corinth began coming to faith in Jesus and then joined together in a Christian congregation—they were infants in the faith—they were newly re-born believers in Jesus—just beginning to learn what it meant to be children of God.    
And so Paul taught them simply:  he told them about their sin and need for God—he told them about the Savior God had given in Christ—he told them how the Spirit had worked to bring them to life.  It’s the same thing we do in Sunday School & confirmation & new member classes.  And through the word of the cross we became children of God.
Five years had passed from the founding of that congregation to this letter—five years from when they came to faith in Jesus-- to where they found themselves spiritually when they received this letter.  The problem was:  they hadn’t progressed much at all in those five years—they were still infants in the faith—they hadn’t grown up or matured.
When it comes our children’s physical growth and maturation—five years is a phenomenal amount of time—a newborn baby that is absolutely helpless, incapable of communication, and barely aware its surroundings, five years later has become a little boy with lunch box heading off to the first day of school.  Fantastic progress and growth!
But those five years between the Corinthians being born again- and the occasion of this letter- had not yielded five years worth of spiritual growth and maturity.  Yes, they were saved—yes, they were Christians—but they hadn’t grown up in their faith.
What about us?  What positive changes have the last five years brought in our life of faith?  Do we have a deeper knowledge of the things of God?  Have we grown in Christ-likeness?  Are we more spiritually mature today than we were back then? 
That’s what our heavenly Father wants to see in his children.  That’s why these words from Paul about the need to “grow up” spiritually-- are spoken to us too. 
And so what was the problem that was impeding the Corinthian’s growth in the faith?  What is it that keeps us from becoming mature Christians?  Paul writes:
You are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 
            In our previous sermons on these opening chapters of First Corinthians we talked about how there was division in the congregation stemming from their individual attachments to some pastor who had served them—how, what should have been a harmless preference-- had turned into a hurtful problem in that place. 
In their hearts, they were jealous of one another.  Each wanted the prestige that came from being attached to some great pastor.  And this attitude showed up in how they treated one another—fussing and fighting and failing to get along.  Jealousy and strife was the sinful attitude and behavior—but what was at the root of it went much deeper.
            The Corinthians were living according to the flesh.  In other words, they were living like the unbelieving world around them—living according to their old, sinful nature-- living as if they had never come to faith at all. 
The new person that they were through faith in Jesus was nowhere to be seen.  What about us?  It doesn’t have to be strife or jealousy or divisiveness that reveals an immature Christian faith. 
 Anytime some facet of our lives looks like the unbelieving world rather than Jesus—anytime our actions and attitudes are guided by our flesh rather than the Spirit—there is a lack of spiritual maturity in that part of our lives and we need to grow up.  And so how does that happen—this spiritual growth that God is looking for in us?  Paul says:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.
            The solution to growing up spiritually begins with knowledge--that we know and understand what God’s will is for our lives-- and what he teaches about each part of our lives as his people.  We don’t chastise kindergartners for only knowing their A, B, C’s but neither are we content that they possess only that knowledge when they get to fifth grade.  They should have matured in the things they know and their ability to do them.  Their knowledge ought to have expanded. 
That’s what Paul was doing for the Corinthians in these verses.  He told them that, not only was their thinking about the pastors who have served them incorrect and sinful, he also explained how they ought to think about their pastors—that pastors were merely servants who did the thing that needed to be done for the people of God in that moment. 
The same process is needed if there is some facet of our lives that has not attained spiritual maturity.  We need to learn what God wants from us and what he forbids to us.  We need to search God’s Word for what our heavenly Father has to say and order our lives accordingly.  But to do that—we need God’s help. 
Our heavenly Father is the One who caused us to be born again and he is the One who helps us grow up in our faith to reach spiritual maturity.  Paul writes:  For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.
            Earlier in the sermon I mentioned how important it was that we hear this call to “grow up” spoken in the context of that word “brother”—that Paul has our best interests at heart when he tells us to “grow up”.  I hope these closing words will provide the same comfort—even if you are an infant in Christ. 
When we look back at the last five years of our lives of faith, maybe we don’t see a lot of spiritual growth—maybe we haven’t become more Christ-like—maybe our knowledge of the things of God hasn’t really deepened all that much-maybe we are not the spiritually mature Christians we ought to be by now. It’s easy to become discouraged. 
But Paul reminds us:  We are God’s field.  We are God’s building.  In other words, the God who saved us by the blood of his Son hasn’t given up on us anymore than we give up on our children when we are teaching them to tie their shoes or ride a bike. 
Like a farmer plowing a field or a craftsman constructing a building—God is at work in us.  He knows what he is looking for in us and so he patiently works through pastors (his fellow workers) to shape us into a finished product:  the mature Christian who is fruitful in good works and whose life is beautiful monument to the glory of God and the goodness of Christ.
When we listen to God’s Word and study the Bible in Sunday School and receive the Sacrament of the Altar—there in those moments-- and through that man-- and by those humble means—God is at work in us, helping us to grow up in our faith in Jesus. 
And God wants us to put that faith into practice.  It’s fun watching our kids learn to walk.  There are a lot of bumps and bruises but they don’t give up and eventually they leave crawling behind.  So it must be for us when it comes to stepping out in faith, putting away childish things, and growing up in our faith.
Most of us have seen the bumper sticker:  “Be patient—God’s not finished with me yet” and usually we can add our hearty “Amen!  You need more work!”  But the good news is that slogan is true of us too. 

We’re not as mature a Christian as we ought to be.  We haven’t grown up into all that God wants us to be.  But the Lord’s not finished with us yet and he will help us to grow up in our faith as we hear his Word and receive the sacrament.  Amen.

Friday, February 3, 2017

We Are Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13-20 If you have been in my Sunday School class you have heard this story but you are about to hear it again because it so beautifully illustrates what Jesus is teaching us today about our place and purpose as Christians in this world. 
When I was in seminary I remember asking Professor Saleska this question:  “Wouldn’t it be better if, after we came to faith, the Lord would simply call us home so that we would never sin again or run the risk of falling away from faith”?
And he kind of gave me this withering look and said:  “Well yes, that would be better if you were the only person whose salvation he cared about!”
Despite the fact that I felt like an idiot (or probably because of it) I have never forgotten that lesson:  our lives as Christians, so long as we walk this earth, are to be lived in service to others, especially when it comes to their salvation.
We know and understand that when it comes to bearing witness to Jesus to those we meet.  We heard President Henning talk about an opportunity he had at Whataburger to speak of Christ’s love to a man who had just lost his wife of 65 years.
But what Jesus teaches us today is that not just our speech bears witness to others for the seek of their salvation, but so do our entire lives—that the way we live our lives as Christian people has an important role to play in our world today as we bear witness to Jesus, not just with words but with deeds.  Jesus says:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. 
That is the summary of everything we are going to learn about today:  that the purpose of our lives and how we live our lives is intended by God to point those around us to Jesus so that they too—along with us—would glorify our heavenly Father.
To teach us this vitally important role that our day to day lives serve in his work of salvation, Jesus uses a couple of simple illustrations.  First of all, he says that we Christians are the salt of the earth.  In our day, that saying has come to mean a person who is just a plain old person without pretensions-- but that is not what Jesus meant.
The people of the ancient world understood Jesus’ illustration because their lives depended on the purifying effects of salt.  It was really the only way to preserve the wholeness of food and keep decay at bay. 
That’s what Jesus means when he says that we are the salt of the earth—that the holiness and purity of our lives are to stand as a bulwark against the moral decay that is all around us.
In our world today, particularly here in the west, virtually every moral restraint has been cast aside so that now it is only those members of Bible-believing Christian churches who stand up to the evil of our day that undermines and destroys marriage and family and life.  It is only the Bible-believing Christian who stands up to perversion and says:  this is wrong! 
And not only is that to be our proclamation it also must be our life.  It does those around us not one bit of good to speak up for the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of life if we are living out something different in our own lives. 
It is critically important to God’s work for those who do not know him to see in us and our marriages and our values something that is truly appealing and that is the beauty and holiness of Christ’s life—and if they don’t because we are living just like they are, then we have lost our purifying purpose in the world. 
Jesus says that if the salt has lost its saltiness it is no good, in other words if we have lost that particular characteristic of being different than the world around us, we are no long have any purpose in this world—a sobering warning to those people, who in the name of Christ, want to go along with the world on the road to hell.
Second of all Jesus says that we Christians are the light of the world.  We have been rescued from the darkness of sin and death and the devil by Jesus who is the light of the world.  Into all of those dark places of doubt and despair in our lives, his light has shined. 
And now as his people we are to shine that light of Christ out into the world around us where so many people continue to live in spiritual darkness.
Jesus wants our lives to be shining examples of the same mercy and forgiveness and love that has transformed us.  He wants this dark world to see there things that matter beyond the next possession—that there is a peace beyond simply the absence of conflict—that there is real hope for the future, not because of some piece of technology or some political leader, but because Jesus stands at the end of human history with a new heaven and anew earth.
And Jesus wants us to shine the light of his truth into hearts and minds that are darkened by sin and unbelief—that the people around us would know the truth of salvation because they can see in our lives the difference that Christ has made and then they would glorify God for his goodness and take their place with us in that bright, shining city known as the Church that makes the righteousness and light of Jesus known in a dark and dying world. 
Jesus says:  Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
That is what it means to be salt and light—not to stand in judgment over the world around us because our holiness and our knowledge of the things of God (that was not the way of Jesus!) but to let our transformed lives bear witness to the Savior who changed them.  Jesus said:
 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 
            The smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet is the “yod”.  It’s just a tiny little mark.  Someone with a lot of time on their hands has counted them up in the Old Testament.  There are 66,420 “yods” in the Old Testament.  You begin to see the height and depth and breadth of what Jesus is talking about when he says that there is not even the smallest part of the Old Testament that he doesn’t fulfill.
Every promise that God ever made to the patriarchs and prophets of old, Jesus has fulfilled.  He has destroyed the work of Satan just as he promised Adam and Eve in the Garden.  He is the true prophet of God who speaks his Word faithfully just as God promised Moses.  He is the true King of the world as God promised David.  He is both the Virgin-born Child and the Ancient of Days as God promised Isaiah.  Every moment of his life was a perfect fulfillment of God’s promises.
All of the holiness that God demands of his people, Jesus has fulfilled.  Every law and precept Jesus kept.  The perfection demanded at Sinai—the holiness that is like that of God himself—Jesus gave.  The love of God above all else and the love of neighbor as self, Jesus offered every moment of his life.
And all of the sacrifices that God demanded of his people on account of their sins, the sacrifices that reconciled them to God and reconciled them to one another, the sacrifices they made for their own sins and the sacrifices they made for the sins of other, Jesus made at the cross.  He is the scapegoat upon which the sins of all people were placed.  He is the perfect sacrifice that atoned for not just our sins but for the sins of the world.  And he is the Lamb who was slain so that we might take refuge in his blood from the Angel of Death.  Every drop of blood that ever flowed on account of sin finds its meaning and fulfillment and power in the blood of Jesus shed upon the cross. 
Jesus has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets and this means two things for your lives.  First of all it means that every promise that God has made—every promise that you are counting on—can be trusted.  He is with us always—as he promised.  He is working all things for our good—as he promised.  We are the forgiven children of God—as he promised.  Death is a defeated enemy—as he promised.  We have a home for us in heaven—as he promised.
The promise of God can be trusted because they have been fulfilled by Jesus.  Secondly, his righteousness that is ours by faith means that we are called to live out the reality of his faithfulness and love and obedience in our lives—because we possess his faithfulness and love and obedience by faith.  Jesus says:
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
            During his earthly ministry Jesus said of himself, that he came, not to do his own will or speak his own words, but the do the will of his heavenly Father and speak his words to the world.  As it was for the incarnate Son of God, so it is for God’s adopted sons and daughters. 
We don’t have to wonder what it means for us to be salt and light because God has revealed exactly what that means in his Word and exactly what that looks like in Jesus.  The will of God is made known in his word-- and the will of God is fulfilled-- in Jesus and our calling as God’s sons and daughters is to do the same in our day—taking our stand upon the Word of God and walking in the footsteps of Christ.
Throughout the visible church today there are countless people who have set aside what God has said about marriage and sexuality and the value of life and the roles of men and women-- and even worse, there are pastors and teachers in these places teaching others to do the same. 
Their disobedience and their false teaching may not strike immediately at the heart of faith in terms of who Jesus is and what he has done, but it certainly does not strengthen faith—and in fact, it undermines faith over time destroys it and that is why those who teach live as if God’s word and will no longer matter will be least in the kingdom of heaven.
But those who hold fast to the Word of God, those who are unashamed to go against the cultural tide, those who strive to live out the fullness of God’s Word in their own lives as salt and light in a dark and decadent world have a wonderful promise that God himself sees their efforts and will reward their faithfulness.
But for all of us—great or least—Jesus reminds us that we need a righteousness outside ourselves, a righteousness greater than we could ever achieve in our own.  He says: 
I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

            The Good News for us today is that we have that righteousness that is required to enter heaven—not because we have always fulfilled our calling as salt and light—not because we have always borne faithful witness to Jesus—not because we have always kept his word—but we have that righteousness required for heaven because Jesus has given it to us as a gift through faith.  Until that day we enter heaven, we live our lives as salt and light in a dark and dying world.  Amen.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

We Are United in Christ

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 This congregation is 90 years old.  During those years we have been served by 15 different pastors plus a number of vacancy pastors.  Some of these pastors were older men—some younger.  Some of these men were fiery, “pound the pulpit” kinds of preachers—others more soft-spoken. 
Each pastor was different from the man who came before him—different than the man who came after him.  For long-time members, the differences between all the pastors you have known are vivid.
            And yet as different as these pastors were—one from another--what unites all them was a shared faith—a shared pastoral practice when it comes to administering the sacraments—and a shared commitment to provide spiritual care for the folks here. 
For 90 years the people of God at Trinity Lutheran Church in San Angelo, Texas have been able to come to church on Sunday morning and be confident that you will hear the Word of God faithfully preached and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution.  This is a profound blessing from God! 
            But what we see today in God’s Word is that this is a blessing that can be undermined when individual preferences and personalities become more important than the shared faith and practice that binds us together as a congregation.  Paul writes:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
Paul began this letter to the Corinthians by reminding them of their identity—that by virtue of Christ’s saving work—they were now children of the heavenly Father—members of the same family—brothers and sisters in Christ. 
And when he begins to address the troubles in their congregation, he continues in the same way:  I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...
That appeal rings out across the centuries to us sitting here today since we share in that same apostolic faith that was believed and practiced in Corinth.  And so the admonition of Paul is spoken to us too—that there be no divisions among us—for divisiveness undermines the identity that God bestows upon us.
When we were baptized, we were baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  No matter what name we bear on earth—all of us bear the name of Christ as his people—we have the same spiritual family name.  When there are divisions in the Christian congregation-- it is a denial of our identity as Christ’s people. 
On the other hand, when we are united in the same mind and the same judgment—that unity is a powerful affirmation of the truth of our identity:  that we are the heavenly Father’s children and that Jesus is our brother.
It’s the living out of this baptismal identity that is always the challenge—but we must never become reconciled to anything or anyone that undermines and destroys our identity and identity.  That’s what was happening in Corinth as they let their own personal preferences.  Paul writes:
It has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”
            Like our own congregation here in San Angelo, Corinth had been served by a number of pastors and teachers.  And like our congregation’s pastors, Paul and Apollos and Cephas and the others, taught and practiced the same Christian faith. 
They were very different men to be sure --with different gifts and abilities and personalities—but they were perfectly united in the Christian faith that they taught and practiced as pastors.
 But their common faith and common witness was being undermined by a “cult of personality” that the Corinthians had allowed to grow up in their midst.  The Corinthians were identifying themselves with a particular pastor --and allowing their personal preferences to divide them from one another.
Now, there is nothing wrong with personal preferences—we all have them—and it is natural to identify more strongly with one person more than another.  This happens even with our pastors.  We prefer this guy’s style- or we identify with another guy because he’s in the same place in life as we are- or we prefer another man’s personality. 
And there is no problem with that UNTIL those personal preferences take precedence over the truth of God’s Word that unites us together.  Then those preferences begin to undermine who we are and what we are called to be about as a congregation.
Such was the bitterness and quarreling in the Corinthian congregation that it had gotten outside the walls of the church into the greater Christian community. 
All of us need this reminder that when there is division and quarreling in a church—it is not just that church that is wounded—but the mission of Christ is undermined.  We need this timely reminder that what UNITES us in this congregation is infinitely greater than what DIVIDES us.  Paul writes:
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
            Any time we are tempted to let personality or preference, divide us as Christians we need to remember these words.  In the strongest terms Paul points out the sinfulness of divisiveness in the Christian congregation.
  By virtue of our baptism into Christ, each of us are members of his body.  Is it possible that Christ is divided?  Of course not! 
Is Paul or Cephas or Apollos or some individual pastor whom we prefer to another greater than our Savior who shed his life’s blood for us?  Blasphemous! 
Does one pastor’s baptism make us more of a Christian than the Holy Trinity who adopted us in Holy Baptism?  It’s outrageous to even suggest such a thing! 
There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism—one God and Father of us all and that God-given unity in the congregation must not be torn asunder by some individual preference on our part.
So strongly does Paul make this point that he goes on to say that he is glad that he only baptized a few folks there in Corinth so that he has as little part in this divisiveness as possible. 
Now this is an incredible thing for a pastor to say!  The greatest blessing for a pastor is to baptize—to see someone go from being an enemy of God to a child of God—to bestow the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation upon someone in the waters of Holy Baptism-- is a profound joy!   
But such was Paul’s opposition to their divisiveness that he is glad that he only baptized a few so that his name is not drawn into it.  He says:
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
            The power of the cross unites.  The cross united God and man by the atoning sacrifice that was offered there.  The cross united Jew and Gentile into one family of faith.  The cross of Christ is the power that restores life for us as it was in the beginning.
To preach the Good News of the cross:  Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the sins of the world-- was the great mission that Jesus had called Paul to undertake.
Other men would follow him who would baptize and commune and absolve and do the “day-to-day” work of a pastor in a congregation and together they would work to see that the apostolic message of God in Christ reconciling the world to himself went out into the world.
Nothing could be allowed to rob this message of its saving power—not fine-sounding philosophical arguments that left people unsure of what was being preached—not personality differences between pastors--and certainly not divided congregations that were a denial of the very thing that they were proclaiming.  
Over the last several years that I have served Trinity, we have been blessed by God with the spiritual gift of unity.  With very few exceptions, personal preferences and individual personalities have never threatened to undermine our unity. 
I am profoundly grateful to the saints in this place for your spiritual maturity and respect for the pastoral office no matter who the incumbent of that office is.

But today’s lesson applies to us too if for no other reason than as a timely reminder that congregational unity is a blessing to be sought and carefully nurtured because the consequences of division cuts to the heart of the Christian faith and undermines the saving mission of Christ in this world.  God grant that there be no divisions among us!  Amen.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

God's Answers to Life's Great Questions

1 Corinthians 1:1-19 There are three great questions that lie at the heart of our human existence—questions that speak to our identity and the meaning and value of our lives—questions that must be answered if we are to be truly happy—questions that find their only real answer in Christ.
Those questions are:  Who am I?  What am I doing here?  Where am I going?  These are the questions that the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives answer to today as he writes to the congregation at Corinth and to believers in every time and place—including us here today.  Paul writes:
Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes…
            When you go into Barnes and Noble Bookstore—one of the largest sections in the whole store are those books devoted to:  “self help”.  Row after row after row of books trying to answer life’s great questions—all of them offering nothing more than the limited perspectives of their human authors.
            But the words we hear today about our identity, purpose, and value are the words of God himself through the apostle Paul who was called by God for that purpose:  to tell the us that the answers to the questions that lie at the deepest part of our human existence are found in Jesus Christ and a life with God through him. 
God has created us for fellowship with him and that is why he sent Jesus—to remake and restore what sin has destroyed in us.  And that is why he called Paul to be an apostle—so that we would know the real answers—God’s answers-- to life’s great questions-- beginning with our true identity.  Paul writes:
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.    
            This letter to the Christian congregation at Corinth is one of the most timely, relevant books of the Bible with a profound connection to our modern existence because Corinth was a place that would be familiar to us.  Corinth was a place of wealth and commerce.  It was religiously diverse.  It was full of sexual immorality.  Material things were valued above all else.  A place much like our nation today.
And the reason that Paul wrote this letter was that the Corinthian Christians much too readily identified themselves with the culture around them.  They were not immune to sexual immorality even in their own congregation—and in fact, bragged about how their freedom in Christ allowed them to live like this.  They were very aware of financial differences among their own members and looked down upon those with limited means.  They valued spiritual celebrities.   
They had an identity crisis like so many in our world today because they had forgotten who they were—that they were called to be saints.
From the Bible’s perspective, to be a saint is not just someone who lived in Bible times- or someone fantastically holy- or someone listed on a liturgical calendar of a church.  To be a saint is to be someone set apart for God.  That’s what the word means --and to put it terms from the beginning of our sermon it means that we find our identity in terms of our relationship with God.
That is what Christ does.  He sets us apart for God—sanctifies us—by forgiving our sins with his blood on the cross—and living in our hearts by his Spirit—restoring us to the life we had with our heavenly Father in the beginning of time. 
These words from the apostle Paul about our identity were not just written for the Corinthians—they were written for us too-- for we also call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and confess him to be our Lord.  
The Good News for us today is that we do not have to find our identity in the world or wonder who we are-- for we know that we are God’s sons and daughters—set apart for him in Holy Baptism and this identity gives answer to the next great question of our human existence:  Why am I here?  Paul writes:
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—  even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—  so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift,
            The Corinthians were a spiritually gifted congregation.  There were those who had the gift of discernment and those who had the gift of speaking and those who had the gift of healing and those who had the gifts of serving and giving and administration.
When God gave them the gift of faith in Jesus Christ-- he also lavished upon them spiritual gifts that gave meaning and purpose to their lives.  Paul told them:  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… so that there may be no divisions in the body but that the members may have the same care for one another. 
But what was happening in that congregation is that the gifts given by God were not uniting them as members of the same body—they were not serving the common good—but they were dividing them-- and instead of caring for one another—they were living for themselves.
That is what we see so much of in our world today—so many people living for themselves—living as if they sand at the center of the universe.  But lives devoted to the service of a “god” as small as ourselves cannot help but leave us feeling as if our life does not count for much.
But when we find our identity in Christ, God himself breaks into our narrow little world and gives us a purpose that is above the bounds of time and space.  His eternal purposes and plans now include us-- as we serve him and his people.  That is the purpose of our lives—to serve God and those around us! 
To that end, he gives each of us spiritual gifts—gifts of administration and giving and leading and speaking and teaching and serving so that we can help those around us.  This is what Paul means when he says that the testimony about Christ was confirmed among them:  the Gospel converts us to Christ and the spiritual fruits of that re-birth will be seen in our lives in this world.
As children of God, our lives have meaning and purpose:  to know God and his ways—to speak of him to others—to serve those around us in the context of our daily vocations.  The life of the Christian in this world is the most exciting, fulfilling way to live because it is what we were created to do:  to love God and love our neighbor.  Paul says that this is the way we are to live:
As we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
            There is an emotional and psychological and spiritual toll that is taken on us when we do not know who we are and what the purpose of our life really is.  This is especially true when we do not know the answer to the third great question of life:  where are going?  Are we simply going into a grave and that’s it?  Will our lives end in futility and nothingness? 
All you have to do is look around at the culture we live in to see what happens to people when they do not know where they are going when this life is over:  mind-numbing addictions—constantly seeking one new experience after another—grasping for their fifteen minutes of fame—trying to fight the fear of death. 
All of us, by nature, are afraid of death because deep within us is the realization—that futility and death is not the way it is supposed to be for the human person.  We know in our hearts that we were created to live forever. 
The hopes and dreams and aspirations we have for the future are not a cruel hoax perpetuated on us by evolution-- but have been placed within us by God to draw us back to him as he source of a life that death cannot end.
Jesus Christ has made the way back for us to God.  He has taken away our sins that keep us from a holy God.  He has conquered death for us in his own resurrection from the dead.  His ascension to heaven is the assurance that our own bodies will rise from the grave and live eternally with God. 
To that end, Christ works continually in our lives to keep us in faith until the Last Day.  That same faithful God who:  chose us from eternity -and sent his Son to live and die and rise again for us- and called us into fellowship with him by the Holy Spirit—WILL work in our lives through Word and Sacrament with that same powerful love to keep us in faith and bring us safely to our heavenly home.

The Good News for us today is that God answers life’s great questions about our identity and purpose and value:  We are God’s children, living lives of loving service here on earth, headed to heaven when we die.  May God grant his faith to us all for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Are We to Continue in Sin?

Romans 6:1-11 Everything that Paul wrote up until these verses from the sixth chapter of Romans can be summarized in one sentence:  We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus apart from deeds of the law.  That is what the Bible teaches regarding salvation.  That is what we believe.
But almost from the day that these words were written, there have been those within the church who misused them—who turned God’s grace into a license for our sin. 
It began in Galatia where Paul told the people that was for freedom that Christ had set them free-- but then had to warn them to walk by the Spirit so that they did not use their freedom to gratify the desires of the flesh.
The misuse of God’s grace showed up during the Reformation when there pastors and teachers who were actually teaching that good works are detrimental to salvation.
And the misuse of God’s grace continues in our own day where there are entire church bodies that have separated a Christian confession of faith from the Christian morals of the Bible so that they can confess the Nicene Creed and at the same time deny what the Bible teaches on marriage and sexuality and abortion and the roles of men and women.
Of course, it is easy to point the finger at others but in our own lives we are tempted to misuse God’s grace and turn it into a license for sin. 
We get caught up in besetting sins.  We know they are wrong.  We say that we are sorry.  But we never really take any concrete steps to end them.  We are not zealous for good works and holy living and tell ourselves it’s because we don’t want to be too “catholic”.  We draw a distinction between our confession of faith and our life of faith and soothe our conscience with God’s grace when what we ought to do is repent of our sins and amend our lives.
There are countless people-- who have their names on some church’s membership roll-- who haven’t stepped foot in church in years-who are living with people who are not their spouses—whose lives are no different than the unbelievers around them—and they tell themselves that they are Christians.  Is this possible?  The answer is no!  The Bible says:  What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!
            The Christian must not continue IN sin.  Now I know what you are thinking:  “But pastor, I sin all the time!  What do you think I’m doing when we come to the confession and absolution?  I’m confessing my sins!”  Me too!
Yes, we sin.  We lose our temper.  We speak unkind words.  We think ugly thoughts.  But that is a very different thing than CONTINUING IN SIN!  Continuing in sin is living in sin—be identified with some sin—never repenting of sin.  Continuing in sin is making an excuse for our sin--saying that it is no sin at all—having no intention to amend our lives.  That is utterly incompatible with a true and living faith in Jesus Christ.  In fact, the Bible says that:  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil.  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning. 
This modern idea that just because someone knows the story of Jesus and can parrot the right words like grace and faith (and yet lives like the devil) is somehow a Christian and will be saved-- is absolutely unknown to the writers of the Bible.  Paul asks us:
How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 
            The unbelieving world and the apostate church and our own flesh might think that we can, at the same time, have a true and saving faith and continue in sin but Paul does not!  How can we who died to sin still live in it he asks us?  And the answer is:  we can’t—because we have died to sin in Baptism.
At the cross, all of our sins were laid on the Lord Jesus Christ and he died in our place.  When we were baptized, we died with Christ and were buried with Christ and were raised with Christ and the salvation of the world accomplished on the cross was given to us as a gift (personally and individually) in Holy Baptism.
This is why:  living in sin—continuing in sin—abiding with sin-- is absolutely, positively incompatible with a true and living faith in Christ—because that kind of life is an abject denial:  of Jesus- and the cross- and the salvation he accomplished for us there and gave to us in Holy Baptism. 
The fact of the matter is that Christ has died and been raised from the dead and we have been saved—so that we can live a new life.  The Bible says:
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
  Do you see those three words “in order that”?  In the original Greek, there is only one word there and it denotes purpose.  In other words, Christ died and was raised and you were baptized FOR THIS PURPOSE:  that you would walk in newness of life.  That is what salvation is about—a new life in Christ!  God’s plan and Christ’s death and your baptism is for this purpose:  that you would walk in newness of life. 
As certainly as Christ was raised from the dead—so it is the saving purpose of God from everlasting to everlasting (from the first moment of your life to the last) that you would possess and live out a brand new life both in time and eternity.  The Bible says that:
If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
            Christ died on the cross, was buried, and on the third day rose from his grave.  All of those who have died with him will certainly rise from their graves just like he did.  United with him in death—we WILL be united with him in a resurrection life his.  What will that life be like?
            First of all we will rise from our graves just like Jesus did.  When Christ comes again—whether it is ten years from now or ten thousand years from now—no matter what has happened to our body—we will come forth from our graves just as Christ did from his.
Our bodies will be changed like that of Christ’s resurrection body—no longer subject to pain and death—body and soul united forever.  And like Christ’s own ascension to his heavenly Father, we will ascend to heaven where we will live forever.  That is the resurrection promise of eternal life that God makes to us in Holy Baptism. 
But already- right here and right now- we have died with Christ and been raised with Christ and been given the gift of a new life to live on here on earth—a new life that is to be different than the lives of those who do not believe.  The Bible says that:
Our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
            All of us are born with Adam’s sin.  The Bible calls it our flesh—the old Adam within each of us that does not know God or believe in God—and, in fact, is war against God.  This Old Adam cannot be reformed—he cannot be cleaned up a bit here and there—he must be put to death—he must be crucified! 
That is what happened when we were baptized—the Old Adam was crucified—and he must continue to be crucified daily as we return to our baptism:  repenting of our sins and being renewed in our faith in Jesus so that, more and more, his life become our own. 
Baptism itself is a once in a lifetime event—it cannot be repeated—but WE CAN return to it again and again because it is a promise that God made to us, that we are no longer slaves to sin because we have died with Christ in Holy Baptism.
Occasionally you will hear someone say:  “The devil made me do it”.  Or they will excuse some sin with:  “Well, I’m just a sinner”!  But the baptismal promise of God is that we are no longer slaves to sin.  We are now the children of God.  Our identity is found in Christ.
This is the life of the Christian—the life of baptism.  This is why we Lutherans make the sign of the cross:  in the morning to remind ourselves that as baptized children of God we are to walk in newness of life throughout our daily tasks --and in the evening to remind ourselves that as baptized children of God we have been forgiven of our sins and promised a new, eternal life with God.  The sign of the cross is emblematic of our entire life as Christians where Jesus is both Lord and Savior.  The bible says that:
If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
            All of us are born into this world as God’s enemies, enslaved by sin, subject to death.  That is our birthright as Adam’s children.  But Christ came into this world to change that.  He died the death on the cross that we deserve and he rose again to give us a new life here on earth and forever in heaven.  Sin and death are defeated enemies—not our masters.
Jesus is our Lord—our master-- and our king—and he calls us to live a life here on earth like his—doing his Father’s will and speaking his Father’s words.  Every moment of his life lived for his heavenly Father.  So it is for us, that we live for God. 
That kind of life began for you in Holy Baptism where God spoke the same words about you that he did about Jesus:  this is my beloved child.  And your life will be changed when you begin to see yourselves as God sees you:  dead to sin but alive in Christ. 

Is it possible for a person who is dead to sin and alive in Christ to continue in sin?  No!  God grant it to us all for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

A Mystery Revealed

Ephesians 3:1-12 Several years ago I read an essay entitled “Strangers in a Strange Land.”  The author talked about growing up in Quebec in the 1950’s in what was then a profoundly Catholic culture.  He said that during those years attendance at mass was 90%.  Catholic education, health care, and social services were the backbone of daily life.
Today attendance at mass is 6%.  Only 9% of high school age people identify as Catholics.  There are 38 abortions for every 100 live births.  In one generation Quebec has gone from being one of the most Christian places on earth to one of the most pagan.
The same is happening all over the west.  In England there are more people who attend worship service in a mosque than in a church.  In the heart of the Reformation countries, church attendance is in the single digits.  The same trend can be observed here in the United States.
Those kinds of seismic changes taking place in the heart of the Christian west can’t help but disturb us and worry us and even lead us to despair over the future of the church.  What will become of the church?  Is there a future for Christianity? 
The answer to that question is in the five billion people on this planet right now who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior—1.4 billion in China, 1.2 billion in India, 1.1 billion in Africa.  Billions of potential new Christians waiting in darkness for the light of Jesus Christ on them. 
On this Epiphany Day we are reminded that the love of God in Jesus Christ extends to all people—even the most unlikely of people-- and that his ability to save is still mighty and powerful.  Paul wrote:
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.
            Paul was in prison for his own protection.  When preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the temple in Jerusalem, he was almost killed by a Jewish mob.  And so what was his crime?
Paul dared to teach that the love of God was not just to the Jews also for the Gentiles—that all people could come to God through faith in Jesus—and that he had been called by the resurrected Christ to reveal the great mystery of God’s saving work in the world.  And so what was that mystery?  Paul wrote:
When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  
            The great mystery of God’s saving work in the world is that from the very beginning of time, God planned for people to be reconciled to him in only one way and that is through faith in his Son Jesus—that irrespective of race or gender or place in society, all people could have a life with God through faith in his Son.
This Good News was a mystery in the sense that it had to be reveled and manifested and made known to the world. 
No one could reason their way into the knowledge of God’s salvation:  that God himself would take on flesh and become part of his creation; that the Savior of the world would live in obscurity; that eternal life would come through his terrible death on the cross; and that people would enter into heaven by hearing that message of the Gospel. 
That mystery must be revealed to those who know nothing of the things of God like the Gentiles of Paul’s day and the unbelievers in our day.  It must be revealed to those who know something of God and his ways because they know the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments like the Jews of Paul’s day and Muslims in our day. 
But the natural knowledge of God and the moral knowledge of God are insufficient for salvation.  It is Jesus who must be known if there is to be a life with God. 
That is why Jesus commissioned and sent the apostles into the world:  to reveal the mystery of God’s saving will for all people.  It is why Jesus met Paul on the Road to Damascus and sent him to the Gentiles—because the Good News of God’s love extends to even the most unlikely of people.  Paul wrote:
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,
            Paul counted himself a servant of the Gospel.  That’s what that word “minister” means—not clergyman, not priest, not pastor—but servant. 
He was who he was solely as the result of an undeserved gift.  He knew that he was, by nature, the least of all the believers for he had persecuted Christ.  And yet God forgave him and gave him an opportunity to tell others about Jesus.
So it is for us.  We are to count ourselves servants of the Gospel first—before being a teacher or homemaker or student or farmer or businessperson or retired person or pastor.  We are God’s servants because of his undeserved gift of a Son—called by God in the context of our daily life to proclaim the blessings that we have in Jesus. 
How necessary this is:  that we see ourselves as servants of the Gospel--that we stand in awe of the riches of Christ--because the mystery of God’s saving purpose still needs to be revealed to the people around us!  Paul wrote that we have a responsibility:
To bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
            The same God who called the world into being and perfectly ordered his entire creation also has a plan to save the world in his Son. 
In the Bible we can trace how that plan unfolded so that at just exactly the right moment in history the Savior was born.  We can look back upon our own lives and see how God was patiently working to bring us to the knowledge of the truth. 
It is through us, believers in Christ, the church-- that the amazing, wonderful plan of God is made known in our own day and time—to bring to light the love that God has for all people in Jesus.  That is the mission of the church!
Over one hundred ago, there were people from all across this country who gave to the work of missions so that a missionary could be sent to the west Texas—to people that they had never met and never would meet until they got to heaven.  They didn’t know them from Adam-- but they wanted to make sure that people in west Texas knew about the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ.
And here we are tonight, 90 years later, with the call of Jesus on our own lives to do all that is within our power to make him known to people that we will never meet until we get to heaven. 
This is the wisdom of God that is revealed in nowhere else but the church: that life with him is for all people—not matter their past—no matter their skin color—no matter their language. 
That vision is revealed in the pews of Christian churches throughout the world that are filled with all kinds of people-a vision that even the angels of heaven delight to see.  Paul says that:  through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
            From the very beginning of creation the angels gazed upon the work of God.  They saw the various parts of creation come into being.  But something happened when man was created.  Part of the heavenly angels rebelled against God’s purpose and attacked mankind while the holy angels looked on with sorrow.
From that moment on an unseen, spiritual battle raged.  Over salvation history God used the good angels as his messengers.  They announced the coming Savior.  They sang at his birth.  They comforted Jesus in the desert and in the garden in the hours before his death.  The Bible says that they longed to look into God’s plan of salvation.
It is when they gaze upon the church that they see the mystery of God’s saving plan revealed:  that through faith in Jesus Christ, we have been restored to what God always planned for us to be:  his sons and daughters, members of his family with whom he desires the closest fellowship.  Paul wrote that:
This was according to the eternal purpose that God has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
            Every news article I have read and every news story I have seen on TV is filled with fear and trepidation about the New Year.  What will happen to the economy?  What about North Korea and Iran?  What about the price of oil?
            But far above these temporal concerns is a God with an eternal, saving purpose that he wisely, graciously accomplished in his Son Jesus Christ.  And you are a part of that plan.  You are the object of his redeeming love and you are his servants, called to be a part of his saving plan in someone else’s life. 

Through faith in Jesus Christ, it is not fear and trepidation that fills our heart but boldness and confidence as we take our place and fill our role in God’s saving plan!  Amen.