Sunday, May 26, 2013

Contending for the Faith

John 8:48-59 We live in a world that tells us that it does not matter what we believe—so long as we believe something.  They say that what we Christians really ought to be about as the people of God are:  “deeds not creeds”.  Parts of the church have bought into it.  An old slogan for the World Council of Churches is:  “Doctrine Divides, Service Unites.”
After the sermon we are going to confess our Christian faith in the words of the Athanasian Creed.  With doctrinal precision we will confess our faith in the Triune God as the one true God- and we will confess our faith in Jesus Christ as the God/Man Savior of the world- and we will confess that unless this faith is kept whole and undefiled one cannot be saved.
Can there be a greater divide between those who call for “deeds not creeds” and those Christians who confess their faith this way?  And so who is right?  Which of these two parties can claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?  Who is closer to the Spirit of Christ? 
In our Gospel lesson we will see that Jesus was a staunch contender for the Faith because it is ONLY those who know the truth about God and who can be saved.  The Bible says that:
The Jews answered Jesus, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
            The events of our text take place in the midst of a lengthy conversation—really a confrontation—that Jesus is having with the Pharisees about his identity and their claims to know the truth about God.  During this confrontation…
Jesus proclaimed himself to be the light of the world.  He said that those who do not believe in him will die in their sins and the only way to be free is to be set free by the Son.  He said that he is the one who speaks for the Father and that anyone who claims God as their Father must love the Son and that those who do not love the Son do not know God and are not of God.
            This is why the church contends for the faith that is confessed in the creeds—because Jesus contended for that faith—vigorously and without compromise!
The only hope that man has for salvation is found in knowing the truth about God and the truth about Jesus.  That is not what we believe because we are rigid and hard-headed—it is what we believe because that is what Jesus believed- and taught- and showed-- in his life. 
The response of the world to our contending for the faith is exactly the same as it was in Jesus’ day:  opposition, name-calling, and the questioning of motives. 
The Pharisees said that Jesus was a Samaritan (the worst insult they could think of) and that he was speaking for the devil.  The world around us (and sadly even parts of the visible church) claim that Christians like us who contend for the faith expressed in the creeds are rigid, unloving, and judgmental when we say that what is actually believed and confessed--matters.
And so why don’t we just go along to get along?  Why do we let ourselves be criticized and castigated by the world around us when we refuse to compromise on our confession of faith?  It’s because what is confessed by the church-- is a matter of life and death for the world. 
Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
            This is what’s at stake when it comes to our confession—life and death—because the words of Jesus tell us the truth about God and the truth about salvation and to know and believe what Jesus says is to have eternal life.
Now, because it’s going to come up in just a few moments, I will point out that Jesus is obviously not talking about physical death—Jesus knew that people died, he encountered death throughout his ministry—he knew that he would die—it’s why he came.  But what Jesus is talking about is eternal death—separation from God for eternity. 
This is what death really is—to be separated from God forever—and no one who puts their faith and trust in the promises of Jesus ever has to fear death for we will never be apart from God:  not in the dark times of life—not when we draw our last earthly breath—not in eternity.  That is what Jesus promises-- and we hold fast to his words.
That is where our confidence and life is found—in the words of Jesus—and that is why contending for the faith is so important—because it is the ONLY place where life is found!
Just a few days before these events many of those who had followed Jesus were turning away and he asked his disciples:  Will you leave me too?  And Peter answered for all of them:  Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life!
Jesus was sent by his heavenly Father to save the world.  The words he spoke and the works that he did where not his own—but what he was sent into the world to do—and to reject his words and to reject his saving works is finally to reject God because Jesus is God’s Son. 
The Jews said to Jesus, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”
This the question that all of us must answer:  Who is Jesus?  Is he a created being like the Jehovah’s Witnesses tell us?  Is he a great prophet as the Muslims want us to believe?  Is he a wise teacher and moral example as so many in our world believe him to be?  
Everyone has an opinion about Jesus—who he is and what he has done.  But it is eternally important to our salvation that we do not have merely a personal opinion:  but that we confess the objective truth about the person and work of Jesus and then contend for that faith.
We have a Trinity Sunday- and we have the creeds of the church- because over time this question has been asked and answered in ways that deny the real divinity and humanity of Jesus. 
Far, far from abandoning the creeds of the church and the Faith that is confessed in those creeds it is imperative that the church of Jesus Christ be a confessing church which is willing to contend for the truth that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to have a life with the Father.
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.
The one thing that our religiously pluralistic culture cannot tolerate is for Christians to make absolute truth claims not only for themselves but for everyone else in the world besides.  To say with the apostles that “salvation is found in no one but Jesus for there is no other name given to men by which they can be saved” is considered to be intolerable hate speech. 
And so it has become fashionable for Christians who do not want to offend to adopt the language of the culture and say, “Well, this is what’s true for me” as if the person they are speaking to could also have some truth that stands opposed to what they believe and confess.  Even pastors who ought to know better go on CNN and cannot bring themselves to say that Jesus is the Son of God and the way of salvation and those who do not know him are lost eternally.
Jesus NEVER suffered from that kind of spiritual cowardice because he knew that eternal souls were at the risk of being lost forever.  Jesus NEVER hesitated to tell the truth about the spiritual condition of those around him because he knew that unless they came to grips with the fact that they were lost without him-- they would be lost forever.
There are countless people around us who do not share our faith in Jesus and yet claim to know God and love God and have a life with God.  Just like the Pharisees, they say:  He is our God.  Is this possible?  Jesus says:  No!  The judgment of JESUS is that they are liars and do not know God BECAUSE they will not glorify the Son he has sent who has always been the only way to the Father. 
Jesus said:  Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” It’s not as if Jesus were telling the Pharisees something new about the way to have a life with God.  All the way back in the Garden of Eden God promised that he would send a Savior to crush Satan.  He promised Abraham that through his offspring all the world would be blessed and when he held little Isaac in his arms he knew that the LORD was the God of kept promises and that he could be trusted for salvation. 
That is the content of saving faith:  the promises of God fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ and there is no other way to salvation.   For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in HIM should not perish but have eternal life. 
These words of John 3:16 are the content of the creeds:  This is the God who loves the world.  This is the Son is who has saved the world.  When we confess our faith in the words of the creeds, we simply say what Jesus has said about himself and about God:  that he is the Son of God and that to know him is to know the Father.
So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
You will note that Jesus did not say:  Before Abraham was—I was—as if Jesus had a beginning before Abraham (as remarkable as that would be!).  No!  He says:  Before Abraham was:  I am.  Just exactly what God said of himself when Moses asked about his identity at the burning bush is what Jesus says of himself right here:  I am!  I simply exist without beginning and end because I am God.  The Pharisees understood Jesus’claim and they tried to stone him.
That scene takes us back to the beginning of the sermon and the opposition of the world to the confession of the church.  Contending for the Faith takes courage to face the opposition of the world.  It takes clarity about what we believe.  And it takes the conviction that what we confess in the creeds about who God is and what Jesus has done is true:  true for us and true for the world.  Courage.  Clarity.  And conviction.  That is what it means to contend for the faith.  May God grant it for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.

Holy Trinity-C General Prayer

Almighty and gracious God, our heart is glad and our whole being rejoices as we give glory to You for revealing Yourself to us as One God in Three Persons:  the Holy Trinity and undivided Unity.  Heavenly Father, fill us with Your Spirit as we come to in prayer in the name of Jesus Christ:

In the beginning, You have made the world through the wisdom of Your Son Jesus Christ, shaping the mountains, establishing the fountains of the deep, and assigning the sea its limit and You called it good.  And yet we live in a creation that is broken by human sin as we have been reminded this last week in the Oklahoma tornadoes.  In the midst of tragedy strengthen our faith that You are still in control and lead us to help those affected by the storms.

Because we continue to live in a world filled with lawless men like those who unjustly crucified our Savior, watch over and protect those who protect us in our nation’s military, especially Herbie, Tommy, and Stephen and call to our remembrance those who have made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for our freedom so that we would treasure this gift and use it to glorify You.  Revive our nation and our fellow citizens and our elected leaders to sincere faith in You and a commitment to do Your will.

Grant us the clarity, courage and conviction we need to contend for the Faith and empower us by Your Spirit to bear witness to the truth of salvation.  Strengthen the church and especially this congregation and her members to be bold witnesses to You and the path of life that is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Lord, in Your presence is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.  We thank You for the blessings of marriage and family and children and especially for those young people who are graduating from high school and college.  Keep them close to You all their days and grant them success in all they set out to do.

You have promised to never abandon us and that we will not be shaken because You are with us.  Watch over, protect, and help all of those who are ill and need Your healing touch.  Comfort those who mourn with the promise of the resurrection.  And graciously meet the needs of those who lack the necessities of life.  Set before us opportunities to serve You by serving others.

Whatever else You see that we need; whatever is for our neighbor’s good and Your glory; grant to us dear Father in heaven, by the help of the Holy Spirit for we ask it in the name of Your Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rise, Let Us Go From Here!

John 14:23-31 Each week we confess our Christian faith in the words of the creed.  We confess that we believe in one, holy, Christian and apostolic church.  When we confess that the church is “apostolic” we are saying that we believe what the apostles believed.  But there is even more to being apostolic than that!
            The root of the word “Apostolic” is the verb “to send”.  From the very beginning of the Christian church, believers in Jesus were sent out into the world with the Good News of salvation.  That was true of the apostles and it is also true of every Christian since then.  Each of us have a part in the mission of the church for the sake of the world’s salvation. 
The words that we have before us for our meditation this morning were spoken by Jesus in the Upper Room after he instituted the Lord’s Supper.  As meaningful as that moment was, it was not meant to be an end unto itself.  After the supper was ended Jesus said:  “Rise, let us go from here!”  Forgiven of their sins, instructed by Jesus, fed by the body and blood of Christ, the apostles were ready for their mission to the world.
So it is for us.  Worship on the Lord’s Day is blessing but it is not an end unto itself.  Instead, it is the preparation and strengthening we need to take our place and do our part in the Lord’s mission by keeping his Word, sharing his peace, and confronting evil.  Jesus said:
If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.   “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
            We are going to hear this theme again next week—that a big part of Christian discipleship, of following Jesus as Lord and Savior, of our life with God—is keeping and guarding the words of Jesus.  Our faith and the Lord’s mission depends upon it! 
Faith comes from the Holy Spirit working through the Word.  We believe in Jesus and have a life with God because the Holy Spirit has brought us to faith through the preaching of the Gospel.  The Bible says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.  Our saving faith in Jesus comes through the Word of God.
Faith is maintained in the same way—by the word.  To continue in faith we need to know what God’s will is for our life and the direction he wants us to go and the forgiveness we have when we fail.  It is necessary for our salvation to keep and guard the words of Jesus.
But it goes much farther than that!  Keeping and guarding the words of Jesus is necessary for the salvation of the world so that others can hear of Jesus and come to faith! 
Just as those who keep and guard Jesus’ words are his disciples and have a life with God—those who don’t know his Word cannot have a life with God until someone shares Jesus.
It was not enough that the disciples around that table in the Upper Room kept the Word of God and were saved by faith in Jesus.  He told them, “Rise, let us go from here” because he came to save not only them-- but the world-- and so to every generation of Christian including us here today, he says the same:  “Rise, let us go from here.”
He wants us to take his words of life out into the world around us and yes, we do that in places where we cannot go through our mission giving, but we also do it through our own personal witness.  The words of Jesus that we have kept are to be upon our lips so that those around us can have the peace with God that we have.  Jesus says:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.
            I don’t have to tell you that we live in a world that is filled with anything but peace.  Instead, there is turmoil and conflict and hatred.  And that is not just true among the family of nations—it is true among the family of man—because the nations are merely people in a certain place who share a common language and culture. 
There is no peace among nations- because there is no peace among men- and there is no peace among men- because the great majority of people in the world do not know Jesus.
So it has always been.  Jesus came into this world in the midst of violence.  A tyrant killed dozens of babies trying to get to him.  His own people tried on numerous occasions to murder him and finally succeeded and by the time the last apostle died, Jerusalem and its temple were rubble. A violent world is nothing new. 
But Jesus came to bring peace—peace with God and peace between men.  He did that by offering up his life as an atoning sacrifice on the cross, his shed blood removing the wrath of God over sin that kept us from God’s presence—so that now we have peace with God-real and lasting- even in the midst of a violent world. 
Jesus intends that his blood-bought peace would make us agents of peace in the world.  As his disciples sat around the table in the Upper Room, experiencing the peace that comes from knowing that they were right with God through Christ’s body and blood—he told them:  “Rise, let us go from here!” 
Let us go from here to the garden where I will be betrayed and captured by an armed mob.  Let us go from here to the cross where I will die a violent death.  Let us go!
And what were the words that were spoken by the Prince of Peace in each of those violent places?  Put away your sword!  Father, forgive them!  Words of peace and forgiveness shared with the world so that men could have peace with God and peace with one another.
Very quickly in the life of the church we see how the peace that Jesus gives makes for peace among men as Jews and Gentiles—enemies for generations—were gathered into one church, united in the body of Christ.
In the same way, part of our mission as disciples is to be agents of peace in the midst of violent world in which we live.  Paul says that if possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.  The writer to the Hebrews says that we are to strive for peace with everyone.  And Jesus says that peacemakers are blessed.
We become agents of peace in a violent world, first of all, by sharing the Good News that we have peace with God through Jesus Christ.  The peace that Jesus gives—the peace that comes from knowing that our sins are forgiven and that we are right with God—is the only peace that can heal troubled, fearful hearts.
Second of all, we extend Jesus’ peace by living with others in ways that are gentle and humble and caring—putting flesh and bone on the peace we have in our hearts. 
When those around us see that kind of peaceful life in our marriages and families-- and the humble way we conduct ourselves in the workplace and school and community—it is a compelling witness to the power of Christ to change lives for the better—a witness that is desperately needed in this broken, evil world in which we live.  Jesus says:
I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.
            One of the many blessings that come with being a part of Christian congregation is that there are people around us who share our values and concerns and priorities.  We share the same understanding about what is right and wrong and that is a comfort because often times when we look at the what the world around us values, it seems like we are the last sane person on earth.  And so to discover that there are others who see the world as we do is a blessing. 
            That night in the Upper Room the disciples must have felt the same way.  They believed in Jesus when the vast majority of their friends and family didn’t.  They believed what Jesus said about what is important and lasting.  It must have been a blessing to gather around that table in the Upper Room in safety and peace. 
But they weren’t allowed to stay there.  Jesus said, “Rise, let us go from here!” and he said that knowing full well the evil they would encounter from the ruler of the fallen world.
But that is exactly why Jesus sent them from that place—to confront evil with the goodness of God! 
Christians have always faced the temptation to remain a holy huddle—people cut off from the world, content to by surrounded by others like themselves.  It certainly seems easier and less dangerous (and it is!) if our only concern is for ourselves.
But Jesus loves the world and wants to save the world and so he sends us out into the world to confront evil—not conform to it!  Evil had no claim on Jesus and it must have no claim on us.  Our lives as his people are to be set apart and different from the world around us as a witness to the world. Jesus said, I do as the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. 
So it is for us!  Our Christian witness is not just the words that we say, it is how we live.  Holy lives, obedient to God are our testimony that we have a Savior who can change human lives and there is no more powerful support to the words we say about Jesus- than the witness to give to Jesus- in the holiness of our lives.
Before long our worship will be over but our witness will being:  keeping Jesus’ words, sharing the peace of Christ, and confronting the evil of our world with the holiness of the Lord.  May God the Holy Spirit bless our witness to Jesus!  Amen.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Pentecost May 19, 2013

Lessons for Pentecost
Genesis 11:1–9 ~ God confounded the pride of the earth by confusing the language of its people.
Psalm 143 (Antiphon: Psalm 143:10)
Acts 2:1–21 ~ The Holy Spirit overcame the confusion of languages to proclaim the wonders of God.
John 14:23–31 ~ The Holy Spirit brings peace to Jesus’ followers and unites them in obedience to the Father.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Making a Name and Building an Empire
Today's lessons make the clear distinction between the way of the world and the Lord's way. The way of the world is to make a name for oneself in God's face, but God turns His face from our confused efforts at empire building. On the first Christian Pentecost, by the power of the Holy Spirit, people from various nations under heaven heard in their own languages that God’s kingdom has been established in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus promised to send us the Holy Spirit to lead us in the knowledge of peace and the empire of His love.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Holy Spirit, ever loving, calling all of us as one, fill my heart with trust and mercy; keep me faithful to the Son. Make me strong to face life's trials. Bring me comfort in my grief. You have turned my heart to Jesus, and in Him I find relief. Amen

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: When we use material goods to build our own power and influence, we add to the confusion of this shattered world. God calls us to use the gifts of His creation through the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim His wonders, fulfilled in the obedience of His own Son, who has brought us peace by overcoming the prince of this world.

OFFERING PRAYER:    When the bricks begin to tumble from the turrets that we build,
                                                to Your service, Lord, recall us, in obedience to Your word.
                                                Grant us grace to use these offerings for the purposes You willed;
                                                in our giving may we share the gracious peace that we have heard. Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: The wonder of God’s good creation is disturbed by the strident voices of dissension and discord. Our own attempts to bring agreement through influence and persuasion only cause greater strife. But God has worked peace and unity through Jesus’ obedience to the Father in His humble death and glorious resurrection, proving that the prince of this world has no hold on Him! Jesus gives us that peace in the forgiveness of our sins. By the power of the Spirit, He sends us out to proclaim God’s mighty work and share His reconciling peace.