Sunday, January 18, 2015

Flee Sexual Immorality!

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 In ancient Corinth, overlooking the city, was a temple dedicated to Aphrodite—the pagan goddess of love.  Over 1,000 prostitutes worked in that temple where worshipers would use their services as an act of worship to Aphrodite. 
Such was the reputation of ancient Corinth that to call a young woman “a Corinthian girl” was the same as calling her a trollop.  Partaking in drunken, sexual debauchery was called:  Corinthianizing. 
            Temples to pagan goddesses and the immoral practices attached to them may seem pretty far removed from our lives but let me ask you this:  what else would you call so many of the TV programs and magazine articles and movies and websites that exist today but temples to the idols of sexual immorality and lust? 
Can any of us honestly say that we do not live in a culture that is saturated with sexual immorality—a time and place that is really any different than ancient Corinth?
            For Corinthian Christians and for American Christians the challenges and temptations are exactly the same.  How do we lead a sexually chaste and decent life that glorifies God when we live in a culture that is anything but chaste and decent and instead glorifies lust and sexual immorality?  That is what we are going to hear about today from God’s Word.  The Bible says:
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other.
            Despite the fact that Corinth had a temple to Aphrodite with a thousand temple prostitutes –despite the fact that sexual immorality was everywhere—the Gospel of Jesus Christ had been preached there and it had born fruit there and a Christian Church had taken hold there. 
That is important to remember.  When we despair over the direction of our culture, the Corinthian church is an encouraging example that no people, no matter how debauched and depraved, are beyond the help of God and the reach of the Holy Spirit.
But making a real break with their pagan past was a challenge for the Corinthians.  They loved hearing that it was for freedom that Christ had set them free-- but their flesh tempted them to turn that good news into a license for sin—especially sexual sin. 
When their pastors called them to live chaste and decent sexual lives, they had ready-made responses.  They said:  “All things are lawful for me”—in other words, I’ve been set free from the law.  They said:  “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—in other words, my sexual appetite is no different than my appetite for food and if it’s not wrong to satisfy my hunger how can it be wrong to satisfy my lust?
People still have slogans to excuse their sexual immorality.  The couple living together outside of marriage tells their pastor that “it’s just a piece of paper.”  The same-sex couple maintains that “it doesn’t matter who you love only that you love”.  The teenager is certain that her sexual choices “are not hurting anyone”.
More and more these attitudes and ideas have made inroads into the church and they have to be confronted and challenged and rebuked and answered because sexual immorality is a return to slavery to sin and our flesh and there is a judgment by God to face over it.  And so what is God’s answer to all these excuses for sexual immorality?  The Bible says that:
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.
            Our bodies have not been created by God and redeemed by Jesus and sanctified by the Holy Spirit so that we can live for ourselves. 
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free-- but this Gospel freedom does not mean that we live our lives as we see fit, sexually or otherwise, but that we are free to live as children of our heavenly Father and serve our neighbor and glorify God with our body. 
The mistaken idea of the Corinthian Christians (and by so many Christians today) that our souls are what matter and our bodies don’t and so we can do what we want with them without consequence to our faith-- is completely wrong.
Among all the creatures, God made us body and soul.  We are just as much body as soul.  Our bodies matter just as much as our souls. 
Jesus entered into this world, not as some disembodied spirit, but he took on our flesh and lived and died and God raised his body and God will raise our body to live before him in holiness and righteousness for all eternity. 
What God has intended for immortality must not be used by us for immorality.  The Bible says:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”
            In the beginning, our Creator made us sexual people.  God established the principle that the sexual union of a man and a woman made them one flesh.  God blessed that one-flesh union so that it would be pro-creative, children coming forth from their parent’s love for one another.  God established that the one flesh union of husband and wife would be a picture of the love that exists between Christ and the church. Who we are as men and women—as sexual people—is God’s design.
And the only “one flesh” union that has God’s approval is when one man and one woman commit themselves to one another for a lifetime in marriage.  Any sexual activity outside of that one-flesh union is marriage is a sin—whether you are a single person or a married person or a heterosexual person or a homosexual person—any sexual activity outside of the one-flesh union of husband and wife is a sin.
            And that is certainly true of what was going on in Corinth in the temple of Aphrodite.  It is inconceivable that any Christian would engage in such behavior, not only because it is sinful, but because of their connection to Christ.
Our bodies (and you will notice that Paul is very careful to say bodies and not just souls) our bodies are members of Christ—our bodies are connected to Christ—our bodies are one with Christ--and to become one flesh with someone outside the bonds of marriage is to take that wickedness and evil and unite it to Christ. 
Our bodies-- and our lives as sexual people-- cannot be divorced from our relationship with Jesus Christ.  That is why the Bible says:
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
            I think that most of us remember the story of Joseph in the Old Testament—how he was abandoned by his brothers and sold into slavery and how he rose to power and finally forgave them and saved them.  In all this he is a type or picture of Christ.
            What we may not remember is that when he had risen to power he faced a terrible temptation.  His master’s wife wanted him to commit adultery with her.  But he told her, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”  But she persisted and one when she had him cornered he ran from her presence as fast as he could.  That is our model when tempted.
Flee sexual immorality!  That is God’s Word to us.  That is the example of the faithful saints of old.  Flee from sexual immorality.  Don’t even let it begin to get a hold on you. 
And so what does that mean for us as a practical matter?  It means that we need to guard our eyes from much of what is on TV and the Internet.  It means that we regard our fellow Christians as members of our family:  daughters/sons, brothers/sisters, fathers/mothers.  It means that we are extremely circumspect in how we interact with members of the opposite sex in our schools and in the workplace and among our circle of friends. 
            We do not want even a hint of sexual immorality to be present in our lives because our bodies are temple of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible says: Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?
In contrast to the pagan temple of Aphrodite-- and in contrast to the millions of temples to lust and perversion on TV and movie and computer screens--the Holy Spirit is present in our bodies and it is God alone who must be served and honored and glorified rather than some idol or false god.  The Bible says that:  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
            Nothing could be farther from the truth than the rallying cry of the pro-abortion folks that “it is my body” and I can with it what I like.  Our bodies belong to God.  He is the one who created us and intended us to be holy in his sight. 
And when we failed at that, God sent his Son to buy us back from slavery to sin and death at the cost of his own life.  That is what we do not belong to ourselves—because we have a God who has created us and a Savior who has redeemed and filled us with his Spirit so that we can glory God in our bodily life and even in our sexual life.
Sexuality is a gift that God gives to us so that husbands and wives can show love to one another and have a part in God’s work by bringing new life into the world.  For those who are single, God is glorified when we flee sexual immorality and live chaste and decent lives in thought, word, and deed.
This then is the way that those who are created by God and redeemed by his Son and filled with his Spirit live lives that bring glory to God.  Amen.

General Prayer Epiphany 2b

Gracious heavenly Father, You have searched us and You know us.  Before we speak a word of prayer You know what is in our hearts.  Because You know us better than we know ourselves, hear our prayers and answer us for our good:

We confess and believe that You are the Creator of all things and the Creator of our life in particular and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  Grant this same knowledge and confidence to all people so that they would value their life and the lives of others.  Especially do we pray that You would change the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens regarding the sanctity of life.  Work a renewal in our national life so that we would value and protect all human life as a gift from You.  Support the work of Lutherans for Life and all people of good will who work to preserve life.

We give You thanks O Lord that wherever we go in life, You are there to lead us and bless us and bring us safely home.  Show us the way we should go in all we undertake, and every decision that we make, so that we can confidently do Your will.

As in the days of Samuel and Eli, continue to be with and speak to Your Church on earth and grant us ears that are open to hear your Word and hearts that are ready to believe it and obey it.  Raise up young men who desire to serve You and Your people in the ministry of the Word.

Heavenly Father, You know that we live in a world where Your good gifts are misused, especially the gift of sexuality.  Empower us with Your Holy Spirit so that we would always flee from sexually immorality and in our own particular place in life live a chaste and decent life.

We thank You that You have bought us at the great price of Your Son’s blood and now we belong to You as members of Your family, members of the body of Christ.  Especially do we thank You for the life of Your servant Bruce and pray that You would bless him in body and soul all his days.  In all that we say and do and think help us to glorify You.

Father, You have promised to hold us in Your right hand.  So that our souls might bear witness to Your wonderful works, come to the aid of those who stand in any need.  Grant healing to those who are ill, especially:  Liam, Carol Jo, Ewald, Jennifer, Donald, David, Erna, and Joyce; deliverance for those are addicted and tempted beyond their strength; and provision to those who lack the necessities of life. 

Whatever else You see that we need; whatever brings glory to You and serves our neighbor; whatever extends Your kingdom, grant to us dear Father in Heaven for we ask it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

God Has Blessed Us in Christ!

Over the Advent and Christmas season we heard how God’s plan to save the world did not begin with the birth of Jesus but had been promised for thousands of years and how God patiently, wisely ordered the affairs of the world to bring it to bear in the birth of his son so that:
when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law
             God’s plan to save the world through his Son Jesus Christ was not an afterthought- or one option among many -or a stopgap measure when everything else failed.  It was always God’s plan to save the world in this way by giving us his Son at just the right time so that he could redeem the world.
What we hear today from God’s Word is that the exact same thing can be said about your salvation in particular:
when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law, so that WE might receive adoption as sons.
            It is the best possible news for us that in the same patient, wise, loving way that God has planned for and accomplished the salvation of the WORLD in his Son Jesus Christ, so he has planned for and accomplished OUR salvation in particular, blessing us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. The Bible says:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
            What God wants us to know and believe this morning is that all of the promises of the prophets stretching back to the Garden of Eden-- and all of the great events in salvation history-- and all of the works and words of Jesus-- were accomplished so that we would be blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
Forgiveness for our sins.  Peace with God and a place in his family.  Divine guidance for our earthly lives.  Another life to come when this life is over.  All of these and more are the spiritual blessings we have in Jesus Christ.  And they are blessings IN Christ.
There is no forgiveness apart from Jesus-- there is only guilt and shame.  There is no peace with God or a place in his family without Jesus-- there is only rebellion and warfare and God as our enemy.  There is no divine guidance for our earthly lives without Jesus-- there is only darkness and finally despair.  And there is no heaven without Jesus-- there is only the terrible specter of eternal punishment in hell.
The blessings that God gives to us in Jesus Christ have changed everything for us and how can we not join our voice to Paul and all of God’s faithful people to bless him for his goodness and praise him for his mercy that has led to our salvation—a salvation that he has planned for us from before the foundation of the world.  The Bible says that God:
chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [God] predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
            The Good News for us on this Lord’s Day is that what God has graciously accomplished for our salvation:  by sending his Son Jesus Christ and calling us to faith and guiding us to heaven--God has purposed and planned to do for us from before the foundation of the world.  We are chosen in Christ to be right in God’s sight and predestined to be God’s children.
It has always been God’s purpose for us that our sins and guilt and shame would be taken away by the blood Jesus shed for us on the cross so that we could stand before him in time and eternity holy and blameless. 
It has always been his plan for us that Jesus would set us free from the devil’s dominion and restore us to our place as beloved children in his family, adopted as sons and daughters in the waters of Holy Baptism. 
It has always been his will to bless us with every spiritual gift in Jesus Christ so that all of eternity would be filled with the praises of God’s people for his gracious love.
At the center of God’s purpose, plan and will to save the world and God’s purpose, plan, and will to save us personally and individually stands Jesus Christ, God’s beloved Son, in whom alone are all these blessings of life and salvation are found.
How can we ever thank and praise God enough for his undeserved mercy and love and saving will in Jesus Christ that extends to us—not in just some general way—but for us, personally and individually?! 
It is in Jesus that we can know beyond any shadow of a doubt that God’s purpose, plan, and will towards us is one of love.  The Bible says that:
In [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 
            God has revealed his saving will for the world in general and for us in particular in Jesus Christ.  When our eyes of faith gaze upon the Christ Child; when our eyes of faith are turned to the cross; when our ears of faith hear the words of the risen Christ:  Because I live, you also shall live; how can we ever doubt God’s love for us?!  It is only in Jesus that we can begin to understand the love God has for all people and for us personally and individually. 
It is a love and care and concern that does not change or diminish with time.  It is not pinched or narrow or sparse.  It is abundant and overflowing and everlasting.  We can draw from God’s love again and again without ever worrying that somehow, some way, someday, our trespasses will cause it to run out.
God reveals the mystery of his saving will for us which began before the foundation of the world so that we can be confident in every moment and circumstance of life—in joys and sorrows—in plenty and in want—that we have always been loved and will always be loved.  The Bible says that:
In [Jesus] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
            There are so many comforting truths found in our text today!  We have been redeemed from Satan’s dominion not with gold or silver but with the blood of Christ.  We have been adopted into God’s family through faith in Jesus.  Clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ we are holy and blameless in God’s sight.  And God has always intended to lavish upon his unending mercy and grace.  How can we ever praise him sufficiently for his goodness to us in Jesus Christ?!
But in my mind, what we heard just now is perhaps the most comforting of all:  that God works all things in accordance with the purpose of his will.  And so what does that mean for us?
It means that:  the God who has loved us with an everlasting love—the God who has sent his son to shed his life’s blood for us—the God who has graciously made us one of his children—the God who has given us an inheritance of life and hope and peace—is, at this moment and every moment in our lives, working all things according to the purpose of his will to save us and bring us safely to our heavenly home.
Let’s be clear, that phrase “all things” means just exactly what it says.  In other words, this same wise, good, loving God who has planned, not just for the world’s salvation, but for our salvation, is wisely, lovingly working ALL things in our lives for that same, saving purpose—so that we would be saved.
And so then, we can be certain that:  in every moment, every circumstance, every situation, every decision, every relationship--the God who loves us with an everlasting love—the God who gave his Son to die for us-- is working all of it so that it will ultimately lead to our salvation.
Our joys and sorrows—our gains and losses—our successes and failures—every bit of it God is working for our good so that it all comes together for our salvation.
God has accomplished our salvation in this way—from a plan in eternity he made-- to a sacrifice in time he gave-- to the individual particulars of our life that he orders-- so that he receives all the glory. 
When it comes to our salvation, it is God’s work alone, a gift of his inexhaustible grace received by us in faith, worked in us and sealed in us by the Holy Spirit.  The Bible says that:
In [Jesus] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
            The Bible says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God—that God has chosen to give us birth by the word of truth—that we have been born again through the living word of God—that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all of those who believe.
The point is this:  our place in God’s plan to save the world, a plan that includes us personally and individually, was accomplished in us personally and individually as the Good News of Jesus was preached to us and the Holy Spirit converted us and came to dwell in our lives.
That we can say Jesus is Lord—that we know the mystery of God’s saving will—that we have been adopted into God’s family-- is only because of the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, who has brought us to faith, and who will keep us in faith until we go to heaven.
Dear friends in Christ, on this second Sunday of Christmas it is the best possible news that God’s plan to save the world in his Son Jesus Christ includes us personally and individually!  May God grant us his grace and the Spirit’s help to believe it for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.    

General Prayer Christmas 2b

Gracious heavenly Father, You are abundant in power and Your understanding is beyond measure.  As we come to You in prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, answer us for our good:

Bless our nation with leaders like Solomon who did not ask You anything for himself but only for wisdom to rule Your people.  Help all of our elected leaders to walk before You in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart.  Revive the spiritual life of our fellow citizens so that all would acknowledge You as Lord and serve You as our one true king.   Especially do we ask Your blessing upon our military men and women that they would be protected in times of danger.

Make us people of prayer who are ready to admit our need and seek Your aid and counsel and ask for those things that are pleasing in Your sight.

We thank You for blessing us with every spiritual gift in Christ; for our adoption as Your children; and for the redemption we have through the blood of Jesus. 

Be with all of those who hope in Your steadfast love.  Comfort those who mourn.  Meet the needs of those who lack the necessities of life.  Deliver those who are addicted.  Befriend those who are lonely and afraid.

Help us by Your Holy Spirit to live our life before You in a way that is holy and blameless.  When we fail in this high calling, forgive us our trespasses, and help us to begin to live again as Your children.

Grant that Your word of truth, and especially the gospel of salvation, would be preached throughout the world.  Prosper our missionaries who work in places where we cannot go.  Continue to bless the church with the gift of faithful pastors and teachers. 

Encourage us by the example of the Holy Family to make worshiping You a priority in our lives so that we could continue to receive Your gracious gifts of forgiveness and life.  Let it be said of us what was said of our Lord, that we are increasing in wisdom and in favor with You and our fellow man.

Seal us with Your Holy Spirit as a guarantee of all that You have given in Christ until that day we take full possession of it in glory everlasting.  Amen.