DON’T RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE IN VAIN!

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DON’T RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE IN VAIN!

Paul has just outlined the wonderful way in which God has reconciled humanity to Himself, and given this grace, this unmerited love, to us through the gospel. Now the danger is that people will turn their back on God’s grace, grow indifferent to it, and so be lost. He lists all the things that he and other ministers go through to bring the grace of God to us, so that there is no excuse for giving up our faith in the Grace of God through Christ.

The sermon for The First Sunday in Lent (Invocavit), February 21, 2021, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

2 Corinthians 6:1–10 (CSB)

Working together with him, we also appeal to you, “Don’t receive the grace of God in vain.” For he says:
At an acceptable time I listened to you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.,
See, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation!
We are not giving anyone an occasion for offense, so that the ministry will not be blamed. Instead, as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves in everything: by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardships, by difficulties, by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger, by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth,, by the power of God; through weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, through glory and dishonor, through slander and good report; regarded as deceivers, yet true; as unknown, yet recognized; as dying, yet see—we live; as being disciplined, yet not killed; 10 as grieving, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet enriching many; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

 

Dear fellow redeemed: You have been bought at the price of the life-blood of the Son of God, and this redemption has been given to you through the gospel and you have received it by faith for the forgiveness of sins. As I said before, the lessons for pre-Lent and Lent all fall under the general heading, “The Life of the Blood-bought Christian.”

Today’s lesson reiterates the point that Peter made in the lesson for Ash Wednesday; we also appeal to you, “Don’t receive the grace of God in vain.” For he says:

At an acceptable time I listened to you,

and in the day of salvation I helped you.,

See, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation!   Again, our plea for you is …

DON’T RECEIVE THE GRACE OF GOD IN VAIN!

  1. Now Is the Only Time of Grace
  2. Time to Endure as God’s Servants

 

  1. Now Is the Only Time of Grace

Paul had just summarized the gracious work of God in the substitutionary atonement of Christ. “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, CSB) This grace has been given to you through the word of the Gospel. It has been given to you NOW.

Here at this place and time, today, this is a gracious moment, when God looks upon you, not with judgment, but with mercy and forgiveness. All our sins are forgotten. All the sins of the past and of the present are nothing to God. He doesn’t just overlook them, they are gone, as if they were undone. And in their place is only the goodness of Christ, and the good that you have lived out in your life are pleasing to Him.

These are golden years, for we live under grace. God hears your prayers and helps you. Some might question that, because the life of the Christian isn’t necessarily easy, but this is His grace to us, that we live through even the terrible times secure in His love, and secure in the fact that He is preparing a place for us. Don’t be blind to His unfailing love; don’t undervalue the eternal joy in store for you; don’t neglect the deep wisdom and blessing of His word in living your life. Above all, don’t lose it all by neglecting the word of the gospel that pours life into your soul.

I plead with you! On Ash Wednesday I pleaded with you, along with Peter, to build on your faith a Christian life that makes the gospel part of your life. Today, with Paul, I plead with you to treasure the grace of God given to you. Savor your forgiveness, let go your regrets, rest in the grace of God, His perfect love for you, as you are.

Sadly, many have turned away from God’s grace. Every chair that has become empty, every name in the directory that stands for a face we no longer see, is a reminder of those who received the grace of God in vain, who cast it away. As Luther said, “To receive the grace of God in vain can be nothing else than to hear the pure word of God which presents and offers his grace, and yet to remain listless and irresponsive, undergoing no change at all.”[1] It is like the guests bidden to the great supper (Luke 14:16-24) but who refused to come.

Don’t think that you can cast it away today and pick it up again tomorrow. See, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation! The history of the church tells us that the word of God’s grace comes like a shower that passes and is gone. Don’t think that if you are indifferent to the call of the Holy Spirit today, that the call will be there later. We also see that God’s word comes richly in one generation and then is met with indifference by the next. Joshua’s generation entered into the promised land and declared, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” and yet the next generation and the one after that forgot the grace of God and clung to their idols.

2.   Time to Endure as God’s Servants

If all of you here are to endure in the faith, and not let loose of the greatest blessing that has ever come to humanity, then as Peter said (on Ash Wednesday), you must build on your faith around the gospel, and as Paul says (today) you must recognize this as a time to endure in the faith.

Now remember, Paul is under attack from those “super-apostles” in Corinth. Faithful pastors are always criticized, and Christians in general carry a cross, but this shouldn’t cause you to stumble in your faith. We are not giving anyone an occasion for offense, so that the ministry will not be blamed. Instead, as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves in everything:

This is a warning us against being offended by the trials of the Christian life. Rather than blaming the ministry of the gospel, Paul says, we commend ourselves in everything:  that is “we point to our perseverance in the face of troubles to show you that we speak the truth in good faith. Even today we point to what the apostles went through as evidence that they spoke the truth: No sense suffering for something you made up! So, Paul says, they are  commended …

by great endurance, and what does he endure? by afflictions, by hardships, by difficulties, by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger,

For the sake of the grace of God, the ministry of the gospel comes to us despite these things. We also may endure these things.

At the same time what do we show in our lives toward those who persecute us for the faith? Vengeance? Retaliation? No. The ministry of the gospel, Christians in their lives are not blamed because they are known … by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness. Grace is paramount in our lives, and when so motivated, it is by purity of motive, because we know about, have knowledge of this cosmic conflict we are in. And so while the world is in conflict, we show patience and kindness, rooted in grace. Are you gracious? Or do you chew on the bones of remembered wrongs?

So don’t give up on the grace of God when there are troubles, but see the role that grace plays in the lives of Christians and as people like Paul show us, and some of our own ministers of grace as well.

And how can that be?  Through the word, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth,, by the power of God. Through the word, the “power of God unto salvation,” the gospel, we understand where true grace lies in this world.

We are living through a good example of this. Christians are now seen as haters for being forgiving, because forgiveness implies disapproval, and the word of Scripture is branded as hate-speech. Some are so swept up in the opinions of the world of today, that they will forsake the grace of God to gain the approval of the world. But the ideas of today are not new, and have been “new” and then rejected many times in the past.

So, through weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, again the “sword of the Spirit, the word of God” we do not stumble in our faith but know who is Lord and Savior.

Therefore we avoid the deceit of the world that demeans, ridicules, and cancels Christians, through glory and dishonor, through slander and good report; regarded as deceivers, yet true; as unknown, yet recognized; as dying, yet see—we live;  We know what the world says, and we know the truth.

That is what is needed if you are to receive the Grace of God, not in vain, but in enduring hope, as being disciplined, yet not killed; 10 as grieving, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet enriching many; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

 

Dear ones. We live in a deceitful world. Our Lord has invaded this world and bestowed on you His mercy, His forgiveness, His righteousness, and -what’s more- His future, His salvation, His heaven. It is yours through faith. Build on your faith a Christian life, as Peter says, and then do not let the troubles that come to you dismay you or deceive you. Do not let them cause you to stumble or become indifferent to the Grace of God you have been given.

Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will experience affliction for ten days. Be faithful to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10, CSB)

 

AMEN

 

[1] Ed. Lenker, John Nicholas, Sermons of Martin Luther, Volume 7, Baker Book House. P. 135

 

By |2021-02-21T17:00:20-07:00February 21st, 2021|Sermons|0 Comments

THE GREATEST GIFT – DIVINE LOVE

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THE GREATEST GIFT – DIVINE LOVE

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, where many were enamored of the charismatic gifts, like working miracles, speaking in unlearned languages, and visions of heaven. None of these things compare with the gift that the Sprit works in every Christian to some degree – Divine Love. The Holy Spirit works divine love in the hearts of all who receive the good news of God’s love toward us.

The sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday (~50 days until Easter), February 14, 2021, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

1 Corinthians 13:1–13 (CSB)

13 If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 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 put aside childish things. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. 13 Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love.

Dear fellow redeemed: It’s just a coincidence that this text comes on St. Valentine’s day. Paul is not addressing the subject of romantic love here, but of course you are free to be informed by these words regarding the true nature of love.

But first realize that here Paul is talking about the nature of spiritual gifts. Some in the Corinthian church were enthralled with what we call the “charismatic” gifts of the Holy Spirit – speaking in different languages without being taught, foretelling the future, receiving revelations into the hidden things of God, or performing miracles.

These gifts were given in the Apostolic Age and at other times in history for the sake of the gospel, but they have not been promised to us. Nevertheless, people still claim to receive them; these groups may be called “faith-healers,” Pentecostals or Charismatics. So intent are they on having these gifts that they pretend to have them, even to the point of committing fraud. Rest assured that when our Lord intervenes supernaturally in a life, it is He and He alone who is glorified, not some high-dollar TV preacher.

It is true that the Holy Spirit works in believers; first in creating faith, and then in giving gifts by which He benefits the whole church. “Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God works all of them in each person. A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good:” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7, CSB)  As we considered before, these gifts all differ according to our individuality, while there are other gifts, virtues, to which we can all aspire, and as Paul put it,

THE GREATEST GIFT IS LOVE

  1. A Gift We Can Seek
  2. A Gift That Directs All Others
  3. A Virtuous, Selfless Gift
  4. Fully Realized In Christ
  1. A Gift We Can Seek

We cannot aspire to some gifts, not the gifts of miracles or of languages, etc. They are gifts, given where the Holy Spirit chooses. So how can we aspire to the gift of love? Because it is a virtue that the Holy Spirit works in us through the word. As John teaches us, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, CSB)

The power of that love is expressed through the gospel, and so it is by cherishing and meditating upon the Word of God that we grow in love and “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18–19, CSB)

“Love,” [AGAPE] as used here is the love that comprehends the person loved, and purposes only good for that person. This is the love that comes from saving faith and therefore arises out of the righteousness God gives us. As we consider the nature of this love, you will despair of achieving it. So you must know that the starting point for you is your justification. By grace, through faith, you have been declared righteous and innocent before God, because of the perfect love that Christ lived out, and is yours by faith.

We have the righteousness of Christ, and so we seek to live it out in life.

2. A Gift That Directs All Others

What shall we say of this love? It is the gift that directs and shapes the way we use all our gifts and talents – all that we are. Without it, really, nothing is good. 13 If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Again, “love,” [AGAPE] as used here is the love that comprehends the person loved, and purposes only good for that person. To comprehend a person is to know them completely. Jesus knew Peter, a faithful, but impulsive, egotistical man who vacillated between heroism and cowardice, who would end up betraying him; and he loved Peter and wanted what was truly good for him. Jesus knew John, whom we don’t see as conspicuously wonderful as a disciple, and loved him. Jesus knew Judas, right down to the core of his black heart, and desired that he turn from his wickedness, and Jesus loved him too. This is love that comprehends and purposes what is good.

Without it, no speech is good, no understanding of Scripture is beneficial, no miraculous powers will accomplish good, and no sacrifice is virtue. For it purposes not what is truly good.

3.  A Virtuous, Selfless Gift

This love is outward-looking, aimed at giving, not receiving. It is selfless. Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Imagine living your life without harboring any memory of the wrongs done to you! I said you would despair of achieving it, yet by faith you are counted as having it, for the perfect life of Christ is counted as yours. “For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” (Galatians 3:27, CSB) Christ did not nurse resentment over what the soldiers did to Him. He forgave them. Fight the false leaders of the people as He did, He did not recite their outrages on the cross.

To put this in perspective, there are many opinion-molders and people of power who are misrepresenting Christians these days. Haters, white supremacists, racists, bigots, etc. are ways people describe Christians. Try against it as we might, our beliefs are dragged into the political melee, because the Christian faith is always a challenge to absolute power. I can give you a list of outrages as long as your arm, but while they are instructive, we keep no record to nurse resentment. Love … bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

4.  Fully Realized In Christ

Now here is an astounding thing: This is how you are loved. This perfect love is the love of Christ Himself. It was to bring such love into this world that He was born. It was to bring such love into the world so that it could be yours by grace through faith. For it is through Him that the righteousness of God can be given to any of us. As Paul says, …  Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.” (Philippians 3:8–9, CSB)

So you and I and all Christians are counted as having such love, and truly by God’s grace in a measure we live out this love, and indeed it will one day be perfected in us. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. 13 Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love.

AMEN

By |2021-02-14T16:51:14-07:00February 14th, 2021|Sermons|0 Comments

THE CHRISTIAN’S “SUPERPOWER”

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THE CHRISTIAN’S “SUPERPOWER”

Paul says that the weapons of the Christian are powerful enough for the “demolition of strongholds.”  Since every Christian is part of a cosmic spiritual war, “We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God.”

This power of the Christian is the Gospel of Christ, the message of the Grace of God.

The sermon for Sexagesima Sunday (~60 days until Easter), February 7, 2021, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

2 Corinthians 12:7–10 (CSB)

7 Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so that I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it would leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.”

Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. 10 So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Dear fellow redeemed: The Christian church is an invading force, like a small expeditionary force invading a hostile country. The conflict is a spiritual conflict, and so battle is done with words. Look at our other lessons. The Lord sends out His word to accomplish his saving will, and the devil sows deceit to undermine, cover, uproot, and draw people away from the word.

In Corinth, the Lord used the apostle Paul to proclaim the everlasting gospel, and through it the Holy Spirit brought people to faith. The devil countered (so to speak) through the depraved culture of Corinth. (Think of a platoon surrounded by the enemy.) But there was also the problem that some in the church didn’t believe that the gospel was enough in the face of such opposition.

They thought the solution was to “wage war according to the flesh,” to be more in tune with the popular culture, more impressive in their apparent piety, seemingly more learned and earnest, and, well, just more popular – “cooler.”

Much of our epistle lesson is Paul’s reply to these super – apostles. He had plenty to boast about, but he had to forcefully lit it out that, “For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3–5, CSB)  The real way to wage war in a world like ours is through the gospel. So he concludes this long session with a lesson in the gospel, …

A LESSON IN GRACE

  1. The Lesson Starts with Death
  2. The Defining Doctrine of Christ
  3. The Power To Save
  1. The Lesson Starts with Death

A lesson in grace is really a lesson in the Gospel, and the power to save, as Christ tells us through Paul’s words to the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16–17, CSB) ]

You may be a cool dude, according to the flesh, but that isn’t going to make Christians.

The gospel is the good news of God’s rescue of humanity from sin, death, and hell. But to grasp the gospel, we have to start with the reality of death.. Death is the penalty of sin. “… sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12, CSB)

You die, and then what? Where are you going? What are you going to do? You would have a difficult time saying that is just he end, for in all human history the consensus is that there is something to come. Yes, there are materialists who say that the end is the end, but few of those even face death with that bankrupt belief intact. I have seen their fear.

Together with death comes the condemnation of our conscience which tell us that not only is death ahead of us, but there is judgment. The devil perverts the conscience wherever possible, especially today, where the refuge of even the worst criminal is that they are nice. It’s true. I’ve known nice thieves, nice adulterers, nice blasphemers, nice liars, nice murderers, nice sexual deviants, nice grudge-bearers, nice haters, nice pedophiles, nice abusers, nice criminals. Really. You probably have too.

That’s one attempt to deal with sin and death – self-righteousness.

But that doesn’t cut it.  God says through His psalmist, “The boastful cannot stand in your sight; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who tell lies; the Lord abhors violent and treacherous people.” (Psalm 5:5–6, CSB) And remember, He is the One who decides what evildoers are, not you or me – because we are the evildoers, as it is written, “There is certainly no one righteous on the earth who does good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20, CSB)

2.  The Defining Doctrine of Christ

Paul wasn’t good enough to avoid the consequences of sin. He suffered, and he was doomed to die. He wanted the Corinthians to know this. Even now he needed his faith built up. Nothing in our flesh can do this. For he suffered, and he was dying in a dying world.

But he had hope, hope given to Him by Christ and he points to what Christ gave him as the true power to wage the spiritual war. 7 Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so that I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it would leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.”

To those who are suffering, to those who are dying there is only one thing that is sufficient, only one thing that is enough, and that is the grace of Christ.

This refers to the unique doctrine of the Christian faith. Yes, God hates all who do wrong and, yes, God says to all who stand before Him without perfect holiness that they are doomed “to the resurrection of condemnation.” But that terrible justice was satisfied, for Christ has taken our place, both to live out a righteous life, and to bear Divine condemnation. To die. We call it the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Christ. “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, CSB)

The good news of everything God did to satisfy His justice and bring us to heaven is the Gospel, it is truth revealed only in Scripture and proclaimed only by the Christian church.

This is the GRACE, the undeserved love of God for man, that Paul is talking about. It is the only source of hope.  It is the only thing that is enough.

All the money in the world? Not enough, for money doesn’t give life.

Freedom from suffering? Freedom from illness? Not enough. For still we grow old and die.

The respect and adulation of others? Good moral life, and churchly life, a righteous reputation? Not enough, for our righteousness is never enough.

To anyone who is dying, and that is you, to anyone who suffers, at times that is you, only one thing is enough, and that is the grace of God.

This is what Paul had to give to the Corinthians that the super-apostles did not. The grace of God.

3.  The Power To Save

We are in a situation much like Corinth. Immorality is defined down and down and down, so that the “sociological consensus” approves of what was considered unthinkable in the past, and worse, what is condemned by Scripture as an abomination. These people don’t just need condemnation, they need salvation.

With the warning of the law, the condemnation, God tears down the false hopes of the “nice” thieves, adulterers, blasphemers, liars, murderers, deviants, grudge-bearers, haters, pedophiles, abusers, and criminals to shatter their self-righteousness (or their despair).

And with the gospel we give them the only thing that is enough, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” (Romans 1:16, CSB) The Gospel, the message of grace, the only thing that is  powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.

For only the gospel has the power to create the faith that receives it, that believes it, that trusts in nothing but Christ and His grace.

We have great powers arrayed against us these days. In China, Christians are defined as anti-government and are put in re-education camps. Here in the US, former CIA director John Brennan warns against “religious extremists.[1]” If you think he doesn’t mean you, then look up the Southern Poverty Law Center, a far-left anti-Christian group that is used as the “standard” to define religious extremists.  They include as hate groups benign Christian groups like Family Research Council, Alliance Defending Freedom (who helped us when we were prevented from ministering to Sam Thacker).

While there are some things we can do as citizens to preserve our liberty, “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh only the Grace of God is enough. Really, while the world stews, and we face suffering and even death itself and wonder what is the remedy, there is but one answer: Grace. Only the grace of God because of Christ is enough.

AMEN.

[1] I know looking forward that the members of the Biden team who have been nominated or have been appointed, are now moving in laser-like fashion to try to uncover as much as they can about what looks very similar to insurgency movements that we’ve seen overseas, where they germinate in different parts of a country, and they gain strength, and it brings together an unholy alliance, frequently, of religious extremists, authoritarians, fascists, bigots, racists, nativists, even libertarians. (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2021/01/21/john_brennan_biden_admin_has_laser-like_focus_on_insurgency_movements_of_bigots_racists_libertarians.html, accessed February 4, 2021.)

By |2021-02-07T17:13:56-07:00February 7th, 2021|Sermons|0 Comments

FOCUS ON THE PRIZE!

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KEEP FOCUSED ON THE PRIZE!

 Our 21st Century focus on athletics isn’t something new. Contestants in the biennial Isthmian games, which Paul probably watched about 51 A.D., would devote the ten months prior to the games exclusively to training. Their prize? A crown of wilted celery, or of laurel which would turn brown the next day. But like today’s athletes, they focused laser-like on the prize for the sake of the glory.

How can Christians do less?
The danger of losing the faith is real. Keep focused on the prize!

Sermon for Septuagesima Sunday (~70 days until Easter), January 31, 2021, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

1 Corinthians 9:24–10:5 (CSB)

24 Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. 25 Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown. 26 So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. 27 Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

10 Now I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless God was not pleased with most of them, since they were struck down in the wilderness.

Dear fellow redeemed: The lessons that we will be dwelling on today and the next two Sundays teach us  how we Christians live as Christians in troubled times, in the light of Christ’s redemption and resurrection.[1] In this Sunday’s Lesson, Paul teaches us that we are caught up in the same cosmic war that has been raging since Satan’s assault on God’s perfect creation in Eden.

He pleads for us to take it seriously, really! Take it seriously! For not all who are at some time Christians remain faithful. No…

NOT ALL, NOT ALL KEEP THE FAITH!

  1. Our Faith Is Our Life
  2. Our Faith Sets Our Priorities
  3. The End of Our Faith Is Paradise
  1. Our Faith Is Our Life

To say that some people don’t keep the faith is to say that they lose their Christian faith; they die spiritually; they lose the righteousness of Christ that is by faith, and so when they die, according to Jesus, God says on judgment day, “I never new you.” The picture He paints is grim: 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom all who cause sin and those guilty of lawlessness., 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 13:41–43 (CSB) Not to mention, 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Matthew 22:13 (CSB)

To lose your faith is to die forever when you die, to die ang go to hell

Faith is spiritual life. It is a spiritual condition, not an intellectual or emotional condition, although our spiritual life drives our emotional and intellectual life. So, faith is not a mere opinion and losing one’s faith is not just a change in opinion. So Paul tells us to cling to Christ, Who gives us life.

2. Our Faith Sets Our Priorities

There are different ways to lose the faith, to lose our spiritual life, either through the deceit of our minds or the seduction of our flesh, through the pride of our intellect or the lust of the flesh. But also, as Jesus says in the Parable of the Sower, the lack of depth in the word (the seed on the rocky soil) or messing up our priorities with the worries, riches, and pleasures of life displacing the word in our lives.

This is where Paul steps in with a comparison. He describes the Isthmian games, held every two years. He probably saw the Isthmian games in Corinth in 51. When I went to Turkey, I saw that every Greco-Roman city had a stadium for the games, including races, wrestling, boxing, javelin, discus, and others. To compete, you entered training ten months before the games and your whole life at that time was devoted to training.

This is the background for Paul’s comments, 24 Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. 25 Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown.

The crown or wreath at the games was supposed to reveal how fleeting was the glory. At various times it was wilted celery or laurel leaves that turned brown overnight, or other greenery that lasted but a little while. And yet for that fleeting glory, people would invest their lives.

If that is what people do for something that is fleeting, how can we possibly be blasé about something that lasts forever? If you do not take your faith seriously, it is a very real danger that you will lose it, as Paul continues, 26 So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. 27 Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified. If Paul acknowledges that he could lose the faith, then what about you and me?

Now, he ISN’T saying that now that you know the stakes, be good and don’t mess up. We all know that if our salvation depended upon anything in us, including our earnestness, our seriousness about our faith, then we would be without hope. Anybody you know every perfectly kept resolutions?

If we are to remain in the faith, it means that we are to be in the word for the Spirit’s strength, lest we be deceived, that we are to be regular in our repentance and savoring forgiveness, lest we become hardened in sin or self-righteous, and we are to heed the call to be with our fellow Christians and encourage one another. If we take our faith seriously as Paul says, we don’t try to BE STRONG, we are diligent in finding our strength in Christ.

Marry a Christian. Be in church. Raise your children in the Christian worldview, preferably in a Christian school.

Here’s the danger: The Christian guy an unbeliever dates because he’s lonely. The dad misses church wants to provide better for his family, the parents feel education belongs to the “experts” (and besides, we pay taxes). They all have bought the idea that today’s choice is worth sacrificing eternity.

And those who think that their church work saves them also need to be careful, like the Pharisees.  We don’t confess the sins of others, but our own sins.

This is where Paul is going with the second part of our text. 10 Now I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless God was not pleased with most of them, since they were struck down in the wilderness.

The children of Israel saw the power of God and the grace of God, but most of them fell short, and did not enter the Promised Land. For all the power and mercy God had shown, their hope was in themselves. That is a warning to us all. Because of the grace of God, like Moses, many who fell in the desert may still have been saved in heaven – some of them – but this is still a warning for us.

3.  The End of Our Faith Is Paradise

So what should we do?

Paul tells us to focus upon the end of our faith, the imperishable crown of everlasting life.

We ended last week with Peter’s comforting words, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8–9, CSB)

If we are to keep perspective, if we are to keep our priorities straight, then let us be diligent and disciplined to keep our eyes upon the mercies of God, the Grace of Christ, the free gift of everlasting life, in spite of everything: “Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will experience affliction for ten days. Be faithful to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10, CSB)

Life is hard right now for Christians. It seems we are all alone. It seems that we must have it wrong because we are objects of hatred and ridicule. It seems that  “real life” is more important. And, seductively, it seems that if we can just take a little pleasure as it comes, and indulge the flesh and please ourselves, that nobody gets hurt, and it’s no big deal.

If that’s what you think, then you have not thought enough about the glory that awaits you (or the danger of eternal despair).

The end of our faith is everlasting life, and that doesn’t mean an eternity of life as it is now, but life as we were created for. A life of everlasting love, a life in which the warmest embrace is the norm. A life in which all our greatest aspirations are fulfilled. A life in which we have no guilt, no sorrow, no pain. A life in which every good impulse is our glory, and in which there is no disapproval. A life in which there is no sorrow, no regret, no anxiety. A world in which all fruits are perfect, all songs are beautiful, all labor is pleasant, and all life is love.

This is the crown of life for which we contend, in contending for the faith, for which we treasure Christ’s word and promises. This is the crown of life for which we give up all things.

AMEN

[1] These lessons were added to the Historic Lectionary in the year 568, when the pagan Lombards (think Germanic Vikings) were descending onto a defenseless Italy, ruining and pillaging as they went. (Reed, Luther, The Lutheran Liturgy)

By |2021-01-31T17:49:37-07:00January 31st, 2021|Sermons|0 Comments

TRUE OR JUST USEFUL?

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TRUE OR JUST USEFUL?

 Benjamin Franklin scolded a friend for dismissing religion as necessary in an anti-religious text the atheist was going to publish. Franklin responded instead with reasons why Christianity is useful. (https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/ben-franklins-letter-atheist/) The Apostle Peter, on the other hand, in his second letter makes the point we believe and confess the Christian faith not just because it is useful, but Because It Is TRUE.

Sermon for The Transfiguration of our Lord, January 24, 2021, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

+ + + + +

The Christian church is unlike anything in history. At the time Peter is writing the message of the gospel had spread from Jerusalem, in a minor Roman province, throughout the empire, from India to Spain. So wide had it spread that it was targeted for persecution.

2 Peter 1:16–21 (CSB)
16 For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased!” 18 We ourselves heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 We also have the prophetic word strongly confirmed, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Dear fellow redeemed: I’m sure you have heard of the many advantages in being a Christian. The Christian worldview shows wisdom. The value of family (as Scripture teaches) is crucial to society. The golden rule. The importance of hope. The importance of love and the fulfillment of the law.

Christianity gave rise to modern science, to hospitals, orphanages, and other institutions of mercy in society. It led to the end of chattel slavery (which sadly is still practiced among the wicked). It gave rise to the high Christian culture of both the east and the west.

These are the reasons that many would give you for becoming and remaining a Christian. But Peter doesn’t.

He leads up to our text pointing to the real object of our faith, escaping the corruption of this world through the resurrection; we have an other-worldly goal. He urges us to cling to the faith, to “make every effort to confirm your calling and election,” (1:10), not because Christianity is useful, but …

BECAUSE IT IS TRUE

  1. Attested by Historical Fact
  2. Confirmed by Divine Revelation
  3. Fulfilling Ancient Prophecy
  4. Inspired by God
  1. Attested by Historical Fact

At a time when many cannot recognize the difference between truth and untruth, the reasons to believe or disbelieve something are emotional ones. That’s why it’s easy to believe any evil thing about someone we despise, and to disbelieve any evil thing about someone we like.

The devil is good at such lies. He lied to Eve with emotional arguments contradicting God’s threats of death and implying that God was selfish with His wisdom Because of his lies, “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; … (Genesis 3:6, CSB)

The great lie in this age of the world -since the resurrection of Christ- is to deny Christ as God and Lord

So it is now, as it was when John wrote, Who is the liar, if not the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This one is the antichrist: the one who denies the Father and the Son.(1 John 2:22, CSB)

So Peter tells us to keep the faith, not based on some emotional reason or other, but because it is true. 16 For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. [referring to the transfiguration] … 18 We ourselves heard this voice [the voce of God] when it came from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Peter saw the glory of Christ revealed. To this is added the eyewitnesses of the resurrection, as Paul wrote of Christ, “that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter, whom we have been reading], then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:4–8, CSB)

There are many who call our faith foolish and reject it because they don’t believe it. They don’t believe it because it convicts us of sin, or it contradicts their humanistic assumptions. But we have the eyewitness accounts of the historical facts.

2. Confirmed by Divine Revelation

Not only did Peter see, but Peter also heard the divine revelation and explanation about the things he saw. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased!”

This is the kind of thing that one never forgets, as Peter clearly shows. Finally we have to deal with the reality that God has revealed truth to mankind that we could not otherwise know. The words here speak of the two natures of Christ, the Jesus is both God and man. They speak of the divine righteousness of Christ, that as God He was without sin, pleasing to God. They speak to the active obedience of Christ, that taking our place as human beings He lived our righteousness for us. This is the revelation of God, one of many.

Since Adam and Eve sinned and died spiritually – were alienated from God, all people are born with the realization that there is a god, but not knowing Him. We cannot reach up to Him, so He reaches out to us through His word. This Bible is therefore  God’s word, and therefore to be believed, as John says, “…The one who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony God has given about his Son. (1 John 5:10, CSB)

3. Fulfilling Ancient Prophecy

The revelations of God through His word have proved true. What Peter saw was what God had foretold through His prophets: 19 We also have the prophetic word strongly confirmed, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

The words of Isaiah were confirmed, that the Savior would be “Stricken, smitten of God and afflicted,” that they “looked on Him who they pierced,” that He “would not suffer corruption” because of the resurrection, that “He would ascend the throne of David forever” in His ascension to rule all things for the good of the church.

Add to this His birth in Bethlehem, His descent from David and Judah and Abraham, His birth to a virgin, and all the rest, and it confirms the reliability of the Scriptures from the time Moses first set pen to papyrus.

Talk about believing and disbelieving as a result of emotion, the detractors of Scripture have to twist into pretzels to dismiss the ancient prophecies. And as for us, you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

In this dismal world in which evil masquerades as good, and lies make every kind of emotional appeal to believe them. In this dismal world where people look to death and deceit to achieve their evil ends, where the innocent die in the womb, and the guilty are held up as noble and good. In this dismal world whose hope is only to die and be done, the prophets are like the lights that prefigure the everlasting dawn of the resurrection, and in the meantime illumine our hearts like the morning star.

4. Inspired by God

We believe the Christian faith, the faith we confess in the creeds because it is true, and because it is drawn from the Bible, which from the time of the ancient prophets is inspired by God. We call this the doctrine of inspiration: The Bible is all inspired (plenary inspiration) down to the very words (verbal inspiration). Peter’s words are just one place where the Bible itself makes this claim. 20 Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The books we have in the Bible aren’t here just because the writers thought it would be a good idea, or give their own slant on them. Men spoke from God according to the Holy Spirit.

So the faith that we believe, that Jesus Christ “was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suf­fered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there He shall come to judge the living and the dead,” yes, that faith is I. Attested by Historical Fact, II. Confirmed by Divine Revelation, III. Fulfilling Ancient Prophecy, and IV. Inspired by God .

That is why you have hope. It’s TRUE!

I know at times we sinfully doubt, our faith is week and we question what God clearly says. At times we are discouraged at the unbelief in the world and may flirt with despair. This, too is forgiven!

Jesus DID live a life of righteousness for you. He DID die your death for you. He DID rise everlasting and immortal from the grave. And so He forgives your sins, gives you His righteousness, and you share in His resurrection.

Wonder and glory and joy eternal! “Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy,” (1 Peter 1:8, CSB)

Finally, you have been given faith in Him and you believe in Him …

BECAUSE IT IS TRUE!

AMEN.

 

By |2021-01-24T19:27:44-07:00January 24th, 2021|Sermons|0 Comments

CHRISTIAN EQUALITY

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CHRISTIAN EQUALITY

 In his sermon of the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Luther speaks of the equality of Christians that is reflected in the 12th chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Christians are unequal in their abilities and circumstances, but they are nevertheless equal in their membership in the body of Christ, in their worth as individuals in Christ.

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 17, 2021, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

Romans 12:3–16 (CSB)

For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the proportion of one’s faith; if service, use it in service; if teaching, in teaching; if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. 10 Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Take the lead in honoring one another. 11 Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit;, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. 13 Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

Dear fellow redeemed: If you are a Christian, then you are the way you are because of whom Christ has made you, by grace, through faith. You are justified, declared innocent before God. You bear the righteousness of Christ because of his life, and you are forgiven because of his atoning death.

By faith you receive what He has given, but that faith that the Spirit works in you is a spiritual life that changes us. Last week, we looked at two sentences that tell how Christians, who are alive in Christ, are different from the unbelieving world. First is our life, and second our worldview.

Today we follow Paul into the details of this. Our life we live for him, according to the gifts Our Lord has given us. This is why this text is a basis of …

CHRISTIAN EQUALITY

  1. Don’t Think You Are Better
  2. Different Gifts
  3. Same Virtues
  1. Don’t Think You Are Better

Paul writes For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as [because] God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. If at this point, you are estimating the measure of faith you have in comparison with someone else, then you weren’t listening. Paul isn’t talking about how much faith you have, but BECAUSE you have a measure faith. Faith is spiritual life. Do you compare how much life you have compared to somebody else? Life cannot be quantified in this sense.

He goes on: Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: Are you thinking of the gifts you have and feeling pretty good about yourself, especially in comparison to others? Then you haven’t been listening. What is the best part of your body? Your pretty eyes, or your smelly feet, or your sweat glands? You need them all, even if your eyes are pretty (or hawk-like, if you are a guy.) Your feet really miss your eyes if you stub your toe in the dark because you cannot see, and your eye suffers plenty if your feet can’t keep you from falling over and smashing your face. And you don’t even want to know what happens to somebody who can’t sweat.

The point is that just as no part of our bodies are better than another, just different, so Christians are of the same value to Christ and the church whatever gifts he has given them.

This truth is rooted in the Biblical teaching of justification and sanctification. When you were brought to faith, you were united with Christ and your life and view of the world were changed. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, CSB) You were justified, declared righteous and innocent, and therefore were sanctified, changed in your life and worldview. It is NOT the other way around. It isn’t that you have achieved such a Christian life that you achieved righteousness. One causes the other. Justification leads to sanctification, not the other way around. Faith receives the gifts God gives, we don’t have the gifts of faith and then faith comes.

2. Different Gifts

Accordingly, the “gifts” Paul speaks of here in the first part of our text are the “charismata,” the gifts of the spirit: prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy. Paul wanted the Roman Christians to know, Christ through Paul wants His church to know, that using the talents you are born with, the Spirit bestows CHARISMATA, spiritual gifts. These are not miraculous gifts, for those are for special circumstances. These are gifts that now, for the Christian, are used in faith and according to THE faith. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the proportion of one’s [THE] faith;

Whatever talent you have is now used in love for God, to His glory, and according to THE faith, the revelation of God. Again, in view of the mercies of God, we live our lives and we understand this world differently as Christians.

Paul then gets specific. If prophecy, use it according to the proportion of one’s [THE] faith; if service, use it in service; if teaching, in teaching; if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness.

Here’s the thing: Our ascended Savior has given talents and abilities for the good of His church and wants you to use them. (He is speaking here about the way we live among Christians; the world is another lesson.) “Prophecy” here means to proclaim God’s words to others, to declare the truth. If you are good at that, as a preacher, as a teacher, as someone having a neighborly conversation over a pizza, or in teaching your kids, do it in faith and according to THE faith, God’s word.

If you are good at serving, that is at creating the social situation that nourishes the body and the fellowship, then do that. In this time of COVID, those who make connections with people are a godsend.

Teaching and explaining God’s word? Then do that.

How are you at exhortation? What’s that? Have you ever known someone who can correct your error without seeming holier than thou, but instead makes you want to correct your errors? Sort of like a good coach, but including the moral dimension. Then do that.

How about giving – enriching lives? Then be generous. How about leading, encouragement, showing the way, then do that. How about showing mercy – being gracious. Then do so without holding anything against someone.

These are all different gifts, and I’m sure Paul wouldn’t call this exhaustive.  Though these gifts are different, we can’t take credit for them any more than we can take credit for blue eyes or brown. They are gifts.

Paul’s point is that we are to use them.

3. Same Virtues

But while we are called to use our different gifts, we all called to exercise the same virtues. We don’t talk about virtues much, do we? It is important for us as Christians to not only know the sins we are to avoid, but the good things to which we are called. Each of the commandments includes both.

As Paul instructs us in our life and worldview he speaks of some of the Christian virtues that we live out especially among Christians: Let love be without hypocrisy. Love everyone the same for the sake of Christ. Detest evil; cling to what is good. “Evil” is “porneia” here, the evil that is appealing. Don’t. Seek virtue

10 Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Don’t be superficial in our love in the church. Let me tell you, as things get tougher for Christians in “this present evil age,” so much hangs upon our having real love and concern for one another.

 Take the lead in honoring one another. Let others know what blessings they are and encourage them in it.

11 Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit;, serve the Lord. Our Christian life is to be deep and meaningful, keeping the Lord in mind and maintaining a Christian worldview. Our faith doesn’t get our leftover energy, but we devote our energy to the Lord.

 12 Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Live life with an eternal perspective. No, you aren’t going to be wealthy, you are going to struggle, but you have the certain hope of eternal riches, so we up with the crosses we bear.

He goes on: 13 Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Nobody among us should go hunger, and all should feel welcome.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what he did when YOU were his enemy.

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. It’s called empathy. Value what your brother or sister is going through and share it with them.

16 Live in harmony with one another. It is more important that we live and work together harmoniously in this congregation than that we do things you way or mine.

So then …  Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Don’t think that you have the best ideas ever, that you have it all figured out and we would be well off if we all just listened to you.

Think about these virtues according to the way you live, and if you have been calculating how you compare to others, then again you haven’t been listening. You aren’t more acceptable to our Lord, because his love for you is based on what He gave you – His righteousness – and what He made you – His child.

You are forgiven, that you your hope.

This is the way that we live until all He has promised, our certain hope, is fulfilled.

AMEN.

By |2021-01-17T17:11:40-07:00January 17th, 2021|Sermons|0 Comments

TWO SENTENCES THAT SET CHRISTIANS APART

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TWO SENTENCES THAT SET CHRISTIANS APART

 The substance of Christianity is the mercy of God, that humanity has been reconciled to God, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is revolutionary. This so far beyond human imagination that no man-made religion has grasped it.

In view of this, Christians are called to a way of living and to a view of the world that is radically different from the unbelieving world, what Paul calls “this present evil age.” So it will always be, since the Christian message is about forgiveness of sins, and the message of this world is about either toleration of evil, or vengeance.

Sermon for the First Sunday after the Epiphany, January 10, 2021, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

Romans 12:1–5 (CSB)
12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Dear fellow redeemed: For eleven chapters now, Paul has been writing of the fallenness of man and of the mercy of God. Our Lord God created this world, including all humanity, but humanity rebelled and worshipped the creation, the creature, rather than the Creator, and so humanity was alienated from God. But (again, in His mercy) God invaded this rebellious territory, lived out our righteousness, atoned for our sins, and has bestowed this righteousness through His word and sacrament, so that through faith we are declared innocent before Him, and heirs of eternal life. So I can declare to you the forgiveness of all your sins.

He sums it up in a hymn of praise:

Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? And who has ever given to God, that he should be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33–36, CSB)

Therefore, because of all this, Paul tells us for the next few chapters how it is that we live in view of God’s mercy, but He introduces all of it in two sentences.

TWO SENTENCES SET THE CHRISTIAN APART

  1. In Living Life
  2. In View of the World
  1. In Living Life

Paul starts out using the language of sacrifice in worship. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.

The aim of sacrifice was to offer to God the bodies of animals such as were pleasing to Him. The books of Moses tell us what kinds of sacrifices they were; it turns out they were the sacrifices that foreshadowed the sacrifice of God’s son for the sins of the world.

The sacrifices didn’t earn forgiveness; that was the pagan idea. The pagans aimed to appease the gods, to get them “off their backs” so as to forge their own destiny. But for the believing Jews, their hope was in the mercy of God, as David sang, Psalm 51:15–17 (NKJV)

15      O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
16For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.

Because the sacrifices of the faithful were a shadow of things to come, and the reality was fulfilled in Christ, there is no more sacrifice for sin. Instead, Paul tell us, our worship involves our whole lives; He has purchased us. So Paul teaches, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Instead of the dead bodies of animals prefiguring the death of Christ, we present our living bodies, reflecting the mercies of God in Life.

Let’s look for a minute at what Paul would have us present to God.

These are our living bodies. This has to do with the way that we live. We live in a world in which worship is divorced from life. The governments of states like Colorado and Washington and Oregon (and others) tell us that we are free to worship as we please, so long as or worship stays in church. The new policy announced by President-elect Biden is that religious objections will no longer be accepted as a reason to refuse to do certain things – like performing a same-sex wedding, or placing children with homosexual couples, or teaching that the natural family is God’s order for the world.

But if, as Paul says there, worship is the way we live, then it will be at odds with the unbelieving world because it is to be “holy and pleasing to God.” How we discern that I will take up in a minute, but the short version is that we live in such a way as to affirm the righteousness of God’s law and also proclaim His mercy. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.

First, the law. God has given every person a conscience, and Paul made it clear that the law of God applies to everyone, whether they have it in written form or not. Therefore, every one of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things.(Romans 2:1, CSB)

But we live in a society right now in which the anti-Christians teach that right and wrong are determined by results, not deeds, and by entitlement (a sense of injury or victimhood), not obedience. So according to modern ethical theory, a poor person with a disability is entitled to certain things, and therefore has moral authority, while a prosperous person without disability is morally inferior, and owes the other person. It’s as though the righteousness or sin is a function of our identity.

But in this first sentence, God tells us that HE owns us, and HE is the ONE to whom all people owe themselves. in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.

Still, the law does not negate God’s mercy. The law shows us our desperate situation, dying and deserving eternal death, so that we might repent and believe the gospel. To reveal the mercy of God was one purpose of the Old Testament worship (as ours today), proclaiming the “Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.”

Living our life as living sacrifices to God isn’t something we do to earn or deserve the mercy of God, but it is in gratitude, “in view of the mercies of God,” that we serve Him. Put simply, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, CSB)

2.  In View of the World

While the first sentence of Paul’s introduction to this part of Romans deals with how we live, the second sentence reveals how we (should) understand the world. We call this our “worldview.” Christ tells us through Paul, Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. I mentioned earlier, we would answer how we discern the way of live that is “holy and pleasing to God.” Here is the answer; it is by not being conformed to this age, but in being transformed, changed, from the old way of viewing the world to the new.

When we become Christians, there is a “renewing of our minds,” we think differently. As Christians we think differently from the unbelievers. This is something that we grow in so as to discern God’s will. Peter, the “specialist” in living counterculturally in this present evil age talks about the deceit rampant in the world and counsels, “Therefore, dear friends, since you know this in advance, be on your guard, so that you are not led away by the error of lawless people and fall from your own stable position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.” (2 Peter 3:17–18, CSB)

So how do we think differently?

We are God’s creatures, not accidents of time, matter and chance.

We are immortal souls with a body, not just animals.

God speaks to all the world through our consciences to admit our wrongs and repent. He speaks to the world through His church, by means of His word and calls all to believe the gospel.

Every moment the world stands is a time of grace, but it will end at the moment the world ends, or at the moment your life ends, and at that moment you will either be covered by Christ’s righteousness, through faith, or be condemned in your sins.

God  is our Lord and has the right to tell us what we should do, and not do, and how we are to be.

We understand that the problems of this world are primarily spiritual and therefore do not have political solutions.

When spiritual issues are concerned, the most important thing about a position is whether it is in accord with Scripture or not.

The most important thing to any person in the world is spiritual life, the life of faith, as Jesus says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36, NKJV)

The building block of society is the nuclear family.

The most important thing about a spouse is that he or she shares the Christian faith with us, and the first thing to seek for a newborn child is his/her baptism into the faith.

We serve God by serving our neighbors, whom He loves.

Each of these statements is rooted in Scripture, and the reason they are important to us is not that we think that we will always understand them correctly or apply them perfectly, but because our hope is in the one who is Himself the Word of God, the perfect revelation of God, Who is our Creator, and has redeemed us to God by His blood. It is because of His mercy and forgiveness that His word and will are important to us in how we live and how we view this world.

AMEN

By |2021-01-10T19:44:38-07:00January 10th, 2021|Sermons|0 Comments

GET READY FOR TROUBLE

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GET READY FOR TROUBLE

 Through His apostle, Peter, Our Lord prepares the church for the world in which we live, particularly in periods of oppression and persecution. Many of our brothers and sisters in the faith are “in the fire” as we speak. Boko Haram carried out deadly attacks again on Christmas, martyring some dozen believers- at least.

The Christian church is countercultural in many ways, but especially in that our hope is ultimately not in this world, but in the resurrection unto eternal life.

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas, January 3, 2021, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

[1] https://news.yahoo.com/boko-haram-kill-villagers-christmas-172143214.html

1 Peter 4:12–19 (CSB)

12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you, as if something unusual were happening to you. 13 Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler. 16 But if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in having that name. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household, and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God?
18 And if a righteous person is saved with difficulty,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?,
19 So then, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator while doing what is good.

Dear fellow redeemed: Through His apostle, Peter, Our Lord prepares the church for the world in which we live, particularly in periods of oppression and persecution. In the section just preceding our text, Peter reinforces what he said in the first chapter, and what we emphasized on New Year’s Eve, namely that as Christians we should love one another graciously, as Christ loves us. This is the way we live in this un-loving, un-Christian world. And then Peter closed with a doxology, a word of praise of our Lord Christ, “… To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:11, CSB)

However something happened right after that. The most common supposition is that he received word from the churches in Asia Minor that things had taken a turn for the worse, and that the “fiery ordeal” that potentially lies in store for every believer was now a reality. It isn’t “if it comes,” but “when it comes.” So Peter adds this postscript to his letter.

The potential is something we should all be aware of, as Jesus made clear, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, CSB) This is to be our mindset as Christians.

GET READY FOR TROUBLE

  1. Suffer It Consciously
  2. Share It
  3. Be Christian about It
  1. Suffer It Consciously

Many of our brothers and sisters in the faith are “in the fire” as we speak. Boko Haram carried out deadly attacks again on Christmas, martyring some dozen believers- at least.[1] It’s become a usual thing. How many of you would have come to worship on Christmas Eve or Christmas day if you knew there were roving gangs shooting up Christian churches and setting fire to them with worshippers inside?

The “fiery ordeal,” however, often comes only at the end of a long campaign of deceit. The devil is above all things a liar. The offensive against the Christian faith in our era takes the form of educational policy, scientism, secularism, and social justice, to mention the most significant.

The offensive doesn’t use physical force so much as group dynamics, the cancelling, ridicule, and marginalization of those who express unpopular truths of Christian faith. Yet we should be neither surprised or despairing. 12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you, as if something unusual were happening to you. 13 Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

Let’s look at the types of deceit in a little more detail:

Educational policy since John  Dewey has dictated that transcendent truth or morality is irrelevant to daily life.[2] By this, public education has been divorced from Biblical truth virtually as a legal requirement. It should be no surprise, then, that generations have grown up ignorant of the claims of Christianity or hostile to them by default.

Scientism, treating science like a religion; secularism, insisting that the Christian faith has no place in the marketplace of ideas; and social justice, saying that equality of outcome is the measure of morality, and not the moral action of the individual, have displaced Christianity in the mind of society.

The problem is that many Christians don’t even know that these are trials of faith. Christianity and secularism live in separate compartments of their minds, so they don’t even realize the contradictions between them. We need to be conscious of the attacks on the Christian faith long before someone torches the church building.

A couple more examples:

Like the free-love movement before it, the LBGT movement isn’t just benign concern for people with different feelings, but an assault on the divine order for humanity to the extent that Christians are open to conviction for living their faith.[3]

Neo-Darwinism, the truly failed attempt to account for the origin of life and of all living things, isn’t really a religiously neutral science, but is itself a materialist religion that has hounded science itself out of schools and the courts.[4]

If we understand these things, we will see the economic sacrifices parents go through to keep their children in Christian schools, or to homeschool them, as part of the soft persecution of the faith. We will recognize the laws that punish those who practice their Christian faith in life, not  just in church, as not-so-soft persecution. We will understand that those who have lost their jobs or their positions in education because of their faith, to me economic martyrs to the truth.

2. Share It

Peter speaks of a dimension of this “fiery ordeal” that we probably don’t think of much. Rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when his glory is revealed. Any struggle because of our faith is part of something greater than all of us. If we follow Christ, He says, we carry a cross as well. Paul says, “The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ—if indeed we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:16–17, CSB) He and Peter are singing from the same hymnal here.

If we all share the trouble with Christ, then we share it with one another as well. This says something about our communion as a church. The world portrays church membership as “belonging, not believing,” as though our unity is in all buying a membership in the same gym or something. But our unity is in sharing faith in the same truth of the Gospel which God has revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures.

3. Be Christian about It

This brings us to the point that Peter really emphasizes. We need to make sure that the Gospel of Christ is out front, and that the trouble we deal with glorifies Him. 14 If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler. 16 But if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in having that name.

The term “Christian” is only used three times in the New Testament, although it came into wide use in the first century Roman world. It was a term of opprobrium. A “Christian” was countercultural, didn’t quite fit in. Though compassionate, practical, charitable, and helpful here and now, the great hope of the Christian is in the resurrection.

In two thing especially the Christian was out of step, the pursuit of status or honor, and the pursuit of vengeance.

This is because of the Gospel, the fundamental truth that has been revealed to the world.

The real problem in this world is sin, disobedience, and death as a result. Because we are sinners we are all born alienated from God and doomed to the same in eternity.

The real solution, the “good news” or “gospel” is that God the Son became the greatest man ever, but He did so by humbling Himself to be the greatest servant – bearing the sin and guilt of the world and the suffering of the damned on the cross. So we find greatness not in status or honor, but in service.

Because of His sacrifice, God graciously offers forgiveness to everyone in the world, without holding our sin against us. So we see one another, not as objects of vengeance, but of mercy.

So dear fellow believers. Get ready for trouble, indeed it is already here. Abide in the truth and so understand why we are at odds with the world. Realize that if we are faithful to Christ, we will face the same rejection He did, and that we are all in this together. And finally make sure that you suffer as a Christian, and for Christ and the gospel, with the humility and mercy of Christ out in front all the time. 19 So then, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator while doing what is good.

AMEN.

[1] https://news.yahoo.com/boko-haram-kill-villagers-christmas-172143214.html

[2] “The process of secularization arises not from the loss of faith but from the loss of social interest in the world of faith. It begins the moment men feel that religion is irrelevant to the common way of life and that society as such has nothing to do with the truths of faith.” -Christopher H. Dawson, Religion and World History, A Selection from the Works of Christopher Dawson https://www.iwp.edu/articles/2018/02/01/the-tragedy-of-american-education-the-role-of-john-dewey/

[3] No time in a 20-minute sermon to fully lay out the argument, but I would love to engage my readers on this.

[4] Ibid.

By |2021-01-03T17:25:37-07:00January 3rd, 2021|Sermons, Uncategorized|0 Comments

THE PEACE PEOPLE CAN’T UNDERSTAND

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THE PEACE PEOPLE CAN’T UNDERSTAND

How can somebody rejoice when they are falsely imprisoned? How can Paul talk about ALWAYS rejoicing (!) when he knows the world is so full of trouble and trial? It’s something that people, apart from God’s word, cannot understand; it “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.”

What God’s word reveals, however is a reality that transcends emotion. I put it this way: “God loves you and is near to you whether you feel like it today or not!”

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2020, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

Philippians 4:4–7 (CSB)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Dear fellow redeemed: I have been grouping the texts for this advent season under the heading, “THE CHRISTIAN IN THE MIDST OF GRACE.” As Christians we live in awareness of something that the world doesn’t see, that is seen only by faith, and that is the undeserved, unmerited love of God for us, because of Christ.

Paul’s situation as he writes this epistle is a living example of it. He is in prison, falsely accused, and just one legal misunderstanding away from losing his head, literally. But … Living in God’s unmerited love, because of Christ, we can rejoice in any circumstances, knowing that the Lord is near and will save us.

THE CHRISTIAN LIVING IN THE MIDST OF GRACE

 WE REJOICE, FOR THE LORD IS NEAR

  1. Rejoice in the Transcendent Reality
  2. The Nearness of Christ Instills Grace
  3. Prayer + Faith Gives Peace
  1. Rejoice in the Transcendent Reality

Now first understand that this is not the bogus self-help advice that many make it, as in “Don’t worry! Be happy.” Some would have you believe that you aren’t really a Christian unless you are on an emotional high, whatever happens. That’s absurd! What about Jesus’ anguish in Gethsemane, pleading to be spared the cross? Not a good Christian was he? What about Paul writing in his second letter to Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close.” (2 Timothy 4:6, CSB) Didn’t he get this memo?

We see the kind of rejoicing Paul is talking about in his final imprisonment. “At my first defense, no one stood by me, but everyone deserted me. … The Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever! Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:16–18, CSB) He says that in his first hearing before the court nobody would stand up for him. He predicts that this case will end in his death, and his entry into heaven.

So the rejoicing Paul talks about deals with reality, not with mere feelings. There is a joy in knowing that even in death we have life. In this you can rejoice. In a similar context, Paul sums up the perspective of the Christian. “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7, CSB)

Our sight is limited in that it cannot see ultimate truth. Take the crucifixion of Christ. What did Jesus’ disciples see? The death of their friend, lord, teacher, mentor- the death of the One they hoped to bring in some kind of kingdom on earth. But by faith they could have seen the Lamb of God taking away the world’s sins. They could have seen in his ascension the ascent to the Throne of David, and His establishment of the everlasting kingdom that is His church. Faith rising from the Word of God reveals the truth. IF they had the eyes of faith, they would have seen the truth.

So Paul can say, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!The Lord is near. He is near as Lord over the universe, as Lord over the nations, as Lord over the church, and as the Lord of life who will return on the last day of this world. He is near in His word and sacraments, and in His eagerness to hear our prayers.

2. The Nearness of Christ Instills Grace

The nearness of Christ bolsters our faith in His grace. There are many ways Scripture speaks of His nearness to us. He promises, “…  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:20, CSB) “He himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.” (Hebrews 13:5, CSB) In fact, He dwells with us in what we call the mystical union, “Jesus answered, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23, CSB)

Again, this isn’t some sort of vague exercise in “feelings.” Christ’s presence isn’t something we find inside ourselves; we find it in our baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, and in His word. And what do all these reveal? The unmerited love of God for you- His grace.

In your baptism, Jesus joins with you in His death and resurrection to atone for your sins. “Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3–4, CSB)

In the word of God He assures you of your forgiveness so that, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1, CSB)

In His Holy Supper He reminds us that He is not with us just individually, but as a church, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, since all of us share the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17, CSB)

He is near to us to forgive us, and to shine through us to the world, as Paul says, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

3. Prayer + Faith Gives Peace

Again, the nearness of Christ is not something we see, as such, but something we know by faith that the Holy Spirit instills through His word. The faith that receives and trusts in Christ’s forgiveness responds in prayer and finds peace in His promises. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

That’s a pretty tough expectation, isn’t it? “Don’t worry,” when our very body is created to respond to danger with the fight or flight response. Jesus sweat like blood over what lay ahead of him. Here’s the thing: We aren’t talking about normal physical reactions here, but our soul’s peace. This is peace that is “beyond all understanding.” It is peace that is there even when our mind and body are in turmoil.

Let’s say you leave the doctor’s office after the biopsy, waiting for the results. Cancer.

Let’s say you suddenly lose your sense of taste and get short of breath.

Let’s  say the government announces another restriction on your business that threatens your livelihood.

Let’s say that you get a letter from an attorney threatening suit.

You can probably imagine a half-dozen anxiety/worry – producing scenarios.

First remember with thanks the times you have been rescued from disaster, the times you got well, paid your bills, found a job, and so on. Then with thanks speak in your petitions to our Savior, with your heartfelt needs and requests. And remember He is near with His promises. His promises aren’t that your life will be without trouble, but that in this dying world, there is a promise of resurrection and everlasting life. He answers prayer, so things may all go well (clean bill of health, paid bills – – – or not. Paul prayed for deliverance from Nero’s hate, but things didn’t start out well, and he concluded, The Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.

This is the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,  and will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. It isn’t the peace of a Pollyanna who cannot endure calamity, but it is the peace that stands guard over our hearts and minds and truly makes sense of this world for it is rooted in the truth God gives us in His word.

For contrast, just think of a sign we see around lately. “IT WILL ALL BE OK.” It’s about the year 2020 in general and COVID in particular. For the unbeliever that is a pretty empty declaration. Will it all be OK, or will you get sick? Will you die? And if this life is all there is, then what hope is there? There are all the dreams unfulfilled, all the regrets left over, and all the guilt to burden the heart. What peace is there?

But as Christians we have the peace promised by the One who died our death for us to atone for all our guilt, who rose from the dead to defeat death, and who ascended into heaven so that He could be near each one of us, speak through His word, hear our prayers, and deliver us from death to life. There is true peace that is by faith, and it is there even when we are in trouble and turmoil, the peace that surpasses all understanding.

So then … Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

AMEN.

By |2020-12-20T17:41:05-07:00December 20th, 2020|Sermons|0 Comments

REVEALING “WHODUNIT”

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REVEALING “WHODUNIT”

– THE BLESSING OF FAITHUL PASTORS

Paul said this about the apostles and pastors, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” So what are the mysteries of God? Just as in a mystery by Agatha Christie, and you don’t know “whodunit” until she reveals it at the end of the book, the mysteries of God are those things that we don’t know unless He reveals them to us. Some things about God are obvious, Paul says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,(Romans 1:19–20, NKJV)

On the other hand, we automatically don’t know about God’s mercy, or how He saves us from sin and death.  That is a mystery. It has to be revealed. That’s what faithful pastors do.

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2020, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

1 Corinthians 4:1–5 (ESV)

4 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

Dear fellow redeemed: Our gospel lesson mentions that people went out into the wilderness to get a glimpse of John.  There they subjected him to their criticism as well as their curiosity.  Paul warns us in this epistle of the tendency  to subject the office of the ministry to human standards – the standards of the unbelieving world

That would be terrible for you!

Who but Christ knows what you will face on the last day?  Who but Christ knows the agony of soul that you might face on your death-day? Who but Christ is the perfect revelation of God for what you really need for eternal life? Faithful Pastors prepare their people for the return of Christ.

According to human standards John, and Christ’s pastors, are supposed to be reeds blowing in the wind, bowing to the latest sociological trends.  According to human standards they are to wear fine clothes and tell us how to get ahead in the world – something like a cross between Oprah, a life coach, and a savvy financial advisor.

But in this word Christ has given words of warning and comfort that faithful pastors bring to people like you and me, so that we are ready to greet our Savior joyfully as He comes to us.  Such is …

THE CHRISTIAN IN THE MIDST OF GRACE (having)
THE BLESSING OF FAITHFUL CHRISTIAN PASTORS

  1. According to Christ’s Institution
  2. Stewards of the Mysteries of God
  3. Preparing for the Coming of Christ
  1. According to Christ’s Institution

Just prior to this point in his letter to the Corinthians, a congregation troubled by divisions and constantly critical people, Paul had disputed and challenged the Corinthians’ idea that they had things all figured out. “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….(1 Corinthians 3:18–19, ESV)

This led to a discussion of the pastor’s office. Proud people need to understand that the office has been instituted by Christ. 4 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. This is significant in several ways.

First, they are servants of Christ, and not of people. I can’t remember how many times people have asked me to confirm their “great new idea” or approve their condemnation (or sanction for that matter) of others’ actions. My reply: “I don’t get to say what you want me to say.”

Second, they are, under their Master, in charge of the mysteries of God. This is the gospel in word and sacrament. Like a “whodunit,” where you don’t know who did it until the author reveals it, in a far more significant way the gospel reveals the salvation that nobody knows naturally, but can only be known through the gospel. There is only one right answer as to how we have been saved.

Third, all human views of the ministry, ideas that reflect human reason and no Scripture are just wrong. The pastor isn’t a social worker, a life coach, a moral policeman, a therapist, or a religious philosopher. He isn’t a CEO, a marketer, or an actor. He is Christ’s servant to you.[1]

2.   Stewards of the Mysteries of God

For “steward” or “manager” Paul uses the word οἰκονόμους, which referred to a slave who superintended the master’s affairs. Jesus uses the term in a picture of those who feed the church until His return, “And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, [steward] whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?” (Luke 12:42, ESV)

Of all the things needed of stewards, the most important is that they are faithful, as Paul writes here in our text, Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

And if they are faithful, Paul says we should leave the evaluation (judgment) of the stewards to the Lord: But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

This may sound like, “Don’t you dare question me!” But that isn’t the case. First, Paul, as an apostle, was preserved from error. He had told the Corinthians earlier, “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:13, ESV)

[Second] Those words taught by the spirit of God are normative, so our pastors are bound to the confession of those words, such as we see in the Apostles’, Athanasian, and Nicene Creeds, and in the Catechism, the Augsburg Confession, and the other confessions of the church.

[Third]  The point is that pastors are not hired and fired, and a pastor is not judged by anybody, including himself, according to what pleases people, but according to God’s word. Both pastor and people need to abide by this word of God through Paul: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28, NKJV) Placed in the church by the Holy Spirit, the burden of faithfulness is plenty heavy, without trying to appease people’s opinions.

People also need to see the pastor as holding a sacred trust, and not just as a hired man.  Yet there are those who resent his spiritual oversight, and when he must speak the truth in love, they criticize him for being so insistent upon the word and are more ready to tell him what to teach than to listen to what he teaches.

To people like that, Paul says, . But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. It is a sad and tragic thing to reject in pride the counsel of a faithful pastor, as Hebrews says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17, ESV)

After all, it is the Lord of the Church himself who has the final say: Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

3.   Preparing for the Coming of Christ

This is so important to understand. Who are we, after all, to judge someone else’s servant, as Paul put it, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4, ESV)

I think of the man who has a genuine and valid call to a congregation. “The Holy Spirit has made him overseer.” But on the ranking of pastors, some people might give him a C or C-. Nothing higher.

The important thing is to warn sinners that our sin really damns us, and to let Christ Himself come through His word to comfort the crushed and repentant with the assurance of forgiveness and reconciliation.  If the pastor has done that, elegantly or not, he has done well.

Now this is a pretty convicting text for you and for me.  I cannot help but think of all my shortcomings in bringing Christ’s words of warning sharply enough and clearly enough and His words of comfort and forgiveness sweetly enough and concretely enough.

And you in the flock should consider if there have been times when, rather than listen to the pastor and how Christ’s words apply to you, you sat in judgment of the pastor and his message.

Perhaps this is why God sent men instead of angels to speak the words of reconciliation, for together we kneel and confess our sins, and together we take comfort in the words of comfort and forgiveness.  And together we say, along with that faithful pastor, Paul Gerhardt,

Guilt no longer can distress me;
Son of god, Thou my load
Bearest to release me.
Stain in me Thou findest never;
I am clean, All my sin
Is removed forever.

Dearest Lord, Thee will I cherish,
Though my breath Fail in death,
Yet I shall not perish,
But with thee abide forever
There on high, In that joy
Which can vanish never.

AMEN.

By |2020-12-13T17:01:23-07:00December 13th, 2020|Sermons|0 Comments