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

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

HOW CHRISTMAS MAKES CHILDREN OF GOD

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HOW CHRISTMAS MAKES CHILDREN OF GOD

 It is hard to think of how we are like debtor-slaves, sold to pay our debt-price, and then bought up on the slave market- not as slaves, but to be adopted as sons and daughters. But that’s the way it was when the fullness of time came and God sent His son to be our redeemer.

Sermon for the First Sunday of Christmas, December 27, 2020, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

Galatians 4:1–7 (CSB)

4 Now I say that as long as the heir is a child, he differs in no way from a slave, though he is the owner of everything. Instead, he is under guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were in slavery under the elements of the world. When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir.

 

Dear fellow redeemed: Our Gospel lesson today tells of Mary and Joseph fulfilling three commands given in Moses’ law: (1) On the eighth day, Jesus was circumcised and given the name “Jesus,” which means “Savior.” (2) On the 33rd day Mary was ceremonially purified, and (3) Jesus was presented to the Lord and redeemed.

Each of these was significant, especially the first and the last. (1) By circumcision, Jesus entered into the covenant that God made with Abraham, choosing him and his descendants as the bearers of His word in the world. (2) By her purification, Mary was obedient to the ceremonial law. (3) The presentation and redemption of Jesus pointed back to the Passover, at which all the firstborn males in Egypt died, except that God spared the Jews who put the blood of the lamb above and beside their doors. Because God did not take them in death, they belonged to Him, and therefore needed to be paid for. It made them remember their status as the people belonging to God.

Think of what that means, to belong to God, because that is what our Epistle lesson is about also.

In the churches of Galatia, spread about the south-central region of the Roman province of Asia, rivals of Paul and the apostles had come in who had a great appreciation for what it meant to be the people of God, and they looked at things like these rules as the way in which people could become the people of God.

What a thing to aspire to! What a reason to be observant of the laws of Moses! But in fact they missed the point completely. I can tell you that YOU are people of God, not because of what you have done, but because of what Christ has done for you, and He has made you His children by faith. So then let me tell you how through the birth of Christ,  …

CHRISTMAS HAS MADE YOU A CHILD OF GOD

  1. Your Status as a Child of God
  2. How You Got Here
  1. Your Status as a Child of God

God created families. He decreed that a man and a woman would participate with him in the creation of new human life, and that this would bring into being a wonderful relationship of husband and wife, blessed to be Father and Mother to sons and daughters. Parents, especially Fathers, have responsibilities, and sons and daughters have privileges. The Bible uses the term “son” rather than “child” or “children” because of this relationship. I can call anybody a child, but in all the world only five people my son or my daughter.

You are a son/daughter of God because you have been adopted into God’s family. A price was paid for you. You were redeemed. When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. We will talk about that more in a minute, but let’s talk about how you didn’t get here.

Paul presents us with a picture of a child. 4 Now I say that as long as the heir is a child, he differs in no way from a slave, though he is the owner of everything. Instead, he is under guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.

Paul is poking holes in the arguments of the rival teachers who said that by keeping the rules we could become people of God. What made this child a son or heir? Was it the way he was subordinate? Or was he subordinate because he was a son? The child was a son because he was born to his father, and therefore under guardians and trustees. (When I was a child I didn’t do chores to become a son. As a son I had chores to do.)

In the previous chapter, Paul had made the point that Abraham became a son of God by God’s promise to him, and the Spirit’s gift of faith. “So then, does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law? Or is it by believing what you heard—just like Abraham who believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness?” (Galatians 3:5–6, CSB) And so the observant Jews became Abraham’s children – God’s sons – also by faith in the promise. It was 400 years later, under Moses that the rules were given to the people who were already the children of God!

Paul went on, “You know, then, that those who have faith, these are Abraham’s sons.” (Galatians 3:7, CSB) God acts to make you sons/daughters of God by faith.

Think about what this means. Whatever your situation in this world, by faith you are a child of God. It means you can come to Him as a dear child comes to a dear father. It means that whatever your situation in this world, God has entered into this world to save you. It means that you have an inheritance in heaven. It means that you have a place prepared for you there, for all things are yours.

2.    How You Got Here

The rivals who thought they became the children of God by their works really were exchanging sonship for slavery, weren’t they? They confused the obedience that showed they were sons, with the means to becoming sons. But their slavery was to the law of Moses. In the case of the gentiles, In the same way we also, when we were children, were in slavery under the elements of the world.

The “elements of the world” probably means all of the desires of this world, all of the temptations, all of the things which humanity loves, or fears, or trusts, all of the things that are in conflict with the truth, God’s word. Unlike the Jews, who thought righteousness, goodness, and salvation could be found in obedience to the laws of Moses, the gentiles are enslaved to the things of this world in their search for heaven on earth.

We certainly see it in our day, as people seek acceptance and power and a wonderful new world by rejecting the family and seeking “self-actualization” (selfish whims). They seek a new world order in which benevolent experts plan out our lives “for our own good,” and in which people of faith are accused of anti-science superstition. Essentially, it is the belief that the material world is all that there is.

The Jews did not find life and salvation in their observance of the law, nor do the secularists and humanists find peace and joy in their enslavement to the elements of this world. The Jews did not become the sons of God by the law, nor did the gentiles find life and light through unbelief.

Instead God invaded this world at Christmas and He made us sons & daughters. When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir.

The term “redemption” had many uses in Paul’s world. Essentially it means “buy back.” In the ancient world those in debt had their possessions sold, and then even themselves, sold on the slave-market to pay the debt. If someone stepped in to pay the debt, they then redeemed or “bought back” the debtor as their slave.

What we owe before God’s justice is perfect righteousness, and the debt to be paid is death. Jesus entered this world, under this law, to live out our righteousness and to die our death. Thus he paid the price, fulfilled the debt, and redeemed us all.

But it didn’t stop there. He redeemed us. He bought us back NOT to make us HIS slaves, but to ADOPT us as sons/daughters.  …so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir.

We are joint-heirs, brothers and sisters, with Christ. His holiness is ours. His resurrection is ours. The love of the Father for Him is also ours. His life is ours. His glory is ours. It all started at Christmas, when “the time came to completion,” at the birth of Jesus, the Christ. In this way, CHRISTMAS HAS MADE YOU A CHILD OF GOD

AMEN.

By |2020-12-27T17:45:11-07:00December 27th, 2020|Sermons|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

DO YOU EVEN KNOW YOU NEED IT?

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THE GREATEST GIFT MOST DON’T EVEN KNOW THEY NEED

Did you see the protestor sign on the news recently? – I Demand Forgiveness and I Want It NOW!!!!

Neither did I.

That’s because all the clamoring demands have nothing to do with the root cause of our problems – plain old sin.
So what does a paralyzed man need? You would think it would be healing. Yes, but Jesus doesn’t go for halfway measures; He doesn’t just fix him up for a while. He goes all the way. He says, “Have courage, son, your sins are forgiven.”

Here is why that’s a better gift – – – Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, October 18, 2020, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

Matthew 9:1–8 (CSB)

9 So he got into a boat, crossed over, and came to his own town. Just then some men brought to him a par­alytic lying on a stretcher. Seeing their faith, Jesus told the paralytic, “Have courage, son, your sins are for­given.”

At this, some of the scribes said to themselves, “He’s blaspheming!”

Perceiving their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why are you thinking evil things in your hearts? For which is eas­ier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then he told the paralytic, “Get up, take your stretcher, and go home.” So he got up and went home. When the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and gave glory to God, who had given such authority to men.

Dear fellow redeemed: There are lots of demands be­ing made these days. Questions to politicians, demands from demonstrators (and rioters). I don’t think there is a news pro­gram without someone waving a sign at the camera.

All of these hopes, these demands, some trivial, some not, have been in the news.  We want this, we want that, we demand this, we demand that.  But I have yet to hear of any­one walking around, carrying a poster saying, “I want the for­giveness of sins.”

It was the same in Jesus’ day.  It was actually shocking for His first words to this man to be, “Have courage, Son, your sins are forgiven.” You see, forgiveness of sins is

THE GREATEST GIFT YOU DON’T KNOW YOU NEED

  1. Sin Is Our Problem in This World
  2. Forgiveness Is the Solution
  3. It is Freely Given
  1. Sin Is Our Problem in This World

Listen, THE problem in this world is sin. I’m not just be­ing a mossy old moralist. Scripture teaches it.

First, sin is the problem directly. I think of the hard times in which I have comforted people.

People crushed by gossipy, self-righteous, disapprov­ing busy-bodies.

The agony of alienation when a spouse is unfaithful.

The betrayal and enslavement of pornography.

The physical and emotional scars of anger.

The lives wrecked through drunkenness or drug use.

Parents watching their kids ruining their futures by lazi­ness in school.

Children broken by their parent’s breaking their mar­riage vows.

The way people blame others for their own wrongdo­ing. Blame and then hate.

Every commandment broken hurts someone, including ourselves. Sin has direct consequences.

But second, sin is the problem indirectly. Much trouble in life isn’t a consequence of some sin of ours, but because of our sinfulness. Why is there death in the world, sickness, age, suffering, famine, infirmity, hunger, and the like? Because of sin generally. Jesus says in Luke 13 that whenever we see tragedy or injury, we should repent of our own sins.

And there is also judgment at times, as Paul says, “And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right. They are filled with all unright­eousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gos­sips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, un­trustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. Although they know God’s just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die—they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them.(Romans 1:28–32, CSB) Do you think our age will escape the judgment of God for our kill­ing of the unborn, the perversion of marriage, or the blas­phemy against the true and living God?

And death is in the world because of sin. “Therefore, just as 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)

2. Forgiveness Is the Solution

So, if sin is the problem, then the solution is our salvation from sin. That means that Christ, is not just our salvation from this moral abstraction, sin, but from all of the trouble that is in our lives, as Paul writes, “If by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who re­ceive the over­flow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.(Romans 5:17, CSB)

This is why Jesus did not come working “signs in the heavens” as the Jews demanded, but He began the unravelling of sorrow that sin brought into the world, the unravelling that will be complete in the resurrection. Only the One who conquers sin, the devil, and evil itself, only the One who can “undo our guilt” so to speak, can undo the curse of sin in the world.

Here Jesus looks upon the paralyzed man. Maybe he had suffered a stroke, maybe a spinal injury, maybe he was born with problems. It doesn’t matter. Mark and Luke tell us that he was lowered to Jesus down through the roof, but Matthew wants us to focus on the essentials. What the man most needed was forgiveness, for with forgiveness comes righteousness, and with righteousness comes salvation, and with salvation comes the resurrection unto eternal life.

This is what we need, for as Jesus said, “Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good things, to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of condemnation.(John 5:28–29, CSB) In giving this man forgiveness and righteousness, Jesus was giving him eventual salvation from this world and all its troubles.

3.   It is Freely Given

And He has given it to you as well. You have to wait because He is allowing this sin-cursed world to stand so that the sinners in it may yet be saved. You and I can only enjoy the perfection of the righteous in the resurrection. But in giving you the gift of forgiveness, the cure of all your troubles is promised by Christ’s words, and received by faith.

Matthew does an intriguing little thing in our text, as the Holy Spirit inspired him. He knows that we have problems believing these things. It is easy for us to focus on what is wrong in our lives rather than on the joy that is promised and is coming to us in the resurrection.

Here Mathew contrasts the faith of the paralytic and his friends with the unbelief of the scribes. These friends bring the paralytic and Seeing their faith, Jesus told the paralytic, “Have courage, son, your sins are for­given.”

The Scribes thought He was blaspheming God, by pretending to do what only God can do. [Seeing] their [evil] thoughts, Jesus said, “Why are you thinking evil things in your hearts?

Seeing that they had faith in Him – saving faith in Him as the Messiah – Jesus gave the man what we all most need. Actually, He said, “Your sins are being forgiven.” The Greek tense tells us that this wasn’t a transaction, but an ongoing thing because of their faith.

But the Jews did not believe in Him as the Messiah.

Because forgiveness, life, and salvation our ours by faith, unbelief is the rejection of this gift. So for the Jews and for us in out struggles and doubts, Jesus didn’t create a sign in the sky, make lightning strike or the moon turn to blood (that’s coming). He did in this instance what He will do for all of us in the resurrection. He gave the man the gift of perfect and complete healing.

In doing so He doesn’t ask “What is harder to DO,” but “What is harder to SAY.” The gift of forgiveness comes by faith, so He could say what He wants and who will know if it is true. But the gift of healing is testable, visible, indisputable. So He went put it this way:, For which is eas­ier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then he told the paralytic, “Get up, take your stretcher, and go home.” So he got up and went home. When the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and gave glory to God, who had given such authority to men.

Do you know now what becomes yours with the words, “I forgive you all your sins?” The forgiveness of sins, for sure, because those are the words, not of man, but of God, for Christ declared, “…, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” After saying this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”(John 20:21–23, CSB)

But that is not all, for you receive also life and salvation, because just as death came by Adam and his sin, life and salvation come by Christ and His righteousness. So understand that whenever you hear the gospel promises, or consider your baptism, or partake of Holy Communion, you receive not only forgiveness and righteousness, but the life, health, strength, and eternal joy that is in store for the righteous, the justified, the saints.

So, take courage, dear one, your sins are forgiven, therefore also the resurrection unto eternal life.

AMEN: This is most certainly true.

By |2020-10-18T18:31:54-07:00October 18th, 2020|Sermons|0 Comments

CAN YOU MAKE PEOPLE BE GOOD?

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CAN YOU MAKE PEOPLE BE GOOD?

How powerful is a law? Some think that laws are so powerful they can make people be good. I even watched a legislative session (in Illinois) in which the State Representative insisted that just by passing a law against a certain behavior, people would stop doing it. They didn’t.

In today’s sermon text, an expert in the Torah, the books of Moses, tested Jesus as to what law was the greatest. The implication was that by knowing this law a person could keep it and make up for other failings and become righteous. Jesus responded by pointing to the overarching law of love: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and most important command. 39 The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

Though this surely is the greatest command, it is not a path to righteousness for us, for the law has no power to make us good.

Christ is our righteousness!

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, October 11, 2020, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

Matthew 22:34–46 (CSB)

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. 35 And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test him: 36 “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”

37 He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind., 38 This is the greatest and most important command. 39 The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself., 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

41 While the Pharisees were together, Jesus questioned them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

They replied, “David’s.”

43 He asked them, “How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’:

44 The Lord declared to my Lord,

‘Sit at my right hand

until I put your enemies under your feet’?,,

45 “If David calls him ‘Lord,’ how, then, can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to answer him at all, and from that day no one dared to question him anymore.

Dear fellow redeemed: Matthew was one of the original apostles, as well as the writer of this Gospel. He was Jewish and wrote especially for a Jewish audience, people who had been brought up in the synagogue and knew about the Messiah, the Christ, which are (respectively) the Hebrew and Greek terms for The Anointed One.

He records much of the teaching of Jesus, as in this section of the book that both shows Jesus to be the Divine Messiah and includes what He reveals to us of God.

The Jews are opposed to Him because of their unbelief– their unbelief regarding salvation and their unbelief regarding the Messiah. Jesus had just confounded the Sadducees and their disbelief in the resurrection, and here He proclaims two truths that confound the Pharisees, the first being the law of God, and the second being the nature of the Messiah, our Savior. These are …

TWO TRUTHS ON WHICH SALVATION DEPENDS

  1. The RIGHTEOUSNESS of God
  2. The Righteousness of GOD

 

  1. The RIGHTEOUSNESS of God

You need to know some background about the question that the expert in the law brings to Jesus,  “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” Now, you probably think of “law” as “ten commandments.” But to the Pharisees, “Law” meant the “Torah,” the five books of Moses, and the “command in the law” meant the rules ranging from circumcision to observance of the Sabbath, to dietary laws, to laws pertaining to the temple, and to sacrifices. Implicit in the question is the idea that one who could keep the greatest laws might make up for transgressions against the lesser laws, and so be righteous.

Jesus’ reply was quick and specific: 37 He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind., 38 This is the greatest and most important command. 39 The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself., 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

This is the heart and core of Gods will, love. Love God and love your neighbor. Nothing makes up for this. If you do not love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and truly love your neighbor, desiring for him/her what you desire for yourself, then no keeping of any other part of the law can make up for it: No “good works,” no special efforts, no sacrifices.

The Lord’s Prophets had dealt with this thinking in the past. The Prophet Hosea went all the way back to the disobedience of Adam to make the point. For I desire faithful love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. But they, like Adam, have violated the covenant; there they have betrayed me. (Hosea 6:6–7, CSB) Isaiah  begins his book with a whole section on it. Some excerpts: “What are all your sacrifices to me?” asks the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings and rams and the fat of well-fed cattle; I have no desire for the blood of bulls, lambs, or male goats…. “Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from my sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause.” (from Isaiah 1:10-20, CSB)

Hope lies only in the mercy of God, as David expressed in His song of confession, For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:16–17, NKJV) So also Isaiah expressed the mercy of God, again in chapter 1, . “Come, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are crimson red, they will be like wool.

Yet it is part of our sinful human nature to think that by the law we can become righteous. God’s Law is good because its threats can curb and punish wrong, it can show us our sin, and for those who repent and want to do the right thing, it can be a guide.

But it has no power. You can’t make people want to do good just by telling them. Youngsters the world over have been told to keep their room neat and clean; how has that worked? “Don’t drink and drive. It’s the Law.” Has everyone who has been told that, do that? Of course not.

Righteousness cannot be by the law. “Is the law therefore contrary to God’s promises? Absolutely not! For if the law had been granted with the ability to give life, then righteousness would certainly be on the basis of the law. (Galatians 3:21, CSB)

It is also part of our sinful nature to think that we can create goodness in the world by passing laws. This is a modern form of idolatry. Putting our fear, trust, and even love into government or political heroes rather than fearing God above all.  The best “experts” in the world cannot instill honesty, industry, selflessness, moderation, self-control, and the other virtues in people by their clever laws.

That is not the path to righteousness in the heart or perfection in societies.

2. The Righteousness of GOD

Where, then, is our hope?

Jesus takes the Pharisees away from their consideration of how THEY could find the “greatest command” in the law that would enable them to secure righteousness. As we read Matthew, the shift seems abrupt, and so it might have seemed to the Pharisees, who were still there. 41 While the Pharisees were together, Jesus questioned them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

They replied, “David’s.”

That was a question seemingly any Jewish child could answer. The long-expected king would be descended from David, the greatest king. There was a lot of speculation about what this king and kingdom would be like. As in our own day, people brought up their own ideas. (MY Jesus is …)

But Jesus brought them back to Scripture, 43 He asked them, “How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’:

44 The Lord declared to my Lord,

‘Sit at my right hand

until I put your enemies under your feet’?,,

45 “If David calls him ‘Lord,’ how, then, can he be his son?”

This wasn’t idle speculation, it was the INSPIRED word of David, the king and prophet. It was axiomatic that descendants would respect their forebears. But how is this that David calls his own descendant “Lord”? And more, this descendant would sit at the right hand of God and rule over his enemies.

You know why this is, for the one descended of David through Mary is at the same time the only-begotten Son of God. While we must have the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God, if we are to have fellowship with God, it must become ours because of the righteousness of GOD, that is, the righteousness of this Christ, this Messiah. “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) Written over centuries by dozens of inspired prophets, the Scriptures teach this same thing. As Jeremiah put it, speaking of this Christ: “In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. This is the name he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23:6, CSB)

And He has come to you, as you have come to know Christ, the most wonderful thing of all, as Paul writes, “But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. 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 3:7–9, CSB)

Love God; love your neighbor. It is the perfect and holy command of our Lord and God. But it is something we cannot do. So there was one anointed, chosen to atone for our sins and to bring the righteousness of God into this world. No wonder David called Him “Lord.” And so too shall we.

AMEN.

By |2020-10-11T18:47:52-07:00October 11th, 2020|Sermons|0 Comments

WE NEED A TRULY GOOD NEIGHBOR

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We Need a Truly Good Neighbor

With the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus takes up the question, “Who is my neighbor.” The question was asked by a lawyer wanting to justify himself for not loving as he should. At first it seems the answer is clear: Even the John Doe who was mugged and thrown naked in the ditch is a neighbor to whom we should show mercy. But wait! That isn’t the question Jesus raises. He asks, “[Who] do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The answer to this question is “The one who showed mercy to him,” the Samaritan.

This raises the question, “who is like that?” This is a parable, after all, so whom does the Samaritan represent, and who is the poor wretch in the ditch?

The Samaritan is Christ, you and I are the wretch, and His perfect mercy saves us.

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, September 6, 2020, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

Luke 10:23–37 (CSB)
23 Then turning to his disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see the things you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see the things you see but didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear but didn’t hear them.”

25 Then an expert in the law stood up to test him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the law?” he asked him. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.”,
28 “You’ve answered correctly,” he told him. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus took up the question and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. 34 He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’
36 “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
37 “The one who showed mercy to him,” he said.
Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”

Dear fellow redeemed: The parable of the Good Samaritan comes up perhaps more often than usual in our Bible History books, books on the Life of Christ, and in the lessons chosen for our Sunday sermons. It gets quoted a lot also in popular religion, for its “do-gooder” character. Any difficulty in understanding this parable comes, not from some complexity or lack of clarity, but from the way that it reverses the human way of thinking. It starts out with the necessity that we be a good neighbor, and ends up making the point of how absolutely and completely …

WE NEED A GOOD NEIGHBOR

  1. It’s What We’re Supposed to Be
  2. It’s What Christ Is for You and Me
  1. It’s What We’re Supposed to Be

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Luke recounts the powerful invasion of this world by the Lord of Life. Jesus has sent out the 72 to preach the gospel and they had power to heal, to cast out demonic spirits, and to proclaim the gospel, the good news that humanity is reconciled to God. It is all about Christ as the unique Savior of mankind. What a thing for these disciples to experience! 23 Then turning to his disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see the things you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see the things you see but didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear but didn’t hear them.”

But in contrast, next comes a man, an expert in the law, which meant the Torah, the books of Moses. He did not see Jesus as the pivotal figure in history, but saw himself as the one that must DO the thing that would save him. 25 Then an expert in the law stood up to test him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the law?” he asked him. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.”,
28 “You’ve answered correctly,” he told him. “Do this and you will live.”

This is what we all do when confronted with the law, unless our heart is changed to faith. The law says, “Love God perfectly in every way, and also your neighbor.” Love perfectly, or you will be damned. Lest we despair, we look for some righteousness in our selves. This man looked for hope in a carful parsing of the law. 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Ah, so long as my neighbor is lovable, that might work. Pick the right neighbor and we just might love  such a person. Let’s see if Jesus will give us some wiggle-room to show that we are really righteous. 30 Jesus took up the question and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers.

There is a lot packed into the story, the significance of the priest and the Levite, but Jesus tells us more about the Samaritan. 33 But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. 34 He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’

The Samaritan.  Arguably at risk to himself he tends the man’s wounds and disinfects them.  At great personal inconvenience, expense and exertion he gives him a ride, gets him set up in an inn, pays the bill out into the future, and obligates himself to further care and concern.

THAT is the kind of neighbor we are to be, even to our enemies. If the lawyer thought he could justify himself by quibbling about the definition of “neighbor,” he was clearly wrong.  Our neighbor is anyone with whom we have any connection who needs our love and compassion.  Who of us hasn’t failed to love our neighbor? Remember, over all of this hangs the man’s question, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

He  answered his own question, “Love God and my neighbor.”  So who was his neighbor?

36 “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
37 “The one who showed mercy to him,” he said.
Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”

And we should. Really, we who have been the objects of God’s grace should be models of compassion where God has placed us in life. But we haven’t

2. It’s What Christ Is for You and Me

What can we “do” to gain eternal life when perfection eludes us? Has Christ left the man without hope, with only the condemnation of the law, “Be perfectly loving or you won’t inherit eternal life.”?

You’ve probably noticed by now, that at the end Jesus didn’t ask, “Was the man who fell among robbers our neighbor, whom we should love?”  Instead He changed things around and asked, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

With that question, put that way, Jesus doesn’t take away the overall impact of what holiness demands, but at the same time He points to the one who showed mercy and compassion.  Who is like that?  Who could really “go and do likewise?”  You know that only Jesus has done that.  Look at Him and learn that He is your righteousness.

This man so learned in the Torah (“law” doesn’t convey the meaning) needed to compare one of the central event in the Torah with what Jesus describes in the Samaritan.

The Torah itself, in which this man was so learned was not a list of rules by which a person could achieve eternal life; it was a record of the grace of God who reached down into this world and revealed Himself as The Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: The Lord—the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the fathers’ iniquity on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6–7, CSB)

In this account of the Good Samaritan Jesus portrays Himself as the one who, merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love, reaches out to us and sooths the wounds  in our lives because of sin – our sin and the sins of others.

Who is our neighbor?  You can answer fearlessly, even though it will show up your sins of lovelessness, because it is not on that basis that you are acceptable to God.  And you can love your neighbor without fear that it isn’t “good enough for God,” confident that you have been created and placed where you are in the world to do those good things which honor him and are a blessing to others.  All you do out of love for God and the good of your neighbor will indeed be cherished by God himself, and has His approval, because the righteousness of Christ fills up all that is lacking.

So may we love one another, that people may see our love and learn of our Savior Who is truly the Good Samaritan.  He is good to us pitiable wretches who need His salvation so much.

AMEN

By |2020-09-06T17:41:48-07:00September 6th, 2020|Sermons|0 Comments