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Sermon for June 30, 2019, Third Sunday after Pentecost

Galatians 5:1, 13-25 (Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8—Series C)

“Freedom to Love”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

June 30, 2019

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in Galatians 5:

1For freedom Christ set us free. Therefore, stand firm and do not again be subject to a yoke of slavery. . . . 13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as a pretext for the flesh, but through love, be slaves to one another. 14For the whole law stands fulfilled in one word, in this: You will love your neighbor as yourself. 15But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will surely not satisfy the desire of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the Spirit is against the flesh, for these are in opposition to one another, in order that you do not do the things you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are sexual immorality, impurity, indecency, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, rage, selfishness, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and such things as these, concerning which I am warning you, just as I said before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control. The Law is not against these things. 24Now those of Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, then by the Spirit let us also walk.

 

          Freedom. What exactly is it? Merriam-Webster gives us several definitions to work with. (1) the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; (2) liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another; (3) unrestricted use. As Christians who have been baptized into Christ, connected by water and the Word to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, you and I have been “called to freedom.” What exactly is this freedom?

          This freedom in Christ is freedom from the Law. St. Paul says in Romans 7, “But now we have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code” (Rom. 7:6 NET). As the Law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, confronts us in our fallen human nature, it accuses us of being the sinners that we truly are. The Law condemns us, showing us our sinfulness and the unreachable standard of God’s holiness. The Law of God demands, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). What are your personal results? Have you followed the Ten Commandments perfectly? Not even close, right? No matter how hard we try, we still cannot keep the Law perfectly.

          The congregations in Galatia were being told by some sincere Jewish Christians from Judea that, in order to be “real Christians,” they had to submit to circumcision and other aspects of the ceremonial Law of Moses. In other words, they told the Galatians that they needed to keep the Law perfectly. In their view, the Gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins wasn’t enough. New converts to Christianity, they said, had to observe the ceremonial Laws of the Old Testament. These “Judaizers,” as they are often called, were placing the burden of the demands of God’s Law upon the Galatians. But Paul maintained that Jesus had set them free from the Law with its record of debts that stood against people because of their failure to keep the Law perfectly. Jesus’ death on the cross cancelled that debt for all time for all people (Col. 2:14).

          Jesus, God the Son, came to earth to bring freedom. We read in John 8, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . . . So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’” (Jn. 8:31-32, 36 ESV). To bring us this freedom, Jesus yoked Himself to us, becoming a true human being like us. He placed Himself under slavery to the Law, obligating Himself to meet all of its holy and perfect demands. And Jesus kept them all perfectly—for us. Christ obtained the ultimate victory for us through His suffering, death, and resurrection. He paid the ransom price to buy our freedom and, in the Gospel, He gives us His victory over sin, death, and hell, setting us free from the condemnation and power of the Law.

          Paul brings this freedom in Christ to light for the Galatian Christians at the beginning of chapter 5, “For freedom Christ set us free. Therefore, stand firm and do not again be subject to a yoke of slavery.” Paul cries out almost like a military commander rallying wavering troops, “Do not surrender in the midst of this cosmic conflict! Do not cave in to forces that wish to enslave you yet again!”[1] Dr. Luther comments, “This is the freedom with which Christ has set us free, not from some human slavery or tyrannical authority but from the eternal wrath of God. . . . From this there follows the other freedom, by which we are made safe and free through Christ from the Law, from sin, death, the power of the devil, hell, etc. For just as the wrath of God cannot terrify us—since Christ has set us free from it—so the Law, sin, etc., cannot accuse and condemn us. Even though the Law denounces us and sin terrifies us, they still cannot plunge us into despair. For faith . . . quickly declares: ‘Those things have nothing to do with me, for Christ has set me free from them.’”[2]

          So, in Christ, are we free to do whatever we want, live however we want, without any moral obligations? Absolutely not! Freedom from the Law is not lawlessness. Paul warns us that our freedom in Christ is not to be used as a pretext for fulfilling the sinful desires of the flesh. Our freedom in Christ from God’s wrath and the condemnation of the Law is not a base of operations or a springboard for sinful activities! Using it as such would only place us back under the Law’s condemnation and the wrath of God. Luther again points us in the right direction, “It is as though Paul were saying: ‘Now you have obtained freedom through Christ. That is, you are far above all laws, both in your own conscience and in the sight of God; you are blessed and saved; Christ is your life. Therefore even though the Law, sin, and death may frighten you, they can neither harm you nor cause you to despair. This is your brilliant and inestimable freedom. Now it is up to you to be diligently on your guard not to use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.’”[3]

The call to freedom in Christ, then, is not a call to do as we please according to our wants and desires. The call to freedom in Christ is the call to oneness in Christ and to loving service within His Church. It is a call to realize the true nature and implications of what it means to belong to Christ as those set free from the power and condemnation of the Law. In the freedom that Christ Jesus provided for us, we are able to satisfy the Law’s demands because we are now “walking by the Spirit.” And the way of the Spirit is the way of love. And love is the fulfilling of the Law (Rom. 13:10).

What we were unable to do under the threat of the Law we are able now to accomplish by the Spirit who enables us to love one another. One commentator outlined it this way: “Through the redemption of Christ believers have been set free from bondage to the law and are no longer under obligation to obey its statutes; . . . God’s law remains a valid expression of his will, which requires that we love our neighbor as ourselves; . . .hence, what the law as a whole requires is satisfied when believers serve one another through love. In other words, the believer who is free from the law is at the same time the one who fulfills the law; only the way he fulfills the law is not by . . . observing the rules and regulations of an external code, but by the new way of love, which is generated within the believer by the power of the Holy Spirit.”[4]

Since we now live by the Spirit, we strive by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit in our freedom to walk in the way of love toward one another in the family of Christ. The purpose of our freedom in Jesus is to love and serve our neighbors as well as each other. Our God given freedom in Christ then expresses itself in love to one another through the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Living and walking by the Spirit, then, is true freedom.

In Christ, we have indeed been set free. We are no longer under the Law but are led by the Spirit working through the Gospel and the Sacraments of Jesus Christ—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That Spirit-led life brings us joy and peace in Christ and keeps us from the works of the flesh. Thanks be to God that for freedom Christ has set us free so that we might love our neighbors and one another in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

[1] A. Andrew Das, Galatians, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2014), 520.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 27: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 5-6; 1519, Chapters 1-6, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 27 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 4–5.

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 27: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 5-6; 1519, Chapters 1-6, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 27 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 48.

[4] Ronald Y.K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 247.

Sermon for June 23, 2019, Second Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 3 (Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7—Series C)

“Trusting in God’s Salvation”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

June 23, 2019

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

          David was called a man “after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). At God’s command, the prophet Samuel anointed David to be king over Israel to replace King Saul and his family line (1 Sam. 16). The Lord made a covenant with David, telling David what He will do and make for David—an everlasting house and kingdom: “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom” (2 Sam. 7:13). The singular offspring of David was the promised Messiah. In Him, the kingdom of David would be established forever.

          However, a king cannot have a lineage and a kingdom when he is no longer king. Absalom, David’s son, stole the hearts of the people of Israel, winning their loyalty by deceit. The author of 2 Samuel writes, “And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing” (2 Sam. 15:12). No longer content to steal just hearts, Absalom conspired to steal the throne. David’s own son and countrymen were against him and so David was forced to flee Jerusalem. We are told, “But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went” (2 Sam. 15:30 ESV). Then, as David and his servants made their way east to the Jordan River, a man from the house of Saul named Shimei continually cursed David. He threw stones at David and his servants and flung dust on them.

          It was during this time that David wrote our text today, the words of Psalm 3.

 1O Yahweh, how many are my adversaries! Many are rising against me.

2Many are saying to my soul, “There is no salvation in God for him.”

3But you, O Yahweh, are a shield about me; my glory and the lifter of my head.

4My voice called to Yahweh and he answered me from his holy hill.

5I myself laid down and slept; I awoke, for Yahweh sustains me.

6I will not be afraid of multitudes of people who set themselves against me all around.

7Arise, O Yahweh! Save me, O my God.

For you will smite all my enemies on the cheek; you will break the teeth of the wicked ones.

8Salvation belongs to Yahweh. Your blessing be upon your people.

          Can you imagine David’s fear? Rejected by his people and downtrodden. Many adversaries; many rising against him; many saying that God will not even save him. And yet David placed his trust in the Lord. “The many are like this, standing against me,” David said. “But God, you are different. You stand for me and with me, even though I sinned against you.”

          You remember David’s grievous sins, don’t you? He lusted and coveted and stole Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, to be his own. He committed adultery with her. She conceived a child. David arranged to have Uriah murdered on the battlefield. Nathan the prophet confronted David about his sin. God’s judgment was David’s punishment, “Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (2 Sam. 12:9-10 ESV). “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die’” (2 Sam. 12:13 ESV).

          Cleansed by God’s gracious forgiveness, David stood in a totally different relationship to God and God to him from that which people supposed. Despite of the appearance to the contrary, the Lord’s saving mercy and grace had not been taken away from David. Forgiveness was still his from the hand of God’s blessing. With trust in the mercy and salvation of God, David prayed. Every hour he had reason to fear some overwhelming attack, but Yahweh was the shield covering him and protecting him. David’s kingdom had been taken from him, but Yahweh was his glory, not his kingdom. With covered head and dejected face, David went up the Mount of Olives, but Yahweh was the lifter of his head; He comforted and helped David.

          David glorified God in today’s psalm for being a true helper for all His people who call on Him in distress. Like David, we also have trouble in our lives. We might not have many adversaries, but at times, it seems like we have a lot of adversities. We often deal with the consequences of life in a fallen, sin-filled world: diseases, depression, anxiety, fear, and pain. We cope with the death of those we love. We struggle against the temptations thrown at us by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Like David, we often succumb to temptation. We daily sin much. And like David, we also pray to the God of grace and mercy in whom we find our salvation. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray in the Fifth Petition, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This means that “we pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace” (Small Catechism).

David’s prayer of faith is also our prayer of faith. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we place our faith-filled trust in God’s grace and mercy that He will not deny our prayer because of our sins, that He will not abandon us in our time of need, nor will He withhold His salvation from us. David’s greater son according to the flesh, Jesus, is our guarantee of God’s grace and mercy to us sinners. Gabriel announced to Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk. 1:31-33 ESV).

It is this Jesus, true God and true Man, who brings salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil to all people. He took David’s adultery and murder upon Himself and suffered God’s full punishment for those sins. He took your lying, stealing, cursing, sexual immorality, gossiping, and hating upon Himself and, with all your sins, bore them in His own body on the cross to pay for them in full with His holy, precious blood. As St. John writes, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7 ESV). There is nothing of our sin remaining for which Jesus did not suffer and die. He was punished in our place so that we are declared forgiven of all our sins. Not even the devil himself can accuse us any longer before our heavenly Father, saying, “There is no salvation in God for him or her.” To say that is a lie. Salvation belongs to the Lord our God. By grace through faith in Christ Jesus, full and complete salvation, full and total forgiveness is given to you—His blessing upon His people.

His blessing includes God being your true helper and keeper in the midst of temptation, trial, and trouble. Luther writes in his comments on John 1, “For even though we have attained remission of sin, we still have the old Adam hanging around our necks and therefore sin daily. Sin has not yet been purged from our nature; neither is the devil dead, who provokes our flesh and blood to every evil.”[1] Nevertheless, the Lord is a shield about us. He lifts us up in the arms of His mercy and forgives our every sin for the sake of the merits of Jesus Christ. As the God of our salvation, He bids us to pray “Deliver us from evil,” trusting that our Lord and Savior will “rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation” (Small Catechism).

The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh surround us and attack us and our faith. The consequences of sin in general and our own sins lay siege to us. We are embattled by sickness and trouble in this life. But we are not defeated. In the words of Psalm 3, “My voice called to Yahweh and he answered me from his holy hill. I myself laid down and slept; I awoke, for Yahweh sustains me. I will not be afraid of multitudes of people who set themselves against me all around. Arise, O Yahweh! Save me, O my God. For you will smite all my enemies on the cheek; you will break the teeth of the wicked ones.” Our Lord Jesus, at the cross, stomped on the head of Satan, breaking his teeth for sure! With His sacrificial death, Jesus smacked the world and our flesh into submission. In His resurrection, Jesus defeated death, which now has no power over us. We are people who receive from our God and Savior forgiveness and everlasting life as a gift of His mercy and love. Yes, dear saints, salvation belongs to God and, because of Jesus Christ, it belongs to you too. The blessing of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon you, His people. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 22 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 177.

Sermon for June 16, 2019 The Holy Trinity

John 8:48-59 (The Holy Trinity—Series C)

“Keeping His Word”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

June 16, 2019

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in John 8:

48The Jews answered and said to Him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and you have a demon?” 49Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50But I do not seek my glory; He who seeks it is also He who judges. 51Truly, truly I say to you, I anyone keeps my word, he shall surely not see death ever.” 52Therefore, the Jews said, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word he shall surely not taste death—ever.’ 53You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died, are you?” 54Jesus answered, “If I should glorify myself, my glory is nothing. My Father is the One who glorified me, who you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55Yet you do not know Him, but I know Him. If I should say that I do not know Him, I would be a liar like you. But I know Him and I keep His word. 56Abraham your father rejoiced that he should see my day, and he saw it and rejoiced.” 57Therefore, the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old. And you have seen Abraham?” 58Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am.” 59Therefore, they took up stones in order that they might throw them at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out from the temple.

 

          Probably one of the most important characteristics that we want to see in a friend or in the people we work with or work for is that they keep their word. It’s about being able to trust someone, isn’t it? Promises are easy to make and often easier to break. Robert Frost poetically captured that truth in his poem, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. He talks about how sometimes we wish we could be free, for just a little bit at least, of all life’s obligations that we are required to meet. That type of freedom is represented in Frost’s poem about a traveler who stops on his journey beside a quiet wood one wintery evening. For just a moment, he is able to enjoy the quiet and solitude as he watches the snowflakes fall and gently blanket the woods with snow. Frost’s traveler wishes he could stay and continue to enjoy the stillness. But, as the poem says, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

          In our Gospel lesson today, we hear about keeping a word. It’s not about keeping our word or our promises, but rather about keeping the Word of God. Keeping the Word here takes on a whole new meaning because it’s not about putting our trust in ourselves or in other people, but about putting our trust in the Word of Him who is completely trustworthy, Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us that there are great benefits for those who keep His Word, “He shall surely not see death—ever!” So, let us keep the Word of Christ.

          Let us keep the Word of Christ because He is the Son of God. The Jews in their spiritual blindness could not understand who Jesus was. “The Jews answered and said to Him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and you have a demon?” (John 8:48). The Jews were aware of Jesus’ earthly ancestry but could not comprehend His divinity. “Therefore, the Jews said, ‘Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word he shall surely not taste death—ever.’ You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died, are you?’” (John 8:52-53). The Jews had insulted Jesus. They had accused Him of being a Samaritan and having a demon. Soon their hostility would escalate, and they would be ready to stone Jesus to death because they would not keep His Word

          In our day, the question “Who is Jesus?” also attracts people’s attention and spills a lot of ink on paper. Some see Jesus as merely a great teacher or prophet. Others are very hostile, seeing Jesus as a fraud or a cause of violence in the world today. For some people, religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is seen to be one of the great problems of humanity. More and more folks are becoming anti-Christian and anti-religion. A December 2017, Pew Research Center poll conducted among U.S. adults had 80% of them respond “Yes” to the question, “Do you believe in God or not?” Those 80% were then asked whether they believed in “God as described in the Bible.” Just over half of them said “Yes,” that they believed in God as described in His Word. The rest said they believed in some version of God or a “higher power,” but not the God of Scripture. Even you and I have to confess that we sometimes fail to remember who God is according to His Word. We fail to always remember His love for us. We sometimes doubt His goodness. We often struggle inwardly with His authority over us when faced with the choices of what we want as opposed to what His Word commands.

          But Jesus makes His eternal nature as true God clear in our text when He says, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” This is the same name that God applied to Himself in the presence of Moses at the burning bush, “God said to Moses, ‘I Am Who I Am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I Am’ has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14 ESV). Jesus is both true God and true Man. By ourselves, we cannot fathom this mystery. How could this be? This is a mystery grasped only by the power of God the Holy Spirit. And thus we see the Holy Trinity at work: the way to the Father is through faith in the Son, which is possible only by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian Church confesses in the Athanasian Creed, as we will this morning, that Jesus “is God, begotten before the ages of the substance of the Father, and He is man, born in the world of the substance of His mother, perfect God and perfect man, with reasonable soul and human flesh, equal to the Father with respect to His Godhead and inferior to the Father with respect to His manhood. Although He is God and man, He is not two Christs but one Christ.” Let us, therefore, keep the Word of Christ because He is the Son of God.

          Let us also keep the Word of Christ because He has made precious promises through His Word. In the Scriptures we get to know God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The one, true God reveals to us who He is as well as His great love for sinners. We read in Romans 6, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6, 8 ESV). God didn’t wait until we loved Him, which in our sinfulness we never could and never would. He took the gracious initiative to save people from sin, death, and hell. He promises in His Word that Christ has overcome the devil and hell and that sin cannot harm us because Jesus gave up His life into death for us. We read in Acts 2 that Christ “was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. . . . Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:31-36). God’s Word, therefore, promises eternal life through the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our Lord guarantees, “Truly, truly I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he shall surely not see death—ever.”

          Let us also then keep the Word of Christ because it brings us the joy and gladness of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life here and now. Jesus said that Abraham saw the day of Christ, and it brought him joy and gladness. He knew by faith that God would someday send the Messiah. Even though Abraham lived some 2000 years before Christ, he trusted in the promises of God that the Savior would come. For Abraham, the promise of God was as sure as having seen it himself. Abraham rejoiced in the knowledge of the Savior because he knew it would bring great blessings to the world. You and I also can rejoice in the knowledge of the Savior and be glad this day. We know that Jesus has honored and glorified the Father perfectly with His obedience in our place, proving God’s great love for us. God’s Word assures us that He has made provision for our eternal welfare, no matter what happens in this life. This Word brings us comfort, joy, and gladness, even in the midst of earthly sorrow and sadness.

          Keeping the Word of Christ brings blessings far beyond what we could ever expect to receive from any other human being. To keep the Word of Christ means that we can have faith in who Jesus is the Son of God. It means that we can always trust in His promises because He has overcome death and sin for us, and we will not see death, “for whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11). Finally, to keep the Word of Christ means that we can be encouraged and have joy and gladness in this life, knowing that no matter what, God’s love for us in Christ is an eternal reality. Amen.

 

 

 

           

Sermon for June 9, 2019, The Day of Pentecost

Genesis 11:1-9 (The Day of Pentecost—Series C)

“Using Language”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

June 9, 2019

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is the Old Testament lesson recorded in Genesis 11:

1And it was that the whole earth had one language and few words. 2And it was that as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and they dwelled there. 3And they said, a man to his friend, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone and bitumen for mortar. 4And they said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of all the earth.” 5And Yahweh came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of man had built. 6And Yahweh said, “Behold, they are one people and they all have one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. Now nothing which they propose to do will be impossible for them. 7Come, let us do down and confuse their language there that they may not understand each other.” 8And Yahweh scattered them from there upon the face of all the earth and they left off building the city. 9Therefore, its name was called Babel because there Yahweh confused the language of all the earth and Yahweh scattered them from there upon the face of all the earth.

 

          King Solomon is well known for his God-given wisdom. He wrote, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” I wonder if, as he penned those words, he had the events of Genesis 11 in mind.

          God had blessed Noah and his sons following the flood, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1 ESV). The descendants of Noah grew and increased. They journeyed down the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley of Mesopotamia. But at this plain in the land of Shinar these descendants decided to create a focal point that would keep them in one place, “lest we be scattered upon the face of all the earth.” They intended to break God’s command. Their sinful pride was leading them to seek a name for themselves—fame and security—apart from God and His words to them.

          Pride: the elevation of self over God. Pride is the breaking of the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” Pride is exalting the god of oneself. Dr. Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, “If you have a heart that can expect of [God] nothing but what is good—especially in need and distress—and a heart that also renounces and forsakes everything that is not God, then you have the only true God. If, on the contrary, your heart clings to anything else from which it expects more good and help than from God, and if your heart does not take refuge in Him but flees from Him when in trouble, then you have an idol, another god.”[1]

          Pride does exactly that—it fails to take refuge in the one, true God but runs away from Him in order to take care of itself, without God—“Come, let us build for ourselves.” And how does that work out for us? “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” All sinful people, and not just those building the tower of Babel, tend to become prideful and arrogant. As did the descendants of Noah, so we also violate and disbelieve God’s Word. That is the height of pride, the pinnacle of arrogance, exalting ourselves over the one, true God. Oh, how we believe that we know what is best for us! “Surely,” we think, “His commandments are too burdensome. They are only meant to keep us in submission, from realizing our full potential.” See how our arrogance and exaltation of self distorts the truth? God’s Word and commandments are gifts to us for our benefit and blessing. They are intended to give us the best life under God’s blessing. Yet, we, like the people of Israel, say, “God, your ways just aren’t fair.” (Ezk. 18:29).

          The ways of God are not fair to us because we think that we know better. We believe that we know what is best for ourselves and our own lives. Incredible, isn’t it, that finite, mortal creatures of the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving Creator know better than He does? How arrogant that we would even consider placing ourselves equal to, much less, above God and disregard what He has given to us for our benefit and blessing! Oh, but we surely know best! “Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of all the earth.”

          Now Yahweh speaks, borrowing the people’s own words, “Come, let us do down and confuse their language there that they may not understand each other.” God disrupts their arrogant plans. But He does so, not only in His anger and justice, but also according to His mercy so that they the people do not do even more harm to themselves because “nothing which they propose to do will be impossible for them.” God, therefore, humbled the people by confusing their language and by scattering them from there, according to His command. His creatures will not “one-up” Him. His Word will come to pass.

In fact, His Word would come down to the scattered, now multi-language speaking people, taking upon Himself human flesh and blood. As He did of old, God came down to see the sin of the world. But God the Son incarnate, Jesus, did more than see humanity’s sin. He experienced our sin on the cross. He was punished with the full wrath and justice of God against the sins of the world as He suffered death on the cross. God, in His mercy, confused their language and scattered the people upon the face of all the earth. At the cross, God the Father punished His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus Christ, in their place, in your place. For all sinners’ pride and arrogance, for exalting ourselves over and above God, for disregarding His Word, Jesus suffered and died so that we might receive the forgiveness of all our sins.

Jesus, the true Son of God, took to Himself a true human body and soul, without sin, in order to deliver us from our sins, from our sin-filled pride and arrogance, and from our selfishness. Because, in our sinful condition, we do not know better than God and could never escape from the punishment of death and hell, Jesus took our punishment on Himself, endured it in full on the cross, purchasing with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death the forgiveness that we now enjoy as God’s free gift to us. Forgiveness—you are no longer charged for your sins! Forgiveness—you are officially declared by God to be “not guilty” of your sins because they are marked in Jesus’ blood, “Paid in Full!” Forgiveness—you are given eternal life, guaranteed by the death and resurrection of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

That’s the message of the Gospel, the Good News, that you received by water and Word in your Baptism. It is the Good News that you hear read and proclaimed, declaring to you that your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

It is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, which the people of God in Christ have also been commissioned to proclaim. On the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, God kept His promise to give to His Church the gift of the Holy Spirit. “And suddenly there was from heaven a sound like a strong, rushing wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them divided tongues like fire and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages just as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).

Out of His grace and mercy, the Lord reversed the confusion of languages at Babel by giving the disciples the miraculous ability to speak in languages that they had never learned! Now, instead of a scattering, there was a coming together of the peoples. “When this sound occurred, a multitude came together and was confused because each was hearing them speaking in his own dialect. And they were amazed and said to themselves, ‘Behold, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we ourselves are hearing, each in our own dialect in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and the inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 1Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them speaking in our own languages the mighty works of God’” (Acts 2:5-11). And the mighty works of God were none other than the works of His Son, Jesus Christ, who died and rose again winning forgiveness of sins and eternal life for the world!

This miraculous gift of languages demonstrates to everyone who heard the disciples that God desired all people to have His Word, not just Hebrew speakers. God poured out His Spirit upon the chosen disciples because He wanted all nations and languages to hear the Good News of salvation that Jesus won for them. And that is still God’s desire today as His Church proclaims the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins in many, many languages. For you and me, that’s probably going to be telling the Good News of Jesus in English. Maybe some of you are or will become proficient in another language—say Spanish or Mandarin Chinese—that will enable you to tell people about the Savior.

As we consider the Church’s calling to tell people about Jesus, we do well to highlight the work of Lutheran Bible Translators. LBT serves on five continents with over 50 different language groups, places like Asia, Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and South America. Our congregation supports one of their missionary families through our annual budget. Pastor Nathan Esala, a seminary classmate of mine, along with his wife and now five children, have served the Lord through Lutheran Bible Translators since 2001. He worked on producing a Komba language Bible for the people of Ghana, West Africa.

Rather than using language for our own prideful arrogance, we in the Church have been forgiven and given the new life of faith by the Holy Spirit to use language to proclaim Jesus Christ and His cross and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. By the power of the Spirit, boldly share the Good News of the Savior. Young people, in high school and into college, learn a language that the Lord might use to share His love and forgiveness with others through you. Perhaps the Lord will call any one of you to be a missionary to a specific group of people whose language skills you possess? But, please, do not forget to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those right here in our community, with people you know and care about. They, also, need the forgiveness of sins for their pride and arrogance, and the Gospel always delivers those gifts of God just as He promises in His Word. Amen.

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 361.

Sermon for June 2, 2019, Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17:20-26 (Seventh Sunday of Easter—Series C)

“One in Christ”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

June 2, 2019

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is the Gospel lesson, the concluding words of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer:

20I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, 21so that all may be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, so that these also may be in us, in order that the world may believe that you sent me. 22And I have given to them the glory which you have given to me, so that they may be one just as we are one; 23I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you sent me and that I loved them just as you loved me. 24Father, who has given to me, I desire that where I am, that these may be with me, so that they may see my glory which you have given to me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you and these know that you sent me. 26And I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them.

 

          What does it mean for believers in Jesus to “be one”? What does it mean for Christians to “be one just as [the Father and the Son] are one”? The answer has to do with love.

          The bulk of John’s Gospel which tells the account of Jesus and the disciples in the Upper Room on the night when He was betrayed is made up of Jesus’ farewell discourse. This concludes with what is called Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” in chapter 17. Going back to John 13:34-35, where Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” and continuing to the end of John 17, our Gospel lesson, I made a discovery. In Jesus’ farewell discourse and concluding prayer, we find the verb “love” used 22 times. In four and a smidgen chapters, that’s pretty significant.

          About half of the time, the action word “love” is used to reference the Father’s love for or Jesus’ love for His disciples. The love of God predominates the text, and that makes sense because “love is from God” (1 Jn. 4:7 ESV). God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is Himself love (1 John 4:8 ESV). It is one of His divine attributes, the qualities that not only describe God but are who God is. God is love; God is holy; God is just; God is righteous; God is merciful; and so on. So, it is Biblically consistent that Jesus’ farewell message to His followers in the Upper Room would be centered on the love of the Father who sent the Son into the world to save the whole world from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Secondary to the love of God, the result of His love gifted to us in and through faith in Jesus, is our love for God and for one another. Beginning with Jesus’ new commandment in John 13 through the end of chapter 17, the verb “love” is used of the disciples’ love for God and Christ about a quarter of the time and of the disciples’ love for one another about a quarter of the time. So, the love of the Father demonstrated in the life of His incarnate Son Jesus predominates with the result of that love seen in the lives of Jesus’ disciples as they love God and one another.

          The unity of believers in Jesus is therefore a unity rooted and grounded in God’s love for us in His Son, Jesus. Take away the love of God for His human creation and His people of faith in Jesus, there will be no unity. Colossians 3:14, “Over all these, put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” Love is what fastens together all the other virtues that a believer is given by faith in Jesus and so love leads to “perfection,” or as Jesus says, using the same word in John 17:23, love enables believers to be “completely” one. And the love which makes that happen is the love of the Father for the Son.

          Jesus is called by God the Father “my beloved Son” at both His baptism in the Jordan River and on the Mount of Transfiguration. And it is this beloved Son that the Father gave to the world that He also loved in order to be our Savior. You see, it is our love that failed, not God’s. Our love for God was destroyed in the Fall into sin. The unity of God and His human creatures was shattered in Garden of Eden. Now humanity does not have true fear, love, and trust in God. Nor does humanity have love for others. We only possess a selfish love, indeed, a love of self. Even as Christians, do we not continually see our self-love raise its ugliness in the way to talk and act even with our fellow believers? Each time we speak or act toward one another in ways that are crass, in tones that hurt, in ways that makes another feel like they are not important, we not only fail to love our sister or brother in Christ, but we fail to love God Himself. Our lack of love, then, hurts and harms the unity of love that the Lord has given to His Church. For our love for both God and each other fails.

          God’s love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” God is love. His Son Jesus is love, who loved us sinners so much that He willingly became man so that He could bear our burdens, live with our guilt, take upon Himself our infirmities, and endure death and hell in our place as our perfect substitute. Jesus said in John 15, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (Jn. 15:9-10 ESV). Jesus kept the Commandments perfectly for you and me. For our sin in failing to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, for our sin of not loving our neighbor as God commanded, Jesus died for us on the cross. That’s God’s love for you. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13 ESV).

          Christ’s love was demonstrated to us with His perfect life and sacrificial death. On the cross, Jesus bore our sins and paid for them in full by taking our punishment of death and hell upon Himself. Out of the Father’s love and mercy, you are not declared “not guilty” of sin. All of your failures to love God and love others stands forgiven by the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. It is the forgiving love of Christ that reconciles us to God the Father. It is in Christ, with faith and trust in Christ, that we are privileged to call God “our Father” and to ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. By the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit, by means of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, you are able to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. You are able to love your neighbor as yourself. And you are able to love one another in the body of Christ.

          We sometimes call this new life of love “sanctification.” We’ve been made holy because the holiness of Jesus has been credited to us. Now, by the dwelling of the Holy Spirit within us, through means of the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ, we are united in love because we are once again rooted and grounded in the love of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The very God who is love and who loves us with an everlasting love, gives us His love that we may love Him and one another. What can the world recognize about believers in Jesus? The “spiritual” unity of faith as we are united in the one mystical body of Christ that is the holy, Christian Church, the communion of saints? No, that is invisible to the eyes of people. What they can see is the love that believers have for each other in the Church because it is a sign that points to God’s love in Jesus Christ. What did Jesus say? “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

          Our unity in Christ as believers in rooted and firmly grounded upon God’s love for us in Jesus, our Crucified and Risen Savior. It is in Christ alone, by grace alone through faith alone, that we have the forgiveness of sins and the new life of love toward God and toward other people. But it is also in Christ that we are united in love with each other as Christians. His love is the foundation of our love that we demonstrate in words and deeds to each other in this congregation of saints. From the Father’s love for the Son comes the Son’s love for His disciples and our love for one another.

As we live in Christ by the power of the Spirit, pray that the love of Jesus that we reflect to each other here and then go out from this place to share with the world might send a message that will enable us to proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ love to others. By our love, they will know we belong to Christ and enjoy His love and blessing. Through the Gospel, may they hear of the Savior’s love, come to saving faith in Him and the Father, and so join us so that we can surround them with Jesus’ love as we are one in Christ. Amen.

         

         

 

Sermon for May 26, 2019, Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 5:1-9 (Sixth Sunday of Easter—Series C)

“Jesus Puts Us in the Water”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 26, 2019

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in John 5:

1After these things there was a feast of the Jews and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now there is in Jerusalem a pool with five roofed colonnades near the Sheep Gate, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda. 3Among these colonnades many sick people were in the habit of lying—blind, lame, and the disabled. 5Now there was a certain man there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be whole?” 7The invalid answered Him, “Sir, I have no person to put me into the pool when the water is disturbed.” 8Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” 9And immediately the man became whole, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a Sabbath.

 

          He waited and waited. This man who had been an invalid for 38 years waited with the others—the blind, the lame, the disabled. They gathered at the two pools under the roofed porches, believing that the pools had healing powers. An angel would come and “trouble” the waters, they thought, stirring them up so that the first person to enter the moving waters would be healed of whatever disease they had. This man never made it in first. He had no person to put him into the pool when the water was disturbed. As a result, he was never able to make use of the curative power of the water.

          At this time, Jesus was in Jerusalem for a festival. St. John doesn’t mention which festival it was specifically. It might have been the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Pentecost, or the Feast of Tabernacles. Whichever it was, during festivals, the people of Israel remembered God’s works of redemption in the past and expressed Israel’s hope and prayer that God would continue to bless it with His presence and favor. So it is that God had come in human flesh in the person of Jesus to bring His grace to His people. Approaching the man, an invalid of 38-years, Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be whole?”

          It’s a question asking much more than “Do you want to be well and healthy again in your body?” In the context, Jesus’ question inquires whether the man desires to be whole, pure, and without fault. It is this question that introduces Jesus into this story as the One who is the Creator, the Giver of Life. From John 1, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (Jn. 1:3-4 ESV). Later in John 5, Jesus said to the Jews who were seeking all the more to kill Him, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (Jn. 5:21 ESV). To “be whole” is nothing other than to be “created anew.” This is what Jesus had said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again from above he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). In John’s Gospel, to be made whole, is to be created anew, born again from above, to become a disciple of Jesus.

          Hence the question of Jesus to the man, “Do you want to be whole?” Do you want to be made alive again, created anew from above? The man thinks only of the water and of his failure to be put into the water when it is disturbed. But Jesus is thinking new creation through the forgiveness of sins and the granting of life to be lived as a follower of Jesus by faith. So Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” To hear those words is to hear Jesus say, “Become whole” through the removal of sin. And the man “became whole, and he took up his mat and began to walk”! The effect of Jesus’ commands is immediate. The Creator spoke, and it was so, just as He had at the very beginning when He commanded, “Let there be light!”

          In John’s rich theological themes in his gospel, we are presented with this text of the healing of the invalid a story of new creation through the forgiveness of sins. The man was raised to walk, and his walking demonstrated that he was raised and has become whole. When Jesus found this man again in the temple, He said to him, “See, you have become whole. Sin no longer, that nothing worse may happen to you”—like eternal death and hell (John 5:14).

          But what does this have to do with us? Everything, actually. New Testament stories of Jesus’ healings are narratives about the reversal of that original human fall into sin. Jesus’ healings can be connected with the forgiveness of sins as stories of new creation brought about by the removal of sin and therefore by the restoration of people.

Do you suffer from lack of “wholeness”? Are you subject to the effects of and consequences of sin in your body, soul, and spirit? Are you found to be lacking in spiritual things—blind, dead, and an enemy of God according to your fallen nature? If you sin, you are not whole, pure, and without fault. How did we learn it from Luther’s Small Catechism? That I am “a lost and condemned creature” (SC: Second Article). We have no way of healing or saving ourselves from this condition. There is no way that you or I can make ourselves whole, pure, and holy. We might say that we are like the man who cannot get into the pool. We have no strength in and of ourselves to change our standing before God. We cannot rely on the strength of others who are in the same sinful condition, who are just as lost and condemned as we are.

          Then comes Jesus, true God and true Man. He and He alone “puts us into the water” and makes us whole in body, soul, and spirit. And the water that Christ puts us into is the life-creating, sin-forgiving water of Holy Baptism. Like Jesus’ healing of the paralyzed man with the power of His Word, Baptism is also an event of new creation. By water and the Spirit, you and I are “born again from above” through the washing of water combined with God’s powerful Word for the forgiveness of sins. For Baptism is “the water included in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.”[1] Luther explains further in the Large Catechism, “Baptism is quite a different thing from all other water. This is not because of its natural quality but because something more noble is added here. God Himself stakes His honor, His power, and His might on it. Therefore, Baptism is not only natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water, and whatever other terms we can find to praise it. This is all because of the Word, which is a heavenly, holy Word, which no one can praise enough. For it has, and is able to do, all that God is and can do [Isaiah 55:10–11]. . . . We must think this way about Baptism and make it profitable for ourselves. So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, ‘Nevertheless, I am baptized. And if I am baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.’ For that is the reason why these two things are done in Baptism: the body—which can grasp nothing but the water—is sprinkled and, in addition, the Word is spoken for the soul to grasp. Now, since both, the water and the Word, make one Baptism, therefore, body and soul must be saved and live forever [1 Corinthians 15:53]. The soul lives through the Word, which it believes, but the body lives because it is united with the soul and also holds on through Baptism as it is able to grasp it. We have, therefore, no greater jewel in body and soul. For by Baptism we are made holy and are saved [1 Corinthians 6:11]. No other kind of life, no work upon earth, can do this.”[2]

          By Baptism, you have been made whole. Your sins are forgiven. You are rescued from death and the devil. You are given eternal salvation. These are the gifts Christ Jesus purchased and won for you with His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. By means of water and His Word in Baptism, Jesus Christ delivered His gifts to each of you personally, making you pure, without fault—forgiven—healed of your sins unto life everlasting. Through Baptism, you have become new creations with the new life of faith in Jesus and holy living that the Spirit produces as the fruits of faith in you. “Born again from above” in the lavish washing of Baptism, you have died to sin and now rise daily and walk as followers of Jesus. Romans 6, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:1-4 ESV). So it is that Baptism “signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts. And also it shows that a new man should daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[3]

          By the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Baptism, you have been given new life. You are made whole, a new creation, by the power of the Gospel Word. I like how the Early Church Father Gregory of Nazianzus, who lived in the late AD 300s, put it,

Yesterday you were flung upon a bed, exhausted and paralyzed, and you had no one when the water should be troubled to put you into the pool. Today you have Him Who is in one Person . . . God and Man. You were raised up from your bed, . . . you took up your bed, and publicly acknowledged the benefit. Do not again be thrown upon your bed by sinning, in the evil rest of a body paralyzed by its pleasures. But as you now are, so walk, mindful of the command. Behold you are made whole. . . .[4]

Amen.

 

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 339.

[2] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 424–425, 427.

[3] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 340.

 

[4] Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 40.33 (On Holy Baptism [NPNF2 7:372]), quoted in William C. Weinrich, John 1:1-7:1, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2015), 568.

Sermon for May 19, 2019, Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 11:1-18 (Fifth Sunday of Easter—Series C)

“The Gift God Has Given Us

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 19, 2019

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text today is recorded in Acts 11:

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

 

          Have you ever thought about some of the revolutionary ideas that have changed the world?  For example, the cotton gin revolutionized the harvesting of and production of cotton. The railroad meant that we could move people and goods faster and cheaper over long distances. The electric light means that we don’t have to go to bed when the sun goes down. Then there is the telephone, once so simple which has now evolved into this minicomputer that you carry in your pocket or purse so that we are connected around the globe to people and events in mere seconds. This morning I want to take you back to one seemingly revolutionary idea that changed the world—Gentiles receive repentance unto life! 

          The New Testament word for “Gentiles is e;qnoj (ethnos). It means “nation” or “ethnicity.” It’s the specific word which the New Testament writers used for the Hebrew word, yAG ((goy) “nation.”  Either you were part of the ~[‘ (‘am), God’s “people” of Israel, or you were part of the “goyim,” the other nations. Goyim were not part of the Lord’s covenant people Israel. The covenant of circumcision was not given to the goyim, but rather to the people of Israel. The Law, the Ten Commandments, was not given to the goyim, but rather to the people of Israel. None of the holiness codes of the Old Testament that made Israel stand apart from the other nations as God’s holy people—the laws governing what foods should or should not be eaten, the laws governing ritual cleansing and sacrifice—none of them were given to the goyim

          God’s people of Israel were truly set apart from the nations. Reading from Exodus 19, “The Lord called to [Moses] out of the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel’” (Exodus 19:3-6).

          Perhaps you can understand the panic and angst caused by Peter in going to the house of the Roman Cornelius. Not only did Peter enter the house of a goy, Peter also ate with him and his family foods that the nations eat, but not the people of Israel! The Jewish believers in Jesus at this point in time were especially zealous for the Law and they insisted that there should be no interaction between the circumcised (the people of Israel) and the uncircumcised (the Gentiles). And Peter would have agreed. He felt that way too. When the Lord gave Peter the vision of the sheet let down from heaven with all kinds of ceremonially common or unclean, non-kosher food and the Lord told him, “Arise Peter, kill and eat,” Peter told the Lord “no.” That was no small thing! For never had a particle of such food come into his mouth and Peter wasn’t about to start now, even at the Lord’s command! But after three times of telling the Lord “no” and after three times in which the Lord told Peter, “What God has made clean, do not call common,” Peter was summoned into the home of goyim, the Gentile house of Cornelius. 

          And did Peter go? Yes, he did. Why? The Holy Spirit told him to go with these Gentiles, making no distinction. The whole thing about the sheet and the non-kosher food was an object lesson for Peter. It really wasn’t about the food, it was about who the food represented—the goyim, the nations, the Gentiles. If God did not want Peter and the early Jewish believers in Jesus making a distinction about food, how much more did God not want them to be making distinctions between peoples for whom the Lord Christ had suffered and died! 

          This was a revolutionary idea to Peter and the others in the early church. This was a whole new concept for them. If God made no distinction between believing Gentiles and believing Jews, how could Peter or anyone else maintain a barrier which plainly God ignored? To do so would oppose God! So in Cornelius’ house, Gentiles, without becoming Jewish converts first, received the Word of Christ, and having received it, were admitted into the Christian Church! What else could be said?  God had acted and had clearly shown His will. God had bestowed His blessing on Gentiles too, giving them through the Holy Spirit a change of mind and heart and the assurance of eternal life. 

In all this, Peter was only God’s agent. God Himself was the author of everything. God’s great purpose in bringing Peter into this Gentiles’ house was a matter of saving this household of goyim.  And that was God’s plan from the very beginning. 

          What seemed so revolutionary to Peter and the early Jewish believers was really not so new after all. God had always intended that the Savior He would send through the people of Israel would be the Savior not just for Jews but for the nations, for the Gentiles, the goyim. The very first time God made His covenant with Abraham the Lord promised, “. . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3b). The prophet Isaiah announced, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations [goyim!] shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isa 60:1-3). Through God’s promised Savior and Redeemer, all people—Jew and Gentile—are brought out of the darkness of their sins and into the light of God’s salvation. 

          At the right time, God sent forth His Son, Jesus Christ. The true Light came into the world of darkness and sin. He ate and drank with the bottom of Jewish society, with the tax collectors and sinners. He touched and healed the lepers. He ministered to the Samaritan woman at the well and the people of her village (those who were not exactly Jew or Gentile!) Jesus healed the Roman Centurion’s servant, even though the Centurion was considered a “Gentile-sinner.” 

Jesus is an equal opportunity Savior! Our Lord gave Himself into death on a cross for the sins of the whole world—for the sins of Jews and for the sins of Gentiles—because God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim. 2:4). “There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:26). The blood of Jesus cleanses all people from their sins, no matter who they are or what they have done. And all means “all,” “everyone.”  The Word declares in Galatians 3, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). St. Paul writes again by the power of the Holy Spirit in Romans 1, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.”

How significant, then, is our text today for our lives in Jesus Christ? Here in Acts 11 we get a good glimpse of what Jesus’ mission was that He gave to His disciples, to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. We come to understand the Apostle Paul’s ministry as missionary to the Gentiles, whom God also wants to hear the Gospel message of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. But there is also comfort for us in our text. Hearing this Word of God, we know that Christ is for us—goyim, Gentiles though we be! We too are saved by Jesus Christ. We are forgiven all our sins and we are made children of our heavenly Father. He doesn’t look at us as Jew or Gentile, or even male and female, but as His beloved, His redeemed. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Peter 2:9).

And this should form how we look at and approach other people. God shows no partiality, no favoritism (Acts 10:34). All people are loved by Him, sinners though they be. The Lord loves all people, even with their baggage of trespasses and boatload of guilt. He offers them all equally through the Gospel message the free gifts of forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus purchased and won for everyone on the cross. And to offer those wondrous gifts through Gospel words the Lord chooses people like Peter and Paul, you and me. 

Christ bids us not to show partiality and favoritism. He wants us to be like the farmer in His parable of the sower and the seed, indiscriminately tossing the Gospel to all who will listen (and even to those who won’t!) We know the seed of the Word will fall on all types of soil, some of which enable it to take root and grow and others where it will wither and die. But with whom we share the Gospel is not for our picking and choosing. It’s a message that we are to tell everyone we can because we don’t know when and where God the Holy Spirit will give that message the growth of saving faith in a person’s heart. God sets up the opportunities just like He set up the appointment between Peter and Cornelius, so that Cornelius’ whole household could hear the Gospel and receive the gift of saving faith in Jesus. 

In love and mercy, God chose to share the Good News of His Son our Savior Jesus Christ with us goyim, us Gentiles, through the Gospel Word. He chose to save us, and all people, from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation through the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Now He gives you and me opportunities to share the very same Good News of salvation in Jesus with the nations, the people with whom we meet in our work and in our play—to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light! He sets up these divine appointments so that, by the work of the Holy Spirit, individuals and even households might be saved by faith in Jesus as their Savior. And no, this is not really a revolutionary idea. It has been God’s plan from the very beginning that all people should be saved. Yet, when people receive the gift of faith in Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life through the Gospel, it is always revolutionary! Amen. 

 

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