Wednesdays, 8:30 a.m.:
The Book of Genesis
Summer Sunday School begins June 2, 9:15 a.m. Our theme is “I Spy Salvation’s Story.”
I Spy Salvation’s Story at-a-Glance
The Case of the Broken Debris Tower of Babel Genesis 9:18–19; 11:1–9
The Case of the Floating Basket Birth of Moses Exodus 1:8–2:10
The Case of the Scarlet Cord Rahab Believes Joshua 2
The Case of the Little Coat Hannah’s Prayer 1 Samuel 1:1–2:21
The Case of the Burning Coal Isaiah Sees the Lord Isaiah 6:1–13
The Case of the Missing Scroll King Josiah 2 Kings 22:1–20
The Case of the Old Bed Jesus Heals at Bethesda John 5:1–15
The Case of the Oil and Bandages Good Samaritan Luke 10:25–37
The Case of the Worn Broom Jesus with Mary and Martha Luke 10:38–42
The Case of the Dried Palms Triumphal Entry Luke 19:28–40
The Case of the Sharp Sword Jesus in the Garden Matthew 26:36–56
The Case of the Broken Bread Road to Emmaus Luke 24:13–35
The Case of the Wind and Fire God Sends the Holy Spirit Acts 2:1–21
1 John 4:9-11 (Christmas Day)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
December 25, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is from 1 John 4:9-11:
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
So what did you get for Christmas? Was it what you wanted? Did Santa come through again for you this year? He did at my house! I hope he did for you too.
The giving of Christmas presents is meant to remind each of us of the gift that God the Father gave to us in His Son, the Word of God Made flesh, Jesus Christ. It is His gift of love to us that enables us to be God’s gifts to the world.
God loves you dearly, and He shows you His love by sending you your greatest gift: Jesus. So often when we think of love we think of the emotion and the romance. We use the word love to talk about our favorite food and about our favorite people. We love our cars, our pets, our vacations . . . love has become so overused that we have forgotten that love has a price.
St. John tells us in his first letter that love, as defined and described in the Bible, is not an emotion. It is not a warm, fuzzy feeling. It is not even our attraction for another person. John tells us that “God is love” and that the only way to know love is to know God. John then goes on to tell us that God’s greatest expression of love is Jesus. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” This is more than the heartwarming manger story we hear at Christmas. John reminds us the baby that Mary wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger on that first Christmas came with the purpose of expressing God’s love. God, the Father, sent that baby, His Son, Jesus, to grow up and live for us the righteous life He demands; He sent that baby, His Son, Jesus, to die for us to be the “propitiation for our sins,” which means that Jesus is the one who was sent to die the sacrificial death for our sins. If God is love, then His love is truly shown as He sends us sinners Jesus. The great gift of Jesus is what Christmas is all about!
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.” Or in the words of the Christmas hymn “God Loves Me Dearly”:
He sent forth Jesus,
My dear Redeemer,
He sent forth Jesus
And set me free. (Lutheran Service Book 392:3)
The love of God is not an emotion, it is not expressed in good feelings—not even the great feelings we have around Christmastime. Jesus is God’s greatest expression of His love. God’s love for us in Jesus is seen in His sinless life, all His miraculous works, the prophecies He fulfilled, the promises He’s given, and the words of life He preached. It includes His suffering and death on the cross, and it includes the victory of the empty tomb! That is how God’s love is truly shown! The love of God is His determination, His activity to send us Jesus to buy us back from the penalty of sin.
Unfortunately, this expression of God’s love is lost, especially in the hubbub of the season. We get busy in the trappings and activities of the holidays and lose sight of the fact that Jesus’ birth is given its eternal meaning in His death on the cross. It all can get so easily lost and we run from shopping to celebration to work to family to this, that, and the other thing. At this time of year, probably more than at any other, we need to make some quiet time with our God in His Word (the Bible), clear away the clutter of Christmas, and take a good look again at the love that came down from heaven for us that night so long ago in Bethlehem! Think of the words of the hymn “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You.”
Love caused Your incarnation;
Love brought You down to me.
Your thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
Oh, love beyond all telling,
That led You to embrace
In love, all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race. (LSB 334:4)
That is true love! That love of God, expressed in His Son, Jesus, is what Christmas is all about! We meditate on that love as we celebrate Christmas day. One Lutheran scholar once wrote this about this true love of Christmas:
As long as we talk of God’s love and think only of the candy of our wishes, we have never yet known that love. The victory of God’s love is on Calvary; the triumph of His love, in Christ’s open tomb; the glory of His love in all those who now live through Christ.—To know God’s love is to prize the sacrifice that love made; to share its power; to serve in its kingdom. The greatest thing in the world is not anything of the world at all; it is the heavenly love of God in Christ Jesus his Son. (R. C. H. Lenski, The Eisenach Epistle Selections [Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1914], 1:573)
Even the unbelieving world around us puts an emphasis on giving, sharing, and helping others in the days leading up to Christmas. We usually do a little more of it ourselves around this time of year also, don’t we? Hopefully our reason for doing good and showing love for others at this time of year, and always, is motivated by a heart of love and in genuine appreciation for the love God has shown in His Son.
But if all we’re doing for our fellow man is giving gifts, food, a friendly visit, or volunteering our time, then we aren’t showing our fellow man the fullest or truest kind of love! In fact, as one theologian once put it, “It is the height of lovelessness to let men’s souls go on to [destruction], while we provide a thousand charities for their bodies” (Lenski, 574). If we share food, money, clothing, and time, but do not share the true meaning and love of Christmas with others, we are not showing true love. If we go and visit with the less fortunate, when we go Christmas caroling, or when we have any other opportunities to do good to others, but do not share the love of Christ in both word and song, then we are not loving our neighbor with the Love that loved us enough to give up everything, even His life, that we might be saved.
You and I have been given the love of God. You and I have received in His Word and in our Baptism the love of God that forgives our sins, removes from us the penalty of sin, and gives us life eternal with God. We have received the gift of “God with us,” Immanuel; Jesus, the Savior, born in Bethlehem’s manger. The natural response to the great, saving gift of God’s love in Christ is to share and show that love with others. But you notice that John’s words are a bit surprising in that last verse, aren’t they? You might expect him to say, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love Him.” Instead, he tells us “we also ought to love one another.” The best way to express our love for God—and the way He most wants us to express our love for Him—is to show love for our neighbor, not only our fellow believers, but especially those whom God places in our path who desperately need to hear the Good News of God, who is love. The fact that we have been loved by God means that we have been given as a gift of God’s love to the world: showing our love for God through loving and serving them in Jesus’ name!
This is the reason that I appreciate and encourage our Food Shelf Ministry so much. We aren’t just giving people the earthly things they need when we hand out toothpaste and deodorant, shampoo and body wash. We also give them the one thing needful, the true love of God in the Savior Jesus Christ. And we do it with our actions and most importantly with our words speaking HIS Word. We’ve shared the love of God with a woman who has suffered domestic abuse. We’ve shared the love of God in Christ with a teenage couple where the very young girl is pregnant, offering the support and love of this congregation and the free gift of Holy Baptism. We’ve cried with the hurting and laughed with those rejoicing in God’s love for them.
How wonderful it is that through God’s greatest gift to us, our Savior Jesus, who won our forgiveness and new life, that the Lord would cause us to be gifts of Christ to the world! After all, we who are in Christ are “Christians,” followers of Christ who give Christ to the world! As much as we love the gifts of Christmas, we will always be loved by God more. As much as we desire the gifts of Christmas, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will all the more desire to be the gifts of God in Christ to the world so that many will hear and know by faith that a Savior has been for them, who is Jesus Christ, the Lord. Amen.
2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 (25th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 14, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text for today is the Epistle lesson from 2 Thessalonians 3:
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
Fact: Not all people have saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Fact: Without saving faith in Jesus Christ, people are lost to death in hell.
Fact: You and I must pray for missions and for evangelism
Fact: You and I must share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others.
So we start off with the problem—not all people have saving faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? The Bible tells me so, right here in our text. “Not all have faith.” If everyone had faith in Jesus Christ, congregations like ours would be filled to overflowing with believers. That isn’t the case because not all people have faith.
Saving faith is trust in the heart that believes that only Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil. This faith trusts that Jesus died on the cross to receive people’s punishment for sin, winning our complete forgiveness and right standing before God. Faith believes that Jesus rose again from the dead on Easter Sunday morning, forever defeating death, guaranteeing our bodily resurrection from the dead. It is faith alone that receives God’s blessings that Jesus won for us on the cross with His death and with His resurrection—the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. But, not everyone has this faith.
There are people living in our community, right now, today, who do not have faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Some of these people are our neighbors and our friends. They are coworkers and classmates. They are adults and they are children. They are the lost. Without faith they are lost in that they do not have the hope of eternal life, but rather only the punishment of eternal death. Without faith they are lost because they do not receive forgiveness for their sins. They are lost because they do not believe in Jesus Christ. The Bible makes this very clear in Acts 4:12, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth. . . . There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
One of the sad tragedies is that the Lost don’t realize their “lostness.” They are unaware of their sick spiritual condition of separation from God. They do not recognize their sin, their complete helplessness to change themselves, and their need for a Savior from death and hell. Sin has so blinded people that they don’t know how dangerous it is. People have a notion that they are basically good, that everything is fine. If people are basically good, then why is there so much evil in the world? If people are basically good, why are there so many murders, attacks, robberies, and the like? People are NOT basically good. All people, including you and me, were conceived and born sinful, evil, wicked, and godless.
Stinging words, aren’t they? These are words that speak of a tragic, horrible reality. It’s God’s Word in the Bible that shows us our lost condition. It’s God’s Word in the Bible that shows us our separation from God, our sin, our helplessness to change. Listen to what the one, true God says.
Psalm 51: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
Ecclesiastes 7:20: “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”
Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Romans 8:7: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”
Ephesians 2:1: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins”
We all started life in this world in the darkness and blindness of sin. We all started out lost from
God and the eternal life He has prepared for us. And it took an act of God to change that. St. Paul writes in our text, “For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful.”
God had sinners to deal with and used His love to win them. Immediately after Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden and ate the forbidden fruit, bringing sin into the world, God promised to make everything right again. He promised a Savior from sin and death and hell. This Savior, a child of a woman, would defeat Satan, that ancient serpent. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, walked among sinners and treated them as His friends, with His wondrous patience. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends.” (John 15:13-14a)
The Lord was faithful to His promise. Jesus, the Son of God, was born of the virgin Mary to be our only Savior. Jesus was faithful in keeping God’s Commandments perfectly on our behalf. Jesus was faithful in suffering the agony of death and hell on a cross for you and me and for all of the lost. It is the eternally valuable blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all our sins. Jesus’ death on the cross means our forgiveness and our eternal life. Jesus rescued us and all people from our “lostness.” It was Christ who “came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) It was Jesus, the Good Shepherd to us who are like sheep who have gone astray and cannot find our way home, who went to search for us. When He found us in our sins, suffering covered in our guilt, He picked us up, washed us in His cleansing blood, put clean, new clothes on us, and carried us home rejoicing!
This happened through the waters of Holy Baptism. Washed with the water and the Word of God, we were cleansed by the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away our sin. We were clothed with the righteousness, the holiness, of Jesus. In Baptism our faithful Lord rescued us from our sin and its guilt by freely giving us forgiveness. He saved us from death and from the devil’s power. He gave us the gift of saving faith, establishing us as believers in Christ, guarding us from the evil one. As a gift to us who were once lost but are now found in Christ, the Lord Himself now directs our hearts to the love of God and to the steadfast patience of Jesus Christ.
“Not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful.” He was faithful to you and me who were once lost in sin and death without saving faith. God called us to be His children in Baptism. He gave us faith in Jesus as our only Savior, forgiving us, saving us, and giving us life forever with Him. And the Lord’s faithfulness continues through you and me to those who remain lost today without saving faith.
Remember the lost? They are your neighbors and friends, coworkers and classmates. They are adults and they are children. They do not know Jesus Christ by faith. They do not trust in Him as their only Savior from sin and death. What can we do? We can do nothing on our own. To change sinful hearts is an act of God alone. But God has picked you and me to carry the message of faith, forgiveness, and life to the lost.
Paul begins today, “Pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you.” The Word of the Lord runs ahead and speeds along when it is proclaimed, announced, and shared with the lost. The Word cannot run too fast and too far and receive too much glory in the hearts of people. But how does the Word of the Lord, the Good News about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, run? It runs with our legs; it speaks with our mouths. If you, the believers in Jesus Christ who live by faith in the Son of God, do not speed ahead God’s Word of love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, it will not go. God’s Word says this in Romans 10, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Everything we do as a Christian congregation centers on Christ and His mission to seek and to save the lost. Our Pre-School, Sunday School, Vacation Bible school all seek the bring children into a loving relationship with their friend Jesus. Bible classes, tag sales, craft fairs, the Food Shelf Ministry especially target adults that we might share Jesus with them. But that is not enough. Each one of you, boys and girls, men and women, you must take the message about Jesus to your neighbors and friends, coworkers and classmates. You simply must. They must hear the message about Jesus. The Word of the Lord has to run its course and it has to run through you. There is simply no option because those who live without Christ are lost and you have the only message of salvation to give them.
With faith in Jesus, we pray that each one of us individually will carry the Lord’s Word from this place out into the community, our homes, schools, and workplaces. We are confident to share the message of Jesus Christ because the Lord directs our hearts and our words as we speak His Word on His behalf. He will establish and guard us against the evil one. He will open doors of opportunity for His Word to grow so that many who are now lost will be found by His Word, Jesus Christ.
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24) Amen.